Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

All mayoral candidates need to get serious about improving TTC bus service

By: Metro Published on Wed Jul 30 2014

Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow has been clear since she entered the race that her immediate priority on transit is improving bus service, but that campaign pledge took a bit of a beating last week after reports emerged that the TTC may not be able to immediately do that because it doesn’t have enough vehicles.

There are a couple of ways to look at this news. The first is to view it through a purely political lens and declare that Chow’s plan to increase bus service is inherently flawed and thus not as good as the transit plans of her opponents, many of whom haven't offered any plan to increase bus service. But as much as throwing Chow’s plan under a different bus may score political points, it doesn’t do much to address an important issue.

The second and more productive approach is to realize that no matter who wins in October, the TTC’s lack of available buses is a huge problem that needs a solution – quickly.

It’s easy to overlook just how important buses are to our transit system. According to the TTC's operating statistics, annual bus ridership last year was about 240 million, higher than subway ridership, which came in at 217 million. TTC bus routes and their connections are critical to mobility across the city, and with all types of rail-based relief lines years away while planned LRTs that were to replace the city’s busiest bus routes float in limbo, that’s not going to change anytime soon, if ever.

As a result, candidates simply cannot talk about making transit better in the near-term without talking about fixing and enhancing the bus system.

And there’s a lot to fix. Despite overall ridership increasing, the TTC ended up operating with six fewer buses in 2013 than they did in 2012. That translated to 122 fewer bus route kilometres across the system. Beginning with the service cuts championed by Rob Ford and Karen Stintz in 2011, the general trend across the TTC has been to cram more people onto fewer buses.

And there isn’t a plan on the books to change that. The TTC needs $100 million for a new bus garage, but is short on funding for it. Even if they had the cash, they’d still be facing the problem of where to store and service new buses for the four years construction is estimated to take. Meanwhile, the TTC plans to put 21 fewer buses on the street this fall amid hopes of kickstarting a better maintenance program.

Does the current state of things throw cold water on Chow’s plan to boost bus service by 10 per cent at minimal cost? Sure. But she still deserves credit for making buses a priority and it would be short-sighted to view this as just a Chow campaign problem and not a major city-wide problem that demands a solution.

What we need from Chow and her rivals is a more detailed and fully costed plan for how they’ll address the TTC’s bus shortage and make things better for the people who rely on them every day.

It doesn’t matter whether candidates support subways, SmartTrack or swan boats as longer-term rapid transit priorities. Ignoring Toronto’s very real and very pressing bus problem just isn't an option.

This post was originally published at on 2014-07-30T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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