Toronto Mayor John Tory said during the election campaign last year that he would freeze fares on the city's buses, subways and streetcars for the first year of his mandate. This week – less than two months into his term – he announced that he wants to raise the price of a Toronto Transit Commission token by 10 cents and increase the cost of a monthly pass from $133.75 to $141.50. The $3 cash fare (the payment method people use least) will remain the same, but the 75-cent fare for children under 13 is being eliminated – kids will ride for free. All of this is subject to approval of the budget and, if passed, will go into effect on March 1.
This is a very deftly broken campaign promise. On the one hand, there are no words weaselly enough to explain away the hard fact that Mr. Tory said he would do one thing and then did the opposite. Many transit users are angry. Ditto many voters. The mayor will have to wear this for a long time.
On the other hand, such is the state of transit in Toronto that many people inside City Hall are okay with Mr. Tory's flip-flop. It doesn't hurt that Mr. Tory is in his honeymoon period. But what is really helping the mayor is the fact he broke a promise he should never have made in the interest of improving, rather than kneecapping, transit. Mr. Tory is proposing some much-needed new spending. This includes $38-million in service improvements that TTC officials say will reduce wait times and help make the rush-hour commute somewhat less of a hell. Overall, the TTC's total budget will rise 7 per cent after years of chronic underfunding.
Councillors and pundits are applauding these budget recommendations. But Mr. Tory has done more than just sugar-coat a bitter pill with new spending. By taking personal responsibility for the fare hike (he blames his inexperience at City Hall), he is making it easier for councillors to support it without fearing for their political lives. And by allowing children to ride for free, he is giving something back to the fare-paying public – in particular, to lower-income families who don't have cars in which to ferry their kids to school.
It's never good when politicians break key promises. But they can recover their credibility if they offer a reasonable justification and then ultimately prove that their decision was beneficial to taxpayers. If Mr. Tory's betrayal becomes the beginning of a renewed TTC, few voters will hold it against him for long.