Cheol Joon Baek
I t's taken time, but Metrolinx finally released its long-awaited revenue plan on Monday, May 27, calling for a series of new taxes to fund transit expansion.
But let's get real. It will be years before anyone rides the new lines, which suggests we should spend some time improving what we have.
In the wake of Metrolinx's announced plan (which includes a 1 per cent sales tax, 5-cent-per-litre gas tax, non-residential parking levy and increased development charges), we can soon expect the strategic plan of TTC CEO Andy Byford to be unveiled.
It will be a bold move for Byford, given the fact that when it comes to transit issues, the public is focused on expansion and little else.
In his speech to the Empire Club on May 13, outlining the interest areas in his forthcoming report, Byford said, "Our processes and systems are archaic, and our procedures impede progress in customer service."
But internal TTC processes is not where attention should be focused. People are frustrated with the TTC for reasons more fundamental than that.
Priority number one for riders is, of course, safety, which Byford indeed acknowledged in his speech. Ever since the Russell Hill accident in 1995, when a signal malfunction caused a subway crash that killed three people, the TTC has made sacrifices in all areas but this one.
But customers also care about increasing the quantity and quality of service on surface routes. No amount of polite, well-dressed, smiling TTC staff will change a rider's opinion after he or she has waited half an hour or more or been stuck on an overcrowded bus or streetcar.
Byford was clear to list this as a key part of his report to come, though, interestingly, he placed it in the category of "asset management," fourth on his list of priorities.
Many of the cuts implemented by the Rob Ford administration have not been restored. And while some new service has been added, it's negligible when ridership is up over 50 million rides since the last moderate service increase in 2010.
In rough terms, there's about $35 million in missing service, and during the morning peak the TTC would need around 100 new vehicles just to get back to the old levels. The amount of service - how frequently vehicles come and how cramped they are - remains the key issue for riders. Of course, Byford can't deliver new service with the current budget, but, as he suggests in his speech, there is a need to lobby and pressure for increased resources.
The other major concern is service reliability. One of the TTC's biggest problems is its lack of strong route management. It's not easy running high-frequency bus lines in an urban environment, but the transit service must do better.
Moving to what's called a "headway management" approach (keeping vehicles evenly spaced - as opposed to following a schedule that's never kept) would help prevent gaps and delays caused by packs of buses travelling together and the consequent crowds that slow down loading times.
A lot of progress could be made if the TTC reallocated $3 to $4 million to hire more supervisors and give them mobile GPS devices. They could then track buses and streetcars, and hold, short-turn and better manage their path along routes. The TTC experimented with different techniques in 2008, and these generated a 10 to 15 per cent improvement in on-time performance. It's time to put these ideas into practice.
Byford must also be honest about the fiscal challenges and admit that even if we were to return to former funding levels - where the province provided half the operating subsidy - fares would still need to rise by at least 5 cents or more annually,
The CEO's speech ended by talking up community engagement, though it was more a statement of values than a detailed map. In the past, the TTC hasn't been great at this, so it was a welcome sign that it was included among his major concerns.
At the end of the day, a plan is only as good as its formulator's ability to win the support of politicians. Let's hope Byford's contains lots of specifics. We're all counting on him.3