Toronto

3 things transit riders should know about the TTC's growth strategy

The TTC has a ridership problem. But while the transit agency has a growth strategy to fix its sagging numbers, advocates are warning there won’t be many improvements in 2018.

Critics say city should be spending far more to cut down on crowding

The TTC's ridership growth strategy aims to improve reliability on all of its surface routes. (John Rieti/CBC)

The TTC has a ridership problem.

But while the transit agency has a growth strategy to fix its sagging numbers, one approved by the board on Thursday, critics are warning there won't be many improvements in 2018.

"Transit riders can't wait another year for better service," said Shelagh Pizey-Allen, of the group TTC Riders.

The city plans to spend $1 million to reduce overcrowding on some routes, but even those funds won't kick in until the fall. That amount is expected to climb to $4 million per year in 2019.

Instead, this year's budget is highlighted by funding a two-hour transfer window and also a "fair fare pass" for low-income Torontonians.

So how will the ridership strategy change your commute?

Crowding

The city only plans to add $1 million to address overcrowding in 2018. (John Rieti/CBC)

Anyone who relies on a busy route knows how unappealing they can be, but there's no big plan coming from city hall to reduce this.

Pizey-Allen blames a lack of funding, saying the TTC's own figures show it would need $12.5 million to meet its crowding standards.

Part of our challenge is we need garages and buses.- TTC Chair Josh Colle

"An unfunded ridership growth strategy will not attract new riders," she told CBC Toronto.

Transit advocate Steve Munro says the $1 million boost amounts to little more than "chicken feed."

Coun. Joe Mihevc, who sits on the TTC board, attempted to move a motion at the budget committee earlier this week to more than triple that investment, but it failed.

However, TTC Chair Josh Colle says while the transit agency can always use more money from the city, it doesn't have the vehicles to put out there right now.

"Part of our challenge is we need garages and buses," he said, noting the TTC is in the midst of its biggest-ever purchase of buses.

Colle also notes that crowding, at least the way the TTC defines it, doesn't always mean packed buses in Scarborough or King streetcars, pointing out just three people standing on some off-peak buses would count.

Waiting for more express buses? Not this year

The TTC plans to expand its express bus network, but not in 2018. That work will be put off until 2019-2022, according to the strategy, even though the lines that have been put in have enjoyed success.

Coun. Joe Mihevc, however, is calling for the TTC to test out a bus rapid transit system on one route anywhere in the city.

Interim CEO Rick Leary told the board there will be a focus on the bus system in the coming years.

"We're going where we know we can make a difference," he said.

Subways will improve, too, he said, with things like the rollout of automatic train control, but buses will see the biggest changes thanks to initiatives like optimizing stop spacing.

Fare breaks

The ridership strategy does bank on two-hour transfers for Presto users winning some new customers, although that will come at a price.

City council still has to approve the plan, but it was recommended by the budget committee and has the mayor's support. If approved, that program would begin in August.

Similarly, low-income Torontonians will soon qualify for a "fair fare pass," which knocks off a third of the fare price.

Fares are set to be frozen this year.

Last November, the TTC fell three million trips short of its ridership goal and the transit agency is expecting to miss 2017's target by a wide margin.

About the Author

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.

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