We can’t afford a fare hike, low-income Torontonians told TTC chair Adam Giambrone yesterday afternoon.

I can’t afford not to have one, he responded.

Members of an east Scarborough chapter of Action for Neighbourhood Change presented the politician with a 1,021-signature petition protesting the increase that goes into effect Jan. 3. The group does advocacy work in neighbourhoods the city identifies as “high priority” because of their high levels of unemployment and crime, low average income and shortage of affordable housing.

Adult cash fares will rise to $3 from $2.75, while a monthly Metropass will go up by $12, to $121.

That’s $12 that Neville Jacobs, 63, can’t afford.

“I’m here to put a face to the problem,” Jacobs, a retired minister and South African expat, said at the meeting with Giambrone.

Jacobs lives in Kingston-Galloway-Orton Park, a neighbourhood nestled against tony Guildwood. Here, 42 per cent of households are headed by a single parent, according to the 2006 census. Seniors, another group that lives disproportionately in poverty, make up 12.6 per cent of the 28,000 residents.

Jacobs’ financial situation shows just how much a seemingly tiny fare hike matters: His monthly pension income is $1,235, of which $862 goes to rent and $300 to cover debts incurred when, he says, “I was too proud to go on social assistance.”

The twice-weekly TTC journey Jacobs makes to his medical appointments is onerous, involving a 90-minute trip on three buses. Soon, it will eat up $6 of his precious cash.

“You’re absolutely right,” Giambrone said when presented with the residents’ concerns.

In return, he offered up his own tale of financial woe: Faced with a $95 million shortfall next year, the transit commission can only turn to riders to make up the difference.

Advertising contracts aren’t up for negotiation until 2011, and labour agreements are handled by the city.

Council already increased its transit subsidy 15 per cent over 2009. The province hasn’t revealed yet how much money the TTC will get next year, he said, and the federal government has virtually ignored pleas by Canadian cities for relief from transit operating costs.

Giambrone (Ward 18, Davenport) said the TTC has been “crunching the numbers” on a proposal to subsidize low-income riders, which would then be presented to the municipal and provincial governments.

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