In my article about David Gunn’s opinion of what’s wrong with the TTC, I mentioned the 1991 Budget introduced as the TTC was having its record year of ridership in 1990, but was on the brink of a recession and unprecedented cutbacks.
The major objective of the proposed TTC operating budget for 1991 is to provide a better product and thereby to attract more riders to the TTC. This will not be an easy task at a time when other demands on the taxpayers’ dollars are escalating, and with the economy headed into a recession. The proposed budget is best summarized in one word: balance — a balance among the needs of TTC riders and the taxpayers of Metro Toronto and the Province of Ontario.
[From Proposed 1991 Operating Budget, November 14, 1990]
This budget was introduced by TTC Chair Lois Griffin, a Councillor from the then Rexdale-Thistletown ward of Etobicoke which took in the northwest corner of the city down to Highway 401. The south half of this ward is Mayor Ford’s home turf. Al Leach, who would later preside over the amalgamation of Toronto as part of the Harris government, was Chief General Manager. Neither of them could be called radicals.
David Miller was not yet a member of Council having lost on his first try to the incumbent in 1991. He was successful on a second try in 1994. Adam Giambrone was 13 years old and had not yet become active in the NDP.
In the face of economic difficulties, a conservative Commission was advocating service improvements as the best way to gain and hold ridership, and none of the ills that might have afflicted transit could be blamed on a previous administration’s misguided policies.
By March 26, 1991, staff recommended that the budget be trimmed to compensate for falling ridership and for flatlining of the Metro Toronto subsidy contribution. This flatline was relative to the budget submission, but the drop in riding was hitting revenue and would have triggered a greater subsidy need without offsetting changes. This led to proposals for service and staffing cuts, although some additions stayed in the budget for safety and reliability reasons.
In reading the 1991 proposal, it’s notable that even before the heart of the recession, there were concerns that some TTC practices needed improvement. In the years to follow, we would see just how badly the cumulative effect of putting off repairs would hit the TTC.
By July 1991, the projected budget, including cuts requested by Council, was back at the TTC. Total expenses had dropped from the original $686.1-million proposed in November 1990 to $675.1m.
A few excerpts from my deputation at the time:
Transit riders expect a lot more from the TTC than their counterparts in New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, and we must work to meet Toronto’s expectations. Simply being better than everyone else is not good enough.
No matter how good the subway service, if someone cannot get to and from the subway reliably, they will not use it. If someone’s trip is not served by the subway, they will not attempt it by an unreliable or overcrowded surface route. … The fine-grained surface network will never be duplicated by the subway network.
The common complaints about crowding suggest that the average rider does not see the “average” loading conditions which may meet the service standards. The empty space in buses at the back of a platoon is of little use to the riders crammed into the first vehicle. … providing better service with your existing fleet improves your productivity, makes your service more attractive and defers the need for additional vehicles.
I have often spoken of the need for the Commission to be advocates for the transit system. … Cities become “world class” because people living there care about all the parts that make up the whole. Your job is to care about the transit system and to tell all of us how we can get it back not merely to “the better way”, but “the best way”.
[Letter to the TTC, November 20, 1990]
The TTC’s decline in the early 90s was so severe that the proposed budget for 1996 was $673.5-million, almost the same as the approved budget in 1991, and ridership was projected at 376-million. When David Gunn talks of Toronto achieving only a 15% increase in riding, he forgets those dark days and the system he inherited when he joined the TTC in 1995.