An affordable, accessible and reliable transportation system connects people to jobs, services and civic life. Transit makes it possible for residents to access opportunities and brings opportunities into neighbourhoods. In recent years, the City of Toronto has improved transit access in several ways. New policies and programs now allow free rides on all TTC services for children, discounted fares through the Fair Pass Program for low-income residents (in receipt of OW or ODSP), and (as of August. 2018) two-hour transfers for all PRESTO users. These initiatives will make positive impacts on the lives of Torontonians living on low incomes. Yet there is more that can be done.

Available and affordable public transit helps reduce poverty by increasing access to social and health services, community resources, and economic opportunities. The inability of many Torontonians to easily move throughout the city decreases the economic and social returns on transportation investments. It hinders economic growth and prosperity, reinforces social isolation, and contributes to health inequities in Toronto’s communities.

High fares mean that residents with low incomes need to spend a significant portion of their take-home pay on transit. Between 2009 and 2018, the price of a TTC monthly metropass increased by 34 per cent (from $109 to $146.25). Working low-income Torontonians use cash fares and tokens more often than medium- and high-income riders, as they are unable to afford the cost of the monthly metropass upfront. This means that low income Torontonians end up spending more per ride on transit than everyone else.

Torontonians with low incomes are often let down by infrequent and unreliable service, and many depend on transit to commute to low-paying and irregular shift work. Those who work early morning or late night hours find that their schedule needs don’t always match existing transit service availabilities. Many neighbourhoods in the inner suburbs, where household incomes are lowest, are underserviced by public transit. In some areas, residents struggle to access facilities that accommodate for physical mobility challenges. Active transportation options such as cycling are not readily available for low-income residents, and in all areas of the city, restricting mobility and public health benefits.

Transit planning in Toronto needs to consider equity in network, service, and price. Prioritized efforts should be made to connect underserved areas to jobs and services, reduce the need for trip changing in suburban areas, eliminate multiple fares when crossing municipal or regional boundaries, and incorporate accessible and inclusive design for people with disabilities and other mobility needs. Building on the momentum from the City’s recent efforts to improve transit equity, new approaches and investments could make Toronto even more accessible and navigable for low income residents and neighbourhoods.

City of Toronto Initiatives

Because access to transit is so vital, one of the first Poverty Reduction Strategy actions was to make the TTC free for children 12 years of age and under, creating free, universal access for an estimated 266,000 Toronto children.

Building on this initial step, in December of 2016, Council approved the creation of the Fair Pass: Transit Fare Equity Program as a poverty reduction initiative to make transit more affordable for low-income residents. This program will extend to low-income adults, the same reduced fare currently available to youth, post-secondary students and seniors.

Effective April 4, 2018, phase one of the Fair Pass Discount Program was launched and is now available to residents receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) assistance who are not already in receipt of monthly transportation supports of $100 or greater.

Subject to budget approval, phases two and three of the Fair Pass Discount Program will extend eligibility to residents receiving housing supports or child-care fee subsidies and other Toronto residents living with a household income under the Low-income Measure (LIM), plus 15 per cent.

Additionally, the TTC is implementing a Hop on-Hop off Transfer in August 2018, allowing all users to take multiple trips within a two-hour window.

The TTC’s Easier Access Program is working to make all subway stations physically accessible. This involves the installation of elevators, accessible fare gates, barrier-free paths, and improved signage. By the end of 2025, all stations will be fully accessible.

The TTC is also working to improve its Wheel-Trans service as part of their Accessible Transit Services Plan, which includes launching the “Family of Services” pilot and continuing implementation of the Wheel-Trans Transformation Program.

As an example of the City’s efforts to provide a broad range of transportation options, Bike Share Toronto provides a fleet of 2750 bicycles across downtown Toronto, with a total of 270 access stations. In 2018, capital funding was secured to expand the system, connecting it to more transit stops and stations in the north, west and east ends of the City.

In addition, Transportation Services is continuing to implement the Ten Year Cycling Network Plan, which aims to connect, grow and renew infrastructure for Toronto’s cycling routes over the next ten years.

Poverty Reduction Strategy: 2018 plans

In 2018, Council approved the first phase of the Fair Pass program as part of the 2018 Operating Budget process. This phase provides the reduced fare to city residents receiving support from Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program. This first phase of implementation began on April 4, 2018.

The second phase will extend eligibility to residents receiving housing supports or child care fee subsidies, while the third phase provides reduced fares to all other Toronto residents living with an income below the Low Income Measure +15% threshold. These phases are expected to commence in 2019 and 2020 respectively, contingent on funding from City Council.

City staff will also develop and implement a robust evaluation program of phase one to inform the design of subsequent phases. The evaluation will provide more information on the real impacts and benefits of the program on low-income residents.

Transit equity is also about availability. With that in mind, the TTC has started developing an equity assessment tool to ensure the needs of low-income riders and other transit-dependent groups inform all decisions about proposed changes to routes.