Ridership Growth Strategy Revisited

As the term of the Miller Council winds down, I thought it would be interesting to look back at an important document that came from David Miller’s days on the TTC Board.

In the early 2000’s, we were still recovering from the Harris funding and service cuts, and the TTC really needed to move beyond just keeping the lights on and the wheels turning.  The Ridership Growth Strategy was conceived as a way to advocate and advance a menu of low-cost options to make the system more attractive and build ridership.

Far too often, when someone proposed a transit improvement scheme, the idea foundered because:

  • There was never enough money to do anything,
  • We didn’t know how much it would actually cost anyhow, and
  • Competing proposals crowded out the discussion space.

The RGS brought together many proposals so that their costs and potential effects could be compared, and a multi-year implementation could be planned.  Here is a short overview, from my viewpoint, of where things stand.

Much has been done, although there are still holes to be filled.  Looking back from 2010, the RGS is a rather conservative set of proposals, and yet it was considered radical at the time.  Probably the saddest part in rereading RGS is not the table of improvements, but a description of why people ride transit.

3.1 The Importance of Passenger Focus in TTC Service Delivery

The Ridership Growth Strategy focuses on improvements to service quality and speed, and on fare incentives that will be feasible and cost-effective in attracting new riders.  However, the TTC’s operating practices, business culture, and sensitivity to passenger needs — factors that will affect the TTC’s ability to be a serious travel option in Toronto beyond the medium term — must reflect and continually adapt to the needs and expectations of its changing passenger base.

Critical to attracting passengers are efforts to improve the comfort, reliability and convenience of service.  The TTC has made, and continues to make significant efforts to achieve this goal.  A major initiative regarding route management, strict monitoring of service reliability, ongoing, major improvements to terminal operations at a number of stations, improved configurations of buses and streetcars, more comfortable seating on new vehicles, and the commitment to buying only low-floor fully-accessible vehicles are examples of these efforts.  The organisation must continue its work in these areas.

The attractiveness, cleanliness and ambience of subway stations and trains is very important to passengers’ overall travel experience.  The TTC’s recent initiatives regarding station renovations, overall lighting, rebuilding of escalators, recycling of newspapers, enhanced station cleaning, installation of elevators, and acquisition of roomier and brighter “T-1” subway cars are examples of important work in this area.  Again, these initiatives must be continued and strengthened.

Communicating effectively with passengers contributes to their satisfaction with the TTC.   A number of initiatives, all of which will require new funding, have been identified as having the potential to provide significant customer benefits.  These include improved and more effective signage within subway stations and system-wide, continued expansion and improvement of the provision of electronic information through the TTC’s web site, electronic displays of vehicle arrival times within subway stations and on-street at stops, direct marketing of community-specific service information, and automated announcement of stops in the subway system.

Passengers need to know that safety and security are top priority in the TTC system, and a number of initiatives  in this area have contributed to the TTC system being widely regarded as extremely safe.  These include increased presence of security personnel throughoutm the system, introduction of the “request stop” program, more closed-circuit surveillance of station areas, the establishment of “designated waiting areas”, and the installation of platform edge markers.  Again, efforts and resources targeted at increasing system safety and security should be increased in order to meet or exceed passengers’ expectations in this area.

The desire to improve the quality and friendliness of the service which the TTC delivers must continue to be engendered in all employees — management, staff and union.  The Awards of Excellence program, which recognizes employees who have provided truly excellent service according to customer commendations, is a key tool in this drive.  Also critical is the TTC’s ongoing program of employee training and develoment.  These and other initiatives to inculcate an unwavering commitment to satisfying customers must be supported, strengthened and accelerated.

All of these types of ongoing, long-term commitments to improving the overall quality of performance of the TTC must be an integral part of the Ridership Growth Strategy.  [RGS pages 11-12]

This text was written over seven years ago, and we all know that the TTC has a long way to go on many points.  Indeed, they have slipped from “the good old days” in some areas rather than improving.  There are improvements, notably the amount of service.  The TTC’s passenger information systems, including its website, crawl slowly into a reliable and useful state.  However, the “business culture” of the TTC remains inward-looking, often too ready to blame any problem on forces outside of the organization.

In a few months, we will have a report from the Customer Service initiative, and there will many fine words and much back-patting.  Whether we will see anything concrete beyond half-implemented changes — do the easy stuff, but never quite get to the hard parts — remains a matter of conjecture and faith.

Next year, there will be a new crew at City Hall, and with them, no doubt, changes at the TTC including demands for better accountability.  The “business culture” may be in for a shakeup, or like large organizations everywhere, it may bend those who would change it to a safe, corporate outlook.

Upheaval for its own sake is dangerous and destructive, but the TTC needs a wakeup call when so much remains only words from a seven year old strategy.