The Evolution of TTC Ridership and Fares 2005-2018

Recent discussions about TTC ridership and fare evasion included references to the numbers of riders who use each fare medium, but this was not published in detail in reports and presentations.

The TTC publishes a breakdown of ridership through the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal including values for each type of fare annually back to 1985. Charts in this article use the data from 2005 onward. [Click on any chart to open an expanded version.]

Adult Fares

With the availability of Presto, Adult fare payments have been migrating to that medium for the past few years. The chart below shows the number of rides by fare type and the evolution of the preferred medium is clear over the years.

  • In 2005, the number of token fares (red) was lightly greater than the ticket fares (orange), but ticket use dropped off as this medium was withdrawn.
  • Metropass fares (dark blue, an estimated count of trips based on user diary records) grew  considerably to 2014, and then began to drop as Post Secondary passes (green) and later Presto (yellow) and Presto-based Monthly Passes (dark green) ate into Metropass usage.
  • Weekly passes have never accounted for much of the total. Other small fractions are broken out in a separate chart below.
  • Total Adult ridership has been falling since 2014, although this was masked in overall counts by the rise in Children’s trips with the advent of free travel.
  • Note that 2015 is shown with an asterisk. Ridership due to the Pan Am Games is not included in the totals to allow consistent year-over-year comparisons.
  • A Presto “SRVM” is a “Single Ride Vending Machine”.
  • Presto usage jumped substantially in early 2019 with the discontinuation of Metropasses, but this is not reflected in data to 2018 below.

The bands associated with monthly passes could overstate actual ridership depending on the accuracy of diary-based estimates. There is likely a drift between the ridership multiple (rides/pass) used to calculate the published figures and the actual ridership as discussed in my previous article about the Auditor General’s Report.

The data above show ridership values, and these are reformatted below as percentages of all Adult trips.

In order to make the low-usage media values clearer, the chart below includes only media for which less than five percent of Adult fares were paid with each type.

  • The Weekly Pass (turquoise) tops out at about 2.5% of all Adult fares in 2012 and then drops again on a clear downward trend by 2018. This pass will likely be replaced by some form of fare capping later in 2019, but there is no definite decision yet on this.
  • The two hour fare only came into use in mid 2018, and it does not yet represent a large number of trips. Indeed, counting these as “trips” is a challenge in comparison with the previous fare structure where a “free” transfer may have been valid, or not, depending on the nature of the trip.
  • The Presto Monthly Pass became available in mid-2018, but Metropass users opted not to convert to it in large numbers until 2019.

Senior and Student Fares

Seniors and Students receive approxiately a 1/3 discount over Adult fares at the ticket/token rate, although their discount for passes is lower. This means that more trips must be taken by a passholder to “break even” compared with paying by tickets.

  • There was a steady growth in Monthly Pass usage (dark blue) up to 2016 that was since reversed by Presto-based fares. Weekly passes (turquoise) accounted for a trivial number of trips.
  • Tickets (orange) and Cash (grey) have long been the dominant payment medium for this group of riders.
  • Presto fares (yellow) made a considerable inroad into ticket use in 2018.
  • Total ridership by Seniors and Students dropped slightly in 2018.

The chart below shows the same data as percentages of all Senior and Student fares.

The low-usage media for Seniors and Students are a small percentage of that market, which in turn is considerably smaller than the Adult fare market.


The advent of free rides for children 12 and under more than doubled the estimated riding from this group. Presto “children” (although there is some dispute about how many of these are genuine) have added a few more.


Finally we come to a collection of fare media that collectively account for a small and declining amount of total ridership. Day Pass usage has been dropping thanks to Presto, and this medium will disappear entirely later in 2019.

Total Ridership

The jump of over 10 million rides associated with free children’s travel offset a chunk of the adult ridership loss as noted above. This also partly blinded the TTC Board and Senior Management from what was happening to their system overall. The decline of total ridership began in 2017, but the Adult decline had already been underway since 2015.

The complete set of charts in PDF format is linked below.


9 thoughts on “The Evolution of TTC Ridership and Fares 2005-2018

  1. I have a few thoughts on the decline in ridership.

    The first thought centers on an aging demographic in the ridership population – is there a rise in demand for Wheel-Trans? Getting older happens, but seeing combined TTC/Wheel-Trans set of numbers would be interesting to see. I know demand for Wheel-Trans service is exploding, but by how much?

    Steve: Wheel-Trans demand is growing, but not at the rate the TTC originally expected with the more liberal eligibility rules. At the same time, they are trying to shift riders onto the conventional system with their “family of services” concept. This is not going down well with all WT users because they vary considerably in their ability to travel on the “conventional” system.

    The TTC plans to build the WT fleet up from about 250 today to over 400 by 2033 to accommodate growth, although as much of new demand will be handled with accessible taxis as possible. That said, WT is a tiny amount of riding compared to the conventional system.

    Statistical methodology – the TTC “estimate” of MetroPass use via a diary system has always seemed “fuzzy”. Now with Presto they are having to play with “harder” numbers.

    As per the Auditor General, fare evasion is larger than previously thought, and to muddy the waters even more is the issue of fare readers and fare gate reliability. Looks like the AG is on the case to fix these issues.

    Uber launched in late 2014 – could the rise of ride sharing be tied to the fall of ridership? Adding Lyft just exacerbates this diversion of ridership. Oops, there goes the transit monopoly; cabbies screamed, but the TTC was silent, why? Putting a leash on ride-sharing at this point would be difficult to impossible to do – wait, make them use Presto as a payment media so ridership can be tracked, the government could impose a “personal transit tax” to pay for the installation of readers, and maybe a small maintenance fee to keep them working…Presto fixo!

    Steve: I think that the effect of Uber and Lyft have been overstated as crutches on which TTC management can escape a proper discussion about service quality and quantity. As the AG reported, although calculated “ridership” is down, measured boardings are up showing that there is demand even though it suits budget planners to talk of falling ridership and hence less “demand” for service and subsidies.

    Lastly, poor service and overcrowding – the TTC tries to put a decent transit service on the road, but spending strangulation due to budget scrimping and political turf wars have strangled transit investment and development for years. Fixing overcrowding requires the political will to spend some bucks, but better line management should already be an achievable target. Management needs to put proper KPI’s in place and hit the goals. Buy some streetcars, there is latent demand hidden on the routes – Add cars and riders will come!

    On a different note, growth of the use of the 2 hour transfer will be interesting to watch. I know I tend to plan several little errands into a trip now… out to see the Lawyer, Bank, Lunch, Library, Shopping and home again, all done on one fare that used to take two or three.


  2. Just wondering what the numbers are for “didn’t pay”. Any discussion on that?

    Steve: As I have said to others in this thread, the numbers are the TTC’s posted values based on revenue, except for free children’s rides. By definition “didn’t pay” is not included.

    Also, these data were released via the Open Data portal, not as part of a meeting.


  3. What’s with that “postal carriers” fare from the misc rides chart? Did they use to deliver some mail via TTC?!

    Steve: The TTC was paid by the Post Office to carry its employees free.


  4. Though one hopes that the impact of the ‘didn’t pay’ is comparatively small, I suspect that it has increased as a percentage of all passengers in the last few years. We have recently seen a large number of decisions and problems that have almost certainly made fare evasion worse. All-door boarding, fare gate malfunction and absence, PRESTO problems etc. I suspect ridership HAS decreased but think it has not done so by as much as TTC ‘management’ say.


  5. I delivered mail back in the 1970’s or early 80’s over Christmas Break. I had some kind of TTC pass (I think it might have been a mailbag, but I am not sure) that allowed me to take the bus to the Post Office in the morning for free. However, my full time mailman wanted no part of the TTC. His route was planned with 45 minutes to and from the route, both morning and afternoon. The mailmen (all men in those days) had a contractual right to eat lunch in the PO. My mailman had a beat up old car that he parked around the corner. We got to the route in 5 or 10 minutes. This was against the rules, but enormously time effective. We were finished by about 10:30 or 11:00 and went to his apartment where we had some soup. Then we went to the PO where he played cards for a while and then back to the route in the beat up car. There was no requirement to report back to the PO after the route, so my kindly Postman dropped me at home by about 2:00. (We were paid to about 4:00)

    This whole episode was an illustration to my very pro transit beliefs at the time. Transit is not so effective in places like Northern Etobicoke. (Since then I have taken the precaution of not living in Northern Etobicoke – but rather in the City. However, this and other episodes have left an enduring understanding of the suffering that transit reliant riders go through in the suburbs. Especially when it is cold.)


  6. J Graham wrote:

    On a different note, growth of the use of the 2 hour transfer will be interesting to watch. I know I tend to plan several little errands into a trip now… out to see the Lawyer, Bank, Lunch, Library, Shopping and home again, all done on one fare that used to take two or three.

    I am wondering how much of a change can be seen in the numbers from this. While there will no doubt be many who will be able to take trips on a single fare that would have previously required multiple fares, there will also be a number of new fares paid where people previously would have NOT paid any fare. For example:

    1) Someone who runs an errand or errands that are close enough to walk, but long enough to be nice to use transit, but not at a cost of multiple fares. The 2-hour transfer now brings someone in this situation onto transit to pay a fare that would not have been there before.

    2) Someone who makes use of a stop-over to take care of something that can be done “on the way” as part of an already existing fare paid trip, where the stop would usually not end up generating an additional fare as it would dealt with differently.

    I mention these two examples as they are ones that have personally experienced, there are likely other scenarios that either make no difference in fare revenue or perhaps have a positive effect that may work towards balancing out any negative effects. The trouble is in looking at the numbers that Presto will generate is that there is no way to tell what was happening prior to the 2-hour transfer that changes with its introduction.

    In addition to this, there is likely a significant number of trips taken just as they were before the 2-hour transfer, only now they are officially legal where they were not before. I am speaking of the “creative” use of transfers that many used to do to get an extra boarding or two for free that were not technically allowed under the old rules that are now fine under the new rules. This does not increase nor decrease the amount of fares collected and there is practically no way to track it for comparison.

    While I don’t suspect that new revenues from the benefit of a 2-hour transfer will make much of a dent in the losses from it, I suspect a significant change in revenue will come from pass users who will find that their travel patterns make for a less expensive month using the 2-hour transfer capabilities of pay-as-you-go less expensive than pre-purchasing a monthly pass.


  7. J Graham suggested using Presto for Uber, Lyft, etc. How about using Presto for grocery, restaurants, etc as well? It would be ridiculous to impose a failed public sector system (Presto) upon the private sector which already has successful payment systems that already work 100% of the time. If I were Uber, I would not mind adopting Presto as long as the taxpayers make up for 100% of my losses due to malfunctioning Presto devices.

    P.S: Just so that J Graham knows the customer NEVER interacts with any Uber/Lyft driver for payment purposes.


  8. @John – just as soon as Uber/Lyft make up TTC’s losses caused by the traffic congestion their drivers cause 🙂

    Check out Ossington on any Thursday night to see buses trying to weave their way though a sea of U-turns and four-way flashers stopped half in the lane (or entirely in the lane)

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