Planned Service Cuts and Managed Public Consultation (Update 4)

Updated January 25 at 7:30 am:

At the TTC public consultation on January 24, officials strongly denied the claim in the Globe and Mail story quoted below that service cuts would result in job losses at the TTC.  The article was modified slightly overnight removing the reference to follow-on cuts from lost riding on routes that would remain.

The bulk of the additional staffing is at the Toronto Transit Commission, which is adding 376 jobs for capital projects such as a major rebuild of the bus fleet, and 221 jobs for operations, including more drivers to accommodate skyrocketing ridership.

That number will go up if Mr. Ford can’t persuade council to reduce hours on 48 little-used bus routes, a proposal that is supposed to save the equivalent of 87 drivers’ positions.

TTC management continues to plan for service increases addressing growing demand on the system in fall 2011.

Many attending the TTC’s consultation meeting were annoyed at the format where TTC staff approached the issue as one where people needed to be told what their alternative routes for travel might be.  The opportunity for concerted public outrage was, by this tactic, short-circuited — good for the staff and politicians, but less than satisfying for TTC riders who wanted to demand answers, not be placated.

The displays of each affected route showed the numbers of riders affected by each change, but notably they did not show the riders/vehicle hour values which, in some cases, crests the 15/hour screenline the TTC arbitrarily chose for this exercise.

Moreover, maps of overlapping routes were distant from each other so that the combined effect of removing several lines was not immediately obvious.

Later in the evening, I appeared on Goldhawk Live to discuss the proposed cuts.  Former TTC Vice-Chair Joe Mihevc was also on the show, but nobody from the current TTC Commission would come on the program.  Only three of the Commissioners were at the Metro Hall meeting.  As for the other six, they were, one assumes, too busy to appear on this popular public affairs program.

Updated January 24 at 4:45 pm:

Kelly Grant reports in the Globe & Mail about the staffing effects of the TTC’s budget.

The bulk of the staff increase for day-to-day operations come from the TTC, which proposes adding 221 total positions at a cost of just over $20-million, most for extra drivers to accommodate skyrocketing ridership.

The transit agency expects to axe 116 drivers jobs by shrinking hours on 48 little-used bus routes – 87 jobs for the route reductions and the equivalent of 29 jobs to reflect presumed decreased ridership on surviving hours on those lines – but it proposes adding 337 positions.

Of the additional jobs, 252 are operators, 41 are for training, technology and maintenance and 35 are for station managers and other customer-service enhancements.

The 221 positions mentioned above were listed in the presentation to the Commission of the TTC’s Operating Budget (table, page 8).  This is the net change in approved staffing, and it includes many operators for extra services.  There is no reference to the 116 positions, and this would, in any event, be a temporary situation if the equivalent service were to be restored elsewhere in the system in the fall.

The interesting part is the reference to presumed decrease in riding on the affected routes during “surviving hours”.  This confirms that the TTC acknowledges that when service is cut for part of the day, it can affect riding at other times.  Moreover, this implies that service at these times might be cut if riding drops enough.  This is precisely how the death spiral of a transit system begins.

We can pretend that it doesn’t matter because the affected routes are small and unimportant, and most of the cuts are late on Sundays when we should all be home in bed.  The real world doesn’t work that way.

Updated January 24 at 12:15 pm:

A detailed review of each proposed cut has been added to this post as a separate file.  If cuts are to be made, some are more obvious candidates than others.  Although the TTC claims that all of the proposals received careful evaluation, I find this hard to believe, and some of these definitely need review.  There are also cases where route and/or schedule restructuring may improve the situation without disservicing riders.  This is the sort of analysis one would expect from the TTC, but which the haste and political pressure of the moment have prevented.

2011.01.24 Why Are You Losing Your Bus

Updated January 24 at 8:45 am:

This morning, I was on CBC’s Metro Morning talking about the proposed cuts to many routes, and this interview was followed by one with TTC Chair Karen Stintz.

The podcast is now available online (11:15 am).

I talked about the TTC balancing its budget with service cuts and asked what they would do in 2012, but oddly enough Stintz replied that the cuts are not a budgetary tactic.  They are a reinvestment of resources where ridership actually is.  Two years after their implementation, the new services have not proved themselves, and the money is going elsewhere.  Riders will have, generally, a five minute walk to a nearby route.

This is all very well, but if we start talking about increasing walks for riders in areas with low demand and infrequent service, we will see the network gradually disappear.  Also, just because another route is five minutes away doesn’t mean that it is actually useful to a would-be rider.  The TTC has estimated that it will lose only one in five of the existing users of the services that would disappear, on average, although the percentages vary considerably from a low of 8% to a high of 62%.

Going in to the studio, I took the 5:15 King car from Broadview Station, and over the trip south and west to John Street, it handled 19 passengers, me included.  The peak load on the car was 12.  I am quite sure someone might suggest that a car every 15 minute is excessive and the TTC could make do with less service to be “more efficient”.  However, if that car ran every half hour, I wouldn’t bother waiting for it unless I was really a captive rider.

That’s the problem with “efficiency”: it’s easy to point to a half-empty bus or streetcar and say “get rid of it”, but that’s the path to dismal transit service, “service” in name only.  This year, we will cut 20% of the bus service on Sundays after 10 pm.  What’s next?

If Chair Stintz wants to do something really useful, she can start a public discussion about what constitutes good service.  How often should vehicles arrive at stops?  How full should they be?  Should we demand that long routes have more riders to balance off the cost of the longer trips they take?  Should we cancel little-used express buses (even if they are a Commissioner’s pet project) so that their resources can be allocated elsewhere?  Should unused subway stations close unless they generate enough traffic?

As we head into a very difficult year for the City’s budget and transit subsidies, the important question is what service we should have.  Once that is answered, we can find ways to pay for that service.  Reluctantly, we may accept less than perfection, but will know what our goal is and what we traded off for tax cuts or subsidies elsewhere.

[The original article from January 21 follows below.]

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