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Joe Mihevc and the Tory Transit Tax Deduction

The Toronto Transit blog has discussed an assertion from City Councillor and TTC Commissioner Joe Mihevc that the Conservative promise of a transit tax deduction will not produce any benefit for voters.

Mihevc says:

"If we at the TTC -- who are in a big budget squeeze -- suddenly find out a few days from now that passengers are going to be getting a discount on their income tax, there will actually be upward pressure on increasing fares," he said.

The Metropass currently costs $98.75 a month or $1,185 a year. Harper is offering a 16 per cent discount that transit riders could claim as a credit on their income tax return.

The discount reduces the monthly pass by $15.80, which provides room for the TTC to boost the cost back up so that passholders neither gain nor lose, while providing more revenue for the transit system, Mihevc warned.

"This isn't a net benefit to riders because transit authorities will be tempted to increase fares for monthly passholders, so in the end passengers won't save."

The Toronto Transit blog has taken a fairly balanced position on this, arguing that the Tories have a fair position on transit issues, but perhaps not the best. However, I feel more strongly about it. I have a lot of respect for Councillor Mihevc, but his comment is ridiculous. (And I think it's important to note that Mihevc is an NDPer in the riding that represents the Conservatives' best chance in Toronto.)

Mihevc is basically saying, "If the Tories give money to transit users, we're going to take it." He's claiming the TTC would bring in a 16% fare hike, to eat up all the benefit of this new policy.

That's quite different, however, than saying the Conservative policy has no benefits to users. The policy does have a big benefit to users, and Mihevc claims the TTC would opportunistically suck all that benefit up. But that would be their decision, and it is not how I would vote if I were a TTC board member.

The bottom line is that Harper's position means more money in the system for transit. Mihevc and the other commissioners can decide whether that money ends up in users' pockets or in the TTC's coffers. But more money for transit is always a good thing.

James Bow at The Toronto Transit blog makes a slightly different argument from what Mihevc actually said, and says that the tax break would increase ridership and the TTC would therefore need the fire hike to expand capacity. That's fine, but the TTC is already at the top of the list when it comes to covering operating costs out of fares. Increased ridership or Mihevc's fare increase would move that ratio up further. Instead, we need to push for increased funding for maintenance and expansion -- especially from Queen's Park -- no matter what other policies are implemented.

In the end, I feel that Mihevc's comments and their play in the Toronto Star is a partisan attempt to play down a good policy. After all, the NDP support the idea and claim the Tories stole it from them, and St. Paul's Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett was behind the idea, but failed to convince her party's leaders.

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