[Updated December 14: A chart of the top 30 bus routes has been added in response to requests from readers. Comments on this chart are at the end of the post.]
[Updated December 12: Charts of ridership and vehicle mileage for most of the system from 1976 to 2005 have been added. Comments on these appear at the end of this post.]
My title may seem an odd choice, but my evening spent foraging in TTC statistics was quite sobering.
Some have commented here that I spend an undue amount of time on the streetcar system, and so for a moment, I will turn to the buses. The TTC likes to believe that its system is growing, and in some very limited places, yes, that is true. However, the service cuts of the 1990s decimated service and ridership on the entire system, not just downtown.
The count of boardings (one person on one bus regardless of whether they pay a fare or transfer) hit a peak of about 1.42-million in 1989. This went into long decline and by 2005, the number was 1.17-million.
Service, measured in vehicle miles, took a hit, although not as deep, through the 1990s, and by 2005 was growing back to almost the same level. However, this masks what was really happening. Routes in the handful of growing areas were getting more service, but the TTC was not recapturing riders it had lost. Major routes now carry only a fraction of what they handled in 1989.
Dufferin 29 dropped to about 83% of its former traffic even though the number of vehicle miles is unchanged over the long haul. What actually happened was a cut in 1993 which hurt ridership badly. Service was restored a few years later, but the riding has been coming back to current levels on a long, slow basis.
Between 1989 and 2005, Jane 35 dropped to about 78% of its former riding. Keele 41 dropped to about 74%. Several other routes have lost 40% or more of their riding.
The early 90s saw an economic downturn, and the TTC service cuts, compounded a few years later by the Harris government’s funding cuts, cemented a major drop in transit use across the city. During this time, the TTC reduced its bus fleet by about 20%, and service quality and reliability on the entire system suffered.
Year after year, at budget time, we kept hearing “next year will be better”, but nothing really happened. Riding is up on the subway and this masked the overall decline in the surface system. That’s the part of our network the TTC and the politicians always take for granted — there are no photo ops with a bus except, maybe, when you buy a green(er) one.
Some service will return in 2008, but we have a long way to go to return to the riding and service levels of two decades ago. We must not pat ourselves on the back for, finally, rolling out 100 new buses. That’s only a start, and much more must be done. Alas, the politicians are back looking at many new capital projects all over the GTA while regular operations starve for proper funding and attention.
The following section (added on December 12) concerns the evolution of ridership and service from 1976 to 2005.
Every year since 1976 (except 1990), the TTC published statistics about the operation of its surface routes. Boiling these down into manageable charts took a bit of work, but here it is.
The first set of charts deals with the streetcar routes, and then there are four sets of charts for the buses to avoid the clutter of over 100 routes on one page.
Streetcar Ridership and Mileage: This chart tracks the ridership and mileage for the streetcar system as a whole from 1976 to 2005. Note that there has been a consistent downward trend and a big drop in mileage (service) between 1989 and 1991. The bump in riding and mileage in 1997 is caused by the inclusion of the Spadina car (formerly a bus route) in the totals.
Streetcar Riding: This shows the change in riding counts over the years. Note that starting in 1991, the 503 Kingston Road Tripper data was consolidated with Downtowner, although you would never know this from the lack of movement in the line for the 502 route. The chart also includes a line showing the combined riding of Queen Street routes 501, 502 and 503. Recent changes in riding, if any, cannot be seen due to the infrequency of counts and the fact that recent growth occured after these counts were taken.
The combined chart for the Queen Corridor shows how nearly half of the riding has been lost since 1976.
Streetcar Riding Trend: This chart shows the ridership numbers relative to their values in 1989, just before major service cuts began. Downtowner and Kingston Road had much higher riding, proportionately, before 1989 because the routes were longer. None of the routes has returned to 1989 levels, although given that some counts are five years old, we really cannot use this as an indicator of current conditions.
Note that Harbourfront/Spadina began operation after 1989 and a trend value relative to that date is meaningless.
Streetcar Mileage: This chart shows the mileage operated on each streetcar route. Queen shows a drop down in 1991 co-inciding with the introduction of ALRVs, and it bumps up again a few years later when the Long Branch car was absorbed into the Queen route.
Streetcar Mileage Trend: This chart shows the mileage numbers relative to 1989. All routes are operating less service in 2005 than in 1989.
Bus Ridership and Mileage: This chart tracks the ridership and mileage for the bus routes. Note that the mileage line crosses the ridership line in the early 1990s showing that the relative amount of riding to service was declining.
[The next set of charts occurs 4 times to avoid clutter.]
Bus Ridership: This shows the riding on each of the bus routes over the 20-year period. Some large changes are due to route restructuring, but overall, strong growth is not evident for most routes.
Bus Ridership Trend: This shows the riding relative to 1989. In most cases, the riding through to 2005 is below the 1989 level.
Bus Mileage and Mileage Trend: These charts show the mileage and mileage trends for the bus routes. Few routes show mileage growth, and the majority of routes operated less mileage in 2005 than in 1989.
[Caveat: There are a few outliers in these charts probably due to bad source data. I will look into these and amend the charts as necessary. This only affects a few data points for individual routes, not the overall pattern.]
I look forward to the TTC publishing recent riding counts to see whether the lines are trending upward again. The worst possible reaction to increased demand is a constraint on service quantity and quality, but that is precisely the situation we have been in for the past years.
[Updated December 14]
The bus route charts above group routes by route number, and some readers have asked that I pull out major routes so that they can be compared easily. The “Top 30” chart extracts the top bus routes, ranked by 1989 ridership, into one pair of ridership charts.
A few caveats:
- The TTC did not publish data for 95 York Mills in 1994. The line for that route drops to zero for that year.
- The largest drops in the trend values are for routes that were restructured into multiple routes.
- Eglinton East service east of Kennedy Station is now provided by separate routes.
- Weston Road North bus replaced one branch of Wilson.
- Ossington was broken by splitting off the Rogers Road service.
- The Spadina bus ridership goes to zero in 1997 when the streetcar service replaced it.
- The drop in use of the Bay bus is quite striking. This trend was already underway in the 1980s, and reflects the shift of riders to the subway. Demand on this route is concentrated north of Gerrard.
- Most routes remain at ridership level below 1989. The strongest growth is on the Steeles East, Steeles West and York University routes.