This week, the TTC announced that it has record ridership for the past twelve months of 470.8-million. This continues an upward trend from last year, and indicates that TTC demand may be insulated from the effects of the economic downturn. Possibly a shift from auto to transit riding is offsetting any reduction in employment or recreational traffic.
The Chief General Manager’s Report for the first quarter of 2009 notes that although ridership continues to grow, revenue is below budget. Why? More Metropasses were sold than expected in January-March, and this trend is continuing into the second quarter. The TTC had budgeted on a higher average fare-per-ride, and the more who travel with passes, the lower this average falls.
Rumours of budget related service cuts started to surface a few weeks ago, and one change effective June 21 is explicitly listed as being due to budget. (I will report on that in a separate post on June service changes.) This is an odd state of affairs considering that there is a buffer for service growth on the TTC”s budget, and there has been no report to the Commission of pending service cuts (or of deferred service improvements).
Moreover, in a separate report, the TTC plans to launch an ad campaign seeking organizations to be part of a Metropass Affinity Program where pass holders would receive discounts to products or events. The intention is, wait for it, to sell more Metropasses by making them even more attractive.
The TTC has a long-standing love-hate relationship with the Metropass going right back to its origins 29 years ago. Each pass is seen, by some, as a loss of revenue, a loss of individual fares that might otherwise be collected. Of course, a pass is also an incentive for users to ride the system and get all those “free” extra trips, exactly the sort of mindset an auto driver operates in every day.
Those 260,000 monthly pass holders are now responsible for over half of the adult trips on the TTC. Budgets and fare policies must recognize that there is a demand for flat rate purchase of transit services, and that this market will grow both through pricing incentives and improved service. Cutbacks because too many people buy passes are a laughable, but unfortunately predictable response to what should be a transit success story.