TTC says it won't cut service but may delay improvements as ridership drops

The Toronto Transit Commission says it will not cut service to cope with a projected $25 million shortfall this year caused by declining ridership.

Spokesperson for advocacy group says delaying improvements is 'dumb idea'

The Toronto Transit Commission says it will not cut service but it may delay service improvements that were expected later this year as ridership continues to decline. (CBC)

The Toronto Transit Commission says it will not cut service to cope with a projected $25-million shortfall this year caused by declining ridership.

TTC CEO Andy Byford said at a TTC board meeting on Monday that the transit agency may delay service improvements planned for September and October this year to save $1.5 million and freeze non-essential hiring to save another $10 million. The TTC will have to review its operating budget to identify other ways to reduce costs.

"At the end of the day, we are certainly not looking at cutting service," Byford told reporters.

"We may defer some improvements and I think that's only prudent, when there are only finite tax dollars available and subsidy available to run the service."

A staff report says the TTC estimates there will between 540 million and 545 million actual rides in 2016, a slight increase of the 538 million actual rides in 2015.

When the TTC drafted its budget last November, it projected between 553 million and 555 million rides for this year, but it has had to revise that number.

"If ridership is softening, which it is, then clearly it makes little sense to add yet more service, when the existing service can cope with the number that is slightly less than we anticipated," he said.

Byford blamed a weakening local economy, slow employment growth, lower gas prices and ridesharing apps for the decline in ridership. 

"TTC ridership over the years has shown to be very closely linked to the economy and with jobs."

Byford said ridership is declining in many Canadian and U.S. cities, although it is increasing in Mississauga, Ont., Brampton, Ont. and York region, north of Toronto.

Jessica Bell, a spokesperson for an advocacy group called TTCriders, said delaying service improvements is not wise.

'Race to the bottom'

"If you want to increase ridership, which everyone wants, you need to look at lowering fares and increasing service. What they are looking at doing is cancelling the planned service improvements that they were looking at rolling out later this year. That is a dumb idea," she said.

"That will bring about a race to the bottom. If you lower service, you are going to get fewer riders. And if you get fewer riders, you are going to get less money," she said.

Bell said the fare should be $3 or lower. A single cash fare is currently $3.25.

The TTC monitors trends in ridership on a monthly basis. If ridership increases unexpectedly later this year, then the service improvements could still be rolled out in later months, MIke DeToma, spokesperson for the TTC, told CBC News.