After a long hiatus, we finally have a Chief General Manager’s Report for the first quarter of 2008. Over the past few years, the CGM’s report dwindled, and the online version of this one is a threadbare five pages long. There are three appendices with the meat, no doubt, but you have to actually attend the meeting to read them. Within those five pages, however, we still see the TTC’s inventive approach to reporting ridership.
Last summer, in the midst of the financial crisis, the TTC suddenly discovered that Metropass riders were taking too many rides. Even though they were selling more passes, probably due to the tax incentive for pass use bringing a new demographic into the Metropass cohort, they were collecting less revenue. This brought out the thundering forces of the TTC’s right wing who demanded that the price of Metropasses go up to compensate for the lost revenue.
However, after the City’s new taxes (and their revenue for 2008) were safely in place in the fall, we learned that the TTC had been counting those passholders as more “rides” than they actually represented, and retroactive to July, they dropped the calculated total ridership by using the new, lower multiplier. Nobody bothered to apologize about the erroneous claims of how Metropass users were ripping off the system.
This year, ridership for the first quarter is not doing as well as projected. It’s 0.7% above budget, but ever so slightly below last year. Never fear! TTC New Math to the rescue! If we use the lower Metropass multiple for all of last year, then the ridership for Q1 last year goes down by 3.3-million and — Presto! — we have a tidy jump in riding this year. The TTC seems to have missed the point that adjusting their ridership for last year downward throws off all their claims about a banner year for transit and causes a slight increase in the overall average fare per ride, but we’re not supposed to notice that.
You can count the riding increase in 2007 or you can count it in 2008, but double-dipping ain’t allowed in my transit planning 101 class.
The Metropass Multiple is supposedly calibrated every month by selected riders keeping trip diaries. Even I did it years ago. There will always be some month-to-month variation, but over time there should be a good trend (rather like the headway charts for the Queen car). However, you can make the ridership numbers, and the imputed impact of passes on the revenue stream, jump all over the place simply by twiddling that multiple. It’s a basic piece of data that should be published so that we can get some sense of how it shifts around over time and in response to external factors such as tax regimes, the price of gas, and seasonal changes in tripmaking.
It’s particularly odd to think that a value that is recalibrated as part of a monthly moving average can be changed retroactively over a year backward in time. Have they only now gotten around to looking at those early 2007 trip diaries? Of course not. If the multiple was actually dropping in early 2007, the TTC would have known it by early Q2 at the outside, and certainly should have known it by the time of the fare and budget debates in the summer, Q3. However, that was news best kept under wraps as long as goading the Commission into approving a jump in pass pricing was the real agenda.
This is a case where the TTC has that classic choice: admit that you presented faulty data because you were asleep at the switch and didn’t know what was happening on your own system, or admit that you misled the public into thinking that a Metropass increase was essential.
Postscript: Recently, we’ve seen media reports that the TTC faces a big jump in fuel costs later this year and is thinking of adding a fuel surcharge to the fares rather like the airlines. Please don’t insult everyone’s intelligence. If total costs go up, you raise fares or subsidies. Period. Don’t call it a surcharge when we are in an era of higher prices as part of the landscape. Or does the TTC know something about the oil market they’re not telling anyone? Do they have some magical access to cheap diesel fuel a year or two out?
That’s hardly the message for a transit system to send to motorists who, we hope, are in mortal fear of never affording to drive their SUV to the corner store again, much less to work. Don’t worry, folks, it will all be over in a little while and you’ll be back to 70 cents a litre before you know it.
If the TTC wants more money, call it a fare increase and be done with it. Or is someone not wanting to break a political promise to hold the line on fares?
The creative accounting at the TTC has got to stop. It takes X dollars to run the place, and Y dollars are needed from the farebox. Period. Decide how you want to divvy up the revenue among available fare classes and get on with it. If we ever do get back to 70 cent fuel, I will expect a reduction in the cost of my Metropass.