If you live in Toronto, you have most likely already heard that the Toronto Transit Commission is considering a fare increase for 2010 - from $2.75 to $3 even for individual rides, and from $109 to $126 for unlimited-use monthly Metropasses. This would hit me directly, as I have been a consistent Metropass user since June 2007, and would be the second fare increase since I started relying on the TTC - the first, back in 2007, saw fares increase from $2.50 and Metropasses from $99.
You know what? I'm not that broken up about it. I can understand that the TTC is in extremely unstable financial straits, and that ensuring the maintenance and expansion of an effective transit system takes money. If the comment threads at the Toronto Star, the National Post, or Twitter are your guide, though, you would be justified in concluding that I am the only man in Toronto who feels this way. Steve Munro wrote about it yesterday, and takes issue with what seems a lot like the TTC trying to make those Metropass users, on which it is supposedly "losing money" to pay their "fair share," however they may justify it.
Despite this potential increase, which may well be rejected, the TTC is still worth the money. Whether it's for $2.75 or $3, for $109 or $126, it is all I need to get anywhere in Toronto. "Take the Car," I hear them say. Maybe, just as soon as you tell me how much you pay a month for gasoline, and parking, and insurance, and maintenance, and whether or not it makes you feel good to know that you're doing your part to spew a little extra bit of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The TTC is incredibly, unbelievably, obscenely dependent on farebox revenue compared to any other major urban transportation system in North America. The National Post cites it as 70% of its $1.4 billion operating budget. The only places where this sort of dependence is feasible is in urban major urban cores in Europe and Asia, particularly Asia, due to the presence of massive centralized populations spread over a wide area. This is greater than any other system in the North American continent - of the systems listed on Wikipedia, the only ones that are more dependent on farebox revenue than the TTC are in London, Hong Kong, Osaka, Taipei, and Tokyo. The subways of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles in the United States do not recover even half of their operating revenue from fares.
Why is this? Mike Harris is why this is. There was a time, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when even if the federal government did not stand behind the TTC, the provincial government did. The Common Sense Revolution and Harris' insatiable appetite for undemocratic "cuts" and "savings" ended that. Check the TTC's 2008 Annual Report sometime. Buried on page 15 to the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements, you can find the following note: "However, between January 1, 1998 and December 31, 2003, the Province did not provide operating subsidies for public transit."
Public transit does not exist to make money. If it did, it would still be provided by private companies, as was the case a hundred years ago. They exist to provide a public service, to make it possible to get through life without being chained to a car. I recognize that there are some people who use the TTC and whose budgets are on a knife's edge, and that this increase would be disproportionately punishing. It's not fun. Still, I get the impression that most of the chatter comes instead from people who could afford the increase; they just don't *want* to.
One of the most surprising things I've learned in the course of my transit research is that, when compared to cities of its caliber in North America, Toronto operates one of the best transit systems there is. There, I've said it. I have to wonder how many of the people jawing about how much TTC service sucks have only suburban or small-city bus operators like Barrie Transit, Peterborough Transit, or Niagara Transit to compare it to.
But you say you don't want to pay that much? Well, then, they'll need to cut service. Maybe they'll go whole hog and shut down the Sheppard Line like they were saying they might have to back in 2007. They could shut down all those bus routes as well. Wait! I know how they could save money - halve the number of trains on the subway and reduce headways to bring them in line with pretty much every other city in North America. Fancy waiting ten minutes between trains on the Sheppard Line, or eight minutes elsewhere, even in rush hour? THIS IS WHAT EVERY OTHER SUBWAY SYSTEM IN NORTH AMERICA SAVE NEW YORK ALREADY HAS TO DEAL WITH.
It seems to me that people are allowing this announcement to drown out their perspective - assuming they had any, as perspectives on transit systems are not very widely held, which is one reason why I started writing the Tunnel Visions posts to begin with (covering Montreal and Chicago, and soon to include a study of the Los Angeles County Metro Rail). It's easy to paint the TTC as some greedy government organization concerned with nothing but its own profit. I see people crowing about how service sucks, or how the TTC is the worst mass transit system in the world. My answer to you is - the world includes North America.