Friday, March 31, 2006

Budget Up, TTC Fares Up, Property Taxes Up

In bold red, The Toronto Star proclaims how Toronto has stuffed its hands in our pockets:
  • 199 New police officers
  • 10 cent TTC fare hike
  • 1,810 new daycare spaces
  • 202 more transit workers
  • 3% property tax hike
But not to worry, this will only add $60.97 to the average home -- but does that include TTC fares? I doubt it. So us poor schmucks who have no car, and are hanging onto our homes, will pay an extra $120 per year, if we factor in Moscoe's wee fare hike effect.

The thing that puzzles me is what are the new TTC workers for? There aren't enough workers on job sites? You know the ones, where two stand around gossiping while one pants away for a minute then takes his regulated 15 minute coffee break to join the fun. According to the CBC, it's for new bus drivers. But not to worry, David Miller feels our pain:

"No one wants to hike TTC fares, but the typical rider is better off."

I pause in disbelief. If no one wants a fare hike, and the province gave Toronto the money to avoid a fare hike, then why exactly are we getting a fare hike? Furthermore, explain to me how I'm better off paying more, while continuing to use filthy subway cars, fighting for a seat during non-rush hour, waiting long long minutes for a bus or subway, having to guess where my destination is because the drivers have all gone mute and developed an acute case of Alzheimer's when asked to announce your stop. Additional bus drivers aren't going to improve any of that. Requiring drivers to do all their duties, managing schedules better so buses and trains don't come in threesomes, being attentive to the garbage and picking it up, would. If we're going to pay from our food budget for our transit, at least hire more janitors so we don't have to watch where we walk, like we do in parks.

As for Miller, it must be nice to swan around town in a limo. I don't disagree with the premise of somebody else driving our politicians, assuming they're working in the car, and taxpayers paying their expenses, but obviously Miller has gotten so used to the good life, he has no clue what it's like in the plebe sector where we have to pay for our own expenses and our driver is the guy in a TTC uniform.

27 Councillors approved the budget, including saying yes to putting the $200 million the province gave for the TTC into general coffers and hiking property taxes instead of requiring all departments to engage in fiscal prudence. That would require moxie and a firm hand, which Miller lacks. I don't know which of the 44 councillors approved the budget -- I couldnt' find a voting record -- but will keep looking so we know who not to vote for in November. But, time to move on and pull the chord on my TTC fare hike whine...for now.

6 comments:

James Bow said...

"The thing that puzzles me is what are the new TTC workers for?"

200 additional TTC buses are on order, due to arrive this year and next. They will be used to augment service on key routes throughout the day. This requires additional fuel and personnel.

The fare hike is the worst possible solution, except when compared to the alternative: service cuts. The TTC is already badly overcrowded, and service has already been cut to levels where, for many, it makes as much sense to drive. We all want more TTC service. We certainly don't want services cut. To cover that shortfall, fares had to go up. I think fares should have gone up $0.25, frankly, with the extra money spent on increasing service.

I recommend you look at the TTC's Ridership Growth Strategy, which details the TTC's fairly common-sense plan to increase ridership to 500 million per year over the next few years. This won't happen without investment - either more government spending, higher taxes, or higher fares. Or even both.

The provincial government offered the city of Toronto $200 million over the next two years to pay for the TTC's additional operating expenses. Toronto decided to spend $100 million now to cover its own shortfall in terms of providing police services, daycare spaces, social services, road repair, etc. Thus the fare hike remains, despite the fact that the TTC's ridership growth strategy calls for fares to be reduced.

And still the province imposes a $125 million per year property tax surtax on Toronto residents, with the money going to schools outside of Toronto.

It's frustrating, I know, but there is some good news. If you are a Metropass holder (now transferrable, so you can share it), the Metropass Affinity Program goes up and running at the same time as the fare cuts. This independently-run initiative will give you discounts at local stores if you flash your pass.

James Bow said...

P.S. Although Miller may drive around in a limousene occasionally, I do know that he also takes the TTC. I've seen him on the subway.

talk talk talk said...

That's nice to know -- that Miller does use the TTC occasionally. I take back that comment...OTOH I still don't think he understands just what a hardship this fare hike is for those on fixed or limited incomes.

talk talk talk said...

Thanks for info about the buses. The thing that gets me is that the province did finally kick in the funds we need to offset a fare hike. I added up the cost of tokens for a return trip -- $4.20 -- and even with the high cost of parking, I'd be about even or less if I drove to my destinations. If I had a car. Which I don't. So I'm stuck with the TTC. I think this is the first time in my life I'd prefer using a car to the TTC. They've really screwed up if they can turn a diehard transit user like me to a car lover.

However, MAP sounds like a great idea. I don't travel enough to justify the cost of a Metropass, but it's good to see independent groups making up for all the government screw-ups. If we really want to fix the TTC, the province has to go back to the pre-Harris funding formula. We need stable, sufficient funding from the province and the Feds for both operating and capital costs, and we need the fares reduced down to at least 2004/2005 levels. That way we can get the service improvements we desperately need without bankrupting the riders.

Thanks for your input and great information!

James Bow said...

"If we really want to fix the TTC, the province has to go back to the pre-Harris funding formula."

I'm inclined to agree. We are around $100 million per annum shy of the operating system that was in place in the early 1990s, and that doesn't even cover the capital expense hump that's heading our way as the aging infrastructure needs replacing. And there's the question of transit service in the areas that have sprung up around Toronto since that time.

It would also be nice to remove education from the property tax bill and pay for it through provincial income taxes. The same goes for social services. A number of Toronto's social services are mandated by provincial legislation, so a fair chunk of Toronto's budget costs are set even before councillors sit down to fight over what's left. That's not right, and the province is asking for economic trouble if it allows these pressures to continue to bear on Toronto.

Of course, it would take a lot of political will to change things in Queen's Park. Mel Lastman and David Miller have both shouted about the unfair treatment of big cities by their provincial masters, but it's fallen on largely deaf ears. I fear that things might have to get much worse before sense gets shaken into things.

The problems that Toronto is facing with its cash flow is related to the fact that the city's boundaries does not reflect the social boundaries of the city, and our cities are limited to just property taxes, user fees and development charges to raise funds. A fair number of 905 taxpayers are getting a free ride on the backs of 416 taxpayers, and while that's to their short term gain, everyone suffers in the long term, because if Toronto slips farther into a morass of urban decay, its international reputation will slip, and so will investment -- to 416 Toronto, the 905 area, and the rest of southern Ontario, in fact.

There needs to be a government that's in charge of the true city of Toronto -- the Golden Horseshoe stretching from Niagara Falls to Oshawa and up to Lake Simcoe. The economy is highly integrated, and there is a need for a regional plan that manages growth and increases prosperity. The province is justifiably worried that such a regional government could challenge Queen's Park for dominance, but in the absense of this regional planning, that task falls to Queen's Park, and the rest of the province may not be able to provide that level of attention.

Speaking from Kitchener, I think it may be time for the 416 and the 905 area codes of this province to break off and form the province of Toronto. That would put the task of regional planning in the hands of a government that could be held accountable by the people that need it. And we can break apart the megacity into its component parts; take away the regional issues, and allow local councils to concentrate on truly local matters.

That's my opinion, anyway. I know it's constitutionally unfeasible.

talk talk talk said...

Didn't Lastman suggest something like that, except it was just Toronto breaking away? The idea got some steam, even though I think most agreed with you, that it's constitutionally unfeasible. It's too bad because Toronto is in a bad way, and I'm not sure that some of the reforms the province is implementing -- like having 4-year terms for councillors and Mayor -- is in Toronto's or Torontonian's best interests. I can see that once Toronto gets the power to apply new types of taxes, that they're going to get very gung-ho about that. The taxes may get too usurious in an effort to compensate for the other governments taking more than their fair share from us, and create another downward cycle.

"the city's boundaries does not reflect the social boundaries of the city"

You're so right! The 905 contributes some taxes to Toronto to compensate for us carrying their welfare/social costs, but I've heard many 905ers grumbling about having to pay or thinking they pay too much. Didn't one of the 905 cities withold the transfer payment, as they thought it was too much?

We need a charismatic, persistent, media-savvy cheerleader as Mayor of Toronto, a Premier who believes in not killing the golden goose, and a Prime Minister who recognizes that Toronto is a big engine of the Canadian economy. And we need the latter two to not be afraid of all the Toronto bashers out there and start reversing all the damage done to us over the years.

At times I despair at such a miracle for Toronto. But then I feel uplifted that non-Torontonians like you recognize our problems and have no problem supporting our city. Thanks!