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   The TTC’s Time-Based Transfers Make Sense For Ontario’s Largest City


By Terri Chu

If all goes according to plan (and with TTC it never does), Torontonians should enjoy time-based transfers starting in August. Great news for transit users but critics are livid. 

It’s an unfair subsidy, they say. “How about transit users paying their fair share?” said another vocal naysayer on my ever-burdensome Facebook feed.  It struck me as an impressive level of cherry picking data for him to come to the conclusion that transit is being unfairly subsidized at the expense of cars. 

I will argue any day that cars benefit from a far greater subsidy than transit:

Road Maintenance

A 2013 study revealed that drivers pay between 70-90% of a 7.5 billion provincial road maintenance bill. This leaves between $750 million and $2.25 billion coming out of general tax revenue. 

By comparison, the TTC, the province’s largest city transit operator, got a whopping $411 million in 2013.  In December, a paltry $11 million funding announcement for Brampton’s transit system was photo op worthy. Even on the low end of the estimate, transit users don’t get the kind of subsidies that drivers do out of general tax revenue. 

Opportunity Cost

Giving space to cars is often seen as an “investment” and “economic driver” that pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users don’t enjoy.  The city of Toronto owns about 160 parking lots containing roughly 20,000 spaces. The lot between Lippincott and Borden just south of Bloor contains 144 spots and takes up almost 37,000 sq. ft. of surface area. This lot charges $4/hr. to park a car there. 

The city is essentially sitting on land and subsidizing drivers to park. This land could be put to much more productive uses that generate far greater amounts of revenue for the city.  Between Bathurst and Spadina, the going rate of ground floor retail is approximately $75/sq. ft.  Given the amount of space dedicated for each car in the Lippincott lot, and assuming a 10% discount for being off of Bloor, “market” rate for each space should be closer to $48/hr. (assuming a 12-hour work day, 7 days a week).  And this is simply giving the land a value of ground floor retail, to say nothing of multi-level construction.

This is a massive subsidy for drivers.  If arguing against the time transfer is about fiscal responsibility, I demand that the city make better use of these land resources.  It’s called responsible asset management.

The city could develop these properties, bringing in a steady stream of revenue or sell it off to developers for a one time windfall.  Either way, it is worth a lot more than the $4/hr. each parking spot currently generates. 

One might argue that this is about promoting businesses. Well, so is the timed transfer.  How much more money would people spend if they could pop out at any station, pick up what they’re looking for and pop back in for free?  There have been many trips I don’t make because paying another fare is just enough of an inhibitor.  “I can do it another day,” I tell myself. Meanwhile I don’t spend the money I would have spent. 

Viewing subsidized parking as the way of the world and a timed transfer as an unfair subsidy is simply hypocrisy of the highest order.

Investing in Transit

We now know that roads and cars are an inefficient means of transportation. It was, and continues to be, a highly profitable one for manufacturers and oil companies, but they should no longer be writing our policy books.  Multi-car families have created urban planning disasters that will take decades to recover from. There are neighbourhoods where one can’t even access a community centre without hopping into a vehicle. 

It’s time to start looking at car costs as “subsidies” and transit costs as “investment.”


Terri Chu is an expert in energy systems, with a Masters in Engineering specializing in urban energy systems. Terri founded the grassroots organization "Why Should I Care", a not-for- profit dedicated to engaging people on issues of public policy.





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