NIKETANA KANNAN/THE VARSITY

The City of Toronto Executive Committee has approved a proposal to offer discounted Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) fares to low-income Torontonians.

The proposal, called the Fair Pass Program, is a policy that stems from a report that the City Manager released on November 16, which details the next steps for the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy. Part of this plan involves the implementation of a discount of 33 per cent for adult fare on the TTC and 21 per cent for Metropasses.

The program would be implemented in phases, with Phase 1 beginning in 2018 and applying to Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works recipients not in receipt of transportation supports. Phase 2 will begin in March 2019 after an evaluation of Phase 1 and will see the extension of the program to residents receiving housing or child care subsidies whose household income is no greater than 15 per cent over the Low Income Measure.

A report on Phase 2 will precede the implementation of Phase 3 in 2020, which will extend eligibility to all Toronto residents living with incomes no greater than 15 per cent over the Low Income Measure.

This comes as a bittersweet success for TTCriders, an advocacy group founded in 2010 that works with TTC users’ interests, including advocating for more affordable fares.

The Varsity spoke with Arjun Sawhney, a U of T student involved in the TTCrider equitable fare campaign, who explained what he sees as drawbacks of how the Fair Pass program will be implemented.

“Implementing a Fair Pass Program sooner rather than later would of course be ideal. However, like most government affairs, things take time and cannot happen overnight. What is troubling, though, is that the proposal includes a drawn out three-phase process which would take up until 2020 to be fully implemented,” he said. “I understand that [Mayor John] Tory is working within budgetary constraints, but for people to wait until 2020 is unreasonable.”

These sentiments were also echoed by Herman Rosenfeld, Chair for the North West Outreach Committee for TTCriders, who told The Varsity that the 2018 implementation date is too far away.

“It is a first step that many people have been fighting for over a decade or so,” said Rosenfeld. “Up until now, the TTC and the city had been adamant that they cannot adjust the amount they charge transit users, according to their incomes or needs.”

Rosenfeld also believes that a 33 per cent discount is not enough: “Our demands are that fares be waived for people on social assistance and [Metropasses] be $50 for others on low incomes. We will continue to fight for these demands.”

Geography Professor Steven Farber at UTSC, whose research focuses are equity and transportation in land use planning, is a member of the city’s Advisory Council for Fare Equity. He praised this approach to reaching low-income riders and also spoke at the last Executive Council meeting.

“Research shows that more low-income riders rely on single fares because they don’t ride 40+ times per month, they don’t have $141 at any given moment to shell out all at once on a monthly pass, and their funds and transit usage doesn’t align with the strict calendar month definition which passes apply to,” Farber said. “Thus, the city is being very bold and foresightful to be offering a steep reduction on the single-fare, but this also means that the monthly discount isn’t as high as one might like it to be.”

Other Canadian cities that have low income fare discounts include Calgary, where a discounted monthly transit pass currently costs $44.00. Mississauga is also offering 50 per cent discounted fares for its MiWay transit system until February 28, 2017, as part of a pilot project for 2,500 low income residents.

Funding for the proposed subsidy will come from the City of Toronto’s operating budget and will therefore have no impact on non-subsidized riders’ fares or the TTC’s operating budget. Sources of funding that the City could seek out include the proposed tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway and property tax increases.

The plan is pending approval from Toronto City Council, which will meet on December 13.

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