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Area transit use hits record levels

Improved service, fuel costs, hot economy credited

Transferable TTC Metropasses go `through the roof’

Jan. 6, 2006. 06:21 AM

The high price of fuel, better service and a hot economy.

Any or all of those reasons helped convince commuters in the Greater Toronto Area to take buses, streetcars, trains and subways more than half a billion times in 2005, as transit authorities across the region report record-setting ridership growth.

“Employment figures are up, and there’s strong correlation between transit and ridership and employment,” said Michael Roschlau, president of the Canadian Urban Transit Association.

“There’s more service out there, there are more fare incentives and the rising cost of driving during that three-month period (of high fuel prices) certainly influenced ridership,” said Roschlau. “I think all of those are factors.”

Transit ridership records were set in:

  • Mississauga, where ridership hit 27.2 million, a 7 per cent hike over 2004.
  • Brampton, where ridership reached 9 million, or 7 per cent higher, with 20 per cent more service and realigned routes.
  • Durham, where 2005 ridership is an estimated 6.7 million, 5 per cent higher thanks in part to new service to the university.
  • Burlington added 100,000 rides, to hit 1.6 million rides.
  • York, boosted by new Viva services, was heading toward 15 million rides, or an 11 per cent gain over last year although the final two months have not been tallied.

And GO Transit is expected to eclipse 47 million annual rides for the first time when its fiscal year ends in March.

“We’re still a growth mode,” said Bill Cunningham, general manager of Mississauga Transit, which added 23 extra buses in 2005 and created new service on Hurontario St. and Burnhamthorpe Rd.

“We’re still a growing city and it certainly helps.”

By far the region’s biggest transit system is the TTC, where job growth in the downtown core and hot sales for a transferable Metropass helped push ridership above 430 million in 2005. That’s 6 million more than the TTC expected, and about 12 million more rides than 2004.

“I think it’s very encouraging,” said TTC commissioner Joe Mihevc. “What it says is that given the right prices, the right routes, the right services, people will use the TTC.”

But it’s not a record � the TTC recorded 463 million rides in 1988 before massive service cuts gutted the system. But the TTC appears well on its way back, with 100 buses to be added to the fleet this year.

“The big thing in 2006 will be using the 100 buses wisely,” said Mihevc. “We need to increase public transit ridership by 3 to 5 per cent a year to get ahead of the curve, to address population growth and make the modal shift (away from the car) happen. Three to 5 per cent means by 2011 you have 500 million rides per year (on the TTC). That’s what I think is a doable and realistic target for the TTC.”

The big change for the TTC was the introduction of a transferable weekly and monthly Metropass. The weekly sales are poor, but the monthly sales are about 16 per cent above 2004 levels.

“Metropasses have gone through the roof,” said Mihevc. “We have close to a quarter of a million people on a monthly plan. Once you get the Metropass, we find ridership jumps quite a bit. Once you have a Metropass, you’re making a lot more trips. You’re making different choices. If it’s affordable and transferable, people will use it.”