Commuting by streetcar in Toronto’s downtown core, along Queen Street in the afternoon rush hour for example, is an exercise in discomfort.
Trying to get to work on a typical weekend by subway is a similar inconvenience. The ongoing track improvement work that is being done on both the Bloor and Yonge lines almost every weekend makes moving from point A to point B a challenge. Pity the parents with baby strollers or the elderly with walkers.
It was positive news then to learn that the federal government has provided $474 million for repair work and upkeep at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).
That is why it comes as a surprise that Toronto Mayor John Tory is calling for a 2.6 per cent cut in the TTC operating budget. That’s $16 million from a $1.7 billion budget.
The TTC’s budget rivals only that of the Toronto Police Service.
Whatever efficiencies may possibly be found at the TTC, we would hope that it does not come down to creating more stress for commuters. There is no waste on the operating lines. In fact, there is still a pressing need for additional service on some suburban routes and not just in the downtown core. And the long drawn out debate about how to respond to the need for adequate public transportation infrastructure in Scarborough has to be kept in the picture.
We understand the city revenue model is less than ideal. If former mayor Rob Ford hadn’t pandered to people unhappy about a $60 vehicle registration tax by cancelling it, perhaps Tory wouldn’t now be putting pressure on this essential city service to cut its budget. That tax cut represented a $64 million loss to the budget.
Further, it was Tory, who unbidden, decided that he would allow children under 12 to ride free on the TTC. It was a nice gesture, certainly one appreciated by low-income families whose children may have to use public transit to get to elementary school every day. But, providing a subsidy to low income families with school-age children might have been a better approach.
While a budget cut at the TTC would benefit the city’s bookkeeping, it is hard to see how it will benefit residents of the city.
TTC head Andy Byfield has already stated that to meet Tory’s request, efficiencies would have to come in the form of cutting service, perhaps returning to opening later on Sundays for instance, removing discounts on fares, and pushing back the opening of the Spadina subway extension. Maybe they would have to reinstitute fares for children under 12.
If this request by Tory is just a public relations exercise, then so be it, but the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on the TTC every day to get to work, medical appointments and to just manage their daily lives in general should not be made to feel insecure because of a political exercise.
What the public needs to hear from Tory is that he is completely committed to creating a legacy of an improved and efficiently operated public transit system.
What had once been a model for other cities, both in this country and beyond, has now become a byword in what delays and feeble decision making look like regarding public transportation.
Tory is not sending the best message by asking a service that is starving for funding and which is essential to this city, to make improvements by cutting its budget.
What Toronto commuters, those who use the TTC and those who are stuck in long lines of vehicle traffic need to hear is the mayor will do everything in his power to make it right.