New Fares and Service Improvements Coming to the TTC (Updated)

On January 19, 2015, Mayor John Tory, TTC Chair Josh Colle and TTC CEO Andy Byford held a press conference to announce major changes for TTC riders in 2015.

  • Adult fares will rise by 10 cents (from $2.70 to $2.80, or 3.7%) with proportionate increases for passes, senior and student fares.
    • Children under 12 will ride free (the current fare is $0.75 cash or a ticket for $0.60).
    • The cash fare will remain at $3.00.
  • All day, every day services that were cut in 2011 will be restored.
  • A network of key bus and streetcar routes will have 10 minute service except overnight (after 1:00 am).
  • Crowding and wait times off peak will be reduced by modifying the loading standards.
  • Proof-of-payment and all-door loading will be extended throughout the streetcar network.
  • Twelve new Blue Night routes will be added to the 22 now in operation.
  • Fifty new buses will be acquired for service improvements.
    • Crowding and wait times during the peak periods for 21 busy routes will be improved.
    • Four new express bus routes will be added.
    • The pool of buses available for maintenance will be increased.
    • Temporary storage will be obtained to house the buses pending new garage construction.
  • Trains on the YUS and BD subways that are now held on standby for emergencies will be scheduled into the regular service.
  • Route management will be improved for streetcar routes to provide more reliable service and better utilize the capacity of vehicles in service.
  • The reliability of signals, track and communication systems will be improved with more resources for maintenance.

Updated Jan. 19, 2015 at 4:00 pm: One sour note in the announcement is the fact that the Metropass multiple will go up from 49 to 50 giving a new price of $141.50 vs the existing $133.75, an increase of 5.8%. In the midst of an otherwise upbeat, positive set of recommendations, it was a poor choice not to mention that frequent users would pay a higher increase for TTC fares. This continues TTC management’s desire to bump the pass pricing up on the basis that frequent users are getting too high a subsidy. If that’s the official position of the Mayor and TTC Chair, they should have said so in the press release.


Much of this program arose from the August 2014 “Opportunities” report from TTC management.

At the time, then-candidate Tory argued against these proposals on the grounds that they were unfunded, and behind the scenes, the Tory camp complained that the TTC was supporting another candidate’s platform. To his credit, now-Mayor Tory recognizes the importance of better transit service that can be delivered in the short term, and he has embraced advice from Andy Byford wholeheartedly. Among the lessons he learned was that TTC’s off-peak ridership is higher and growing faster then peak demand, and that investments in off-peak service will benefit a very large number of riders throughout the city. This is an important change from a focus just on peak period, core-oriented capacity.

Tory has reluctantly dropped his proposed fare freeze saying that Toronto cannot do this and get on with improving transit. He now argues that fares will go up a bit more, but that riders will get a lot more service.

During the press conference, the Mayor made pointed, repeated references to “my predecessor” and “the previous administration” saying that the policy of service cuts and subsidy freezes was wrong. One can be gleeful seeing the Ford era openly criticized by the new Mayor, but that’s not the important point. Simply by making the statement, Tory puts allies inherited from the ancien régime on notice. Better TTC funding is not simply a predictable request from the usual activists and left-wing Councillors, but part of the Mayor’s program.

The financial proposal is that the TTC’s budgeted subsidy from Toronto will rise from $440.1-million in 2014 to nearly $479m in 2015. The fare increase plus added ridership (projected at 545m in 2015, up 10m from 2014) will bring in $43m more, net of the elimination of children’s fares ($7m). (The subsidy includes approximately $90m in provincial gas tax revenue which is paid to the City. This amount has not changed in many years.)

Further details will be revealed in the City Budget Launch on January 20, and at the TTC Board’s own budget meeting on February 2. Implementation of this plan is contingent on Council approval, although the new fares (which can be approved by the TTC itself) will take effect March 1. Service changes require lead time for planning, staffing, and in the case of the new buses, acquisition of vehicles and a storage yard. In practice, the changes will likely roll out beginning later this spring with the majority of service improvements coming in September or later. This will also limit the cost of new services to a smaller part of the year, although full-year costs will have to be absorbed in 2016.

The maps in the Opportunties report (linked above) show the range of routes that will likely be affected by the various proposals. I checked with TTC officials at the press conference, and although there may be minor changes, these maps give substantially a good idea of where the improvements will be.

Of the many opportunities proposed in August, the one which is notable by its absence is the two-hour fare. There is only so much money to spend on a new fare structure, and rebuilding service takes priority this year. However, the need for a simpler “transfer” mechanism on the TTC will be forced by the Presto implementation which Andy Byford is pressing Metrolinx to complete by the end of 2016. This will more-or-less force the question as part of next year’s budget planning.

During the scrum, the inevitable question to Mayor Tory was “how will you pay for all of this”. Tory demurred saying all would be revealed at the Budget Launch. An important point, however, is that he plans to keep tax increases to inflation, but the Scarborough Subway tax will be outside of that “inflationary” envelope.

This is a very good start for the Tory/Colle era of TTC policy-making. Rather than cherry-picking a handful of improvements that might benefit only a small segment of Toronto, they have opted for a variety of changes addressing many submarkets within the TTC’s ridership. If this continues in future years, by the time the TTC and Metrolinx open new rapid transit lines, Toronto will have a much improved surface network linking riders to new and improved trunk routes.

Planning for SmartTrack

At its meeting of January 22, 2015, Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider a report (SmartTrack Work Plan 2015-2016) recommending a work plan for the study of Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack proposal together with other related transit projects. This is intended to dovetail with Metrolinx’ work on their Regional Express Rail (RER) network, and will have spillover effects on studies of both the Downtown Relief Line (DRL) and the Scarborough Subway Extension.

The most important aspect of this report is that, at long last, a study is reviewing transit options for Toronto on a network basis rather than one line at a time. Factors such as alternative land use schemes, fare structures and service levels will be considered to determine which future scenarios best support investment in transit. Rather than starting with a “solution”, the studies are intended to evaluate alternatives.

If this outlook actually survives, and the studies are not gerrymandered before they can properly evaluate all strategies, then the process will be worthwhile and set the stage for decisions on what might actually be built. The challenge will be to avoid a scenario where every pet project on the map is untouchable rather than making the best of the network as a whole. The term “best” will be open to much debate.

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TTC 2015 Budget Preview: Business As Usual or Transit Renaissance?

Toronto will get a sense of where its new Council and TTC Board are headed next week when the City launches its budget for 2015 on Tuesday, January 20. This will be followed by debates at Budget Committee and the TTC’s own budget meeting on Monday February 2.

After months of election campaigns and an early honeymoon, our politicians will have to pick which “Transit City” they really want.

  • Do we face more of the small-minded penny-pinching, the false economies of the Ford era, or a view of Toronto and its transit services where policy is more than drawing fantasy subway maps and stuffing more people in fewer buses?
  • Will Toronto be a city with expanding, attractive transit service for riders on the network as a whole?
  • Will Council spend money on transit today and make real changes, or do we face four more years of making do with inferior service?
  • Will capital spending focus only on megaprojects (ideally ones paid for with other governments’ money), or will Council recognize the needs of the existing system for maintenance and improvement?

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GO Transit Pilots Cut Rate Fare For Short Trips

Today, Metrolinx announced that GO Transit will offer a pilot low-cost fare on its Lake Shore line between Exhibition, Union and Danforth Stations. For $60, riders can buy a monthly sticker that would be added to their Metropass much as the Premium Express stickers for TTC services are today.

This is a substantial discount from the $181.60 that it would cost for the 20 days’ commuting trips based on the fares effective February 1, 2015. ($5.09 for each of rides 1-35, and $0.69 for rides 36-40.) The scheme began with a call for cheaper fares between Liberty Village and downtown Toronto, given that Exhibition Station is at the south end of the neighbourhood. Not to be outdone, east end Councillors jumped on the bandwagon, and Danforth Station was added to the request. GO’s announcement responds to these two “squeaky wheels”, but falls short on a number of other points.

  • Having a Metropass is a pre-requisite to using the lower GO fare. Depending on a rider’s travel pattern, a Metropass may be more expensive than pay-as-you-play token purchases.
  • The further one lives from Exhibition Station, the less attractive a walk to GO will be, especially during off-peak periods when finding space on the King car would be less of an issue.
  • One advantage touted for the scheme is offloading subway demand. In fact, this requires passengers to walk from Main Station to the GO Danforth Station, roughly a seven minute journey from the subway platform, plus the wait time added by the transfer connection. Ironically, many of the peak trains stopping at Danforth will also serve Kennedy Station which would be a much simpler transfer point for many east end riders, but the cheaper fare will not be available there.
  • The fare from Danforth to Union is the same as the fare from Scarborough, Eglinton, Kennedy, Weston, Etobicoke North, Oriole, Old Cummer and York University Stations. It is higher than the fare from Bloor, Long Branch, Mimico and Kipling. However, the cheaper “integrated” fare is offered only to those riders who have the least potential time saving by switching from TTC to GO for their commute trips.

Many peak period trains now run express and skip Danforth and Exhibition Stations. As of January 16, 2015, service is provided only by Lakeshore corridor trains (all Stouffville trains run express).

  • Danforth to Union
    • AM Peak: 6:36, 7:01, 7:16, 7:55, 8:27, 8:55.
  • Union to Danforth
    • PM Peak: 15:43, 16:30, 17:05, 17:20, 17:35, 18:18
  • Exhibition to Union
    • AM Peak: 6:27, 7:00, 7:37, 7:58, 8:24, 8:56, 9:04
  • Union to Exhibition
    • PM Peak: 15:43, 16:13, 16:43, 17:10, 17:43, 18:13

The schedules will change effective February 2:

  • Stouffville line trains will stop inbound at Danforth at: 6:15, 7:36, 7:48, 8:20, 8:46, 9:46
  • Stouffville line trains will stop outbound at Danforth leaving Union at 16:18, 16:48, 18:00

Some counter-peak Lakeshore trips that now run express will stop at Danforth. Details are on the GO website.

No additional trains will stop at Exhibition Station.

At the press conference announcing this pilot project, Metrolinx President & CEO Bruce McCuaig spoke of how this would be a “revenue neutral” undertaking. No additional trains will be operated. Whatever handful of commuters who now pay the full GO fare from Exhibition or Danforth to Union will get a big discount, but any new riders are found money for GO Transit. Whether this would be the case if the arrangement were extended throughout GO’s inner fare zones is another matter.

This is supposed to be a one-year pilot, and riders who originate in, say, Scarborough might reasonably ask why they have been left out in the cold even though there are many GO stations including those in the future SmartTrack corridor. How this pilot will establish much about the actual market for an integrated TTC/GO fare is a mystery, but the announcement provided yet another photo op for the politicians.

As of 1:45 pm on January 16, I await a formal response from Metrolinx to a query about the scope of the pilot and the absence from it of many potential stations.

Looking Back: Bloor-Danforth Shuttles

From February 1966 when the original Bloor-Danforth subway opened between Keele and Woodbine, and May 1968 when the extensions to Islington and Warden were added, two streetcar shuttles served the remaining outer part of the Bloor carline.

Looking at the old streetscapes, much remains familiar, but much has been lost especially to cheap rebuilds and infill developments.  Very much a vanished breed from this era are the car lots, gas stations, furniture stores and, in a few cases, houses.

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Bloor-Danforth Streetcar Shuttles: Demand Without Density

A frequent part of debates about technology choices and network planning is the premise that to succeed, rapid transit must be surrounded by high density development. This is an odd claim given the counter-examples available on Toronto.

The situation is more subtle, and “demand” turns not just on density adjacent to the line, but on its ability to act as a corridor drawing on feeder services to concentrate demand. Whether such concentration is “good” is another matter. Higher demand requires more infrastructure in the corridor and in a worst-case scenario, a line can run out of room. Two good examples in Toronto are the Yonge subway and Highway 401.

Focus on a single corridor can also distort travel patterns and network design. As a non-driver, I have often been amused by motorists who will go miles out of their way to use an expressway, only to find themselve trapped in a traffic jam. For transit riders, the need to force-feed rapid transit can interfere with travel that is not oriented to the primary trip pattern. Try getting around Scarborough if you are not bound for Kennedy or STC stations.

Recently, I was scanning another batch of old phographs and they reminded me of an even older example of high demand in a low density area: the streetcar shuttles on Bloor-Danforth that operated between the opening of the original Keele-Woodbine service, and the extensions a few years later to Islington-Warden. Neither Bloor West nor the Danforth — particularly in the late 1960s — were forests of high rise apartments. All the same, the shuttles had service, capacity and demand beyond that we see on any streetcar line today.

The Bloor West shuttle from Keele Station to Jane Loop operated with 17 cars at peak over a distance of only 2.1km at a headway of 1’07”. That’s 53.7 cars/hour for a design capacity of about 4,000/hr (based on about 75 riders per car) with headroom for peaks at a higher level.

The Danforth shuttle from Woodbine Station to Luttrell Loop operated with 12 cars on a 1.6km line at a headway of 1’30”. At 40 cars/hour this gave a design capacity of about 3,000/hr.

An important point about these shuttles is that the lion’s share of their traffic was bound to or from the subway, and local traffic was comparatively light. Many riders boarded inbound at the Jane and Luttrell terminals, and the streetcars were not attempting to serve very heavy demand from on-street stops. That demand depended on feeder bus services from what we now call “the inner suburbs”.

Moreover, the level of service on the outer ends of the old Bloor-Danforth streetcar route shows how considerable the demand was for these segments, even allowing for some added demand due to the subway’s presence.

The moral of this short article is that a transit network and its routes cannot be thought of with a simplistic model of transit stations surrounded by development. The larger context includes the diversity or concentration of demand patterns and the degree to which the network serves them.

In the next article, a look at Bloor West and The Danforth as they once were.

Correction January 6, 2015: In the original version of this article, I cited the number of cars/hour as the actual assignment of vehicles to each route. Thanks to John F. Bromley for catching this howling error.

Will We Ever See Our New Streetcars?

In the Financial Post, Peter Kuitenbrouwer reports on problems at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant.

It’s a sad tale of cock-ups with parts that don’t fit and claims that designing for Toronto’s streetcar environment is too challenging. Fortunately for Bombardier, they have not yet had to start producing the Metrolinx cars that should be an off-the-shelf design as a point of comparison.

Sorry, Bombardier, you bid on this contract, and you pass yourselves off as a world-class supplier. Stop complaining and start delivering.