It is 6 a.m. on a Saturday. I am the second person to board the westbound streetcar on Queen. After a few more stops and a few more unfortunates drawing lots for Saturday work, two Fare Inspectors get on. They work their way toward the rear of the car, asking passengers for proof of payment and are quite polite about it. I show them my metropass and they go past me to check the remaining passengers.
But then, I began to think about the whole idea of Fare Inspectors on a publicly-owned transportation service. The TTC provides an important service to Toronto businesses and workers alike. As time goes on, and traffic congestion worsens, the contribution public transportation makes to the common weal will increase significantly; benefitting owners/shareholders and employees. It extends beyond this to provide mobility service to all Torontonians, working or not. Retirees rely on it, students rely on it – most every sort of person, engaged in whatever activity you can name, is aided by it. Transportation is a public service as fundamental to a community’s overall health as is, well, healthcare, or education, or the police. None of these services, except for where certain provincial governments have permitted tiering of services (better service if you are willing to pay a premium), require anyone to pay….they are financed by taxpayers, businesses and persons alike.
In a truly progressive society, the services everyone needs are not denied anyone on the basis of their ability to pay. Food, clothing, shelter, safety, education, healthcare, and mobility are fundamental human needs, wouldn’t you say? How is it, then, that we have Fare Inspectors checking up on people in the context of a public service?
There are some people who can pay, but don’t; our FI’s would catch these. But there are also many people who cannot pay. At $141.50, a metropass is probably not in the monthly budget of a homeless person. In addition to not having a place of their own, or a circle of family and friends to belong to; on top of being constantly shewed out of stores and malls due to their mendicant appearance (and lack of purchasing power), shunned by family or (former) friends, and, very possibly burdened with mental/emotional dysfunction (such as situational depression – go figure!), they have only the cold, the dark, and their own vulnerability for company. They must stand outside and freeze, because they don’t have $3.25 to pay the TTC driver and ride the system until they warm up. The TTC could provide all of this to the poor the way our libraries provide a hub for people, wealthy and poor alike, to gather and pass the time with a newspaper, reading a good book, researching a project for business or school, or chatting with the other library regulars. Libraries are a public institution that also provide a sense of community (level three of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) to its patrons. Community, with any sense of permanence, is something the homeless do not have. Libraries do not charge anyone (except those among us who love a book so much we keep forgetting to return it J), and this is a great model to employ with respect to mobility also.[i]
It was when I thought of the homeless I pass everyday on my daily commute, that I began to have a sense that there was something wrong with this picture. I watched the two Fare Inspectors do their jobs, and my expression must have looked stern. I wasn’t angry with the FI’s, nor had I any cause to be. They were affable and doing their jobs well – kudos to them. What angered me was the thought of so many people being desperate for what the TTC service could provide them – when they have so little else, and Canadian society is denying them even this.
We have families. We have friends and neighbours. We live in comfortable dwellings. Most of us live in safe communities. We are happy to have these things. The homeless have none of these things. They need special consideration; but the special treatment accorded them is:
1 – being treated as if they aren’t even there, except when
2 – they are in the ‘wrong place’ -meaning anyplace good people frequent -“good” in this day and age being understood as those people having money to spend and opportunity enough to attire and groom themselves to a publicly acceptable standard. They are keeping warm, and seeking sustenance in the way of handouts from strangers (aka their fellow Canadians); but they are treated as society’s dregs (dead-load), a bane to social efficiency. Industrial processes capture their system dead-load by precipitating and accumulating it at the bottom of a tank and then landfilling it. Canada’s social “dead-load” also precipitates and accumulates at the bottom – well below the poverty line. This is unacceptable -as much for the society as for the individual. Those people who are born, or fall into, poverty, inherit the severe dearth of opportunity that further entrenches them in it. Members of Canada’s ‘hapless class’ are effectively being prevented from acquiring the wherewithal and skills they need in order to make a net contribution, by Canada herself.
How can anyone get up and begin a new day, when from the first interaction with their fellow Canadians they are rudely reminded they do not belong? Can we not find it within ourselves to at least allow them the things to which all Canadians, Ontarians, Torontonians, should have a common right and hold in common – that is, until governments like the Ontario Liberals manage to privatize it all? Can we not allow the homeless to ride free on the TTC? At least allow them that?
Perhaps our Fare Inspectors could be instructed to use judgement, and to not ask for proof of payment from people who, going by their appearance, are likely homeless? Perhaps Toronto businesses, manufacturers and retailers alike, could pay a dedicated municipal transportation surtax, on a progressive basis, to help fund the TTC? The TTC is expected to provide five hundred and fifty-five million rides this year.[ii] TTC annual operating budget is roughly $1.6B. That works out to a little under $3 per ride. Metropass users account for about half of these rides.
There are more than 5000 homeless in Toronto,[iii] and more than 600,000 souls living below the poverty line in the GTA.[iv] If the 5000 were riding daily for free, that would equate to about 6M in lost revenue; less than half of one percent of the operating budget. And it is not so much “lost;” since the homeless would not have gotten on without the money in the first place. It is considered “lost,” when one’s only concern is that the number of bodies matches with the amount of revenue. This is the TTC purely as a business. But the TTC is not only a business, it is a public service; and when one’s concern extends beyond dollars, guided by a strong sense for doing the right thing, one sees the greater opportunity lost in not using the TTC to provide some advantage for Toronto’s vulnerable.
The working poor could qualify for a subsidized metropass. They could be given a focused tax credit; over and above what is given to higher-income riders. With so many living at or below the poverty line, the amount of the subsidy has the potential to grow exponentially and must therefore be set according to a formula, with the goal of reducing the fares of the working poor.
Given the data, the TTC could easily absorb the ridership that is unable to pay. Allow the homeless to ride for free, just like kids under 12 do. The homeless cannot afford to buy their own metropass anymore than children under 12 can. The homeless should ride for free just like the kids, and for the same reasons: to get from A to B safely and comfortably.
The Great Soul, Mahatma Gandhi, once observed that “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” [v] The homeless are the most vulnerable, with the working poor placing a close second.
[i] As for the implementation side of things, how effective can the Fare Inspectors be at recouping fares while trying to navigate a crowded bus/streetcar during the rush hours, or during the wee hours when there are few riders, none of whom had a viable opportunity for sneaking in the backdoors?
[ii] Google for the Presentation Preliminary 2016 TTC Operating Budgets.
[iv] See the article in the Toronto Star: Nearly a quarter of Toronto residents live in poverty: James
[v] Taken from the behappy.me website. The quote appears in many other places as well. Google it.