Today the TTC took a big step back from the brink of disaster with a package addressing the current budget crisis. At last, instead of predictions of widespread service cuts, we actually hear of service improvements with more to come as and when funding is obtained. This is a much more responsible presentation than we have heard from anyone at City Hall in the past months.
After a long presentation followed by a Q&A between the Commissioners and Chief General Manager Gary Webster, we heard from a series of deputations including me. The message was consistent throughout — keeping service is a top priority.
You can read the staff report on the TTC’s website although some of the illustrations are missing. Some of them appear as links from this and future posts.
What Did the TTC Decide?
The staff recommendations were passed unanimously with some minor amendments.
1. Receive the results of the public consultations, noting that the preferred funding alternatives were as follows:
- 54% said “raise taxes”
- 45% said “raise fares”; and
- 27% said “cut service”
2. Note that the previously estimated 2008 TTC budget shortfall of about $104 million has been reduced by $10 million to $94 million, as a result of (i) the TTC signing a long-term contract to busy diesel fuel at a fixed price ($7 million reduction in 2008) and (ii) the deferral on July 20, 2007 of the service budgeted to be added in the fall of 2007 and the delay in opening of Mount Dennis Garage to at least February 17, 2008 ($3 million reduction in 2008).
These two points are for information.
3. Approve the implementation of the 2007 and 2008 service, starting on February 17, 2008, that is required to maintain service at the approved long-standing service standards to ensure that crowding is maintained at “tolerable” levels, noting that
- 77 bus and streetcar routes – or almost half of the TTC’s system – is operating with crowding in excess of the prescribed standards;
- the operation of bus and streetcar routes with overcrowding results in reduced quality of service to customers and a deterioration in reliability and regularity of service, because it takes people longer to get to/from the doors in crowded vehicles, so the buses and streetcars get delayed and become more prone to “bunching and gapping”.
Recommendation 3 is central to the change in outlook at the TTC. Quality of service is paramount, and service will be improved so that loading actually falls within the loading standards, something that has been missing for years on many routes. Originally, the TTC had planned to implement widespread improvements this fall, but these will now appear in February 2008.
This will bring the system up to current loading standards, with the caveat that these are averages over the peak hour and individual vehicles may still be crowded. Moreover, there are no peak streetcar increases due to limitations on the fleet. I will explore this issue in a separate post as part of my review of the King and Queen lines here.
4. Implement the 2007 and 2008 Ridership Growth Strategy (RGS) service improvements at peak periods and off peak periods (full day service on surface routes to match subway service hours), and open Mount Dennis Garage, estimated at a cost of about $20+ million in 2008, provided funding is available.
At this point, the RGS improvements including the 100 new buses are still not funded. However, the TTC took an important step by giving conditional approval. If Santa Claus appears with a bag full of loot, no further debate is needed to implement these long-overdue improvements.
The changes include full service hours on all routes, a further improvement in loading standards to reduce crowding on the system as a whole, and a move to a maximum headway of 20 minutes except on the Blue Night Network.
5. Do not implement reductions to poor performing routes at this time. Staff will continue to review these routes should it prove necessary to eliminate some or all of them at a future date.
The question of “poor performing routes” and the creative accounting and planning surrounding their selection has been discussed here before. To nobody’s surprise, the Sheppard Subway is not on the list, nor are other rapid transit sections such as Spadina north of St. Clair West or the SRT. It seems that the original estimated saving of $10-million annually neglected to factor in the cost of replacement bus service and the lost riding due to a decline in service quality.
The Sheppard proposal floated by as a sure thing back in July, and no end of controversy arose because of this. Now we find that the numbers were a bit off. How many more TTC estimates are a bit off, and how much service might have been sacrificed? Any future plans for service cuts need to have credible figures and need to explain why some very “poor performers” excape the knife while others vanish.
6. Implement an “across the board” 15¢ fare increase (15¢ on adult ticket/token fares and prorated for most others) in November 2007 and implement an additional change to monthly Metropasses equivalent to the cost of two additional adult ticket/token fares (about $11 per monthly pass) to generate about $39 million in net extra revenue. The new fare structure is detailed in Appendix B of this report.
This recommendation was modified to reduce the Metropass increase to $9, and that the adjustments in other pass prices be set accordingly. Exact details are unclear as I write this.
7. Continue the other cost containment initiatives approved by the Commission on July 20, 2007, until further notice.
These initiatives include cutbacks on unneeded spending such as travel and conferences.
This was amended to direct that staff consider other sources of revenue and expenditure control including the option of charging for commuter parking (now provided free to Metropass holders).
A further amendment by Councillor Peruzza explicitly states that cencellation or deferral of the Spadina Subway extension project is not to be considered. (I will return to this issue in another post.)
8. Note that the effect of all of the previous recommendations is to have reduced the TTC’s 2008 budget shortfall from the previous $104 million to $55 million, if the RGS initiatives are operated and Mount Dennis Garage is opened, or to $35 million if they are not.
Due to the change in item 6, the shortfalls reported above go up by $5-million to $60-million (with RGS) or $40-million (without).
9. Take action to establish a long term sustainable funding strategy for transit. Such an arrangement would put an end to the current situation of the TTC lurching from year to year adding then cutting service due to uncertain operating funding availability.
10. Forward this report to the City of Toronto, the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, the Province of Ontario, and the Government of Canada.
11. Forward this report to the adjacent municipalities and transit agencies, for information.
A separate set of motions from Commissioner Mihevc was also passed unanimously.
- That TTC staff report on salaries in the TTC as compared with ohter public and private sector workers.
- That TTC staff produce a consolidated report on the various audits done of TTC efficiency and spending.
- That TTC staff meet with Toronto Social Services to consider ways of mitigating the impact of fare increases on those who receive the Ontario Disability Allowance.
- That the planned October 17 TTC meeting be deferred until after the October 22 Council meeting to consider the budget in light of decisions taken at that meeting on new city revenue sources.
- That TTC staff report on potential savings and entrepreneurial actions that could be taken [this deals primarily with advertising and land development].
- That the UPass (University Student Pass) continue to be priced at $60 until May 2008.
- That TTC staff forward to Council a report on the 2008 budget process and the implications of not implementing the proposed tax tools.
Councillor Thompson moved that if the proposed new taxes are approved by Council at its October 22 meeting or earlier, that the TTC immediately rescind the fare increase. This motion was defeated on a 5-2 vote with Councillors Thompson and Saundercook in favour, Councillors Giambrone, Mihevc, Bussin, De Baeremakker and Peruzza opposed.
This prompted an interesting exchange between Councillors Mihevc and Thompson. Mihevc asked, mischieviously, whether this meant that Thompson would be supporting the new taxes. His answer: No!
Thompson’s view is that Council should find economies within its own budget before asking for new tax revenues, and to that end, he read a comment from a constituent at the September 10th public meeting:
Go back to City Hall and fix the budget.
However, Councillor Thompson failed to read the rest of the comment that was included in his letter to Chair Giambrone:
Raise taxes if needed but revisit the budget first. I am OK with the land transfer tax. Maybe we should fire some Councillors.
If you’re going to score political points with quotations, don’t use partial quotes. Many other comments supported retention and improvement of service, and Thompson presented a large petition in support of the 67 Pharmacy bus. It seems he doesn’t want to give his constituents the hard news that their services don’t make the grade.
(As an historical note, one reason behind the Pharmacy bus plea is to ensure that people can get to church on Sunday. How far we have come from the days when the operation of streetcars on Sunday was considered unholy.)
In the next post, I will address the look of the budget and considerations for future years.