Apparently our local transit system is having some financial difficulties. The Mayor was on the radio today blaming fare-skippers for the problem, suggesting public shaming as an option. I heard one commentator suggest the solution was more transit cops to catch the ne’er-do-wells avoiding their fares. Paying for more enforcement just seems wrong to me.
We need transit right? It’s in our collective best interest to have a successful transit system. We’re not going to let the system fail. Why not then fund it from provincial taxes paid by Toronto residents and stop wasting money on inspectors hired to catch people who avoid paying. Why spend money on an expensive fare collection system? Let’s all simply pay for the system and convert it into zero-fare transit.
Would this work? I bet ridership would go up significantly, which might relieve some of the traffic pressure in Toronto, another issue our Mayor has been trying to get his brains around (back when I was working at Canada Post, he had police tagging and towing postal vehicles in the downtown during rush hour). I suppose drivers would object saying if they don’t use the system, they shouldn’t have to pay, and everybody screams anytime they have to pay more taxes, and people living on the edges of the GTA would moan and shout bloody murder.
I wonder if anybody has crunched the numbers on this? What would it cost each Torontonian to fund the system without ever collecting fares? Is there a reasonable way to go about this? I’ve read there are some cities in Europe who have adopted some version of a fare-free transit system.
For those of you who would like to beat me up about this idea, comments are free.
The number of families I used was the number of families as reported on the census, not the number of people who pay property tax. So yes if you use a total population number you get a smaller cost per person but babies cant pay their share so you have to multiply by the number of live people/family to get a feel for how expensive this would be. You can say that if mom and dad both work their individual share would be only $1000 each but that isnt very helpful in total. I didnt have access to the number of folks who paid property tax but ultimately it wouldnt be all that different from the number of families because even renters have a property tax component buried in their rent. It shouldnt matter a lot what mechanics you use, the total bill still has to be paid by a finite number of people. Of course a provincial Liberal government could just borrow a few extra billion each year and simply plan to never repay it but dont get me started on that. I think that determined politicians could find a way to make it work financially, at least on the surface. I still think that the unintended costs would be crippling especially if de-amalgamation happened. The same sort of system of lets provide an important service for free and recover the small costs through taxes is the way our health care system works and in that system costs have spiraled out of control because the end users no longer have any control of what they pay and everyone in the system milks it to the maximum. I like the concept of no fares transit but I doubt if it would work.
Probably actually have to work in the city taxation office to get accurate numbers but maybe I can take a rough cut. A city pretty much has only property tax available to it for a venture like free transit so the key number is number of households. 2011 census says there are 1.59 million families in metro Toronto. The TTC says they collect 2.70 million fares each day. Sooo each family would have to pay 2.70/1.59 = 1.7 fares each day whether they used public transit or not. I think 1 fare costs $3.25 so it would cost each family 3.25 x 1.7 x 365days = $2017/year. That would be a bargain for a family where 2 people took the bus to work and back home every day. It would be pretty horrible if you didnt use the transit system at all.
The big problem would of course be the effects of the Law of Unintended Consequences. For example it would immediately eliminate the homeless problem in the city. Why sleep on the street when you can get on a nice warm subway train for free and have a sleep on a padded seat? Then there is the added cost of extra elections. The extra elections would be needed when the million or so folks who never used public transit rose up and lynched city politicians as fast as they could be elected. Yes, there would be considerable savings with a free system. Perhaps enough to even cut the tax burden by as much as half (that is just a wild assed guess on my part) but geez it would be tough to sell even a $1000 tax hike to people who dont use public transit. Of course if transit was free I would demand a subway line that took me right to my place of work. And so would everyone else. Im not sure how often city council could just say no to that. The concept of free transit is really appealing on a lot of levels to me but Im pretty sure the devil is in the unintended consequences. Why not run a crack house on a subway car if you can get on for free? Yikes!
In 2011 there were 6.054 million people in the GTA. That changes your numbers. I don’t know that property taxes are the only approach. There is a provincial portion of income tax that can be levered. That way the burdon is not just on homeowners but on all residents. Of course a change of this scope would likely trigger de-amalgamation, widening the chasm between the downtown and the burbs – even though better transit would highly benefit people on the outskirts.