Throughout the vast majority of my 33 years in public transit, one of the biggest challenges facing my various employers has been how to match insufficient capacity to ever-growing demand.
In my work for transit authorities in Sydney, Toronto and New York, one of our biggest headaches was figuring out how to squeeze ever more people into networks that were limited by fleet size and line capacity during ever-widening peak periods. Off-peak and weekend travel were also booming, fuelled by increasing urbanization, improvements in product offering and a shift away from the private car in an increasingly environmentally conscious world.
This transit renaissance developed over many years, with cities such as London and New York carrying record numbers of riders, enabling them to rely heavily on fare revenue to cover day-to-day expenses. Transport for London (TfL), more specifically the London Underground, was virtually at the point of break-even back in the halcyon days of 2019, a remarkable achievement born of booming ridership, tight cost control and targeted system expansion.
In both Toronto
and New York, my focus was on enhancements to system capability across the various modes. Our plans included upgrades to signalling systems to enable trains to run closer together (thereby increasing the number of trains that could be run each hour), procurement of larger vehicles, expansion of vehicle-storage facilities and progressive (and expensive) enlargement of customer facilities such as subway stations, all designed to accommodate what seemed to be a limitless pipeline of new customers. Business cases were compelling and political support was (largely) forthcoming; we’d never had it so good.