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Toronto's transit woes: Are 'fare equity' policies a real alternative to universal fare reduction strategies?

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Today Toronto City Council will consider the idea of a "low income" "fare equity" policy that would, in theory, make public transit in Toronto, the TTC, more accessible and affordable for those deemed to be below the "low-income" threshold to be set by the city. 

Given the depressing context of our empty political discourse and the self-imposed "limitations" placed on our options by our "mainstream" politicians, one can understand why many on the left and many liberals in Toronto are embracing this idea as a real step forward.

There is even a petition on change.org calling on council to embrace the idea. 

A positive piece by Kaylie Tiessen from the CCPA states:

"The proposed fare equity policy will put a focus on transit affordability across the city with a particular spotlight on low-income people. City staff and advocates alike have recently pointed out that transit accessibility is about more than location and mobility; it’s about affordability as well."

But while this all sounds well and good, the problem is that the proposed solution, a separate fare card for "low-income" residents, is neither as progressive or easy as it appears and ultimately serves as little more than a political pressure release valve to allow politicians to seem to be taking a stance addressing issues of constantly rising fares, inequality and transit when they are really not. 

The devil, as always, is in the details.

How would a Toronto TTC "low income" "fare equity" policy work in practice? Well, we actually have a pretty good idea, as it would almost certainly be run along the same lines as the "Welcome Policy" that the city implemented to offset the disgraceful increases in fees for city programs for children, youth and even adults. 

Instead of working to find ways to reduce these ever rising fees or eliminate them, the city instead made the liberally minded feel better by promising to offset the fees, to a point, for such programs for the very poor provided that they prove they are very poor via city means tests and continue to do so to get the altogether not so "welcoming" credit. 

Not only must you "have a before tax family income of less than Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut-Off", which does not take into account the reality of life in Toronto specifically, but you must provide proof of this, as well as "supporting documents", such as proof of identity, residency and income, and, unless you are on Ontario Works, you will then have to wait to hear if this is approved.

Here you can read about the "welcoming" tone of the program:

To ensure that your application is processed as soon as possible, please make sure that you send in all the required documents and complete all sections of the application.


  • Once your Welcome Policy (WP) application has been received and processed, you will be notified of the outcome by mail.
  • The City of Toronto may need to request additional supporting documents to determine WP eligibility. You will be notified if additional documents are required to complete the application process.
  • Once all the requirements are met, a WP confirmation letter will be mailed to you.
  • The WP subsidy will be added to your account the day your application is approved. For example, if you are approved for WP subsidy on November 1, and it can be used to register in programs on November 1.
  • You must apply to renew your WP subsidy every year unless you are in receipt of Ontario Works (OW). If you are in receipt of OW your WP subsidy will automatically be renewed.
  • The allocation is for a 12-month period, and if your subsidy is renewed for another year, the next year’s subsidy will become available on November 1 the following year.

You will then, again unless you are on Ontario Works assistance, have to do this every single year. Every year you will have to apply to receive a credit to be able to afford publicly funded programs for your kids or yourself!

"Unless you are in receipt of Ontario Works you will need to re-apply for the Welcome Policy every year and you should re-apply as early as possible. We suggest you re-apply two months prior to your renewal date to ensure that your Welcome Policy subsidy has been approved well before you register for recreation programs."

The reality is that many who might be eligible will simply not have the time or desire to go through the deliberately exclusionary, time consuming, bureaucratic and humiliating process.

Bringing in a similar and inevitably deliberately difficult and exclusionary policy for "lower income" TTC users, as the TTC would have to to put this "lower income" fare into practice, would simply create a "Welcome Policy" for the TTC. It will require administration and policing by definition. 

In fact, it would unquestionably add to the layers of fare policing (fare booth collectors, drivers, etc.) that are already required within the system. These policing tasks almost entirely fall to rank-and-file TTC workers and are central to many of the abusive disputes they are on the receiving end of from TTC riders. 

The problem with rising TTC fares is not simply or only that some are being left behind by their increase, it is that they keep rising! The political will to fight fare increases simply does not yet exist and politicians act as if the increases are inevitable and need to be mitigated when they are not inevitable and only need to be mitigated because they have risen for a generation and have assumed an absurdly large role in financing the system.  

The fares are not affordable because they are too high. Exempting some portions of the Precariat, those living in poverty and those who fall under some arbitrary line drawn up by city officials will not change the fact that the fares are too high! 

While one has to be sympathetic to those fighting for this idea, one also has to ask, would not the money, time and political effort simply be better spent on an across the board fare reduction strategy that does not require any administration, means tests or fare policing and that would then fit into a broader strategy of working towards the goal, already achieved in cities like Tallinn, Estonia, of free and affordable transit for everyone

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