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Opinion: Make transit a priority in budgets

Ensuring stable fares will bring back riders and help Torontonians weather the recession

Mar 10, 2009 04:30 AM

Katrina Miller
John Cartwright

A crucial part of Toronto's budget plans for this year is the city's commitment to freeze TTC fares while continuing service through the 2009 operating budget.

We have been calling for stable fares for a number of years, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Affordable, reliable transit is exactly the kind of support Torontonians need to weather the storm that is hitting our economy.

Helping people move easily from one part of the city to another is key to increasing their employability. Doing it through public transit does less damage to the air we breathe and the planet we live on.

Those on council who wish to raise fares only have to look back to the last recession to see the error in their thinking.

During the recession of the early 1990s, municipal and provincial governments raised fares and cut service to avoid general tax increases. The result – 50 million annual riders left the system within two years and another 30 million followed them through the mid-'90s. Lower income riders already hit by the recession were trapped on a system that cost more and gave less.

Mayor David Miller and others at city hall have tried to repair the damage done back then. They understand that public transit is the backbone of a sustainable, vibrant city.

Over the last five years, reinvestment in transit service has brought millions of riders back. The TTC will have more than 465 million riders this year, finally matching the ridership it had in the 1980s before misguided politicians decimated the system.

The strongest testimony on this issue comes from ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), an organization that speaks for those most affected by transit accessibility.

Kay Bisnath, an ACORN leader, states the case clearly: "Low and moderate income families across the GTA need an affordable transit system that links rapid transit to our neighbourhoods. People need to get efficiently to and from work. We ... think it's time for the province to step in and support a city that works for all of Toronto."

Toronto's continued investment in 2009 will produce more than 500,000 additional hours of bus and streetcar service. The city also has developed plans to expand the TTC through a light rail network, called Transit City, that will bring more rapid transit to Toronto's suburbs.

The whole Greater Toronto Area will benefit from Transit City as it will provide essential linkages that will help to realize the province's dream of a regional transit network. Which raises the question: How will the province match Miller's support for public transit in its own upcoming budget?

As a start, the province must finally pay an equal share of the operating subsidy for public transit, as was the norm for decades. Predictable provincial dollars would end the annual battles over fare increases and service cuts that now plague our underfunded transit system.

Capital funds to get shovels in the ground to build Transit City are another essential element needed in the provincial budget. What better way to use infrastructure development to stimulate good jobs, green jobs, in Toronto? That's especially true if the streetcars and construction material are manufactured in Ontario.

Toronto has committed to building a healthy public transit system because it knows that there is no other way to ensure that people and goods move efficiently in this city. And really, what good will Toronto's economy be if our streets become further clogged with traffic, if our air becomes even more unbreathable, and if people can't get to jobs that are becoming harder to find?

The province needs to follow Toronto's lead by backing up its verbal commitments to build and maintain transit with real dollars. There is no better way to move people, stimulate the economy and fight smog and climate change all at once.

Katrina Miller is campaigns director with the Toronto Environmental Alliance. John Cartwright is president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council.

As published at: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/599221

Katrina opinion Make transit a priority in budgets March 10 2009.pdf69.47 KB