As the province prepares to begin easing restrictions linked to the pandemic on Friday, the Toronto transit agency is preparing to welcome riders again.
People will have more reason to take public transportation as the city opens up, but in order to substantially recoup the ridership lost during the pandemic, the TTC will need to convince the public that jumping into its vehicles is safe. for health, and that its buses, trams and trains remain a good means of getting around.
“We know, through customer surveys, that we need to make people feel safe and comfortable when they are on the TTC and show them exactly how we engage with that,” said TTC spokesperson Stuart Green.
The future of the TTC may depend on these efforts. As of last month, ridership on the system was still at about a quarter of pre-COVID levels, and the loss of fare revenue during the pandemic is contributing to what the agency predicted to be a $ 126 million shortfall. dollars by the end of this year. This is despite the fact that the TTC has received more than $ 1.3 billion in federal and provincial pandemic aid.
Rising vaccination rates should help persuade people to ride again. But the TTC is planning two public relations campaigns to highlight its anti-virus security measures and showcase public transit as the best way to get to work, entertainment and city attractions.
The agency will also continue to regularly disinfect its vehicles and stations, upgrade its vehicle air filtration systems and provide real-time information on bus congestion on transit applications.
But there are other post-containment measures that have been proposed by advocates or implemented by other agencies that the TTC is not pursuing, at least for now.
Even with a large portion of the population vaccinated with at least one dose, the regular overcrowding on transport risks keeps potential passengers away. Some experts have proposed that agencies could tackle the problem by instituting higher fares during traditional peak hours, which would discourage travel during busier times and distribute passenger numbers more evenly throughout the journey. day.
In some cities, the pandemic has led to price changes for other reasons. San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit hopes to attract passengers by slashing ticket prices by 50% for the month of September, while the Washington Metro has discussed removing its transfer fees between rail and highway lines and the introduction of a lower weekend rate.
Green said the TTC has held talks with the Toronto Region Board of Trade to ask employers in the city to stagger work hours to reduce overcrowding at peak times, but there is no plan in the immediate to recommend rate changes after the lockdown.
Applying mask rules
Vernon Everitt, managing director of Transport for London, told a recent panel hosted by the Urban Land Institute in Toronto that transport officers in the British capital have arrested more than 200,000 people and kept them from driving under put on a mask, and over 2,000 customers without a mask were fined.
“People want to see other commuters obeying the rules,” said Everitt, who warned that it only takes a small minority of people not wearing masks for public confidence in the safety of the system to be. shaken.
Although the TTC made masks mandatory on the Toronto network last July, Green confirmed the agency plans to continue to rely on education rather than law enforcement.
“We decided at the start of the pandemic that we would not deny rides (to people without a mask),” he said. “Enforcement is tricky if people have exemptions”, and requiring proof of exemptions “would lead to conflicts and delays in service”. The agency also believes that it would be illegal to ask passengers for proof of a health problem exempting them from wearing a mask.
The TTC says that even without an app, 96% of runners comply with the mask’s mandate.
Strict passenger limits
Transport for London has also capped the number of passengers its more than 9,000 buses can carry. It is not allowed to get on vehicles, so if there are more passengers than a bus has seats, customers may be refused service.
While the TTC says it is monitoring routes to combat overcrowding, it has decided not to implement hard capacity limits.
“We want our operators to focus on using their vehicles safely, which is difficult and demanding work,” said Green. “Asking them to try to enforce passenger limits would compromise that and lead to conflict. It would also potentially mean leaving people on the curb. ”
GO Transit has also decided not to impose strict caps on the number of passengers. “Our approach is to make sure no one is left behind,” said Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, which oversees GO Transit.
Carlos Santos, president of Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents most TTC workers, argued the agency should increase service to 110 percent of pre-COVID levels.
“This will make the service more reliable and show customers that not all vehicles are packed,” Santos said. “This is what will encourage customers to take public transport again. ”
The TTC has no plans to increase service by that much, but Green said this year’s budget allows the agency to deploy up to 101% of the pre-pandemic bus service. To achieve this level, the TTC hires up to 400 employees to fill vacancies and keeps additional buses on call to add them to busy routes.