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EDITORIAL: Buck-a-fare just another sound bite (Provincial Election 2022)

May 24th, 2022 · No Comments

Doug Ford has lowered the discourse for campaign-time politics by sucking another party into a vacuum of sorts. The PCs have given free licence plate renewals and are promising a five-cent drop in the gasoline tax—if reelected. 

The Liberals have countered with a buck-a-fare public transit plan. It feels like we are at the CNE with hucksters competing for attention.

Clearly, the Liberals under Steven Del Duca are modelling their buck-a-fare proposal in response to Ford’s ill-fated buck-a-beer promise from 2018. In the Liberal plan, all municipally funded transit agencies, the GO service (both trains and buses), plus the Ontario Northland transit services, would see one-way fares reduced to $1 until 2024. 

The PC beer promise, had it come to fruition, would have likely given consumers crappy beer for a loonie. It’s not clear what social or economic benefits that would have brought society, but it’s not a pretty picture. Thankfully, Ford had not bothered consulting with the breweries expected to deliver the price break before he promised it on their behalf. That’s typical Ford behaviour—over promise, under deliver, and fail to consult in the first place.

The Liberal’s buck-a-fare plan hints at serious policy but it’s more of a sexy slogan than a well-conceived plan. Beware of shiny objects. 

There are several problems with the Liberal plan. First, it’s essentially what Ford is doing. Ford is writing cheques to drivers, with the elimination of sticker fees, and lowering tolls on provincially controlled highways. Del Duca is writing cheques (through a price reduction) to commuters on transit. They are each buying votes with money from ALL Ontarians. 

Second, though the Liberals say it will cost the province only $710 million, it appears it will cost much more based on prepandemic ridership stats published by the TTC. Even if seventy-five per cent of 2019’s ridership returns, the province will be on the hook for $856 million payable to the TTC for their losses in the discount fare program, and that’s just Toronto. 

Further, the plan is unfair as it favours those with longer commutes. For example, a Toronto resident riding the TTC every weekday to work would save $1170 a year. 

A Kitchener resident commuting 100 km to Toronto, who normally pays $38.80 for their two-way daily commute would now pay just a toonie, and they will save $9568 a year! Not a dime of those savings will go to make transit a better option. It would be a mistake to conclude that the buck-a-ride proposal is about funding transit, it is purely a subsidy to riders.

Perhaps the most damning part of the Liberal plan is the fact that it is so fleeting—until 2024. An 18-month discount period will not likely lead to a meaningful change in behaviour.

In Germany, where fares were severely discounted or eliminated, studies show that new riders tended to be those who would have walked or cycled. People who commute with their cars do so for a variety of complex reasons beyond cost. It’s already much cheaper to take the GO Train than drive from Kitchener to Toronto and back, but thousands still drive.

The buck-a-fare plan, should it come to fruition, will cost taxpayers over $1 billion and will not likely produce a measurable climate benefit. It’s better than Ford’s free licence stickers and lower road tolls, but not by much. 


Tags: Annex · Editorial · Opinion