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.
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.]
The TTC will conduct four public meetings on the proposed service cuts on January 24-27 at various locations around the city. These will be set up as “information sessions” with displays, roving staff and politicians with “Ask Me” stickers, but there will be no formal presentation nor an opportunity for members of the public to make deputations or presentations that would be heard by others present.
When the idea of public consultation was floated at the recent TTC meeting, the clear intent was to go out and explain, patiently, to the great unwashed public that there was a good and valid reason behind them losing their bus routes. The idea is to massage public opinion, not to make substantive changes in policy. After all, there is a mandate to cut unproductive services and save taxpayer dollars, and why should anyone care about the long walk you will face getting to transit?
Unlike most of the people who will attend these meetings, I have a platform. If I were going to make a presentation, here’s what I would say.
The So-Called Standard
In a previous article, I detailed the service cuts using the TTC’s own published information. These cuts were supposed to be based on ridership per vehicle hour, but many of the cuts violate the TTC’s brand-new standard of 15 riders/hour. The most outrageous of these cuts is the Downview Park 101 bus on Saturdays, and this proposal reveals an unpublished part of the “logic” behind the cuts.
The TTC worries about “consistency” in service provision. Back in the days before the Ridership Growth Strategy brought 19-hour/day service almost everywhere, a route had to qualify for service on weekdays before it got service on weekends. Never mind if the demand is greater on weekends, if a route doesn’t generate enough traffic for weekdays, it’s toast.
The Downsview Park bus carries only 4.1 passengers per vehicle hour weekdays from 6 am to 7 pm, although this number is 7.0 per vehicle hour if we only look at 9 am to 3 pm. Weekday evenings, from 7 to 10 pm, the number rises to 9.3. Saturdays, the numbers are higher than the screenline of 15 (with 89.0/hour in the early evening!), but according to TTC logic, providing service at that time, but not on weekdays, might be confusing. I am not making this up.
Several other routes have this sort of problem, but the 101 is the worst example. This has been spun politically as something the TTC missed. No, it wasn’t. It was a victim of the blind application of a formula without even the decency to flag a potential problem.
Why Must I Lose My Bus?
The TTC claims that the $7-million to be saved with the service cuts will be reallocated to service elsewhere. The budget presentation includes a map showing routes on which service will be improved in Fall 2011, and the TTC claimed that this would be financed from the late-night cuts.
However, it turns out that service improvements effective January 2011 are also paid for from this money, and the map may actually include many routes where the added service for 2011, such as it may be, is already in place. Of the $7-million, $4-million is already spoken for.
This tradeoff happened without any public input or discussion by the Commission or Council, even though at the TTC budget meeting, the clear implication was that we faced a spring service cut that would be offset by a fall service improvement.
By the time the operating budget reached the City’s Budget Committee, the Budget Analyst’s notes showed the $7-million as a saving, not as a reallocation. When this was pointed out to TTC management, there was hurried shuffling and claims that the money was really there, somewhere, but it’s not obvious to anyone reading the presentation. Either it’s a saving (read “cut”) or it’s a transfer, in which case the change should net out to zero.
If the January improvements were to be paid for from these cuts, why was the TTC unable to say this at its budget meeting? Instead they claimed that they would publish the definitive list in June. Why didn’t the TTC put the best face possible on things by showing services they had already improved in anticipation of savings from the service cut?
Was Ridership Growth Strategy a Failure?
The TTC crows on every possible occasion about record high riding even in the face of fare increases and crowding. They point to the Ridership Growth Strategy, the basic idea that providing better service will attract riders, as their formula for success. Now we learn that part of this strategy, the addition of full service on almost all routes, did not work out as planned.
The TTC does nobody any favours, least of all those who try to support transit programs, with their half-baked presentations. Yes, many routes don’t make the 15 rides/hour threshold, but that has never been a TTC Service Standard. Indeed, the standards have not been re-examined for years and the full-service policy more or less eliminated the need for much of the fine-grained route reviews. Now that we’re back nibbling away at the network, there has been no discussion about what criteria should be used to evaluate service.
After a lot of tedious work, I produced a chart attempting to show the relationship between Ridership Growth Strategy service improvements, and the cuts proposed for 2011.
This is a busy sheet, and my apologies, but there’s a lot of info to pack into this. There may be a few errors, but it’s the overall view that is important.
All services that were added or improved in November 2008 by RGS are listed here. If they are not affected by the 2011 proposal, they are in black. If they are affected, they are in red. Also shown are cuts of services that already existed before the RGS improvements took effect.
[Note: For those readers who are colour blind, the legend includes the letter “X” in that those services to be cut as well as the colour coding.]
What is important about this chart is that many of the services improved or added through RGS remain in operation. Those who prefer to think that everything done in the ancien régime was a complete waste of money would do well to recognize how much RGS contributed to the system.
The challenge now is that the cuts start to eat away at the edges — most of the effect is late at night on weekends, and on Sunday late evenings about 20% of the buses in service disappear. What will the TTC do for an encore next year? How many other services will be affected? What is the effect of a higher threshold for a service to be viable in the dwindling TTC budget?
Will the TTC undertake a full discussion of service options? Will riders on the premium express services be subject to the same close scrutiny, especially if, as proposed, the TTC changes these routes to regular fare operations? What will be the criteria for adding new services, or for restoring service where it has been cut? Will the loading criteria be relaxed to pack in more riders without adding service? Will the TTC even bother to report publicly on the condition of its service?
The Farce of Public Policy Debates
This exercise — pitting the users of lightly used routes against those who can’t even get on their bus — is an easy political ploy. However, you can only get rid of the handful of routes like Lawrence-Donway and Silver Hills once. You might even weather a goof like the Downview Park bus fiasco where not only is there demand the TTC failed to acknowledge, but also a multi-billion dollar project now underway that will replace this bus with a subway station. But when more and more people can’t get on their bus or streetcar, when people complain that there is no service and huge, unpredictable gaps between what remains, all of those “savings” will be small change.
Toronto politicians are happy to float schemes for expensive rapid transit networks while counting the paper clips when it comes to ordinary bus service. Ah, but that’s the Capital Budget, you say, and that doesn’t count.
Sorry, folks, but as you may have heard from various media and hand-wringing politicians, Toronto has a debt problem, one that will stifle any growth and even basic maintenance needs at the TTC in the very near future. Either Toronto gets more subsidy, or it raises taxes to carry a greater debt load, or the TTC will fall apart in very short order.
We are “house poor”, carrying a huge mortgage we can barely afford, and surviving on beans and wieners until times, if ever, are better. That’s what capital spending does. Indeed, the “stimulus” program of the past two years triggered a borrowing requirement of hundreds of millions by the City to pay its 1/3 share of the program.
We may get Queen’s Park back to the table for a big transit plan, and we may even talk Ottawa into the game too, but Toronto will be on the hook for something, and we must be prepared to pay our share. The debt will drive up interest payments, and there will be less money available for transit operating subsidies. That’s how an unaffordable subway network destroys your bus service.
Toronto is extraordinarily ill-served by politicians who talk a something-for-nothing game, who presume that money will appear to fund transit services and construction. Yes, we can have a tax freeze and a fare freeze, but when you’re standing in the cold looking down the road for that bus, thinking about a taxi or a new car, remember all that money those freezes saved you.