Bloor West Villager
Vaughan Road Academy student Meera Haq has a bone to pick with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).
She says the TTC is already too expensive to ride without the 10 per cent fare hike that went into effect Jan. 1. It's a concern the high school student shares with her friends and fellow classmates.
"Our parents only give us a little allowance - our allowance doesn't go up when the (TTC fare) goes up," said Haq, adding that more than half of a $200 cash Christmas gift went towards her Metropass. "Most of my money goes to the TTC."
Her criticism doesn't end there. Haq said she relies on the 90 Vaughan Road bus to get to and from school every day. On some days she'll watch three buses in a row pull up to her stop while on other days she'll wait for what seems like forever before one arrives. On those days, Haq said she's forced to explain to her teachers why she's late for class.
For these reasons, the teen thought it crucial to be a part of a round table discussion organized by Davenport MPP Jonah Schein, the NDP's environment and urban transportation critic, who was joined by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Wednesday at lunchtime. The two sat down with transit riders and local residents as well as community advocates at Big Slice, an Italian restaurant on St. Clair Avenue West near Dufferin Street, to discuss the issues while indulging in some pizza.
Horwath said it was important to her that she get out into the communities of Ontario to reconnect with people, to let them know the NDP is there for them.
"We don't get to see Andrea in the riding very often, this is a great opportunity," said Schein, who began his day with Horwath at the Dufferin subway station followed by a visit with grades 5 and 6 students at Rawlinson Community School and then a stop in to Tre Mari Bakery on St. Clair Avenue to speak with constituents.
"People are very, very engaged," said Schein. "People want to talk about transit; people want to organize, they want political action."
Schein said Toronto is seeing record ridership - citizens are paying their fair share and yet they are losing services while being expected to pay more. The province used to pay 50 per cent of the TTC's operating costs and those of all transit systems across Ontario.
"This is no longer the case," said Horwath. "We still want to see a better relationship between the province and municipalities. If we're serious about the environment and we're serious about getting people out of their cars, we need to be part of the solution."
Added Schein, "We need to figure out how we can leverage the power we have as a community. We expect the government to listen."
On Monday, Jan. 9, Schein urged all Toronto MPPs to take up the Rexdale Youth TTC Challenge by committing to a full week of relying entirely on public transit to get around the city. So far, Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo, Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue and Peter Tabuns, MPP for Toronto Danforth have taken up the challenge.
Horwath said she has spoken to people who spend as much as two-and-a-half hours each morning on transit to get to work. One man she spoke to said he spent a total of seven hours a day taking his children to day care and then getting himself to work.
"The Liberals took $4 billion out of Transit City, they killed the bus replacement plan, they're planning to run diesel trains to the airport - where is their commitment," asked Horwath. "Their priorities are not the priorities of every day Torontonians. They've abandoned their responsibility to transit and people are going to pay for it."
The NDP platform calls for the return of the 50/50 model to fund transit.
"Municipalities need to freeze transit fares," said Horwath.
Public transit, said Schein, is essential to this city.
Or, as area resident Opal Sparks, who relies on Wheel-Trans, said: "This is a first-class city with a third-class transportation system."