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.

8 thoughts on “Ridership Growth Strategy Revisited

  1. I forgot about that RGS report. It came out just before I had moved here from Vancouver and I had read it as I tried to get to know my new city through the TTC. One thing that impressed me about the TTC is the design of a lot of the subway/bus stations, the better designed stations had fare paid zones where the bus would enter right into the station and Proof of Payment wasn’t needed. This didn’t exist in my old home of Vancouver and I didn’t remember it in Montreal where I grew up. I was really impressed with it.

    To quote the RGS report:
    “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.”

    I live in Scarborough and use Victoria Park Station or Warden Station mostly. They had fare paid zones but weren’t well designed because they had seperate bus platforms for each route (Warden Station still does), but the Station Modernization Program has improved Victoria Park Station immensely helping my tranfers greatly and the renovation isn’t even completely done yet. I hope it is comfortable in the winter as well because the north/south platform where my 12B bus docks doesn’t have shelter yet. It is better then it was though.

    I really hope that other poorly designed stations in the TTC system get similar treatment to what Victoria Park Station is getting. I am sure improving our existing infrastructure has potential of increasing ridership as well as expansion (which is seriously needed). I spend a lot of time in the Station itself waiting for my connecting bus and this investment by the TTC in the Station Modernization is addressing this fact of riding transit. Today when I go down the stairs from the Subway platform, I have a fairly clear view of the bus platforms and can see my connecting bus right away- very user friendly compared to the old design.


  2. I think that the major and simple things would work best. Run the service to a regular headway. No one care if every car is 15 minutes late as long as they come every x minutes without a lot of useless short turns like NB Bathurst at Wolesley to go back to the Ex. That one is really useful.

    They also should make sure all the equipment and stations are clean and the washrooms disinfected on a regular basis. Appearance is important. GO knows this and they clean their stations daily even on the rush hour only lines. They also remove graffiti immediately. Nobody likes to see it but it is a lot more tolerable if you see it in the morning and it is gone when you go home.


  3. I am actually quite impressed, particularly based on the first three pages of Steve’s summary. It shows that a well thought out plan that is somewhat proactive can lead to improved performance by the TTC and a comprehensive LRT plan by political leadership (the RGS proves Transit City is not just a set of arbitrary lines on a map). It has withstood the test of time and continues to be a document that should guide TTC actions.

    Instead, we are currently in the process of studies and reviews that are largely reactionary and will result in half hearted measures due to various inadequacies. On top of this, the election will surely disrupt any progress coming out of these reviews.


  4. I was just randomly thinking, wouldn’t it be great if the Parliament Streetcar were to be reinstated? The Parliament Streetcar can also act as a reliever to congestion on the Yonge Subway (though definitely not as effective as the real DRL).

    Firstly, there aren’t very many North-South rail routes on the eastside of Downtown (except for Broadview Avenue), but there are a number of them on the westside (University Subway, Spadina, Bathurst, Roncesvalles). I think that Parliament Street is reasonably distanced from Yonge Street to avoid redundancy in rail service.

    Secondly, the TTC and the City has acknowledged that Streetcars are very effective at attracting ridership, since people are more attracted to a smooth, quiet, higher-capacity ride (that they wouldn’t get on a bus). This could again attract even more ridership in the downtown core, as part of the Ridership Growth Strategy.

    Thirdly, the small businesses can benefit from being in close proximity to a higher-order transit corridor.

    What do you think Steve?

    Steve: There are many problems with using Parliament Street as a main corridor from the BD subway to downtown. First off, it has many, many traffic lights (rather like Spadina) and these make for a slow trip north-south. Also it’s a four-lane street and the opportunity for transit priority is limited.

    Next, the station at Castle Frank structurally is not built to handle streetcars (this issue has come up before).

    However, the most important problem is that there are no connections to the north from Castle Frank. Anyone outbound from downtown will have to board the BD subway at a point where it is already full (Broadview and Pape are the major offloading points eastbound). This is a powerful incentive for people to travel north further west so that they can board a train at Yonge or St. George (or even Spadina).

    This issue ties in with my argument for taking the DRL East all the way up to Eglinton. That will provide a direct, transfer-free ride into downtown from far enough north-east of the core that it would be the route of choice for commuters in its catchment area.


  5. Steve said: “Probably the saddest part in rereading RGS is […] a description of why people ride transit.”

    Just to clarify, I assume you’re sad because the TTC appears to have gone backwards in this regard? That particular segment of the report captures pretty accurately what I’d like to see in order to once again become a happy and more frequent rider of public transit. I think that section, more than any other consideration, contains the key to whether ridership goes up or drops off.

    Or am I missing something. Is there something about the contents of that particular section you don’t like?

    Steve: Yes, it is the fact that the goals the TTC should have are so clearly stated, and have been so clearly missed over the past years.


  6. @ Michael Forest June 12, 2010 on the “Bylaw Enforcement is Anti-Transit” thread:

    “What surprises me is that all TTC board members happen to be members of the City Council. Is it so hard for them to ask staff about the operational parameters of their own buses, then inform the rest of City Council, and help them word the bylaw properly?”

    What needs to be examined is whether or not (I strongly suspect not) our City Councillors, including TTC board members, actually USE public transit.

    I think the single biggest thing we could do to improve public transit, which would in turn increase ridership, is to either FORCE our City Council and Senior Staff to use it themselves, and/or to find a way to track their usage and publish it. I’m loathe to consider heavy-handed draconian measures, but that seems to be the only language some of our Councillors speak (since they seem to be so fond of passing draconian laws). So (spending some time in fantasy land here I must admit) I propose the following changes:

    1) Give free transit passes to all City Councillors and Senior Staff.

    2) Ensure that those passes CANNOT be used on any of the Express buses (if the TTC doesn’t deign to publish ridership stats on the Express buses I assume they don’t consider them part of their overall transit system…)

    3) Immediately revoke the “Parking Ticket Voiding” privilege currently given to City Councillors (that one really burns me, btw)

    4) Remove all parking privileges for City Councillors and Senior Staff, and charge them a surcharge over the average citizen for parking.

    In other words, force them to take public transit to and from work like the rest of us shlubs and I bet you’ll see transit quality and reliability turn around so fast your head would spin.

    Although I’ve seen service improve lately (for now…) I’ve grown to hate streetcars after living on the 501 route – especially galling since we bought here with the intention of taking transit and giving up one car. I was buoyed by Mitch Stambler’s letter in the Beach Metro lamenting the 501’s woes where he infamously asserted that no other city runs streetcars in mixed traffic. I thought “this guy works in TTC management and lives here – he’ll work to get things fixed”. Afterwards my husband (who rarely takes transit and makes fun of me when I complain), used to joke that I was going to leave him for “streetcar guy”. But then I discovered – on this blog – that Mr. Stambler DOESN’T take the 501 – he takes the 143 Express.

    That explains SO much of what is wrong with the TTC. If the people who manage and govern it can’t lower themselves to take it, if – unlike in most of Europe where transit is first-class and first rate – it is seen as transit only for “the little people”, what hope in h*** does it have of being improved?

    Steve: To be fair to Mitch Stambler, I have seen him on the 501 on many occasions, but would not be surprised to find him on the 143 also. On another point, it is not possible to give “free passes” to Councillors and staff as these are considered a taxable benefit by Revenue Canada. You have Councillor Ford to thank for that stupidity.


  7. Steve:

    Despite the supposed enthusiasm of the politicians for RGS, TTC staff remains committed to the RSS (Ridership Shrinkage Strategy) or at very least RIS (Ridership Inconvenience Strategy.) Remember the ill-fated Queen Car split experiment. Despite official policy to the contrary, Operators refused to take passengers around the loops – maximising the inconvenience in a scheme they did not like.

    Now the King Car has been diverted – until November – and runs along Queen (from Roncesvalles) to Shaw, South on Shaw and East along King – and of course – vise versa. Despite the fact that there was originally a streetcar stop at Shaw SB, just north of King (when the diversion started), staff has decided that Eastbound cars will no longer stop at Shaw. The TTC has a mixed message about stopping at other stops on a diversion, but the reality is that streetcars don’t stop at the bus stops – in this case at Shaw and Adelaide. The upshot is that there is no stop between Queen and Shaw and King and Strachan.

    Passengers with a heavy load or mobility issues may not wish to walk from Queen or Strachan and are forced to take a bus connection – even though the streetcar goes right past where they want to go. Even unencumbered mobile passengers may not appreciate this situation in the rain or if they are in a hurry.

    In the morning – the many condo dwellers who rely on the streetcar to go eastward must take the shuttle bus for one stop or walk – despite the fact that the streetcar traces the same route – and then wait (again if they took the bus) for a streetcar.

    Staff claims that it is “dangerous” for people to “rush” from the King Eastbound farside stop (exiting the Ossington Bus SB) to a potential stop on Shaw SB at King. They also claim that stopping the streetcar at that same Ossington bus stop (King East farside) might cause traffic delays and inconvenience drivers. We already know that the top priority in Toronto is to enable cars to drive on our downtown streets. Do our politicians support staff’s ultimate goal to support the CGS (Car Growth Strategy.)

    Talking to Customer Service is like talking to my cat. There is no verbal response and no meaningful understanding about what I am saying. At least with my cat I have instant access – I don’t have to wait on hold (and she purrs.)


    Steve: I continue to be amazed by the ability of TTC Operations to make life difficult for passengers. The diversion was implemented with no change in the King car’s schedule even though it takes longer to get to Ronces via Shaw and Queen than via King. Moreover, a queue of cars forms westbound to Ronces at times because there isn’t enough green time to handle all of the streetcar traffic. This is the sort of enlightened operations we have in Toronto.


  8. Steve:

    I think there were more complaining than just me – but public reaction can have an effect. Today, staff reinstated the eastbound stop at Shaw and King (Shaw SB, north of King.)

    Steve: Bravi to complaining passengers!


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