by Noaman Ali – BASICS #17 (Jan/Feb 2010)

Working people cannot afford the TTC fare hikes that kicked in on January 3, 2010. A single TTC ride now costs $3.00, up from $2.75; ten tokens cost $25.00, up from $22.50; and a monthly Metropass costs $121.00, up from $109.00.

The single biggest fare hike in nearly a decade comes in the middle of a recession where thousands of people have lost their jobs and where many incomes are not enough to keep up with increasing costs of living.

The TTC is facing a shortfall of $100-million and the fare hikes will bring in $50-million. But fares will increase even more in the near future. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” says TTC spokesperson Kevin Carrington.

That’s why the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty protested on December 12th at City Hall. OCAP organizer Liisa Schofield points out that the City had a choice, “The City makes decisions on budgeting like everyone else, and needs to be held accountable—how is it that they find the money to recommend increasing the police budget?”

Even though the crime rate has consistently dropped and is at its lowest in decades, the police budget has increased dramatically over the last several years, reaching toward $1-billion. This year Toronto Police Services asked for a $41-million increase. That’s money that could be going to public transit and save TTC riders money.

Instead of focusing on a bloated police force or a general lack of funding, many politicians and media commentators are trying to put the blame on TTC workers’ salaries. But that’s a ruse.

“TTC cash fares will have risen 64% faster than the wages paid to Operators and 127% faster than the rate of inflation,” notes Bob Kinnear, president of the ATU 113, the TTC workers union. “The real culprit here is the utter failure of governments at all levels to adequately fund Toronto’s public transit system.”

And that’s the key. Instead of funding services for working people, provincial and federal governments have chosen to use taxpayer money to bail out big industries and banks. The auto industry got $4-billion loans so that they would not collapse—but the loans did not include provisions for preserving jobs. A $12-billion fund was created to encourage car sales—inefficient, polluting cars that few people want to buy.

“It’s unlikely that the subsidies for buying cars will do much in the long-term for jobs”—people may buy cars now, but will stop buying cars in a few more years anyway, says Sam Gindin, former chief economist of the Canadian Auto Workers and now professor of political economy at York University.

And if that’s not enough, in 2008, the federal government drew up a plan on spending a massive $125-billion bailout package to purchase mortgages from banks to provide them with cash flow for lending. This was after Canadian banks posted record profits in 2007, and still massive profits in 2008 and 2009—no doubt a result of the government’s largesse at the taxpayer’s expense. As interest rates rise, banks are going to make even bigger profits, and working people are going to get saddled with ever more expensive debts.

Every time any level of government invests in public services they act like they are doing us a big favour. The “Transit City” ads that are plastered all over the TTC tell us of the transit expansion thanks to the government. But that is our tax money they are using. It’s not a favour, it’s what they should have done a long time ago.

The expansion will increase operating costs which they won’t fund, and they will instead make us pay more out of our pockets. Will our taxes meanwhile go on to fund inefficient industries and profit-making banks that do little to create jobs or ease the burdens we face on a daily basis?

Gindin says that instead of throwing money at industries to keep them on their last legs and letting hundreds of manufacturing plants shut down, the government should take a more proactive role in organizing production and the society. “Why not develop a national plan so that we can start building an environmentally sustainable infrastructure—like public transit—that serves the needs of communities?”

At the December 12 OCAP rally, dozens chanted, “Hey, hey, TTC—public transit should be free.” In a coordinated action to serve as an example, several climbed onto a streetcar and did not pay. The TTC drivers took it in good stride. Gindin agrees with the sentiment, “Transit should be free. All people should have free access to all of the city, which is theirs.”
But governments aren’t simply going to do this, even if it is sustainable and doable. The state is too beholden to the interests of the rich and powerful, says Gindin. “The government has to be pushed, working people have to develop the power to force the state to do things properly and for their interests.”

In fact, it is time for a people’s transit. A transit that is safe, green, convenient and free. And it’s doable. ATU 113 president Kinnear notes, “If we received as high a per-rider subsidy as they do in Los Angeles, the TTC would be free to riders.” And if subsidized the same as York Region Transit just to the north, “a TTC ride would not only be free, every passenger could be given a loonie just for stepping on the bus.”

What if we started building toward a people’s transit? We want to hear from you. E-mail peoples.transit@gmail.com, visit peoplestransit.ca.