TORONTO -- Transit advocates are calling on the city to eliminate fares on the TTC amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, transit advocacy group TTCriders said more than 30 organizations have signed an open letter to Mayor John Tory, urging officialsto make the TTC fare-free during the pandemic while maintaining sufficient service levels to allow for physical distancing.

"Unclear communication about the shift to rear-door boarding and the end of tokens and cash fares on buses has caused stress and confusion for people who do not have access to Presto," Susan Bender, manager of the Toronto Drop In Network, said in a written statement.

"Most community organizations that try to provide transit support for community members to access essential services distribute tokens."

Bender said thatthose who can’t afford a Presto card or don’t have easy access to locations that sell the cards “need a clear message” that they can ride for free without getting a fine.

TTCriders pointed to several transit agencies in Ontario, including Hamilton, Guelph, and Mississauga, that have recently moved to a fare-free transit system amid the public health crisis.

But Tory, who spoke to reporters at a news conference at city hall on Thursday afternoon, said those cities have also cut back on service in the face of declining ridership.

“In other places where they have given free transit to people, they have also reduced service, which we have not,” Tory said.

He did not directly respond to a question on whether the city would consider making the TTC fare-free in the future.

In recent weeks, the TTC has seen a dramatic drop in ridership. Tory said earlier this week that the transit agency is losing around $20 million per week from lost ridership revenue amid the pandemic.

The mayor added that despite relatively empty vehicles along some routes, the city does not want to reduce the number of buses and streetcars to make up for the money the TTC is losing.

“We could cut back tomorrow morning on the number of vehicles that are on the road… and save a lot of that $20 million that we are losing, but the fact is that would put more people in close proximity to one another,” the mayor said.

City officials have also previously said that it is important that health care workers and other essential workers are still able to move about the city.

Despite the steep decline in ridership, some routes still appear to have issues with overcrowding, prompting concerns about social distancing.

“There are other considerations you take into account besides money,” Tory said, adding that for “health-related reasons,” the city will try to maintain service levels “for as long as possible.

When asked about whether the transit agency will need a bailout, Tory would not comment on the TTC’s current financial situation.

“We will take these things one at a time. I have had… three detailed briefings on the city’s finances, trying to look out and see what the full consequences are of all of this that is going on and they are not inconsiderable. I’m talking to the other governments about the state of city finances,” he said.

“You are not going to take one decision in isolation from another and say that the TTC needs something or someone else needs something, you have to look at the whole picture and all the responsibilities we have.”

The mayor added while there are “challenges looming” financially, he believes the city “will get through this.”

“Because the city has been well-managed, because we have solid reserves, because we have been careful and because we will continue to be careful while still providing services for people, we will get through this financially,” he said.