Commission approves reducing hours on Toronto buses
Also plans to improve service on crowded routes
But TTC failed to communicate good news in detail
(Opinion column written for Town Crier Feb 4.)
The TTC is off track, as only the bad news is catching our attention while the good news goes unnoticed.
First the bad news.
The TTC’s gotten negative press recently because pedestrians have died in accidents involving TTC vehicles, drivers have been caught texting behind the wheel, a fare increase was announced then cancelled, and then came the decision to reduce service on dozens of bus routes.
Let’s rewind here.
On Jan. 1, Mayor Rob Ford fulfilled a key election promise to cancel the hugely unpopular car tax, which added $64 million to the city’s budget woes but placed $60 annually back in drivers’ pockets. Then on Jan. 10, Ford announced a 10-cent TTC fare hike to raise $24 million to balance the commission’s budget. When you did the math, it turned out that Metropass holders, like me, would pay exactly $60 more a year while drivers would pay $60 less.
Not good optics, right?
So a day later, TTC chair Karen Stintz announced the fare hike was nixed, as the city would chip in $16 million more for the budget and $8 million can be cut throughout the year.
Good news, right?
But there’s a separate plan to reduce hours on 48 bus routes during slow ridership times.At the TTC’s Jan. 12 meeting some residents expressed outrage at this, so the TTC postponed the decision and held four meetings with a chance to chat with officials and fill out comment sheets.
It’s at one of those meeting that I talked to East Yorker Christine Miller, who works at Yonge and St. Clair as a security guard, a job that includes midnight shifts. Two of the buses she relies on — 56 Leaside and 62 Mortimer — are on the chopping block for evening service.
Miller’s alternative route is the 25 Don Mills bus that drops her close to home, but on a darker, less safe walk. Safety concerns along this route were elevated in 2008, when a man was on the prowl, waiting for female passengers to get off that bus blocks from their homes; he would then drag them into an alley to assault them.
By the end of January, the TTC announced it had saved seven routes, though not Miller’s, and made less-drastic service reductions on 41 routes. But some 70 people showed up at the Feb. 2 TTC meeting to plea for their service to be kept. The commission voted to plow ahead with its revised plan.
Heartless? Not quite. Here’s where the good news story could, should and would have slipped in had the TTC communicated this differently from the start.
The plan is to reduce hours on buses with low ridership and spend that cash to improve service where poor saps are waiting to be picked up only to see three full buses fly by them. So $4 million will be reallocated to busy, overcrowded routes.
This is no consolation to Miller and others like her on buses that are having hours slashed, but it should be reason to cheer for passengers who are packed in like sardines on popular routes.
The problem is the cuts to the underused routes happens May 8 while the service improvements won’t happen until this fall. And what’s worse is that there will be no list of bus improvements until June.
What the TTC should have done is decide what routes justify improved service and make that list available at the same time as the cuts were announced. At least then riders would see there was a legitimate case to be made to move cash to specific busy routes and reduce spending on less-crowded buses.
Another puzzler is on Jan. 3 the TTC increased service on 28 routes, including improvements midday and early evenings on the 25 Don Mills bus so it runs every six minutes or less. Service will also increase on the 97 Yonge, 122 Graydon Hall, 511 Bathurst streetcar and so on, but like many people I heard none of this. The TTC did not issue a press release outlining these improvements. I tracked down a list by going to the commission’s website and clicking on services changes.
As far as I can tell, these improvements are above and beyond the unspecified enhancements to come this fall. The TTC has a finite amount of money in its budget, and while I sympathize with the riders who are having service cut on their routes I also relate to passengers who can’t get on a busy bus because it’s too full.
The problem is that we knew details of the half-empty buses, but nothing of the packed-to-the-rafters ones that justify a cash infusion.
If I were elected mayor of Toronto I would be doing the same as our Mayor Ford.
Previous mayors would cut back service on crowded routes so the riders would complain to federal and provincial leaders for more cash infusion for transit.
Mayor Ford has decided on a different approach to fix the TTC problem, which is to streamline the service.
Empty buses should be re-routed to crowded routes.
Going through a transition is always hard but is worth it at the end.
Tibor, thanks for your comment that you would also cut service on empty buses and spend it on crowded routes. I am not saying the TTC did the wrong thing in voting to “reallocate” money from less crowded routes and spending it sometime this fall on undisclosed crowded routes. My point in the column is that because the TTC sold this as service cuts with a list of where that would happen, it was bound to attract negative attention as 100s if not 1000s emailed, made deputations, called politicians and filled out comment cards against the cuts to their routes.
MEANWHILE, because the TTC did not produce a list of where the service improvements will be this fall it was hard to tell that good news story because of the lack of details. And no one showed up to make deputations for the service improvements because they don’t know where they will be.