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Rob Ford pushes TTC fare hike, job cuts and longer wait times

Rob Ford is cutting back on funding for the TTC and it spells dire news for anyone using transit.

According to a draft of a new TTC report, the proposals include reducing the frequency of transit vehicles; raising the price of tokens by 10 cents; eliminating 422 jobs and reviewing 500 others for possible outsourcing; delaying the arrival of dozens of new vehicles; and making dialysis patients without mobility devices ineligible to use Wheel-Trans.

The proposals are intended to address the city’s demand for a 10 per cent cut to the TTC’s $1.4 billion operating budget and to reduce a $1.5 billion long-term shortfall in its capital budget. They will be debated at a special Friday meeting of the TTC’s councillor commissioners.

“TTC management has worked very hard to respond to the fiscal challenges of the city,” said the TTC chair, Councillor Karen Stintz. “And we’ll have to make some difficult decisions on Friday.”

The TTC report is separate from the one released Monday by city manager Joe Pennachetti. His report suggested eliminating the late-night Blue Night bus service, “or making it a premium service by raising fares.”

Faced with a public outcry and squeamish councillors, the TTC softened a proposal earlier this year to save $7 million through cuts to routes with low ridership. Its officials have now attempted to slash TTC spending while leaving routes intact. But they did put forth another idea that will almost certainly prove contentious: lengthening the intervals between vehicles.

“We just wanted to make sure that we continued to offer the same service, that we weren’t cutting back on routes,” Stintz said. “So we may decrease the number of buses that go by in any given hour, but people would be able to rely on the service being there.”

Their buses, however, would be even more crowded, and passengers would have to wait longer for them to arrive. The TTC projects another all-time ridership record for 2012: 502 million rides, a 3 per cent increase.

“It was claimed that we would squeeze gravy from the system,” said Councillor Maria Augimeri, the only critic of Mayor Rob Ford on the nine-member commission. “These recommendations show the only thing getting squeezed will be the riders on packed buses, streetcars and subways.”

In another potential blow to passenger comfort, TTC officials recommended delaying delivery of 15 of the 204 large low-floor streetcars already on order with Bombardier.

They also recommended deferring 134 new buses expected to arrive between 2013 and 2016. And they said the city should buy 10 fewer new Toronto Rocket subway trains than had been considered.

The 10-cent fare hike, which would apply only to tokens, may be another tough sell. A 10-cent hike was abandoned a day after it was threatened in January, and Mayor Ford has since conveyed to TTC officials that he is opposed to any increase.

The TTC has about 12,000 employees, about 10,000 of which are unionized. Of the 422 jobs targeted for elimination in an attempt to save $32 million per year, 171 would be union positions, 251 management positions. The cutbacks would probably involve both buyouts and layoffs of managers, who will receive the details Tuesday.

The cutbacks would target all or nearly all managers at the TTC-owned Toronto Coach Terminal, raising questions about how the facility will function.

Up to 500 additional union jobs may be targeted for contracting-out. These include jobs in maintenance and in trades such as woodworking and welding. “There are some jobs that can be outsourced easier than others,” Stintz said.

Only about 1,800 of Wheel-Trans’ 45,000 customers are dialysis patients. But they make frequent trips — 210,000 per year — and they are the only people permitted to use the service who do not use mobility devices. Rendering them ineligible would save about $5 million per year.

Stintz hinted that the TTC would first ask the provincial government to pick up the cost of serving them. “I think the Ministry of Health would acknowledge that dialysis patients have unique needs, and that they do rely on Wheel-Trans,” she said.

2,000 child-care subsidies to be axed

If you are a low-income parent of young children hoping to return to work or school in the next year, your chance of getting one of the city’s 24,0000 child-care subsidies is about to get tougher.

Toronto city council is about to take an axe to 2,000 subsidies in an effort to slash its chronic operating deficit. (Such an action will mean many low income parents will be force to quit their jobs and stay home with their kids thus hurting Toronto's economy and putting more stress on the welfare system.)

The subsidies are funded through a city reserve that will be depleted in early 2013, says a report by the city manager who recommends the subsidies be “suspended” at that time.

The only way the city can afford those subsidies is for a new infusion of cash from Queen’s Park, Joe Pennachetti says in his report released Monday.

So far, none of the provincial party platforms are promising any new money for child care.

If city council approves Pennachetti’s report later this month, Toronto would be returning to mid-1990s levels of child-care service to low-income families, advocates say.

“This is such a betrayal of the families and the children of this city,” said Councillor Janet Davis, vice-chair of the city’s community development and recreation committee.

“The recommendations of the mayor and his consultants target the most vulnerable and it is a shameful way to try to balance the budget on the backs of those who are least able to defend themselves,” she said in an interview.

More than 20,000 families are already on the city’s daycare subsidy waiting list, and some never get a spot, she added.

City staff has been warning politicians of the impending child-care cash crunch for more than a year, said Elaine Baxter-Trahair, the city’s general manager of children’s services.

“This is no different from what we have been saying all along,” she said. “Unless our funding pressures are addressed (by Queen’s Park) when the reserve fund is depleted, we’ll have to start reducing incrementally.”

The cuts would begin through attrition next summer and fall, as children leave the system or grow up, she said.

Each Toronto child-care subsidy costs about $10,000 a year. The 2,000 subsidies at risk carry a price tag of about $20 million annually and are currently being funded through the city’s child-care expansion reserve fund.

About $16 million annually in new money from Queen’s Park would be needed to save those spaces, assuming the city agreed to kick in its 20 per cent, or $4-million annual share.

The loss of those subsidies will mean some centres won’t be able to fill vacancies because area parents can’t afford full fees, which can run as high as $1,600 a month for an infant and $1,000 a month for a pre-schooler.

The subsidy cuts come at a time when centres are already scrambling to deal with the loss of 4- and 5-year-olds to all-day kindergarten.

“It adds to centres’ fiscal pressures, no question,” Baxter-Trahair said.

In addition to cutting the 2,000 daycare subsidies, the city manager’s report recommends a broader review of Toronto’s child-care system to further reduce costs.

The review, which would be part of the city’s child-care task force, struck earlier this summer and headed by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, will look at the possibility of transferring some or all of its 55 directly operated child-care centres to non-profit or commercial operators.

It will also consider scrapping the city’s quality ratings system and services for children with special needs and will look into setting a maximum per diem rate based on the average cost of non-profit daycares, instead of paying centres their actual costs.

Rob Ford's budget mess

First, Rob Ford hired a corporate assassin in KPMG to do his dirty work, a futile attempt to distance himself from the planned sacking of Toronto.

End subsidized daycare. Close libraries. Sell the zoos. Padlock museums.

“Don’t blame us,” Rob Ford's cronies protest. “These are just recommendations from the consultants.”

Pulling a Pontius Pilate and washing its hands, KPMG said, “These are not recommendations; they are a list of opportunities….”

The carefully crafted image is one of positive ventures; investments. Instead, by the end of the month, Toronto could face:

Fewer medical calls from fire fighters. A smaller police force. Reduced TTC service. Death of the “Hardship Fund” that provides medical services for the city’s poor.

City manager Joe Pennachetti came clean Monday and dipped his hands into the blood. When he pulled them out, few city services remained untouched by the axe. Ah, yes, Joe P is recommending many of the very cuts, er, opportunities, KPMG listed in July.

Now, the bleeding mess has been dumped in Mayor Rob Ford’s hands, where it belongs.

It is the same mayor who looked voters in the eye a year ago and swore on their votes that he could find close to $2 billion in savings at city hall without chopping a single service. Waste, he said, littered the city hall corridors like the leaves of autumn.

Rob Ford, of course, found teaspoons of “gravy” where he pointed to vats of supposed waste. So, next Monday his hand-picked executive committee of 12 sycophants must vote on Pennachetti’s recommendations and advise city council where to cut:

End the very popular community environment days. New “minimum standards” for snow removal, grass cutting. Chop $6 million from community and arts grants — affecting TIFF, AGO, ROM, and tiny community groups.

Caught, hoisted on his own petard, as they say, the penny-pinching mayor must preside over the destruction of the city so many built to become one of the most livable places in the world.

Those heady days are gone — as we’ll discover years hence, when the ranking agencies discover a deteriorating city.

Urban observers already know this: Small grants to community groups are the seeds of peace, social harmony, economic development, and a sense of belonging.

K’naan, he of “Wavin’ Flag” fame, is now a world-scale ambassador. But it was a small city grant that helped him put down roots in Rexdale, germinate, and find his place in the music universe.

Kill those grants and no one knows the dreams that are rendered stillborn in our priority neighbourhoods.

City council is the only buffer against such a future. Many councillors delude themselves into thinking the current ruinous exercise is a careful examination of the city’s fiscal condition. It is not. It is a deceitful exercise devised by a mayor who cares nothing about the collateral damage of his rampage against city services and programs he never needed and never took the time to understand.

Pennachetti has served in all the regions around Toronto. He believes that one way to relieve Toronto’s cash crunch is to reduce service to the levels of its neighbours in York, Durham and Peel.

Another way is to increase Toronto property taxes to the level of its neighbours. Ahh, that, of course, is not on the table in this exhaustive fiscal review.

Instead, we have a mayor who killed a vehicle tax source that delivered $64 million a year and plans to kill a land transfer tax that nets up to $250 million annually.

And to pay for these Rob Ford sinks the city into a divisive debate that, even if every recommendation were approved, gets us just $100 million this year.

Which means Rob Ford will still have to raise taxes by at least 3% by December 2011 just to make ends meet.

Its no wonder Rob Ford is getting death threats. He's axing jobs and raising taxes at the same time.

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