ON: TTC Eyes Staff Cuts Before Fare Hikes; Increased Ridership May Mean Doing More with Less

The Toronto Transit Commission will consider whether it can serve more riders with fewer workers before it looks at fare hikes and service cuts to solve an $85 million operating budget shortfall next year.

"There is a sense in the public we can do our work better. We need to respond to that," said TTC chair Karen Stintz, after councillors on the transit commission took a first look at the financial challenges the system faces in 2012. That "sense" extends to management and unionized TTC employees, she said.

This summer, the TTC will undergo a core service and efficiency review. In the fall, transit officials will decide whether to make riders pay more or cut some service - which drew fierce protest earlier this year when the TTC dropped some of its least-used bus routes on evenings and weekends.

The TTC's preliminary budget report called for hiring 128 people, which officials say are needed to maintain service for an expected ridership growth of 15 million next year. The report did not incorporate the cost of a new contract with the TTC's 10,000 unionized staff. If TTC workers, now considered an essential service, were to get the same contract provisions as the police, it could cost the transit system an extra $300 million.

"That's their answer to everything: Cut, cut, cut," said Amalgamated Transit Union president Bob Kinnear. "There are 1.5 million people out there that would disagree with cutting us, particularly service."

He criticized Stintz for failing to speak to front line transit workers.

"I think we have a number of ideas in which they can find efficiencies," Kinnear said, citing no specifics.

Stintz has been called to a meeting in the mayor's office Thursday to discuss the TTC's capital spending plan, which predicts a $1.5 billion shortfall over the next decade.

Next year's overall operating shortfall is predicted to be $85 million, based on growing ridership projections, the current $429 million city subsidy, and this year's level of service. That figure incorporates a $39 million shortfall on operating costs and the 10 per cent cut being demanded of all city departments - about $46 million.

Overall, the TTC expects the costs of running the system to climb by $71.2 million, or about 5 per cent.

Higher diesel prices will account for about $31 million of that. About $19.3 million is needed to pay extra staff to provide service for a growing number of riders. The fact that 2012 is a leap year means spending $3 million for the extra day.

The TTC plans to adopt the provincial Presto fare card, but it's going to keep ties to open payments provider ACS Transport Solutions - just in case talks don't work out with the Ontario government.

ACS, which has bid to underwrite an open payment plan that would allow riders to use credit or debit cards or cellphones to pay, has extended its offer until November. Meanwhile, the TTC will negotiate with the province to adopt Presto as long as it costs the city no more than the $47 million budgeted for card readers and other start-up costs of switching from tickets and tokens.

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