TTC Riding Continues to Climb

The TTC monthly report of ridership and budget performance tells us that riding is up 3.8% over last year and 2% over budget.  Total riding for 2007 is now projected at 462-million.

However, much of this growth has come through increased Metropass usage, and the average fare has actually fallen by 3.6 cents as the “free” additional Metropass trips dilute the overall revenue.  As a result, there is no change in the projected total revenue for the year.

This year, we passed an important point in the evolution of fares on the TTC — over half of the adult fares are now paid by Metropass rather than by tickets, tokens or cash.  This has strong implications for ridership because the “free” extra rides a pass offers cement a rider’s choice of the TTC for their travel.  Moreover, proposals to implement any new fare system must meet the Metropass test for simplicity and cost.

The TTC plans service improvements and better loading standards for fall 2007, and details of this will probably appear soon given the lead time for implementing schedule changes.  With better service will come more riding.  Let’s hope that Council is prepared to pay for more improvements in years to come.

A TTC Business Case for Smart Cards?

The TTC has published a lengthy report on the subject of Smart Cards.  I am not going to attempt to precis the material here, but the “bottom line” is that, yes, Smart Cards will work, but are we willing to pay the price for what they will give us?

The conclusion observes:

The business case demonstrates that a smartcard system will have definite benefits for customers (convenience), decision-makers (flexibility in policy and pricing), and employees (safety and security). The analysis estimates that the cost for a TTC owned and operated smartcard system is between $250M to $260M in capital, and $11M to $12M in additional operating expenses annually. The business case analysis further shows that while the current TTC fare system does have limitations, it is simple to understand and operate, and is relatively cost efficient and reliable. From a state-of-good repair perspective, the current fare system does not need to be replaced.

There is an interesting table in Appendix H showing the capital cost of various new Smart Card systems on large transit properties expressed per weekday boarding.  The cost cited for Toronto is cheap compared with Boston, Chicago or New York.  Whether this indicates we will do things better and at less cost, or that there is more headroom for overruns, only time will tell.  The time to implement a system on the TTC is projected at six years.

There are without question benefits that would come with Smart Cards.  However, we must decide whether they are worth the investment.  Recent comments at the TTC minimize costs with a shrug “it’s only about $40-million a year”.

As I have said so often, remember this the next time the TTC says that they cannot afford more bus service, or Council balks at the rising cost of transit subsidies.

Amazing, isn’t it, how we have money for the toys, but not for the things we really need.

New Light Rail Vehicle Update

The TTC agenda for next week includes a report on the status of the new LRV project.

Seven companies expressed interest in bidding, although one dropped out.  They are:

  • AnsaldoBreda
  • Bombardier
  • Kinkisharyo (No longer participating)
  • Mytram
  • Siemens
  • Skoda
  • Vossioh-Kiepe

The TTC plans to include public participation in the evaluation of possible new cars.  This will include a website (presumably not designed by the wizards responsible for the existing one), and would-be vendors will be asked to provide a car for viewing.  I suspect that this will cull a few more from the list as the expense of bringing a car to Toronto is substantial, and only someone with deep pockets and a fair hope of winning the bid would undertake this.

The current plan is to award a contract in June 2008 with the prototype cars delivered in 2010.  Cynics among us will point out that this corresponds with the next municipal election cycle.

The nub of this issue is funding.  Council is pursuing a tri-partite arrangement with Queen’s Park and Ottawa, a scheme that could very well see this in limbo for years. 

We don’t have years.  The cars proposed here will only cover replacement of the existing fleet let alone expansion into new routes.  Maybe with our “new revenue tools”, Council will shoulder more of the cost locally and we will stop holding the transit system hostage to three-way political haggling.

What Will the Spadina Subway Cost?

Next week’s TTC agenda contains a report on potential ridership, costs and revenues for the Spadina Subway extension.

This is fascinating reading because we now begin to see vaguely real numbers about this project.  Contrary to claims in an earlier report to Council, the line will not recover 80% of its costs from opening day and a special subsidy will be needed. 

One particular observation notes that York University students now ride in from the 905 on a single York Region fare.  They will not be willing to pay an extra fare for a “TTC” fare zone on the subway, and therefore won’t contribute much revenue to it.  They are the single most important part of the revenue projections for the new line, but the marginal revenue they will actually generate is small.

The City of Toronto has been asked, through the operating agreement for the new line, to shoulder all of the future costs and losses despite the considerable benefits for both York Region and Queen’s Park.  The TTC holds that this should justify a special operating subsidy.

The Toronto portion of the subway is projected to open with a 62% cost recovery for operations.  This is quite respectable, but below average for the system and operating dollars will have to be found (or diverted) to run this line.  On Sheppard, we got no special subsidy and absorbed the extra operating cost into the base budget.  Remember that the next time the TTC says it cannot afford to run better service on your bus route.

The TTC is quite clear in saying that subways require a density of 100 persons and/or jobs per hectare, and that:

… the Spadina Subway Extension, especially the portion north of Steeles Avenue, is not expected to reach this density threshold for some time after the commencement of revenue service …

Revenue service is almost a decade away, and “some time after” even further in the future.  Meanwhile, we have many pressing transportation requirements in the GTA that will go unfunded.  The report ends by stating:

A substantial operating cost contribution from the Province of Ontario to the estimated $14.2-million in net operating costs for the entire line should be pursued to offset the City’s financial risk.

I’m sure further study of this problem will magically reduce the projected losses to politically acceptable levels.  The Emperor’s tailor will be visiting any day now.