My friend Bob Brent put together a spreadsheet listing many TTC operating and financial statistics for 1988, and 1996 through 2005. Our ridership high came in 1988 just before the early 90s recession. Service was mercilessly slashed in the nadir of 1996 thanks to funding cuts.
By 2006, we may just barely get back to the 1988 ridership level, but funding is another matter.
Those of you who love mulling over numbers will have fun here, but I will talk a bit about the highlights.
The CPI went up by 25% from 1988 to 1996 and another 20% from 1996 to 2005. During the same period, the adult ticket/token fare went up by 74%, with the biggest jump coming between 1988 and 1996. Riders were whacked by the funding cutbacks of the early 90s, but fare increases since then kept pace with inflation except in 2005 when fares rose faster.
The operating expense per trip or per vehicle km went up faster than inflation, but most of this change happened before 1996. Meanwhile revenue per trip zoomed up by 113% with most of the change coming in the first 8 years.
The total amount of service operated in 2005 (measured in km) is 1% above the 1988 level, but this is on a system-wide level. In fact surface operations declined by 4% while rapid transit operations rose by 10%. That’s right — we ran 4% less bus and streetcar service in 2005 than in 1988. The surface fleet is about 200 vehicles smaller, although they are running more service/vehicle due to higher utilization rates (fewer spares).
We are oh-so-proud of our subway system, but the surface system on which so many riders depend continues to suffer from years of neglect.
Riding dropped 20 percent from 1988 to 1996, and had crawled back up to 93 percent of the 1988 level by 2005. Although it does not show up in these figures, there has been a long, gradual shift in the balance of peak to offpeak riding, with peak dropping from about half to around 40 percent of the total. Several factors may interact to produce this change, but that is beyone the scope of this discussion.
The operating subsidy tells an unhappy tale. Back in 1988, before the dark age of Mike Harris, the City gave $150.4-million to the TTC. This included the provincial share that was paid via the City. By 1997, Queen’s Park had bailed out, and the City shouldered everything. Later, other levels of government came back to the table, but the total operating subsidy in 2005 was only 38 percent more than in 1988 even though the total cost of operating the system had nearly doubled.
The operating subsidy and fare levels are highly politicized values. Nobody wants to raise fares, but the shrill cries to hold down budgets are equally irresponsible. We are now in a perpetual Catch-22 where we cannot even plan to buy new vehicles because of the pressures this brings on current capital and future operating budgets, and we cannot operate more service because we have no vehicles. We have difficulty getting budget approval just to run better service with the vehicles we already own.
If the City of Toronto (and the GTA surrounding it) want better transit, then they must be prepared to pay for it.
I am not letting Queen’s Park off the hook one bit here — Provincial policy consists of backing a busway here and there, but nothing significant beyond a subway line we cannot afford. Laughter is the only possible response to Queen’s Park’s pretensions of leadership on transit and development.
Looking to the Federal level for direct subsidy is a waste of time. The interregional political squabbles and the absence of long-term certainty makes Ottawa a non-player in this portfolio. Better that Queen’s Park concentrates its efforts on getting Ottawa to restore lost funding in nationwide shared programs so that the Province can redirect its own money to local transit needs.
At the municipal level, all governments need to direct more resources to transit. This will have an effect on budgets and taxes, inevitably. The “do nothing” alternative is not workable as we can plainly see from the traffic congestion in the GTA and the growing crowding on the TTC.
We have “done nothing” through the bumbling Mel Lastman years, and not much better through David Miller’s first term. It’s time for some real leadership before those lost years stretch well into a third decade.