All signs point to a New Year’s fare hike for TTC riders, now that the Toronto Transit Commission has moved up its monthly November meeting to talk about operating costs.

Originally scheduled for the end of the month, it will take place Nov. 17, with the TTC’s 2010 operating budget expected to be the key agenda item. That gives the 11 city councillors on the transit commission just a little over the six weeks the TTC requires to prepare for a fare ­increase.

It’s not clear how big a fare hike is being contemplated, but an increase of about 25 cents per ride raises about $45 million in revenue for the transit system.

For the past decade the TTC has raised fares about 10 cents per ride annually, which brings in about $20 million in operating revenue. But this year Mayor David Miller pledged a price freeze to help recession-weary riders.

Transit officials were mum yesterday on the issue of a fare increase.

“The bottom line is the deficit for the TTC is huge,” said TTC vice-chair Joe Mihevc, referring to the shortfall in operating revenue generated at the fare box, where the transit system recovers only about 71 per cent of its costs.

He said he didn’t know the exact size of the deficit yet, but the number would be apparent by the Nov. 17 meeting.

“You cannot talk about the deficit without talking about fares,” he conceded. A 10 cent increase usually means a loss of about two million rides a year, said Mihevc.

The TTC is only just recovering from the loss of ridership in the 1990s, where it cut service and increased fares.

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