Do the TTC shuffle: gain riders, lose money; gain money, lose riders.
Let's speak no more of seeking provincial and federal "funding" for public transit. We don't want "funding." We want our money back.[rssbreak]
Compared with other transit systems on the continent, the TTC gets less funding from senior levels of government while taking the highest proportion of its operating budget - nearly three-quarters - from the fare box. And thanks to a decision by the TTC on Tuesday, November 17, those fares will go up on January 3: 25 cents for cash and tokens, $12 for the Metropass.
But let's not speak of "fares" either. What TTC commissioners approved on Tuesday wasn't a hike in fares, but in the subsidy received by the provincial and federal governments from every single public transit rider.
Staff say this is all necessary to maintain current service levels, though it will also cost the system 12 million rides. Brad Ross, TTC director of communications, tells me that planners will "adjust service accordingly." Meaning uncomfortable nips and tucks on the system.
Riders complain they're being asked to pony up for a system that treats them like cattle. Let us count the says. Here's one. Transfers become invalid immediately outside the magic bubble of a street corner. Yet these days, it seems less and less worthwhile to wait for a connecting surface route if you're going anywhere short of Owen Sound. Better to walk a few blocks and keep the blood flowing or try another route altogether.
So, I ask Ross, why not a timed transfer system? That's an easy bone to throw to riders feeling fleeced by fare increases.
"We'd lose money," he says. People would do quick stopovers on one fare. "They are wonderful [incentives], but the TTC just doesn't have the funding."
Gain riders, lose money. Gain money, lose riders.
Now, just between you and me, I get the feeling no one on the commission has actually considered this proposal. It's hard to blame them, when poverty makes "imagination" a fancy word for "expense."
But then there's all that money flowing for dubious projects.
"Many people are asking why the system is expanding in a time of financial hardship," says Danyl Sobolev in a deputation to the commission on Tuesday, where a few dozen mostly hostile transit riders watched intently, like crows on a wire.
He may have meant talk of subway extensions: in 2010, the TTC is set to drop somewhere up to $37 million in preparation for a Spadina subway extension to Vaughan through York U. The feds are kicking in $697 mil and the province $870 mil for the $2.6 billion project.
Well, sometimes when you can't cop a feel, you'll still take a kiss - even if you just go home more frustrated. Council isn't in the habit of saying no to money from the feds and the province, but they might just have to start. It's a self-respect thing.
Note that the $42 million is from the TTC's capital, not operating, budget (which comes from fares) - and note, too, that it's for projects predominantly of benefit to Ontario and York governments.
The new subway isn't happening because senior governments care about students getting exhausted waiting for crowded buses. It's happening because it's become a habit for Toronto to subsidize resource-intensive 905 lifestyles.
In this case, millions of new GTA riders would be connected - on our dime - via city subways to the urban core. There's nothing new about getting the city on the hook by fronting one-time capital dollars for infrastructure that will need long-time operating dollars. The feds and the province get votes in the 905. We get stuck with the bill.
If the province really wants to build 905 transit into the city, it has ways to make the beneficiaries actually pay for it. The current market-value assessment system ends up taxing low-density properties at a lower rate than high-density ones - even though the latter are cheaper to service.
City council isn't blameless either. It could look at road tolls. And it could consider TTC fares an equity issue.
"At a time when one out of every 15 of our neighbours is jobless," John Cartwright of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council tells the commission, "many of them will simply not be able to afford the increase."
Antipathy toward the system, much of it uninformed, grows. And those with an agenda take advantage.
"The figures [about maintaining levels of service] are not matching up with people's experience," says former right-wing mayoral hopeful Councillor Karen Stintz. "We need a sustainable business model."
Business model? Everyone, say it with me: Public Transit Is Not Profitable, And That's Okay. Taken in isolation, public transit is a money loser. Always will be.
John Clarke, lead organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, makes a last-minute deputation in reference to staff's assertion that the fare hike is "as high as is tolerable."
"If we're talking about the poor in the suburbs, if we're talking about the droves of new job hunters, this will increase suffering," he says.
"Public transit is a necessity. Even if it becomes inaccessible, it must still be accessed. And we will have to organize accordingly."