Toronto Star

TTC to continue at reduced service levels

Providing bus service to poorer areas is a priority, public transit agency says

- BEN SPURR TRANSPORTA­TION REPORTER

The TTC is planning to reduce service from previously scheduled levels and continue operating on the pandemic footing it adopted in 2020 as it heads into its second calendar year grappling with the COVID-19 crisis.

In a report on its annual service plan released Wednesday, the TTC proposed a three per cent cut to regular operating hours in 2021 compared to service it had budgeted for in 2020. The reduction would save about $20.5 million.

But transit agency staff note in the report that although the planned 2021 service offering is less than what the TTC budgeted for this year, it would be a continuati­on of operations. That’s because the TTC started cutting back from 2020 budgeted service hours in the spring once the crisis hit and demand for transit plummeted.

It brought service back as demand rebounded, but it’s still operating at about 95 per cent of normal service. In 2021, the agency intends to continue offering current service levels “at

a minimum,” according to the report.

The TTC also pledged to continue its “demand-responsive” approach that it says will allow it to deploy additional vehicles to routes as they get busy, and react to the dramatic changes in travel patterns wrought by the coronaviru­s.

The agency says one of its priorities is providing service on high-ridership bus corridors that serve poorer neighbourh­oods and connect to essential employment hubs, grocery stores, pharmacies and health care facilities.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been adapting to challengin­g circumstan­ces and unusual pressures with a

focus on ensuring the system is safe for customers and employees,” said TTC CEO Rick Leary in a statement.

“Every day, our service looks a little different because the ridership demands change. But we will continue to be flexible and provide the best possible service to those who are relying on us now more than ever.”

Most of the planned reductions in service hours in 2021 relate to cuts to subway and streetcar service to meet lower ridership demand. Regular service hours on bus routes, where demand is higher than the other two modes, will be slightly above current pandemic levels, according to TTC spokespers­on Stuart Green. Over the

next two months, the agency is retraining subway and streetcar operators to drive buses to serve busy routes.

The president of the largest TTC workers union slammed the service reductions, saying they amounted to “public transit moving in the wrong direction.”

“Every hour of service cut results in longer wait times and more overcrowdi­ng, which is a public health issue during a pandemic. It will be impossible for Toronto’s economy to recover from the coronaviru­s pandemic and for us to meet our long-term climate change goals unless we increase the use of public transit,” Carlos Santos, president of Amalgamate­d

Transit Union Local 113, said in a statement.

He called on the federal and provincial government­s to provide operating funding “to ensure TTC service is increased, rather than decreased, in 2021.”

The TTC has faced fierce public criticism for allowing crowding on some of its vehicles during the pandemic, particular­ly on busy bus routes in lowerincom­e parts of the city where workers in essential sectors continue to rely on transit.

According to the service plan, crowding isn’t the norm and as of last month three-quarters of bus trips had fewer than 15 people on them, while 95 per cent had fewer than 25 passengers. The report recommends maintainin­g a target of no more than 25 people per bus at the start of 2021, but increasing that to 35 people as demand increases by the end of the year.

In a separate report released Wednesday, the TTC outlined its plans for subway closures in 2021 to allow for maintenanc­e, signal upgrades and constructi­on of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT.

The agency is planning 37 full weekend closures, two single day closures, six late Sunday openings and 197 early weeknight closures.

 ?? STEVE RUSSELL TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO ?? Most planned reductions in service hours in 2021 are cuts to subway and streetcar service to meet lower ridership demand. The largest TTC workers union slammed the service reductions.
STEVE RUSSELL TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO Most planned reductions in service hours in 2021 are cuts to subway and streetcar service to meet lower ridership demand. The largest TTC workers union slammed the service reductions.

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