In recent days, some mayoral candidates have signalled they think privatizing TTC routes will solve problems facing the TTC. A healthy debate around this proposition is worthwhile. But it shouldn't distract from the biggest problem facing the TTC: a Provincial Government that does not pay their fair share of public transit operating costs.
Like a good driver, we need candidates that know how to focus on what's important and how to avoid distractions. Being distracted by privatization will not only jeopardize the future of theTTC, it will undermine Toronto's ability to use public transit to effectively tackle climate change and reduce smog.
The TTC is an extremely large and complex corporation. Like all large corporations, it must constantly focus on customer service, product reliability, expansion and finding efficiencies to ensure costs are kept in check.
Unlike a typical large corporation, the TTC doesn't just rely on customers to pay for the cost of the service; it also relies on governments. That's because a good transit system benefits everyone: it helps people move around; it reduces traffic congestion for drivers; and it reduces the need for driving so pollution levels drop. Because we all benefit from public transit, governments in every jurisdiction across the planet subsidize the cost of providing transit.
TTC customers pay most of the operating costs. Currently, TTC riders pay over 70%, the highest percentage in North America. For decades, the Province and the City evenly split the remainder of the operating costs. This formula was used by Conservative Premier Davis, Liberal Premier Peterson and NDP Premier Rae. Then, starting in 1995, Premier Harris cut the Provincial contribution. So began a decade of decline in TTC service, the effects of which still haunt us today. In 2004, Toronto City Hall finally paid attention again to the TTC and outlined plans to undo the damage of the last decade. The TTC 's Ridership Growth Strategy (2004) and the Transit City Plan (2007) were adopted to repair the decade of damage and to make up for lost time.
Meanwhile, the Province, under Premier McGuinty, found significant dollars to pay for building new transit. But the Premier refused to make a permanent funding commitment to once again pay their fair share ofTTC operating costs. Instead, they made a series of one-time contributions to the City. While these dollars helped pay the transit bill, the lack of permanent, guaranteed funding has undermined the TTC 's ability to plan effectively for the future: you can't plan properly if you don't know whether the money will be there to provide the services required.
Currently, the TTC needs about $220 million a year from the Province to cover the operating costs the Province historically paid for. This amount, understandably, will go up every year as Transit City gets built and theTTC gets bigger.
So the big problem facing the TTC is where to get $220 million a year. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, there is no way privatization will solve this funding gap (if anything, it could make it worse as busy, profitable routes are sold off and less revenue flows to theTTC ). So focusing on privatization distracts us from the real issue of how to get the Province to meet its historic funding commitment.
What Torontonians need is a vigorous debate amongst mayoral candidates about what they plan to do, if elected, to get the Province to once again pay their fair share ofTTC operating costs. Both Mr. Smitherman and Mr. Rossi have good connections to Premier McGuinty, given their common Liberal Party background. Torontonians deserve to know how these connections could be used to put the TTC back on a firm financial footing.
If mayoral candidates want to debate privatization, let them do so, but only after they have had a vigorous debate about how best to get the Province back to the table. Anything less shows an inability to focus on the real challenge facing theTTC . Toronto can't afford a Mayor who gets easily distracted; we need a Mayor who knows how to keep their eye on the road to better transit and a cleaner environment.