[After excursions by Swan Boat, proposals for alternative station names and, to some of you, endless reviews from the Film Festival, we now return to our regular programming.]
The TTC meeting agenda for October is a bit on the thin side, but one item is worth comment — the Chief General Manager’s monthly report for August. Strictly speaking, this is July 30 to August 26 so that the calenders line up with past years and direct comparisons are possible without correcting for weekends.
(For those of you who visit the TTC’s website, note that the version in hardcopy has much more information than the version that is online. Someday the TTC will switch to the same software that the City of Toronto uses for its Committee and Council reports, and we’ll actually see all the appendices without having to get a printed copy.)
Riding for the year to August 26 is up 3.4% over last year or 9.3-million rides. These numbers would be higher if not for the strike in May that cost the system about 1.2-million rides. Moreover, riding for August is up by a whopping 6.2% over last year.
The TTC is now predicting ridership for the year of 445-million, almost 10-million higher than the budgeted level. Clearly they expect the strong ridership to continue through the fall.
Pass sales are up 23% in August over last year, while tickets, tokens and cash fares declined. The real test will come in the September stats when we pick up the university students and commuters returning from vacation.
When the TTC proposed its 2006 budget, it assumed ridership growth of barely 1%. This had a subtle effect: since every rider costs money, low-balling the ridership projection lowers the projected operating expenses and subsidy requirement. The problem, of course, is that when more riders do show up, you have no budget headroom for more service (assuming you had the operators and vehicles to provide it). We have had the ludicrous situation in past years where the city finance gurus prevented the TTC from improving service because it would blow the budgeted amount of subsidy. So much for a “Transit City”!
The 2007 budget will make its way through the TTC and the City quite soon. This budget must contain money for substantial improvements in service both in anticipation of riding growth and to catch up with what has already happened. If the Commission and Council haven’t got the backbone to underwrite that level of service, we will slip further behind, and motorists will rightly say “you want me to ride THAT?”.
In case anyone has forgotten, we still don’t have all of the improved service planned under the Ridership Growth Strategy to reduce crowding in the off peak when, at least, we have vehicles available. The TTC is finally planning to catch up on training new operators so that they can run more service, but my sources tell me that even this has met with resistance from the bean counters.
At this point, we don’t know whether the spurt in riding will be sustained, or if the growth rate will fall back well below six percent. However, we do know that the one percent figure previously used by the TTC and city in their forecasts is not credible. Service and fleet plans must be adjusted to address this level of demand.
Meanwhile, we have the problem of new buses and streetcars. Most of the buses in the pipeline are replacements for existing equipment. Yes, they are new, and in theory more reliable, something that should improve fleet availability and allow the TTC to plan for a lower spare ratio. But after Mayor Miller’s 100 RGS buses arrive in fall 2007, there are no net-new buses in the pipeline for further improvements.
Given the lead time for bus orders, the soonest that additional buses can show up is sometime in 2009. Meanwhile, at a 3% growth rate, we will have 10% more riders.
On the streetcar network, we are faced with service limitations on three counts:
- Rebuilding the CLRVs will take a pool of cars out of service for two years or more. Fortunately we already have a batch of clunkers that will be first through the program, but we will not see the benefit of a larger available fleet until at least 2009, longer if the program is actually extended to the full 196-car fleet rather than just 100.
- Plans for new lines in the waterfront require a larger fleet that we do not own. The longer we defer new streetcar purchases, the further into the future the waterfront transit will go. We risk building our “transit first” waterfront without decent transit service.
- I understand that bean counters at both City Hall and Queen’s Park are blocking any purchase of new streetcars. This creates the outrageous situation where service cannot be improved on major routes and the system cannot be expanded. Mayor Miller and Dalton McGuinty need to come clean: Do you support revitalization and expansion of the streetcar network or not? The city’s Official Plan is based on an LRT network, and that won’t run on hot air.
Council must stop ignoring the real needs of this vital part of our city, and the Mayor must lead with an unambiguous commitment to better, sustained funding.