The Toronto Transit Commission is proposing a fare freeze next year amid financial challenges that have been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor John Tory said at the beginning of the pandemic, it was expected that a significant drop in ridership would lead to significant fare increases. However he said Thursday that would not be responsible.

"In the wake of the unprecedented pandemic, which has hit our TTC extremely hard, this is the right and the responsible thing to do. We're keeping the TTC affordable for residents who need it by freezing fares," Tory said during a news conference on Thursday.

"It is one more way in which we can help the residents of the City of Toronto get through this crisis."

TTC Board Chair Councillor Jaye Robinson said freezing fares in 2021 is the right thing to do for riders.

"We know that many of the people riding transit during the pandemic do not have the option of staying home. We recognize the buses have been the workhorses of our transit system over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and we are investing in service improvements," Robinson said.

The announcement comes as the TTC released its 2021 operating budget, which totals $2.15 billion. With the revenues expected to be just $566.8 million, net funding of $1.5 billion is needed to fully fund the budget.

"The proposed budget ensures that we will continue to keep the City of Toronto moving through to the end of the pandemic and beyond. Since the onset of COVID, it has been very clear that the reduced ridership and additional safety measures would have a devastating impact on the TTC budget," Robinson said.

The projected 2021 revenue, which is down from the $1.35 billion predicted this year, is the result of lower ridership for much of next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its report, the TTC said the novel coronavirus will continue to financially impact the transit agency throughout 2021 as widespread vaccination is not expected until the fall of 2021.

Furthermore, the TTC expects to experience long-term effects from the pandemic even after it subsides.

The net funding will cover $796.4 million in pandemic-related costs, which includes a projected $725 million loss in passenger revenues.

The TTC projects ridership in the first half of next year will remain at the current levels before slowly increasing to an average o 49 per cent of pre-pandemic levels later in the year.

In the report, the TTC indicated that bus ridership has recovered to approximately 48 per cent of its pre-pandemic activity, while subways and streetcars are only at 26 per cent.

"This is indicative of a proportionally greater ridership impact in the downtown core, which is most impacted by work from home, virtual learning, the cancellation of events and reduced social travel," the transit agency said, adding that these trends will continue next year.

In addition, the TTC does not expect ridership to rebound until 2022 and 2023, "when a new post-pandemic normal will begin to emerge and restrictions regarding attendance at workplaces, schools and events are removed."

Tory said these costs will be partly funded by the Safe Restart Agreement between the province and the federal government. The city subsidy to the TTC remains at $789.8 million.

In August, the TTC was given $404 million in relief funding to address the impact of the pandemic between April 1 and Sept. 30.

The transit agency said they received additional $472 million as part of phase 2 of the agreement. The province has also advised the city that it is eligible to get $304 million in funding to address additional ridership pressures.

The TTC said the funding is anticipated to offset financial impacts until March 2021.

While talks continue between the TTC staff and all levels of governments on relief funding after March, Tory said he is encouraged that the federal government will be bringing forward a plan for permanent federal transit funding.

"This is something that is much needed and will be much welcome. It will help us with the much needed transit for the City of Toronto and for the GTA and ensure that we are investing in subway trains, in streetcars, in buses as we go forward," Tory said.

"This budget also continues the work we have done with the TTC and the city on an enhanced set of targeted COVID-19 measures to help our most vulnerable residents during lockdown periods."

Speaking to CP24, Shelagh Pizey-Allen, who is with the transit advocacy group TTCriders, said there should be permanent funding from the province and the federal government to address the challenges the transit agency is facing.

“Transit is a lifeline in Toronto for essential workers and for people who are relying on transit to get their groceries to access health care, in some cases to go and get a COVID test. And it needs to be invested in like the lifeline it is,” Pizey-Allen said.

“And also make sure that riders don’t pay for the pandemic when this is over. We don’t want to see fare increases and essential workers having to pay the price of lower ridership during the pandemic.”

The budget is scheduled to go before the TTC Board on Monday.