TTC chair plots to reinstate better bus, streetcar service

Maria Augimeri to introduce motions to overturn cuts to surface routes made in 2012

The new chair of the TTC is moving to reverse service cuts passed under her predecessor, mayoral candidate Karen Stintz.

Councillor Maria Augimeri was appoitned to the transit commission board in February after Stintz stepped down to run for mayor. Under Stintz’s tenure, in 2012 bus and streetcar service was cut when Mayor Rob Ford directed that all city departments slash their budgets by 10 per cent.

Service was reduced on 35 routes during peak periods and 36 routes during off-peak periods. Crowding standards across the entire system were lowered to allow the commission to pack more people onto less vehicles that often came less frequently.

On some routes, wait times increased by over six minutes and some service during less busy times of the day was eliminated altogether.

At the time, the service reductions were projected to save the TTC $14 million.

At the board’s meeting next Wednesday, Augimeri plans to introduce motions asking the commission for a report on reinstitution some of those lost services, starting next year. According to draft wording obtained by NOW, one motion asks staff to look into “improving service levels and quality in the form of more frequent service and reduced crowding.”

The same motion asks for a report on introducing new services like more express buses and a “network of ten-minute-or-better bus routes,” as well as the possibility of extending the life of the current streetcar fleet.

A second motion asks for a report on whether buses normally used for construction-related route changes could become available next year during the Pan-Am Games moratorium on roadwork. Augimeri hopes the vehicles can be redeployed to enhance service on existing routes.

“I opposed the service cuts when they were proposed in 2011 and ever since,” she says. “When I was elected chair, I promised a focus on TTC operations, and I am delivering on that promise.”

“It is crazy to cut buses and streetcars on a system where people are increasingly packed in like sardines,” she adds.

The cost to reverse the cuts is unknown, but it’s not simply a matter of running vehicles more frequently. Additional drivers and maintenance workers might have to be hired and trained, and it’s unclear if the TTC has enough vehicles to increase service.

Asked how she hopes to fund the service improvements, Augimeri says that will be up to the next term of council. Final decisions on the reports won’t be made until after the October 27 municipal election under a new TTC board. Augimeri has said she will not seek to be re-appointed as TTC chair if she’s re-elected to council next term.

Stintz, who still sits on the board, declined an interview request because she had not seen the proposed motions.

Councillor Gord Perks, who before joining council pushed the TTC to adopt the service-boosting Ridership Growth Strategy, supports Augimeri’s move. He says debates over major projects like the relief subway line shouldn’t overshadow the need to invest in surface routes.

“If we’re going to continue to grow and accommodate all the new people and new jobs that are coming into the city of Toronto, we absolutely need more people to take transit,” he says. “But they’re only going to do it if you make the service attractive. And the best way to do that is boring, plain vanilla investing in frequent service and a dense network of bus service.”

Alan Heisey, one of the citizen members on the TTC board, has yet to see Augimeri’s motions but he supports the idea behind them.

“We don’t have many empty seats at rush hour, if any,” he says. “And I think there’s a case to be made that we need more capacity in surface transit. I’d be very supportive of a debate for the need to do that.”

Heisey believes that the funding can be found if politicians are serious about improving transit.

“I’m almost 60. When I was a boy and a young man there was no shortage of money for capital and public transit. It was provided mainly by the provincial government,” he says. “It’s not about enough money, it’s about lack of political will.”

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