Now It’s Time For Ridership Growth Strategy Two (Updated)

[The original version of this post, up to the point where the update starts, appeared as a guest column on the Op Ed page of the Toronto Sun on January 5, 2008.] 

[Updated January 4, 2008 – see end of post for the changes.] 

Here we are in 2008. We’ve survived threatened cutbacks to service and even have hopes of improvements starting in mid-February with more to come through the year. Mayor Miller’s 100 new buses and Mt. Dennis bus garage will operate, eventually. Plans are afoot for a new streetcar fleet and a huge expansion of rail services via Transit City.

Often, people ask why I’m not satisfied with our plans, and the answer is simple: as an advocate, it’s my job to never be satisfied, to always say “you can do better and we want more”. In that spirit, this thread is intended to ask: what should happen after RGS? What should we aim for next?

In a separate thread’s comments, there’s an important issue about Transit City: we need to establish minimum service levels for major surface routes that are much more like subway standards. Today, we run trains every five minutes everywhere even though there are times that half that service would be adequate for the demand. Why? Because part of the allure of a subway is that you don’t have to wait a long time for it to show up. Moreover, a good chunk of the operating cost relates to the stations and infrastructure, and the trains are a comparatively cheap addition once the line exists.

People on Transit City routes, and even on major surface routes that are not part of Transit City need the same sort of guaranteed service quality.

The TTC hopes to implement two RGS changes later this year. First, service will run on all routes whenever the subway is open. If a route exists, it runs 7 days/week, 19 hours/day. Second, no headway will be worse than 20 minutes anywhere. Both of these will fill out the network and get us back to the idea that transit isn’t just something we run when hordes of people want to use it.

However, a next step might be to designate “A-list” routes, major routes where the maximum headway is no worse than 10 minutes.

With new buses finally coming into play in 2008, we will see reduced crowding during the peak period because the TTC will actually meet their own loading standards. Great stuff, but what happens if we set the loading standard so that there is more room for growth on major routes? What happens if we actually try to encourage people to use the system by making it frequent and if not uncrowded, at least less than jam-packed?

By late 2008, it’s possible the TTC and their political masters will be feeling rather pleased with themselves. Press releases will be issued. Similing faces will appear in front of buses and streetcars everywhere. The job will be done.

No, that’s only for starters.  We need the next round of plans on the table before the year is out.

RGS was first proposed when David Miller was still a Councillor, and it’s taken ages to implement with no end of bureaucratic and political interference, not to mention a fiscal crisis or two. While Miller is still Mayor, it would be nice to see a second round of RGS hit the streets so that Toronto can take on the challenge of making transit a better alternative to driving.

We won’t do it overnight, but we will never do it if we stop after one long-overdue effort.

Update: Today I learned that the TTC is working on a scheme for better bus service.  According to Chair Adam Giambrone:

The TTC is developing a Transit City Bus plan that will likely include max 10 minute service to match subway hours at a grid of streets and new separated bus ROW’s.

Some streetcar lines have service worse than every 10 minutes at times.  This should not just be a plan for the bus system.

Examples include Harbourfront (off season), Queen (west of Humber Loop), and evening service on King, Dundas and Carlton on some days. Some of these will probably qualify as part of the “grid of streets”.

Good news if and when we see this plan on the street, but the service has to actually show up.