Postsecondary TTC fares may be reduced in response to Ford government’s policies

Motion result of advocacy by the University of Toronto Students’ Union

Postsecondary TTC fares may be reduced in response to Ford government’s policies

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.

Toronto City Council to debate Scarborough subway and LRT plans tomorrow

Scarborough leaders, including UTSC vice president & principal Bruce Kidd, urge council to approve project

Toronto City Council to debate Scarborough subway and LRT plans tomorrow

Toronto City Council is expected to make the final decision tomorrow on the proposed Scarborough transit plans, which include an LRT to UTSC.

The plans, which were approved by the city’s Executive Committee, include a one-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to Scarborough Town Centre to replace the aging Scarborough RT and a 17-stop extension on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to UTSC.

However, critics of the one-stop subway to Scarborough Town Centre, such as city councillor Josh Matlow, argue that it is more economical to build a seven-stop LRT going through Scarborough Town Centre and terminating at Sheppard Avenue instead of a subway.

The seven-stop LRT was the original plan to replace the aging Scarborough RT and was fully funded by the provincial government at a cost of $1.5 billion. In 2013, under then-mayor Rob Ford, City Council voted to replace the project with a three-stop subway line. Mayor Tory further amended these plans in January 2016 with the introduction of the currently proposed one-stop subway and 17-stop LRT.

Matlow has indicated that he will make a motion to replace the $2.9 billion one-stop subway with the original seven-stop LRT.

Five business and community leaders from Scarborough have penned an open letter to Tory and members of council, urging them to approve the plans and move on from the debate between the type of transit. The leaders include UTSC vice-president & principal Bruce Kidd, Centennial College president Ann Buller, Scarborough Hospital CEO Robert F. Biron, Scarborough Business Association president Marg Middleton, and Rouge Valley Health System president Andrée G. Robichaud.

“The debate between subway or LRT or SmartTrack, and which solution is right for Scarborough has been needlessly time-consuming and divisive,” reads a portion of the letter.

The letter continues: “We understand that the financial requirements for comprehensive transit may exceed what we are able to afford today. But this should not stop the City from planning what’s right.”

Kidd told The Varsity that the he and the other four signatories to the letter did not discuss the possibility of a seven-stop LRT, but stressed the importance of a rapid transit connection between Scarborough Town Centre and the Bloor-Danforth line as well as extending the Crosstown LRT eastward.

“Scarborough’s an important part of the city. It needs to be properly served,” said Kidd. “Toronto fails as a city if it cannot adequately serve the people of one of its biggest parts — the most populous area of the city. We’ve got to approve of the plan and then do the necessary steps to implement it without continually reopening these debates and going back to the drawing board.”

Details for Scarborough transit plan revealed

Eglinton East LRT with station at UTSC projected to take 43,400 commuters in 2041

Details for Scarborough transit plan revealed

Details of the proposed Scarborough public transit revamp, which includes the extended Eglinton East Light Rail Transit (LRT) to UTSC and the single-stop subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre (STC), were made public after a Scarborough community meeting on May 31.

New ridership statistics indicated during the presentation illustrate that an estimated 43,400 people will use the Eglinton East LRT daily in 2041, including students commuting between UTSC and Centennial College.

In addition, the $1.48 billion project will provide rapid transit options within walking distance of about 41,500 people and facilitate access to over 7,800 jobs. 

The new LRT route would span an estimated 11 km along Eglinton Avenue and Kingston Road, elevating along Morningside Avenue and running at-grade through Military Trail, with one station at the the heart of UTSC and another at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

The LRT expansions is also set to be integrated with UTSC Master Plan, which is the campus’ plan for revitalization.

The community meeting revealed that the 6 km extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to STC will have a projected ridership of 7,200 during peak hours in 2031.

Mayor John Tory originally announced the 17-stop extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the one-stop addition of the subway in January, which was a decision that was met with praise from the UTSC community.

Conflicting visions for rapid transit in Scarborough sparked heated debates between stakeholders and politicians as far back as 2006, with opinion split about using subways or LRT systems to extend service further into Scarborough.

Late Toronto mayor Rob Ford advocated against LRT to connect the city’s east end, repeating the line, “subways, subways, subways.” Ford discarded earlier plans for city-wide LRT and bus rapid transit routes that would have circled UTSC grounds.