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Toronto It’s ‘transit’s time,’ TTC chief says as he presses for new funds

Andy Byford is CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission.

CHRIS YOUNG/The Globe and Mail

TTC chief Andy Byford is pushing for more money in this year's budget and a new link between funding and ridership to end a system that has financially penalized the transit service for attracting more passengers.

Mr. Byford acknowledged that the city is not in great financial shape, but told The Globe and Mail it is "transit's time" after a two-year freeze to its subsidy. He would not specify how much more money he will seek in the budget to be presented this month.

"We have lived within the financial constraints and still found ways to maintain service," the CEO said. "In fact … we have delivered customer service improvements, i.e. we have delivered more for less."

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The TTC – which pays for more of its operating costs from the fare box than most comparable systems – has received a subsidy of $411-million in each of the past two years, a period in which ridership went up markedly. As he casts about for more money, Mr. Byford notes that the TTC has cut costs, and he made it clear he is wary of putting more burden on riders, arguing that the next fare increase must be limited to the rate of inflation.

TTC chair Karen Stintz said last month that the service could not manage with its subsidy frozen for another year, as the city had requested. Now Mr. Byford, who warned in the spring that the transit system desperately needed more money, is sharpening this message.

"The TTC now receives a subsidy per rider of 78 cents, the lowest of any North American transit system," he said. "With numbers [of riders] continuing to rise, we must now receive increased subsidy – enough is enough." The TTC head noted that the number of passengers carried annually had climbed around 5 per cent since he arrived late in 2011, to a projected 526 million by the end of this year. That figure is expected to rise to 540 million by the end of 2014.

The combination of increases in passenger numbers and a funding freeze means the service was receiving less money for each rider it carried.

"I strongly believe that subsidy should be linked to ridership in future … so that we may run the TTC with more financial certainty," Mr. Byford said. The TTC has few options for improving its financial outlook. It can get an increase in its subsidy, raise fares, cut costs or reduce service.

Mr. Byford was firm that it would be "completely illogical" to consider cuts to service at a time of fast-rising ridership. "We should be adding service, not cutting, and I will not countenance cuts to service and their adverse impact upon my customers," he said.

The TTC's annual budget will go to the commission for approval at its meeting on Nov. 18. If approved, the size of the subsidy called for in that budget will go before the full council.

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