How Can the TTC Run More Service?

In a previous article, I wrote about the crisis in system capacity across all modes – buses, streetcars and subways – and the danger that Toronto may face years without meaningful improvement in transit capacity.

This is a campaign issue, but one that is embraced only by one major candidate, Olivia Chow, and even then, not very well.

Full disclosure: Early in the campaign, I was approached by the Chow team to advise on what became her better bus service plank, but I certainly didn’t write it for reasons that will soon be obvious.

Her transit plan includes support for LRT lines, GO electrification and the first stage of a Downtown Relief subway line. It also includes this commitment regarding bus service:

A better transit plan starts investing now, with buses. Because 60% of TTC rides involve a bus and as the TTC says, the only way to expand transit now is with buses. So Olivia will invest to boost bus service right away, investing $15 million a year.

When we stack a paltry $15m up against the billions in rapid transit plans, it looks rather puny and gives the impression we are trying to get more service on the cheap. How can small change by transit budget standards stack up against the massive spending schemes of rapid transit networks?

Where did the number come from? Back when the Ford/Stintz crew started to dismantle the Miller-era service standards, the anticipated saving was only about $14m/year. However, reversing the cuts is not quite as simple.

When you cut transit service, you can reduce costs simply by letting old buses wear out and not replacing them, by reducing the operator workforce through attrition, and by cutting plans for a new bus garage (needed for a bigger fleet) out of the capital budget. That’s precisely what happened.

To undo the damage, we need more buses, more garage space and more operators. Some, but by no means all, of the cost will come out of the $15m, but there is much more involved.

McNicoll Garage has a pricetag of $181-million (of which only about $80m has been funded as of 2014), and it is required simply to handle growth in the bus fleet with no provision for better service standards. Yet another garage will be required to support better service, although in the short term one garage will do for both purposes. Also, by 2020, some bus services will have been replaced by rapid transit lines, but we don’t really know how much because the future of various schemes is uncertain.

(Some of the chaos in fleet planning dates from the cancellation of Transit City, and still more from shortsighted cutbacks of the last few years.)

New buses cost about $700k apiece. With current peak service at around 1,500 buses (not including those used for construction service), a 10% bump in fleet capacity means 150 new vehicles at a cost of $105-million.

At the very least, in the next few years, the TTC would face the following capital costs over and above what is already committed:

  • $100m to fully fund McNicoll Garage
  • $105m to purchase 150 buses

Moreover, the McNicoll project must be accelerated for completion before 2019, the current schedule. The idea that Toronto would see no additional peak service for five years is a disgusting testament to the ill-informed folly of the Ford/Stintz era.

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