Toronto’s public transit must up frequency, lower fares post-pandemic, advocate says

TTCriders is leading the charge for change

Empty TTC subway car
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a drastic drop in ridership. (UNSPLASH) 

Waiting for the pandemic to be over can sometimes feel like waiting for a bus that will never arrive.

And in the pandemic, long waits for transit are a reality for many Toronto residents.

While public health workers work towards a COVID-19-free future, others are fighting to make public transit more efficient and accessible.

Safety concerns and the number of workers and students now based at home instead of commuting have resulted in a drastic drop in TTC ridership.  

In turn, this has resulted in service cuts, leading to delays.

“This affects people who rely on transit to get to work downtown and frontline workers who might have to reach certain people within East York,” said Thai Higashihara, an East York-based member of TTCriders, a transit improvement advocacy organization.  

Higashihara says service cuts impact many East York residents, including himself as a University of Toronto Scarborough student who needs to travel to campus.

He said delays can make it difficult for him to show up for a class at a specific time reliably.

How will Toronto get moving again?

In the second quarter of 2022, the TTC has said it plans to return service to pre-pandemic levels while keeping fares frozen at current rates.

According to TTC spokesperson Stuart Green, transit might look different as Toronto begins transitioning into a post-pandemic world.

He said integration is a significant component of future plans. 

“People may now look at public transit not only as the sole mode of transportation but as a piece of their trip,” he explained.

“Perhaps they’re riding their bikes to the local subway stations instead of taking the bus, and then taking the subway, and then walking to work.”

Green suggested Torontonians might take part of that journey via microtransit.

Microtransit is a method of transit that offers flexible routing/scheduling of minibus vehicles shared with other passengers, much like an Uber pool.

The cost of microtransit differs in cities where it is already operational.

Rides in Los Angeles, where the city partners with Via Transportation, are free, whereas microtransit services in Lincoln, Ne. costs $5.

Green also noted ongoing transit expansion projects with Metrolinx. 

“[Light Rail Transit] Projects like Eglinton Crosstown or Finch West are going to be important pieces of what transit looks like in the future.”

The LRT projects mentioned by Green are both intended to help residents cross the city faster.

According to Higashihara, however, “flashy” projects like LRT, or microtransit are not necessarily the solution to Toronto’s transit woes.

He said it is good that these projects move public transit up the agenda, but they need to be accompanied by funding specifically for operations.

Higashihara thinks a larger fleet of electric buses and bus priority lanes could go a long way in relieving the city’s congestion issues.

“If there’s an issue on a route, they can easily and quickly reroute a bus system,” he says.

According to a 2018 study out of Philadelphia by Jarrett Walker + Associates and The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, for a transit system to run efficiently, a network of routes must “optimize frequency, span, connections, speed, reliability and capacity.”

Accessibility matters 

More frequent transit does not mean everyone can ride, however.

Torontonians pay more to ride the TTC than residents in other North American cities, at CAD $3.25 for a single adult fare.

According to Higashihara, the lack of a fare reduction/cap is a barrier to transit that works for all.

“These problems affect lower-income residents within our communities more, and often it’s those people most at risk, actually, from getting COVID,” he said.

“They’ve [the TTC] sort of prioritized balancing the books instead of creating an equitable transit system that works for everyone.”

To help solve this problem, TTCriders advocates for the city to fully fund the Fair Pass program.

The program provides low-income residents with fare discounts of up to 33 per cent.

To be eligible for the program, residents must receive a child-care subsidy or be clients of Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program.

The program’s next phase, which would see the discount apply to all adults under a certain income, is held back by lack of funding.

Higashihara is optimistic about the future, despite the uphill battle faced.

“There is an increased awareness regarding the need for transit as a multi-issue solution tackling climate change to racial and income inequality,” he says.

“People are starting to realize that transit is not only needed but must be advocated for.”

You can learn more about TTCriders on their website

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Posted: Feb 14 2022 9:30 am
Filed under: COVID-19 News