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Longer waits, fewer seats as TTC announces reduced service

A TTC streetcar takes on passengers in Toronto on Nov. 17, 2009.

TTC riders in every corner of the city will feel the effects of service cuts set to begin in January as streetcars and buses are taken off the system's busiest routes at rush hour and off-peak hours. More crowding and longer waits will be the outcome.

The service cuts will save the system $15-million and were approved this year by TTC commissioners as part of their efforts to find the 10-per-cent budget cuts demanded from every city department and agency. At the time, riders were warned that decision would mean reductions to service. Details of the cuts were made public Thursday, the same day as the TTC's first town hall meeting with riders, and reveal just how far the pain would be spread.

Passengers on 56 bus routes can expect less frequent rush-hour service starting Jan. 8. Off-peak service will be cut on 30 bus routes and six streetcar lines. The measures will hit already crowded routes such as the Queen and Spadina streetcars and buses on Finch Avenue West, Don Mills Road and Dufferin Street.

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Jim Rootham, who lives downtown, said an unsatisfactory TTC experience pushed him to attend Thursday's town hall in city council chambers with more than 100 other people.

The night before, he waited to catch the eastbound Dundas streetcar from Bathurst for 20 minutes. A bus did drive by but refused to pick up passengers, he said.

"They said there was another streetcar coming and it wasn't true," he said, adding that he decided to walk instead.

"I have general questions about why [the service is]so bad."

The announced cuts to Queen streetcar service also left him worried about how long he'd be left waiting on that route. "Once upon a time you looked down Queen Street and if you couldn't see a streetcar, you'd get annoyed. It's not like that any more," he said. "The downtown level of service is just declining rapidly."

(West of the Humber loop, the Queen streetcars will actually come more frequently during peak afternoon hours – every 5 minutes, 7 seconds compared to the current 5 minutes, 40 seconds – although midday, evening and weekend service will be reduced east and west of the loop.)

A spokesman for the TTC said Thursday that service will also increase on 20 bus routes and the Bathurst streetcar because of rising ridership numbers.

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All the changes reflect a return to the transit commission's former standards for service and crowding and will be evaluated every six weeks. No changes are planned for subway service.

Specifics of the route changes were made public by the TTC only after an internal list was obtained by a group that advocates for transit riders. The group released details of the service cuts hours before the TTC's evening meeting at city hall.

Jamie Kirkpatrick, a spokesperson for TTCriders, who obtained the list, said most riders are not aware of how the cuts will affect them.

"This is a big service cut to surface transit in Toronto," he said. "It's a war on transit users across the city because we're doing our part, there are more of us than ever before, we are paying 70 per cent of the cost to run the system and for a relatively small amount of the TTC's budget, we are all going to be made to suffer next year."

Keeping riders in the dark about the affected routes, he speculated, is designed to head off opposition as the city faces tough budget talks in the coming weeks.

"They are trying to hide the impact of this until it is too late," Mr. Kirkpatrick said, pointing to the uproar created by other proposed cuts, such as reductions to library hours.

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TTC chair Karen Stintz said there was no attempt to keep the list secret and described the service changes as the results of implementing the widely reported budget decisions made in September.

"When we passed the reductions at the commission, we articulated that there were going to be impacts on the public, that people were going to have to wait for a bus or not get a seat," she said. "Now the information has been shared and we will deal with it."

The large number of routes affected by the service reductions reflects an effort by the TTC to limit changes on any single route, Ms. Stintz said. The strategy is an alternative to cutting unused routes all together, she said, an option that was rejected by the public earlier this year.

The commission will decide next month on a recommended 10-cent fare hike, required to close the $29-million shortfall that remains even after the service reductions.

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