John Tory wants the TTC to address a $231-million gap without cutting service. Sometimes you get what you pay for.
At Council’s meeting in July, a lot of attention was paid to the approval for the $3.2-billion one-stop Scarborough subway extension.
But it overshadowed another motion that will have a big impact on transit as Council faces that immutable truth so politically convenient to ignore: things cost money.
The transit agency faces a $231-million budget gap to maintain service levels for 2017, the result of rising costs and Council passing a motion demanding a 2.6 per cent budget cut for every City division and agency. A draft letter by TTC management says they can’t make up that amount without “unpalatable” service cuts according to the Toronto Star, and can only get one-third of the way through belt tightening, a 10-cent fare increase, a draw from reserves, money shuffling, and the typical budget dance.
John Tory wants the full $231 million without service cuts, or he says the City may have to hire consultants who will do it. And thus we are at an impasse.
If all of this sounds familiar, it should. The Rob Ford administration was predicated on the notion that there were vast amounts of waste to be found in government, if only Toronto had the right person to find and get rid of it. Now, Tory promises the same.
One of the ways Ford achieved budget cuts was through slashing TTC service. Dozens of bus routes saw its service reduced, crowding standards were made worse, and Metropass prices went up an unreasonable amount.
Tory wants to achieve similar budget reductions to his predecessor, but he’s asking the agency to do so without affecting service. That’s a worthy goal, but it papers over the fact that, if anything, the transit agency with the highest fare box recovery rate in North America needs more funding, not less, if service is a priority.
In the early days of his administration, the mayor acknowledged this fact by reversing Ford’s 2011 TTC route cuts, and implemented free TTC for children 12 years old and under.
All of this costs a significant amount of money—$95 million in 2015 transit improvements, for a start.
For his part, Tory says that he won’t support reversing those service changes. Potential service cuts could save $70 million, and eliminating Metropass discounts could save a further $80 million, according to the Star, citing the TTC’s draft document.
But TTC CEO Andy Byford doesn’t recommend that strategy: “At no time would we recommend unpalatable reductions,” he says.
At the same time, TTC ridership isn’t meeting target projections, resulting in a potential $16-million shortfall at the end of the year.
Tory suggested that the City could bring in consultants like it did for the Toronto Police Service, an organization that has long refused to enact budget cuts. But consultants are not magical. They do not solve years of underinvestment through ideology or sheer force of will. Tough choices should be made to solve difficult problems, even when political instincts might tempt leaders otherwise.
The choice here is between the different versions of Tory: the corporate manager who loves the image of watching the bottom line, or the city builder who loves the idea of being the “transit mayor.” These modes don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but the inflexibility with which he has approached this issue makes it so.
This budget impasse isn’t between Tory and Byford, but between Tory and himself.