Council Votes a Small Increase in TTC Funding (Update 3)

Updated January 28, 2012 at 10:15am:  One intriguing point about the proposed service restorations is the formula on which they are based.  Originally, the off-peak standard for frequent services was to change from “seated load” (on average) to “seated load plus 25%”.  On this basis, several routes and periods of operation would have service cut so that the allegedly existing seated loads were given 20% less service. 

(If you have five buses each with a seated load, and you cut the service to four buses (a 20% cut), then one quarter, or 25%, of the seated load from that fifth bus much be added to each of the remaining vehicles.)

Now the TTC proposes a standard of “seated plus 15%” saying that this will rescue many of the services that would have been cut.  Hello TTC.  If an existing service is already at seated plus 15%, then it is most certainly over the current standard of a seated load.  The same sort of calculation applies to the peak period bus routes that were already saved by an adjustment of the new standard.

The common point here and in the round of service cuts on lightly used routes last year is that the TTC’s riding counts are out of sync with the service they actually operate.  One one day, a revised standard may cause a service cut, but on another, amazingly, it turns out that there were more riders on those buses and streetcars than we had been led to believe.  Certainly many routes are operating beyond the “Ridership Growth Strategy” standard, and the amount of headroom to cut service is less than alleged by KPMG’s Core Services Review.  That document is a tangle of half-truths and bad research, but it was the underpinning of planned cuts to many City departments.

Why didn’t the TTC explain this during the budget reviews?

Updated January 27, 2012 at 11:25pm:  A “final budget” report on the TTC’s agenda for the January 31 meeting recommends spending the $5-million voted by Council either on restored service on the conventional system, or on avoiding a cutback in Wheel-Trans service.  The report includes a list of services that would be restored on March 25, 2012 reversing completely or partially the cuts pending for February 12, 2012.  There is no discussion of service restoration (which would require redoing the work sign-up for February on very short notice) for the period from February 12 to March 24.

While funding of Wheel-Trans will be advanced by some as a more humane way to use the $5m, the very clear intent of Council and of everyone who spoke in favour of this funding was to restore service on the regular bus system.  Wheel-Trans funding is a separate issue that even the TTC had agreed to leave until mid-year pending possible funding from another source.

At the meeting, we will see whether the Commission chooses to thwart the will of Council, and whether Councillors who voted the additional money will show up to read the riot act to those Commissioners who do not understand that Mayor Ford lost that vote, and the TTC should get on with restoring regular service.

Those who argue that the $5m is “not sustainable” because it is drawn from one-time funding conveniently ignore that it will have this status whether it is spent on regular routes or on Wheel-Trans.  Moreover, it is entirely likely that a good chunk of this money will appear in fare revenue from riding that is running ahead of budget predictions.

Updated January 23, 2012 at 10:55pm:  The option of using the extra subsidy voted by Council as part of the capital budget to pay for new streetcars has been ruled inappropriate by the City’s legal staff because this conflicts with the wording of Council’s motion.  However, because “restore service” could also be construed to refer to Wheel-Trans cuts (although that was not the intent), it is possible that the Commission might sneak through redirection of the funding anyhow.  How this will sit with Councillors who thought they were saving regular service remains to be seen.

The original article from January 18, 2012 follows:

In a surprise victory at City Council, progressive forces — an alliance of the left, the “mushy middle” and a few from the right wing — combined to restore funding in the 2012 budget in several areas including the TTC’s subsidy.  The vote on January 17 was as close as it could be with a 23-21 margin (one Councillor was off sick, and the vote would have been 23-22 if he were present).

The TTC will receive an additional $5-million for its operating subsidy in order to reverse some of the planned service cuts.  This is less than the full amount needed ($9m), and will likely result in a concentration on off-peak services.  Why only $5m?  The political compromise needed to pull together this vote involved a lot of horse trading, and many of the amounts involved for other budget areas were considerably lower — in the hundreds of thousands rather than millions — and the overall package had to stay within a scope the coalition could support.

The TTC must now consider how it will use the money, and the mechanics of unwinding cuts that have already been scheduled for mid-February.

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