Thursday, November 5, 2009

The TTC: An Un-Fare Perspective

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.


  1. Another good one. I've often said something similar - having lived in Tokyo and now in Osaka, and experienced first hand how epic and wonderful the transit system is here, I am completely convinced the only reason it IS wonderful is because - hey guess what? the greater tokyo area encompasses 30 million people. osaka? almost 10. with 3 million in toronto it just isn't enough to fund the thing properly. well done barton!

  2. $3! Holy crap, I don't think even Chicago and NYC are that high yet, though I haven't looked. More farebox dependent indeed. And here I dream crazy ideas of zero-fare public transit.

    But you have 4 minute waits outside of rush hour? Damn, that is good.

  3. Chicago would've been $3 for the 'L' if that loan package hadn't come through. And, yeah. During normal service periods (ie, barring tunnel shutdowns or other unusual circumstances), you'll wait no longer than 5 minutes between trains on the two main subway lines. The suburban Sheppard line and the Scarborough RT are 5-6 minutes at the maximum.

  4. Please distribute this widely.

    You may have heard that OCAP is having a TTC action (see below). We are looking for help with flyering.

    Flyering Times:

    1) Outside/Inside Broadview Subway Station:

    Tuesday, December 8th: 4:30pm

    2) Outside/Inside Dundas West Subway Station:
    Wednesday, December 9th: 4:30pm

    Also, if you would like to sign up to to do outreach, or organize a separate leafleting time, please email us at the OCAP office at:

    Lastly - if you have access to a photocopier let us know.


    Angry about the TTC Fare Hike?

    It's time to make transit affordable!

    Public Action Against the Transit Fare Hikes
    Saturday, December 12th
    Toronto City Hall (Queen and Bay)

    The Toronto Transit Commission is facing a $100-million deficit in its operating budget for next year. On November 17th the Commission ignored community outrage, and instead voted for a TTC fare hike of 25cents/fare and an increase of over 10% per monthly pass. In the new
    year, they expect us to pay $6 for ONE round trip on transit! Riders already cover more than 80% of TTC operating costs and it is by far the least-funded mass transit system in North America. This increase is outrageous and unacceptable - and we should refuse to pay!

    Lately, we've been hearing a lot about shortfalls and deficits. We cannot forget where these deficits come from. When the economic crisis hit, the federal and provincial government quickly found BILLIONS of dollars of public money to bailout banks and corporations. Now these same governments want us to believe that they can't find any money to support public transit? As usual, big business gets bailed out, and the people get sold out. Worst of all the bourgeoise socialists affiliated with the NDP on Toronto City Council behind such trying to end the

    special diet and trying to prevent those eligible for Ontario Works from receiving it.

    For poor and working people in this city, especially for families, transit costs are already too high and often unaffordable. This fare hike will

    hurt the people who are already struggling to make ends meet. The TTC deficit should not be loaded onto the backs of people who need transit.

    It should not be paid for by riders and it should not be paid for by the workers who run the buses, subways and streetcars.

    Paying more for transit is only one attack on already inadequate public services. Lay-offs and deeper cuts to all essential services like Welfare,

    Disability, and the Ontario Drug Benefit are coming next if we don't fight back. Our communities demand affordable transit, real income levels,

    affordable housing, childcare, and education.

    Transit is a necessity and it is a basic right. Not only are we fighting this fare hike, but we are demanding that transit be federally funded and

    affordable for everyone. If we mobilize, and together refuse to accept this fare hike, we can take back transit.

    Come out December 12th

    Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) / 416-925-6939