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.
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.
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.
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.