“The bottom line is, I would say, that they’re not making things easier for a transit system that struggles financially,” said TTC chair Jaye Robinson last week, who described the impact of some of Ford’s transit policies as “brutal.”
“We need to deliver the service, and I would say at this point they’re not helping.”
Barbara Mottram, a spokesperson for newly appointed Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, rejected that assertion, saying in an email that the government is “committed to improving the transportation network across the province.”
Mottram said the Ontario PC plan to upload the subway will enable the province to “deliver a more efficient regional transit network sooner.”
She noted that Metrolinx, the Ontario Crown corporation responsible for transportation in the GTHA, is also increasing rail service on the region’s provincially owned GO Transit lines to “help create a whole new rapid transit experience for commuters and provide more options to help get people where they need to go.”
With the end of intergovernmental disputes nowhere in sight, here are five changes that have city and provincial officials at odds.
Ending subsidy for discounted double fares
Last month, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster wrote to the TTC to say the province intends to stop subsidizing a $1.50 fare discount for riders who transfer between GO and the TTC.
The former Liberal government introduced the discount in 2018, estimating the measure — which would be fully funded by the province at $18 million a year — would benefit 50,000 daily commuters who could save about $720 annually. The program has proved popular and, according to Metrolinx, riders used the discount for 1.6 million transfers in March.
The initial agreement between the TTC and Metrolinx was scheduled to last until March 31, 2020, with an option to extend. But Verster said the costs of the program had proven higher than expected and could exceed the available provincial subsidy by October.
Verster wrote that once the provincial subsidy runs out, Metrolinx would directly fund the discount for riders who switch from the TTC to GO. However, he asked the TTC to subsidize the discount for customers going the other way, from GO to the TTC. He argued the TTC should have to foot some of the bill because the program had boosted TTC ridership and economically benefited Toronto.
Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 17, Don Valley North), who sits on the TTC board, said last week that it’s unfair to ask Toronto’s transit agency to subsidize trips taken by GO riders, many of whom live outside the city. She said there was a painful irony to Metrolinx’s proposal because Toronto has been asking the province for decades to commit regular funding to operate the TTC, which has the lowest government subsidy of any major transit system on the continent.
“Now we’ve gone in the other direction and … we’re going to end up subsidizing their GO system,” warned Carroll, who ran unsuccessfully for the provincial Liberals in last year’s election.
Early estimates from the TTC suggest it would cost the agency $4 million to subsidize its share of the discount until the end of 2019 and $14 million for all of next year.
Cancelled university pass
In January, the Ford government announced it would allow post-secondary students to opt out of paying school fees the government deemed non-essential, arguing that not being forced to pay for services they don’t use could save students up to $2,000 a year. One result was the cancellation of a discounted TTC pass that Ryerson University students had voted to implement.
The so-called RU-Pass would have provided full-time students with unlimited access to the TTC for about $70 a month, significantly less than the $122.45 cost of a regular post-secondary TTC monthly pass, but it would only be financially viable if all students paid for the program through compulsory student fees.
Carroll said the scuttling of the university transit pass — and, in all likelihood, any more in the future — was bad not just for the current crop of students but for the future of the TTC, because people who start using public transportation early on in life are more likely to continue doing so as they get older.
“If you’re not going to make it attractive for students to adopt that lifestyle, then you’re jeopardizing the whole future of the regional system, no matter what you build,” she said.
No fare parity between GO and TTC
In its final budget before losing the provincial election to the Ontario PCs, the Liberal government proposed last year to spend $90 million over three years to reduce the cost of GO Transit trips within the city of Toronto to $3, which would make them roughly equivalent to TTC fares.
Speaking to reporters last week, Mayor John Tory described that plan as “the single biggest initiative we’d agreed to with the previous provincial government,” because making fares equivalent would have shifted some riders off of the crowded TTC subway and onto GO.
In April, under the new Ontario PC government, Metrolinx did lower fares for some shorter trips — but only to $3.70 and not for all trips within Toronto.
At the time Verster said the reduced fares were “a huge step towards making public transit even more affordable and more attractive.”
While Tory has described the cost reduction as a “positive step,” he said last week the Ford government’s decision to keep GO prices more expensive than subway fares will make it harder “to take some of the stress off the TTC.”
Presto problems persist
The Ontario PCs inherited the Presto fare card program from the Liberals, but despite a change in government the province’s transit agency and the TTC remain locked in disputes about the system.
The TTC has invoiced Metrolinx, which owns Presto, $7.5 million for what it calls lost fare revenue as a result of faulty fare devices. The provincial agency has so far not agreed to pay any of it, arguing it has already borne most of the cost of installing Presto on the TTC.
In a report released last month, the TTC said it couldn’t complete the switch to Presto because Metrolinx had failed to ensure it met key stipulations laid out in the 2012 agreement the two parties signed to implement the fare card system.
Asked whether the provincial government intends to take steps to address the TTC’s concerns or reimburse the agency, Mottram said that as “Metrolinx continues to maintain and improve the Presto system, the agency will ensure that it achieves the best value for customers.”
Gas tax clawback
The provincial budget unveiled in April revealed that, despite promises the Ontario PCs made during the 2018 campaign, the government wouldn’t honour an earlier Liberal party commitment to increase proceeds from the gas tax that flow to municipalities.
Toronto uses the gas tax money to fund TTC capital programs. The province’s decision not to increase the contribution will cost the agency $1.1 billion over 10 years, the city estimates, making it more difficult to pay for new vehicle upgrades, accessibility improvements at subway stations and programs to increase subway capacity.
In April, Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York) warned the gas tax decision could “break” the TTC.
The Ontario PCs have defended the clawback, arguing the province has pledged billions of dollars for new subway lines and that the TTC can make up the lost gas tax funding by finding efficiencies in its budget.