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 1.5K     2 to keep it on the rails



How to keep TTC on the rails
Mar. 4, 2006. 01:00 AM

You can travel 46 kilometres across the city of Toronto, stop off for a quick shopping spree at a mall, reconnect with your bus or subway and do it all for $2. That is, while the TTC cries poor.
You can do this every morning for a week, then have a friend or family member repeat the same trip in the afternoon — using one transferable weekly pass at the dirt-cheap price of $30. Yet the TTC is strapped for cash.
You may move from streetcar to subway without paying the extra quarter some cities squeeze from their commuters. Still, the TTC desperately needs the money.
Rush hour travel costs the same as late night service; buses that arrive every five minutes charge the same as those that arrive every half hour. And the buses keep on rolling — even if it's just you and the driver rattling along in perfect isolation.
Welcome to the Better Way, a prince of a transit system living on a pauper's salary, a once profitable system that's been put through funding hell.
Cities like Madrid, Vancouver and Montreal — pampered by their federal and provincial governments — expand their transit systems to accommodate growing populations. Here, it's only a near-midnight conversion that's prevented total collapse. Survive, not thrive, is the rallying cry.
"Here, years of no funding has resulted in an infrastructure backlog," says Glen Stone, spokesman for the Toronto Board of Trade. "The good news is, things are better. The bad news is, there's a long way to go. It's not as bad as it was. It's not as good as it could be."
Since 1997, the TTC has lost close to half a billion dollars in government subsidies after the province got out of shared funding of the system. Queen's Park and Ottawa have returned with money for buses and maintenance, but the city continues to scrounge for hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the system going.
At $1.1 billion, the TTC is the single biggest operating cost for the city, though some 70 per cent of the money comes from fares. The subsidy from property owners will reach about $246 million this year, up from $80 million in 1997. That year, the TTC also got a $78 million provincial subsidy.
Budget chief David Soknacki and finance officials say the transit system will absolutely overwhelm a city facing massive fiscal challenges.
Critics say the city should be looking at alternate ways of funding the TTC, other than subsidies to supplement fares. Raise fares, privatize some routes, shut down routes with too few riders, end the flat-fare system and charge fares based on distance travelled, they say.
And, of course, keep pushing the province for funds to operate the system. (Gas tax revenues recently given are for maintenance and bus and subway car purchases.)
The TTC and those in the know — like transit guru David Gunn, who turned TTC management upside down in the 1990s and just had the TTC's new transit control centre named after him, have ready answers.
Higher fares: Fares are going up to $2.10 per token bought in bulk of at least five. Fares are not exorbitant, even at the new rates. But environmentalists and social activists say transit is a public necessity. Forcing people to pay more is unfair and disproportionately hurts people with low incomes.
The board of trade says yes to higher TTC fares — but only if it is accompanied by a reduction in property taxes. In other words, the higher fares wouldn't go to the transit budget; the money should replace the subsidies from taxpayers. That's hardly a fiscal fix.
Sell station names: TTC manager Vince Rodo says the TTC looked at that when the Sheppard subway was built. "The concept was there, but we haven't had much of a bite on it."
Find a way to integrate existing names with corporate names and there may be a few shekels in this. Think, McDownsview. Or Downsview Dell.
Privatize some routes: The benefits of such a move are hard to quantify. Most likely, the routes the private sector would want are the ones that are making the TTC a lot of money and are used to subsidize the ones that are not as viable, but that feed people to the subway.
"The TTC knows how to run bus routes. They schedule them well, they know how many buses to run," says Gunn, speaking from his Cape Breton home. "There's always stuff you can do better, but it's basically a pretty solid, business-like organization," so why sell your best routes?
Besides, with 60 per cent of TTC users transferring from one route to the next, only the route where the ticket is initially deposited would get credit for the fare, even though the longer portion of the trip may occur after the transfer, Rodo says.
Cut money-losing routes: Do that, and it's the start of scavenging the integrated, city-wide system. But critics say if you can't afford what you have, this is the place to start.
"There's always political pressure to run routes that are not very economical and where the cost recovery is low. But one government function is to provide mobility," said Gunn, who's managed systems in Toronto, New York, Washington and Philadelphia.
Bring back zone fares: Up to the 1970s TTC riders paid a second fare when the bus crossed Eglinton Ave., for example. The advent of the subway beyond Eglinton would have made that difficult, but it was generally considered a negative idea — especially for suburban residents paying the same taxes as those downtown.
Suburban residents have poorer service and the flat-rate fare is a bit of compensation for them, Rodo says. Charge them a fare based on distance, without upgrading the service, and "those riders from Rexdale — are they going to ride at all? The objective is not to try and price ourselves out of the suburban market."
Smart Cards: This is the way of the future, and it would allow the TTC to charge fares by distance, by time of day, by mode of transportation and avoid the political upheaval that would surround the reintroduction of zone fares. The system is being studied by GO Transit and the idea is for it to be integrated with the TTC.
It's a few years away, is expensive (an estimated $140 million), but since the province is helping to pay for it, the TTC is a reluctant partner. Gunn says the danger is that the manufacturers often get to the politicians and decisions are made that may not benefit the transit system. "You have to watch for that in Toronto," he said.
"They sell it to the politicians, not to the working stiffs that run the system."
Tolls: Bring road tolls in and use the revenue to fund transit. That's a chestnut from the anti-car, pro-environment brigade, but there's little appetite for this at city hall. Which is strange, considering the mayor and the ruling party share the view. What they don't share is the guts to engage what would be a political fight.
Find more savings: Some members of the budget committee say a rigorous review of the transit system hasn't been done since Gunn.
"The objective is to provide that essential service at the most cost-efficient price," says Councillor Sylvia Watson, a member of the budget committee.
Create a GTA-wide transit system: Budget chief David Soknacki says he favours this move because Toronto would tap into two things the TTC needs that the 905 region can help deliver: money and political clout.
The province couldn't easily ignore the combined advocacy of Toronto and the surrounding regions, he says.
"If you want a system that has the depth and support and the reach of European systems, you need a radically different funding regime. It's the only way to maintain an integrated network," Soknacki says.
But Gunn, who just completed a stint as head of Amtrak in the U.S., suggests the battle for transit dollars may be never-ending. No amount of money will be enough for transit because the need to move people efficiently and quickly never ends.
"And there's no silver bullet," he says.


Whats with all the ganging up on the TTC this weekend?

There is another article in The Star, saying the TTC should cut bus routes. Councillor Del Grande wants the streetcars cut.

Like come on. Why the gang up on TTC now? Is that what TTC gets for running the most cost effective system in the western world?


Why hasn't Royson James been moved to the Brampton Guardian or York Mirror? His shoddy reporting would fit right in in those community rags - doesn't he know the police is by far the biggest expense for the city? And we know what happens when someone even mutters about how we should open their books.


It is sad that people don't realize the value fo transit and are always trying to take money away from it.

The TTC is already one of the most cost-effective transit systems in North America. There is no need to change fare structure or cut service because a 78% cost-recovery ratio is already extremely high. The problem is not with the TTC, it is with the city, the province, and the federal government.


doesn't he know the police is by far the biggest expense for the city
They're not. Police, by far, get the biggest chunk of property tax dollars.

TTC has the largest operating and capital budget (about $1.5B per year for both). TTC has more sources of funds (like the farebox, provincial and federal dollars for capital, etc).


TTC costs are larger, but over $600 million of that billion cost is made up from fares.


Whatever the fare policy will ultimately be, it should be a bit more linear, possibly by means of selective fare increases. Using Yonge St as an example, here's what riders pay to get downtown per km assuming 2.50 for TTC, 2.50 for YRT, 3.50 for YRT zone 2.

Bloor: $1.25
Eglinton: $0.42
Sheppard: $0.21
Steeles (south side): $0.16
Steeles (north side): $0.31
Elgin Mills: $0.19
Davis Drive Newmarket: $0.14
Scarborough Town Centre (for comparison): $0.11, ie cheapest transit fare in the GTA

From midtown, it costs an arm and a leg to get downtown even though the trip costs the TTC the least to provide. The suburban areas in the 416 area pay virtually nothing. Then what you pay shoots up when the double fare has to be paid, and by the time you reach Newmarket again you pay virtually nothing even though the trip is costliest to provide.

A better zonal system should be introduced with fares held steady when it goes into operation. However further fare increases should only be levied on the outer 416 area, and the outer 905 area to standardize the cost per km. Only problem is that really won't go over too well.


As to cost of a trip or even by zone, tell a TTC rider it going to cost huge $$$ to travel from Brown Line and Lakeshore to the Zoo or to York University. Now add in the travelling timg and they are going to say "I going to buy a car as it will cost me less money to opperate and it will save me in travelling time than to pay this TTC fare."

The same thing goes for Mississauga or York if you got to travel a great distance in the first place.

It cost me $4.35 each way going to Burlington on GO and it take me 25 minutes to get there. On top of it, it cost me $1.85 each way using MT weekly pass as well 35 minutes of travelling time to get to Port Credit GO station. Then it cost me $.50 each way in Burlington along with 20 minutes of travelling time. Total cost is $11.40 alone with 70 minutes each way not allowing for waiting time waiting for a GO train that could range anywhere from 5 minute to 55 minutes. Travelling distance from point to point by car is 23.65 miles and it takes 30-35 minutes.

Travelling distance to the GO station is 1.35 miles more or 25 miles in total one way. Cost per miles works out to be $.40 for car and $.23 for transit, but what do you do for the extra 80 minutes of travelling time along with the 5-55 minutes of GO waiting time?

Taking a car is a given.

It would take you about a hour by car to get to the Zoo from Brown line and it will take you close to 3 hours to do this by TTC. Transit cost is $5.00 or $.083/mile while car cost is about $12.00 at $.45/milie, but than again what do you do about the extra 4 hours of travelling time? Distance is about 15 miles each way by car and it will be more by TTC.

Again, a car is a given.

In both cases, travelling time vs cost of trip is the real issue and how do you deal with it?

If I use $.23/mile for the Zoo trip, my cost is $13.80 and using $.083 for my Burlington trip it works out to be $4.15, where do you put the real fare cost at using all cases?


You can't push the fare up to much, because most TTC riders are choice riders. If they don't think the service is worth the price, they will stop riding.

People are not going to pay more money in Scarborough for a service that while good, still takes them 40min longer to get downtown then driving. Speed up the TTC, then we will talk. People have no problems paying the extra 20 bucks a month for the downtown experss. But they are not going to do it for regular routes that taken an hour to get to the subway.


"Scarborough Town Centre (for comparison): $0.11, ie cheapest transit fare in the GTA"

What would it be from Martin Grove & Steeles or the 54A Starspray loop? A nickel?


Most of the problems that people bring up when it comes to zone systems could be solved with a properly designed fare system. Once we have to install the technology to properly administer a zonal system, we will likely be seeing integrated fares with GO, which would immediately advantage those in far-off areas. Don't forget that everyone in the fringes aren't just heading downtown, many of them are taking short trips. I'm sure there are plenty of people in Rexdale who have to get to jobs at the Albion Centre, Woodbine Centre, or the airport who still have to pay the same fare as those heading downtown. Also, the TTC bases its routes and schedules upon financial performance; zone fares would greatly increase the viability of express services because the TTC would finally have a reason to encourage long trips.


Also, the TTC bases its routes and schedules upon financial performance; zone fares would greatly increase the viability of express services because the TTC would finally have a reason to encourage long trips.
Exactly. The old saying you get what you pay for applies quite nicely to transit. When you're handing the TTC a mere 10 cents a km or less to play with, don't complain about 90 minute commute times on ancient buses. Streetcars are quite viable in the suburbs, but realize that inner city residents pay the TTC much more to ride given the distance they travel. Moral of the story: those who pay more get more.


Moral of the story. Those who live in the inner city think they deserve a better deal, when everyone in this city deserves quality public transit at a good cost.