TTC bus increase brings service to an ‘adequate’ level

At least one noted transit critic believes Toronto’s recent public transit service increase doesn’t fully address the city’s needs.

Between Feb. 17 and 23, the Toronto Transit Commission began running additional buses on 47 of the city’s busiest routes in order to address overcrowding. At a cost of $56 million, transit riders have expressed relief that the TTC has the money to keep up with demand. But Toronto columnist and public transit expert Ed Drass believes it could be doing more.

“It’s not ambitious,” he said. “It’s merely to catch up with crowding on the TTC that doesn’t even meet their own standards. They’re basically out of line with their own standards.”

According to TTC Chair Adam Giambrone, the Commission adjusts bus service every six weeks. But financial woes have left it unable to add buses to keep up with demand for some time. Now that it has seen some of the proceeds of a fare increase and the recently implemented land-transfer tax, he believes it can finally address some of its shortcomings.

Giambrone expressed his own frustration at the prior lack of funding.

“The TTC reviews all routes roughly three times a year,” he said. “So we knew which routes were overcrowded and required service. We have done this for years, we just didn’t have the money to actually increase the service.”

Many patrons, including Drass, have made it clear that, although they welcome the increase in service, it doesn’t deal with the issue of keeping buses on a regular schedule. They say if buses get far enough behind schedule, delays could undermine efforts to keep the number of riders on each bus at a comfortable level.

“The number one interest is that the buses run regularly,” he said. “Technically, they can meet their own standard by having a thousand people on the first bus and one person on the next three buses behind it.”

Giambrone expressed a different sentiment, saying that he’s focused on keeping buses from getting stuck in gridlock.

“Our biggest challenge is that buses get trapped in traffic,” he said. “We are continuing to do things like implement signal priority, which allows buses to change the signal to a green (light) to let them continue through the intersection.”

Despite his criticism, Drass believes that the TTC, under Giambrone’s stewardship, has developed a positive attitude about service.

“The traditional way to deal with (overcrowding) was to build new rail capacity,” he said. “It was always something around cutting ribbons. Even though that was the predominant attitude, we didn’t get much. That, luckily, is changing.”

Regardless of how smoothly the transit system operates, Giambrone notes that it gets people to where they need to go while minimizing the impact to the environment.

“A packed bus can take as many as 70 cars off the road,” he said. “The average bus can take about 30 cars off the road.”