TTC nixes lower fares for the poor, seniors

Commission report says discounts for people on social assistance would be too costly

The TTC is rejecting a call to implement new fare discounts for seniors, families and low-income riders, on the grounds that is not the transit commission’s job to address social issues like income inequality.

In a report released Thursday, TTC staff recommend that the transit authority’s board not pursue a host of proposals that would make public transportation more affordable for passengers with limited incomes.

They include: reducing fares for people on social assistance allowing seniors to ride for free during off-peak hours offering seniors off-peak transit passes at a reduced price lowering the age of eligibility for a senior’s Metropass from 65 to 60 and making family passes valid on weekdays instead of just on weekends.

“The TTC’s specific mandate does not extend to resolving social issues related to income distribution. These issues, while important city-wide concerns, are beyond the expertise and scope of TTC staff to assess or resolve,” notes the report, which the board commissioned after the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit made submissions at two board meetings last fall.

“The implementation of any, or all, of the proposed initiatives described in this report would only add to the TTC’s budget pressures. For this reason, TTC staff recommend that no change be made to the current concession fare structure,” the report says.

The TTC’s current cash fare is $3.00, but students and seniors ($2.00) and children (75 cents) pay less. A regular Metropass costs $128.50, while a seniors/student pass sells for $106.

Ideally the TTC would provide additional concession fares to riders in need, says commission spokesperson Brad Ross. But in order to maintain current service levels across the system the forgone revenue would have to be offset by a subsidy, and there’s simply no room for that in the commission’s budget.

“Somebody needs to pay for the revenue loss that would be incurred,” he says. “That’s really what it comes down to… It’s about our ability to afford to have a concession fare.”

TTC chair Karen Stintz was not immediately available for comment.

Transit staff determined that each of the proposals would cost the cash-strapped TTC-which recoups around 75 per cent of its operating costs through the fare box-millions of dollars.

There are an estimated 165,000 people in Toronto who receive Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program payments, and allowing them to pay the same rate as students and seniors currently do would mean up to $12.6 million in lost fare revenue. Waiving payment for seniors during off-peak times would cost at least $22 million and extending the family pass to seven days a week could deal the TTC an $8.6-million hit, according to the report.

TTCRiders, a transit advocacy group, is among those who believe that vulnerable groups should get some relief at the fare box. But organization spokesperson Jessica Bell agrees that the city and TTC doesn’t have the budget to do it while maintaining current service levels.

“They’re between a rock and a hard place,” she says.

Earlier this month the group launched a campaign calling on the province to contribute $700 million annually to the TTC, which the organization says would be enough to pay for a 25-per-cent increase in transit service, a 20-cent reduction in regular fares, and discounted rates for people on social assistance.

Councillor Gord Perks is also concerned that people on OW or ODSP can’t afford public transit, but he says that’s not the TTC’s responsibility.

“In my view the provincial government needs to raise social assistance rates. They’re simply not adequate for living in the city of Toronto,” he says. “They should take into account the cost of travelling around the city.”

Under current guidelines, a single person on Ontario Works receives $250 a month for basic needs, in addition to a housing allowance.

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