The TTC Board agenda for its April 14, 2022 meeting includes two reports that show the current status of ridership, as well as the financial situation both for 2021 and 2022.
- Chief Executive Officer’s Report
- Financial and Major Projects Update for the Period Ended December 31, 2021
It is possible that some of this will be updated in the staff presentation at the meeting, and if so, I will revise this article.
With various waves of Covid-19 and associated shutdowns, ridership has not been recovering at the rate hoped for when the 2022 budget was prepared. That budget was amended during its trip through City Council to take into account lower projected demand through at least the first part of 2022.
Through early and mid-2021, ridership was below budget, but caught up again later in the year. This still left 2021 overall with a shortfall.
The effect of Omicron shows up in comparing the originally budgeted ridership (yellow) with the projected approved by Council (red) and with actual results to date (blue). Depending on the evolving health situation, the actuals could catch up to the original budget sooner than expected, but this could also leave a deficit for the year as a whole depending what happens in coming months.
The ridership habit is changing for the better in a small way. The proportion of riders using passes or who tapped 10 times or more per week rose in February from 16% to 19% with a corresponding drop in occasional or infrequent riders. The pre-covid proportion of frequent riders was 32%, and so the system still has a lot to recover within that group.
Ridership by mode has improved in early 2022 although it is still not back to fall 2021 levels. Bus ridership has consistently been the strongest reflecting the type of trip and traveller in areas served by buses where work-from-home is a less viable option.
Overall, the TTC expects that the March stats will see them crossing the 50% line for current-vs-prepandemic boardings, and this will trigger a build-up to former service levels through the year.
Bus crowding continues to be an issue, although the TTC does not break down stats by route and time of day. The proportion of trips at various capacity levels has grown back to late 2021 levels by the end of March 2022. This does not reveal how crowding is concentrated, and the percentages can be diluted by trips at off-hours and on routes that typically do not have very heavy demand.
There is also the question of uneven headways that can lead to crowding variations as I have discussed in many articles here. The basic point is that although a total of 40% of trips run at less than 30% capacity, the remaining 60% of trips have more riders on them, and the average riding experience is determined by what they see. (For example, if 60 riders are distributed between two buses with 45 on one and 15 on the other, a poll of all riders will reveal that most riders see a crowded bus even though the average load is only 30.)
2021 Operating Results
The preliminary results for 2021 are shown in the table below. This includes an adjustment for the retroactive effect of the labour contract settlement that reaches back to April 2021.
Revenue is down by $31.6 million versus budget, and a planned reserve draw of $15.8 million was not required leaving a drop of $47.4 million overall. Expenses, however, were down even more through 2021 because of service reductions in fall 2021 reacting both to a drop in demand and a shortage of operators late in the year. After an offset for the revenue shortfall, there was $88.3 million left over to put into the TTC’s reserve, and this will be a cushion against conditions in 2022.
Note that the drop in ridership in 2021 did not really hit until mid-December although the service cuts came sooner. This drove up crowding levels as the occupancy chart shows until demand dropped off with the December lockdown.
Key factors show how the 2021 results were affected compared to the original budget.
- Ridership was down, but the average fare stayed where it was expected to be. In some years, the average fare moves in a direction opposite to the ridership trend partly offsetting the financial effect. In others the two factors move in the same direction compounding the gain or loss of revenue. WheelTrans riding was off by 16%.
- Service hours were down 0.517 million of 5.5% compared to the budget level.
- Diesel fuel was 14% more expensive than budgeted, while electricity was 6% lower.
Between the TTC Board’s approval of the 2022 budget and its presentation to Council, it was clear that the Omicron wave would have an effect on the numbers. This require an amendment to the budget as shown below.
- Anticipated fare revenue was cut by $104.9 million or 11.4%, but expenses were trimmed by less than 1%. Service for early 2022 was already committed and operating when the budget reached Council, although the pace of service restoration has been slowed somewhat.
- The combined effect is to add almost $100 million to the Covid impact on the city subsidy call by the TTC, a 21.7% increase.
Neither the provincial nor federal governments have announced details of their covid support to municipalities at this point, and so the City does not yet know how much it will receive in extra covid funding.
Looking out beyond 2022, there is a question of whether riding and revenue will recover to pre-pandemic levels before funding from other governments will be cut off. Moreover, fare freezes during the pandemic have trimmed the revenue that the TTC might otherwise receive as ridership recovers. Both of these factors will affect their ability to operate “full service” at former levels.
Another round of improvements is planned for the May 8 schedule changes according to the CEO’s Report (the details have not yet been issued).
29 Dufferin, 41 Keele, 43 Kennedy, 68 Warden, 929 Dufferin Express, 939 Finch Express, 941 Keele Express, 943 Kennedy Express, 968 Warden Express, 985 Sheppard East Express, 512 St Clair, 365 Parliament, 16 McCowan, 17 Birchmount, 29 Dufferin, 36 Finch West, 81 Thorncliffe Park, 83 Woodbine, 927 Hwy 27 Express, 996 Wilson Express and 509 Harbourfront.
New schedules for reliability:
29 Dufferin, 30 High Park, 33 Forest Hill, 52 Lawrence West, 60 Steeles West, 62 Mortimer, 68 Warden, 73 Royal York, 76 Royal York South, 77 Swansea, 93 Parkview Hills, 101 Downsview Park, 929 Dufferin Express, 952 Lawrence West Express and 960 Steeles West Express.
86 Scarborough, 92 Woodbine South and 175 Bluffer’s Park services
New seasonal routes:
172 Cherry Beach and 174 Ontario Place-Exhibition.
The bus fleet continues to be underutilized compared to its size, and there is no constraint on bus service growth on that account.
The CEO reports that:
Alstom is nearing the completion of its Major Repair Program (MRP) on the TTC’s accessible streetcar fleet. As of March 31, a total of 51 streetcars out of 67 in the MRP have been completed for weld repairs. This work was originally scheduled to be completed by late-2023, but as a result of reduced ridership caused by the pandemic, the program was accelerated and is now scheduled for completion this summer.
Currently peak streetcar service requires only 135 cars out of a fleet of 204. At a generous spare ratio of 25% (1 car spare for every 4 in service), a 204-car fleet should be able to support a peak service of 163 cars, or 28 more than the March 2022 level. In turn these cars can displace buses now used on streetcar routes expanding the pool of buses available for their network.
Streetcar service on Queen West, Lake Shore, Roncesvalles and Broadview should be restored in coming months although exact dates have not been announced.
A commonly-cited reason for lack of service in years past has been “we have no vehicles”, but now the issue will be whether the TTC has enough operators and the budget headroom to operate more service.
The opening date for 5-Crosstown has not been fixed, and its effect on both budget and fleet planning depend on when the cutover happens.
On Line 1 YUS, the Automatic Train Control project will complete in 2022 allowing for a service increase beyond the former signal system constraint of 140 seconds (25.7 trains/hour), although the exact level will depend on demand. ATC will also allow running times to be shortened so that there can be a slight improvement in service without adding trains. No details of planned subway service changes have been released.