In the coming municipal election campaign, there will be claims and counterclaims about transit service – how much do we have, did it get better or worse, who should be praised or blamed for the changes.
This article reviews the quantity of service offered on surface routes measured by the number of vehicles on the road during various periods. The data shown are, with one exception, for January in each year to give comparable operating and demand conditions for scheduling purposes. (The exception is for 2008 where I only have the February information in my archives. Typically there are few changes between the January and February levels of service.)
Each set of charts linked here shows the weekday, Saturday and Sunday level of service, using number of scheduled vehicles, for each of the five periods in the TTC’s summaries. The data are presented in two ways:
- Numbers of vehicles
- Ratio of each year’s vehicles to the 2006 values
Over the period from 2006 to 2014, ridership will have grown by over 20%. It is impossible to assign this growth to specific periods of the day or modes, although an obvious issue is that riding cannot grow where there is no capacity. Increases in the number of buses or streetcars in service should be seen in the context of that growth.
Two charts are included above – one gives the actual riding for each year (with the projected 2014 value), and the other gives the ratios for each year relative to 2006.
Two construction projects affect the number of streetcars in service. From 2006-2008, the St. Clair project was in various stages of completion and only part of the line operated with streetcars. For 2013-2014, the Queens Quay reconstruction reduces the number of streetcars on 510 Spadina and eliminates streetcar service on 509 Harbourfront. Although these lines were out of service, the TTC redeployed the spare cars to other routes.
Growth in peak streetcar service has been limited for decades by the size of the fleet. When the Spadina route opened in 1997, this soaked up the then-remaining “spare” cars (a situation which itself was created by the riding losses of the early 1990s). Only small scale service improvements have been possible ever since.
One noteworthy point about the chart of weekday service is the gradual catch-up of PM peak scheduled vehicles with the AM peak. By contrast, the ratio of current weekday service to 2006 is lowest for the AM peak reflecting the lack of spare vehicles.
The onset and subsequent loss of the RGS service standards is evident first in the growth of service before 2010, and the drop after 2012. Some (but not all) of this was recovered with service improvements in 2013 (reflected in 2014 values).
During the period from 2006-2014, two principal changes in the bus fleet were:
- The elimination of most of the high-floor buses.
- The introduction of hybrid buses.
The peak capacity of high-floor buses is about 10% greater than their low-floor replacements, and in January 2006 high-floors represented about 60% of the fleet. As the fleet mix changed to mainly low-floor buses, the effective capacity of the fleet fell and is now about 95% of its value in 2006.
Roughly 5% of the increase in peak bus requirements is due to reduced capacity of each vehicle. To put it another way, operating 1,000 peak buses with the 2014 fleet is roughly equivalent to operating 950 buses in 2006. Buses added to compensate for this are not a service increase, but the effect of the change in fleet composition.
Another factor likely at play is the proportion of the fleet that is hybrid, a bus type known to be less reliable. This may increase spare requirements and therefore reduce the number of vehicles actually available for service. There were no hybrids in January 2006, but by January 2010, 39% of the fleet was hybrid.
For the bus fleet, the effect of RGS and the subsequent cutbacks is particularly evident with the quick rise in 2009 of the ratio to 2006 service for weekday late evenings. The 2012 value drops (representing the effect of cuts in 2011, but then climbs back again in 2013 and 2014. This represents more vehicles running on routes that remained in service, not a restitution of periods cut from other routes.
Note that number of buses during all other periods changes little from 2009 to 2012 reflecting the lack of funding. What new service was operated on many routes came from reallocating buses and operators from other lines. Meanwhile, with the retirement of high floor buses, the capacity of the fleet that was actually operating was dropping, and so a flat “number of buses” actually represents a cut in the capacity of service.
On weekends, the effect of the RGS standards is evident in the jump between 2008 and 2009, but by 2012 values drop back, especially for late evenings.
Politics and The Budget
From a political and budgetary point of view, there are some important landmarks:
- 2006: Start of David Miller’s second term of office. During this term, the Ridership Growth Strategy (RGS) was implemented to improve service quality both by reducing acceptable loads on vehicles (service standards) and by changing all routes to operate during all service periods when the subway was open.
- 2010: Start of Rob Ford’s term of office. Although service improvements were originally planned for 2010, these were put on hold when it became clear that an administration bent on cutting costs would come to power. Also stopped during this period was the expansion of the bus fleet and the construction of new garage space.
- 2011: The TTC’s budgeted operating subsidy was flatlined at $429m. Service changes were implemented in mid-2011 to drop “poor performers”, periods of service that carried few passengers. This undid part of the RGS improvements.
- 2012: The TTC’s subsidy was reduced to $411m. Service changes were implemented in mid-2012 to reduce loading standards so that more riders were needed before a service would be considered “full” and deserving of improvement. This undid the remainder of the Ridership Growth Strategy.
- 2013: The TTC’s subsidy was again flat lined at $411m. However, in 2012, due to strong ridership and lower than budgeted costs, the TTC ran a “surplus” relative to budget. Therefore, on an actual dollars spent basis, the TTC actually received a larger subsidy in 2013 than in 2012. This allowed some service improvements that would not have otherwise been possible.
- 2014: The TTC’s subsidy was increased to $428m. This increase, combined with a 2013 “surplus” brought the TTC a higher 2014 budgeted subsidy than actual spending in 2013. This provides some headroom for service growth, but little is planned until fall 2014.
Looking at the actual number of buses in service, even with an adjustment for the transition to lower-capacity low-floor vehicles, there has been some improvement since 2011. However, this was possible only because the City chose to compare budget-to-budget for 2013 and 2014, rather than looking at actual revenues and spending. During the 2013 budget discussions, I remember comments, privately, that boiled down to “don’t tell the Mayor” lest Rob Ford discover that the TTC was getting a bigger increase on an actual-to-actual basis than appeared in the budget papers. Toronto was lucky that diesel fuel prices were well below projected values, and that other net savings and revenues produced those “surpluses”.
From 2006 to 2014 (projected) ridership on the system went up by over 20%. Although there is no breakdown of how this is distributed by mode or time period, that scale of increase makes recent service improvements, such as they are, pale by comparison. The number of buses in service on weekdays has barely grown to match this rate, and the system has actually lost capacity when the effect of low-floor buses is included.
Without those budget surpluses and the “stealth” increases in as spent subsidies they allowed, transit service today would be even worse, compared even with pre-RGS 2006 than it actually is. At no point during budget debates did the Commission trumpet how it would improve service beyond the bare necessities, and nobody can take credit for recent increases that barely keep pace with ridership growth.
What Can We Do Now?
This is not a time for hand-wringing about what cannot be done, but for clear-eyed reviews of the resources we have and might get in the near future. Often we hear about “making do with less”, but rarely about “doing more”.
In part 2, I will examine the current state of the TTC’s fleet and plans, and will comment on what can be done to improve service now rather than two or three years in the future.