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The newly elected city council will have considerable power over the Toronto Transit Commission. Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of the group TTC Riders, shares 10 ways the new council could immediately improve our public transit system.
1. Roll out the red carpet: dedicated bus and streetcar lanes
Buses and streetcars moving thousands of people shouldn’t get stuck behind a few car drivers in the turning lane. Giving streetcars priority on King Street was an overnight success, making trips faster and more reliable. A solid red bus lane along Eglinton East, Kingston and Morningside has made Scarborough bus trips more reliable too. An immediate improvement council could make would be to add more red lanes, for TTC vehicles and bikes only, to routes across the city. And bus lanes shouldn’t be used as an excuse to reduce service levels or remove local stops, though.
The already delayed, $5.5 billion Eglinton Crosstown LRT (light rail line) could get stuck at traffic lights and behind left-turning cars. Better signal priority is the answer. Existing streetcar ways, like Spadina and St. Clair, need it too.
2. Treat better transit like an emergency
Public transit use in cities needs to double by 2030 in order to reduce emissions and have a shot at stopping catastrophic climate change. But TTC ridership is now just 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Millions of public transit trips have shifted to Uber and Lyft. The answer? See point number three.
3. Invest in more and better TTC service
Adding service is the best way to increase ridership, and the next best way is to lower fares, studies show. Today, most TTC users are women, shift workers, low-income earners and are racialized. These riders take long trips by bus outside of the typical rush hour. It’s time to boost service at night time and during the day, instead of designing the system only for white-collar office workers commuting to downtown. But because the TTC depends on fares for most of its operating budget and fewer people are riding right now, there is a budget shortfall around the corner. That could mean even worse service. The new city council should increase TTC funding to improve service, not make riders pay the price with fare increases and more service cuts.
4. Show riders some respect
Taking the TTC should be an easy and dignified experience. But it often feels like riders are an afterthought: long gaps between buses, only to have three show up at once; climbing over snow banks to get on board; confusing signs that are only in English; and poor communication during emergencies. Even though the system is wired for it, we can’t use our cellphones on the subway. To get riders back, the TTC needs to get these basics right.
5. Protect door-to-door service for Wheel-Trans users
More people will become eligible for Wheel-Trans in 2025. That’s a good thing. But instead of increasing funding to expand service, the TTC plans to cut costs by “diverting” up to 50 per cent of Wheel-Trans users onto the conventional TTC — In other words, kicking people off of “door-to-door” trips. Riders with disabilities say it’s an unacceptable and cruel plan.
6. Fix the Scarborough RT shuttle bus disaster
The Scarborough RT (Rapid Transit system), also known as Line 3, will close in late 2023. But the 3-stop subway extension replacement won’t open until 2030 at the earliest. Riders convinced the TTC to turn the RT rail corridor into a dedicated, off-street busway after it gets decommissioned in 2023. But that interim step will still take years to build. In the meantime, there will be shuttle buses on city streets. At a bare minimum, we need on-street bus lanes for those shuttle buses, and free transfers to the GO network.
7. Expand free transit
Toronto’s discount for low-income riders is failing on three fronts: it’s not truly affordable, it’s failing to reach all the people who are eligible and its expansion to low-wage workers hasn’t been funded. One first step the city could take is to send a free TTC card to every person receiving the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or Ontario Works (OW), because the city already administers these programs. To ensure access to education, free transit should be expanded right away to high school students too, who get policed on their way to school, especially BIPOC students.
8. Stand up for Toronto, take on Metrolinx
There are two transit agencies in town: elected city councillors sit on the TTC board. At Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency that answers to Premier Doug Ford, there is no local elected representation and private consultants play a big role. Metrolinx runs the PRESTO system and signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Shoppers Drug Mart (owned by Loblaws Companies), which is why you can’t get TTC tokens or passes at your corner store any more. TTC staff can’t fix PRESTO machines or gates either. The new city council will need to be a strong voice as it negotiates around PRESTO and other issues like funding for service levels on provincial rapid transit projects.
9. Keep transit human
From phasing out booth collectors in favour of PRESTO machines, to removing a second staff position on the subway known as the “door guard,” TTC stations are getting emptier. But most riders want to see more supportive staff, not less. More staff on platforms would make the system more accessible too. Like many other women and LGBTQIA+ people, I’ve experienced my share of harassment on the TTC. More staff is only one element of ending gender-based violence and harassment on transit, but it’s an important one.
10. Try taking the TTC for once
Many elected officials don’t understand or care about what’s happening on the TTC because they don’t use it. They should ride the rocket regularly.
TTC riders asked all mayoral and council candidates about their commitments to these ideas, and others. To track how they deliver on their promises, follow them at TTCriders.ca and @TTCriders