The financial realities for transit in Ontario have become increasingly harsh during the last decade, even as transit has struggled to fulfil not only its traditional economic and social roles, but also its newly recognized mission to help protect the environment. One by one the financial supports for capital improvements and operating costs – subsidies that were largely responsible for the resurgence of public transportation in the seventies and eighties – have fallen away, until it is now only municipalities and passengers who shoulder the entire cost of public transit. - Canadian Urban Transit Association/Ontario Community Transit Association
The lack of funding for accessible transit systems and the impact of funding constraints was a recurring theme in submissions.
Transit service providers have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship. This encompasses both the conventional and the paratransit systems. Factors in assessing undue hardship are costs, outside sources of funding, and health and safety. To amount to undue hardship, costs must be quantifiable, shown to be related to the accommodation, and so substantial that they would alter the essential nature of the enterprise, or so significant that they would substantially affect its viability. Costs may include capital costs, operating costs, costs incurred as a result of restructuring, or any other quantifiable costs that are incurred directly as a result of the accommodation.
In calculating costs, consideration must be given to:
- the possibility of recovering some or all of the costs in the normal course of business,
- the availability of funds from government or non-government sources that could offset the cost of accommodation,
- the possibility of distributing the costs of accommodation throughout the entire enterprise,
- the ability to amortize or depreciate capital costs according to generally accepted accounting principles, and
- the ability to deduct from the costs any savings that may be available as a result of the accommodation.
A number of submissions pointed out that public funding for transit is relatively low in Ontario, accounting for only 25% of revenues, as compared to, for example, American transit systems, which typically receive about 60% of their revenue through public funds. Further, in recent years public funding has come only from municipalities, as the province has gradually withdrawn from its historical role of providing operational or capital funding for municipal transit services. Publications by the Canadian Urban Transit Association point out that, although Canada is one of the most urbanized countries in the world, it is the only G-7 country without an urban transit investment program at the national level. Municipal governments are constrained by law from operating at a deficit, which leaves funding for transit services vulnerable when economic downturns occur.
A number of transit providers pointed out that superior accessibility of transit systems in the United States can be attributed as much to the provision of adequate, stable funding to transit providers, as to the effect of the ADA.
A number of suggestions for creative financing options for public transit services have been put forward, including:
- Exempting public transit organizations from the payment of various taxes (such as property taxes);
- Directing road tolls to funding public transit;
- Entitling transit organizations to the proceeds arising from the real estate developments over and above transit property;
- Creating a levy on motor vehicle licenses directed to funding public transit; and
- Directing a portion of the gas tax to funding public transit.
In an important step, in the fall of 2001, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation announced new funding for transit in Ontario, in the form of $3 billion over 10 years, as part of a proposed federal, provincial and municipal partnership. As part of the transit plan, the province will establish an operating authority that will take responsibility for 100% of GO Transit’s operating and base capital funding.
No reliable estimate has been developed as to the cost of ensuring fully accessible transit services. The costs, however, are likely to be large. The TTC, for example, has estimated that the cost of implementing its full accessibility plan would be in the order of $1 billion.
The lack of funding for accessible transit, therefore, poses a substantial barrier to achieving maximum transit accessibility. The TTC estimates that, without further funding, maximum accessibility will take 10-15 years to achieve. Transit service providers express concerns that, should accessibility initiatives be funded solely through increases in fares, ridership on the conventional system would decline, and the ability of transit services to meet their economic, social and environmental missions would be severely compromised.
The TTC remains committed to the goal of providing an accessible conventional transit service for all its riders, making the system fully accessible as quickly as it can without compromising the sustainability of the entire system .... However, the financial realities in which this goal must be achieved are highlighted by the fact that this paper is being submitted just weeks after the TTC was forced to raise fares, asking users to once more dig into their pockets to sustain the system, as government funding for public transportation remains stalled at unacceptably low levels. Unfortunately, the TTC’s desire to make its system fully accessible has been severely hampered by the failure of all levels of government to provide the funding that would make it possible.
-Toronto Transit Commission
Further, some submissions pointed to a troubling trend whereby responsibility for accessible transit is increasingly being shouldered by volunteer initiatives. Community Care Access Peterborough offers a service whereby volunteers provide transportation to medical appointments and quality of life activities, as well as a multi-handicapped vehicle that serves county residents. Peterborough CCAS notes that the van operates with a significant deficit each year because of the lack of support from the province, and that the deficit is covered by the fundraising initiatives of volunteers. While committed to providing this service, the organization notes, “we would like this recognized as an essential service and funded accordingly”. Transportation Action Now stated that the province’s Community Transportation Action Program (now discontinued) is a “blatant attempt to return the provision of paratransit service to the volunteer sector or to the status of a charitable service”, and noted that, while these types of initiatives may work in small homogeneous rural communities where there are more volunteer drivers, for larger cities, these programs are completely inadequate to the level of need.
Several submissions pointed out that there are also substantial costs associated
with the lack of accessible transit. For example, lack of access to transportation can prevent persons with disabilities from accessing education or employment.
How much money is lost in tourism because of inaccessible transportation? What about an ambulatory disabled student who cannot get to university because s/he is deemed ineligible due to restrictive criteria? What cost to seniors who cannot get around the city, or are limited to medical and therapy appointments only? What savings might result to health and safety if stairs were replaced by escalators in subways, high steps in buses and streetcars by low-floor vehicles?
-Transportation Action Now
The role and responsibility of the provincial and federal governments in ensuring sufficient funding for accessible transit was emphasized by several organizations. Transportation Action Now states that if paratransit services across the province do not have the money to run effective services, it is the province and city councils who are ultimately responsible. OCTA states that it considers that the local, provincial and federal governments must share responsibility for ensuring access to transportation, pointing out that there are numerous methods of creatively financing public transportation, as discussed above. Kingston Transit and Kingston Access Service point out that funding responsibilities should be extended to other concerned ministries, such as those responsible for health, and for social services. Transportation Action Now, on the other hand, notes that the Ministries of Education, Community & Social Services and Health & Long-Term Care spend nearly $1 billion on transportation services each year to transport clients whom the TTC does not accommodate, and suggests that these funds would be much more effectively used if they were dedicated to improving paratransit and conventional services.
 Canadian Urban Transit Association, supra, note 8.