TTC Plans Service Cuts and Layoffs (Updated)

Updated April 27, 2020 at 11:10 am: A modified and expanded version of this article appears on the NOWToronto website.

In response to a steep fall in ridership, the TTC plans to implement service cuts and reduce its staff complement by layoffs.

Service capacity will be reduced to match demand, taking into account the need for physical distancing by riders. Many of the changes have already occurred as the TTC dealt with staff shortages from illness and quarantine, but this will make the changes official within the schedules. These include reduced service levels and the end of many peak period services. The 14x and 9xx series of express services have already been discontinued, along with the 508 Lake Shore Tripper. Other cuts are likely such as “school trippers” for which there are no students, and the rush hour bus extras on streetcar routes.

Full details of service changes to take effect on the Victoria Day weekend will be released by the TTC on May 4, according to TTC spokesperson Stuart Green. Service will be maintained “at roughly 70-80 per cent of regular levels” according to the TTC’s news release. “Particular focus remains on servicing priority routes within the bus network in a way that allows for good physical distancing.”

The May schedules are traditionally a point where the first wave of summer cuts are implemented (those related to post-secondary institutions), and the second wave normally comes at the end of June. The reduction in service allows for a greater proportion of vacations in the summer months, but with layoffs, the drop is clearly going to be more than Toronto normally sees during this season.

About 1,000 transit operators and 200 non-union staff positions will be affected by the layoff. According to a letter from CEO Rick Leary to all staff, “The TTC will be working to establish a compensation and benefits arrangement for employees to minimize negative impacts as a result of the layoffs.”

Other changes to address the budget crunch brought on by lost fare revenue include “pausing” all non-union salary increases, reducing overtime, reviewing all vacant positions, and going without the usual summer seasonal hiring.

On the capital side of the budget, all “non-essential” projects will be delayed, but the TTC has not published a list of what this entails.

Combined with other savings such as utilities and fuel thanks to the reduced level of operations, the TTC expects to reduce its ongoing losses by $25 million per month from the current level of $90 million.

It is no surprise that the Amalgamated Transit Local 113 is not happy with this situation. Carlos Santos, president of Local 113, wrote to his members:

This is the “thank you” our members get for sacrificing themselves day in and day out for putting their families and themselves at risk. No doubt, this feels like a punch to the gut after all the hard work our members are doing to keep Toronto moving throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Almost 30 of you have tested positive for COVID-19. You deserve better than today’s announcement. The federal and provincial governments need to step in and provide emergency relief funding for the TTC.

This speaks to the heart of the issue: the level at which governments other than the City of Toronto itself will act to support transit through this difficult time. Even with the decline in economic activity and travel, the need for physical distancing by riders dramatically lowers the capacity of transit service, and this drives up the cost per ride substantially. The question is what is the appropriate balance between keeping a transit at a level that actually serves the many who still require it, and reining in costs. Even at only 20 percent of its normal demand, the TTC carries hundreds of thousands of trips per day and these cannot be replaced easily or economically by other modes. For many, many Torontonians, travel is built on transit.

One substantial problem for the TTC in reviewing potential service cuts is that the subway network has a considerable, fixed cost regardless of how many riders it carries. Infrastructure must be maintained and kept safe, and standby technical staff must be available to handle a wide variety of problems. Operators driving the trains are only part of the total needed for all aspects of subway operations.

That has implications for surface routes which are always the poor cousins of transit service. Whether the cuts will fall disproportionately there as they did in past recessions remains to be seen.

19 thoughts on “TTC Plans Service Cuts and Layoffs (Updated)

  1. So what exactly types of cuts the TTC will make? Like frequency reductions or removal of periods of service (For example removing late evening weekend service from 51 Leslie or 61 Avenue Road North)??

    Steve: They have not yet announced details, but Stuart Green has said that it will mainly be wider headways and the removal of scheduled tripper and express services that has already happened to a fair extent.

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  2. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your post. I was wondering if you knew how long it took for regular service levels to resume following SARS?

    Also, I read Leary’s statement in full but could not find anything about those red aproned info reps who I still to this very day see at Bloor-Yonge station despite their being no subway closure. Any word on whether these info people are also getting the boot?

    Steve: The longer recovery was after the depths of the mid-90s recession which was followed by that penny-pinching ass Mike Harris who slashed municipal spending generally. Even after the Liberals replaced him, McGuinty never raised subsidies to previous levels, and it fell to the city to pick up the slack. It took over a decade to completely recover, and even then the TTC was hampered by constrained subsidies and an inability to grow service. Oh yes, and Rob Ford.

    And so the length of a recovery is as much a political issue as anything. Once we get back to the point that people trust transit as a safe mode of transport at more traditional crowding levels, will we have enough transit to attract them? That depends a lot on both the economy and on whoever is in power when we get there. I am not optimistic because there will be an overhang of debt and reduced business activity for quite a while that will make transit one of those things we can’t afford “this year”.

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  3. Peter, SARS held no comparison to what we are going through now. Stores and businesses were not locked down and social distancing was unheard of. I’m almost 78 years old and never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this. No one no one could have. And just as amazing is the fact that the whole world is going through the same thing. It is in this unique context that these service cuts are taking place.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. At this point I would fully support the ATU walking out.

    Yes, I am aware of the legal position, but this is getting outrageous. Out one side of it’s mouth the TTC is scolding riders for getting on crowded vehicles at the same time it lays off staff, ignores its collective agreements (yes, I KNOW the premier authorized this. I would argue illegally given the limits in the Emergency Act) and refuses to either pay severance or give laid off operators recall dates.

    Steve: The last thing the city needs is a major labour disruption. The problem is to define what the issues are and get them fixed. What I find quite striking is the utter absence of anyone at the TTC Board level appearing to have any involvement. It’s all up to Rick Leary and TTC management who are not noted for their gracious approach to labour relations.

    The Chair of the TTC has been off sick for months, and the Vice Chair is nowhere to be seen. If the Board as a whole has met, it has been a secret.

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  5. The TTC (and GO) have the highest farebox recovery ratio in North America for transit agency. (TTC was 68.0% revenue from the farebox in 2018.) That means MOST of the revenue comes from fares. If there are less fares, there is less revenue coming in. Other transit agencies (IE. Los Angeles with 23% from the farebox in 2016) get more “revenue” from their city, province/state, or federal governments than Toronto does. Toronto would be more affected by the drop of ridership than other agencies.

    Want to stop the layoffs, increase the subsidy.

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  6. Peter The 2002-2004 SARS and the 2009-2010 H1N1 swine flu outbreaks (the H1N1 virus which was also considered a global pandemic, which at the time coincided with the global economic crisis, which was not related to the H1N1 virus) definitely has no comparisons as opposed to what the TTC facing with today with this 2019-present COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 is definitely the most devastating viruses that the world has never ever gone through before (ever since humans have been around at least).

    During both the SARS and the H1N1 virus outbreaks, most non-essential business remained open and no social distancing rules were implemented and so most TTC routes had no changes to their regular service schedules at the time. If you do some research (such as via Google) and compare this current COVID-19 crisis, with the previous epidemics such as H1N1 and SARS virus outbreaks, they were nothing anywhere as unprecedented as opposed to COVID-19 in terms of impacts on our life style.

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  7. I also feel that Tory’s message was flawed sure he is added money to service but service improvements really haven’t happened since 2016. Also reallocation which shouldn’t count we need more respect for transit users and better service. I feel that either a gridlock tax or something like that needs to be implemented and money from federal and provincial governments needs to occur. On top of that the TTC is like a puzzle each route accomplished a lot for the city and this route v. route allocation is very damaging.

    Steve: The number of buses operating in March 2020 is higher than in March 2016, although some of that change is due to longer running times, not to more frequent service. As I wrote a while ago, almost all of the “improvements” claimed by the TTC in 2019 were headway widenings accompanied by stretched running times. (See the series “When Better Service Isn’t”.)

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  8. A few things: yes, transit is subsidized, but so are cars, but their subsidies are usually well spread out in multiple budgets to the point of being hidden. As an idea of magnitude: a bit from a 1996 Globe said Vancouver had studied this, and found there was a $2700 per car gifting each year; 7 times more than transit was subsidized. And we don’t have all that much user pay for the cars either, not really. One larger area of current concern is the healthcare challenge from unchecked automobility: crashes are costly, and road safety should be a high priority in order to preserve hospital capacity, along with lives.

    The majority of Council will not be willing to get the votorists to pay anywhere close to what transit riders pay in fares of course. And tolls seem to be a non-starter unless we have a VRT to share the payin’.- plus of course, the carservatives at Queens Park might have something to jump on, right?

    But we need to have the service levels stay up for essential services, and it’s also a respect for the existing staff too. So one logical area for cuts would be to the Sheppard stubway – why not replace it with buses? And do we really need to have the new Spadina Extension go all the way north past York U?

    And if the City or anyone is interested in squeezing the billions, there’s a fresh report from RCCAO done by Stephen Wickens about overall costs of subway infrastructures in GTA, and let’s hope it finally sinks a couple of stinker projects, relatively.

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  9. I don’t think that after this pandemic that people will ever be as comfortable being crammed together on public transit as before. I think that the ridership is down permanently.

    Steve: There is a much bigger issue of all the places and events people travel to and whether the level of crowding there will be acceptable. Thousands of people in a theatre or stadium is a scene we are not likely to see for a while. Add to that schools and offices where ventillation can often leave a lot to be desired.

    There is no point in driving in the splendid isolation of one’s car to an event where one will share the air with far more people than would fit on a transit vehicle.

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  10. Mr hamish wilson: one logical area for cuts would be to the Sheppard stubway – why not replace it with buses? And do we really need to have the new Spadina Extension go all the way north past York U?

    I agree with Mr wilson. The Sheppard subway should be closed. GO trains are skipping the York University station as the campus is under lockdown with literally every door of every building being locked 24/7 for well over a month. Why are TTC trains not skipping the York University station? The University subway should be cut back to Sheppard West (formerly Downsview) station.

    As Clement points out, the demand for transit has been permanently reduced. Under these circumstances, there is no longer any need for a Downtown Relief Line. We also do not need a second platform at Yonge station due to the permanently reduced demand. All this means that, the Yonge subway extension and the Scarborough subway extension can go ahead without needing a Downtown Relief Line as a prerequisite and without needing a second platform at Yonge station as a prerequisite.

    Steve: Not so fast. Your two pet projects suffer from the same shortcomings as the lines you would mothball or cancel. The North Yonge subway snuck onto the table, politically, after the big riding losses of the 1990s recession where there was lots of “surplus” room for the additional riders. Your premise, that transit demand is permanently reduced, cuts both ways. The Scarborough subway is of dubious value already, and the projected ridership on it depends on growth in years to come that may never happen, if we believe your premise.

    But it’s a nice try.

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  11. I am very concerned about further cuts into 2021.

    The rise of telecommuting for the professional class and increasing competition among ride shares could lead to transit cuts that will disproportionately hurt low income and immigrant workers in low-paying sectors where working from home is not an option.

    Steve: Yes, this is a major issue. So much of the political side of transit planning is focused on core-oriented commuting that trips elsewhere which tend moreso to be those in the groups you describe get the short end of the stick even at the best of times. There is a risk of transit being seen as something for the less well off, and therefore less deserving on investment of political capital like so many other services.

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  12. Based on the number of deaths by COVID-19, based on age, shouldn’t the more senior of the TTC staff VOLUNTEER to accept the temporary layoffs? Currently, the employees with seniority usually stay on, but they are also more vulnerable than the more junior employees?

    Steve: Unless you assume that the more senior TTC employees are all over 65, you are misrepresenting the info in the stats.

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  13. Walter Lis: Based on the number of deaths by COVID-19, based on age, shouldn’t the more senior of the TTC staff VOLUNTEER to accept the temporary layoffs? Currently, the employees with seniority usually stay on, but they are also more vulnerable than the more junior employees?

    So, you want to lay off an operator with 30 years experience for someone who has been working for 3 days? It makes no sense. Seniority matters. Those with more experience should be kept and those with less experience should be laid off. The young ones are not immune to the disease. Besides young employees often have young kids which is why young employees should accept the layoffs whereas older employees should be kept as their kids are already grown up.

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  14. Clement said: “I don’t think that after this pandemic that people will ever be as comfortable being crammed together on public transit as before.”

    I would think the impact on the road network will be much worse. I mean, you are going to have to convince people that traffic jams at rush hour are normal after the pandemic.

    Steve: Please substitute any major sporting event of your choice for “transit”, or even “the beach”. I think once there is little or no danger in close quarters, crowding will return. The big problem is how we handle the interval between now and then, and have transit as a viable service afterward.

    There are many politicians, not to mention a few industries, that will be more than happy to feed the “end of transit” story to suit their own biases. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in parts of the world where transit is regarded and funded as an essential service as opposed to North America where, for the most part, it is a vestige of bygone days, a service for the “not us”.

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  15. I think this pandemic is going to change a lot of things. I know I’m probably preaching to the converted, but judging by some of the comments I’ve seen on here on twitter and in other blogs, people will have to realize how they treat transit will have an impact on anything where crowds gather. If we continue to have social distancing on buses and trains, don’t expect to be crammed in the Scotiabank Arena screaming at the Leafs/Raptors or jumping up and down to Ariana Grande. As it seems that a lot of European countries are starting to mandate people wear masks when using transit, then it better be mandated too to those crammed in stadiums, clubs and theatres thus impacting their sales of over priced food and beer (I don’t want to think how they will handle washrooms). Who’s going to win over the day, it won’t be transit users.

    Steve: Until there is no mandatory quarantine for 14 days after crossing the border, you are not going to see any sports teams or entertainment celebrities venturing to Canada unless they feel really, really committed.

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  16. Will all of these people eventually be re-hired by the TTC or will some of these job losses be permanent?

    Steve: That depends on how soon the TTC builds up to something close to full service, plus the effect of retirements and resignations creating vacancies. And biggest of all, the willingness of governments to continue funding the service during a period when people are uncertain about any crowded places.

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  17. I wonder if some of these layoffs and service cuts might need to be permanent. Experts are saying that there will be a permanent reduce in transit ridership as more people switch to cars due to a high risk of pandemics on transit. The need for a Downtown Relief Line should be re-evaluated as it is not wise to waste 25 billion dollars when we might not even need the Downtown Relief Line anymore.

    Steve: I think that this is going to be a staged recovery, and how quickly we get through each stage is hard to tell now. If we don’t get beyond where we are now, with public activity and basic functions like jobs and school impossible, then we are screwed on a much deeper level than transit service.

    There will be an interim point where more people are travelling and must do so by transit because they don’t have an alternative, and it will be challenging to provide capacity with distancing. Yes, more will drive, but not everyone. Even if the TTC got back to say 40 per cent of traditional demand, that is still twice what they carry today and some routes/periods have crowding problems.

    Will we get back to 100 per cent? Maybe, eventually, although that will require a return of the economy and probably some growth to offset permanent shifts.

    Then comes the question of priority for transit, something that’s hard to argue for when it carries few people. There is more demand and justification in parts of the city right now for pedestrian and cycling space to expand, and until traffic comes back to something like its old level, transit priority is less of an issue. Just look at the reductions in running times for the May schedules for starters.

    I suspect we have seen the last of the Premium Express bus routes for some time because the premise that they relieve the base system (dubious at the best of times) is meaningless now, and we really need to take a cold hard look at vehicle utilization. Express buses on regular routes are another matter, and the big problem there is, of course, that the “Express Network” was little more than existing “E” branches repackaged with new route numbers. Demand patterns are important too, and until we see more service and higher passenger loads, we are better with all the buses running local.

    New rapid transit lines? Until recently, a big issue for planners was that demand levels forecast for 2040 looked like they would materialize by 2030. I think we have a bit of a breather there. I get really annoyed with subways as job creation because (a) they create lines we have to operate at a big loss (TYSSE for example), and (b) these are expensive jobs to create by comparison with sending money to existing companies and their workers as a business recovery plan.

    Will those laid off be recalled? The speed depends partly on how quickly we get through the recovery stages, although there is always attrition. 1,200 people is a lot of attrition, I know, but those who are laid off should have first call on positions opening up again. The real issue is whether governments will support the TTC well enough that there is a system to come back to, or an endless downward spiral.

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  18. I have heard* that the system has lots of fare evasion and worse behaviour than usual, by those who are using the system. The blame, as usual, goes to those homeless and drug addicts….

    I wonder if you have heard anything, or if there have been any staff reports, on any increase in security events on the system?

    *[Citation needed]

    Steve: There have been no staff reports on anything.

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