This article is a deeper dive into the budget for 2023 following up from my first cut on the subject yesterday (January 4).
Updated January 6, 2023 at 2:10pm: Of all the tables included in this article, I realized that I had not included the full budgets showing functional breakdowns, as opposed to individual line items. These have been added at the end.
The annual budget cycle is always a challenge because the document comes to the TTC Board at the last minute before it must be passed and forwarded to Council. This year, the situation was complicated by the election (normally we would see the budget reports in December, not January), and by the new “strong mayor” system in which the Mayor effectively dictates the budget by setting the City’s proposed subsidy ceiling. We have many new Board members most of whom have no experience with TTC budgets, and who will not know “which rocks to look under”.
Even worse, the Mayor’s press conference announcing the budget made no mention of planned service cuts coming in Spring 2023 and gave the impression that this “core service” was defended. That can, at best, be called “misdirection” in the hope that nobody would notice what was happening and focus on the “good news”.
Here, in much more detail than I had time for in the first article, is the budget information distilled from the TTC’s 55-page report.
Key points (the TL/DR version):
- The City will give the TTC $53 million more in subsidy in 2023 than 2022. This is pitched as being in support of more security, safety and cleanliness on the system, although the cost of those changes is less than 10% of that amount.
- The same argument is advanced for proceeds from a fare increase (10 cents on single fares for adults and youth/students) projected at roughly $16 million.
- The effect is that new funding is advertised for a politically unassailable purpose even though it will mainly pay for other aspects of TTC operations.
- The year-over-year increase in City subsidy is lower than in some past years and should not be seen as a generous windfall. This is in part possible because of underspending in 2022 which leaves headroom for 2023 without as much additional City money as would otherwise be required.
- The cost of beginning operations on Lines 5 and 6 will eat up over $40 million in 2023 and even more in 2024. At the same time, the TTC proposes service cuts elsewhere that will save about $46 million nominally in the name of matching service to demand. What is actually happening is that most of the network is paying for two new rapid transit lines through service cuts.
- Crowding standards for off-peak service will be substantially changed to permit more riders on buses, streetcars and subway trains. On buses, the off-peak standard will be only slightly less than the peak standard. Combined with chronic unreliability of service, this will lead to more full buses and will discourage riding during the period when recovery to pre-pandemic levels is strong.
- Headway maxima will be raised so that rapid transit service could operate as infrequently as every 10 minutes during periods of light demand. For buses and streetcars, there is no guarantee that the existing Ten Minute Network will be preserved.
- The changes to Service Standards (crowding and maximum headways) are not explicitly listed in the report’s recommendations and would be missed by someone only browsing early pages, a not unusual situation for TTC Board members and Councillors.
- The TTC has not published any details of planned service changes even though, for April 2023 implementation, they are certainly in the early stages of planning. The TTC and Council were clearly expected to approve the changes sight-unseen, possibly without even realizing they were buried in the budget. TTC management must be forced to reveal the details of what they plan.
- The budget provides for additional operators who will be used to fill open crews to reduce or eliminate the incidence of service gaps caused by missing buses and streetcars. This is a change and improvement from using “run as directed” vehicles to the extent that operators are available to drive them.
- Even this austerity service is possible only with additional subsidy of $336 million which the City/TTC will seek from the provincial and federal governments.
- Ridership recovery is stronger on weekends, and among concession fare groups (seniors, youth, students). This type of riding is less affected by work-from-home.
- Projections for future budgets in 2024 and 2025 include no provision for additional service beyond that which will be operated in 2023.
- The TTC claims it will pursue a ridership recovery program, but its budgetary plans suggest that service will remain below 2022 levels for 2023 through 2025. This, coupled with chronic service reliability problems, is not a recipe for winning back riders.