talk talk: Let’s Compare the TTC to US Cities

talk talk talk: Let’s Compare the TTC to Canadian and American Cities

This blogger takes a look at the differences in cost between the TTC and other Canadian and American transit systems. Lets take two examples from his posting.


Toronto: Fares, per token (cheaper than cash, the same as Metropass if you travel 10 times per week) are $2.00, going up to $2.10. Start stocking up! Revenues from fares are 80% (this is generally known and stated in many places, but according to my calculations from the TTC’s 2004 Annual Report, it’s 92.8%, unless you factor in their separate operating subsidy, which makes it 69.2% — can I just say the TTC’s annual report is the most amateurish piss-poor document I’ve seen.) . The city and advertising pays the rest of the TTC’s revenues. This year we will receive $132 million in gas tax from the province. That’s 13.3% of total expenses, zero percent of capital expenses. Wow!

New York City: This comprehensive transit system, the most equivalent to Toronto’s as it’s the biggest system in the US and ours is in Canada, gets 57% of operating expenses from fares, 17% from local, 20% from state; 71% and 29% of capital expenses from local and federal respectively.


The blogger goes through percentages that the farebox contributes to the overall operating and capital costs in operating the respective transit system as well as a bunch of other figures. Looking at each transit system in terms of an accountant is all well and good.

However what this blogger fails to note is value for money. A businessman and customer understands the concept of value for money. A good businessman will provide a very good product or service at a highly competitive price. Customers see this everyday when they shop. Duracell is a well known company that provides well made batteries that a customer knows will last a respectable time length for the amount a customer pays for it. The customer could choose another battery, but Duracell has proven to be good value.

In terms of transit lets take a look at the two transit systems noted above.

TTC: Two main subway lines (Bloor-Danforth-Scarborough RT and Yonge-University-Spadina line) and one stub line (Sheppard Subway) that provides local service only. This system is complimented by overcrowded buses and streetcars running within mostly mixed traffic. Cash fare $2.50 Canadian (as of today).

Distance Travelled: Finch Subway to Union Station via Yonge-University-Spadina Line local service 30 minutes.

MTA New York City Transit: Several subway lines with both express and local service during the day. Also at least some local service operates 24 hours a day. This system has more trackage than all other transit systems in North America combined! This service is complimented by many buses that operate in mixed traffic. These buses, depending on their route, can be overcrowded in some areas depending on the time of day. Cash fare is $2.00 U.S. (far less than $2.50).

Distance travelled: Borough Hall (Brooklyn) to Times Square-42nd Street (Manhatten) via 2 Express Train (approx 20 kilometres) in 15 minutes.

As a transit rider that has experienced both Toronto’s and New York City’s transit systems, I much prefer New York’s for a couple of reasons:

1. New York system moves over 10 million people a day and makes it look effortlessly in most cases. This is probably perhaps you can go practically anywhere in the 5 boroughs (Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens & Staten Island) on one single ticket. Toronto, in contrast, requires you too walk for a couple of blocks in order find a bus or streetcar. Most of Toronto’s transit system tends to be servicing the downtown core with only a few routes, mainly on arterial roads, operating in the outer areas of the city.

2. New York’s train cars and buses are newer than Toronto’s. New York’s train cars, on some routes, even announce upcoming stops and other transit lines you can transfer too automatically in both audible and visual forms. Toronto’s transit cars now has conductors who announce upcoming stops. Toronto’s buses date from the late 1980s mostly while the New York buses date from the 1990s and onwards.

The value for money points towards New York’s system as being far superior in terms of miles of track (and thus speed to get to and more areas of the city served) in comparison to Toronto’s. Yet Toronto’s cash fare keeps increasing. New York’s fare does too but at least their is value for money being seen by the transit user in New York City in terms of renewal of infrastructure (e.g. track replacement, new train cars, etc.) which is in sharp contrast to Toronto. In Toronto, the TTC on a yearly basis cries out for more money just to maintain services it already has. The TTC is crying for money in order to keep the lumbering streetcars in mixed traffic and older overcrowded buses struggeling to stay on the road. Value for money? Sorry TTC you lose!


12 thoughts on “talk talk: Let’s Compare the TTC to US Cities

  1. I’m not comfortable with the idea of comparing Canadian city infrastructure to the US, given that all level of governments handle funding very differently in Both countries. Even though the blogger has gone to lengths to substantiate his claim that the systems are comparable.

    I would suspect comparing Montreal to Toronto would be better as both have a substantive system, and similar government funding mechanisms.

    That said I don’t know much about the Montreal system so let us look at Toronto and Ottawa…

    TTC = 2.10 per trip (with subway busses and LRT)

    OC Transpo = 3.00 per trip (no subway Busses and One LRT)

    So value for money in this comparison goes to whom?

  2. OOPS I forgot TO has Street cars as well.

    Mike you had to know I would have to make the Ottawa comparison. That said most people know how limited OC Transpo is.

  3. US$2.00 is about C$2.35. It used to be about C$3.00. With the variability of currency exchange rates, this in itself isn’t worthy of a rant.

    Value for money is an ongoing debate, and, as Bill noted, it depends in part on who’s supplying the money. If Torontonians could stomach a $5 fare, the TTC could replace a lot of their rolling stock. Thanks to Mr. Harris, the province is no longer providing regular funding for municipal transit.

  4. I agree it is difficult to comapre city to city – they are very different in terms of Gov’t, geography, demographics & population.

    Although for value for money, try Moscow. 30p per trip, beautiful stations, fabulously looked after, and the trains run on time.

    Alternatively, look at London and see how low value for money can go: nearly £6 for a cross city ticket, most of the lines only run intermittently, ancient rolling stock, dirty stations & miserable staff. I remember when it was a good service, but it was along time ago now.

  5. $3.00 cash far in Ottawa. The similar one in Toronto is $2.50 (soon to be $2.75 on April 1st).

    Just thought I would clear that up.

  6. Appreciate the reference to my blog! But your entire argument is based on a flawed assumption, that New York and Toronto are equal in revenue support. New York receives 57% of revenue from fares, and it receives 29% of capital expenses from the Feds. Toronto receives nada on capital, and 80% of revenue from the fare box. New York automatically has a running start by virtue of the fact that it’s far more subsidized by non-local governments…plus their system has been around a lot longer than Toronto’s.

    “Toronto’s transit system tends to be servicing the downtown core with only a few routes, mainly on arterial roads, operating in the outer areas of the city”

    The whole reason underused bus routes disappeared in the 90s is because of Mike Harris taking all provincial subsidy out of the system. Only now with the meagre gas tax are we receiving some non-local subsidies. Even New York would’ve experienced a big downturn with those kinds of cuts. You can’t have value for money if the money isn’t there!

    “Toronto’s buses date from the late 1980s”

    Uh, no. Haven’t been on one of their new handicapped-accessible buses that are proliferating all over like some disease, eh? They’re a treat! There are only a few ancient diesels left.

    “The value for money points towards New York’s system as being far superior in terms of miles of track (and thus speed to get to and more areas of the city served) in comparison to Toronto’s. Yet Toronto’s cash fare keeps increasing.”

    You can’t create value on no money. The whole point of my argument was that even cities New York with its density of population and decades-old established public transit needs heavy subsidization. Governments were created to fund projects and infrastructure that individuals cannot. As an aggregate, through government, we can do far more for public transit, than as individuals alone paying our individual token fares. It has been madness to think Toronto can do something that New York cannot: maintain and expand a comprehensive transit system on farebox and property taxes alone. If the idiot unions hadn’t tossed Rae out, we would already have 4 new subway lines and kept all our bus routes; instead they brought Harris in who stopped expansion and maintenance of existing bus routes in their tracks.

    As for Montreal, it gets far more of my tax dollars (through equalization and me living in a Have province) than the TTC does. It’s heavily subsidized and you see the results in more subway lines (though the technology it uses really hurts my ears).

  7. Thanks for responding to my posting. We both have taken a different investigation into comparing Toronto’s transit system. I merely took a look at it from a rider’s point of view.

    I currently go in and out of the York University area via York Region’s VIVA service on a daily basis to Downsview Subway station.

    On a daily basis I see the old buses at both Downsview and York. I do applaud the TTC for adding more new buses (as York Region is doing so as well).

    In fact York University is a great place to compare Toronto’s buses to(e.g. Route 60 Steeles West, York University Rocket, etc.), York Region Transit (e.g. Route 20 Jane Street, Route 3, Route 10, and VIVA Purple and Orange) and GO Transit (e.g. Highway 407 from Pickering and Hamilton, etc.).
    York University is also Toronto’s biggest transit points currently not being serviced by a subway station.

    I do agree that Toronto doesn’t support its transit properly. However, Toronto needs to look at getting its own financial house in order to look at its core services it provides befor they will get more transit funding.

    An interesting study was done by the Toronto Star that found residential property owners pay less taxes than similar owners in the outer areas of the GTA (e.g. Oshawa, Vaughan, etc.). The study was done based on the property tax mill rate (the percentage on which taxes are calculated).

    Also it is interesting to note that over the last 5 years that the tax hikes in the outer regions have been higher percentage wise than in Toronto. Why is that? GTA pooling costs increasing which support Toronto’s social costs (currently 2nd biggest budget item on the Region of York’s 2006 operating budget). Also, continued provincial bailouts and sky high commercial mill rates help keep Toronto’s resididential mill rates lower.

    Also, Toronto still has 6 city halls after amalgamation, handing out crack paraphanalia kits to drug users at Queen’s Street mental institution, and paying Shirley Hoy (Toronto’s CAO) more than the Canadian Prime Minister in wages don’t help matters either.

    The gas tax was handed over and is being increased year in and year out in the future. Yet, Toronto still wants more provincial money for their budget on a yearly basis?

    Toronto councillors even reject 80 recomenndations for savings by their own auditor general to save money. How did they reject the recommendations? Toronto council never implemented them! This money could have been reinvested into Toronto city services including the TTC budget.

    All of this wasted money and new money could have been put into the TTC to maintain current fares and then expand service.

    Recently, Newmarket council (not including the York Region portion) increased taxes 3.9% and Toronto is still aiming for a 3% tax hike.

    Enough is enough, Toronto taxpayers need to be paying more for their transit system and city services in general.

    I would suggest the province, and federal government for that matter, do subsidize the TTC budget through their annual bailouts of Toronto’s budget. The exchange of taking a large percentage of the education portion off of the property tax and in exchange for ambulance and social costs (which are assisted by the large GTA pooling costs being experienced by Durham, York and Peel regions) were revenue neutral or pretty darn close. Then the province is called upon to give even more year in and year out? Give me a break!

    (Please take no offence, I am just a disgruntled Ontario taxpayer who pays taxes to Toronto day in and day out and is tired of watching Toronto city council flush it down the toilet).

    One last thing, New York City has been way ahead at providing fare options than Toronto. New York City has had a transferable monthly, weekly, and daily passes for a number of years. Toronto only recently implemented the transferable monthly pass.

    The day pass in New York is good from 24 hours from the time you purchase it with no restrictions on when one can purchase a pass. Toronto has set restrictions on the day pass of times you can use it, but this is getting better.

    New York City’s monthly passes are good for 30 days from time of purchase (lets say the 8th of February to March 8th). Toronto’s only good for a named month (i.e. good for only February).

    Making the fares more flexible to the user might increase farebox revenue for the TTC as well. Perhaps a look into TTC services needs to be undertaken. York Region has done this with their transit system that the TTC might look at too. See it at

    Thanks for responding, we both have noted that Toronto has some work to do on their transit system, we both just take a different look at it.

  8. You’re welcome. As you say in your header, Canadians have opinions, and we can disagree! And so…

    York University should have had a subway service — and would have if not for Premier Harris — a long time ago. He should be consigned to riding to and from York every day during winter for that. It is a fallacy that we have to get our financial house in order before we receive transit funding. We had it for decades. Then Harris took it away, and the gas tax, though increasing every year, is nowhere near as high as the traditional provincial subsidies.

    You cannot run a large transit system on property taxes, and you certainly can’t invest a billion dollars per subway line from property taxes alone.

    My property taxes also should not be funding social services. The GTA pooling is the provincial government’s lame acknowledgement of that — and the fact the exchange was not revenue neutral — instead of doing what they should: fund social services from income taxes, like everywhere else in the country.

    I totally agree that Toronto’s fare options suck. The cost for the passes is way too high as well; lower fares increase ridership. After Harris cut funding, the fares shot up, and ridership plummeted. There is a distinct lack of imagination in fare options, and this year-to-year scramble type budgeting is seriously hampering the quality of TTC service and prevents expansion.

    Every government flushes taxes down the toilet. That is never going to change. The Convervatives under Harris, who created the myth that Toronto is the only wasteful government, took corruption to new heights (small business owners I knew suddenly could not submit estimates for contracts as the Harris government just went with their own cronies once they were in power). You get to a certain age, and you start looking at the bigger picture like which taxes should pay for what. Income taxes should pay for big ticket items like health care, social services, and subway expansion and maintenance. Property taxes should pay for infrastructure, like water services and local road repairs.

    The reason why service has dropped is because you simply cannot run a complex transit system that includes subways on fares and property taxes alone. Those two sources alone just cannot contribute enough dollars to run it, even if the city was the only government in the world to run with zero waste.

    As for mill rate inequities…Toronto is older, our infrastructure longer established, and properties are smaller, that means per square kilometer, the city is denser so that each property owner doesn’t have to pay as much. I’m sure that’s going to change when we have one big water pipe burst too many, and the city starts ripping up roads left, right, and centre to repair our 100-year-old water lines.

    “Toronto taxpayers need to be paying more for their transit system”

    I’m curious. New York city taxpayers pay less than we do for their transit services (even the Bush government chips in) so why are you asking us to pay even more?

  9. I mean that the money saved in other departments as recommended by the City’s own auditor and the increase in the mill rate should provide this money.

    I also have another idea, why not upload the transit to the provincial level? The GTA services board failed miserably looking after GO Transit (as proven when the province took it over again). Then perhaps this agency could look at core routes and making connections between the current different systems work better and be better placed.

    The province should also be encourage to hand over more money in terms of transit. I would say the province should provide each municipality a percentage of the full gas tax to go towards transit infrastructure.

    But fumdomg drug paraphanalia at a mental institution for illegal drugs and ignoring recommendations for cost savings by the city’s own Auditor General show the city will manage the provinces’ contributions too well. That is what I noted above.

    New York City taxpayers do pay through the nose for their transit system. They pay through their property taxes (to the city), income taxes (to the city, State and federal government) and in their power bills (Con Edison electricty takes a heating tax for the system).

    The New York City transit system is one of the tops in North America in terms of ridership (10 million riders a day!).

    Toronto (in both the city and provincial sense) needs to get together on a transit system for the GTA. This includes concentrating development around transit nodes and making the connections in subway between the current lines (e.g. Downsview to current Sheppard Avenue line). Also York Region should be looking at extending the Yonge line northbound to at least Highway 7.

    Thanks for providing a great transit discussion.

  10. I enjoy a reasoned discussion! And the TTC is always a pet peeve of mine. One day I’ll write a post on the oh-so-lovely aspects of using it.

    The province was supposed to create an autonomous GTA Board to handle transit matters, sort of like the old Metro government took care of the TTC across the six old cities it comprised. That way the transit systems across the region could do as you suggested. It was a great idea, it just never happened, although I thought that I had read recently it may become a reality…The other part of the problem is that the TTC seemed to balk at integration, partly because of lack of funding, sort of like the York U President refusing initially to allow buses onto campus as part of the busway proposal, as she believed (probably correctly) that the province would lose interest in building a subway to campus once the buses were a regular part of transit life.

    I pay too much through fares and property taxes, but none through income taxes either provincially or federally (I don’t buy gas, so no taxes there!) — that’s the problem! Some of my income taxes should go towards transit so more of my property taxes can go to the rest of our city’s crumbling infrastructure. I remember a really clean city with good roads and a transit system on par with the population. What happened? Now we have a filthy city with pothole courses and a city woefully underserviced by the TTC. When the subway was built, the visionaries decided they’d continue to build a mile of track per year. That stopped in the 1980s of all times, and we fell drastically behind in providing appropriate subway service for our growing population. Rae was going to rectify this, but Harris not only stopped the expansion but cut provincial funding to zero so that many bus routes disappeared or were reduced. I think you and I are on the same page on this.

    As for the Auditor’s report, Miller came in on a clean sweep campaign. Needless to say, many of us intend to sweep him on out…hopefully the majority.

    If you haven’t seen it, there’s a link to the Spadina subway expansion on my blog. Somebody out there has some optimism! I think you’ll find it interesting.

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