People are calling for the TTC to be totally free during COVID-19

As more and more cities make their public transit systems completely free to use during the strange new reality that COVID-19 has created, the TTC is sticking to its guns and continuing to charge its usual fare amount on all of routes.

Commission representative Stuart Green said earlier this week that the fact that the TTC “moves significantly more people in different ways at different times” compared to systems in places like Brampton and Mississauga — both of which are offering free rides right now — make the switch unrealistic in Toronto.

Due to Toronto’s large network, Green said, suspending fares would also be a lot to work through as far as “financial and service impacts,” and the City would need to be on board.

The shift would mean less interaction between drivers and passengers — an obvious plus right now — and that transitgoers could get a little break in a time of great stress and financial precarity.

So, residents are continuing to demand that public transportation in Toronto be free during this time. Among them, more than 30 organizations that have now written an open letter to Mayor John Tory and the TTC to try and get it done.

The group is asking that the TTC stop collecting fares, and thus stop fare inspections and fines as well, in an effort to help all residents — especially those using transit because they are an essential service provider, as well as the vulnerable, such as those experiencing homelessness.

This point is particularly important now that cash and token fares are no longer being accepted on buses due to fear of facilitating the spread of COVID-19, and some individuals simply don’t have access to Presto.

“Most community organizations that try to provide transit support for community members to access essential services distribute tokens,” the open letter, which has been singed by groups like the Daily Bread Food Bank and the TTCriders, reads.

Toronto Drop In Network manager Susan Bender adds that “those who cannot afford the cost of a Presto card or a TTC fare or who don’t live near a place where they can buy them need a clear message that they can ride fare-free to get where they need to go safely and without worrying about a fine.”

The group’s other requests include that the TTC run frequent enough service to allow for proper physical distancing, and also that it provide adequate paid sick leave for all workers to ensure no one is spreading illness while on the job.

Though recently-free transit in other cities has partially been in the interest of the public, it has also been an attempt to prevent running completely empty vehicles as commuter numbers dwindle due to the fact that populations are self-isolating.

Given that the number of people taking the TTC each day has fallen by as much as 60 per cent because of the pandemic, a move to free fares may help in this way, too.

Still, John Tory reiterated at a press conference today that the City is not yet in a position to be able to make transit free, and that if it did, it would likely have to pare down service, which creates its own issues.

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