The TTC recently decided on service cuts it is planning to make this year. The proposed service adjustments affect 39 (20%) of the TTC’s routes. Toronto Metropolitan University associate professor Raktim Mitra and Tess Peterman published a report exploring the equity implications of these cuts. Transit authorities have often focused on keeping the highest-demand routes when they are forced to make cuts, leaving the routes with fewer riders out. While the pandemic took a toll on public transit provision, Mitra and Peterman note that the TTC is at 96% of pre-pandemic levels. Research has long established that many groups, including immigrants and refugees, seniors, youth, and women, work precarious jobs, so they travel outside of the peak hours of 9 to 5 and often suburb-to-suburb. They also use transit to access social activities and visit friends. Described as “transit dependent” rather than “choice riders” who may be able to drive or use other modes of transportation, these riders are often not prioritized in decision-making processes.
Mitra and Peterman mapped the proposed route changes (published by the TTC in a February 23 report) against data on material deprivation, dependency, and ethnic concentration (see p6 of their report for an explanation of Census variables they included for each indicator). They used a local cluster analysis to mark dissemination areas with statistically higher marginalization values than the city average. Using routes with a 10% or more service reduction or complete route suspension that will result in longer wait times, and routes where there will be more time periods with decreased frequency than increased frequency, the resulting 28 routes include 15 that will have longer wait times, with the rest having a mix of longer and shorter wait times.
As they’re in Toronto, they were also able to use 2016 Transportation Tomorrow Survey data to map how people in marginalized areas travelled pre-pandemic, and they found that most of the 28 routes go through areas where transit use was not high before the pandemic. This could be related to the fact that they already had long wait times and commute times. But 26 of the 28 routes go through or connect to a neighbourhood with higher than average material deprivation (e.g. more adults without a high school diploma, more single parents, more adults receiving income transfers from government, higher unemployment, low income, households living in housing needing repairs). 22 of the 28 routes go through areas with high levels of dependency (e.g. higher population of adults aged 65+, higher unemployment). 24 of the 28 routes go through areas with high levels of ethnic concentration (e.g. higher proportions of recent immigrants, visible minorities). Therefore, the authors concluded that Toronto’s most marginalized communities likely will be disproportionately affected by these service cuts.
“…if the goal of the TTC policy is to create a “just” public transportation system focusing on individuals who have the lowest level of well-being, then the greatest benefit should be provided to those with the least advantage…Reliable and efficient public transportation is a critical public infrastructure for equity-deserving population groups. At a time when all levels of the government are committing to address affordability and inequality, the proposed TTC service cuts are not justified.” (Mitra and Peterman, p11)
More evidence that even in Canada’s largest city with arguably its most comprehensive transit service, equity is not a primary consideration in decision-making around service provision.