Five biggest transit myths


Myth #1: The only way to improve service is big, flashy expansion projects.

While expansion is important, the city has demonstrated in the past that with concerted effort and modest funding increases in the range of the low millions per year, the existing system can be made to carry many more people through better route management, and more buses, streetcars and trains at peak and off-peak times.

Creative measures like parking and turn restrictions, better crowd management and information at peak times and express buses also have a proven track record.

The proof is in the ridership numbers: through service improvements and other factors, TTC ridership has increased by more than 160 million riders in the last 10 years – more riders than the proposed new LRTs and subways will bring when completed in 15 years.

Myth #2: We can continue to neglect the system for the sake of keeping taxes low.

The real underlying risk to the TTC is long-term substantial government underfunding of basic maintenance. The growing repair backlog is risking the system’s continued operation.

This is not a new problem, but it has been growing as basic maintenance budgets have been cut back with each successive budget, the problem grows.

The 1996 Russell Hill accident woke us up to the need for increased investment in the system’s basic state of good repair. As memories of that event fade, however, it’s harder for the TTC to communicate the urgency of the need for large-scale maintenance programs and the simple act of replacing worn-out equipment and materials.

While the system remains safe, $2.7 billion worth of basic maintenance is unfunded over the next 10 years – on top of the $9 billion now budgeted.

To put this in perspective, the TTC will spend $1.1 billion on large-scale maintenance this year, while it should be spending 20 to 25 per cent more, or $1.35 billion. That extra $270 million is equal to a 10 per cent property tax hike.

The needs are big. Over the next 10 years, the TTC must also order 1,500 new buses at a cost of about $1.2 billion just to meet modest new service needs and to replace buses that will need to be retired at 15 years due to complex new electronic components. Then there are the garages to park them in – another $200 million.

Myth #3: The TTC is hopeless at controlling costs.

The fact is, while Toronto is one of the highest per capita transit-riding cities in North America, our system is literally the least funded in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), which includes 34 countries.

The idea that the TTC is incompetent is extremely problematic, since it masks the core issue, which is that the transit subsidy has shrunk by 15 per cent since 2010 and yet ridership is up by 60 million trips. If you include inflation, the subsidy is 22 per cent lower than in 2010.

Whether you support contracting out or not, with the TTC now officially an essential service, there are limits to how much it may legally be able to do.

It has already outsourced just under 200 positions and saved $2.7 million, and there are plans for another $2 to $3 million, which may not be realistically allowable under the collective agreement.

Similarly the TTC has cut $18 million in administration costs. It currently operates with fewer management staff in total than at any other time in the last 30 years while carrying 40 per cent more passengers than a decade ago.

Myth #4: We must resign ourselves to overcrowded, second-rate public transit.

Under former mayor Mel Lastman, councillors and the TTC developed a Ridership Growth Plan that looked to incrementally improve service.

This plan was aggressively implemented under David Miller, but now the discussion of improvements to the existing system has been taken off the table. We seem to have bought the line that there is no money, and thus no improvements are possible.

Myth #5: The big story of this year’s TTC budget is the fare increase.

At 5 cents, it doesn’t even cover cost increases and is below the 2 per cent current rate of inflation. | @adam_giambrone



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