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.
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.