TTC Adjusts 2009 Budget For Slightly Harder Times

At the recent TTC Board meeting, staff presented an update on 2008 ridership and on projections for 2009.

This review began with a look back to the recession of the early 1990s when the system lost 90-million rides from 1990 to 1996, a full 40-million of them in one year, 1991.  That year saw a combination of falling employment (6.3%), a fare increase (7.3%), service cuts (7.4%) and a 7-day strike.

Before I continue, one important point about service cuts.  The TTC always talks about vehicle mileage, but they mix subway together with surface operations, and the subway acts as a buffer in the statistics.  Most of the cuts actually come on the surface, but the real impact is masked in the totals.

For 2009, the TTC is taking a much different approach.  Although employment may fall, the TTC is not expecting this to be a major factor.  No fare increase is contemplated, and service is actually expanding, not contracting.  Labour unrest is unlikely.  A telling comment in the presentation says just about everything that needs saying about transit “budgeting” in the 1990s.

Lesson learned in terms of forecasting ridership:  Employment, fare increases/subsidy level and service are all interrelated in terms of ridership impacts.  Treatment of one element cannot be considered in isolation or results can be disastrous in terms of significant ridership declines.

Tell that to past Chief General Managers, Commissioners, Councillors and Premiers.  One might think that it did not take us until late 2008 to understand this basic fact of transit planning.

Meanwhile, the TTC has removed the “economic growth” factor in its ridership estimates for 2009.  Riding is now projected to grow from 467-million (probable actual for 2008) to 473-million, with revenue growing from $837-million to $851-million.

The increase for 2009 comprises various factors:

  • 3-million for riding growth due to expanded service
  • 2-million for the absence of a strike
  • 2-million for savings in fraud on adult tickets
  • 1-million from expansion of the U-Pass program


  • 1-million from riding lost through charges for parking lots
  • 1-million due to calendar adjustment

The real question will be what will happen if the economic impact on riding is greater than expected.  How will discretionary trips by locals and riding brought by tourists be affected?  There is some padding available in the service budget with provisions such as the next round of Ridership Growth Strategy rollout (the 20-minute maximum headway).  If push comes to shove, this could be deferred, just as RGS has been pushed back so many times in the past.

Metrolinx Benefits Cases: VIVA First Out

Metrolinx has started the publication of its Benefits Case Analyses with the York VIVA system.  The SRT replacement study is also completed, and I expect to see it online soon.

These papers will appear in a section of the Projects Page on the Metrolinx site.

There is nothing too surprising in the VIVA study.  The map, excerpted from the full report, shows the staging options for the construction of exclusive bus lanes, here called “Rapidways”.

The core of the system radiating out from Richmond Hill Centre north to 19th, east to Unionville and west to Vaughan Corporate Centre would be finished by 2013.  In Option 1, the remainder of the network would be completed by 2018, or if Option 2 is chosen, by 2026.

A quite fascinating part of the BCA comes in the ridership estimates.  In the “Base Case” (just leave VIVA as it is with provision for modest fleet expansion), the projected 2021 ridership is 28.0-million per year.  This rises to only 30.3-million for either of the options studied.  Similarly, 2031 ridership is projected at 31.3-million for the Base Case, or 34.0-million for either of the optional networks.

Various factors are at work here.

The core of the demand falls on the first stage network that is common to both options, and the impact of the extensions is so small that it doesn’t make a difference (Before anyone accuses me of VIVA-bashing, that is a direct paraphrase from the report.)  Although the implementation of the Rapidways will give existing users a better riding experience, the comparatively small jump in riding suggests that most of the potential market is already using the system.

Updated:  In a comment posted following this post, “Dave R in the Beach” notes that the big jump in ridership is from current ridership of 6.8-million to the Base Case value of 28.0-million, and this is largely due to the subway extension.  In my response, I observed that the marginal gain from either BRT network is small and may reflect the comparatively small contribution the reserved bus lanes make to overall trip times when the much longer subway segment of the journey is included. [End of update]

An unknown acknowledged in the BCA is the question of land use planning.  Will York Region redevelop along the Rapidways, and how much will this contribute to future demand?

In the end, the BCA does not specifically recommend one option over the other, but the message about getting most of the benefit for 60% of the capital cost is quite clear.  We will see how this fares when Metrolinx puts together its detailed plan for project staging.