Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster says he told the province to lower his agency’s annual subsidy $149 million next year, saying he can fill the gap by growing ridership, but also by cancelling select bus routes, and getting tougher on fare dodgers.

The reduction, first revealed by transit blogger Steve Munro, shows that the provincial transfer Metrolinx will receive in 2020 will fall by 32 per cent this year.

Between 2015 and 2018 under the Wynne Liberals, Metrolinx says its subsidy increased by 20 per cent each year.

“We approached the Ministry of Transportation and said ‘we can do more with less’,” Verster told CP24 Thursday. “About 18 months ago we made the distinct decision to run Metrolinx as a business. That’s what every taxpayer expects of us.”

He said the agency, which oversees GO Transit, the Presto fare card the UP Express train and construction of major transit infrastructure, increased rail service by 23 per cent over the past year, and will continue to do so in a bid to attract riders.

“We’ve reduced our base fare which affects every rider on our network, we’ve reduced our fares for kids who travel free and we have increased our services.”

Ridership grew by 5.3 per cent between 2017 and 2018, to 76.2 million trips.

Verster told an audience in York Region earlier this week he’d like to see ridership hit 82 million trips by 2020.

NDP Transit critic Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale) says she finds the idea that Metrolinx asked for less public support hard to believe.

“I would find it exceptionally hard to believe that the Ford government did not tell Metrolinx to cut their budget.”

Doing more with less also means some bus routes that Verster said are under-used will be cancelled. 

By Saturday, four GO bus routes will no longer run between downtown and Milton, Oakville, Cambridge, Bolton and Canada’s Wonderland, and another three routes will see reduced service.

Bell said with the bus cuts, the agency is actually trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

Several riders impacted met at Union Station Thursday to sign a petition asking Metrolinx to restore the service.

“Riders today were telling us they have no way to get to work anymore,” Bell said, suggesting some of them might take cars instead from now on, increasing rush-hour congestion.

Verster responded that on one of the routes that is being cut, there were barely enough users to fill one standard motor coach all morning.

“In one particular case we had five buses in a morning where we had 59 customers (total) on them.”

Bell also took issue with the idea that the growth in service must be focused on increased rail service.

“We need GO bus service and GO train service. These (petition-signing) riders take the bus to the train.”

There are other measures Metrolinx will use to increase revenue going forward.

A report presented to the agency’s board Thursday says fare inspectors will no longer issue warnings when they locate riders who have not paid their fare.

They will now immediately get an $85 fine.

There are also one-time items such as property sales that will help keep the agency going.

Nobody from the Ministry of Transportation or the office of newly-minted Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney responded to repeated requests for comment on Thursday.