Students may soon be seeing lower TTC fares as Toronto City Council passed a motion at the start of this month for the TTC’s governance board to explore options for further discounted fares for postsecondary students.
The Toronto City Council consideration stemmed from the Ontario government’s decisions to implement the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which enables university students to opt out of non-essential incidental fees, and to reduce postsecondary financial aid from the Ontario Student Assistance Program.
In a 22–1 vote, the council passed a consideration titled, “Exploring Options for Affordable Toronto Transit Commission Fares for Post-Secondary Students.” The motion was introduced by Councillor Mike Layton and was seconded by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. It passed without amendments.
Motion motivated to address affordability crisis
By passing the proposal, City Council has requested the TTC Commission Board — the City of Toronto agency that oversees the TTC’s policy matters — to review options for lower fares for postsecondary students.
Potential options include a lower single fare and a further discounted monthly transit pass for postsecondary students. The council has also further requested the board to take the Ontario government’s changes to the universities’ fee systems into account, and to “report back in the 2020 Budget process.”
“The costs of commuting [are] one of the most pressing affordability issues facing those attending post-secondary institutions,” wrote Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão in an email to The Varsity. Bailão voted to pass the motion.
“I supported this motion at Toronto City Council because I believe we need to review options about how we can assist students in our City.”
Motion opposed by Councillor Stephen Holyday
Councillor Stephen Holyday was the sole council member who opposed the motion. In an interview with The Varsity, he explained his belief that the motion may ultimately result in increased costs for non-postsecondary students.
To fund further discounts for postsecondary students, Holyday said that fares for other groups, such as adults, may increase. He also contended that it could result in a heavier burden on taxpayers.
Holyday sees the motion as a “swipe at the provincial government’s policies,” as he is unsupportive of disunity between the council and other orders of government.
Layton disputed the justification for Holyday’s position. He said that while it is possible that fares for non-postsecondary students may increase, it was not a certainty. He also maintained that the TTC has other sources of revenue to fund the discount.
Layton further noted that there are different ways for the board to balance the TTC’s budget. He said that it would be atypical for the board to fund the discount by adjusting fare prices for other users. Instead, it may be funded by the tax revenue provided by the city to the TTC.
He further emphasized that the motion is a continuation of a standing position of the City Council.
“We had a program to provide subsidies to postsecondary students, and then the provincial government changed their fare system for postsecondary students,” Layton said. “Now we have to adjust our program in order to meet the reality of this new opt-out policy.”
Origins from U of T student advocacy
The consideration was prompted by an open letter sent to the council by multiple Ontario student unions, including the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union.
Lucas Granger, UTSU Vice-President, External Affairs, explained to The Varsity that the efforts originated with the failure of the UTSU to fund U-Pass in the 2018 referendum, which Granger said would have lowered fees for commuters. Due to the SCI, the Ontario government has mandated that “only those transit pass programs with fully executed agreements” prior to January 17 can be considered compulsory.
In September, Granger spoke at a community liaison meeting between student unions and city representatives. He later explained the circumstances in a meeting with Layton, who introduced a relevant motion to the council. Granger then drafted an open letter to the council in favour of the motion, ahead of its vote.
According to him, he also emailed student unions across Toronto to support the letter.
As the TTC’s governance board explores options, Granger plans to continue to advocate for and pursue lower transit fares for postsecondary students.