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Toronto faces multiple crises at the same time. In the immediate term, gridlock-traffic is agonizing and drivers pose lethal risks. It’s infuriating day to day, the city loses billions in productivity, and people get injured or killed. Housing is also obscenely overpriced and hard to find. In the middle distance, the pandemic continues and climate change looms.

The reasonable response to this is vastly improving public transit to reduce congestion, the parking burden, and air pollution. For every $1 the government spends on transit, it spends $9 on the infrastructure private cars require. That means that even if a TTC passenger doesn’t pay a fare, they cost the city less than private cars do.

Yet the city is poised to send “fare enforcers” back throughout its transit system in late March 2023 to give tickets as high as $425 to people sidestepping $3.25 fares, fares which are set to increase yet again, even as service is cut. The TTC is eliminating some bus routes and there will be longer waits for existing buses, and even subways.

These TTC cuts come at the worst time possible: violence has increased, ridership is significantly down. TTC Board Chair Jon Burnside’s views are so upside down, he may as well be an executive for Uber or a car company rather than work for the TTC.

So how does the TTC have money to circulate over 100 fare enforcers to inspect its own riders when facing a $336 million-dollar shortfall? The TTC boasts that fare enforcers will wear body cameras, as if equipping these less-than-useless patrols with expensive gear is good! If fare enforcers require body cameras because they pose that level of risk, they shouldn’t exist.

The point is to end racist enforcement in public space, not videotape it. We already have 2018 footage of three TTC fare enforcers physically assaulting a Black teenager on a streetcar at St. Clair and Bathurst, just outside my old apartment while I lived there. It’s a well-established pattern that doesn’t need to be confirmed yet again. The inspectors were suspended, with pay.

The way this conversation is framed, even people sympathetic to TTC passengers think “fare evaders” deprive the public transit system of money. People on both sides see it that way, wrongly.

And OK, in an obvious and basic sense, people who don’t pay a TTC fare clearly don’t contribute that money to the TTC. But almost nobody accuses drivers of personal cars of getting a free ride, even though they also don’t pay to access public roads that cost vastly more tax dollars to maintain than public transit does.

Let me repeat this because car-brain has hopelessly warped this public conversation. Every private car on Toronto streets is a considerably larger burden on the city than TTC “fare evaders.” Private cars create financial problems, the space they take up cause bottlenecks, we breathe poisoned air that creates trickle-down health problems, which we pay for too.

A modern, sensible city would encourage people to take public transit, and nothing is less welcoming or pleasant than “fare enforcers”! They have a tendency to grill marginalized people and their entire job description is absurd. They shouldn’t exist on the TTC even if their very generous salaries cost us nothing. That we pay for this “service” is fiscal nonsense.

One reason I think the motivation behind “fare enforcement” is motivated purely by cruel and punitive punishment and not any actual philosophical or economic principle is the difference in how people perceive safety enforcement for drivers.

Enough people think speed cameras are just a “cash-grab,” even if they really do catch people breaking the law and posing danger to the public. Let’s be real, cars injure, maim, and kill people every day despite “Vision Zero,” and measures to enforce safety are widely publicly rejected, rather than embraced the way “fare enforcers” are.

Unlike speeding cars, TTC “fare evaders” pose no physical danger to anybody! Toronto drivers transcend stupid or even dangerous; drivers here regularly crash into houses, condominiums, telephone poles, fences, laundromats, bus shelters, and, of course, other cars and people on the road. This is a much bigger problem than people moving efficiently, affordably, and cleanly through the city. In fact, far from a problem, the latter is the goal! It’s what we hope to achieve and we are investing money in punishing it!

The alternative to the person not paying a TTC fare (among North America’s most expensive transit fare) is them not riding, which also doesn’t add money to TTC coffers. If someone doesn’t have the money to pay, then they can’t go to appointments, see people, get groceries.

Anyone saving money by riding the TTC isn’t the type of person this city should depend on to keep the system afloat. Anyone saving money by not paying a TTC fare is even less suitable. If someone who doesn’t pay transit fares chooses to drive their car to get somewhere instead, how is that a better result for the city?

Let’s be clear again: the TTC isn’t short of funds because riders aren’t paying enough–it’s the exact opposite. TTC riders put vastly more money into our transit system than riders from other cities, which enjoy more public subsidies. Toronto riders fund roughly 2/3rds of our transit system. No other North American city this size depends on fares to fund its system, but Toronto does. That is the wellspring of our financial difficulties, not riders cheating the city. If anything, the city is cheating TTC riders, then giving itself a moral pat on the back for harassing the people they do wrong by.

That’s the reason it’s broke, which obviously predates the pandemic. 10 years ago, a TTC token cost I believe $2.25. Now, tapping Presto costs $3.25. Prices have risen roughly 50%. Overreliance on TTC passengers, using their wallets as a crutch while austerity politicians like John Tory defied experts to pour billions he didn’t have into the crumbling Gardiner Expressway is, frankly, stupid.

To hear these officious and ignorant arguments portraying the backwards and barbaric “fare enforcement” of poor people as if it’s moral, rational, and fiscally sensible is maddening and sad.

John Tory spent millions of dollars on police to violently push homeless people out of public parks. Those people have nowhere to go, so some may try to survive the Canadian winter by riding TTC vehicles overnight. Now we’re paying another tier of patrol to harass them there, too.

Letting drivers access public streets for free while subjecting TTC passengers to rising fares, reduced service, and increased enforcement is ignorant and hypocritical, and is a flagrantly irrational response to the multiple crises we face. More than that: the crises we face exist mostly because this city asks people with less to spend more and vice versa.

It’s unsustainable, which is why things feel like they’re breaking more fundamentally, not just worsening at their usual rate. We need to look at this conversation holistically and ask what the goal of the TTC really is, and how we accomplish that goal by actively investing sorely-needed money into creating new barriers that make the riding experience a lot worse for many people.

“Fare enforcers” are a puritanical vestige of Toronto the Good who have absolutely no place in a safe, functional, modern and fiscally responsible public transit system everyone can ride.

Solve the problem by addressing root causes: redirect a lot of the billions we’re wasting on private car infrastructure (widening old highways, building new ones, paving farmland) and invest it in public transit at the rate normal North American cities do, and the problem the city created will gradually vanish. Blaming and stigmatizing innocent poor people, and investing in their increased harassment, is self-defeating, intellectually indefensible, and morally unconscionable.