Cuts may not be drastic

That was a remarkably swift reversal on the proposed 10-cent fare increase for Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) users.

Over the course of one day, as Toronto City Council got into debate on the 2011 budget, a sense of irritation, if not worry, ran through the city among public transit users when news reports began to circulate that fares were about to be increased by 10 cents. So the news now that the fare increase has been avoided is a great relief.

Isn’t it interesting that the $24-million expected to come from the proposed fare increase – just 13 months after the last 25-cent fare increase – was floated at the same time as the cancelled vehicle registration tax?

But transit users are still going to take a hit. With the $64-million that would have come from the now cancelled vehicle registration tax no longer available, that money has to come from other sources to pay for the rising cost of maintaining the public transportation system. Or major cuts to service and maybe even personnel will have to be made.

The TTC had also announced it will cut completely or reduce service on a number of routes beginning in March, mostly in the suburban areas of the city. While the news Wednesday that these cuts have been put on hold, be sure that at some time down the road both the fare increase and the cuts will again come into play.

So much for Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign promise to save money without cutting services.

The “war on cars” may be over but it seems as though the war on public transit has begun. During his campaign, Ford made it clear that he was very much on the side of private vehicle users so the sense in some quarters that public transit is being targeted is not surprising, although it is troubling.

Funding for the TTC, which relies heavily on user fees, remains a weakness of the service. Any provincial politician who wishes to gain traction with Toronto voters in the upcoming provincial election in Ontario should present a solid plan for funding for public transit in this city.

The question remains as to where the money will come from to make up the shortfall resulting for the cancellation of the vehicle tax. A budget surplus of more than $300-million left by former Mayor David Miller’s administration will answer some of those concerns for the coming fiscal period. So while Ford speaks with singular focus about cutting spending, it bears remembering that fiscally conservative governments have shown a propensity for speeding through surpluses left behind by so-called ‘tax-and-spend liberals’.

Ford has managed one important budget victory so far and that was to get Police Chief Bill Blair to agree to hold down spending for the Toronto Police Service (TPS). By deferring hiring that would replace retiring officers and administrative staff Blair has managed to trim a bit off his almost $906-million budget request. This is a noteworthy show of cooperation on the part of the Chief given that he was initially requesting a three per cent increase over last year’s TPS budget.

The cuts Ford had initially promised may not be as drastic as we might have been led to believe because, as is the case with all politicians assuming leadership, things quickly change once campaign promises come up against fiscal or political reality.

We hope this is true in his case and that he would not sacrifice the most vulnerable in order to achieve a fiscally conservative agenda.

We all would appreciate seeing our tax dollars spent wisely and efficiently to the benefit of our city and all of us. We have to be careful, however, that those who least can afford it not be the ones to be hit the hardest.


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