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TTC Chair Josh Colle argued that the Metropass needs to be protected because it is used by the most loyal riders and they have seen big price jumps in recent years.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Earlier subway service on Sundays and a freeze in the cost of the monthly Metropass were approved by a key TTC committee, laying the groundwork for a broader debate about raising the rest of the fares.

The budget committee of the Toronto Transit Commission, a governance body made up largely of elected councillors, also voted Monday to seek a substantial infusion of provincial money for operating expenses. And it wants to push the province to reallocate money that won't be needed for the Eglinton Crosstown light-rail project, which is projected to come in $2-billion below earlier estimates, to other priorities in the city.

The committee did not make a specific recommendation about how much fares should be raised. It remains unclear how big of a hole remains to be bridged in the 2016 budget, in part because politicians are still sorting out which service improvements to include.

But politicians of all stripes suggested that at least some fares will have to go up.

TTC Chair Josh Colle argued that the Metropass needs to be protected because it is used by the most loyal riders and they have seen big price jumps in recent years. A majority on the committee agreed, but Councillor John Campbell countered that doing so would have effectively penalized the most vulnerable transit riders.

"I just think it should've been a more measured, balanced approach to all of the fares, right across the board," Mr. Campbell told reporters. "Lower-income people tend to use either tokens or they're paying by cash. Those are going to have to go up considerably because we've held the most popular means by which people gain entrance to the TTC."

The budget committee's decisions must be approved by the broader TTC board. And the transit agency's budget will have to be approved by city council in the first part of next year. A taste of those debates was previewed Monday at the budget committee, whose members jousted over social equity, the value of service versus price and the cost-benefit of specific improvements. Underlying all of these issues is the funding of the TTC, which gets a lower per-ride subsidy than most comparable transit agencies.

Requests for provincial funding have long been spurned by Queen's Park, which hasn't paid for day-to-day TTC operations for many years. But Mr. Colle said he wasn't jaded enough not to try again. "When riders complain to us about most things – about reliability, about our service standards – really it does go back to the fact that we're not adequately funded and financed, like other systems are," he said. "We can dance around it as much as we want. ... but the root of it is that."

In a statement late Monday, Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca listed the province's current and promised capital investments in Toronto-area transit. He offered no hint that Queen's Park would change its role in funding operations or reserve the Crosstown savings for other Toronto projects.

The TTC committee's funding request would start next year at 11 cents per rider from the Ontario government, topping up the city's funding to a total of $1 per rider. Over the following four years, the provincial share would climb and the city's portion would fall until the total reaches $1.30, split 50-50 between province and city. The net effect of this request would mean that, at current ridership levels, by 2020 the city would be paying about $132-million less in annual operating expenses. The province would be covering that reduction and kicking in another $225-million.