TTC ridership could linger below pre-pandemic levels for at least another two years: report

TORONTO — TTC ridership will remain below pre-pandemic levels for at least the next two years as a reduced number of workers commuting downtown continues to wreak havoc on the transit system’s bottom line.

At one point earlier in the pandemic TTC ridership dropped by 88 per cent amid widespread business closures.

It has risen since then but is still only at 45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, costing the TTC hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost revenue.

A report that was presented to the TTC board on Wednesday suggests that while ridership is expected to rise to 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021, it could take years until it fully recovers.

The report says that right now various modelling scenarios suggest that TTC ridership will linger between 69 per cent and 93 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by late 2022. It says that ridership will be between 81 and 95 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by late 2023 with no clear timeline for when it will reach 100 per cent due to uncertainty around the return of workers to downtown offices.

“Supporting ridership return is not business as usual. We need new initiatives and we need continual understanding of the needs of our customer,” the report notes, mentioning road tolls and fees and parking prices as things that could be considered to boost public transit ridership post-pandemic.

Ridership could hit 70 per cent of pre-pandemic level in 2022

The TTC lost $704 million in fare box revenue in 2020 and is expected to face another significant shortfall this year as many employees continue to work remotely, at least part of the time.

The report says that staff are optimistic that ridership can recover to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels sometime in early 2022 but it acknowledges that hitting such a target would be conditional upon office occupancy downtown being back at 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

It currently stands at about nine per cent of pre-pandemic levels and a survey of “strategic decision makers from organizations with offices and worksites” conducted by the TTC found that nearly half expect their companies to consider “major changes to their office space and worksite” post pandemic.

“Work from home is biggest variable and downtown return is key to not only subway and streetcar use, but also 30 to 40 per cent of bus ridership,” the report notes.

The TTC is among the most reliant on fare revenue of any transit service in North America with nearly 70 per cent of its budget pre-pandemic coming from the fare box.

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