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Low Income Transit Fares Closer to Reality

Questions remain on Toronto Transit Fare Equity Framework

by Brad Evoy

Low Income Transit Fares Closer to Reality

At its July meeting, Toronto City Council has moved to develop a framework to address the impacts of cost on low-income communities in the city’s transit system.

The services of the Toronto Transit Commission serve as a chief artery and travel lifeline for all people within Toronto, but there have long been concerns with the rising costs of the service. In a system that has been designed to underserve Toronto’s low-income communities, the addition of higher transit costs have been shown to impact overall financial sustainability, month-to-month financial well-being, individual independence, and connectedness to one’s community by multiple studies.

Several Toronto City departments and agencies over the years have similarly brought to light the relationships and impacts inequality has on transit use, but have lacked coordination and the support of Council for implementation. In an attempt to address these matters for those most impacted by the costs of the system, Councillors adopted a motion in a thirty-five to seven vote in favour of creating a framework on transit fare equity. Arising from a joint Steering Committee led by several city departments and agencies, the framework has been considered to allow for a unified assessment of fare discounts and to allow consideration of ”funding agreements with different sectors and orders of government”, according to the city’s staff summary report.

However, there is a much more direct potential impact with this framework. According to transit advocate Jessica Bell of TTC Riders, “[a]ffordable fares is an urgent issue because riders across Toronto are paying way too much, and some riders are daily making the horrible choice of buying food or buying tokens because they can't afford both”.

This view is shared by Josephine Grey of Low Income Families Together who stated that “transit is more expensive in Toronto than just about anywhere”. Grey noted that these issues have largely arisen due to divestment of responsibilities for such services by the federal and provincial governments in the 1990s. Ultimately, Grey wishes to ensure that all levels of government are held to account for ensuring a well-funded, accessible system.

From Bell’s perspective the framework must ultimately include a universal pass for low-income persons within the city. “The pass should include all low-income transit users, including folks on ODSB and Ontario Works, and unemployed people. We [..] want the city to assign a fair amount of money to the low income pass program so the fare discounts are sizeable and everyone who needs a low income pass can easily get one”.

Yet in the City Council staff report, it is not as certain that the city embraces either a universal pass as the proper solution within the framework. According to city officials, the Transit Commission has observed difficulty in being able to sell existing passes and tokens at varied prices. This creates the likely delay of implementation of any portion of the framework that directly results in cost reductions until the implementation of the city’s PRESTO reloadable card system in 2017. 

Additionally, officials suggest that fares could be additionally pegged to “travel time, peak/off peak hours, distance, or vehicle type” within this system. Such a change, if actually incorporated into the PRESTO system could well undermine the intentions of the framework, as proposed.

Yet, while the city reworks its fare delivery systems, people in Toronto still suffer the costs of high fares. Grey urges that proposals be promptly developed out of the framework process and given for comment. “Lets not spend the next six years talking about it”, noting that low-income communities in Toronto already require a better funded, more accessible system. For example, according to LIFT, members of the community using Wheeltrans have reported consistent service issues and complained of the invasiveness of the approval process to use the service.

In the end, the advocates at TTC Riders are clear that no matter how this fare reduction is implemented, it must be done in a fashion that is accessible to Torontonians. ”We don't want low income people navigating” says Bell, “a cumbersome undignified lengthy bureaucratic approval process to get the right to travel cheaply“.


Photo by Secondarywaltz
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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Brad Evoy (Brad Evoy)
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Brad Evoy is a graduate student at the University of Toronto, blogger, writer, commentator, and sometimes firebrand. He has served as one of the Summer Membership and Admin. Coordinators for the Toronto Media Co-op and in the past has written for various other publications. Meanwhile, as an organizer, he's associated with the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG-Toronto) and Scientists for the Right to Know, along with past associations with various student organizations in two provinces.

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