It’s Official: The TTC is Overcrowded

The TTC Operating Budget presentation on January 31 included TTC Budgets and City Building, an overview of how the need for better service and a rejuvenated fleet are integral to our hopes for achieving the city building goals near and dear to some political hearts.

At this point, the TTC is in the hole by about $33-million for its 2007 subsidy requirement (the difference between what the City budget folks set as the target for the TTC and what they actually need).  Given that the TTC is one of the Mayor’s central platform issues, I think we can assume that this problem will vanish sometime over the next three months.  A fare increase doesn’t seem to be in the offing, but what is really troubling is that real progress on “Ridership Growth” will not appear until late in 2007 and early 2008.

Remember that the Ridership Growth Strategy is four years old this March and people might justly wonder when some of its promises will appear.  Yes, we have the transferrable Metropass and tax deductability that makes passes attractive to a wider base of users, but we are waiting for more service.  An important part of RGS is a change in the vehicle loading standards so that a service is deemed to be “at capacity” at a lower load factor than today.  This means, in theory, that service will be added before people resort to riding on the roof rather than afterwards.

The one flaw in this premise is that you need vehicles, operators and budget headroom to run more service.  Outside of the rush hour, we have vehicles today, but we don’t have operators and more importantly we don’t have budget.

Two charts in the presentation show just how far behind the system has fallen in dealing with pent-up demand.

The Map of Overcrowded Routes shows those that were already overcrowded in late 2006 plus those that are predicted to be overcrowded in early 2007.  In this context, “overcrowded” means that the loads exceed the pre-RGS loading standards.

The Chart of Service Vs Demand shows the total service provided in terms of vehicle hours.  Obviously, this is a rough surrogate for capacity given that vehicles come in different sizes.  Moreover, an hour in which a vehicle has surplus capacity cannot be easily moved to one where there is excess demand without destroying service at lightly loaded times of day and locations.  All the same, the chart does show the gap between the amount of service operated and the amount required to catch up with demand.

Note that this chart shows only service additions over the years, not total service.  In round numbers, the TTC runs about 120,000 hours of service on surface routes per week beside which the increase of less than 5,000 hours is rather small.

These should put Council on notice.  We can play games for months trying to appear “fiscally responsible” in the hope that Queen’s Park and Ottawa will take pity and give us more money.  There are two problems with that approach:

  • We usually get only a one-year bailout rather than major, meaningful, ongoing support for transit.
  • Because we lowball our budget needs for service expansion, we already understate the amount we need.

No doubt, somewhere buried in the TTC budget, there is money to be found.  That’s a worthwhile exercise, but it diverts attention from the real need to think on a larger scale, to embrace the idea that we are going to make transit much more attractive to potential customers. 

Not ten years from now with a new subway.  Not five years from now with new streetcars.  Not next year when there may be a handful of spare vehicles left to implement RGS.  Right now, today, with this budget.

8 thoughts on “It’s Official: The TTC is Overcrowded

  1. Wow – I thought I’d been standing a lot more on my regular surface routes (Carlton, Coxwell, & Queen) – this proves it. Councillor Ford & Ootes do you notice how much of this overcrowding is in your wards?

    While the tax rebate for metropasses was a good idea, the plan forgot to contribute for the increased ridership…we’ll be waiting ages for that though.

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  2. Thank God for that official declaration of overcrowding. Clearly, we couldn’t have been able to know that we were in such a state without it.

    (I know it looks like it’s a shot at you, Steve. It really isn’t)

    Steve:  I know it’s not a shot at me.  The real shot (together with the piece about extra service on the King car) is aimed at the TTC and Council who are in denial about the real extent of the backlog of requrements for additional service.  They talk about a “Transit City”, but find every possible excuse to do nothing until “next year”.

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  3. Steve,

    The map you show of the overcrowded routes is terrible.  I was able to tell which routes were overcrowded, but it is not accurate – I doubt the 96G on Clayson is overcrowded, for example, or the far fringes.

    Steve:  It’s the TTC’s map, and they were not being particular about which segment of a route was overcrowded.

    If the TTC could easily show where the crowding is worst, they could put in new short route branches to relieve the pressure points.

    On Wilson (which takes in both the 96 and 165), the buses are crowded by Jane Street, and can run closed-door east of Keele, on weekends!  Why not a new 96F Jane-Wilson Stn instead of adding buses along the entire route where ridership is lower?  The same with 29, which isn’t bad at all north of Eglinton, but crowded closest to Dufferin Station.

    That will supposedly be one of the features the much-touted smart card, but what happened to simple ridership origin-destination counts?

    Finally, how far will the famous 100 buses go in addressing the overcrowding as shown?  I still don’t think those poor souls out in Morningside Heights will see much if we just deal with current demand.

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  4. Will throwing any more money in this budget solve the problem in the short term? It’s not like the buses are going to arrive any faster. And will training new drivers faster ease up the problem any?

    Though it’s interesting to see the 504 and 506 street cars on the already overcrowded list.  I thought there were still a few more cars available at peak periods.  (could be a painful summer, isn’t much of Dundas Street going to be rebuilt this year?  That will move a lot of traffic to the 506).

    Steve:  The arrival of new buses has nothing to do with the amount of additional off-peak service we could be running if we had enough operators.  Over half of the TTC’s ridership is outside the peak, and we could improve service then if only we had the will to do so.

    As for the summer with the 505 closed down, I will be interested to see how the TTC tackles the alternative services as various parts of the route are rebuilt.

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  5. I sometimes have occasion to take the Dufferin bus north from Bloor to about Lawrence.  As already mentioned by Sean, the load thins out considerably as you move north and invariably there are empty seats by the time we get to Eglinton.  There is already some scheduled short turn rush hour service, turning back at Wingold Ave.  Why not simply expand this further, to an all-day basis?

    There would be an objection that people don’t like short turns. In my experience what they don’t like is an unexpected short turn, when they had boarded a vehicle expecting it to cover the entire route.

    I’m not familiar with many of the other routes mentioned but I wonder if a similar situation prevails?  Is an entire route overcrowded, or only a part of it?

    Steve:  I don’t think that any of the routes on the map is overcrowded for its entire length in both directions.  The trick in designing service is that demand changes through the day, and if you try to schedule at too microscopic a level, a small change can throw things off.  For example, the TTC does schedule extra trips that correspond with places where schools let out just before the PM peak.  Buses enroute to service elsewhere do a school trip and then pick up their regular run.

    The worst possible effect is to steal service from the “less loaded” part of a route and thereby destroy whatever attractiveness it may have.  For example, some routes build up a cumulative load going to some common destination.  The bus may be overfull when it gets there, but if we cut service on the outer “uncrowded” part, suddenly some of the customers will stop using the route.

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  6. Forget about the 133 NEILSON bus being overcrowded starting this year. That bus has been overcrowded for years already.

    The situation is very bad with customers standing over the white line and others being left behind.

    The problem however I think could be fixed with the 133 bus, if the TTC would consider breaking up the route.

    Residents from Morningside Heights should not be cramming onto a bus and riding for 45min to access Scar Ctre Station. There should be a different route or even express route serving that portion of the route during peak hours.

    The same with the route 38 that is jam packed after leaving U of T Scarborough. The TTC should designate certain trips at rush hour where the 38 goes from U of T Scarborough express to STC via the 401, because dragging that bus along Ellesmere does nothing, because no one can board anyway.

    The TTC needs to get creative with their bus routing, and a number of the overcrowding situations could be handled.

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  7. Why isn’t 510 Spadina on that list?  Near Spadina Station, it is very common to see completely full CLRVs skip stops at rush hour.  That route needs articulated streetcars.

    Today at around 5:30pm, the streetcar driver let us board via the rear doors because the front of the streetcar was so full – being honest, I ended up paying at Spadina Station before transferring to the subway.  510 Spadina could also benefit from better service on the east-west streetcar routes/to Union Station to reduce the number of people using it as a shuttle to/from the Bloor-Danforth subway.

    Steve:  The list is the TTC’s, not mine.  Yes, the Spadina car has problems, but we have no cars to add to the line.  ALRVs have their own challenges because of restrictions on the type of vehicle that can go into the tunnel at Union.  (It is claimed that a CLRV could not push a disabled ALRV out of the tunnel.)

    I agree that the quality of east-west service also affects people’s choice about how to get around downtown, and they will use the subway as a “sure thing” because the surface routes are unreliable and overcrowded.

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  8. With the crowding issues on bus routes like 133, I see the solution to be articulated buses.  They offer higher capacity without the use of another driver, and so don’t cost more to opearate.  I’m not too sure why the TTC doesn’t purchase some articulated buses (is it because Orion doesn’t offer one right now?), but they should, as it increases capacity without much extra cost in operation. 

    Some people might say frequencies will decrease, but take Finch East as an example, buses operate at 2 minute intervals at times, but they always get bunched up, so 3 or more ocme at the same time every 6 minutes or so, using larger buses at 4 minute frequencies would actually be beneficial, of course, this dosent apply to routes operating with frequencies worse than 5 min, as the little bit of cost associated with a larger bus can be justified without worsening of service because it would increase capacity.

    Steve:  The history of artics in Canada has not been a good one.  GM produced an artic, but it had serious problems with stability on slippery roads because it was a “pusher” with the engine at the back, just as in a standard bus.  The Orion/Icarus artics that the TTC had were very badly built and lasted only a bit over a decade before they fell apart due to poor construction. 

    The TTC does have provision for artics in its medium-range fleet plans, but they have to be robust enough to stand up to standard transit demands because, otherwise, the premium we will pay for the vehicles over the equivalent capacity in 40′ buses won’t be worth it.

    By the way, the marginal operating cost is not zero.  The vehicles consume more fuel than regular buses, and they have more axles, body parts, doors, etc., that need looking after.  Also, the garage(s) that will house them need modifications to handle longer buses, or need to be designed from the outset on the assumption of 60′ vehicles in the repair bays.

    As you rightly point out, they are not suitable for routes where the widened headway prevents us from running frequent service.

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