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From 1981: What should the TTC do with all its extra cash?

Politicians wrestled with how to spend an unanticipated $6-million surplus generated by Toronto transit fares in 1981.

More riders meant more fares being paid, as well as an unexpected $6M surplus

What to do with Toronto's transit cash?

40 years ago
2:01
In 1981, a larger-than-expected ridership boom left Toronto with a decision to make about the revenue surplus they provided. 2:01

The more people that paid transit fares, the more money the Toronto Transit Commission had dropping into its cash boxes.

The question was what to do with that money, when it was piling up unexpectedly amid sharp growth in transit use in 1981.

"Toronto commuters are like those anywhere else — the high costs of driving have convinced many it's time they switched to public transit," the CBC's Frank Hilliard told viewers on The National on Nov. 17, 1981.

"And so, this year, transit use climbed by nearly seven per cent to a record level of nearly 400 million trips."

That surge led to a surplus of $6 million, as a result of those extra fares.

That left politicians and transit officials debating two possibilities for that money — pay down the transit system's deficit or use the money to keep fares down.

'There is no more money'

In November 1981, Metro Toronto Chairman Paul Godfrey did not support seeing the TTC hold fares well below the rate of inflation for the coming year. (The National/CBC Archives)

Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton favoured using the money to help make transit more affordable for riders.

"They're already feeling the squeeze from inflation, they're being hit from so many sides," he said. "They don't need to be hit now with a fare increase."

Transit commissioners concurred and voted in favour of raising fares by only 7.2 per cent — amazingly, a level that was below the high inflation of the time.

It would be up to the Metro Toronto Council to approve their recommendation. At least one influential council member, Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey, didn't agree with the mayor's perspective.

"There is no more money at Queen's Park for this," he told reporters.

"I am not prepared to go up on this issue, this year, and ask for more money for public transit," he added.

Hilliard said it appeared likely that council would ultimately approve a fare increase that was close to the rate of inflation — and that's exactly what happened later that month.

Frank Hilliard's report on the TTC's surplus closed with a shot of him standing on a subway platform at the Davisville subway station in Toronto. (The National/CBC Archives)

Corrections

  • A photo cutline in this story had previously described a reporter as standing on a northbound subway platform, though it appears he was actually on the southbound platform.
    Nov 26, 2019 9:58 AM ET

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