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Public transit struggling to lure back riders amid deficits, rising costs of living

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Kelly Fairchild will be paying more to take public transit this year — money she says will come directly out of her food budget.

“Food and groceries are going up and if they keep increasing transit … it’s just not sustainable,” says the Toronto resident, who receives a limited income from the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Last week, the Toronto Transit Commission announced a 10 cent fare hike — raising single cash fares to $3.35 — while also reducing services to address a $366 million budget shortfall. It’s another hit to consumers like Fairchild, who are already paying higher cost-of-living expenses due to inflation.

“Every time they raise the price of bread or they raise the price of the TTC or hydro, people are making sacrifices, people are going hungry and panhandling. I don’t think they really understand people are living dollar to dollar,” she says.

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Inflation rate falls slightly but food, rent costs still climbing

 

Canada’s inflation rate fell slightly in November to 6.8 per cent, a 0.1 per cent decrease, but the cost of food and rent are still increasing, according to new data from Statistics Canada. That’s left millions of Canadians struggling to pay for the basics.

Public transit systems across Canada are grappling with revenue shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, in many cases, reduced ridership has been slower to rebound than anticipated.

But experts say solutions such as hiking fares while reducing service — particularly as living costs rise — is a “Catch-22” that could alienate old and new riders, creating the potential for continuous financial problems and cuts.

Shauna Brail, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Management and Innovation, says the TTC’s fare increase and service cuts will hit the well-being and pockets of low-income riders dealing with inflation and the soaring costs of living the hardest.

“It’s not a bad thing necessarily to raise fares if that results in improvement, but the way the fares are being raised is not so much for improvement — it’s not even to maintain the level we have. It’s for survival,” Brail says.

“If you couple the increased cost with the decreased service levels, it’s certainly not going to help in terms of attracting ridership.”

As of November, the TTC’s ridership levels were just under 70 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels.

Cherise Burda, executive director of Toronto Metropolitan University’s City Building research initiative, says experience and research indicate that more reliable and rapid service is what will increase ridership and turn public transit’s “death spiral” into an “upward, virtuous spiral.”

But better service and attracting new ridership may look different coming out of a pandemic. Burda notes that travel habits have changed significantly in recent years, such as workers returning to offices for only a portion of the workweek.

But she says ridership for non-work travel is back to around pre-pandemic levels, indicating people are using the TTC for other reasons like shopping, entertainment, sporting events or recreational activities.

TTC not alone in struggle to recover

Toronto’s transit system is not the only one in Canada struggling with a deficit.

In November, the Montreal Transit Corp. estimated $77.7 million in losses in 2023 and warned they could lead to service cuts. As a result, the agency announced earlier this month it was scrapping a 10-minute maximum wait program for its busiest bus lines.

The organization says it expects ridership to be about 70 to 80 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels this year. No rate hikes are in the works, but last July fares were streamlined depending on where people live.

Calgary Transit, meanwhile, is estimating a $64 million revenue shortfall this year, though its ridership rebound has been higher than expected and as a result the city froze fares at 2022 levels.

One solution to transit systems’ financial problems, Brail says, is seeking commitments from higher levels of government to provide stable funding that could allow agencies to rely less on fare revenue.

 

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In Vancouver, transit fares increased by an average of 2.3 per cent last July under an agreement with the provincial government to limit price hikes.

Translink, which operates Metro Vancouver’s public transportation system, agreed in 2020 to cap fare increases at that level until 2024 after securing federal funding to get them through a pandemic-related revenue crunch.

BC Transit, which handles public transport in the province outside Metro Vancouver, has also agreed to the same cap on fare increases.

But no matter who foots the bill for the shortfalls, Burda says cities and transit agencies should be focusing on how to build future ridership.

“Right now we’re dealing with the rush to balance the budget and cities are required to do that, but I think there is an opportunity for analysis into ways we can attract new ridership from different travel patterns, and maybe from different segments of the population,” she said.

“That all comes from increased services, so it is a chicken and an egg.”

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The Holocaust strikes our very being

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Holocaust

To be a Jew is not something special,
being a human being is normal.
Dealing with prejudice, hatred, and oppressive action,
now that’s something special for the Jewish Nation.

Oppression, hatred, and genocide besides,
is not just a Jewish person’s situation.
Armenian, Cambodian and Jewish Peoples deal,
with a national eradication event.

People of the world unit,
genocide is an international delight.
Oppress your people, crush opposition too.
The elites of the world are making exceptions for you.

Don’t be weak, allowing excuses to be made,
but lift your hands in justice’s cruel wave.
Hatred knows no reasonability, it knows no mercy.
Hatred, oppression, and prejudice need no exception.

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Long ago Jews were murdered by the millions,
Cambodians died at the hands of their neighbors.
Palestine still walks within the borders of other nations,
and peace is nowhere to be found, my friend.

If your arms are in righteous ways demand justice for all,
for the people who hate will not see our peaceful ways.
A gun, a bayonet, and a saber be brought,
for the right to justice begins today,
and ends with blood if the opposition has any say.

Gandhi spoke of peaceful ways,
while Martin Luther Jr surrendered his life. to the cause.
Young blacks die each and every day,
while the power of prejudice wins the day.

My first lifts in anger that is for sure,
while the average person just shrugs this day.
But the goose-stepping troops may one day march on,
and the ignorance that prevails will let them carry on.

Open our eyes to the wrongs before us,
clear our minds and accept what bothers us.
Injustice is a prevailing horrid thing,
and ONLY YOU CAN BRING IT TO AN END.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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Parliamentarians kick off return to House of Commons with debate on child care

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Parliamentarians kick off return

The economy was top of mind for members of Parliament as they returned to the House of Commons Monday, with the Liberal government kicking off the new sitting with a debate on child care.

Families Minister Karina Gould tabled Bill C-35 last December, which seeks to enshrine the Liberals’ national daycare plan into law — and commit Ottawa to maintaining long-term funding.

The federal government has inked deals with provinces and territories in an effort to cut fees down to an average of $10 per day by 2026.

During a debate today, Gould said all parties should support the bill, and the national plan has begun saving families money.

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But Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri said the plan is “subsidizing the wealthy” while failing to reduce wait times for child-care spaces and address labour shortages in the sector.

Ferreri told MPs that the Conservatives would be presenting “strong amendments” to the legislation.

The debate comes amid concerns about a possible recession this year, with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre saying their focus will be on the cost of living.

But Poilievre’s Tories may have little room to manoeuvre in the legislature.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters upon his return to the House of Commons that he does not believe there is any room to work with the Conservatives during the upcoming sitting.

Instead, the NDP says it plans to push the Liberals to fulfil the terms of the parties’ confidence-and-supply agreement, such as the planned expansion of federal dental care.

Under the deal signed last March, the NDP agreed to support the minority government on key House of Commons votes in exchange for the Liberals moving ahead on New Democrat policy priorities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.

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Singh meeting with Trudeau about private health care ahead of sit-down with premiers

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Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he will sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Monday afternoon to discuss private health care ahead of next week’s summit with premiers.

Trudeau is expected to meet with provincial and territorial leaders in Ottawa next Tuesday to discuss a new health-care funding deal.

“The deal will be a failure if it doesn’t include major commitments to hire more health-care workers,” Singh said Monday, adding that the funding should be kept within the public system.

The last time Trudeau and Singh met one-on-one, as outlined in the confidence-and-supply agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, was in December.

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Singh said now is the time for the Liberal government to make clear that funding private health-care facilities will not improve the shortage of health-care workers Canada is facing.

While health care falls under provincial jurisdiction, Singh believes the federal government could be using the Canada Health Act more aggressively to challenge for-profit care.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced earlier this month that it’s moving some procedures to publicly funded, private facilities to address a growing surgery wait-list, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan have already made similar moves.

“We think the federal government should be making it very clear that the solution to the current health-care crisis will not come from a privatization, for-profit delivery of care. It’ll only come by making sure we hire, recruit, retain and respect health-care,” Singh said.

“Health care is already dramatically understaffed, and for-profit facilities will poach doctors and nurses — cannibalizing hospitals, forcing people to wait longer in pain and racked with anxiety.”

The New Democrats say they’re also concerned that private facilities will upsell patients for brands and services not covered by the province, and tack on extra fees and services.

On Saturday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said his Liberal government will ensure people don’t use their credit cards for health-care services and health care will remain universally public.

Singh is also expected to request an emergency House of Commons debate on the privatization of health care Monday afternoon.

If the request is granted, the debate could go ahead as early as Monday evening.

Health care is a top priority for the leader as members of Parliament return to the House Monday following a holiday break.

Singh spent some of that time away holding roundtable discussions on health care in British Columbia to discuss emergency room overcrowding and worker shortages.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.

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