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Higher fares for less service? A breakdown of what the TTC's budget means for riders

Fewer subway train rides, a steeper fare. The TTC board approved its annual budget for 2023 on Monday.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Fewer subway train rides, a steeper fare. The TTC board approved its annual budget for 2023 on Monday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

The Toronto Transit Commission board has passed what TTC CEO Rick Leary is calling the toughest annual budget in decades.

Mayor John Tory first announced some changes to the TTC operating budget last week, touting some $53 million in new spending largely focused on making the system safer in the wake of several violent incidents.

However, according to the budget report, the plan also comes with a 10-cent fare hike and lower service levels at certain points in the day, even as the transit agency tries to lure back riders it lost after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

While city council has yet to approve TTC's operating budget for 2023, the fare hikes and service cuts are set to come into effect this spring, the City of Toronto and TTC officials confirmed.

"Difficult decisions had to be made with respect to both our core service delivery model and to fares," Leary told the TTC board.

"What you have before you today is a balanced approach in the face of lower ridership and revenues and pressure of inflation."

Here's what the changes could mean for your wallet and commute:

How are service levels changing? 

The TTC measures its service levels through the number of hours service is provided each week.

Last year, the commission was set to provide 180,200 total hours of service. With this new plan, the number of total hours served will fall to 164,200, representing a roughly nine per cent decrease across the board.

But those cuts won't be felt equally on TTC buses, streetcars and subway trains.

Data from November shows buses ran closest to maximum capacity at 97 per cent service levels. Proposed cuts will bring that down by three percentage points by the end of the fiscal year.

Streetcars will take a steeper hit, decreasing from 92 per cent to 87 per cent service levels.

But trains are set to bear the brunt of the service cuts. In November, scheduled service sat at 90 per cent. By December, they'll sit at 75 per cent service levels.

Effectively, subway trains will come at least every six minutes or less in most cases, the budget report says, but can take as long as 10 minutes to arrive.

The changes are set to take place this spring.

When will there be less service? 

The TTC plans for busy commuting hours, known as peak periods, between 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday

The board says it will will return to pre-pandemic planning standards for peak periods, but adjust off-peak service periods.

Route adjustments will be determined by the change in vehicle crowding standards, the report says.

Are crowding levels changing?

The new plan will have vehicle crowding standards return to what they were before the pandemic: 50 customers per bus, 130 customers per streetcar, and up to 1,100 customers per train on average during the busiest hour.

They were temporarily suspended for the past two years to provide more physical distancing, the report reads.

For off-peak periods, vehicle crowding standards will increase to: 45 customers per bus, 90 customers per streetcar, and 600 to 650 customers on average per train.

How much am I expected to pay? 

The TTC is proposing to raise adult and youth single fares by 10 cents — the first increase since 2020.

Adults currently pay $3.25 for a single ride, while youth between 13 and 19 pay $2.30.

The increase is set to start Apr. 3, the report says, and is expected to generate $16.1 million this year. The funds will go to mitigating the increase in diesel prices among other initiatives, the document says.

However, the proposed plan will allow an additional 50,000 low-income residents to opt into the Fair Pass Transit Discount Program.

How many people are travelling on the TTC?

The TTC found that ridership from infrequent commuters — who use the system one to four times a week — grew beyond pre-pandemic levels. However, the numbers of frequent and monthly-pass users shrank to 65 and 47 per cent of what they were before the coming of COVID-19

The board predicts ridership will recover to 75 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year.

It currently sits at 68 per cent on weekdays and 79 per cent recovered ridership on weekends.

The commission is planning for ridership to recover to 81 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022.

Is any money going toward expanding services? 

The mayor's budget proposal would give the TTC $53 million more this year.

This will primarily go toward preparing Line 5 — also known as the Eglinton Crosstown LRT — and Line 6, the Finch West LRT, for operation, the report says.

It will also go toward the Line 3 Scarborough Bus Replacement, as the Scarborough RT is set to go out of service this year.

New funding will also go toward hiring 10 additional Streets to Homes outreach workers who will help connect with homeless people who are increasingly turning to the TTC's stations and vehicles for shelter.

The plan includes hiring 50 more special constables for the TTC, which has recently seen a string of violent attacks.