Only A Few Seconds More

Defenders of the coming service cuts minimize the effect by saying that riders will only have to wait a bit longer, a few minutes at most, for their ride to show up at a stop.  The attitude is that the change is trivial and, by implication, grumbling customers don’t know when they have a good thing.

In fact, when headways are short, a few seconds change can make a big difference.  The most striking example we can see every day is on the subway where only a slight extension of headways quickly translates to crowded platforms and trains, and long dwell times at busy stations.  The same effect on a smaller scale happens on bus and streetcar routes all over the city.

The change in peak period bus loading standards adds about 10% to the space between vehicles because the TTC now requires fewer of them to carry the same demand.  If a route runs every 5’00” today (300 seconds), it will run every 5’30” (330 seconds) in January, all other factors being unchanged.  This doesn’t sound like much until we convert the numbers to buses/hour.  The line would go from 12 buses per hour to 11, and one bus worth of riders would have to be absorbed into the remaining service.

However, the changes actually made on some routes are bigger than 10% because the TTC is compounding the new loading standard with a claw-back of “surplus” capacity.  For example, on 54 Lawrence East, the peak headways go from 3’00” to 3’30” in the morning, and from 3’20” to 4’00” in the afternoon.  Translated to buses/hour, that’s a change from 20 to 17 in the morning, and from 18 to 15 in the afternoon.  The new services are 86% and 83% of the old ones, respectively.  That’s more than a 10% cut.

During off-peak periods, the new loading standard for routes operating every 10 minutes or less goes up by 25% with headways adjusted accordingly.  This means that a bus that came every 5’00” (300 seconds) will now arrive every 6’15” (375 seconds).  There’s a bit of good news here in that most routes won’t actually see a 25% change in headways because they are already carrying more than the old loading standard.

On 29 Dufferin, average loads during weekday late evenings, Saturday mornings, and Sunday daytime are already above standard.  Therefore, the service cut to bring these periods to the new standard is not as great as might otherwise have happened.  In fact, it is very rare to see a 25% increase in headways in the TTC proposals, and this reveals that much of the current service is already overloaded relative to the standards.  Headway changes in the 12-15% range are much more common.

In effect, the TTC has already been cutting costs by ignoring its loading standards, and the actual saving from the change will not be as great as might be expected.  Conversely, putting service back not just to where it is today, but to where it should be under the existing standards, would cost more than the expected $15-million saving from the service cuts.

2011.09.04 Routes Over Standard

As recently as September, the TTC acknowledged that many service improvements were warranted by standards, but could not be implemented because of budget constraints.  This list is does not include all of the routes carrying more than standard loads in my own review.

In a previous article in October, I reviewed the coming changes when they were in draft, and included a table looking at the ratios between new and old services.  This is a busy table, but the main points of interest are in the columns headed “Ratios” at the right side of the page.  These show the actual ratio between new and old headways, projected average loads, ridership, loading standard and service capacity.

Most off-peak headways will not change by 25% because riding is already above the current standard, or because the TTC is not fully cutting some routes to reach the new targets.  This is most clearly seen in the column “% Capacity Used” for the old and new services.

The changes can be portrayed as small, and in some cases they are not as severe as the new standards would actually allow.  That’s little comfort to riders for whom the system is already inconvenient and unreliable.

The TTC’s political masters are nibbling around the edges making cuts that, they hope, won’t provoke too severe a reaction from riders, but they have no strategy for the medium or long term.  Riding counts don’t tell us one vital piece of information: how many would-be customers just gave up on the TTC?  Every day we hear about traffic congestion and the need to move more travel onto transit rather than driving it away.

In a recent newsletter, TTC Chair Karen Stintz focuses on Provincial funding and the need to return to a 50/50 share between Toronto and Ontario of the TTC’s operating subsidy.  This diverts attention from a basic fact of City budgets: Toronto Council chose to cut its own revenue sources, and if they followed Mayor Ford’s plans, they would cut even further.  What we don’t see is any philosophy, any goal for what transit really should be.

Stintz describes the Ridership Growth Strategy that brought many service improvements as “laudable but underfunded”.  To Stintz, at least, better transit service is not “gravy” that should be permanently cut from transit operations.  However, this attitude is not reflected in a goal of bringing transit back to a “laudable” level or improving beyond what we already have.  Would added subsidy from Queen’s Park see restored service and less crowded buses, or would the money simply be used to cut the city’s contribution?

Waiting 30 seconds more for a bus might not seem like a big sacrifice.  The long rides crammed in with fellow passengers or the insult of not even being able to board, these are what will pass for “service” on the TTC.  Councillors who sanctimoniously advocate these cuts should be ashamed.

18 thoughts on “Only A Few Seconds More

  1. 2 to 5 minutes delay for automobile drivers on Jarvis Street is unacceptable. However, 2 to 5 minutes delay for public transit users is acceptable.

    What’s wrong with this picture?

    The war on public transit continues.


  2. Someone should come up with the number of available seats we’ll be missing for the entire system during rush hour when most buses, streetcars + subways are packed… that would get people talking I bet.


  3. Steve, as a bus operator, I know “just a few seconds more” will translate. Using 24 Victoria Park as an example: losing 3 buses in the AM peak will mean that riders southbound south of Eglinton will most likely be watching as 4 or more packed buses pass them by. Currently they are usually passed by 2 24 buses but picked up by the 24A bus that follows. This is based on my experience operating on this route.


  4. I wonder whether the expected savings from the cuts result only from reduced fuel and vehicle maintenance costs, or also from reduced labour costs resulting from cutting the hours of drivers who operate those routes.

    In any case, I think the TTC should provide information on how much of a fare increase would be needed to preserve the existing service levels, so that at least that would be an option on the table.

    Steve: It’s a bit more complicated than what you ask for, although I agree that the TTC should provide the info. We need an updated budget projection for 2012 that reflects the changes in revenues, riding and expenses since the original estimate was released some months ago. This should include a projection of what is needed to restore the service cuts. Then we would know how big a fare increase we actually would need to balance the books.


  5. Why not just raise the fares? 3.25 is not unreasonable. Nor would $125 be for a pass. I would rather pay a couple bucks more a month and not have to be my own oshiya to get on a TTC vehicle during rush hour.


  6. I don’t know enough to know what kind of difference it would make, but I’m wondering why the subways aren’t included in service cuts. Obviously peak service cuts are out of the question, but is there a reason why off peak cuts aren’t under consideration? For all the crush at rush hour, later evening midweek trips bring a train every 5 minutes with several dance floors of free space. Are there substantial enough savings to be had cutting trains there? I don’t think I’d have too much to complain about if there was a train every 7 minutes instead of every 5.

    To be clear I’m not advocating cuts. I’m just curious about what is and isn’t on the table and why.

    Steve: The service improvements through the Ridership Growth Strategy did not affect subway service, and so there are no subway cuts now.


  7. Well we can expect many people who have a choice to maybe walk right off the TTC and back into cars, just like they did in the 1990’s. Safe to say starting next year, ridership is not going to grow.

    It is really sad, because I know this is just a general observation, but you can see on a lot of Toronto bus routes that we are losing that mix of middle class ridership that is so important to a healthy transit system.

    Large swaths of the system feel like a last resort option for people with no other means of getting around. And that is sad.

    I expect these cuts and increased crowding to further erode and make this issue worse.


  8. I just read a hugely long article in Rolling Stone about US budget woes. It went on at some length about the “starving the beast(government)” concept held by many right wingers where they deliberately create untenable situations that will result in otherwise unnecessary and indefensible cuts.

    It is time that we all realised that this is the plan as is currently being implemented by Ford and his pals. It is not that the City can’t afford the TTC (even in light of the dearth of Provincial Funding) but rather that the Fordists don’t want to pay for it.

    Toronto has a huge lag in Property Tax caused by the four times that a buffoon who passed for a Mayor froze taxes despite the relentless effect of inflation. That policy has short term “feel good” impact at the time of the announcement, but has a long term negative effect on our collective lifestyle. In light of inflation over the years in question, our taxes are approximately 12% deficient (plus compounding) to the baseline at amalgamation. No wonder the City can’t fund programs at that same baseline. (Though I also understand the Province’s role in not meeting its responsibilities.)

    Another policy mistake is the assertion that City spending has increased at an alarming rate and is “out of control”. In order to support this false assertion, right wing columnists have confused the spending in the capital budget and the operating budget and come to conclusions that are not valid. In addition, they have taken the growth in City employment – which is almost entirely TTC Operators (RGS) and Police Officers (politically popular) – and portrayed that as a “gift” to the “unionised” employees at City Hall and at various City departments. Nothing could be farther from the truth, but as others have pointed out, if you repeat a lie often enough it is believed by many.

    If the argument was truly presented, it would run along the following lines. We can afford to offer parks, zoos, public services, transit, libraries etc. if we are prepared to pay our taxes. Are you selfish enough to demand a small tax cut so that others who benefit from these services will have to do without. In other words, are you a hard hearted selfish jerk. It has nothing at all to do with David Miller, union salaries or growth in City spending. It is entirely a small minded selfish argument by those who don’t want to pay their share – but demand full delivery of their own services which are often subsidised by others.

    In parts of wealthy Etobicoke and Scarborough, for example, the City comes around and vacuums up the leaves that residents sweep to the curb. This is an exclusive and expensive service – but it is exempt from service reductions. What kind of City lets the wealthy residents of Etobicoke avoid scooping their leaves into bags – or paying someone to do so – while allowing much poorer residents to stand on freezing street corners while full buses pass them by. Not a world that I am proud of.


  9. Get rid of the streetcars! Look how well that worked in American cities! Now we have cars, freedom, and no congestion!


  10. According to an article by Adam G back in September, these cuts will result in $20.9M reduction in costs and $7.2M reduction in fares for a net savings of $13.7M. If a 10 cent increase will fill the remaining $29M gap, then an additional 5 cent increase should cover that $13.7M cuts with $0.8M remaining for service increases.


  11. It’s sad how true the statement “War on Transit” has become, and the irony is it’s being perpetrated by those who cried “War on Cars” just because they realized they might have to share road space with transit taking and cycling plebs. It’s particularly depressing to think that periods of great planning and drive for change have happened so many times in the past only to be killed by a similar change in gov’t and all because our city and its populous is so painfully short sighted and cheap. We will never be the world class city we keep telling ourselves we are if this continues.


  12. According to the Star, the Ford administration proposes a 10-cent fare increase to generate $30 million in revenue. Since the RGS loading standard costs about $15 million, would the proposed service cuts still be necessary?

    Steve: The TTC budget presumes that the fare increase will occur and uses both the $30m from fares plus the money from service cuts to balance the books.


  13. TTC funding is hampered by the negative PR spin that is allowed to continue. This is a service that handles 460 million rides a year. Safety, efficiency and cost per ride are being evaluated based on complaints in the press. So riders are being asked for their objections to fare increases and taxpayers are asked how they like funding deficits for a “bad” service. Sleeping fare collectors, rude drivers and union-management relations seem to be the only items the press covers.

    It does not have to be this way. Compare this with the positive marketing on Metrolinx’s website. If TTC wants riders, taxpayers and provincial governments to increase funding, it would be wise to take a long-term public approach to sell what is going right, rather than what is going wrong.


  14. The only question is when Ford is up for election. It will be misery after misery until he is ousted — as was predictable, given his ignorance, arrogance, and selfishness.

    Steve: Fall 2014.


  15. Even with waiting a minute longer or two … have you ever used other transit systems around the world? We have 24/7 service. Look at anyone living in the GTHA (the H/A part), when they use GO Transit. last buses are around midnight. After that you will be taking a 6-8 nap at the GO Transit terminal(s).

    Steve: That’s all very well, but on a frequent route, that minute or two means far less service. It’s not a trivial change. Maybe we should just run subway trains a minute more apart to see what happens. We are spending a very large amount of money (I almost typed “billions” and then decided not to) to get trains running 30 seconds more closely to each other.


  16. What will you get for re-electing Ford on Fall 2014? Service cut, fare hike and Sheppard subway (if he’s lucky). I’d vote for someone who rides (or at least used to) TTC and someone who can come up with realistic transit expansion plans.

    Ford needs to realize what’s gravy and what’s not. He should experience the current crowding at some of the busiest routes as well as commuting by riding the TTC.

    As a pass buyer each month, I’d spend $5 extra bucks to keep the current service than further service cut.


  17. Apparently, in contradiction to The Star article a few days ago, the budget does include the elimination of mechanical leaf collection in elite areas. While this obviously negates my emotionally charged concluding paragraph, I do stand by the basic premises in the rest of my submission.


  18. Hi Steve

    I was thinking about Scott Watkin’s comment of November 27th regarding no subway cuts. I think that there is another reason that no subway cuts have been proposed. It would be quite a black eye for Ford. With subways as the chosen mode, and the Sheppard Subway being the obvious target for rationalization, it would be very embarrassing for him for his pet project to take a hit.


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