Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tax deductible transit

I'm sure Joe Mihevc thought he was doing his NDP mates a favour when the TTC commissioner said the Tories 16% tax deduction for transit would merely be the spur for the TTC to hike fares by the same figure. Instead he looked spiteful at the prospect of a looming Harper administration, and while he might have every right to fear it, he may have done his cause more harm than good, at a time when he might have been expected to keep his head down after his less than deft stick-handling of the St. Clair Right-Of-Way. The only surprise is that if a TTC commissioner was likely to say something stupid, it wasn't the Chair.

Michael Roschlau, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Urban Transit Association told the Toronto Star existing vehicles are full up at rush hour. Someone should tell the TTC to stop adding riders.

My thinking on this is that a tax credit gets people out of cars. This is a good thing - people who can afford to park downtown definitely pay enough tax to reclaim it with a tax credit.

Should that be the only support for transit, given that the tax credit doesn't build new subways or reduce the cost of transit for poorer people who don't pay income taxes? No. Ireland has tax incentives for employers and employees to use annual commuter passes but still funds capital projects.

Is there an equality issue, that poor people may pay more for transit? Maybe, perhaps that can be worked out with refundable credits or other measures, but the poor for sure can't afford to escape to cottages when the fumes from middle and upper class commuters' cars are choking them on smog days (48 in 2005).

Will telling the Tories your transit system will sabotage their tax credit induce them to pony up infrastructure dollars? Doubtful - more likely that the construction lobby are rubbing their hands that their new highways are even more certain, now the doors to subway and LRT lobbyists are going to be slammed shut, spurred on the neo-con wing of the Tories.

The Tories are also proposing to make bulk purchases of TTC fares tax deductible as well as metropasses. A metropass encourages off-hours transit which increases ridership at times when subways and buses are emptier because there's no incremental cost. Bulk tokens just make 10 journeys a week to and from work cheaper but don't encourage use at weekends as much. Until a metropass costs the same as 10 tokens a week there is no incentive for me to get one, especially if I get the same tax credit on both. More importantly, since the TTC ticket machines have started to disappear, the longer queues at subway station ticket collectors will grow longer still if everybody seeks receipts rather than the few who already do, and the remaining ticket machines are pulled out of service for refitting with receipts, as happened with the new $10 and $20 bills.

James Bow has posted a measured response to these events at Transit Toronto.

Certainly the York University subway extension must be looking shakier. With the Greg Sorbara investigation ongoing the biggest provincial cheerleader is missing in action and that part of Toronto has provided the Liberals with its widest margins of federal electoral victory. If the Tories win seats in the east of the city but not in York then if there is new infrastructure money it may be the SRT replacement which is built first.
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