TTC route cuts hot topic at Scarborough budget consultation

Residents concerned about potential cuts to 48 TTC bus routes voiced their fears at a recent public budget consultation at the Scarborough Civic Centre.

“Always remember that the decisions being made affect the people of the city,” Lisa Wallner-Bartram told councillors at the Jan. 20 meeting. “And I for one do not want to experience work-to-rules, protests and strikes this year.”

The meeting was attended by several city councillors and chaired by Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Coun. Doug Ford. It was one of four inviting residents to air their concerns about the recently announced city budget.

Highlights in the proposed 2011 city budget

• Axe the vehicle registration tax.
• Cut councillor’s budgets.
• Freeze property taxes.
• Reduce spending in all departments by five per cent.
• Close the Urban Affairs Library and move the collection to the Toronto Reference Library.
• Charge more for nuisance, or false, fire alarms, raising charges from $350 per hour per truck to $410 per hour per truck.
• Increase recreation fees – park fees, permits, camp fees and more – by three per cent.
• Increase garbage and recycling rates by three per cent.

Though the budget delivers on Ford’s campaign promise to freeze taxes without major service cuts, many feared cuts to what they consider essential services, including the at-risk TTC routes.

Wallner-Bartram said she would like all the threatened bus routes be maintained.

But when asked by Ward 43 councillor Paul Ainslie if using smaller buses on minor roads might work as an alternative to cuts, Wallner-Bartram said she thought it could.

Scarborough resident Sonny Yeung suggested Ford raise property taxes by about one per cent — half the rate of inflation — to fund the TTC and keep busses running on the threatened routes, as well as pay for other priorities.

That no consultations were held prior to the recommendation to cut bus routes was disappointing, said Waleed Khogali, a volunteer with transit advocacy group TTCriders.

The Scarborough resident said he hopes city council will take into account residents’ remarks before making a final decision.

“When city council becomes part of the problem … creating gaps in the budget by scrapping revenue then crying foul that we don’t have money, I think it’s insincere,” Khogali said.

Residents ask, Where’s the gravy?

Some at the meeting said they could not find any misused money in the budget.

“Despite a line-by-line review of the budget, there was no evidence of wasteful spending,” said Colin Hughes, a community worker with the Children’s Aid Society. “Council has proceeded to cut taxes and use a onetime surplus to cover some costs.”

He also expressed his concern over the city’s ability to sustain services not just this year but next.

Not everyone at the meeting had an opinion on the budget.

The Turners, who chose not to provide their first names, are long-time Scarborough residents who had not even looked at the budget. They came out to show their support for the new mayor, they said.

“Ford is trying to be respectful and save money,” the husband said. “[The city] should be run more like a business, and Ford is trying to get into that.

“This is a really grassroots night … We’ve never had [this] opportunity to come out and speak.”

Ainslie said he was glad to see so many people from Scarborough turn up for the meeting.

“It’s good to see there’s a cross section of everybody coming out,” he said. “I understand that people work hard for their money … You want to see [it] spent properly.

“I think the process is working.”

Ford has set Feb. 23 as his target to finalize the budget.