News / Toronto

Fifty TTC routes exceed crowding standards

Latest counts show more than a quarter of bus and streetcar lines are above crowding targets at some point during the week.

People line up to board the westbound 505 streetcar at Yonge and Dundas Sts. on Oct. 30, 2017. One quarter of the TTC's surface routes regularly exceeded their crowding targets this year.

RICHARD LAUTENS / Torstar News Service Order this photo

People line up to board the westbound 505 streetcar at Yonge and Dundas Sts. on Oct. 30, 2017. One quarter of the TTC's surface routes regularly exceeded their crowding targets this year.

Fifty of the TTC’s bus and streetcar routes exceed crowding standards at some point during the week, and the transit agency says a lack of available vehicles is at the root of the problem.

Rider counts collected in the spring and fall of this year and provided to the Star by the TTC show roughly one quarter of the agency’s surface routes regularly breached their crowding targets.

The 50 overcapacity routes represent a slight increase from the 43 that exceeded the standards in 2016.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said in most cases of overcrowding, “the average number of passengers per vehicle is only slightly in excess of our crowding standards,” and in some instances the counts are over by just “one or two people.”

He said the agency makes more than 100 service adjustments each year to respond to demand, but service is constrained by the “availability of resources” such as operators and vehicles.

According to the transit agency, its fleet has been stretched thin largely as a result of delays to the delivery of its new, larger Bombardier streetcars. As its older streetcars are scrapped, the TTC has been forced to deploy buses onto streetcar routes.

Agency leaders hope the completion of the Bombardier order, as well as large purchases of new buses that are in the works, will help address the crowding issues.

“Any suggestion that we are not taking steps to alleviate crowding … is wholly inaccurate,” wrote TTC CEO Andy Byford in an email.

The TTC’s crowding standards vary depending on the vehicle type, time of day, and whether it’s a weekend or weekday. The benchmarks are typically higher during busy periods like rush hour, and lower during less busy periods like Sunday afternoon.

If a route exceeds the standard, that doesn’t necessarily mean vehicles are bursting at the seams. But it’s the TTC’s stated goal to put enough vehicles on the street to meet the targets. The extent to which the crowding standards are exceeded reveals how much the agency is falling short of its own service goals.

According to the crowding counts, 13 bus and streetcar routes were overcrowded during either the morning or afternoon rush, and 30 routes were over the standard at some point during the weekday. The remainder exceeded targets only during weekends.

The overcrowded rush hour routes were: the 11 Bayview, 23 Dawes, 24 Victoria Park, 42 Cummer, 43 Kennedy, 46 Martin Grove, 88 South Leaside, 113 Danforth, 122 Graydon Hall, 185 Don Mills Rocket, and 199 Finch Rocket buses, as well as the 504 King and 505 Dundas streetcars.

The worst rush hour route was the 505 Dundas streetcar, which on average carried 122 per cent of the standard during the afternoon rush.

The TTC says a lack of available vehicles is at the root of its overcrowding problem.

TTC/ Torstar News Service

The TTC says a lack of available vehicles is at the root of its overcrowding problem.

Two routes were tied for exceeding the standards by the highest percentage at any time of the week. The 504 King streetcar, which is the TTC’s busiest surface route, carried an average of 123 per cent of the target during Saturday evening. The much less busy 129 McCowan North bus was over the standard by the same percentage during Saturday morning.

Transit expert Steve Munro said many riders may experience crowding that’s worse than the TTC’s numbers suggest, because the counts are averages. When vehicles run close together or “bunch,” the ones at the front of the group can become extremely crowded while the ones that follow can remain half empty.

“Most riders of course are on the packed vehicle, so the perceived level … of crowding can be worse than the actual level of crowding because of irregularity in service,” he said.

Munro argued that although it’s true vehicle shortages can make it difficult for the TTC to put sufficient service on the street during the busiest times of the week, “in the off-peak period there is no excuse for not having enough service, other than you simply don’t want to run it.”

Green, the TTC spokesperson, pointed out overcrowding occurs during only a fraction of service hours. Each surface route can have as many as 15 separate “operating periods” during the week, each one with its own defined service level. The agency has about 200 bus and streetcar routes, some of which only operate during certain times, which means the TTC runs roughly 1,900 separate operating periods per week.

Calculated this way, the 50 routes that were over capacity this year exceeded the targets during 94 operating periods, or about 5 per cent of the 1,900 weekly total. Last year there were 99 overcrowded operating periods.

Overcrowding on TTC buses and streetcars remains steady despite council increasing the subsidy the city gives to the agency by more than 10 per cent this year, to $546.8 million. Fares also increased 10 cents at the start of 2017.

At the same time, the TTC isn’t grappling with unforeseen demand. Ridership growth has begun to stagnate, with the agency expecting about 538 million customers this year, the same amount as in 2016.

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