This upcoming Wednesday Toronto’s transit commission will meet to consider, among other things, its 2012 budget. And in the staff report on the 2012 budget is the following, sure to cause transit-riding Torontonians to sit up with a start. Among the recommendations is that the TTC:
Approve-in-Principle a standard 10 cent fare increase on the adult token (and a pro-rata increase on all other fare media) in each of 2013, 2014 and 2015 as part of a multi-year financing strategy required to balance the Operating Budget over the next 4 years.
Given the tension over the already-announced 2012 10 cent fare hike, three more years of fare hikes are certainly going to cause a great deal of consternation. Where is this call for four years of hikes coming from?
The proposed fare hikes are based on an assumption—and this is the real political question—that the City won’t increase the TTC’s subsidy in coming years. This isn’t coming out of the blue: after all, the TTC was told, along with all other City-run services, to turn in a budget request that was 10 per cent lower this year than last. (Thus we now have a plan for more crowded and less frequent service on many routes.)
Given those contraints, one interpretation of this multi-year fare hike recommendation is that it is just prudent fiscal planning, the TTC starting to figure out what a permanent freeze of funding from City Hall would mean, in terms of making up budget shortfalls. A slightly more political interpretation is that this is the TTC firing a shot across the City’s bow, warning that while demands for belt-tightening are all well and good, if the City doesn’t increase the money it shunts to the TTC that’ll come with grave consequences for riders. As explained in the report:
The combined total shortfall of the 2012 TTC and Wheel-Trans operating budgets is in the order of $29 million. The following table shows the currently forecasted change in ridership, revenues and expenses (note that the impact of the as yet unresolved Collective Bargaining Agreements has yet to be determined) for the TTC Operating Budget over the next few years. Assuming that subsidy remains at current levels, and without any fare increases, the 2012 TTC Operating Budget shortfall of $21 million will grow to over $200 million by 2015. This trend is clearly not sustainable and requires appropriate consideration of a multi-year ridership, service and fare strategy – starting with plans to address the 2012 shortfall.
Here is the table in question:
This is, for now, a what-if exercise, a way of pointing out what a freeze from the City might entail. Even in our current political climate it’s unlikely the City wouldn’t provide at least inflationary increases in upcoming budget years—though those wouldn’t come near to closing the gap. But if the TTC wants to get council’s—and riders’—attention, to drive the point that our need for transit is growing, and far outstripping the resources we’re putting into it, playing out the consequences of that what-if exercise is surely a good way to do it. One might even say, given the current administration’s reluctance to fund transit, it’s the only responsible thing to do.