Monday, November 09, 2015

News: Toronto's transit system is actually pretty good

I read somewhere recently the surprising (to me) fact that that Toronto's transit system was the second most heavily-used in North America after New York City, with Montreal running a close third. I can't for the life of me find that report now, but I did a bit of alternative research into the subject.
According to Wikipedia, Toronto's subway usage comes fourth in North America, way below New York City and Mexico City, and slightly below Montreal. Compared to the rest of the world (particularly Asia), of course, even New York pales into insignificance, as another Wikipedia table demonstrates, and many European and Latin American cities also exceed Toronto's ridership by a large margin.
There again, also from Wikipedia, Toronto's light rail system (i.e. streetcars) is the most heavily used in North America, slightly ahead of Guadalajara and Calgary. Plus, we have the third largest bus fleet in North America, after New York City and Los Angeles (Wikipedia again). The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) as a whole, therefore, is in fact the third most heavily-used urban mass transit system in North America, after New York City and Mexico City (thank you Wikipedia). So, it all depends whether or not you consider Mexico to be part of North America, I guess.
Of course, Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America in terms of population, after Mexico City, New York City and Los Angeles (thank you again Wikipedia), and the fifth largest "urban agglomeration", after Mexico City, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago (Wikipedia), so all this should probably not come as much of a surprise. It's just that, with typical Canadian understatement and modesty, I still think of Toronto as much less significant than storied cities like Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, etc.
Other related snippets my research threw up:
Toronto ranks the best in Canada for the quality of its public transit. Despite our constant complaining and whining, when ranked for types of service (light/heavy rail, buses), transit coverage and frequency of routes/stops, Toronto handily beats out Montreal and Vancouver. In North American terms, Toronto comes a respectable third, after San Francisco and New York City.
Toronto is one of the least subsidized transit systems in North America. About two-thirds of the TTC’s operating budget is covered by fares paid by the riders, and it only receives a subsidy of about $0.78 per ride (out of a $2.70 fare), as compared to New York City ($1.03), Montreal ($1.16), Vancouver ($1.62), Chicago ($1.68), Mississauga ($2.21) and York Region ($4.49). Er, $4.49!?
The TTC is also one of the priciest transit systems in North America. This is perhaps not surprising given the subsidy issue mentioned above, but Toronto's transit is more expensive than that of any other large city in North America for monthly passes, Senior Citizen fares, and multi-trip fares, and is only bested by Ottawa for adult base fares. These comparisons actually date from 2011, but a 2014 study yielded pretty similar results for passes and Senior fares, although cash fares in St. Louis, Los Angeles, Calgary, Edmonton, Philadelphia and Ottawa seem to have outstripped Toronto in more recent years. That said, Toronto has a more integrated transit system than many other cities, with the ability to change between subway, streetcars and buses for free. I have not seen a cost-per-kilometer-travelled comparison anywhere.
The take-away from all this? Suck it up and stop moaning, Toronto! Despite years of severe under-investment and interminably protracted negotiations on expansion plans, we actually have it pretty good.

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