TTC Fare Evasion Distracts From the Bigger Picture




TTC Fare Evasion Distracts From the Bigger Picture

John Tory "mused" about publicly shaming fare evaders to make up TTC revenue. There's a better way.

The best and worst part about extended live broadcasts with politicians is the prospect that they’ll reveal how they think about problems in real time.

This was the case on Monday night when John Tory made his monthly appearance on CP24, where viewers can call in and ask questions. It’s sort of like Rob and Doug Ford’s former weekly Newstalk 1010 radio show, except it doesn’t have its own recap.

But when Tory was asked about fare evasion on the TTC, he gave a newsworthy response:

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get into it.

Throwaway comments can say a lot about a person

The day after John Tory said, “I even said we may have to get to the stage where we have to shame people and publish their picture in the newspaper,” he softened his language. He was just “musing” about the idea, he told the press.

To be clear, Tory didn’t disavow the idea but just dialled it back in the face of a negative reaction he likely didn’t anticipate. But let’s grant him that he was “musing” about a public shaming campaign targeted at Torontonians who didn’t—or couldn’t afford to—pay their $3.25 cash fare. What kind of values does that person hold? What does it say about their understanding of structural funding problems at the TTC, and who is to blame?

The TTC says that fare evasion isn’t a significant concern

People dodging paying their fares happens. It’s always happened. And the TTC says that it consistently happens at around a two to three per cent rate, which is typical. It costs the transit agency around $20 million per year in lost revenue.

While the mayor maintains that TTC fare evasion is on the rise, as the Star reports, there’s no solid evidence to back up that claim.

Rather than blaming riders, attract them

John Tory ran a campaign of making the city more affordable and functional, and embraces the notion of being the “Transit Mayor.” He hasn’t always lived up to that lofty rhetoric. Breaking a campaign promise, already high TTC fares have increased in the first two years of his mayoralty, while already low property taxes see below-inflation hikes. And for that higher fare, passengers can ride in hot subway cars or increasingly overcrowded streetcars. Not quite as affordable, and not quite as functional.

What’s the better way? Edward Keenan writes in the Star that it’s not much of a mystery and mostly involves reasonable fares and better service so that people want to ride transit. That’s how you increase ridership.

While running a transit system is ridiculously difficult and complicated, a few basic principles that guide those running it are simple. If the system is inexpensive, convenient, and comfortable, many more people will use it. The TTC has become more expensive, arguably less convenient, and substantially less comfortable this year. If you want more fare-paying riders, focus on the things that will attract them.

Instead of focusing on the small things—or treating passengers with suspicion and contempt, or expressing a desire to publicly shame Torontonians—let’s focus on the things that matter. That means better service and achieving that by addressing the real problems, like structural funding gaps, rather than attacking artificial villains.