On transit: keep cutting until ridership drops

The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba:

In order to fill a combined $101-million shortfall in regular and Wheel-Trans service for 2012, chief general manager Gary Webster is recommending the commission run less frequent buses, cut its workforce, and support in principle a 10ยข fare hike to cover the remaining $29-million gap. TTC chair Karen Stintz stressed a fare increase is not up for consideration now.

Loath to face the scorn of a public dead set against bus route cutbacks earlier this year, officials have opted for a strategy that trims costs without cancelling routes.

via Prepare for more crowded buses as TTC report recommends service cuts | Posted Toronto | National Post.

This is a fine bit of gamesmanship from Stintz and the TTC. Suddenly they’re not calling a move that will see buses removed from service a “cut.” It’s an efficiency or reallocation, or whatever, despite the fact that this move will absolutely make service much worse for a large number of riders.

Rob Ford seems to be rather unshakable in his opposition to a fare increase, which I guess owes to his commitment to populism. As Steve Munro has argued, a fare increase is of ten or twenty cents is probably more than justified going into next year’s budget, and in any case seems far preferable to to deep cuts to service.

These sort of budget games only serve to underline the fact that there’s only one proven way to significantly reduce transit costs, and that’s to limit ridership increases. The TTC was at its most affordable in the 1990s, when ridership was at record lows across the board. It was only after the Miller administration started being proactive to promote transit — primarily by increasing service through the Ridership Growth Strategy — that ridership numbers grew to now-record highs.

There are two paths forward for transit in this city. One sees an improved emphasis on frequent and quality service and a coordinated demand for fair and equitable funding for both operating and capital from the other orders of government. The other sees us turn back the clock, slash service to save money, and ultimately cause ridership to fall again, resulting in those lower department costs the Fords have been chasing.

Of course, those cut off from transit will still need to get around, resulting in higher costs elsewhere, but that kind of thinking — long-term, high-level, proactive — isn’t really in vogue these days.

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