Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
Sale ends in
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
save over $140
// //

A woman wearing a mask exits a subway train in Toronto, on March 17, 2020.

CHRIS HELGREN/Reuters

The Toronto Transit Commission is forecasting that ridership will return to half its prepandemic level as early as next month, a milestone that would allow the agency to bring back its remaining laid-off staff and reduce the hole its losses have been blowing in the city budget.

TTC chief executive officer Rick Leary said the projection is based on discussions with school boards and neighbourhood business groups, to get a sense of how much demand might be expected to grow over the next six weeks or so. Ridership is currently around 37 per cent of normal.

Transit forecasting has been charting unfamiliar waters since the pandemic struck and a change in Toronto’s circumstance – such as a new lockdown or outbreaks in schools – could alter the numbers substantially. Mr. Leary acknowledged the growing discussion about whether Toronto, where the number of new COVID-19 cases has risen, is heading into a second wave.

Story continues below advertisement

“Everybody’s being very cautious, right, and we are as well,” he said in an interview. “But with that, over the last three weeks we’re starting to see [ridership] creep up a little bit.”

Transit agencies in much of the world suffered in the early months of the pandemic. Large numbers of people working from home, the shutdown of many social and retail destinations, and a fear of enclosed public spaces contributed to plunging ridership in numerous cities.

The TTC, the most heavily used transit agency in the country, saw its ridership nearly decimated. In the spring, TTC ridership reached lows of around 15 per cent of normal. Plunging passenger volumes meant the agency – which before the pandemic took in about $24-million weekly via the fare-box – was the single biggest contributor to Toronto’s red ink, adding tens of millions to the city’s budget shortfall.

The ridership drop was even more stark at Metrolinx, the provincial agency that oversees GO Transit. That agency, which is smaller than the TTC and relies heavily on commuters for its passengers, said this week its number of users plunged 97.3 per cent in April before starting a long slow rise. On Tuesday, ridership was down 82 per cent compared with the corresponding day last year.

Ken Kuschei, Metrolinx director of customer insights, said that more frequent service has been implemented recently on a number of bus routes to accommodate returning university students. He cited the agency’s contact with the local universities, which indicated that about one-quarter of students were planning to study in person, and said that service can be adjusted quickly if routes become overcrowded.

Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster said that the 18-per-cent ridership figure earlier this week is already higher than the agency had projected reaching in September. He would not share an updated projection, saying that the modelling is dependent on too many unknowns.

“There’s no single answer I can give you,” he said. “There’s not a number we want to put in the public domain on a forecast because it varies so much based on what actually happens.”

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Verster said that riders were reacting positively to Metrolinx efforts to keep the system safe. Among other measures, the agency recently mounted plastic dividers between train seats. As well, some buses and drivers have been held in reserve and can be dispatched to routes experiencing heavier use.

The TTC is also watching routes and sending extra buses where possible to reduce crowding.

The main TTC union, ATU Local 113, argues that the agency has been too slow to react to crowding and should bring back all remaining laid-off workers. About 150 workers were given notice to return in late August, but another 300 are still waiting. In the summer, the TTC board gave the agency authority to return to full work-strength once ridership reaches 50 per cent of normal.

Mr. Leary, the TTC CEO, said that the agency should be able to surpass that number relatively soon but acknowledged that it can increase its ridership only so much amid a pandemic.

A return to full pre-COVID ridership is probably not plausible without a vaccine, he said, although he believes that as many as three-quarters of former passengers can gradually be persuaded to take transit if they believe the agency is doing its best to keep them safe.

“As long as we can continue to make them feel comfortable,” Mr. Leary said, “we can get people to come back.”

Story continues below advertisement

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies