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Transit passengers could be facing fare increases of up to 50 cents a ride, a rise that would drive away tens of millions of customers, if the TTC were to face a worst-case scenario next year, its general manager, Rick Ducharme, says in a memo.

According to Mr. Ducharme, the worst possible situation would be for the TTC to delay a fare increase until the city and the province finish their budgets this spring, only to learn that the TTC will not get the $35-million in increased operating subsidies it estimates it will need in 2003.

That scenario would mean customers would be hit with a 45- to 50-cent increase in the $1.80 ticket or token price, the memo says.

"The loss of customers is difficult to estimate, but . . . it will be tens of millions per year," it added.

The Toronto Transit Commission meets on Friday to discuss a staff proposal to raise adult fares by 10 cents a ride on Jan. 1, a move that staff feel is needed as the first step in addressing a $78.2-million budget shortfall that looms in 2003.

The scenario outlined by Mr. Ducharme would be a disaster for public transit in Toronto and forebodes "the worst year in TTC history," said Gord Perks of Rocket Riders, a transit advocacy group that obtained the memo.

Mr. Perks said it is difficult to predict what effect a 45-to-50-cent fare increase would have. "We're in uncharted territory here. We've never hit riders with a 40-cents-or-more fare increase in a year before."

He noted that the worst one-year loss in TTC ridership was in 1990, when recession and a fare increase drove 20 million riders from the system.

Two 10-cent fare increases in 1992 pushed 15 million riders out the door, and a 40-to-50 cent fare rise would likely be worse, he added.

When asked to make a forecast of ridership loss, he said: "Who knows?

"This is outside anything I can predict."

But he said fares are reaching the point where it would be cheaper and more reliable for many transit users to operate their own cars.

The TTC plan for dealing with its budget shortfall calls for the commission to get $21-million from a Jan. 1 fare increase, $700,000 from increased fees for parking at TTC lots, $21.3-million from reduced operating spending and $35.2-million in operating subsidies -- $27.2-million from the city and $8-million from the province.

Mr. Ducharme's memo outlines various scenarios for what would happen if the plan falls through.

A delay in a 10-cent fare increase will cost the commission almost $2-million a month, which would mean larger fare increases later.

If the city and province do not come up with the requested $35.2-million, it would mean a 25-to-30-cent fare increase in May or June on top of a 10-cent rise that will take effect on Jan. 1, he said.

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