COLUMNS February 24th, 2011

By Kris Scheuer

TTC a victim of its own failure to communicate

Commission needs to blow its own horn when things go well, not just react when things go badly

The TTC is off track, as only the bad news is catching our attention while the good news goes unnoticed.

First the bad news.

The TTC’s gotten negative press recently because pedestrians have died in accidents involving TTC vehicles, drivers have been caught texting behind the wheel, a fare increase was announced then cancelled, and then came the decision to reduce service on dozens of bus routes.

Let’s rewind here.

On Jan. 1, Mayor Rob Ford fulfilled a key election promise to cancel the hugely unpopular car tax, which added $64 million to the city’s budget woes but placed $60 annually back in drivers’ pockets. Then on Jan. 10, Ford announced a 10-cent TTC fare hike to raise $24 million to balance the commission’s budget. When you did the math, it turned out that Metropass holders would pay $60 more a year while drivers would pay $60 less.

Not good optics, right?

So a day later TTC chair Karen Stintz announced the fare hike was nixed, as the city would chip in $16 million more for the budget and $8 million can be cut throughout the year.

Good news, right?

But there’s a separate plan to reduce hours on 48 bus routes during slow ridership times. At the TTC’s Jan. 12 meeting, some residents expressed outrage at this, so the TTC postponed the decision and held four meetings with a chance to chat with officials and fill out comment sheets.

It’s at one of those meeting that I talked to East Yorker Christine Miller, who works at Yonge and St. Clair as a security guard, a job that includes midnight shifts. Two of the buses she relies on — 56 Leaside and 62 Mortimer — are on the chopping block for evening service.

Miller’s alternative route is the 25 Don Mills bus that drops her close to home, but on a darker, less safe walk. Safety concerns along this route were elevated in 2008, when a man was on the prowl, waiting for female passengers to get off that bus blocks from their homes; he would then drag them into an alley to assault them.

By the end of January, the TTC said it had saved seven routes, though not Miller’s, and made less-drastic service reductions on 41 routes. But 70 people showed up at the Feb. 2 TTC meeting to plea for their service to be kept. The commission voted to plow ahead with its revised plan.

Heartless? Not quite. Here’s where the good news story could, should and would have slipped in had the TTC communicated this differently from the start.

The plan is to reduce hours on buses with low ridership and spend that cash to improve service where poor saps are waiting to be picked up only to see three full buses fly by them. So $4 million will be reallocated to busy, overcrowded routes.

This is no consolation to Miller and others like her on buses that are having hours slashed, but it should be reason to cheer for passengers who are packed in like sardines on popular routes.

The problem is the cuts to the underused routes happens May 8 while the service improvements won’t happen until fall. And what’s worse is that there will be no list of bus improvements until June.

What the TTC should have done is decide what routes justify improved service and make that list available at the same time as the cuts were announced. At least then riders would see there was a legitimate case to be made to move cash to specific busy routes and reduce spending on less-crowded buses.

Another puzzler is on Jan. 3 the TTC increased service on 28 routes, including improvements midday and early evenings on the 25 Don Mills bus. Service will also increase on the 97 Yonge, 122 Graydon Hall, 511 Bathurst streetcar and so on, but the TTC did not issue a press release outlining these improvements.