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TTC approves five-year bus plan

By Brodie Fenelon

If subways and streetcars are the thoroughbreds of Toronto’s transit system, the buses are the workhorses. They may not be sleek or sexy, but the city can’t do without them. In fact, 60 per cent of all TTC customers use a bus for part or all of their journey. Last year, that amounted to about 300-million customer trips.

Yet they’ve been upstaged and outshone by subway extension plans, Transit City light rail announcements and Mayor David Miller’s mad scramble for stimulus dollars to fund the purchase of 204 new streetcars.

As city councillor and TTC commissioner Anthony Perruzza put it, buses are the “poor cousin” of the transit fleet.

For a moment today, at a late summer meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission, the buses got their due as commissioners approved a new five-year “Transit City Bus Plan” that will, among others things, reduce wait times to 10 minutes or less on 21 key routes, day or night.

“At the end of the day, the heart of the system, while it depends on the subway for large volume movements, is actually our bus network,” said TTC chairman Adam Giambrone.

The plan, which is not yet funded, requires $77-million in capital over five years and will add $52-million to the TTC’s annual operating budget by 2015. It’s expected to attract about 8 million new customer trips each year and $13-million in new fare revenues.

Councillor Peter Milczyn said he supports the plan in principle, but noted the cost is a “fundamental” problem for a transit agency and city that faces significant fiscal constraints in future years.

“Knowing the financial constraints that the commission and the city are facing for 2010 and beyond, as the LRT service expands, as the subway expands, a cynic might question the timing of this and putting forward something that perhaps isn’t really viable,” he said.

Mr. Giambrone is quick to counter that the agency’s Transit City light rail plan had no money attached to it either when it was first proposed. It’s a blueprint, like all other plans, he said.

There will be public consultations first, then budgeting for 2010, then future budgets and meetings and new timelines and more meetings. Who knows how much of the plan will survive over the next five years?

Still, TTC commissioners liked what they saw today and expect bus riders will too. Here are the highlights:

  • 10-minute-or-better service levels on 21 routes beginning in the fall of 2010, with most of the improvement in off-peak hours. The change is projected to attract 1.8-million new customer trips per year. Costs: $10.1-million per year in operating costs, offset by $3.1-million in fares. Four additional buses required at $2.4-million.
  • new or enhanced express bus service on 15 of the 21 routes beginning in the fall of 2014, which is expected to attract 2 million new customer trips per year. Costs: $11.4-million per year, offset by fare revenue of $3.6-million, plus 56 additional buses at a cost of $33.5-million.
  • 20-minute-or-better service levels on another 75 routes, half of them in the fall of 2011, the other half in 2012, attracting about 2.7-million new customer trips. Operating costs of $19.8-million per year, offset by $4.9-million in fare revenues, plus 12 additional buses at a cost of $7.2-million.
  • Enhanced express bus service by 2011 on three future Transit City light rail lines (Jane St., Don Mills Rd. and Morningside Ave.), expected to attract 1.3-million new customer trips per year. Costs $8.4-million per year operating costs, offset by $2.3-million in fare revenue, plus 17 additional buses at $10.2-million.
  • 75 additional bus shelters at $2.5-million.
  • 65 additional on-street supervisors at $4.5-million per year.
  • Adding “transit signal priority” technology, which senses approaching buses and changes signals to reduce red-light wait times, to 1,130 intersections on 53 bus routes by the end of 2013. (The technology is now used at 350 intersections). It’s akin to adding dozens of new buses, the plan says. Costs: $41-million, of which $10.2-million has already been budgeted and approved.
  • Ten “queue-jump” or bus bypass lanes for right turns at major intersections beginning 2010 at a cost of $1-million per year.
  • $4-million in improvements to various stations for bus passengers, including better lighting, enclosed waiting areas and canopies, at a cost of $4-million.