The TTC is pushing ahead with a plan to beef up express bus routes throughout the city, but so far the expansion is unfunded and could also mean the end of the line for unprofitable premium express bus service.
The TTC board voted unanimously to give the green light the Express Bus Network plan, which recommends 12 new express bus routes and improved service on eight others over the next decade.
But the price tag for the ambitious plan includes the $34 million capital cost for new buses and the $13 million annual operating cost that is not budgeted for. In fact, the TTC's budget for 2018 is frozen.
"It doesn't look like it's subject to funding availability," said Jessica Bell of the advocacy group TTCRiders. "So how's that going to work if there's less money, but we want more service?"
The plan is not all about expanding express service. It also looks at phasing out five express routes that the TTC takes a big loss to run.
They're called Downtown Premium Fare Express routes — which cost approximately 1,700 customers a double fare to ride. But that fare revenue falls short of the actual operating cost, so the TTC kicks in $1.5 million every year.
Bell suggested that, as with the Union-Pearson Express, the TTC could make the fare cheaper to attract more riders "so low income and moderate income people could afford fast transit and see what happens to ridership then," said Bell.
But TTC staff said the problem with the premier fare express bus routes is they serve a limited number of stops and have longer travel times.
"The difference with say the 143 Beaches Express is it takes some people into town and that's good, but then it pretty much 'deadheads' back empty," TTC CEO Andy Byford said.
Meanwhile, the 195 Jane Rocket express route has more than 88 boardings per service hour, making it the best performer of all express routes in terms of customers served.
Having to go back to the beginning of the route with no passengers to pick up more means the Downtown Premium Express routes have a very high cost per service hour of about $167.00. That's more than two times the system average.
"That means that these buses are very poorly utilized," said TTC Deputy CEO Chris Upfold, who added in terms of value the premium express routes were the five worst performing routes in the entire network.
TTC Vice-Chair Alan Heisey questioned why the premium express routes are not cut immediately.
"Given there are huge demands for capacity in the system elsewhere and this is the highest subsidy level, are we considering closing these lines down?" Heisey asked.
"That would have to be a decision by the board, but it's clear we use about 20 buses to run these five and we could use these 20 buses in some other way," said Upfold.
Riders waiting for the Premium Express bus say they would miss the service.
"From where I am on Wynford Drive it gets me to work in 15 minutes," said Janelle Sooklal. "It's convenient because you just sit on the bus and go. With the subway you have to get off and change."
Paul Ianni rides the express bus in from the Beach and says cutting the route is a bad idea.
"If they do that they should know that a lot of people are going to drive in. If they want more cars on the road that's exactly what they should do," he said.
Byford said the express plan only calls for a re-evaluation of the premium express routes.
"We are not recommending that we eliminate them now. We are recommending that we review their viability," said Byford, adding staff have been asked to come back with a report on the five Downtown Premium Fare Express routes in 2021.