Transit’s Lost Decade Updated: 1990 vs 2008

Back in 2002, I collaborated with Rocket Riders and the Toronto Environmental Alliance to produce Transit’s Lost Decade, a report on the savage cutbacks in transit during the 1990s thanks to budget cuts.

This morning, I received a comment in the thread about the November service changes from James who asked:

How does total service, as of November 23, 2008 compare with peak service prior to the big cuts of the early 90’s?

This sent me digging into my archives to see how we have been doing.  For the details, please refer to this linked spreadsheet.

By November 2008, the AM Peak bus service will stand at 1505, still 43 less than the 1990 level of 1548.  The difference in capacity is slightly greater on two accounts:

  • 1990 includes articulated buses (fleet of 90, number in service unknown)
  • 2008 includes 21 buses replacing streetcars on St. Clair for construction

If we assume that at least 70 artics were in service, this is the capacity equivalent of 35 more 40-foot buses.  Adjusting the totals gives an effective service of 1583 buses in 1990 versus 1484 in November 2008.  During this period, the Spadina subway was extended from Wilson to Downsview, and the Sheppard subway largely replaced bus service from Yonge to Don Mills.  However, these do not completely offset the difference in peak bus operations.

On the streetcar network, the AM peak service is down by 37 cars even though the Spadina route did not exist in 1990 (15 vehicles).  The level of streetcar service is much, much lower now than it was in 1990 and shows no sign of improving.  The long delay in decision-making on rebuilding and/or replacing the streetcar fleet means that “Ridership Growth Strategy” is a hollow term to patrons of those routes.

Please refer to this list of streetcar vehicles and headways for November 1990 and 2008.

Finally, you will note the presence of the Trolley Coach fleet in 1990.  With the recent difficulties involving Hybrid Buses, Toronto continues to see how a fascination with new technology first with CNG buses, then with hybrids, has turned out.  Hybrids may come into their own as battery technology improves, but today we can only look to our sister-city, Vancouver, to see a real commitment to electric buses.  That’s another thread, and I will turn to it soon.

10 thoughts on “Transit’s Lost Decade Updated: 1990 vs 2008

  1. Thanks for this Steve – yup the Harristocracy and their Common Stench did a lot to foul up our amanglemated motoropolis, and I suppose you have to be somewhat polite as many of those neo-cons are now in Ottawa, though luckily with just a minority, which may actually work to develop more of a national transit policy than mere neglect, though the tax benefits on the Metropasses are of some significance.

    Perhaps more worrisome in your report are the problems with the core streetcar service, and I’m regrettably not sure that our progressives are going to fix it up having their eyes on the Transit Suburbs projects.

    The proposals for the new streetcars likely mean even less frequent service as the new ones will be even more behemoths beyond the Red Rumbles we have now, and because the overall volume will be about the same, they will likely run less frequently though the TTC will claim it can be running the same “service”.

    I know we have some disagreement on this point, but as a cyclist, often in the lower core, especially the west end, where the options for east-west travel are relatively very few, the streetcar tracks prevent the simple and cheap repainting of a roadway for the best urban transport, the bike.

    The streetcar tracks are major investments of energy, resource and capital, yet they also pose a real risk of harm and hazard to cyclists, and my dad just warned me again to stay away from them, though that’s really hard. (For non-riders, the bike tires slide into the groove of the track and can send one flying hopefully not with large speeding vehicles behind to carush one. Taking the tracks at least a 25 degree angle (can-bike says more like 90) is essential and I’ve found pulling up the front wheel to hop over the rail reasonably good ie. haven’t been trashed)

    The City has known about these systemic hazards for years, and it’s a shame that we haven’t been able to devote a tiny portion of the transit budget or the Front St. Extension budget ($12M was spent on land) to even beginning! a safe grid for east-west cyclists, though I’d argue that the TTC and the City are reasonably content with the existing hazards because it keeps the TTC’s market share of riders up from the captivity many feel due to the real road hazards beyond the cartillery.

    And yes, many cyclists are passholes and should stop for stop signs and lights and those exiting from streetcars. Like transit funding, etc. etc., it’s not easy to change all of this.


  2. Thanks Steve,

    Very informative.

    But now I have another question (what else is your hard work for?)

    I don’t understand the scale of the streetcar fall-off. I’m given to understand that peak service improvements for streetcars aren’t possible due to fleet shortages. I understand the cars have aged; but can we possibly have lost that many?

    There appears to be dozens of streetcars, including several ALRVs that have just vanished. Are they all broken? Did we sell some off when I wasn’t looking?

    Steve: Yes, the reliability of the streetcar fleet is appallingly bad. The TTC was protected from this problem during the 1990s thanks to the service cuts, and later with the now-and-forever track construction projects, but now we have a serious problem. We also lost the PCCs, and gained a new carline.

    All of the farting around about a new car order and deferral/cutback of the CLRV rebuild program just makes things worse.


  3. Perhaps we need to temporarily convert a streetcar route to buses to free up vehicles for routes that need it. The 502/503 and 508 are good places to start IMHO. If you need more, go after the 511. If you do that you can even have the “downtowner” do its original routing. This would help to free up cars for service on King and Queen, and once we get our new order in, we can remove those buses.

    Steve: The problem with 502/503 is that mixing buses into a stream of CLRVs and ALRVs will mean that there are vehicles with grossly varying capacities trying to serve the same route. It would be possible to run the 22A all of the time, but that would save only about 4 cars, assuming that we kept the same level of streetcar service west of Woodbine Loop.

    The real question is whether the 502/503 cars could be better used to improve service in the Queen corridor by properly integrating into the service. Right now, they run more or less when they feel like it. The same applies to the 508 cars in the west end.

    As for the 511, there are times during events at the CNE grounds when you would need a very large number of buses to handle the demand. At one point, the TTC thought of running the route with buses only during the AM peak, but the number of scheduled cars is the same AM and PM, more or less.

    We will also have to deal with full service on the 512 well before the new cars are here, and that will put a further strain on the system.

    The number of cars available from the unique portions of the routes you mention will not begin to address service on the system overall.

    What is badly needed is an honest report about the status of the streetcar fleet.


  4. Steve, did you adjust the numbers for the lower capacity of low-floor buses? Very rough calculation (peak standard on LF buses is about 94% of HF buses, and I think there’s about 1200 of them in service) says that’s another 75 1990-bus equivalents that the TTC is still short, capacity-wise.

    Then again, with the ongoing economic turmoil, peak demand may dip a bit, giving the TTC a little extra time to catch up.

    Steve: Adjusting for all the factors that have changed is trying, but, yes, the lower capacity of the new fleet is worth including in the calculation. However, I think I made my point even with the numbers as they are. We’re still not back to 1990.


  5. I’m rarely had problems with streetcar tracks on my bike. It should only be a problem if you have to enter the centre lane to turn left, but with or without streetcar tracks, I don’t feel comfortable changing lanes to turn left. I turn left as a pedestrian.

    There is one option for east-west travel: the Martin Goodman Trail (the cyclist’s Gardener).

    Hamish should know that is not a lack of money that hold’s back bike lanes. They are very cheap. It is a lack of political will.


  6. Steve. You said “my point (is that) We’re still not back to 1990.”

    Assuming a population/economic growth of 2% a year, and assuming transit service should follow, we SHOULD be at 142.8% of this service level. Put another way, when you take out the streetcar service (assume it is rock solid) then we should have about 30% more service on the bus network than we do now. This would bring us back to 1990+growth, IE, where we should be today.


  7. The low floor buses may have a “theoretical” loading standard that is 94% of a high floor bus. The practical reality is that the GM buses – backbone of the fleet for many years – had crush capacity far beyond the loading standard. There was room for another 10 to 15 people in excess of the loading standards.

    The awkward and poorly laid out Orions on the other hand have a closer correlation between loading standard and crush capacity. There is very little emergency capacity. The TTC’s theoretical fleet capacity has a new reality. Instead of a ride in an uncomfortably overcrowded bus, today’s “extra” passengers get left behind.


  8. Employment-wise, Toronto is not back at the 1990 level. Even with the rapid growth in the latter-half of the 90’s, growth since then has been in fits and starts. Also, there has been a steady demographic shift that has seen:

    – people moving to the ‘burbs (and switching to GO which has seen steady growth in ridership)
    – people living downtown and walking to work

    Note – Population growth in Toronto itself between the 2001 and 2006 cencuses was negligible.


  9. I’ve noticed that outside of rush in many cases the TTC meets or exceeds the standards of the 90’s, but in peak they fall behind.

    While I’d like to see our peak services meet and exceed the 90’s, I do think it’s a positive step to see our other time periods get the service they need.

    Also, what Dave says above is true about people walking to work. A map was put out in the most recent election by the Toronto Star that shows a huge percentage of people from the two downtown ridings (Trinity Spadina and Toronto Centre) walk to work – mostly because they can. The highest transit ridership comes not from these two ridings, but from the ring around them as those who live at, for example, St.Clair, Broadview, Ossington, etc chose transit for their journey.


  10. count me as one of those that either walks, bikes or drives, I went back to driving for those trips that I used to take the TTC. Unfortunate, but I have no other choice due to my schedule.


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