The Evolution of TTC Ridership and Fares 2005-2018

Recent discussions about TTC ridership and fare evasion included references to the numbers of riders who use each fare medium, but this was not published in detail in reports and presentations.

The TTC publishes a breakdown of ridership through the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal including values for each type of fare annually back to 1985. Charts in this article use the data from 2005 onward. [Click on any chart to open an expanded version.]

Adult Fares

With the availability of Presto, Adult fare payments have been migrating to that medium for the past few years. The chart below shows the number of rides by fare type and the evolution of the preferred medium is clear over the years.

  • In 2005, the number of token fares (red) was lightly greater than the ticket fares (orange), but ticket use dropped off as this medium was withdrawn.
  • Metropass fares (dark blue, an estimated count of trips based on user diary records) grew  considerably to 2014, and then began to drop as Post Secondary passes (green) and later Presto (yellow) and Presto-based Monthly Passes (dark green) ate into Metropass usage.
  • Weekly passes have never accounted for much of the total. Other small fractions are broken out in a separate chart below.
  • Total Adult ridership has been falling since 2014, although this was masked in overall counts by the rise in Children’s trips with the advent of free travel.
  • Note that 2015 is shown with an asterisk. Ridership due to the Pan Am Games is not included in the totals to allow consistent year-over-year comparisons.
  • A Presto “SRVM” is a “Single Ride Vending Machine”.
  • Presto usage jumped substantially in early 2019 with the discontinuation of Metropasses, but this is not reflected in data to 2018 below.

The bands associated with monthly passes could overstate actual ridership depending on the accuracy of diary-based estimates. There is likely a drift between the ridership multiple (rides/pass) used to calculate the published figures and the actual ridership as discussed in my previous article about the Auditor General’s Report.

The data above show ridership values, and these are reformatted below as percentages of all Adult trips.

In order to make the low-usage media values clearer, the chart below includes only media for which less than five percent of Adult fares were paid with each type.

  • The Weekly Pass (turquoise) tops out at about 2.5% of all Adult fares in 2012 and then drops again on a clear downward trend by 2018. This pass will likely be replaced by some form of fare capping later in 2019, but there is no definite decision yet on this.
  • The two hour fare only came into use in mid 2018, and it does not yet represent a large number of trips. Indeed, counting these as “trips” is a challenge in comparison with the previous fare structure where a “free” transfer may have been valid, or not, depending on the nature of the trip.
  • The Presto Monthly Pass became available in mid-2018, but Metropass users opted not to convert to it in large numbers until 2019.

Senior and Student Fares

Seniors and Students receive approxiately a 1/3 discount over Adult fares at the ticket/token rate, although their discount for passes is lower. This means that more trips must be taken by a passholder to “break even” compared with paying by tickets.

  • There was a steady growth in Monthly Pass usage (dark blue) up to 2016 that was since reversed by Presto-based fares. Weekly passes (turquoise) accounted for a trivial number of trips.
  • Tickets (orange) and Cash (grey) have long been the dominant payment medium for this group of riders.
  • Presto fares (yellow) made a considerable inroad into ticket use in 2018.
  • Total ridership by Seniors and Students dropped slightly in 2018.

The chart below shows the same data as percentages of all Senior and Student fares.

The low-usage media for Seniors and Students are a small percentage of that market, which in turn is considerably smaller than the Adult fare market.

Children

The advent of free rides for children 12 and under more than doubled the estimated riding from this group. Presto “children” (although there is some dispute about how many of these are genuine) have added a few more.

Miscellany

Finally we come to a collection of fare media that collectively account for a small and declining amount of total ridership. Day Pass usage has been dropping thanks to Presto, and this medium will disappear entirely later in 2019.

Total Ridership

The jump of over 10 million rides associated with free children’s travel offset a chunk of the adult ridership loss as noted above. This also partly blinded the TTC Board and Senior Management from what was happening to their system overall. The decline of total ridership began in 2017, but the Adult decline had already been underway since 2015.

The complete set of charts in PDF format is linked below.

TTC_Ridership_Analysis_2005_2018

TTC Board Meeting: February 27, 2019

The TTC Board met at City Hall on Wednesday, February 27.

There was also a meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee at TTC Headquarters, 1900 Yonge Street, at 9:00 am on Tuesday, February 26 with many items that are also on the full Board’s agenda.

The City Auditor General’s report on Fare Evasion was on both agendas. Given its length and detailed content, I reviewed it in a separate article. An update on actions taken by the Board is included below.

Also in this article:

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Fare Evasion on the TTC: The Auditor General’s Report

With official ridership stats flat or falling over the past few years, and the annual pressure to raise fares to balance the budget, the issue of fare evasion comes up regularly as an untapped revenue source. This became a particular concern with the move to all-door loading on, primarily, the streetcar network where the absence of a fare check at vehicle entry gives more scope for evasion than on buses or in subway stations.

Toronto’s Auditor General (AG) has issued a report and a video on this topic. They will be discussed at the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee meeting on Tuesday, February 26, and at the full Board’s meeting on Wednesday, February 27.

The political context of fare management comes in on a few counts, and should be remembered when reading about dubious decisions and practices as flagged in this report.

  • As the TTC shifted to larger vehicles, primarily on the streetcar system, an important goal was to increase the ratio of riders to operators. However, as all-door boarding and Proof-of-Payment (PoP) became more common, the need to validate fare payments went up. The politicians who control TTC funding at the Board and Council levels have a fetish for “head count” where limiting the growth in staff, or better still reducing their numbers, takes precedence. The result was that the number of Fare Inspectors did not keep pace with the growth in PoP.
  • Presto was forced on the TTC by Queen’s Park under threat of losing subsidies for other programs. There is a strong imperative to report only “good news” about Presto both at Metrolinx and at the TTC for fear of embarrassing those responsible at both the political and staff levels for this system. Getting the system implemented took precedence over having a fare system that worked.
  • Historically the TTC has claimed that fare evasion on its system amounts to about 2% of trips. With fare revenue for 2019 budgeted at $1.2 billion, this would represent a loss of about $24 million in revenue. If the actual evasion rate is higher, assumptions built into the PoP and Presto rollouts especially about the scale of enforcement required, are no longer valid.

Through all of this, there are many examples of poor co-ordination between Metrolinx/Presto and the TTC, of poorly thought-out implementations of procedure and of operational practices that simply do not achieve the best possible results. There is plenty of “blame” to go around, but a fundamental problem is that the system “must work” for managerial and political credibility.

The AG conducted a six-week review of actual conditions on the subway, streetcar and bus networks in November-December 2018 and found that the actual evasion rate was substantially higher, especially on the streetcar system.

The dollar values shown here are built up from mode-specific evasion rates and the level of ridership on each mode.

Problems with Presto contributed about 5% to the $64.1 million total in lost revenue, but this does not include issues with fare gates or TTC practices regarding “crash gates” in stations which allow fast entry for riders with media that can be checked visually. The proportion of such riders has dropped substantially with the end of Metropasses, and will fall again when tokens and tickets are discontinued later in 2019.

The report contains 27 recommendations all of which have been accepted by TTC management. The challenge will be to see how they are implemented.

Summary

The Auditor General’s findings fall into broad groups:

  • The challenges of self-service fares where entrances are not always checked
  • Presto equipment reliability and performance
  • The ratio of fare inspection staff to the number of passengers
  • Deployment issues for fare inspectors

A related issue is that the way the TTC estimates ridership might not accurately reflect conditions in the field. The reported drop in “ridership” in the past few years could lie as much in the methodology of counting multi-trip (pass) usage and shifts from old-style passes to Presto as in a real loss of riders and system demand. Moreover, a weakening in the rate of growth is clear going back longer than Presto has been available on the TTC, or Proof-of-Payment was in widespread use.

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TTC 2019 Operating Budget: Part I – Fare Increase

The TTC’s Operating Budget and a proposed fare increase will be considered by its Board on January 24, and subsequently by Council through its budget process. Management recommends a ten cent increase in the adult and senior/student fares with proportionate increases in multiple fare media (passes or their equivalent on Presto).

The new fares are projected to generate $25.6 million in revenue the TTC otherwise would not get for the nine months from April 1 (when they would go into effect) through year-end. The TTC is also seeking $22.0 million in additional City subsidy to cover costs, many of which were already mandated by Council, that only existed for part 2018.

Working through the Operating Budget is always a challenge not least because the numbers are presented on a budget-to-budget basis with little reference to actual results. What typically happens each year is that if a shortfall by year-end is foreseen, expenses will be cut back to fit the available funding. Conversely, results can be better than expected and the TTC winds up with a “surplus” which is really a lower subsidy draw than budgeted.

Unexpected costs and savings can occur for a variety of factors including changes in pricing versus initial estimates (common for energy costs), legislative changes affecting employee working conditions and benefits, ridership above or below forecast, and a mix of fare revenue that yields a different average fare per ride. Collectively, these amounts can range above $100 million and many of them are not under the TTC’s direct control. Council, however, is terrified by even a $10 million extra call on subsidies because this represents roughly a 1/3% property tax increase. Ideally (for the politicians), the TTC should come in under budget and thereby “save” money versus original subsidy projections.

I will explore the TTC’s costs and revenues in the second half of this article, but for now the question on everyone’s mind: fares.

Fare Structure

To save everyone asking, yes, I support the fare increase, but with some caveats discussed later in this article.

For many years there has been a call for the TTC to return to a 2/3 farebox, 1/3 subsidy ratio as a “fair” balance between riders and government support. In the 2019 proposed budget, fares will cover 62.6% of total expenses, and a further 3.7% will come from miscellaneous revenue such as advertising.

There is a basic problem with picking any target as the “ideal” farebox:subsidy ratio. If policies such as fare freezes drive the ratio down, there will be “relief” for riders in the short term, but eventually one will reach the new plateau and be faced with annual increases. One cannot simply keep moving the goalposts especially when better service and system capacity are important to the transit system’s credibility.

The table below is taken from the TTC’s 2019 Operating Budget report.

The single fares for both adults and seniors/students will rise by ten cents, and so there is a higher percentage increase on the concession fares than those for adults. The various classes of passes go up by roughly ten cents times the existing “fare multiple” versus single fares. For example, a regular monthly pass is $146.25, or 48.75 times the $3 single fare. The pass goes up by $4.90, or 49 time ten cents. Other passes shift by their respective fare multiples.

Fare increases are often criticized as hurting those who cannot afford to ride transit and this is part of a larger issue with poverty in Toronto. Toronto has a “Fair Pass” program which provides a discounted pass to those who qualify, although the list in the current phase of this project is quite restrictive. The three phases proposed in 2016 were:

  • Phase 1 – starting in March 2018 – includes only Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works clients not in receipt of transportation supports
  • Phase 2 – starting in March 2019 – extends eligibility to residents receiving housing supports or child care fee subsidy whose household income falls under the Low-Income Measure +15% eligibility threshold
  • Phase 3 – starting in March 2020 – extend eligibility to all other Toronto residents living with an income below the Low Income Measure +15% threshold.

The estimated cost of this program was

  • $4.8 million in 2018,
  • $13.0 million in 2019,
  • $36.2 million in 2020 and
  • $48.0 million at full rollout in 2021.

There is no indication of whether the second and third phases will be funded by the City although statements by the Mayor imply that programs already in the works would be funded for 2019. The bigger jump will come next year.

The TTC and the City face difficult choices about expenses and revenues, but this should not stop them from looking beyond current approvals.

  • The Fair Pass should be funded as proposed for Phase 2 in 2019, and direction should be given that funding for Phase 3 be included in the 2020 and following budgets. That is a challenge for Council because the jumps in 2020 and 2021 represent roughly a 1% property tax increase between them.
  • The concept of a Fair Pass discount should be reviewed for poor seniors for whom the Fair Pass is only a minuscule discount compared with regular seniors’ fares.
  • Presto cards should be available from the TTC at a nominal cost, say $1 or $2, not the $6 now charged. Riders should not be dependent for cheaper or free cards on TTC giveaway programs when they occur.
  • With the move of cash fares to a collection mechanism that will issue a fare receipt, the two-hour fare should be extended to those who pay cash. This is the only group who will not have this privilege under the current plans (see below). For the purpose of the two-hour transfer, any single fare should be eligible.

The shift to electronic media will continue this year as various existing formats are phased out. I clarified some issues with Heather Brown at the TTC, and her replies are quoted below.

  • Although the Day Pass is shown in the table above, the TTC intends to drop it at a date to be announced later in 2019. Their position is that the two-hour fare introduced in late 2018 provides a discount for chained trips (hop off, hop on riding), and the Day Pass is now superfluous. This also means that the weekend and holiday “family pass” function of the Day Pass will disappear. However, there are still plans for a Day Pass ticket (see below).
  • Although this is not before the Board in January, management plans to recommend that the Weekly Pass be replaced by a trip cap within Presto. The number 16 has been suggested, but this is still to be confirmed when the Board discusses the matter in February.
  • Tokens and tickets will be replaced by Limited Use Media or “LUMs”, cardboard versions of Presto cards that will be valid in “one-ride, two-ride and day-pass ticket formats”. LUMs will be available for purchase from Presto machines starting in June. Fares paid using them will get the same two-hour transfer privileges of regular Presto cards. Current plans are to stop sale of tickets and tokens in late summer 2019, and stop accepting them for fare payment in 2020.
  • LUMs will only be available for Adult fares. Those who wish to receive concession fares will have to switch to using a Presto card.

Cash fares will continue to be accepted on buses and on the older streetcars pending their retirement, and in subway stations where there is a farebox available.

“Once we no longer have fare boxes at those stations / across the system, customers wishing to pay buy cash will need to purchase a PRESTO Ticket. Those customers who want to continue to pay the concession fare should switch to a PRESTO card and set their card to deduct a youth/senior fare.”

Someone who pays cash into a farebox will need a receipt that is capable of being read by fare gates for connections at locations that do not have a closed transfer connection (e.g. Dufferin Station) and this would also apply to cases where buses are substituted on routes normally served by new streetcars with fare vending machines.

“Customers will be provided with a product that will open the fare gates. We’re still looking into what this option will be.”

Fares paid by cash will not be eligible for the two-hour transfer privilege.

“Customers who pay by cash aren’t eligible for a timed transfer. The transfer rules for those customers paying by cash will remain as they are today, a one-way continuous trip, with no stopovers, within a reasonable amount of time. Customers who require transfers on a streetcar, after the C/ALRVs retire must pay at the Fares and Transfers Machine and obtain their transfer from there, as they do today on the low-floor vehicles.”

The arrangements for cash fares still do not address how someone with a paper fare receipt such as that issued on a streetcar will access a subway station, especially if the transfer rules enforce only “official” transfer locations and a car is on diversion, a common situation downtown.

Regional Fares

The question of regional fare integration has fallen into a black hole ever since the ascension of the Ford government at Queen’s Park and the repudiation of the previous government’s spending promises. These included a $1.50 discount for cross-border trips for adult single fare payers using Presto, as well as lower fares for short distance trips on GO Transit. What, if any, part of this will be implemented will probably have to wait at least for the provincial budget in March 2019.

That discount, of course, was flawed in that it was not available to those who travelled using a pass, only single fare riders, and the GO+TTC cofare already in place offers a much smaller discount for seniors and students than for adults.

There has been no public discussion of integrating fares so that, for example, a “two hour fare” ignores the boundaries between all local transit systems.

All of this is further complicated by Queen’s Park’s planned “subway upload” and the as-yet unknown financial arrangements for operations and maintenance of the system.

Challenges Ahead For The 2019 TTC Board

January 10, 2019 brings the first meeting of a new TTC Board with a new crop of Councillors and a new Chair while, for now, three non-Council or “citizen” members carry over from 2018.

Jaye Robinson, formerly Chair of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure, was appointed as the new Chair of the TTC replacing Josh Colle who did not stand for re-election. She will be joined by Councillors Brad Bradford, Shelley Carroll, Jim Karygiannis, Jennifer McKelvie, and Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Of these, only Carroll and Minnan-Wong have sat on the TTC Board before, and two members, Bradford and McKelvie, are new to Council in this term. The geographic distribution of members is unusual in that none of them represents a ward west of Yonge Street.

Three citizen members remain pending a review of these appointments by Council: Alan Heisey (who was Vice-Chair in the previous term), Joanne De Laurentiis and Ron Lalonde.

The first meeting includes housekeeping activities of selecting a Vice-Chair (who must be picked from the citizen members) and setting up the Audit & Risk Management Committee. Two previous committees will be disbanded in the interest of reducing the call on Councillors’ time:

  • Human Resources and Labour Relations: The TTC is at the beginning of a four year labour contract and does not foresee the need for a standing committee to deal with these matters. Any related matters would be brought either to the full Board, or to a committee struck for the purpose.
  • Budget: Although the TTC had a Budget Committee in the past term, it hardly ever met. For the new term a two-member “Working Group” is proposed, and this means that any budget meetings will take place in private except when the finished product comes to the Board for approval.

Also on the agenda for January 10 are:

  • “Richard J. Leary, CEO will give a presentation to the Board about the TTC, its accomplishments, challenges, vision and next steps.” [This presentation is not yet online.]
  • “Brian M. Leck, TTC General Counsel and John O’Grady, Chief Safety Officer will give a presentation to the Board about Member Legal, Safety & Environmental Responsibilities.”

The legal background emphasizes the Board’s role in providing oversight, general direction and strategy, as opposed to micromanagement of the system. However, this does not make for a completely hands-off arrangement as the Board has specific responsibilities and liabilities under legislation notably relating to worker safety and the environment.

Sadly, there is no legislative requirement to ensure high quality transit service.

The Board will meet again on January 24 with a meatier agenda including the Capital and Operating budgets. They are both huge documents, and the Board is unlikely to understand how their components fit together.

With the increased workload for members of the 2019 Council, moves are afoot to trim agendas and shift decisions to lower levels. In the case of the TTC:

In order to manage the number of items being presented to the Board for consideration while simultaneously seeking opportunities to improve decision making efficiency, it is recommended that staff begin to review options where delegated authority from the Board to staff is feasible. [TTC Board Governance at p. 5]

Staff will report on this in the next few months, but it is important that changes do not stifle public debate and that new “policy” does not appear out of thin air from a delegated responsibility.

Important Board roles are strategic planning and oversight of management. For the past two terms, TTC Boards have been less than engaged with overall strategy and the potential future of transit in Toronto. There are the inevitable debates about a few subway lines, but the larger question of the TTC’s purpose goes unanswered. One might argue that Council (or at least the Mayor and his allies) don’t want ideas that will add to costs getting a full airing at the TTC.

The political direction might well be to limit growth in fares and subsidies, but this should not prevent the Board from engaging in “what if” discussions to gauge the possibilities and implications for service levels, fare structures and technology, and large scale planning for system growth and maintenance.

One past example of TTC advocacy was the August 2014 “Opportunities” report produced by former CEO Andy Byford and staff. It contained many proposals including the Two Hour Fare which has only recently been implemented. The 2018 Ridership Growth Strategy contains many principles, but is lighter on specifics.

We cannot, as a city, understand what transit might do if the agency and Board charged with this are content to avoid discussions of what transit could be if only we had the will to pursue a more aggressive outlook on system improvement. The Board needs to actually do its job – be informed and make strategic plans for transit even if, in the short term, we cannot “afford” some options.

This will be a difficult term for the TTC Board who must wrestle with the proposed provincial takeover of the subway system, but this should not divert attention from several major issues affecting the transit system.

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Goodbye to Metropass

In May 1980, the TTC introduced the Metropass giving riders the option of paying a flat fare for one month of unlimited travel. Management had resisted the idea of a pass with the classic “it won’t work here” argument. Toronto was finally embarrassed into implementing a pass when Hamilton (a working-class burg at the west end of Lake Ontario always seen as inferior to Toronto) brought in a pass. The idea that passes were some sort of unintelligible, unenforceable foreign scheme collapsed under its own stupidity.

The TTC was really fighting the idea that riders should get a discount for using transit more. For decades afterward Metropasses became the workhorse of TTC fares, the idea persisted that passholders were freeloaders on the system. This attitude continues to infect debates over flat fares versus distance or zone-based ones when the real issue is to get more people out of cars and onto transit. “Paying your fair share” rarely includes the avoided cost of building and operating a road network, let alone the economic benefits of a mobile population.

It is ironic that GO Transit, founded in 1967, was established on the premise that carrying people on trains avoided massive expressway construction as well as the personal cost and time of driving into the city. This was a rare time when the cost of providing transit was seen as a way of avoiding the much higher cost (in dollars, physical upheaval and the inevitable future congestion) of continued road-building. Debates over transit funding, fares and service have rarely been this enlightened.

The Metropass now becomes part of TTC fare history with its replacement by Presto.

Metrolinx should have begun the migration years ago to “open payment” (accepting any media), but the government and management of the day preferred to hobble along with their existing structure and attempt to fit new functionalities into a “next generation” of Presto. They are now experimenting with a smart phone app providing equivalent functions to their card, and talk openly of a move away from a proprietary card to the use of any identification system such as a credit card or app. This will require a complete rethink of Presto’s “back office” functions, but will bring much more flexibility in fare plans and billing if the political will ever exists to implement this.

The problem of pricing and of fares generally is much more than a technology issue although both the limitations and potential of electronic fare collection have been used to argue for and against various schemes. Incentives and barriers to transit use exist in the tariff region-wide, but changes have much more to do with the eternal question “who pays” rather than the fare technology. Years ago, Toronto abolished its two-zone fare structure valuing the ability to travel anywhere for one price over the premise that riders between the suburbs and the core should pay more because they “used” more of the transit system. More recently, the move to the “two hour transfer” on Presto recognizes that a transit “trip” legitimately may be broken up in small segments and riders should not be penalized for hop-on, hop-off travel as they have been for over a century.

This post includes a selection of Metropasses over the years. Recently, the Star ran a piece on Nathan Ng who is working on a site to present all of the passes from May 1980 to December 2018 drawing on my own and others’ collections. (He is missing three years in the mid-90s when I was buying annual passes.) Ng’s other sites include Station Fixation which details every station on the TTC system, Historical Maps of Toronto and the invaluable Goad’s Atlas of Toronto — Online! in which one can quickly become lost for hours exploring the city as it once was.

At its debut, the monthly pass was priced at the equivalent of 52 token fares which gave us a $26 pass. This price quickly escalated as the TTC’s fares and finances faced the stresses of the early 1980s. This was a period which saw the first Gulf Oil crisis, and the economic downturn brought an end to a long period of effortless growth of ridership on the TTC. Management had never dealt with a system where riders stopped showing up, and this brought the onset of “adjusting service to meet demand”, a polite way of saying “cutting service to the level we can afford”.

Despite repeated fare freezes as well as shifts in the “multiple” for pass pricing (the number of token fares represented by a pass), the actual price has risen over four decades at a quite uniform rate as the chart below shows. Fast growth in pass prices in the first decade follow the same overall trend through pricing right up to 2018. Each freeze has been followed by a jump in pricing that returns the line to the same slope it has been on since 1980. The price today, at $146.25, is 5.63 times the 1980 price of $26.

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Where Have All The Riders Gone?

TTC ridership has been static for the past few years, as set out in the October 2018 CEO’s Report. Year-to-date ridership is down 3.2% compared to budget and 2.0% compared to 2017.

This is attributed to several factors:

Ridership has flatlined since 2014 due to various factors, including congestion, changes in customer mobility, and growth in digital ride-hailing services.

Another important factor that has adversely impacted ridership is the ongoing decrease in Metropass sales, which currently generate approximately 40% of total ridership. Specifically, there were 163,000 (-7%) fewer passes sold between January and August 2018, compared with the corresponding months in 2017. Although some of these lost sales have likely been offset by an increase in PRESTO e-purse transactions, the declining Metropass sales continue to have a significant impact on overall ridership trends. [p. 19]

The statements here present many factors, but do not attempt an analysis. One vital and missing component in the list is the question of service quality and capacity. If people cannot get on their bus, streetcar or subway train, or if the service is unpredictable enough, they will use transit as a matter of last resort, not as a first choice.

The entire concept of a monthly pass was to remove the incremental cost of taking another trip, something which (at least back in the late 1970s when the debate raged over whether Toronto could have monthly passes) was an important factor. Fares are still an issue, but service is a troubling component too.

The note about declining Metropass sales requires some explanation. The TTC, through user surveys, estimates the number of trips taken by the typical passholder in a month, and this sits at about 74. For every 100,000 passes they sell, they count 7.4 million trips. Obviously, the number of trips each passholder takes will vary, but things will average out. For example, in the first week of July when, by chance, I was part of the survey sample, I took 27 trips (and that’s counting a “trip” by the transfer rules then in effect). That translates to over 100 trips/month. The trips/day varied from a low of 2 to a high of 7. It was a busy week, and I made one or two round trips from home, plus a few stopovers, on the busiest days. If I had counted on the basis of the two-hour transfer, the “trip” count would have been close to 20 factoring out the stopovers and a few quick there-and-back-again round trips.

Because each Metropass sale translates to so many trips in the stats, the loss of a sale has a big effect on the total TTC numbers. However, the people who “fall off” the Metropass group are likely to be those whose usage was borderline break-even and for whom convenience of a flash-and-go card had a value in its own right. Presto eliminates that value, and it would be no surprise to see many passholders switch over. The actual trips lost to the TTC are, for these riders, fewer than the average Metropass usage.

The trips/pass for the remaining sales should go up if the low end of the market shifts to Presto, but it is not clear whether the TTC adjusts their multiplier frequently. The “lost” riding could be as much an effect of overcounting the lost pass sales (and associated trips), as it is a real decline in system usage. This problem will become even trickier with the two-hour pass available through Presto where trips that used to count as two (or more) fares will now only count as one.

Meanwhile, in response to the falling numbers, the TTC has plans:

To re-establish sustained ridership growth, a new Ridership Growth Strategy (RGS) is being implemented. RGS initiatives include implementing a two-hour transfer on PRESTO and relieving overcrowding on surface routes.

Research is also underway to analyze the changes in monthly Metropass sales and corresponding ridership impact. [p. 19]

If one goal of RGS is to relieve overcrowding, then it is clear that at least part of the system needs more service to handle demand even while official “ridership” is not growing. There may be routes with falling ridership, but even they must be viewed with caution lest the fall be the result of irregular or even reduced service.

Indeed, if there are overcrowded routes, why does the TTC not publish a list of routes, periods and locations where crowding is a problem that cannot be addressed without more capacity? Toronto cannot begin to talk about attracting new riders if it does not provide enough service to carry those who are already trying to use the system, or even understand the scope of the current system’s shortfall.

The two-hour fare will accentuate the split between the trend in “fares” (considered equivalent to “ridership”) and boardings on vehicles. (A “boarding” is one passenger getting on one vehicle, and each transfer counts as a new boarding, except on the subway which is considered one route for this purpose in TTC stats.) This will add to the confusion between apparently falling “ridership” and system crowding.

It is no secret that the TTC is capacity constrained. Although the bus fleet is now more reliable than ever thanks to better maintenance and the retirement of old clunkers, the actual size of the fleet is not growing because there is no place to put any more vehicles. Expansion plans are limited, as I have written before, and this is a major problem for the TTC’s future. On the streetcar fleet, new cars are gradually replacing old ones, and on close to a one-for-one basis bringing greater capacity to King Street this year, and to Queen in 2019. Subway capacity will not improve until early 2020 at best on Line 1 YUS, and 2026 or later on Line 2 BD.

Even the new Express Bus network has limited benefit because so much of it simply rebrands service that already exists rather than making a real improvement in what riders experience. Of the changes to date, the most striking has come on 29 Dufferin, but on many routes the service is identical to, or only a slight improvement on, the old “E” branches that are now 900-series routes.

The TTC has research underway on the effect of pass sales on ridership numbers, but this potential effect of the Presto migration was hardly unknown. If anything, the TTC has been derelict in placing so much focus on “ridership” while ignoring the basic question of service quantity and quality.

Former CEO Andy Byford set a management goal for a reduction of short turns and an improvement in on-time performance. This triggered various responses:

  • On some routes, scheduled running times were inadequate to actual conditions, and short-turning was inevitable. Running times were lengthened (and service was often scheduled less often to stretch available vehicles to match longer trips). However, in some cases the padding has been excessive leading to dawdling vehicles enroute and queues of buses and streetcars that arrive early at terminals.
  • When even padded schedules didn’t eliminate short-turns, the edict went out “thou shalt not short turn”. This can be counterproductive because there are cases where short turns are needed, but simply are not done and vehicles remain in a pack following a long gap.

The matter of “on time performance” is a blatant case of cooking the metrics to make management look good.

  • Previously, the TTC measured “on time performance” at various locations along routes. The results were not pretty.
  • The metric was changed to look only at terminal locations on the premise that service which is on time at the start of its trip will remain so as it moves across the city. Alas that is not so.

As we will see in a series of articles I will start publishing in coming days, there is a common problem on many routes that service may begin with vehicle spacing that is close to “on time”, but it takes only a short distance along a route for vehicles to catch up to each other and run in pairs or triplets. A further issue is that the TTC considers a bus or streetcar “on time” within a six-minute window, and this is meaningless for the frequent service on major routes. Because the service quality goal is only measured at the terminal, the actual reliability seen by most riders (who board elsewhere) is considerably worse than the values management reports.

For its part, Council looks at ridership numbers, sees a system that is not growing and says “why should we give you more money”? When added subsidy does come, it is as likely to go into fare reductions as to service growth, but lower fares are cold comfort if a rider cannot rely on transit for a timely and comfortable journey.

TTC Modifies Transition to Presto Annual Pass

Because of potential disruption in Canada Post services, the TTC has announced that it will end the mailing of Metropasses to Monthly Discount Plan (MDP) customers effective immediately. For the months of November and December 2018, the TTC will credit accounts of customers who would receive these passes with the equivalent of the discount.

This will allow those still receiving MDP passes to purchase a regular Metropass while having a net cost equal to the MDP value.

The TTC is also encouraging MDP customers to shift to Presto cards and will provide a $6 credit to MDP users on November 1 to cover the cost of purchasing a new card.

The use of physical Metropasses as we know them will end on December 31, 2018, and only the Presto equivalents will continue.

Tickets and tokens will remain available until the start of August 2019, and will be honoured for an as-yet unspecified time thereafter.

 

TTC Board Meeting July 10, 2018: Part I

The July 10, 2018 meeting of the TTC was its last before the October 22 municipal election. When the new Council meets in early December, it will update the Councillor appointments to this Board and select a new Chair. Whether the existing Chair Josh Colle will return in that role remains to be seen, although he did not sound averse to the idea in his closing remarks. The political balance of the Board will depend on the new Council and on whether the Mayor feels more disposed to a better representation of the centre-left. The new Board’s first meeting will be on December 12, 2018.

The “Citizen” members of the Board (those who are not Councillors) will remain in place until Council deals with appointments to various boards and agencies early in 2019.

The TTC has appointed Rick Leary, who has been Acting CEO since Andy Byford’s departure, to the CEO’s position. Leary had strong support from the Board, and now he must deliver. It will be interesting to see how much of Byford’s style and work, if any, are carried over into this new era. [See Challenges For TTC’s New CEO].

A vital part of the Board’s responsibility (and through them, City Council’s) is a clear understanding of the future needs of transit in Toronto. This is not simply a case of planning a few subway lines, but of understanding how the network as a whole works and what its needs would be under various scenarios. This is especially true when addressing unmet needs of the existing system. From the CEO’s report:

In support of the City of Toronto’s ongoing focus on transformation, the TTC committed in the 2018-2022 Corporate Plan to undertake a comprehensive service review. In addition to assessing efficiency and effectiveness, the study will evaluate how best to provide services mindful of reliability, safety and system integration. Actioning this commitment will help inform deliberations of the newly-appointed Board in 2019. In tandem, as noted last month, we are also preparing an updated and comprehensive long-term Capital Plan that will provide full clarity on the TTC’s long-term capital requirements mindful of legislation, reliability, safety and service standards. The plan will be prepared over the course of 2018 and presented as part of the 2019 Budget process. [p. 8]

This woolly statement could be the basis for better understanding how the Capital Budget works and how its many projects fit together, or this could simply be a rehash of juggling costs back and forth to make the numbers come out right for City financial targets. If the TTC needs more money for bona fide projects, it should say so, and should make the spending levels and timing clear rather than hiding costs “below the line” or beyond the 10-year planning horizon.

Several items on the agenda bear on the TTC’s ability to carry riders, but they were not discussed or presented in that context. This is a fundamental problem for the TTC Board and for the new CEO.

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Metrolinx Mulls Fare System Changes (Updated)

At the April 26, 2018 Metrolinx Board Meeting, two of the public agenda items dealt with changes in fares and in the fare collection system:

Presto Mobile is a new smartphone app that is intended to become a single point of access to Metrolinx services including fare payment and trip planning.

On the fare integration front, Metrolinx is contemplating the effects of funding announced in the 2018 provincial budget to subsidize lower fares for short GO Transit trips, and for cross-border fares between Toronto and the 905-area municipalities.

For the sake of discussion, this article assumes that the provisions in the budget will actually be implemented regardless of which party forms the government after the election in June.

Updated May 7, 2018 at 9:50 am: Metrolinx has confirmed that the double discount for GO+TTC fares would still apply to the new $3 fare within Toronto.

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