When Mayor David Miller and TTC chair Adam Giambrone announced their intention not to raise transit fares this year, riders got a break. But can the commission deal with steadily rising costs without cutting back on vehicle frequency or maintenance?
Top transit watcher Steve Munro is concerned, writing recently on his influential blog: “The proposed fare freeze in 2009 looks nice on paper, but it will force the TTC to make cuts elsewhere in its budget.
How much service will not operate?”
He continues, “The TTC owes council a statement on the impact of the fare freeze. ... we need to understand the trade-offs involved.
“The worst possible TTC response would be to make invisible cuts. The last time they did this, assuring us year after year that there were no problems, the result was the Russell Hill subway crash (in which three people died).”
On Friday, I asked TTC chief general manager Gary Webster to respond: “When we had the 1995 Russell Hill accident we, the TTC, were very open and transparent about the concerns we had about the way we were managing the TTC, including our maintenance practices and … we made significant changes.”
He says, “We are not making silent cuts to the way we do business. When the 2009 budget is final and approved in the next couple of months through the city budget process, you’ll find that we’ve got money in the budget to maintain the level of service, consistent with our new service standards.”
The TTC’s service standards outline “acceptable” levels of crowding as well as require minimum half-hour frequency on most routes.
Webster adds, “We’re not cutting the service we just added (in 2008). We’ve got all the money we requested to maintain the system in a state of good repair.”
Budget pressure eased when the price of diesel fuel dropped dramatically. Of course, labour costs continue to tick upward, and the TTC still has not resolved a major job evaluation dispute with its lead union — a conflict that affects employee morale and could add millions to the agency’s bottom line.