Better TTC Service Is More Than a Caretaker’s Job

With the recent election for a new TTC Chair, both candidates, Maria Augimeri and Josh Colle, spoke of the need to focus on better service for day-to-day riders rather than the endless debates about where a new subway (or, perish the thought, LRT) might go.

The vote was close, 23-21, and with both would-be Chairs advocating for the same issue, this is certainly the moment for the Board of the TTC to concentrate on service quality.  This should not be a time to split into competing factions, nor to wait out the term content to polish the floors and clean the windows until a new Council and Commissioners sweep into office.

A month ago, I wrote about the major policy areas where the TTC needs to take a hard look at its future.  There is no need to rehash all of that article here.  The important point is one of timing.

The 2015 budget process begins mid-year, well before the sitting Commissioners retire.  Whatever budget is produced will inform the debates by the new Council and Mayor, whoever they may be.  We could be facing a reprise of Rob Ford, although his merry band of followers shrinks by the day; we might have a centre-right Mayor with a coalition willing to support that agenda, or we could have a Mayor from the left.

Whoever wins the election, they should not have to wait until 2016 for analyses of budget and policy options to be on the table, and voters need to know what is possible in various scenarios.

A new fare policy is already under study as part of the 2015 cycle, but service quality deserves a thorough review too.

Major improvements to the amount of service in 2014 are unlikely without supplementary budget authority from Council (some improvements, mainly in the fall, are already in the budget), but nothing prevents the TTC from looking at what might be done in 2015.

  • What are the costs and operational implications of returning to the loading standards of the “Ridership Growth Strategy” that were dismanted by Ford/Stintz with the assistance of Josh Colle?
  • How much latent demand is there for service that is not being met because of budget constraints even at the current standards?
  • What role is there for express bus services and for dedication of a “core network” with 10 minute or better service at all hours?

One area that is entirely within the TTC’s control is service management.  Riders know that bunching, gaps and short turns are commonplace.  Some of this is down to inadequate schedules, but a lot is simply due to inattention to the basics of spacing service and ensuring that riders get something vaguely like the advertised frequency on their routes.

When will service quality be managed in a way that riders can see real improvement, not an average on time measure that lumps all time periods and service together in one less-than-impressive value?  The long-standing bus service target of 2/3 on time, on average, implies that some services are truly atrocious.

These are issues that do not need lengthy negotiations with Queen’s Park or Ottawa, but simply the will to provide better service by Toronto Council and the TTC Board.

Those who still defend the “cut cut cut” mentality of the Ford era will say we cannot afford better service, and some will be covering their butts from actions of the past three years. Some will argue that if only we magically improved line management, we would not have to add any service at all.

What we can “afford” is a matter for Council’s decision, and Council needs to know how much money is needed, however it might be obtained, to make real improvements, and the implications of simply continuing along the Ford path.

The Board should direct CEO Andy Byford to report quickly, preferably with an overview in one month’s time and more details to follow, on options for better service in 2015.  Without this, all the fine speeches about improving the lot of riders mean nothing.