As the Ontario election approaches, the provincial Liberal party are playing one of their classic tricks: announcing a flashy campaign promise that sounds appealing in order to hide their pro-corporate policies. Their latest trick is party leader Steven Del Duca’s May 2 announcement promising $1 transit fares on all transit lines in Ontario. Amidst rising inflation, skyrocketing costs of living, and depressed wages, a reduction in transit fares is a tantalizing carrot to dangle in front of the province’s working class. Workers should not fall for this in the election. Instead of voting for Liberal tricks, we should fight for a free and socialist transit plan.

One dollar transit fares certainly sound appealing; for working-class Ontarians who rely on public transit every day, the costs of ridership can mount quickly. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) charges $3.25 per ride, while GO Transit fares can reach over $20 for a one-way trip. Transit is therefore a big expense. But what is Del Duca’s proposal, exactly?

Few details were provided in the plan as to where the money will come from to subsidize fares; since Ontario transit systems rely disproportionately on farebox revenue, this plan will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Unless Del Duca plans to make the bosses pay for this plan—which is about as likely as pigs flying—the working class will end up paying for these fare subsidies, either through austerity in other areas or austerity down the line to pay off Liberal debts. It’s worth noting here that the proposal is, in fact, to reduce fares to $1 only until 2024, with only “hints” towards a permanent reduction.

What about funding for maintenance and key improvement projects? Del Duca says his government would add $375 million to the province’s annual transit operating funding. This is woefully inadequate. The TTC alone needs billions of dollars over the next 10 years just to fix its aging infrastructure. That’s just infrastructure repair and maintenance—but repairs and maintenance alone cannot solve the major problems facing public transit in Ontario. What about funding for expansion and increased service? The Liberals claim that “buck-a-ride” will take 400,000 cars off the road each day—but where will those extra 400,000 riders go? TTC vehicles are regularly packed to the gills as it is as a result of the system’s chronic state of underfunding. What good is a $1 fare if you can’t even get on the bus to pay it? That’s to say nothing of the unreliability of public transit in the province; TTC riders are regularly subjected to massive delays, and in smaller towns and cities there may only be a bus once every one or two hours—if there are buses at all. A $1 fare doesn’t do you much good if service is so spotty that you can’t get to work on time unless you leave an hour early!

Finally, let’s look at the legacy of the Ontario Liberals when it comes to public transit. While they were in power, they declared the TTC an essential service, taking away the right to strike from thousands of ATU 113 workers. Transit systems across the province were systemically underfunded, while fares went up in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Steven Del Duca himself was the Minister of Transportation for the Wynne government! He sat at the head of the agency which cost taxpayers millions through bad contracts and ill-advised projects.

Looking at the bigger picture, it couldn’t be more clear: “buck-a-fare” is little more than a flashy gimmick. It is the Liberal equivalent of Doug Ford’s “buck-a-beer” in the last election. Del Duca and the Liberal party are looking to distract Ontario’s working class from their pro-corporate policies and legacy of mismanagement.

So if we’re not in favour of Del Duca’s $1 fares, what should we be in favour of? The answer is quite simple: free socialist transit. Free transit would be more efficient, allowing the resources currently directed towards the funding of fare enforcement officers to be redirected somewhere useful. Transit is also a vital part of combatting car culture and pollution. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of the day, and accessible public transit is one important measure to fight climate change. We also need massive investment in the province’s transit systems, to provide much-needed upgrades and more frequent service. Getting people to work is an essential part of the economy, and investments in this area will yield significant improvements in broader productivity and social wellbeing. Put transit systems under worker’s control to prevent the sort of bureaucratic mismanagement we saw during Del Duca’s Ministry tenure!

Getting workers to work is a key part of the economy, but it’s not surprising that the ruling class has chosen to offload this cost onto the workers. There’s plenty of money available in society currently sitting unused that would be well-spent on free, high-quality transit, with good wages and conditions for transit workers. Corporate profits were up 46 per cent last year and the bosses are hoarding over $1.5 trillion in uninvested cash! But we can have no faith in Steven Del Duca and the Liberals. Workers need to struggle for themselves.

Massive investment in public transit systems — end chronic underfunding!

Free, high-quality socialist transit for all Ontarians!