Toronto

TTC facing $92M monthly shortfall, plummeting ridership due to COVID-19

The TTC is confronting a nearly nine-figure loss in monthly revenue caused by the dramatic collapse in ridership during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Presto taps have dropped by 86% compared to pre-pandemic levels

The TTC has introduced strict physical distancing measures on board its vehicles during the COVID-19 crisis. (Timothy Neesam/CBC)

The TTC is confronting a nearly nine-figure loss in monthly revenue caused by the dramatic collapse in ridership during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The alarming figures were revealed on Wednesday by TTC executives at the transit agency's monthly board meeting, which was held virtually. 

The report paints a dire financial picture for the service, which has yet to receive a firm commitment for emergency funding by the federal or provincial governments.

Total ridership has plummeted more than 80 per cent since the pandemic began, with an 86 per cent decline in Presto card taps during the crisis.

The report says that drop has saddled the service with a $92-million loss in monthly revenues, even when considering the TTC's "cost containment strategy," which has reduced service levels to about 80 per cent over what is typical.

The loss is forecast to reach $300 million by Labour Day if current ridership levels continue.

TTC relies heavily on fare box

TTC management and public transit advocates have frequently cited the service's unhealthy reliance on passenger fares given its low government subsidies compared to other major transit systems.

The TTC had anticipated that rider fares would make up 63 per cent of its 2020 budget, but that source of revenue is down 86 per cent amid COVID-19.

A slide from the TTC report presented earlier this week, showing the dramatic decline in Presto card usage across its different vehicle types. (Toronto Transit Commission)

The system has also lost revenue in its commuter parking operations, while the service is spending more money on personal protective equipment and disinfecting its vehicles more frequently.

When asked about a possible bailout for the TTC, Ontario Premier Doug Ford expressed support but did not explicitly commit to additional spending.

"We'll be at the table. But we can't do it alone," Ford said. "We need the federal government to support us. It's just too big of a ticket."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted on Wednesday that local transit is the responsibility of municipal and provincial governments, but he vaguely alluded to the possibility of extra help from Ottawa.

"The federal government will be there to work with the provinces, including supporting them in their areas of jurisdiction," he said.

Maintaining physical distancing

While the TTC has been able to reduce some costs amid the pandemic, there are also signs that it may have to restore its normal service levels long before its riders return.

On Thursday, the provincial government laid out the first stage of Ontario's reopening plan, which will allow many businesses to reopen that had been ordered closed in recent weeks.

In addition to lost fare revenue, the TTC is spending more on safety measures such as the purchase of personal protective equipment and more frequent disinfecting of vehicles. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

As the reopening of Ontario's economy sends more riders back onto transit, the TTC says it will have to restore full service in order to maintain physical distancing on its vehicles.

At the current 20 per cent ridership level, the agency says it can provide adequate physical distancing while operating at 70 per cent service.

However, an increase to 30 per cent of normal ridership will force the TTC to restore 100 per cent of typical service if physical distancing requirements are to remain in place.

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