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The TTC Isn't Pulling its Weight

The Yonge-University-Spadina (YUS) subway line carries 34 per cent fewer passengers during rush hour than its design capacity. Whereas the decision to run two additional trains during the rush hour is a welcome step, it still falls significantly short of operating the YUS line at its potential capacity.

The commuters will welcome the plans to run two additional trains during rush hours. However, the TTC has run even more frequent trains in the past. The subway system has the design capacity to run 30-plus trains per hour. Still, the TTC operates fewer than 23 trains. The underinvestment in maintaining and improving the existing transit infrastructure is the reason that subways operate below their potential.

In a city charged with electioneering, where resolving traffic congestion is a key issue, the mayoral candidates continue to focus on expanding the transit system, rather than improving and consolidating it. The obvious downside of the expansion-focused transit planning is the decline over time in the throughput capacity of the existing transit infrastructure.

The TTC would like to operate 25 trains per hour during the peak period. With roughly 1,200 passengers per train, the YUS subway line will then carry 30,000 passengers. In the early '80s, the TTC boasted about the system's peak-period throughput capacity of 40,000 passengers. With a two-minute headway, the TTC would have had to run 30 trains per hour carrying over 1,300 passengers per train to achieve the capacity of 40,000 passengers per hour.

The two-minute headway has proven to be the Achilles' heel for the TTC, which has come close to operating up to 27 or 28 trains per hour. While the TTC has carried in excess of 30,000 passengers per hour, it is quite possible that it never carried 40,000 passengers per hour on the YUS line.

The expanding waistlines of commuters and their tendency to carry large bags, including knapsacks and laptops, have further restricted the transit system's carrying capacity. While the TTC hoped to squeeze over 1,300 passengers per train in the eighties, it could hope to fit only 1,200 or fewer passengers per train today. Hence, even with 25 trains per hour, the new operating target for the TTC, the realistic throughput will be around 30,000 passengers per hour.

The TTC has been aware of these challenges and has, over the years, proposed several innovative solutions along with the requests to upgrade track and signalling systems. In 1988, for instance, the TTC wanted to increase the capacity of the YUS subway line by 42 per cent. A key innovation was the proposed new centre platform at the Bloor subway station on the Yonge line to allow the doors to open on both sides of the train for expedited alighting and boarding.

However, as is the case today, the political leadership focused on expanding the rail-based transit into the suburbs rather than consolidating the existing network. The quest for the suburban voters has indeed expanded the rail-based transit network into the suburbs, yet it has contributed to reduced transit operating efficiencies. The current mayoral race is another example of the hopefuls wanting to extend the subway or other rail-based systems rather than first fixing the bottlenecks on the YUS subway line.

The TTC is quite capable of operating the system at greater efficiencies. It has done so in the past; it could do it again. However, postponing the maintenance of the existing transit system and diverting funds to expand the network will further deteriorate the operating efficiencies of the existing network.

For transit to work in Toronto, the YUS subway line has to operate at higher capacity and greater operating efficiency. Failing to address the capacity issues on the YUS subway line is likely to have a devastating impact on the entire transit network. The failure to recognize this fact is a serious shortcoming for anyone aspiring for the mayor's office in Toronto.

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