Transit Fare Increases: Do you deserve to pay more?

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Yesterday, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) board met to vote on the operating budget for 2016. The Commission is dealing with a $58.4 million shortfall in a $1.75 billion operating budget. To close the gap, the board voted to increase fares on adults while freezing the fares for students, seniors, and monthly Metropass users. These prices take effect in January.

Adult cash fare increases 25 cents, to $3.25. Adult token fare increases 10 cents, to $2.90. The price of a Metropass remains unchanged at $141.50. When thinking of consumer rewards, this is fair: the price of a Metropass has seen a 42% jump over 10 years, far greater than the percentage increase in the costs of tokens or cash fares. According to a TTC staff report, approximately 50% of all Toronto transit users pay using passes. To attract more consistent riders in the system it makes no economic sense to make it less attractive for those riders to purchase passes.

These fare hikes reduce the $58.4 million to shortfall to $48 million. The TTC will ask City Council for an increased subsidy to cover this amount in order to balance their books.

Toronto city councillors and transit activists were quoted yesterday saying the same thing; the TTC relies on two sources of revenue: the fare box and what the city gives the commission. Yes, the provincial government could and should increase its subsidy to the city for transit. Yes, the city’s subsidy per rider is lower than other major cities in North America. While valid, these arguments are tired. The TTC is not using common sense to balance its books and increase revenue.

Let us start by stating clearly that it is shortsighted to say fares should be frozen every year. The cost of running the system increases and predictable, very modest fare increases should follow. It is also shortsighted to say the restoration of service and improvements on transit routes in Toronto are unwarranted. The TTC board voted to start subway service an hour earlier on Sundays, at 8:00am, and increase the frequence of express bus services. Toronto has a congestion crisis: reducing service is not the answer.

But when Toronto taxpayers see their transit fare increase, we get angry. Justifiably so. In Toronto, transit riders feel they don’t deserve to pay more for a system that’s not world class.

In Toronto, we see transit riders fumble around in their pockets to grab a token (easily mistaken for a dime when in a rush) or loose change. The TTC’s electronic payment system, called PRESTO, won’t be rolled out through the entire system until the end of 2016. Other major cities introduced electronic systems many years ago.

In Toronto, transit riders are left to ride buses in the winter cold because rapid transit isn’t getting built fast enough. We’ve discussed the delays on subway construction before, but it’s worth repeating: the Scarborough subway and the downtown relief line are priority transit projects. These projects are getting sidetracked so the Mayor can figure out a way to get SmartTrack off the ground when it’s clear his transit plan is far from doable with the timeframe and budget proposed.

Why should Toronto taxpayers pay more for transit when the city makes a contract with Bombardier and they decide to play fast and loose with public money? The company was contracted to build Toronto’s new streetcars and trains for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. The streetcars are bought and paid for. 67 are supposed to be on the road, but only 16 have been delivered due to “production issues.” Even better, Bombardier hasn’t delivered a prototype for the Eglinton LRT to Metrolinx, the agency responsible for building the line.

It’s easy to say “the transit system needs more money.” But how is the TTC currently spending money in its operating budget?

There are 2075 TTC employees on the Sunshine List. That’s 2075 TTC employees making $100,000 per year or more, and the number of employees given access to this exclusive list increases by several hundred each year. Not to mention the almost 3000 other Toronto city workers on this exclusive and well-paid list, all of whom add pressure to Toronto’s operating budgets. It may not be politically popular to say but we’ll say it, clearly: there are far too many overcompensated transit employees in Toronto.

The TTC must consolidate its head offices. Its 3000 employees are spread out over half a dozen offices across the city. That’s half a dozen offices paying leases, electricity, and other operating costs. Not to mention the unused, vacant, and non-TTC occupied properties the commission owns. Here’s an idea: pick a property to build one new headquarters, and make money from the other properties.

Interestingly, TTC Chair Councillor Josh Colle introduced a motion at the board yesterday to develop a long-term strategy for increasing non-fare revenue. This is appreciated but far overdue. The TTC serves its customers but needs to run like a business. This means that, yes, it needs to license its image and develop merchandising strategies to promote its brand while increasing revenue. Yes, it needs to look at “potential customer amenities and services that could be introduced in stations.” Most TTC stations only have one convenience store. Why retail, and the revenue that could be generated from retail contracts, has not been explored in year 2015 is beyond us.

In order for taxpayers to accept fare increases, we need to see stark improvements on how the TTC operates. The fact is every one million riders amounts to $2million in revenue for the system. The TTC can’t afford to lose more public support.

One Year Later: Is Mayor John Tory Serving Taxpayers?

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It’s October 27th. One year ago tonight, Mayor John Tory was elected with 40 percent of the popular vote in a mayoral election where he positioned himself as a more responsible, but equally conservative, version of departing mayor Rob Ford. Former councillor Doug Ford, brother of Rob, came in second place with 33 percent of the popular vote. The overwhelming majority of Torontonians voted for one of two conservative options at the ballot box – mayoral candidates who both pledged to protect and responsibly spend taxpayer dollars.

After one year in office, is Mayor Tory serving the taxpayers who elected him? Is he building consensus on Toronto City Council to build what is needed, eliminate waste, and follow through on what he promised during the election?

We’ll start with the good.

In the summer, we complimented Mayor Tory for declining to pursue a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. It was irresponsible to consider this multi-billion dollar commitment considering fiscal challenges in Toronto and more pressing priorities. After significant public criticism of the idea, Tory saw the light.

Mayor Tory fought back opposition to maintaining an elevated Gardiner East Expressway and won. The Toronto Taxpayers Coalition proudly joined the chorus of commuters and business associations defending highways (we still can’t believe we have to type this).

In recent weeks, Toronto City Council voted to explore ways to regulate the taxi industry to include technology-based companies like Uber. This is a contentious file with strongly held opinions on all sides that packed the council chamber last month. We commend the mayor for attempting to move forward with a solution that is fair for all.

At this point, we must point out the bad. On several files, Mayor John Tory has not respected the wishes of taxpayers and has not followed through on his own election promises.

Tory explicitly campaigned on fixing transit and getting Toronto moving. He presented a 22-stop, 53-kilometre rapid transit plan called SmartTrack that basically puts a Toronto border on electrified GO Transit rail lines. Funding has been secured from higher levels of government. The city must pay for its portion of the project but Tory has not detailed how except saying during the election that he’ll use tax increment financing. Tory promised to build SmartTrack is seven years, and one year is already gone. Increasingly, it doesn’t look like SmartTrack is an independent Toronto transit solution. Instead, it looks like lines on a map and a Toronto headache.

The inability of Mayor Tory’s administration to move forward on this file is taking life away from more urgent and more defined transit projects like the long overdue (and approved!) Scarborough subway and downtown subway relief line.

Shockingly, earlier this fall we saw Tory’s administration defer a decision on contracting out garbage collection east of Yonge Street. The Toronto Taxpayers Coalition doesn’t understand the delay: it was an explicit election promise and the positive effects of privatizing garbage collection west of Yonge Street have already been realized. Even worse, this delay may interfere with upcoming contract negotiations with inside and outside city workers.

Speaking of garbage, the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition must remind everyone of the Tory Trash Tax earlier this year. To recap: we actively took the lead on the solid waste file reminding Toronto city councillors to vote against Tory’s scheme to remove a rebate on new garbage bins. Instead, garbage bin rates were raised 58 percent on top of a property tax hike effectively taxing garbage collection twice.

Mayor Tory directed all city agencies and divisions to find 2 percent in savings in time for next year’s budget. However, the Toronto Police Service is not being held to the same standard. The police budget is the single largest line item in the city’s operating budget – a line that flows north of one billion dollars. 90 percent of that is tied up in salaries negotiated in collective agreement. Earlier this year, Mayor Tory and his police board approved police officer wage increases of nearly 8 percent. This will cost taxpayers an extra 65 million over 4 years, and is simply unacceptable when other city departments and the average taxpayer finds ways to tighten their belts.

John Tory often laments the slow pace of decision making at City Hall. Despite a weak mayor system, former mayors have been able to build consensus early in their term when goodwill is traditionally high. We began by giving the mayor compliments on some items – but these compliments were not based on Tory aggressively pursuing projects in the taxpayer interest but rather him preventing bad projects from happening.

Mayor Tory has brought increased commitment and work ethic to the mayoral office. That is well and good but taxpayers expect the mayor to use his work ethic and the remaining three years of his term in office to follow through on election promises like privatizing garbage collection, fixing transit, and keeping budgets under control.

What do you think of John Tory’s first budget?

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Tell us what you think!

What are your thoughts on the 2015 budget?  Is John Tory on the right track?

  • Please let us know if you approve or disapprove of each of the following highlights from the 2015 budget.

Is York Region Addicted to Debt?

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Over the past decade, York Region’s government has gone on a spending spree, planning for big growth and in the process, accumulating debt at a record pace. Yet recent economic developments create doubts over the Region’s ability to pay back what it owes. With talks of housing bubbles, rising interest rates, and slower than expected growth, is York Region headed for a debt crisis?

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Make all elected officials at the School Board, Municipal, Provincial and Federal levels not only subject to the Access to Information Act but obliged to make individual and personal quarterly pro-active disclosure of their expenses account

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The Access to Information Act (ATIA) or its provincial equivalent the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is necessary  because experience has shown, worldwide, that governments will not respect the citizen’s ‘right to know’ without a legal requirement to do so. Why? Appointed and elected officials as well as public servants have strong incentives as well as personal interest to withhold information even when it would be in the public interest to disclose the information.  In fact, in many such instances the personal (survival) interest of the individual is at odds with the public interest. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. For this reason most if not all of those who currently yield power at the various levels of government in our country would and do actually recoil from the accountability and transparency which the ATIA/FOIA brings.

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