09/14/2011 09:08 EDT | Updated 11/14/2011 05:12 EST

TTC expects ridership drop if route frequency reduced

The Toronto Transit Commission expects to lose up to four million riders if it goes ahead with plans to reduce the frequency of transit routes and hike fares, the TTC's general manager said Wednesday.

Gary Webster said the TTC brass expects riders to find other modes of transportation in the event of service reductions as they grow frustrated with longer waiting times for buses, streetcars and subways.

"It is going to be tough," Webster said. "It is going to be a lot busier for a lot of customers."

He expects to lose between three million and four million riders next year. The commission had estimated record 507 million riders in 2012, but has now scaled back that estimate to about 503 million.

"We will lose people," he told CBC's Metro Morning. "Customers will shift. They will walk. They will take bikes. They will take cars. We will lose transit ridership and that's not clearly the direction the city wants to go in. I'm hoping this is a one-year blip."

The proposed cuts are laid out in a report set to be debated at a meeting of the TTC board Friday, but was released days ahead of the meeting after most of the report was leaked to a local newspaper.

'Modest fare hikes' suggested

Among the recommendations are plans to reduce the frequency of transit vehicles, raise the price of tokens by 10 cents, cut 311 jobs, including management, professional, technical and clerical positions, plus a further 171 frontline jobs, delay the purchase of vehicles and reduce access to the Wheel-Trans vehicles for dialysis patients.

Webster said a solution to the problem would be regular fare increases to help pay for the increased ridership. He notes that fares have not risen substantially since a 25-cent hike in 2010.

"We need modest fare hikes, probably on an annual basis," he said. "That allows us to continue to support ridership growth."

The TTC cuts are part of the commission's need to meet the city's request to cut the TTC's $1.4 billion operating budget.

The review comes as the city leaves no stone unturned as it faces a budget shortfall in the hundreds of millions.