While Toronto’s transit system has one of the highest ridership among North American cities, it is also in a vulnerable position and lacks funding, according to a new report.
The report, titled “Mixed Signals,” was released on Tuesday by the non-partisan advocacy group CodeRedTO, and compared Toronto’s transit system with others in Canada and the US to “show us what is realistic in North American context.”
In comparing fares, the TTC’s $3.25 is close to or matching Montreal, Boston, Chicago, and comparable to both Vancouver and Washington DC. But that’s almost where similarities end when it comes to the transit comparisons.
CodeRedTO said that Toronto’s annual adult Metropass is a “significantly more costly monthly pass.” For a pass that is designed to provide a discount for transit users, it criticizes the fact that it would only be available to those with “sufficient disposable income to pre-pay for the pass in expectation of benefiting later.”
The cash fare rate in Toronto also rose above the rate of inflation over the past 20 years. In fact, it rose 29% faster than inflation between 1998 to 2018.
“The most alarming discovery in CodeRedTO’s research has been that while all public transit agencies worldwide contribute to operating expenses via the farebox, the TTC relies on fares for two-thirds of its base operating budget, a level not seen in any other city in North America,” reads the report.
“When combined with inadequate and insecure funding, the vulnerability of the TTC is particularly acute.”
In all comparator cities, the annual operating subsidy covers more than 50% of the operating budget. The report stated that in Boston and Houston, it is more than 70%, and in Los Angeles it is nearly 90%.
Meanwhile in Toronto, that operating subsidy is just 30%.
The report also points out that the per-rider subsidy for the TTC is “dramatically smaller” than what is provided to riders in municipalities in the surrounding GTHA. Markham pays $4.56 per rider, five times more than Toronto’s $0.90.
“The TTC’s operating budget is disproportionately small for its ridership,” said the report, adding that Toronto’s biggest differentiator is the lack of a designated revenue stream for transit, as almost every other city has a dedicated tax providing stable, predictable funding.
“The status quo of low subsidy and unpredictable funding leaves Toronto’s riders at great risk.”
The funding is a requirment to allow Toronto’s transit network to expand for its much-needed growth.
The report indicates that Toronto’s rail network is less complex, and covers less ground than most cities.
“Downtown core streetcar lines improve the network greatly, but at low resilience due to mixed-traffic street design,” said CodeRedTO. “When contrasted with every other city in the study, it is clear Toronto’s heavy reliance on two very long rail lines is unusual.”
Unusual could be an understatement as overcrowding is a regular problem on our subway systems.
Having the highest ridership numbers of all the systems studied in the report, TTC Chair Josh Colle confirmed that what transit needs is funding, especially on the operations side.
The report was presented at City Hall on Tuesday.