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As if Torontonians did not have enough to complain about when it comes to the TTC, the transit commission’s 2023 budget announcement included increased fares, increased wait times, and service cuts leading to increased crowding. This bleak outlook for an already struggling transit system raises the question of how far it will degenerate before the labour movement begins a campaign to radically change the transit system. The need to fight for fully funded, free transit  under the democratic control of workers has never been greater.

On Jan. 4, the TTC released its proposed $958-million budget for approval by the City of Toronto. It included plans to raise fares by 10 cents, a significant increase for many workers and youth who are struggling with inflation. Maximum wait times will be extended from six to 10 minutes for rapid transit. As well, crowding standards in off-peak periods will be raised from post-pandemic levels, going up to 45 riders on a bus, 90 riders on a streetcar, and 650 on a train, maintaining the status quo of 1,100 per train during peak periods. While claiming this budget helps with “health and safety”, one wonders how increasing the number of people in small quarters during a pandemic accomplishes this. TTC riders are being told by management that workers and the unemployed need to pay more, for less service. 

This announcement follows the City of Toronto’s $53-million increase to the transit budget. Of that, $43 million will go into Eglinton Crosstown and other public-private partnership projects that have eaten up funds and dragged on for years, while the capitalists involved have profited. Four million dollars will go towards hiring 25 new transit cops with bloated salaries, and just 10 Streets to Homes social workers. While the cops are effectively in place to harass and criminalize the poor, social workers are tasked with offering overcrowded shelters to a homeless population trying to find refuge from the city’s cold streets. It is safe to say that few Torontonians can believe these measures will reduce the growing problem of violence and safety on the transit system. 

On CP24, when asked to justify the service cuts, TTC Board Chair and Toronto City Councillor Jon Burnside, who helped approve the TTC budget, said: “…we have huge budgetary issues because of the lower ridership, right now it’s about 69 per cent of what it was. And unfortunately in Toronto, so much of our operating budget is dependent on the fares of individuals, and we can’t escape that…”. 

But where is the money going and who is really making financial sacrifices?

In the middle of 2021, CEO Rick Leary received a 21-per cent pay-hike with a total yearly salary of $438,495.91. This occurred at the height of the pandemic in Toronto, when workers were risking their lives and facing financial difficulty. In an attempt to increase ridership, a new ad campaign by the TTC has called the system “the relaxing, affordable choice”. The angry reaction online and in interviews on news media has revealed the disconnect between the wealthy bureaucrats who run the commission and the working class people who use it.  

The TTCriders association, a public transit advocacy group, has correctly stated in a public letter to the TTC board that service cuts and fare increases will drive more transit users away, pushing more into poverty and reducing safety. They also correctly call for a full reversal of service cuts to off-peak periods and point out research showing that cuts will have a disproportionate impact on racialized and disabled people, women, and the poorest as a result. However, the solutions they propose fall short. 

TTCriders criticize the TTC budget for going back on a commitment to subsidize the Fair Pass program, which offsets costs for the poorest transit users, through the Social Development, Finance and Administration (SDFA) budget. It is absolutely correct to demand zero increase in fees on transit users, and the bloated salaries of bureaucrats deserve to be taxed. However, this is simply not enough to demand a zero hike. We must also deservedly demand free transit! This demand has already been raised by the workers with CUPE Local 2 who keep the TTC running.

TTCriders also proposed to “increase funding for the TTC from using new revenue tools, not fares”—that is, that the TTC receives “new revenue tools and stable funding from provincial and federal governments.” Essentially, this calls for money to be taken out of the pockets of workers and poor outside of the city, to pay with their tax dollars to offset the costs of workers and poor in the city. But why go after workers to pay for workers, when the richest in Canada are increasing their wealth on the backs of all workers? Nearly $1 trillion went to bail out corporations during the COVID outbreak, increasing their profits and salaries to record highs. Corporate profits were up 46 per cent in 2021 and they are hoarding more than $1.5 trillion in uninvested cash! Workers have paid enough. It’s time to go after the rich in Canada, the bulk of whom live right here in Toronto.

The TTCriders association bases their logic on appealing to reason and evidence-based research to change the minds of management and politicians. They correctly call for the full reversal of service cuts and changes to off-peak TTC service, explaining the impact on the most vulnerable. They claim the TTC executive and board members have no data and evidence to support justification for the cuts and their impact. However, responsiveness to evidence is not what drives these politicians and bureaucrats of the TTC. Toronto city councilors, who make $120,000 per year on average, are essentially acting as a tool to attack workers rather than going after corporations who are making staggering profits in the city. They could not care less about evidence. In fact they are quite aware of the evidence of corporate profits—they typically go work for them after their public service!

The job of the wealthy TTC bureaucrats and city politicians is to ensure as much public money as possible, whether raised through tax dollars or directly through fares, is used to offset private capital costs and increase profits for top-level executives and shareholders. They are managing profits, not the interests of people who rely on the transit system. 

The reality is that the TTC is being controlled by a wealthy few who continue to increase their salaries, cut services and ask workers and the poor to pay more. There is no convincing these people to change their ways. The TTC and all transit systems across this country need a radical transformation in management. Improving the transit system can only be done when the workers who actually operate the TTC, and the workers and poor who use it, have control over the finances and management.

In 2019, CUPE Local 2, representing 650 electrical workers at the TTC, released a public statement calling all Ontario workers to join the struggle to bring down the Ford government through a campaign of “mass strikes and protests” and a fight for “free public transit”. Fightback endorsed this development and called for the leaders of the much larger unions to take on this demand and back it with action. Unfortunately, this did not happen, and even the president at the time of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 refused to endorse the statement. The result is what we see in front of us today: more service cuts and further degeneration of the transit system when union leaders are unwilling to fight for their members and the public against the bosses. A renewed campaign could easily expand its demands towards  putting the transit system under democratic workers’ control and management. Who will question this? Do the majority of Torontonians believe the TTC is under a management that cares about their interests? The degenerate state of the TTC means such a campaign could spread like wildfire. If the trade unions inside this city began to fully adopt such a campaign, it would not change the transit system overnight. But it would begin the necessary process to gather public support from other unions and non-unionized workers and even begin the transformation of the decrepit politics of this city.

The money exists to radically transform the transit system of Canada’s largest metropolis, and workers have immense power to shut the system down if their demands are not met. It is, however, currently run in the interest of profit instead of providing services for human need. It is time for trade unions and the labour movement as a whole to go on the offensive, use their power, and organize workers around a campaign for free, fully funded transit—a campaign that, instead of asking workers to pay for the crisis in transit and other areas of the economy, wages war on corporate profiteering. Whether the labour movement likes it or not, the right-wing city politicians and bureaucrats have taken up their side of the battle and are on the offensive.