[This item was updated at 10:30 pm on August 28. The additional material starts midway through the post.]
Today, the TTC launched a campaign to inform and survey Torontonians about the potential impact of budget cuts in 2008.
More information is available at the TTC’s website.
Until mid-July, when City Council voted to defer consideration of new taxes until after the Provincial election in October, everything we heard about the TTC was upbeat: service was to improve by leaps and bound, and a network of LRT lines criss-crossing Toronto would be built within 15 years. Even Queen’s Park sounded positive about transit with the Move Ontario 2020 plan providing 2/3 funding for every transit scheme on the GTA.
Everything changed with that deferral, and it wasn’t long until all of that positive news about transit was only a memory. The TTC is trying to turn this around with the “My TTC” campaign in the very brief time between the end of summer holidays (when both the voters and the media start taking issues seriously again) and a special TTC meeting to discuss possible cuts on September 12.
The most important paragraph reads:
We haven’t abandoned our vision for better transit, but riders have to choose. Will we support our transit system so that it is properly-funded and able to meet riders’ needs, or will we accept a TTC with less and less service? It’s a choice we have to make together.
Alas, this paragraph is on the inside of the brochure whose cover gives no hint of the severity of the cuts on the table. As the campaign builts with car cards and print advertising, more people should get the message.
Indeed, more people must get the message. The TTC needs to lay out clearly that there are three possible futures:
More and Better Service Everywhere
Between Transit City and Ridership Growth Strategy, the TTC had long and short term plans showing a bright future for transit. Mid-to-long term there is the LRT network along with, thanks to Queen’s Park, subway extensions to York Region on Spadina and Yonge. Short term, the RGS promissed better service on overcrowded routes, and new loading standards to ensure that more service was added before people were riding on the roof.
Both of these are essential to improving the attractiveness of transit and supporting the Official Plan’s view for the future of Toronto. On a regional level, Toronto needs to show what can be done. Transit in the 905 is a huge challenge, and if we in Toronto can’t make it work, what hope is there in the 905?
The Do Nothing Option
This option is what we will see for Fall 2007. The decision to cancel planned service improvements has already been made, and the 100 new buses poised to roll out on the streets will stay in the garage. (Strictly speaking, the new buses will operate, and 100 older buses will be set aside for better days, but the effect is the same.)
All work on designs and Environmental Assessments for new transit projects will likely grind to a halt. We know that we cannot afford to run the system we have, and there is no point on planning for new lines that would only increase the operating deficit.
The Sky Really Is Falling Option
If this really happens, we will see widespread cutbacks in marginal TTC services, and you can be sure that the list on the TTC’s site is not the end of them. Once we start hacking away at the network, the budget hawks will look for more savings year after year and we will quickly hollow out the system.
One big criticism I have of the TTC’s campaign is that there isn’t a map showing what the network will look like next year if the cuts go through. Readers need to see what the network looks like today, what it might have been next year (service additions) and what it will be if the cuts go through.
They also need to know which services are next on the chopping block. This year’s list contains perennial favourites in Forest Hill and Rosedale, but it also hollows out blocks of the network.
In the block bounded by St. Clair, Bathurst, Lawrence and Bayview, the following services would vanish:
- 5 Avenue Road
- 33 Forest Hill
- 14 Glencairn
- 162 Lawrence Donway
- 74 Mt. Pleasant
- 97 Yonge
- 61 Avenue Road North (evening and weekends)
- 11 Bayview north of Sunnybrook (after 10 pm weekdays, after 7 pm weekends)
- 103 Mt. Pleasant North (off peak service)
This means that there will be no north-south surface route between Bathurst and Bayview except on Mt. Pleasant north of Eglinton, and that only during peak periods.
In the block bounded by Danforth, Broadview, O’Connor and Coxwell, the Broadview bus (which also serves O’Connor) would vanish, and the Mortimer bus would be reduced to a peak only service. Only Cosburn would remain as an east-west link through East York.
[Updates at 10:30 pm on August 27 start here]
Both the Davenport and Dupont buses will be cancelled leaving no east-west service between the Bloor Subway and St. Clair.
The Sheppard Subway will not close, but the surface bus paralleling it will disappear. A wonderful advert for transit: build a subway, but if you don’t live at a stop, sorry, you can walk. That’s what’s happening on Yonge north of Eglinton and on Sheppard where stations are far apart.
Where Do We Go From Here?
There is little doubt that the TTC will vote to do something on September 12, but the question is what, exactly, is on their mind. My own advice is that if cuts must be voted, let them be (a) conditional on the outcome of the funding debate in October and (b) effective far enough in the future that they can be reversed if more money arrives one way or another.
The worst possible outcome is a massive cutback that must first be undone before we see any new services.
There will almost certainly be a fare increase, as any other action would be political suicide for the TTC. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 25 cents on the token rate with corresponding changes in other fares. Roughly speaking, this would bring in $85-million of the $100-million the TTC needs to balance its projected budget, assuming that we don’t drive away much ridership and improve service quality. By the way, the TTC’s projections are unclear about whether that budget includes the Ridership Growth Strategy. This needs to be stated explicitly so we know what the budget we are looking at will actually buy.
People will look at the routes to be cut back or eliminated, and they will say “oh they cost too much, or nobody much rides them”. Well, let’s put that in context.
The Rosedale bus, a route everyone assumes is a total waste of time, picks up almost 79 riders per hour on an all-day basis. This is three times the recently published standard for a local bus route in York Region (25 boardings per vehicle hour), and the minimum required for a YRT route is a paltry 8, about 1/10 of what the TTC’s Rosedale route pulls in today. But it must go. It’s a bus for the rich, or at least a bus for the rich children and their nannies, as many would have us believe. In case you are wondering, the TTC’s system average is only 71 boardings per hour, and so cancelling the Rosedale bus will actually lower the “efficiency” of the system. This is what passes for careful analysis.
Meanwhile, the blatantly political extension of the Dufferin bus to serve the Soccer Stadium at all hours of the day or night, whether anything is happening or not, will continue to operate. It requires two extra peak buses and carries almost nobody, but it’s a pet route of the Deputy Mayor. If we can cancel the office renovations at City Hall, we can cancel the pet bus too.
If you want to see a real money-loser, look at the Airport Rocket. It’s packed, but it recovers only 22% of its operating cost because the customers all get on at one end of the line and off at the other; during some periods the demand is unidirectional. This means that the route expends a lot of resources (bus hours) per rider. Is it on the block? No. Cutting a money-losing service to the airport would be far too embarrassing.
There is no question some TTC routes don’t do as well as others, no matter how you cook the books. We run them because we have policies about network coverage (the maximum distance to a transit stop) and hours of service. Imagine if we closed down all the little-used routes in the off-hours on the assumption that we could save on maintenance by keeping some traffic off them. That’s what networks are all about — there are busy parts, and not so busy parts, including the Sheppard Subway, but together they make a network that people can depend on no matter where or when they travel.
Council must stop hiding behind dreams of a bailout from Queen’s Park. It’s not coming, and it’s time Council woke up to the need for more revenue. We lived in a fool’s paradise through the Lastman and early Miller years with no new taxes and then minimal increases. We have mortgaged the future of the city by spending all of our reserves and now it’s time to pay.
Riders need to let their Councillors hear loud and clear that service improvements are what we need, not service cuts.