News / Toronto

TTC ridership is missing its growth targets, and no one knows why

The transit system is likely to miss its target by more than 5 million riders this year, but nobody knows quite why.

Torstar News Service

Toronto’s transit system may feel crowded to daily rush-hour riders. But it’s not as crowded as it should be.

TTC ridership continues to decline compared with the agency’s targets, according to figures in CEO Andy Byford’s latest report, released Thursday. As of March, the TTC had logged 134.7 million trips since the start of the year, 5.4 million fewer than the agency budgeted for.

If ridership continues on its current course, the TTC will miss its year-end target of 553 million rides by between eight million and 13 million, leaving the commission with a revenue shortfall of $20 million to $30 million.

The numbers confirm a trend already evident in the first few months of 2016. By February, the TTC was already four million trips short.

Byford said the statistics are “a real concern,” but he noted that Toronto’s transit system isn’t the only one seeing weakened demand. Ridership in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal is also soft.

“It’s definitely not just a Toronto phenomenon,” Byford said. “Our view is it is linked to the economy.” He said that while Toronto’s unemployment rate isn’t as bad as it has been, sometimes there is a lag between economic upturns and corresponding increased transit use.

Councillor Joe Mihevc, who sits on the TTC board, believes a number of factors could be contributing to low ridership stats, including an uptick in fare evasion following the introduction of all-door boarding on all streetcars last December and regular fare increases that have priced out some potential passengers.

“At some point, because the fares have gone higher than the inflation rate, that will have a negative impact on rides. We’ve pushed that envelope pretty hard in the last little while as a city,” he said.

Byford said statistics collected by TTC fare inspectors don’t suggest fare evasion has become more common, and there is little evidence fare prices are behind the decline. But commission staff are looking at all possible factors in an effort to reverse the trend. A report on the ridership decline is expected at the board’s July 11 meeting.

The CEO added that, while it’s possible the commission might consider scaling back plans to expand service, he’s wary of making any “knee-jerk” decisions.

“On the one hand, we’re coolly and calmly analyzing this data to get to the fact rather than the anecdotes,” he said. “At the same time, there is a sense of urgency. We recognize that it’s an emerging problem, and we’re not taking that lightly.”

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