Toronto Mayor John Tory is abandoning his campaign pledge to freeze transit fares, pushing the price of a monthly pass above $140 as riders are asked to shoulder about half the cost of a long list of service improvements.
Children under 13 will ride free but most customers will pay more for the restoration of bus routes and crowding standards for riders that were changed under the last mayor. Others changes are new, including buying 50 buses, putting on more trains and adding up to four express routes.
"Services will be less crowded, the wait times will be less … and there will be more service," said Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford.
"It's not just about coping with ridership growth, it's about making the experience, the transit experience, for our existing customers exponentially better."
Mr. Tory campaigned on a fare freeze but seemed to back away from the pledge after his election. On Monday, he said that, as a city hall outsider, he hadn't fully appreciated the difficulties the TTC was facing.
"I had a lot to learn," he said. "I came to the difficult decision that when it came to how to pay for it, a fare increase had to be part of it."
He laid out $95-million worth of improvements to the TTC. The plan calls for a $38-million increase in the TTC's annual subsidy from the city, pushing it to around $479-million this year.
That promise leaves Mr. Tory with a $38-million hole to fill in the 2015 budget. And the funding demand comes on top of other commitments, including fast-tracking work on the Gardiner Expressway at a cost of $2-million, a plan to add 100 new shelter beds and the opening of two new drop-in centres for women that will cost $2-million apiece. Also, council is being asked to spend an extra $1.65-million for studies on Mr. Tory's SmartTrack plan.
The mayor would not discuss Monday where the city will get the extra money for transit, telling reporters all will be revealed Tuesday morning when the proposed budget is released at city hall.
He did say he will not renege on another campaign promise – to keep this year's tax increase at or below the rate of inflation, although what that inflation rate will be is a matter of debate. In addition to the tax increase, the special levy for the Scarborough subway will add another 0.5 per cent to bills this year.
Another $43-million for Mr. Tory's transit plan is to come from a fare increase. The mayor is clearly betting that better service will soothe people upset about the rise in fares.
The plan includes the restoration of bus service cut in 2011, 10-minute or better service on "key routes," expanding the night bus system, reducing short turns and vehicle bunching and instituting all-door boarding on all streetcar routes.
It also calls for four more trains during peak periods, two on each of the main subway lines. This means that the Yonge line will see as many as 27 trains an hour going through the heavily congested interchange at Bloor.
But a very visible cost of the improvements, if this year's budget is approved, is that many fares will go up. Tokens will rise by 10 cents, to $2.80, on March 1. Fares for seniors and students will rise proportionally. Cash fares will remain the same, though, and there will no longer be a charge for children, a demographic that generated $7.1-million for the TTC last year.
The cost of the monthly Metropass will go up by nearly $8, to $141.50. This increase means that it will cost just over $200 per month for both a pass and access to three urban GO train stations, a pilot project announced last week.
The service changes prompted support from the advocacy group TTCRiders, though they worry that the fare increase will hit the poor disproportionately.
"We haven't seen an improvement like this for at least four years," said spokeswoman Jess Bell.
"Although he is going back on his promise to freeze fares, which is something that he told voters that he would do, it is also a very good sign that he is coming forward and taking a stand on transit so quickly."
Former mayor Rob Ford immediately slammed Mr. Tory, though, accusing him of misleading voters.
"Obviously he's not being honest with the taxpayers," he said, arguing the city can't foot the cost of letting children ride for nothing. "We'd love to put people on for free. But we can't afford it."
Deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong called the fare increase "the right and responsible thing to do," given the TTC's rising costs. "Transit's not for free, and if you want to have a great transit system, you've got to pay for it," he said.
The fare increase and boost to the subsidy add up to $81-million. It was not immediately apparent where the remaining $14-million would come from. The TTC was sparse with the details and said the numbers would become clear during the budget process.
With a report from Ann Hui