TTC Changes Fare Collection, Trims Service – But What of the Future?

Updated March 28, 2020: The TTC has changed its policy for Wheel-Trans and now only accepts payment by Presto. See the March 27 update for Wheel-Trans.

The TTC implemented several changes to its fare policies and service in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Their focus is on protection of workers and passengers by physical distancing and eliminating most interaction between them.

Fares & Fare Collection

All bus passengers will board and leave via the rear door except for riders who require the access ramp at the front door. Operators will keep their protective barriers closed, and the fare boxes will not be available.

On buses except for Wheel-Trans, the TTC will not accept cash, tokens or tickets and will not issue paper transfers. Only Presto will be accepted. Streetcar and subway riders can use fare machines.

The TTC asks that riders pay with Presto “where available”, but it is unclear whether riders without cards will ride free. The Star’s Ben Spurr quotes TTC spokesperson Stuart Green:

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said riders who don’t have Presto will be asked to pay when they arrive at their destination if they’re headed to a subway station.

He declined to answer directly when asked whether riders who don’t have Presto and don’t pay will face a fine from transit officers, but said the “focus of fare inspectors right now is on customer service and education.”

Updated March 24 at 2:12 pm: An exchange on Twitter:

But how does one board a bus if cash is not being accepted?

@TTCHelps: You can just walk on. No one will stop you. We’d like you to pay your cash fare at a connecting station or streetcar if possible.

A well-known problem with Presto is that places where riders can obtain one and load money are much thinner on the ground that the old TTC ticket agent network, particularly in the suburbs where bus transportation dominates.

The deadline for cancelling the auto-renew on monthly or 12 month passes on Presto has been extended to 11:59 pm, Friday, March 27. The TTC will waive cancellation fees, although Presto might still issue an automated warning email.

Service Changes

Because weekday ridership has dropped by over 70 per cent, the TTC is reviewing its resource requirements. The following routes no longer operate, and their vehicles will be reallocated where needed.

  • All 900-series express bus routes, except for the 900 Airport, 903 Kennedy-Scarborough Town Centre, and 927 Highway 27.
  • All 140-series Downtown express routes.
  • The 176 Mimico GO bus and 508 Lake Shore streetcars.

The 503 Kingston Road route had been cut back to a shuttle between Queen & Kingston Road and Bingham Loop at Victoria Park. The extra service it provides on Queen and King Streets is not needed. An obvious future change would be to run the evening/weekend configuration of the 22A Coxwell Bus during all hours. This sort of tweak will no doubt be repeated in other parts of the system.

Regular service will continue every 10 minutes or better on most of the affected routes, for now.

Vehicle arrival predictions will be out of whack until the online schedules are updated to match the revised services.

A full list of changes is on the TTC’s website.

Falling Revenue & Future Cuts

The TTC reported a loss of $14 million in revenue for last week, and the number has increased since to $20 million. Sustaining this would require massive increases in subsidies at a time governments are stretched to cover health care and income support costs. There is also the inevitable “why should we pay for Toronto” political attitude that ignores Toronto’s contribution to provincial finances.

Although service levels must allow for physical distancing, further transit cutbacks are inevitable. This could also trigger a vicious cycle where transit becomes unattractive to all but those who have no choice to use it.

Depending on the money available to the TTC, the network could be fundamentally changed in various ways:

  • Severe cuts or elimination of peak service on many routes if demand will fit, allowing for safe distancing between passengers, in off-peak levels.
  • Reduction of subway service and possible shutdown of portions of routes during certain periods.

TTC ridership is running at somewhere between 20 and 30 per cent of normal levels, although this will not be evenly distributed across routes and time periods. Should the TTC drop back to a lower service level akin to Saturday or Sunday service? What should be the service standard for crowding given the need for a 2 metre distance between riders? Can the Ten Minute Network be maintained, and what happens to other routes?

The subway is a special challenge because keeping it open has a considerable base cost independent of service levels. Maintenance workers must be available to keep the track, signals and electrical power supply in condition and fix them when, as always happens, things go wrong. Tunnels and stations have their own systems including ventillation, pumps to deal with ground water, escalators and elevators for accessibility, and of course all of the infrastructure to collect fares.

About one third of the TTC’s operating budget goes to the subway and of that, at least one third are the fixed costs independent of service, probably more. The staff driving trains are only a small part of the total complement who make the subway system run. Signals must work even if there are only a handful of trains on the line. Open stations must be staffed, and even if hours were cut back, their systems must work reliably for passengers when they do.

There are hard practical and political decisions to be made about which services will run, where and how often, not to mention where transit fits in the pecking order of essential services.

Closing the Subway to Accelerate Capital Programs

This is an example of how everything in a transit system is linked together, and one cannot “solve” a perceived problem without considering how one change triggers many others.

Former TTC Chair Adam Giambrone suggested in social media that the subway could be shut down and this would allow state of good repair work such as ATC signal upgrades to be accelerated. He claimed that articulated buses running every 3 minutes or so could replace the subway. But it’s not that simple.

The TTC currently fields about 100 artics. If we are taking safe distancing of passengers and the operator seriously, a maximum capacity would be little more than half a seated load or 25-30 people. On a three minute headway, that translates to only 600 passengers per hour.

The night bus service probably indicates the speed a bus service could attain at best case assuming there is little competing traffic on the streets. The existing 320 Yonge bus operates every 3’30” and requires 26 vehicles to cover its distance from Queens Quay to Steeles. Better service and higher capacity would require more vehicles, and of course the subway network is more than just Yonge Street.

The artics, of course, would come from other routes where they would be replaced with lower-capacity standard buses.

Finally, it is not clear that the technical staff exist to accelerate programs like the ATC upgrade, nor how safely a larger workforce could be deployed. Track and other repairs have their own cadres of skilled workers, and one cannot simply expand the pace of their work. The subway infrastructure itself must remain operational if only for work and test trains.

Service Reliability

At a time of crisis, it will seem churlish to mention this, but if transit service is to be cut, the TTC absolutely must address the problem of service reliability.

If ten minutes headways become a “good” service, and less important routes run less often, then it is essential that “on time” means just that.

The TTC makes a limited attempt at service regularity and monitors on time departures from terminals with a standard that allows wide variation and bunching. There is almost no headway management along routes.

Riders should not face the combined effect of wider headways and irregular service, but that, sadly, is what we are likely to see because the reporting metrics are designed to make management look good while hiding the true quality of service.


The schedules for March 29 are all set to go with the crews having been signed up weeks ago, but the TTC is already dealing with staff shortages leading to the service trimming outlined above. The next change comes in mid-May when we are likely to see much more extensive effects of the lost revenue coupled with whatever extra subsidy appears (or not).

System maintenance and management are also affected. Buses don’t get out on the street without regular maintenance, and the pro-active fix-before-break could be a casualty. If that happens, the problem snowballs as buses fail more often.

Streetcars may not be everyone’s favourite vehicle, but they have the advantage of size and an isolated operator cab. Any move to “simplify” the system by moving to an all-bus operation would be counterproductive.

Whither the TTC?

Toronto faces a deep reduction in transit riding for many months until it is safe again for people to be out-and-about even on a limited basis. The travel demands which transit serves will take even longer to fully return, and some may simply disappear.

It is ironic that only weeks ago we were still debating the merits of various transit expansion plans, how much service we should run, and how subsidies should be divided between better service and reduced fares. That sort of debate is almost quaint today, but when life returns to “normal”, these questions will remain.

Meanwhile stay safe, and thank everyone who is providing those services we all need.

13 thoughts on “TTC Changes Fare Collection, Trims Service – But What of the Future?

  1. Finally, it is not clear that the technical staff exist to accelerate programs like the ATC upgrade, nor how safely a larger workforce could be deployed. Track and other repairs have their own cadres of skilled workers, and one cannot simply expand the pace of their work. The subway infrastructure itself must remain operational if only for work and test trains.

    This alone nixes the idea. Giambrone’s idea was at least creative, but even if it could work, plunging into it at a time where so much else is unknown is a recipe for failure.

    At this point in time, with no clear indication when ‘things can return to normal’, best to leave well-enough alone. It remains to be seen if and when demand for ATC to increase throughput is necessary.

    Toronto faces a deep reduction in transit riding for many months until it is safe again for people to be out-and-about even on a limited basis. The travel demands which transit serves will take even longer to fully return, and some may simply disappear.

    Hardly a unique thought on my part, but it might be necessary to ‘start all over again’ (yet again) when things do pick-up.


  2. “At a time of crisis, it will seem churlish to mention this, but if transit service is to be cut, the TTC absolutely must address the problem of service reliability. If ten minutes headways become a “good” service, and less important routes run less often, then it is essential that “on time” means just that.”

    This is so important. Right now with ridership at a minimum there is still bunching. This morning I saw three 504s in a row whip past on King Street by Parliament as I approached the stop. NextBus informed me the closest cars were now one of three idling in the Cherry loop, or one coming south down Broadview, which was then at Gerrard. It took 9 minutes for the next one to finally arrive. I guess the managers are all off work and service is now left to deteriorate to whatever extent the operators feel like?


  3. Honestly I’m feeling like the biggest threat right now is the cuts implemented for the crisis becoming normalized. Above all else I want to see measure that ensure that a return to the pre-cut levels is the default position. If we spend the next ten years trying to recover service that disappeared overnight the impact will be worse than anything Harris did.


  4. “But What of the Future?”

    Could this be an opportunity to seek the co-operation of ATU Local 113 and its members to take some leadership on service?

    Ask members to show they care. At this time of low ridership and pending service cuts do something. Examples:

    Do NOT follow another bus/streetcar through a traffic signal bumper-to-bumper. Pull into a bus bay (if there is one) with your 4-way signals on and sit there regardless if you are On Time or “down”.

    Do NOT run “sharp”. Ease off on the accelerator.

    Then, if that is successful there are other things.


  5. I couldn’t agree more with Raymond. With the extremely low levels of traffic on our streets over the past week, there is really no excuse, absolutely none at all, for buses or streetcars to be bunching up and running in pairs or in threes. Even if there is no line management happening (is there ever?), that’s still not an excuse. With the schedules all out of whack right now, if you’re a driver that’s directly behind another bus, stop and wait a few minutes. Make, at the very least, a basic effort to space out service.


  6. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your analysis. I wonder how the TTC is experiencing an operator shortage when 121 new drivers were budgeted in the 2020 operating budget. Haven’t they hired the 121 drivers yet? I thought McNicoll was slated to open in about two months (June 2020). It would seem that January would have been an opportune time to hire them and gradually train them so that they’d be ready by about now, nearing the end of March.

    Steve: I think McNicoll’s opening date was pushed to the fall, and so the TTC probably has not gone through the full staffing process for the 121 new operators.


  7. Some commenters have suggested that COVID-19 is going to delay or cancel the Scarborough subway extension but COVID-19 is going to delay or cancel your favourite transit project too and not just the Scarborough subway extension.

    Steve: This is entirely likely.


  8. Paul Harper suggests that lots of projects are potentially delayed – but it’s also possible that we might select value for billion$, as now – despite the great $loshes – we also might be needing to squeeze expenditures a bit, especially if something smarter is available sooner. And yes, while we haven’t opted for even exploring surface options, or even a mere study of a Vehicle Registration Tax, cheaper, faster-done, and still effective surface options do exist.

    Even in Scarborough – like the Gatineau hydro corridor for some form of transit, and buses are easy to hop on and off and keep on going on whatever route it is.

    And speaking of Scarborough, have a look at the 2001 Bike Plan – an on-road network for hardly the cost of some cancellation fees.


  9. After 35 years of reacting skeptically to everything the TTC says, seemingly always with justification, why now do you not merely accept everything the TTC says but use their own terminology without examining it?

    What precisely does “reallocated” mean? Will there be a 508 streetcar, a perennial topic of discussion for you, or not?

    If the front door of a bus is to be used solely for the ramp, which is not an “accessibility ramp” any more than an elevator is an “accessible [sic] feature” (further unexamined TTC vernacular), what exactly happens when an old lady, or anybody else with bad knees, hips, or back, needs the kneeling function?

    You can intelligently analyze present and future operation of the 503, the Romulus to the 502 Remus, both of which are due for reassessment if not “reallocation.” But what happens with the majority of Wheel-Trans rides, which are contracted out to taxis (typically beaten-up Camrys) and which typically carry two or three passengers? (Who, two drivers have told me, often start arguments with each other?)

    Are all Wheel-Trans rides now fulfilled by ProMasters and Friendlys? If not, is there now a limit of one passenger at a time in the already-too-small ProMasters, and two at a time in Friendlys?

    Why, 35 years into your tenure as the only, indeed the only, thoroughly informed TTC critic, are you not asking real questions?

    Who else is on your banned-commenter list?

    Steve: And so after a long silence, we hear again from Joe Clark.

    Not asking real questions? Where have you been?

    I made it quite clear that the TTC, during a period when they don’t need all of the scheduled service, started by paring away things like peak period overlays, of which the 508 is one, but also all of the express bus network.

    As for the 502/503, the TTC has been thinking of consolidating them as one route for some time, and included this (with only the 503 surviving) in a draft of what the streetcar system might look like once we had enough cars to fully populate it. I published that map last year, although warned that it was only a proposal.

    As to vehicle capacity, that is a general issue for both the “conventional” system (yes, TTC terminology) and Wheel Trans. The TTC has yet to publish detailed demand stats, but I cannot help noticing that they advise riders to let “full” vehicles pass them by (indeed operators have the option of skipping stops) and this implies that not every bus has only a handful of riders on it.

    I doubt that a bus operator would force a senior to use the rear door if they need a kneeling bus. Those rear doors can be a real pain especially if the bus does not pull into the curb.

    The banned commenter list includes a few people who post quite regularly under assumed names but with quite consistent and vile messages that I will not repeat here.

    Updated 5:20 pm May 27: The TTC’s Stuart Green advises that with the drop in demand on Wheel-Trans, the TTC is able to provide a one rider per vehicle service. I would be interested in hearing from any WT users if this is not actually what is happening.


  10. Steve reported: “On buses except for Wheel-Trans, the TTC will not accept cash, tokens or tickets…”

    Even though I don’t use Wheel-Trans, I am on its mailing list for some unknown reason. A March 24 email from the TTC to its Wheel-Trans customers said:

    “Until further notice, no cash fares, tokens, or TTC tickets will be accepted on Wheel-Trans and contracted sedan taxis. Customers can still pay with a PRESTO card or PRESTO ticket.”

    Steve: It appears that the TTC has changed its policies. My information was taken straight from the press release.

    The prohibition on cash and tickets appears on a March 27 Wheel Trans update. I will update the article. Thanks for letting me know about this.


  11. Steve said: “Open stations must be staffed”. But why? If the TTC can discontinue accepting cash, tickets and tokens and issuing paper transfers on buses, why couldn’t it do so at subway stations and on streetcars?

    It seems unfortunate that the collector booths were closed at some subway stations as these could have offered some virus protection for collectors posted at the gates.

    Steve: Even without covid-19, the TTC’s whole redeployment of station collectors was confused. The primary reason for having a collector is so that somebody is in the station, but obviously they would be safer (and more comfortable during bad weather) inside the booths.


  12. There is nothing wrong with being critical. A large organization like the TTC needs critics who will hold its feet to the fire, not because the staff are uncaring morons, but because it is the nature of people in large organizations to forget sometimes what it’s like “outside the bubble.”

    However, balance is important in every issue, and transit is no different. The TTC has not always conducted its business as well as it should, and there is much that needs to improve. Steve’s work in this area is important. By the same token (transit pun intended), the TTC isn’t a deep state of idiots intent on screwing everyone who uses the system, as tempting as it is to dismiss it that way. There is much that the TTC does right — that this is seldom specifically recognized is the nature of the business.

    There are a lot of well-deserved thank-you’s going around these days, but few have been directed towards the TTC workers who have been quietly keeping the service going through this crisis. The TTC, unlike many of its counterparts around the country, has done its best not to cut large amounts of service, despite huge drops in ridership and revenue, and to continue to transport anyone that wants or needs a ride. Yes, there are some photos of buses without social distancing, but the alternative would be for that bus operator to have left a lot of people standing at the stops, waiting for the next, less full bus. For the operators, it’s a rock and a hard place, and not all customers will agree with their actions all the time.

    As Steve mentioned, maintaining current levels of service isn’t financially sustainable if this crisis drags on, but there are a lot of people at the TTC working to maintain a viable public service under unprecedented conditions. Decisions they make, including communications with their customers, in this crisis should be subject to examination, as always, but I fail to see the value of debates over semantics such as “accessible ramps” and “beaten up Camrys.” There are less disdainful ways to express genuine concerns about service details. Once this pandemic crisis is over, there will be more than enough substantive material for all transit critics to get their teeth into. For now, I add my thanks to the staff and management of the TTC for continuing their work under trying conditions.


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