2008 success story: the TTC

As much as I might not have believed it, the TTC has been one of Toronto greatest success stories of 2008, and it’s all about the little things. Despite a sudden and nasty strike in April and many long-standing complaints, the TTC has moved convincingly in the right direction this year. It’s a qualified success story, as there’s still much to do.

The Good

• There were two major service improvements this year, in February and in November. The February improvements mostly addressed some of the deferred improvements to ease crowding and improve minimum headways on core routes, while the November improvements set a minimum 30 minute service level on all routes, every day, 18 hours a day. Some routes went from rush hours only to full service literally overnight.

The next step, if there is funding available, would be to increase this minimum to 20 minutes (originally promised, but deferred to at least November 2009), but perhaps a minimum 15 or 10 minute service standard on the core routes might be another idea worth considering – some core routes, like 41 Keele, run with frequencies worse than 20 minutes in evening periods. Other ideas in the works would be an expansion of the express bus network, an idea that could act as a transition step between plain old bus service and higher-order transit.

• The TTC’s ridership finally broke the previous record set in 1987 (463.5 million rides) to 465 million rides from November 2007 through November 2008.

• A promise of a fare freeze for 2009, welcome after a rather steep fare increase this year (increasing the base price for a Metropass by $9.25). Hopefully, this will not jeopardize improvements next year by constraining the budget.

• Gadgets! The new next streetcar displays at Spadina and Union Stations are a nice touch, even though there are some problems – the one at Union doesn’t display times for the 509 Car, and the one at Union Spadina Station doesn’t yet distinguish between cars turning at Adelaide/King, and those headed to Queen’s Quay and Union Station. The next train displays at Dundas Station are neat, but not that necessary, as the subway is generally reliable and trains always come within 5 minutes.  

Then there’s Red Rocket, an unofficial iPhone app. I still refuse to get an iPhone thanks to the overpriced cellphone monopoly, but the idea is inspired, and has proven to be popular. For its part, the TTC has been much more lax towards unofficial homages like rap songs and wall decals these days.

• The Downtown Relief Line has crept back into the public consciousness, and is now discussed and debated in detail again by serious transit advocates. At least in my opinion, such a line is now needed, particularly with not only Transit City construction expected to start next year, but also the promised Yonge Subway extension deep into the 905 to Highway 7 in Richmond Hill. However, the TTC only plans to start in 2018, and is pushed back in the Metrolinx regional transit plan to the 25 year timeline.

The Bad

The sudden (but legal this time) 2-day strike that stranded passengers on the evening of April 25, going back on their promise of 24-hour notice, blaming the victims due to “dangers of assaults from angry and irrational members of the public.” Of course we were angry, but TTC passengers proved Bob Kinnear wrong when were no assaults were reported once service resumed starting Sunday afternoon after back-to-work legislation. But the strike has been largely forgotten, at least until the next time around.

The Ugly

• TTC signage is still a mess, and the May 2008 edition of the subway maps was an epic fail. Also, some TTC maps are comically out of date. However, TTC Communications Director Brad Ross promised here that new station vicinity maps are coming in 2009, and the latest edition of the subway maps (September 2008) have brought back the old fonts and station address formats after posts here and originally at 299BloorCallControl.

• The TTC’s website got a much needed facelift, but more work has to be done to bring up to expectations. Once easily accessible planning documents such as the service summary were unavailable for months after the relaunch. However, we are going to eventually see a trip planner next year.

• Of course, there are still outstanding problems with line management, with the 501 Queen Car the most noted example.

There is a lot the TTC can – and should – improve upon, but there is some reason for optimism.

Photo by eskimo_jo


  1. It’s been great to see the TTC loosening up on unofficial, “fan” projects. There’s a great transit community in Toronto and allowing that community to help itself, and others, will only benefit the TTC in the long run. It’s a practice I hope to see continue.

  2. Yonge Subway extension deep into the 905 to Highway 7 in Richmond Hill: this is pretty revisionist.

    “The 905” extends north from Steeles for about 75 kilometres. The Yonge Subway extension will go to Highway 7, which is 5 kilometres into “the 905”. Six percent into the 905 isn’t “deep”. It’s barely even shallow.

    The subway will only run along the city’s busiest bus corridor, which runs from Finch to 7. Then it will stop.

  3. Disparishun: You write as if I was particuarly against the subway extension (I’m not, though I think the DRL should come first).

    Please, spare me your claims of revisionism. I stand by what I say because in relative terms, it is relatively deep into the 905, deeper than the Vaughan extension will be (an extra concession road’s worth) and just into a municipality that does not even border Toronto. It will be deeper into the suburbs than any other subway line will likely ever reach.

    So what’s your definition of “deep”? Holland Landing? After all, a knife cut 7% into one’s body isn’t a shallow cut, it’s a gash.

    Oh, and by the way, the 905 area code stops at Bradford’s northern boundary, no more than 50 kilometres north up Highway 11. Innisfil and Barrie are 705. That makes it 10% in to the 905 area code, farms and marshes and all.

  4. I enjoyed my 10 days back in Toronto after being away for more than a year. Riding the TTC bus and subway reminded me that the system still works fairly well, even if it is a bit pricey. The attitude of the city is also about as pro-transit as can be hoped for, given the small size of the rapid transit system and the overall postwar nature of the urban environment.

    Was also interesting to see the massive development along Sheppard that has followed the s(t)ubway and the relentless condo ads touting TTC connections, showing the potential that will be unlocked if the system can ever find a way to grow. Want that much-talked about plan of densified arterial streets lined with 8-story buildings? Build the damn rail lines – the evidence is all right in front of you that it will work.

    Now all that remains is to:

    a) complete the little good things that Sean points out, like Next Train

    b) fix the dumb little things mentioned above, like signage and maps. How can the city’s own visitor map highlight the streetcar routes (http://www.toronto.ca/torontomaps/pdf/visitor_map_page1.pdf) but the TTC maps either ignore them (subway RT map) or make them indistinguishable from buses (system map)? Complete and utter idiocy.

    c) build all of Transit City

    d) then fix Transit City so that it makes sense. Once it is built the gaps will become too obvious to ignore and the sunk investment will be so great that the only remaining option will be to finally do things properly. Fill in the gaps, add the downtown relief line, cross all of Sheppard-Finch in one seat, etc.

    Best wishes for 2009.

  5. That a Downtown Relief Line is only “creeping back into the public consciousness” (not that the public matters when it comes to transit planning) while Subway extensions are being built into the 905, can only be considered ugly. Nice examples, really, of how transit run by politicians gets you exactly the opposite what is required – overpriced, uneconomic showcase projects that bleed the profitable parts of the network. Nice going.

  6. So what’s your definition of “deep”? Holland Landing? After all, a knife cut 7% into one’s body isn’t a shallow cut, it’s a gash.

    That’s a poor analogy. A knife cut 7% into one’s skin is, indeed, a surface wound. A knife cut 80% into one’s skin — still far from 7% into one’s body, mind you — is, indeed, deep. The reference point is the skin, not the “body”. But how is any of this relevant?

    But, sure, to go deep into 905 you’d have to enter some significant part of it. With respect to the region that stretches all the way up to Lake Simcoe, no, hitting Highway 7 is not deep into 905. Hell, the southern tip of Richmond Hill is still a local call to Toronto, and a long distance call to most of the 905.

    Those who view “the 905” as some undifferentiated mass that is, in turn, separate and distinct from “the 416”, don’t know very much about either.

    Oh, and by the way, the 905 area code stops at Bradford’s northern boundary, no more than 50 kilometres north up Highway 11. Innisfil and Barrie are 705. That makes it 10% in to the 905 area code, farms and marshes and all.

    Oh, for God’s sake. I was going the other way from Yonge and Steeles to Sutton, also 905, and ballparked it at 75 km. But fine. A 55.9 kilometre straight shot north from Steeles and Markham Road. And, sure, 10%. This is your subway deep into the 905? The boundary between Thornhill — sorry, Vaughan and Markham — and Richmond Hill? Please.

    Please, spare me your claims of revisionism. I stand by what I say because in relative terms, it is relatively deep into the 905, deeper than the Vaughan extension will be (an extra concession road’s worth)

    Tell you what. I’ll spare you the claims when you stop making spurious ones. Similarly — seriously, “an extra concession’s worth”? The two subway stops border on the same highway, and do so expressly. Yup, the highway meanders north.

    and just into a municipality that does not even border Toronto.

    Specifically, about 900 metres into a municipality that does not border the City of Toronto. Kind of nitpicky, no?

    But if you’re not just making semantic arguments about political lines on maps and, in fact, are arguing that the location of the proposed RHC is not inside Toronto’s urban agglomeration, then I cannot agree. The Finch-7 corridor is a highly integrated one, and from a transit standpoint, one of the busiest in the city. That there is an imaginary boundary at Steeles does not much matter to those who live and work in the area, crossing that magical line constantly.

    Finally: Disparishun: You write as if I was particuarly against the subway extension (I’m not, though I think the DRL should come first).

    And I think they’re both worthwhile transit projects for Toronto. (The actually-existing Toronto, not the imaginary one that somehow stops at Steeles Avenue.) They both need to happen. Playing off worthwhile transit projects against each other is exactly the kind of beggar-thy-neighbourism that has long crippled transit in this city. The repositioning of the inner 905 as somehow existing outside of “Toronto” is part and parcel of that kind of thinking.

  7. You missed some bad and ugly events:

    Bad: The new hybrid buses put in service this year are lemons! This on top of the terrible base design for the diesel variety.

    Bad: The current streetcars are falling to pieces at a rate far faster than generally known. There are not enough working streetcars to meet rushhour service, and this is with the St Clair line closed. This is a problem that only gets worse.

    Ugly: New Streetcar Order – could this have been any more messed up?

    Here’s some optimism for you: 501 Queen service is being REDUCED in January! Yes I’m sure optimistic!

  8. Disparishun is completely out to lunch – the Highway 7 extension might be justified, but does extend well beyond the TTC’s service area. That area is, of course, called the ‘905’. And going 5 km in is deep by at least my standard.

    Yeah, it’s been mostly good news for a change out of the TTC this year, even with the ATU screwing the passengers yet again. Though the Orions sure turned out to be lemons, but isn’t exactly the TTC’s fault. The streetcar bid was a failure.

  9. I added a few routes to the TTC’s channel in Viigo for my Blackberry, which as far as I can tell works very similarly to how the iPhone’s app does. The difference is that it didn’t cost me a cent to download.

  10. I know some of the commentators above don’t agree with some of what Disparishun is saying — but I think he/she has brought up some good points. Some of subway expansions being talked about may contravene the TTC’s specific mandate because they extend outside the City of Toronto’s official limits. True, the TTC’s funding model (or for the other regional transit providers) doesn’t support the idea that they should pay attention to needs just outside their border. In my view, these funding models and planning approaches are part of the problem. Hopefully Metrolinx will take pains to address these (though I’m not holding my breath).

    As I think is becoming abundantly clear, part of the reason we are in the mess we are in is because we have a region full of municipal fiefdoms all selfishly making decisions in their own best interest — and the rest of the region be damned. The net result is a prisoners’ dilemma in which we are all prisoners. ALL of us in the GTA have paid a high price — economically, environmentally, and in terms of quality of life — for this lack of regional integration/planning for decision-making on things like transit, transportation, land-use planning, density, etc. Look at successful city regions in other parts of the world and you will not find this lack of regional integration.

    As for the views expressed (reiterated frequently on this site) that the 905 area is “suburban” and the City of Toronto is “urban”, well to quote Gershwin, “it ain’t necessarily so”. There are parts of TO that are urban and other parts that are definitely suburban. Same thing in the other “cities” in the GTA — though the ratio of urban to suburban is lower outside TO. Yeah, I know many folks think “urban” is the cat’s pyjamas (and I agree we should be encouraging it across the GTA), but just slapping the label on parts that are suburban doesn’t necessarily change things overnight, and probably prevents us from adequately addressing long-festering problems. It took us years to get us into this mess and getting us out isn’t going to happen overnight.

    Anyways, a happy new year to all.

  11. Oh, and regarding all the “service upgrades” we’ve been hearing on the TTC, on some lines we can say these are legitimate improvements. On other lines, it’s more a case of restoring passenger capacity that was LOST when the new buses came in. Anybody notice that they accommodate about 25-33% fewer passengers than the old buses — which means you need more buses to handle the same number of passengers. That’s why on some routes you had buses full unable to pick up passengers at the the stop.

  12. Perhaps Disparishun was not wrong, but he had the wrong way of saying it. However, it needs to be said that we are building all these unproved Transit City streetcar lines dumping to the subway, and then extending the busiest subway and expecting it to work fine even though it goes even far beyond the TTC’s mandated service area. Wouldn’t everyone benefit with ensuring people can actually get on the Yonge line – that is why the DRL needs to be built first, then Yonge to Hwy 7.

    Even Steve Munro says the DRL should probably go to Don Mills and Eglinton. How far should the subway go? Barrie? At some point, a proper, frequent GO service needs to take over. Yonge to Highway 7 isn’t a bad idea, even, but where to handle the riders?

  13. (Blush) I know there must have been a few earth tremors when it became evident that I was actually talking about (gasp) subway construction.

    Must be the weather or something.

    Happy New Year to all!

  14. and just think, none of this would have happened if Howard Moscoe was still the Chair. Applause to Adam Gimbrone for his work.

  15. I find it funny that we’re discussing a subway extension into Richmond Hill when the current subway/RT barely goes halfway into Scarborough, population approx. 700,000.

  16. Just want to be clear, I’m not saying Disparshun is right — just that she/he had what I think are legitimate points. In fact, I don’t agree with his implications that city of Toronto ratepayers should shouler a substantial part (which they would be under the TTC’s current funding model) for extensions into York Region.

    To Citizen at 10:31 pm., I think we should hold the applause for Councillor Giambrone. Among other things, this is the same person who when earlier this year, asked by a journalist about riders’ concerns about the deteriorating state of cleanliness at TTC stations, insisted that riders were wrong in their perceptions and that stations were cleaner than before. Of course anyone who has used the system for the past 10 years, knows this claim is simply riculous.

  17. Regarding “The TTC’s ridership finally broke the previous record set in 1987 (463.5 million rides) to 465 million rides from November 2007 through November 2008.” It would be interesting to see what percentage of the Toronto population 463.5 million rides was in 1987 compared to the percentage of the present Toronto population 465 million rides is.

  18. Another nitpick: 1988 was the year of the record ridership, not 1987.

  19. For all the different problems that exist, I do think that the TTC seems to have turned a corner in the last couple of years. There are suddenly a whole series of initiatives that benefit riders, that people have been wanting for years – next-stop announcements, free extended New Year’s Eve service, acceptance of unofficial booster projects, a better website, and now testing of next-vehicle announcements at stops. Think back to three years ago when the TTC was sullen and inward-looking, and not doing much of anything except keeping the existing system going. We’ve been wanting all this for years, and now suddenly it’s all happening. Even many of the hiccups are the results of good initiatives gone awry (energy-efficient buses, new streetcars). Add all this to the first really ambitious service expansion in years (Transit City), and it’s a very different and better TTC from what we had a few years ago.

  20. Since some commenters are nitpicking, I would argue the comment by Patrick at 4:54 on Dec 31:

    “we are building all these unproved Transit City streetcar lines.

    Umm, the numbers clearly show that the lines for Transit City are some of the busiest in the city. They almost all demand higher order transit then they currently receive.

  21. IMHO the TTC needs to extend subway service to be 24 hours on the weekends (at least/especially the long/holiday weekends) so as to discourage drunk driving.
    I am all for the modernization but I just think that the money being spent on all the remodeling of stations and the GPS tracking of streetcars can be better spent on extending service hours to help keep our streets safer (from drunk drivers).
    As well, the recent extending of service hours of bus routes to ‘match the subway service hours’ was also quite silly when you consider that the last bus still leaves from the furthest north stations (e.g. Downsview) long before the last subway train makes it to those stations.
    Just my $0.02

  22. I agree with Dylan Reid, this past year has been one of the best for the TTC in a long time. After years of doing little and then going into survival mode (1988-2005), the number of improvements and new projects rivals the heyday of the early 1980s, when it seemed like there were route extensions and improvements and new projects being announced and completed on an ongoing basis. Let’s keep the momentum going!

  23. @Dan – this can be made possible but only once the Yonge line is resignalled in 2015 or so. This will allow the subway to use one tunnel bidirectionally while the other side is undergoing maintenance.

    @MattB – I take Patrick’s side somewhat. The fact is that TTC botched their opportunity to make St. Clair a showcase line for Transit City and that as it stands the citizens of Toronto have no clear idea of what LRT will mean for them. There is not only no certainty of its look and operation but even no guarantee that TTC, Roads and Hydro can work together (see also Fleet St.)

    If we were basing TC on which lines were ready to go from a ridership perspective we wouldn’t be pushing ahead with Sheppard East which will be caught up in a fight over how to interface with the subway, we’d have shovels in the ground to start Eglinton LRT westward from the Allen Road while the tunnel boring machine gets cracking on pushing towards Yonge. After all, on the TTC’s own TC site Eglinton had more votes than all the other lines combined.

  24. Another good thing has been the addition of bike racks to more bus routes. I suspect we’ll come to appreciate this more in the summer.

  25. @Mark Dowling: The St. Clair streetcar right-of-way is just that. Transit City is something different entirely — different (bigger and longer) vehicles, different stop spacing.

  26. Re: comment by Jordan that St. Clair right of way and Transit City are entirely different. They may be different in terms of how the TTC classifies projects. But from the perspective of the person on the street, they are not. And even if they are considered as entirely different, I agree with Mark’s comment that the implementation of the St. Clair project has likely generated sizeable concern and cynacism regarding how smoothly (NOT) the construction of the Transit City lines is likely to go.

  27. This article is laughable. The TTC cannot even get basic operational standards in place. As usual, today’s average snowfall caused the standard painful delays.

    The TTC should make basic improvements to account for operating in a country with weather like Canada’s as a baby step.

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