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A TTC streetcar takes on passengers in Toronto on Nov. 17, 2009.
A TTC streetcar takes on passengers in Toronto on Nov. 17, 2009.

Lower fuel costs give transit riders reprieve from service cuts Add to ...

A last-minute rescue plan by the TTC will save Toronto transit users from more crowded buses and longer waits – at least for another month.

TTC chair Karen Stintz unveiled the 11th-hour reprieve Wednesday at a commission meeting, which also approved hiking fares by 10 cents in each of the next four years.

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The plan will keep service at its current level until the end of January, in hopes city council can find additional funds to help the cash-strapped transit system during budget deliberations in the new year. If no more money can be found, most of the service cuts will take effect, but some rush-hour service will be spared.

In addition, Wheel-Trans service for dialysis patients will be extended until the end of June to find more time to work out a solution.

“We listened to the feedback and we took another look,” Ms. Stintz said of the plan. “While this doesn’t meet everybody’s needs, we think it is a good compromise.”

The transit rescue plan will be funded by lower-than-expected fuel costs that amount to about $5-million in savings, a year-end surplus of $12-million and a deal with a private developer that will save more than $10-million on construction of a new exit from the Wellesley subway station.

A key part of executing the reprieve will be finding $44-million to buy and store the buses needed to maintain or improve service on the busiest routes included in the proposed cutbacks. A review of the books of the cash-strapped transit system has turned up about half that amount, Ms. Stintz said. The rest will have to come from the city, which is already faced by requests from councillors to save a range of services, including public libraries, pools, community centres and school food programs.

The revised budget does not include a wage settlement with transit workers, which is still under negotiation.

The proposed cuts were announced earlier this fall in response to an across-the-board, 10-per-cent reduction requested by all city departments.

News that the TTC planned to cut service on some of the city’s busiest routes at the same time as it raised fares provoked outrage from riders who said crowding and wait times were already more than they could bear. Roughly 80 people signed up to speak at the meeting, but Ms. Stintz’s surprise announcement took some of the wind out of their sails.

Earlier this year, the commission proposed cutting late-night service on little-used bus routes, which led to a public backlash. In order to save some of those routes from the axe, the TTC will have to spread cuts across the system, including to busy, rush-hour service, TTC general manager Gary Webster said.

Also Wednesday, the commission voted to begin work on a policy that would spell out how the TTC will be funded every year. Such a framework would be designed to prevent last-minute scrambling to balance the books, such as the proposed service cuts and fare hikes this year. Among other things, it would tie fare increases to inflation and ridership levels.

“What we have now, year after year, we lurch from one decision to another,” Ms. Stintz said. “Frankly, we can’t run a transit system that way.”

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