Lack of funding number 1 problem for Toronto transit, say activists

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Photo: flickr/knehcsg (looking for a Rokkor-X 35 f/1.8)

Imagine this scene on your morning commute to work:

You're sitting near the subway doors and look anxiously at the time. It's currently 8:40 a.m.

You turn on your phone and stare anxiously at the flashing green lights on the map, waiting for your stop to approach.

At 8:51 a.m. the train stops moving.

"Attention passengers, we are experiencing a delay," the voice says before chalking it up to a little more train traffic than normal. The train begins crawling again at 8:53 a.m.

Passengers begin to glance anxiously between the map and their watches and fidget as the time inches closer to 9 a.m.

Unfortunately, this scene is all too common for Toronto commuters.

In 1998, Premier Mike Harris cut the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) provincial operating budget. Since then, the province has only assisted the city with capital dollars.

The funding and state of the TTC has been a source of great debate between Toronto city councillors and Toronto residents and has now ushered in a new brand of activist: the TTC activist, the largest group of which is called the TTCriders.

"The number one way we can fix transit in Toronto is to invest money into the system. A lot of the problems we face are due to a lack of funding," said executive director of TTCriders Jessica Bell.
TTCriders was founded in 2010, claiming that the funding model for the TTC was unsustainable. TTCriders has since frequented city council meetings and picketed councillors to fight for a provincial subsidy of 50 per cent of operating costs, among other initiatives.

On April 27, TTCriders held its Day of Action at 10 TTC stops, including the TTC stop closest to Premier Kathleen Wynne's home, calling for MPPs to take transit for a week and to fairly fund it, according to a press release. TTCriders spent the day educating the city of Toronto about sustainable funding for public transit.

TTCriders member Barb Willits canvassed outside Eglinton West station and she wasn't letting commuters simply walk by while shaking their heads. The retired hospital administrator believes that it's her obligation to inform herself about issues like this, and the more she learned, the more frustrated she got.
"I'm fed up with the poor transit decisions that are being made for the city of Toronto. I started looking around and realized that tons of people are travelling an hour and a half to get to work and then home again. It's just wrong."

Rebecca Osolen, a Geography student at the University of Toronto was among three volunteers canvassing outside Ossington station.

Recently, the city announced that they'd consider resorting to private partnerships as an alternative form of funding for Toronto's public transit system. Osolen however, doesn't think this will bode well for the future of public services in the city.
"Yes, it's an approach that creates lots of opportunities for business, but it does so at the expense of the public realm and at the expense of everyday people," said Osolen.
However, it seems that despite the efforts of multiple well-intentioned parties, the city can't seem to move forward. Coun. Maria Augimeri, the former TTC Chair, believes that it's up to the province to properly fund the TTC.
Augimeri worked extensively with TTCriders during her tenure, and cites improvements that have been made to the fare system as a result of their partnership. The most recent include free rides for children under 12, which was achieved in early 2015. TTCriders is still pushing for a low-income fare program, and a seniors' discount.

"We concentrated on making the public aware that there were zero operating dollars coming from the province to keep the TTC sustainable on a day-to-day basis," said Augimeri.
Coun. Josh Colle, who took over the role earlier this year, is picking up where Augimeri left off. In hearing cases from transit activist groups in Toronto, he's looking at several funding options and hasn't ruled out private partnerships.
"I think we've all recognized how scarce any dollars are for public investments. We know the province has significant financial constraints right now and at the end of the day, the money has to come from somewhere," said Colle.
The 2015 operating budget includes $39 million in transit improvements, and the implementation of 50 new busses. However, these enhancements relied on a 10 per cent fare increase. The budget also directed another $3 billion in capital investments towards public transit.

Colle adds that the province is more willing to contribute in the form of capital investments -- one-time contributions -- rather than through operating dollars -- consecutive contributions. Operating dollars, however, are what the city needs.

"The city gives a considerable amount but we need all levels of government to step up and commit to the TTC on an ongoing operating basis," said Colle.
TTCriders offers a number of ways to become involved in the transit movement. Those interested in participating occasionally can join either their board or their campaign committee, while those looking to join the transit movement can become a full member of the group.

On June 17 at Steelworkers Hall, the TTCriders will be hosting their annual meeting. Everyone is welcome to attend to find out more about the work the group has done and the benefits of becoming a member.

Other parties participating in the transit movement include the Toronto Transit Alliance, activist Steve Munro and CodeRedTO.

There needs to be a change to Toronto transit and TTC activists are looking to the provincial government to provide the solution.

Or else, Torontonians commutes will continue to be bookended by these familiar announcements:

"Attention passengers, we are experiencing a delay. As a result, the train will operate slower than normal."

Sardined from one side of the train car to the other, people will roll their eyes at the all-too-familiar voice that says "We apologize for the inconvenience."


Jessica Vomiero is a journalist and freelance writer in Toronto. When she's not reporting on social justice, she writes on politics, business and lifestyle news for a variety of publications. You can currently find her work on, The Vaughan Citizen, as well as others. Having gone to journalism school at Ryerson, she's worked with the country's greatest wordsmiths, who've helped her develop an eye for grassroots reporting. She loves Toronto and can't wait to further develop a writing career in what she believes is the most dynamic city in the world.

Photo: flickr/knehcsg (looking for a Rokkor-X 35 f/1.8)

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