Five Ways To Improve the TTC

Over at spacing wire, Craig Cal has a piece about TTC makeovers.  It includes Liz Clayton’s photo of Lower Bay Station that shows it more or less in original form allowing for the various tests of wayfinding schemes on the floor.

Recently, I was asked for my own “five ideas” on how to improve the TTC, and to ensure that they don’t vanish into the mist completely, here they are.  Intriguingly, both our lists start with the same thing:  Service.  We diverge after that, but it’s understandable considering my strong orientation to the political, and Craig’s focus on design.  Neither better than the other, just different.

Most of this you have read before, including in some recent posts, but I thought it could be worthwhile putting it in one concise place.

1.  Service. 

Remember that the only way to gain a political constituency for anything, especially for funding, is that people like the product you are providing.  I get emails and feedbacks on my site that are real horror stories about botched operations, huge gaps and inadequate service, and these are not just rants from people who will never be happy.
Too often the TTC runs service for its own convenience, not for the passengers.  This leads to my next point.
2.  Stop pretending that we can make do with a bit more. 

We have been doing this for years, and have dug a very deep hole from which escape would be difficult even in an environment where people are trying to move to transit despite its failures.  Even this year, the vaunted Ridership Growth will come very late in the year, and much of the effect will come in 2008.  Moreover, the 100 new buses that were supposed to provide better service will partly be eaten up by the large backlog of requirements just to bring existing services up to par, never mind improving them.
When there isn’t enough service on the street, buses are crowded, loading delays are a big problem, passengers are cranky, and operators are less than thrilled.  Line management, even if it were spectacularly good, is on a treadmill of always trying to catch up with problems caused by crowding delays.
“A bit more” is a stand-pat recipe that will see the system in worse shape four years from now than it is today.
3.  Stop pretending that the only way to fix service is with reserved lanes. 

This is not going to happen on most streets in Toronto, and the TTC has to make the service work with the road space we have available.  This is a classic TTC dodge of claiming that whatever the problem, there’s nothing they can do.  This has the perverse effect that they now argue that they really should not put more vehicles on the street because they will just get stuck in traffic and won’t carry any more riders.
If we take this to its logical conclusion, we should just stop thinking about more service.
4.  Stop waiting for Ottawa. 

Aside from the fact that Ottawa is not really a player on the transit scene, we have to recognize that any funding policy they create must work for all of the major cities in the country.  Only a few of them have transit systems on our scale, and this means that mega$$$ will go to a handful of areas all of which are notoriously unfriendly to Ottawa.
Queen’s Park and Toronto have to get back to funding transit on their own hook.
5.  Start concentrating on the transit network, not a handful of megaprojects. 

People who criticize transit love to say that the private sector could do it better.  Well, the private sector wouldn’t build lines like Sheppard and Spadina/York/Vaughan unless the public sector guaranteed them a whacking great subsidy.  For example, the additional riding generated by new developments along the Sheppard line don’t come close to producing enough fare revenue to offset the cost of running the line, and of course contribute zero to the huge debt incurred to build it.
We have a dichotomy with an Official Plan that spreads growth out over the Avenues, but the majority of the funding and the TTC’s real priorities seem to be stuck on two $2.5-billion subway extensions — Spadina and Sheppard East.
I know that I beat the drum for LRT a lot, but the fundamental problem is that gigantic subway projects crowd everything else off of the table for funding.  They produce requests for gigantic special subsidies to Ottawa ($650M for the Spadina line) that will not show up as better service for anyone for a decade.  I have heard that there are even problems at Queen’s Park where the Sorbara Subway is crowding out funding requests from other government initiatives.

When we talk about networks, everyone is content to talk about smart cards and cross-border 905/416 travel.  The big problem is that there is no serious initiative to improve service either in the 905 or between the 905 and 416 except for, maybe, some GO rail changes further down the road.  These do nothing for travel within the outer Toronto suburbs as well as the part of the 905 that is dense enough to support some transit.

7 thoughts on “Five Ways To Improve the TTC

  1. Slightly OT, but during the Superbowl Bombardier ran ads showing sleek , bullet train lookalike LRT streetcars snaking through some generic European city.  Some of the people watching with me remarked on how Bombardier ‘reserves its best, coolest stuff for overseas, while we must make do with their most outdated, crappy equipment here’.  This reminds me of your complaint that if people actually knew what the alternatives to the current transit quagmire were (eg LRT),they might be disposed to try these alternatives.  Bombardier should run these ads again during the Stanley Cup.

    Steve:  In Bombardier’s defence, our current fleet predates their involvement.  The CLRVs (and ALRVs) were children of the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation, an agency set up to develop what became the Scarborough RT.  They had a lot of problems, and in desperation glommed onto a preliminary design the TTC had worked out for new streetcars in the mid-1960s, basically an updated PCC car.

    However, between the combined brains trust of OTDC (later UTDC) and TTC, the cars morphed into heavyweight highspeed cars totally unsuited to street operation.  Eventually, the Ontario government sold the UTDC to Bombardier, and part of that deal involved guarantees of exclusivity on transit contracts for a period of time.  That was the issue in last year’s subway car order — whether that agreement was still in force or not.


  2. The only time the feds said anything about transit was a high-speed rail link to the airport.  That plan threatens neighbourhoods and if built will be another Rochester Ferry.  The proposal I saw showed service only to Union Station and priced at more than a taxi or limo from downtown.

    We are the only G7 country that does not have senior government providing funding to public transit.  If Canada was serious about economic growth and competitiveness Ottawa would fund public transit.

    How much time do Canadians waste every day just trying to get to work?

    Steve:  Blue 22 was the pet project of a former Minister of Transportation from the Chretien era that typified Ottawa’s response to transit — just another place for a bauble with a Canada wordmark on it rather than something the city actually needs.

    I understand that the Blue 22 consortium realizes that this is not the potential goldmine they might have thought, and they propose to implement a bare-bones service with used equipment.  GO or VIA could have done this years ago.

    The real question about the airport is whether there is a better way to get good transit to the site without running all the way up the Weston Subdivision.


  3. “The real question about the airport is whether there is a better way to get good transit to the site without running all the way up the Weston Subdivision.”

    What ever happened to the idea of an LRT from Kipling Station to the airport? Especially that there is no (longer an) Eglinton West subway, why not resurrect this idea?

    Steve:  Various schemes are quietly under consideration, but first someone has to pull the plug on Blue 22.


  4. You make some very good points here, particularly about the 905/416 challenge.

    Public transit/transportation is not a Toronto issue, it is a REGIONAL issue — only a strategic, integrated solution based on the needs of the entire GTA will solve our traffic congestion problems here in Toronto.

    That’s why the new Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA) is so important. It has a mandate to look at the entire region, decide how best to get people, goods and services moving in and out and across the 416/905, then put that plan into action.

    We only hope the province will give the GTTA the funding, authority and non-partisan directors it needs to get the job done.

    As for the TTC, it would certainly help if the province would end the unfair downloading of services on to municipalities, including Toronto, and return to the equitable formula for funding transit capital investments.

    You’re right to say we can’t wait for Ottawa before working to improve public transit here.  At the same time, though, we should not give up pushing the feds to close the current $6.6 billion/year fiscal gap with Toronto taxpayers, including new investments in transit operations and infrastructure.

    Steve:  I agree.  The fiscal gap is a problem facing communities across Canada, and it truly a national issue.  If we tie funding requests to specific projects, immediately we lose the ability to make common cause with the rest of the country and virtually guarantee that we will get nothing.


  5. WRT to Point 5, was getting the private sector to fund part of the new subway lines ever considered?  On the Yonge line, condo buildings with direct access to the subway draws a premium.  Were there no developers interested in building on top of the new stations?

    Steve:  We have not had new stations on Yonge Street since 1974, long before the condo market existed.  Looking at current sites here are a few comments:

    Finch – A difficult constrained site with the entire station footprint occupied by a busy bus loop.
    North York Centre – Station has no property of its own.  Redevelopment has already taken place.
    Sheppard – TTC has land that they are holding for future redevelopment
    York Mills – Commercial development above the station already in place
    Lawrence – Station has no property of its own.
    Eglinton – Redevelopment plans in progress.
    Davisville – Redevelopment has been considered, but is very difficult.

    The main issue here is that when the TTC builds a station, it usually does not acquire a large amount of adjoining property except for a bus loop, and stations under the middle of a street obviously don’t have air rights to sell.  Connection rights are nice, but don’t bring in a fortune.


  6. During the period downloading was occuring, several services (i.e. highways, welfare etc) were downloaded, whereas the province uploaded items such as school responsibility.  This was meant to result in rationalization of the services and was to be money neutral.

    The trouble was the province retained the school tax associated with municipal taxes (accounting for about half of the taxes paid by homeowners).  Restructuring the school taxes to the province (as an income tax base, rather than homeowner base) would have had too much of an impact on the tax structure.  Leaving the education tax in place though, effectively blocked the municipalities from making the necessary tax increases needed to manage the downloaded services.

    The remarkable thing is that they have survived as well as they have.


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