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TTC 'sardine experience' looms

Budget shortfall may force transit agency to pack in more passengers at rush hours

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 Page A16

With many TTC riders already feeling too intimate with one another during the crowded system’s rush hours, the city’s budget shortfall is now forcing the transit agency to consider packing more passengers onto its subways, buses and streetcars.

Toronto Transit Commission staff will present the nine-member commission of Toronto city councillors with a report today showing how the TTC could save as much as $5-million this year if it were to plan for overcrowding.

It’s an option that nobody within the TTC likes, but is under discussion because the city’s budget advisory committee has asked the TTC to cut $17.5-million from its 2006 balance sheet. (A fare increase, which would follow a 10-cent hike last year, could bring in $10-million to $20-million, but also remains unpopular with commissioners.)

Tim Same, 28, who was riding the subway during afternoon rush hour yesterday, said he’s noticed more crowding on the system over the past five or six years. “It’s getting worse… . This morning I missed three trains because they were jam-packed and I couldn’t get on.”

TTC chairman Howard Moscoe said he does not want to squish passengers in order to save money: “We’re not going to be like Tokyo, where they hire people to push people into the subway cars.”

Packing passengers in is a fact of life in rush hour: Last year, the TTC budgeted for 424 million riders but carried more than 430 million. And, to save money as the year drew to a close, it allowed “modest overcrowding” by holding off on putting new vehicles on some routes, TTC commissioner Joe Mihevc said.

Mitch Stambler, the TTC’s manager of services planning, said the agency has “load standards” on all of its vehicles, set to target average passenger counts when a vehicle is considered full, but not packed.

In rush hour, the TTC considers a bus full when 52 to 57 passengers are aboard. The number is 75 for a streetcar, 108 for a longer articulated streetcar and a six-car subway train is meant to carry 1,000 people.

“After that, it’s the sardine experience,” said Mr. Mihevc, who is also the vice-chairman of the city’s budget advisory committee.

At peak times, these limits are often exceeded. That would happen more often if the TTC budgets for overcrowding.

Increasing passenger loads would also bring other problems, warns TTC chief general manager Rick Ducharme. It would be harder for riders to get on and off vehicles, schedules would be thrown off and more passengers would be left on the platform as subway cars, too packed to take on more riders, passed them by. “It’s a domino effect,” Mr. Ducharme said.

In a separate issue to be discussed at today’s meeting, TTC managers will present the commission with a proposal to cut 29 cleaning staff as part of a reorganization plan that would save $1.3-million.

The plan, Mr. Ducharme said, is meant to move the heavy-duty machine-washing of subway stations to nighttime, when it can be done more efficiently and more often.

But Mr. Moscoe said the idea is a non-starter, as much of the TTC is “disgusting” and needs more cleaners, not fewer. He said he was so disgusted with the state of Yorkdale station on a visit yesterday that he called Mr. Ducharme to demand the place be “power-washed.”

“You’ve got stainless steel pillars that have never been washed,” he said. “You’ve got a walkway between Yorkdale station and Yorkdale Plaza that is filthy. The station walls themselves are disgusting. That’s not tolerable, it’s unacceptable.”

Bob Kinnear, president of Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, also opposes the plan. He said it would leave the stations dirtier and raise security concerns, since janitors are extra eyes and ears in the system during the day.