Public transit advocates have launched an emergency appeal for federal funding for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), after Mayor John Tory announced the system faces a 50% service cut without federal and provincial support.
An initial phase of the campaign was to culminate yesterday in a coordinated day of action, with calls, social media messages, emails, and petition signatures directed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Essential workers—like nurses, doctors, and sanitation staff—rely on transit to get to work,” the organization states. “But public transit systems across Canada are facing service cuts and driver layoffs, because they depend mostly on fares for funding. Right now we need more service, not less, for safe physical distancing on transit!”
Last Friday, Tory presented a grim picture of Toronto’s finances that included fewer supports for the city’s most vulnerable residents, 19,000 municipal job cuts, shuttered libraries, and multiple other service reductions, along with the transit cuts. In the best case, CTV News reports, Canada’s biggest municipality faces a C$1.5-billion budget shortfall this year due to the pandemic, and could only make up the difference on its own with a 47% property tax increase—something Tory quickly wrote off as “unacceptable”.
But “I believe it is important for everyone, especially Toronto residents and residents of the Greater Toronto Area who rely on Toronto and stable local finances in their own cities, to know how terrible and devastating these cuts would be,” he said, “like nothing we’ve ever seen if the other governments don’t decide to step forward and invest in the well-being of our cities.”
The $575-million TTC cut would reduce service along the city’s two main subway lines by half, close two smaller lines, limit the busiest bus and streetcar routes to 10- to 20-minute service, and eliminate four million trips on the Wheel Trans disabled access service.
CTV says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has had little to say about support for cities. Municipalities fall under provincial jurisdiction, but Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said the support they need would be a “big ticket” item and would depend on federal involvement.
But after weeks of conversations with Ottawa and Queen’s Park, “I’ve had a lot of encouraging words, but encouraging words don’t buy child care, and they don’t buy transit, and they don’t buy help for homeless people. They don’t buy anything, quite frankly,” Tory said. “The days of reckoning are coming,” he added, with cuts likely to begin in September without some assurance of senior government support.
“You can cut it any way you want. You can use any number as the base number,” he warned. “The bottom line is this would be a disaster in terms of a working, humane, livable city which we’ve created here, and there’s no reason for it.”
Early this month, Now Toronto reported the TTC was already responding to coronavirus-related revenue losses with a 16% reduction in weekly service hours, the majority of the cut falling during “peak” service periods that no longer existed during the pandemic lockdown. In mid-May, a coalition of dozens of mobility, environmental, urbanist, and business groups urged the federal government to bail out the country’s struggling transit agencies. Trudeau made no specific promises in response.
“If we continue upon this road, public transit services will be in a dire state and incapable of maintaining an adequate level of service to be able to offer riders the basic right to move,” said the letter to Trudeau and several top cabinet ministers.
“There needs to be at least a level of investment that allows for workers to take transit in ways that are safe for them and then, likewise, safe for their families when they get home,” said Robin Edger, executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “We have to save our transit systems so that people continue to use them, so that they stay out of their cars, because that’s about the best thing you can do for your health.”
“Why do big private corporations get bailed out while public transit is left to crumble?” asked John Di Nino, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union. The ATU released a survey that showed that 77% of Canadians identifying transit as an essential service and 79% supporting emergency funding.