TTC Ridership, Finances and Service as of November 2021

The agenda for the Toronto Transit Commission board meeting on November 29, 2021, is rather thin considering that the board has not met for some time, and there are major policy issues worth discussing about the system’s future.

Two major reports are:


TTC ridership continues to run below budget projections, although it has been growing. Recently it has been tracking near budgetary projections, but shortfalls during stay-at-home periods earlier in 2021 have kept the year-to-date total below expectations. Although we are now almost at the end of November, only data to the end of September are reported here.

Another view of ridership is based on “boardings” where each transfer (except between subway lines) counts as a new boarding. In transit parlance, these are “unlinked trips” as opposed to the “linked trips” that have traditionally been associated with individual fares paid. Even that gets tricky with passes including the two-hour transfer.

Relative to pre-pandemic demand, the bus network is at 55%, streetcars are at 42% and the subway is at 38%. Updated data showing recent experience would obviously be useful here to see whether riding has plateaued, or if it continues to grow, especially in light of recent service cuts.

Demand on Wheel-Trans is down substantially compared both to pre-pandemic times and to budget projections.

Bus occupancy has grown steadily over the year. An important point about the chart below is that it is measured trip-by-trip rather than being averaged over all trips on the system. What we do not know, however, is how many of these trips have high loads because the affected bus is running in a gap, and how many are because the service overall has less capacity than required for demand. Also, of course, we do not see the distribution of crowded trips by route or time-of-day.

An important issue here is that as overall demand recovers, the TTC plans to set its crowding targets progressively higher until they reach historical pre-pandemic levels. If service, and hence crowding, are irregular, then some buses will operate well beyond comfortable or attractive levels even as (and if) riders get more used to being in crowds.

Overcrowding was a constant complaint in pre-pandemic times, and Toronto should not aim simply to return to an overstuffed system. However, more service costs money and that is in short supply, even for politicians who are truly pro-transit at budget time.

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