Toronto launches discounts for low-income TTC riders
First phase of Fair Fare Pass program will cut price of transit by as much as one-third for eligible residents.
April 3, 2018
Living in Toronto is expensive, and the rising costs of basics like housing and groceries are making life in Canada’s biggest city less affordable by the day. But for thousands of its most vulnerable residents, starting Wednesday the cost of riding transit will actually fall.
That’s when the first phase of the city’s Fair Fare Pass program will go into effect, offering cheaper TTC fares for eligible low-income residents.
At a press conference Tuesday to mark the start of the program, Mayor John Tory hailed the Fair Fare Pass as a key plank in the city’s poverty reduction strategy.
“It is important that everyone in Toronto has access to public transit. It is transit that connects people to opportunity, and this initiative will help more Torontonians with opportunity and with affordability in our city,” he said.
Council first approved the Fair Fare Pass in December 2016. The program is being administered and paid for through the city’s employment and social services division, rather than the TTC.
Do you think the Fair Pass program is cheap enough to be of value to low-income residents?
During its first phase residents who receive welfare benefits through Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and who don’t already receive transportation supports are eligible for discounts of $1 off single rides, and $30.75 off a monthly pass. The discounts will be programmed onto riders’ Presto fare cards.
According to a December 2016 report, the city expects 36,000 residents will take advantage of the first phase of the program this year, at a cost to the city $4.6 million.
Although groups like students, seniors, and children already get breaks on TTC rides, the Fair Fare Pass represents a significant departure from the existing concession fares because it will be based on a resident’s ability to pay, rather than on more arbitrary measures like age.
Adam Cohoon, an artist and accessibility advocate, plans to sign up for the program. In an interview, he said that although he doesn’t use transit often enough to buy the monthly pass, the single-ride discount will save him about $20 a month. He said that’s significant, given he only has about $500 left over from his ODSP benefits each month after he pays rent.
The Fair Pass program “will probably let me buy healthier food, it will let my (ODSP) cheque go a little longer. It might help me get out one or two extra days a month,” said Cohoon.
Yvette Roberts, who works with the advocacy group Fair Fare Coalition, calls the program is a big step forward. She said lower fares will provide relief for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, who are “trying to survive on mediocre welfare rates that haven’t changed much in a few decades.”
TTC fares have increased by about 33 per cent since 2009, and according to the city after paying rent low-income families can spend as much as one-third of the leftover income on public transit.
But Roberts argued the discounts under the program should be deeper. At $115.50, the discounted monthly pass is “still unreachable for so many people on social assistance” she said.
Other cities offer far cheaper passes for poorer riders. Calgary uses a sliding scale that allows low-income passengers to pay between $5.15 and $51.50 a month.
Tory said Tuesday he appreciated that anti-poverty advocates want steeper concessions, but he asserted the program’s discount is “not insignificant,” and said that after years of such an initiative being discussed at city hall, his administration was the first to follow through.
“Whether people think the discount is big enough or not, we’re actually doing it,” he said. He noted that other initiatives he’s supported since taking office, including allowing children 12 and younger to ride the TTC for free and the planned introduction of timed transfers later this year, would also help make transit more affordable.
The second phase of Toronto’s Fair Fare program would extend discounts to people who receive child-care subsidies and housing supports, and under the third all residents whose household incomes are less than the low-income measure plus 15 per cent would qualify. The second and third phases are planned for 2019 and 2020, respectively, but still need to be approved and funded by council.If fully implemented, the city has estimated that by 2021 the program would cost $48.2 million annually, and serve 193,000 people.