Where Have All The Riders Gone? (Update 2)

[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.

33 thoughts on “Where Have All The Riders Gone? (Update 2)

  1. The only problem being that, if the ridership is restored to the original 1989 levels, the problem is FAR from solved…because in 1989, the 905 was still more or less an area that was not exploding the way it is today (Mississauga the exception).

    So with the population grown so much since then, the TTC would have to carry a certain % of the population in order to restore 1989 levels technically?

    Even after everything done to increase the modal share of transit, doesn’t car ownership grow regardless? YES!

    When an arterial or highway has heavy traffic just during rush hours (like the 905) then you know its just a problem of commuters driving and not using transit. All other hours however, the roads are wide open and traffic isn’t really an issue.

    When the 401 through the middle of Toronto (Weston Road to Yonge) has traffic on a Saturday or a Sunday and roads like Finch and Steeles have gridlock problems on a weekend? That is a capacity problem…

    Steve, if you are against widening arterials like Sheppard, Finch, or Steeles (wherever they are not 6 lanes already and have wide open land for expansion), what do you honestly think will solve the traffic problem on non-rush hour/weekend periods?

    Alternately, instead of doing anything with those streets, how about a new 4 lane parkway in the hydro corridor across the city to relieve finch ave?


    Steve: A parkway in the Finch hydro corridor is only a stopgap solution. Adding two lanes each way comes nowhere near providing the relief capacity that would quickly be consumed by traffic now on Finch and Steeles. Also, unless we put in grade-separated interchanges, this is just going to be a local road.

    I do agree that the growth in the 905 means that to get back to “1989” levels, the TTC actually has to carry more riders if it is to have a comparable market share. This is a major problem: during the exact period when population of the outer 416 and 905 was exploding, growth of TTC service was badly constrained. We will pay the price for this for decades to come.


  2. I must be missing something; didn’t the TTC set a record for ridership last year? Or am I wrong? Are ridership totals from the 80s as accurate as today’s, or more or less accurate?

    Steve: That’s exactly my point. Riding has been going up on selected parts of the system, especially the subway, while it has fallen everywhere else. Also, the ridership numbers here are from 2005 and early 2006. More recent numbers have not been published and, considering how infrequently the TTC actually counts riders on individual routes, it may take a while for these stats to catch up.

    The result of this situation is that during periods of strong growth, the numbers in the service plan under-report the actual demand on the system.


  3. Steve, does your data show any correlation between the decline and ridership and the ill-advised attempt to implement part-time drivers and the resulting lengthy work-to-rule job action? Anecdotal evidence points to this sorry episode resulting in a great deal of customer dis-satisfaction, with many claiming they will never ride the TTC again.

    Steve: The data I have is at far too coarse a level to co-relate changes with external events. The TTC does detailed counts on individual routes once a year at best, and on the long routes like Queen, once every four or five years. “Standing” counts (observations of loads at a specific location) are done more often and used as inputs to service tuning, but (a) I don’t have them and (b) they will not necessarily reflect a route overall. Finally, the one-day counts used by TTC will always have at least a 10% variation due to seasonal effects and special events.


  4. This is the tragedy of the complete and utter mismanagement of transportation issues by our shortsighted politicians. For transit to be a success it needs to win the “hearts and minds” of middle class people – people who have alternatives but choose to ride transit. They make this choice because service levels are adequate to compete with the alternatives. This does not mean that transit has to be a 100% substitute. It may take longer to ride the bus, but that is offset by the comfort and convenience (I love to read on the bus) and the reduction in costs. This group may also be altruistic enough to recognise that there is a benefit to using transit because of the lessened impact on the environment. What this group will not tolerate (for long) however, is freezing waits on the streetcorner for a vehicle that seems never to come.

    In Toronto, in the second half of the 20th century we still had a viable public transit system. Many American Cities had foolishly allowed their transit systems to wither to the point that, apart from commuting, middle class “choice” riders were largely non-existent. Apart from commuters in rush hour, transit was relegated to supporting the “captive” ridership – the poor, the old and the young. (While this may be a generalisation, it is largely true.)

    In Toronto, on the other hand we entered the second half of the 20th century with transit traditions largely intact. Most of the City was well served and middle class people still took transit on shopping and recreation trips. The TTC had the highest or second highest per capita ridership of any system in North America and was the third largest behind NYC and Chicago. While American cities struggled to rebuild transit systems – and paid huge subsidies to try and woo riders – Toronto had a largely effective transit system. In the last years of the last Century, and the first years of the new one, it seems that our politicians had a death wish for public transit. TTC service has been eviscerated and new suburbs have multiplied that have no effective public transit. People with alternatives do not take transit for a night out if the last bus is at 8:00 p.m. or 10 p.m. and they have to walk home from the nearest “arterial route”. People in Mississauga are never going to take a bus whose most frequent service is half an hour – even in rush hour.

    While the TTC can be rebuilt and LRTs and busways can be overlaid on the disfunctional suburbs, it is unfortunate that our politicians have allowed the “transit tradition” to wither for a generation. Unlike “choice” riders of the past there is no guarantee that “if we build it they will come”. However, each delay makes achievement of the goal that much harder.


  5. I was surprised to see that the population of Toronto (not the GTA) has only gone up 225,000 between 1991 and 2006 (StatsCan numbers via Wikipedia). Still, that’s a 10% increase, and so to get back to previous levels, the raw numbers need to be 10% larger than they were. Also, as mentioned above, that completely ignores the growth of the GTA, about 1.3 million in the same period…


  6. The TTC was competitive against the car in the 70s because:

    – it served the entire built-up area (north of Steeles was farmland)
    – the built-up area was smaller
    – the routes had less car traffic
    – the average trip was shorter (time-wise and distance-wise)
    – BD and YUS were good backbones with lots of spare capacity
    – car ownership was still relatively expensive
    – many women didn’t drive

    Growth in the 905 and affluence killed all of that, and as a result, ridership declined everywhere. An increasing number of trips starting and ending on opposite sides of Steeles killed it even further. Everyone living north of Sheppard routinely goes into the 905 to shop, work, etc., because that’s where all the new stores are, and they do it by car. To change that, you’d have to create a “GTTC” with one fare zone and a lot of express bus routes to get people there faster.


  7. Steve: A parkway in the Finch hydro corridor is only a stopgap solution. Adding two lanes each way comes nowhere near providing the relief capacity that would quickly be consumed by traffic now on Finch and Steeles. Also, unless we put in grade-separated interchanges, this is just going to be a local road.

    Making it grade seperated would make the problem worse as you get long-distance travellers from the 905 and beyond using it. (I for one can admit that i would be one of those people if that were to happen).

    Rather, the most congested part of any of those streets is between Weston Road and Victoria Park? (Notice they are both near 400 & 404 respectively). So simply build a parkway, the likes of Morningside Avenue in Scarborough with trees in a wide median, bike lanes SEGREGATED, bus lanes.

    Its function would be solely for *express* uses. the Steeles West & East bus can deviate from their routes and use it to had over to Finch (or future Finch West) station. A biker who wants to head across the city can do so without a bunch of traffic lights and such. Cars can bypass the soon-to-be high density transit oriented portions of Finch Avenue (with its LRT).

    1 Traffic Light every few kilometers is fine, usually the main roads would be linked like Jane/Keele/Dufferin, etc.

    The TTC is already building a road between Keele & Dufferin anyways! Might as well add in 2 *SAFE* bike lanes and 4 traffic lanes? (Maybe a carpool lane? Easy to enforce.)

    The key is….Express. There is nothing. No driveways, basically a freeway with traffic lights is really what it is…”limited access”

    Steve: Grade separating a new “parkway” is an expressway, plain and simple. This has problems with existing Hydro structures in teh corridor, not to mention the impact where the corridor meets local streets. Two more lanes between Finch and Steeles are not going to solve much, and the problems they will create will be immense. This is the “just one more road” problem — as long as there is a right-of-way, real or imagined, people seek to build in it.

    Micheal Greason said: People with alternatives do not take transit for a night out if the last bus is at 8:00 p.m. or 10 p.m. and they have to walk home from the nearest “arterial route”. People in Mississauga are never going to take a bus whose most frequent service is half an hour – even in rush hour.

    I experience that pain in Vaughan also but then the question is…why focus on transit usage at night? if someone is going out for the night, they are probably coming quite late…how late should buses go? Suburbs are mostly for families, how many people do you think go out every night? How many women do you think are planning to use transit late night? Finally, why? I’m definitely sure that even the best bus route in the outer 416/905 doesn’t carry that much people after 11pm…it’s cause most people have children and aren’t going to just “go out” every day. If they go as a family, why would they take a bus?

    Focus on Transit during the day, other then the Downtown core, the city is dead at night! Even the subways are half full!

    Steve: Transit exists into the evening so that people do not feel forced to drive to work on the off chance they will miss the last train or bus. This gives them the option of working late, or doing something else like dropping into a bar or restaurant. The subway does rather well for itself in the evening, but since it is basically taking people from events downtown home, the loads drop off as you move away from the core. That’s what transit systems are like.

    Meanwhile, every time I see drawings of the wonderful new suburbs, I think to myself “just wait, the demographics will change”. In fact this is already happening, and there is a major problem that families who cannot afford multiple cars are hampered for employment by long, roundabout transit trips and poor service.


  8. Hi Steve;

    Can you slice the historical data a few other ways for all the bus routes?

    1) Charts for the highest-ridership routes
    2) Charts for routes with least ridership/mileage drops
    3) Charts for routes with greatest ridership/mileage drops

    It’s fairly hard to see the the most interesting routes in the mass of different routes.

    Actually, another interesting one would be routes where the least changed over the time period. Which routes have kept plugging away without change over the years?

    Steve: I can slice them up other ways, but in good time.


  9. I would suggest that the politicians cancel the Vaughan subway (at least north of York) and the Scarborough RT extension and replace both with LRT. The cost savings can then be spread out throughout the surface network and spent on lots of buses, lots of streetcars and lots of drivers to drive those surface vehicles.

    What could we get for this money?
    – Increasing service to beyond 1980s service levels by adding many more streetcars and buses. Accelerated purchase of new streetcars and purchase of additional buses.
    – Frequent service 18-20 hours a day, 7 days a week on EVERY route. No rush-hour only routes, no routes that don’t run on evenings or Sundays, no routes that run every 30 minutes or less. Restoring routes eliminated in the 1990s.
    – More bus lanes and police officers to enforce them. Effective traffic signal priority.

    These things are cheap compared to the subway line and the RT extension and by spreading them around the city, would benefit many more Torontonians. This would of course require that the politicians recognize that increasing operating and capital subsidies for the surface network is more worthwhile than a subway line and a RT line to nowhere, and that they redirect funding accordingly. They don’t due to the lack of prestige in surface routes, which are the backbone of the TTC.


  10. Okay so I didn’t read all of the charts. Too much chart reading at work today makes me a grumpy man.

    I’d like to throw in an additional variable into the mix: that is low-density development, especially in the suburbs. Consider the following:

    1) Where I live at York Mills and Yonge, there are many suburban houses being bulldozed and being replaced with posh upscale homes. I don’t think any of these guys are transit users. The result is a decrease of ridership in the related areas. No wonder why the 115 Silver Hills is reduced to Rush Hours, and 78 St Andrew has seen some drops in ridership. The homes that used to be there probably were cheaper family dwellings when they were first constructed and I’m pretty sure those people probably would take transit. With the loss of these homes and the emergence of the filthy rich, there are large swaths of residential areas where the likelihood of seeing a bus in the area decreases with time.

    2) Consider the 905 belt. A lot of the population that is settling there were former Toronto residents (my parents being two of them). The entire 905 belt is pretty much lowrise developments, ill suited for transit development. Which means anyone moving to that area needs to ensure they have at least two cars and a commitment to give up transit for good. It’s so bad that during my high school years, it was almost “uncool” to take any form of public transit in the area. And I know about the terrible frequencies presented by 905 transit systems, try going home late at night from the University of Toronto. Finally, consider the streets in York Region in particular. When my family moved to Unionville in 1985, Warden Avenue and 16th Avenue was just a couple of two-lane roads. Now, 16th Avenue is now 4 lanes, while Warden is 6 lanes in some areas. 16th Avenue used to be called the upper boundary of development in Markham. Now that distinction belongs to Major Mackenzie. I need not mention the 407 which is a major commuting artery to most of the suburbs around the Toronto area.

    The whole point is that development policies in the entire GTA are slanted against transit and more towards a expressway oriented urban area. It becomes a lot harder to support transit across low density areas. Combine that with cuts to transit services and you pretty much have a recipe for the transit problems we have today.

    Steve: Sorry about all the charts. A few readers had been asking for details about the bus system, and it’s hard to fit it in a small space.


  11. I think that the most telling aspect seems to be that neither bus nor subway appears to have kept up with population growth in the city. :-/ The amount of ridership decline/steadiness is galling.

    Also, did the TTC change its system of measurement in ~1991? Almost all the charts seem to have something wonky (the technical term) going on at that time, where there seems to have been a large dip almost everywhere. It does not seem to be just the Queen car. My gut (not exactly a scientific measure) tells me that it has to do with more than the introduction of new cars/buses.

    Steve: You may have noticed that there is no data for 1990. The reason for this is that with the recession of that period, there was no Service Plan in 1991 (and hence no published stats for 1990). This was a period of retrenchment and cutbacks, although the axe really fell later in 1996.

    What is really intriguing about the chart of bus ridership and mileage is the way that the ratio between the two drops and the ridership per service mile stays permanently lower in the last decade. My suspicion is that the TTC crossed the threshold of “unacceptable” service for many choice riders, and the service cuts produced a disproportionate drop in riding. Of course nobody at the TTC would ever accept this premise because everything they do is always carefully planned, despite the fact that they don’t seem to understand how their own system works in fine detail.

    Riding losses of the 1990s onward have been masked mainly by growth in subway riding, a dangerous situation because so many of the auto-drivers we hope to lure to transit need a bus to get to their nearest subway station.


  12. Hi Steve;

    How are express branches dealt with?

    I was a regular rider on the York U run 1978-1984. Ridership increased greatly over that period, with the 106A express branch added. The levelling of ridership in 1980-81 and the dip for 1982 don’t jibe with my experience, unless (my guess) the 106A branch, which started about this time, isn’t counted in the data.

    In 1978, outside of rush hours, there was the simple 106, every twenty minutes — three per hour.

    By the time the 106A was introduced a few years later, the base 106 was every fifteen minutes, and the express was every twenty minutes–total of seven buses per hour.

    These buses were mostly crowded, to absolutely crush-loaded — I counted 94 passengers aboard a New Look that had the misfortune of being the Friday 3PM express bus southbound from the university.

    By 1984, the base 106 service was every 10 minutes I think. When 106A became 196 I don’t remember.

    I don’t see nearly enough of this growth in the passenger statistics, or in the bus mileage travelled.

    Getting accurate counts and trends for the 106/196 is useful because that’s where the Spadina line extension is supposed to be going.

    It’s also interesting to see the big drop on Keele in 1978 — another effect of the opening of the Spadina line. Prior to that, the Keele bus was the major feeder to York University from the south.

    Boy, the data can be analyzed in so many different ways….presuming it can be wholly trusted….

    Steve: Some of the data I presented has to be tidied up, and the York U Express is a good example. In some periods, it was reported as a separate route, in others, it was bundled with the local service. I will check to make sure that the Express counts are included for all years and update the charts if necessary.

    Some of the counts don’t make sense to me either, but it’s what the TTC published.


  13. Hi Steve:-

    Eric Chow sparked some interesting thoughts in my mind. One of the reasons why I’ve always felt and have stated in other submissions to your site, is Eric’s mention of how the developements went and are still going in the 905; totally car oriented. This is why I continue to maintain that those that have chosen to live beyond the 416 boundary should not have my share of provincial transit money spent on their little patch of heaven. Subways to Vaughan are not what these people need yet. Maybe 100 years from now, but not now.

    Efforts to improve our (read TTC’s inadequacies) need to be addressed separately from the hinterlands. Our south of Steeles needs are far different from those beyond the borders. With a strong central system serving those that live, shop and play here; a system that will be a viable alternative to the car, riders should return as well as adding new ones. Because of the differences in our densities, we need to have an autonomous TTC, not a mega provincial transit commission. Just because YRT and TTC have similarities does not mean that they are the same and can be treated as such. Co-operation between jurisdictions is essential and the GTTA should supply this opportunity to negotiate for the interconnections that will be pallatable to each one.

    A stronger central system will also benefit our neighbours who want to work, shop and play in Toronto for when they get here their mobilty without the almighty gas guzzler can be greatly improved. As for the neighbours getting here, they should be coming by improved GO services. As one of the greatest cities in the world does, New Yorkers that live out in Connecticut, out Long Island or up along the Hudson in their version of the 905, commute in by New Haven, Long Island RR or New York Central. If GO and TTC could be forefronters in supplying system interface at more than just Union Station both sides of the borders will reap those rewards and auto use may become an option rather than the perceived or real necessity that it presently is.

    We are different here in Toronto. Many choose to live here because the auto can be an option. That strong TTC-that-once-was needs to be returned to us, and when it is every Ontarian living in or visiting Toronto will benefit.

    Mr. D.


  14. Mr. D: As much as I agree with Eric’s Comments regarding low-density growth, there is not much one can do to change that. Maybe not for a few decades.

    Eric, while I understand your comments regarding the Yonge/York Mills neighbourhood, you need to remember that this isn’t exactly happening everywhere. I have a friend who is buying a condo near Sheppard and Bayview. It would appear that a lot of condos being built in that area are being built in former suburban residential areas. The same type of residential area you mention that are being replaced by designer houses is being replaced by condominiums in others. The reason why my friend is buying the condo is obvious: proximity to the TTC, as he works downtown. There may be other devlopments that are occurring that are NOT next to a major subway line, so the transformation that you are decrying really isn’t taking place on a grand scale.

    I don’t know much about the history of the Mississauga Transit system, but I’m pretty sure that at some point in time, the system was quite sparse given that much of Mississauga’s development is similar to what York Region has at the present. York Region Transit is a considerably younger transit system than Mississauga’s and yet Mississauga Transit is continually trying to improve its transit connections as well as frequency and reliability. Sure some of its transit frequencies don’t even come close to comparison with the TTC, but the fact remains that there is now a more exhaustive Transit network now than there was before. And they started out with similar housing patterns that York now has.

    York has to its credit the VIVA rapid transit system. I know that many of you will decry that fact, but face it, it is here to stay, and we need to take advantage of this system if we are to be able to handle more people moving into the area. YRT may not have the complex transit system that Mississauga has, but they are more proactive, heck, Mississauga doesn’t even have a BRT system to support them! (On a related note, Mayor Hazel is blowing steam over the Fed’s inability to fund their BRT project).

    Sure things have been quite bleak with respect to the Greater Toronto’s Transit systems in recent years, but there have been quite some changes and hopefully things will start looking up soon.

    If we have the political will to make it that way.


  15. First, congratulations on your useful and fascinating site. I recently moved back to downtown Toronto after living in San Diego for several years, and am very impressed by the much greater level of civic engagement here in improving public transit that seems to be evident in the existence of your site and others, and the amount of thoughtful comments and debate posted on them (I had searched in vain for anything like this in San Diego). Reading the section on the Queen streetcar, I found it ironic that although this level of citizens’ concern for transit must be among the highest among North American cities, the same apparently cannot be said for the transit commission management. However, this probably would not change unless the TTC system as an entity, and its management, are financially rewarded based on number of riders carried and/or speed of travel time (I presume this is not currently the case).

    With regard to the massive drop in streetcar ridership over the past several decades (I am thinking of the Queen car as a particular example), I am curious what happened to these riders. Can any of the drop be accounted for by decreased population living and/or working along the route? If we think that people turned to their cars instead, is this validated by increased automobile traffic counts in and out of the Beaches, for example, or along Queen or parallel streets? Did people who were making streetcar trips to more distant neighbourhoods for shopping, etc. simply stay in their own neighbourhood or stay home? (I realize that population is not static, so it may not be the same people, but the habits of newer residents differing from those of previous ones.)

    Since moving back to Toronto, I have twice had the occasion to ride the Dufferin bus south from Bloor (once on a weekday around 5 pm, and the other time on a Saturday morning), and noted that it was sardine-packed both times, with people waiting at stops unable to get on the bus. Interestingly, the graphs show that the service cut in 1993 appears to have been preceded by a drop in ridership around 1991 (showing that decreases in service and ridership have been a vicious cycle).

    Steve: I fear that the TTC, by cutting service below a tolerable level to those who have a choice, created the conditions for a long term migration away from the TTC. Existing users might hold on out of faith or loyalty, but newcomers to neighbourhoods like the Beach (where the general affluence makes everyone a choice rider) would start off as non-TTC users. This would be reinforced by the horror stories they would hear from those who did try to use the service, or their own experiences on any attempt of their own.

    Traffic can be a problem in the Beach, but not in the morning rush hour, and often not badly in the afternoon either. The bad service is a result of operational decisions or practices elsewhere.

    TTC management has for decades been far more interested in self-aggrandisement than in actually running a good system. A friend of mine once commented that they would arrange for awards to be invented just so that they could win them. Recently TTC Engineering and Construction received an award as part of the team that built the new Opera House. We all know about wonderfully screwed up construction projects within the TTC, but you never hear presentations about them at Commission meetings. Their IT department got an award complete with a letter from Prime Minister Harper (one of the few times he seems to have taken an interest in the TTC), and yet the problems with their vehicle monitoring system have been well documented here.

    I have just started to analyze the Dufferin bus, and what I am seeing reflects the material I have already presented about major streetcar routes.


  16. Stephen: Viva is not BRT in my opinion. Viva is merely a line-haul limited-stop service with some “BRT” characteristics, like pre-paid boarding. The Mississauga Transitway will be a BRT, but will not be as good as Viva, as it will be reliant on park-and-rides and Ottawa-style bus routings, because it will be built in a sparsely populated area in a highway and hydro corridor. Viva at least follows established corridors, and at least on Yonge, gets people where they want to go.

    A few more issues with your charts, Steve. I notice that the Wilson bus’ ridership drops by about half in 1990 (as well as a few others). The problem here is that in that year, the route was separated into the Wilson 95 and Weston Road North 165 routes, where before, the Weston runs were just branches of the 96. 96 and 165 are still really one route along the entire length of Wilson as well. The Weston Road route isn’t in any of the charts, as far as I can tell.

    Steve: Yes, I mention that problem with Wilson in my comments added when I put the “Top 30” charts into the post. The Weston Road Bus came along after 1989 and therefore doesn’t have a 1989 reference year figure. The post 1989 routes are not included in the charts for this reason. One of these days, I will build separate charts for that group of routes.


  17. It is my understanding (and hopeful assumption) that part of the reason why they are “cutting service below a tolerable level” is more of a case for efficiency and less about the number of vehicles in any route. Simply put, the TTC is trying to put forward the case of doing more with less. Take the St. Clair Streetcar as an example, the reason for that project is not to put more streetcars on the route but to run the same number (or less) streetcars but with a more reliable service. AFAIK, Dufferin is one of the routes with the “Transit Priority” system. I presume that their hope is that the transit priority system makes the route more reliable so they wouldn’t have to use as many buses. From what I hear regarding the discussions with the Queen and King streetcars (I only skimmed through them, as I have not much interest in the operations of those routes), the TTC wants to do the same with those two routes. Traffic congestion and good part of poor planning is my opinion on why these two routes seem to fare so badly.

    The point is yes, more vehicles on more routes is nice, but it would be nicer if they could run better service with less. If they could get King Street closed to vehicular traffic at all times, I’d bet that the TTC would be quite happy with getting the reliability that they want, without sacrificing route frequency. Or again, doing more with less.

    Only in a fantasy world I guess.

    Steve: In a roundabout way, I agree with your premise. One big problem today is that the service on some routes is badly disorganized and carries fewer passengers than the number of vehicles might indicate. Better management of the service is a cost-effective alternative to adding more service. I suspect that once the service is actually reliable, we might also see some ridership growth that would support more vehicles on the routes.

    The essential first step is to accept that what’s there now could provide better service and that “congestion” cannot be blamed for inaction on that front. On Queen, with the wider ALRV headways (a condition possibly applicable to the system as a whole with new, longer streetcars), managing service to maximize reliability is very important.

    Once we have more reliable service and a strong constituency of riders who want to see even better service in frequency and speed, then we can start talking about major incursions on road space from a position of strength.


  18. The streetcar ridership charts don’t have data normalized to 1989. Even without that, it seems to me that:

    1. Bus ridership in the top 30 routes was rising in aggregate from 1976 to 1989. The upward trend was whacked in 1990-1992, with some routes dropping more than others in this period. Post-1992, routes have mostly stayed at where their ridership stabilized in 1992.

    2. Streetcar ridership was flat to maybe declining 1976-1989. The massacre of ’89 appears to have affected streetcars slightly less than it affected the top 30 bus routes. However, the trend post-1992 is still flat to declining.

    There are some interesting anomalies standing out of the general picture.

    For bus routes, the Bay bus pre-1989 has the huge decline you noted. Post-1989, the Wellesley bus seems to be the one route that just keeps dropping. In its case, this can’t be due to any route restructuring or new rapid transit alternatives.

    For streetcar routes, St. Clair has held steady since 1991, although only at 3/4s of its peaks in the early and late 1980s. On the other hand, Carlton and Queen never participated in the 1980s boom, and have been sadly declining since at least the late ’70s. And I find the huge jump in Dundas ridership between 1980 and 1981 to be quite puzzling, as there is no particular reason for this that I can think of. Finally, in a poke at the quality of the data, Carlton ridership doesn’t reflect the track reconstruction of 2004, or King the reconstruction of 2003. (With the Queen car, who can tell anything?)

    Steve: Considering that the riding counts on King and Carlton were not updated for many years, the effects of the track construction projects are invisible.


  19. As someone who splits his commute between the Bay bus and the subway to get downtown, I can completely understand why most riders use the subway. Subway frequency is very high and quite reliable, whereas bus service on even this short line is erratic. Faced with a choice between a guaranteed 2 minute wait with a slighter longer walk to the station or an unknown (possibly up to 15 minute) wait at a closer bus station, I’ll take the safe choice and take the subway.

    There’s also the problem of 6B which only runs as far as Dundas, which effectively halves the frequency for me.


  20. While the King and Queen trams may be a disaster in terms of losing riders, the Spadina line witnesses growth year after year. It proves that high frequency and high schedule adherence does attract riders. The Spadina line carries almost as many people as the Sheppard line. I do not recall having to wait more than 2 minutes for the Spadina trams. The same cannot be said about Queen. Steve, doesn’t Spadina prove that if trams are isolated from traffic, people will use it? This builds a strong case to ban cars from Queen and King.

    The TTC can attract non captive riders. The renaisance on Yonge St contributed greatly to increased ridership on the metro lines. A 2 bedroom condo at Yonge and Sheppard cost more than $500,000. Clearly, someone one purchasing those condos has the means to operate several motor vehicles. By living there, one avoid congestion going downtown. I am not saying that metro lines should be built everywhere. Still, it is the easiest way to attract riders.

    I do wish that someday that the Queen tram line can carry over 70,000 riders per day. Perhaps, it will justify a metro line there.

    Steve: I agree with you that Queen could carry far more riders, and that reliable service is a key to making transit attractive. While I don’t oppose transit priority schemes including reserved lanes, what bothers me is that the TTC has fallen into the habit of assuming that they are the only solution. Politically, they simply are not going to get this sort of treatment on existing four-lane streets except, possibly, for short areas such as the central parts of Queen and King.

    As I have discussed in my analyses, congestion exists outside of the core and at times other than the peak. Moreover, many problems of service reliability are caused by the way the TTC operates the lines, not by traffic. Indeed, spotty service appears on Spadina as you will see when I publish data for that route. It is masked by the fact that there is so much service, a big gap is about the same size as day-to-day service on Queen. Operationally, the TTC has not adjusted its line management strategies to the wider headways on the streetcar lines relative to 20 years ago. Practices that produced merely annoying gaps in service in the 1980s now cause complete chaos because there are so many less cars on thelines.

    The TTC has to operate within the constraints it is given, and it could be doing a lot more to provide better service in its current environment.

    Slightly off topic, Steve, do you think installing cellular antennae inside the metro tunnels would help ridership? The ability to use Blackberries and cellphones inside the metro will surely make the trip downtown much more productive. Instead of being stuck in traffic and operating a Blackberry, one can sit in the comfort of a metro train while finishing off e-mails. Pearson Airport gets about $1 million per year from each cellphone provider for installing antennae. Certainly the TTC can use a few more million every year.

    Steve: The TTC is already studying this option and there will probably be a proposal sometime in the new year. One issue today is whether to provide coverage only in the stations or through the tunnels as well. The stations are a relatively simple proposition, technically, but the tunnels are more difficult.


  21. Steve: Grade separating a new “parkway” is an expressway, plain and simple. This has problems with existing Hydro structures in the corridor, not to mention the impact where the corridor meets local streets. Two more lanes between Finch and Steeles are not going to solve much, and the problems they will create will be immense. This is the “just one more road” problem — as long as there is a right-of-way, real or imagined, people seek to build in it.

    I’m saying NOT to grade seperate! Just a normal “Lakeshore Boulevard” from Jamieson to the Humber River complete with a park median, bike lanes, carpool lanes and/or express bus lanes. Notice there aren’t many driveways, entrances, etc. on Lakeshore? Just a nice parkway.

    This is the problem I see, in the west end, the major industries between Keele and Dufferin, especially the Petro-Canada refinery, have SO MANY! Trucks rumbling down Finch Avenue! It’s unsafe, it makes operations for all modes of commuting a big pain! Where should we relocate the freight? That is precisely my question…


  22. I am fine with microcells at stations. People on trains will pick up email, people on platforms can make calls (another nail in the coffin of the bell payphones). I wouldn’t like cells in tunnels because I think having people making (or trying to make) calls on trains at peak could lead to serious sense of humour failures on over-packed trains with riders who wish they were somewhere else as it is.

    Steve: There is also a serious problem with overloading the capacity of a cell when, say, 500 people all try to call home at the same time saying “I’m stuck in the subway”.


  23. Just a comment on the Bay routes – starting some time around 1988, the route was cut back to Front St. for construction of the Harbourfront streetcar tunnel. Trolley coaches looped via Front, Yonge & Wellington. A “Bay 6C Front – Jarvis” diesel shuttle bus operated from Front & Bay down to Jarvis & Queen’s Quay. I don’t know if it was as frequent as the through service was before. Would this have had some effect on mileage and ridership of the total route, and was the shuttle service was still considered part of the Bay route for statistics?

    Steve: At a distance of 20 years, who knows what the TTC included in the Bay route’s stats. All the same, the majority of the loading on this route was north of Dundas (hence the scheduled short turn at the bus terminal) and I don’t think that the cutback at Front can account for the overall change.


  24. Cell service in all tunnels, subway and streetcar, are necessary. Not only to prevent overloading networks just at stations, but to avoid making the TTC a cell null zone and more unattractive than it already is. Blackberry & email access is crucial to alot of transit riders in the city.

    Some metros worldwide have such tunnel cell service, like LA’s Red Line subway.


  25. RE: 6 Bay bus service decline.

    I’m betting it is the downtown PATH that is the reason for the decline. As one who used to work in the financial district, I can tell you that walking on the PATH is much more convenient than taking a bus or streetcar to my destination, and I don’t have to wait in the cold or heat or rain or snow or either. The PATH cuts off at around Dundas which is consistent with where the ridership drops off.

    You’ve also got the 509/510 routes going down to Queen’s Quay. I’m sure no one would want to get to the Queens Quay/Ferry Docks business area by bus when they got a tunnel instead.


  26. With the snowstorm we recently had, are tunnels ever a bad investment? They keep elements of weather out and make service reliable no matter what kind of mess or destruction is going on outside…

    This isnt the sun belt of America, this is cold, wintery Canada, so why is going underground ever NOT worth it??

    Just something I thought about during this terrible weekend…

    Steve: Snow like we had this weekend comes once in a blue moon, and the billions needed to build underground would make far better overall improvements for transit riders beefing up the size of the surface fleet and implementing surface priority wherever feasible. That would help people when the sun shines throughout the city.


  27. It’s already a well-known complaint on GO Transit, the TTC should have the common sense to know that cell-phone between stations in tunnels is a bad idea. Some of us have been annoyed by people sneaking in a call on the Prince Edward Viaduct, or on either side of Islington, or north of Eglinton West. Wiring the tunnels is definately not worth the investment – it will only lead to more complaints.

    People are also saying a loud “no way!” to the idea of allowing cell phone use on airplanes as well, which I read a while back is having trial service periods launch next year for evaluation purposes (I’m assuming this is to determine if it really is annoying to passengers as everyone has already told them).

    Allowing e-mail and other non-auditory functions is fine, I have no problem with that, but the TTC needs to keep people off of their cell phones in tunnels because it is impossible to talk on a phone in a noisy tunnel anyway – you can barely have a converstation with the person sitting beside you because of the noise, you think you’re going to have a phone conversation in that? Perish the thought, do not wire the tunnels, please!


  28. @Karl: Amen! I moved from the York U area to Riverdale recently, and the very best part has been the cell-free zone that is the subway. On the 36 bus, without fail, there would be 2-5 people talking in ‘outdoor’ voices on their phones all the way from beyond Jane to Yonge.

    Data-only (well, data and text messaging) instead of full cell service would be a great compromise. Who knows if the telco “partners” would want such an arrangement…


  29. Not that it’s got a direct relationship to service delivery. But the TTC is from what I’ve heard from my time with Rogers hesitant to permit cellphone service in tunnels. Rogers offered to install cell sites in the subway tunnels and pay the TTC rent. This was about the same time the TTC and Rogers started to install fibre-optic cables in the tunnels.

    From a security perspective it would provide an ideal means to trigger an explosive device from a remote location. Anyone who rides the subway already knows how much flotsam and jetsam is rolling around the subway cars, who’d notice just some other piece of trash. I think the TTC is erring on the side of caution.


  30. Greg Smith: I don’t think the telco companies would ever want to do that. I’m sure they’d want an “all or nothing” approach. It’s like hiring someone to mine coal for you and then cutting off one of his arms. Not very efficient.

    Sean Marshall: yes I agree that Viva in its current state is a line haul route. But you have to admit the effectiveness of this route. I’ve been following the recent successes of Viva and I have to say that it has been credited with providing convenient and fast access to places in York Region that its main trunk service would never be able to do. You cannot deny it, ridership on the YRT has gone up significantly since VIVA’s inception.

    What YRT needs to do next is to build a right of way along their two main streets, Highway 7 and Yonge street to further segregate road traffic from buses. Then at that point I would believe that you would agree that Viva would now be a BRT and a successful one at that.

    I should point out that any BRT along Yonge street that connects to Finch Station will also benefit TTC buses as well, especially the Steeles buses. They too would no longer have to wade through traffic in order to get to and from Finch Station.

    The LRT guys are probably going to fry me for this, but Viva at the very least should provide a model to the TTC on how light rapid transit in Toronto can work. Sure, I am as much of an LRT fan as anyone else here, but if the political process to get the much-vaunted Transit City project continues to bog progress down (and it will, I have no faith in any politician to get it moving), it may be feasible to find an alternative. And BRT is such. I hope the TTC staff and the city council are looking at this carefully.


  31. TTC might get offered a small figure for voice+data and a much smaller figure to allow data only. I note the TTC online survey also left the door open for a monopoly by a single carrier.


  32. I have mixed feelings about cell phone service in the subway. Several posts here have been of the flavour of, “oh, don’t disturb my subway ride.” In reading them, I can’t help but think they are coming from a transit buff’s point of view where the person saying so would take transit come hell or high water (my appologies to anyone who posted that point of view that is not accurately described this way – let me continue).

    This is the line of thinking that believes that everyone should take transit for the sake of transit (as well as the environmental issues) and that if we can’t make transit better, then we should make car driving worse somehow. The fact of the matter is, not all of the world thinks that way. Dare I say, it is quite a minority that thinks that way, otherwise things would be substantially different than what we see right now.

    This “cut off your nose to spite your face” feeling that there should not be cell service in the subways, while insisting that everyone should use public transit has an element of hypocricy to it.

    That said, and before someone scrawls a rant thinking I am one of these idiots who thinks they are so important that they cannot miss a call regardless of where they are or what they are doing, let me say that I am “that guy” that actually does NOT own or carry a cell phone. Hell, I often let my land line ring until call answer picks up. If you really need to get in touch with me, leave a message or email me. To go one step further, I have often found myself subjected to one side of a cell phone conversation that really wasn’t pleasing to hear. I would give my right arm to have some pocket-sized device that not only would jam their call, but place a high pitched, high decibel tone in their earpiece.

    There really needs to be a serious look at who it is that must be attracted to use public transit, and to come up with viable ways to get these people to want to use transit. Cell phone service may be one way to do it.

    The one valid point made here against cell phones in the subway was made by Michael Vanner about the security issue and being able to use cell phones to detonate an explosive device.


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