Toronto

'Sluggish' ridership in 2016 cost TTC $46M, but CEO says this year will be different

The TTC says "unfavourable" ridership numbers in 2016 will likely cost the transit agency $46 million, but CEO Andy Byford says 2017 will be different.

Transit agency's growth plan includes fixing Presto system, pushing for Bombardier streetcar delivery

The TTC says it believes it fell about 15 million riders short of its goal in 2016. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The TTC says "unfavourable" ridership numbers in 2016 will likely cost the transit agency $46 million, but CEO Andy Byford says 2017 will be different.

The number of TTC trips for 2016 totalled 538 million, some 15 million fewer trips than its 2016 target, according to figures present to the transit agency's board Wednesday. 

If you need a visual, those 15 million people are the equivalent of transporting everyone inside a sold-out Rogers Centre roughly 280 times.  

When you increase fares and lower service quality, riders are going to leave.- Jessica Bell, transit advocate

But Byford says three key priorities will help boost ridership growth.

Those include stepping up the pressure on manufacturing giant Bombardier to deliver 40 new streetcars this year.

Next is fixing the problematic Presto pay system, which while available in all stations and vehicles, is often faulty. Fixing the tap card fare system will improve both the speed and service of the TTC, Byford argued.

Uncollected fares costing millions in lost revenue: TTC board member

So far, Presto has not compensated the TTC for any lost revenue as a result of the hiccups with the fare readers.

And those uncollected fares cost the transit agency millions of dollars in free rides, TTC board member John Campbell said.

"This is a system that's supposed to modernize the TTC, which eventually it will," Campbell, also a councillor, said. "But you know what? We have to be paid. 

Metrolinx collects the money from the TTC Presto fares and will then remit the passenger revenues to the Toronto transit agency, Campbell said.

"Obviously they can't if the readers aren't working."

Also on the list is to finish the Spadina extension this year and test new signalling equipment.

'Riders are going to leave'

TTC Chair Josh Colle points out that while the number of trips may have fallen, overall ridership did grow.

But he acknowledged that only a 0.4 per cent increase over 2015 ridership numbers is worrisome.

"We are concerned with a softening of that growth," Colle told CBC Toronto ahead of the meeting.

The TTC has asked staff to do a "hard analysis" of the numbers, Colle said, though he hears plenty of theories about what's going wrong wherever he goes in the city — from fare evasion to ridesharing to the fact that many of the city's routes are already packed.

Jessica Bell, from TTCriders, says there's a simple explanation for the "sluggish" results.

"When you increase fares and lower service quality, riders are going to leave," she said.

The TTC's fare hike started on Jan. 1, with the cash fare now set at $3.25. Bell said she believes that fare hike is here to stay, but she's hoping the city will also put more money into the system in this year's budget to reduce overcrowding on busy routes.

Currently, she said many people are simply opting to walk or find another way around the city.

Ridership concerns started in spring

The TTC began sounding the alarm about low ridership numbers in March 2016. At that point, it projected a $30 million shortfall due to low ridership.

Colle said it's possible that the TTC's target, based on previous growth, was overly ambitious.

"Even our staff will admit it was a stretch target," he said.

But Bell said she's not impressed.

"For a city's that's growing really fast, that's nothing to be proud of," she said.

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