Some subway stations are beyond congested; others just down the line are practically empty. Is it possible to even out the crowds?
It’s 8 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and I’m standing at the westernmost end of the eastbound platform at Ossington station.
I’ve entered through the automatic-entrance fare gate on Delaware Avenue, so I don’t have to muscle through all the people at the Ossington Avenue side of the station waiting for their buses on this chilly morning. Also, this is the prime spot to get on the train for when I exit at Bloor-Yonge station.
I’ve been taking the TTC long enough to know it’s important to plan ahead during rush hour. By boarding the back end of the train at Ossington, I have a good chance of being let out at Yonge right near the staircase that leads to the southbound Bloor station platform and getting ahead of stragglers. It’s something of an art.
It’s no secret that Bloor-Yonge station—and the subway system in general—is at capacity. Sometimes, riders have to wait for two or three trains to pass before they board—and with over 212,000 people travelling north and southbound from Bloor station daily, it’s no wonder. Add in the riders heading east or west via the Yonge platform and that total nearly doubles.
At St. George, the situation isn’t much different. Second to Bloor-Yonge, the TTC’s other main interchange station sees a total of 266,000 people traveling in all directions on a weekday.
But as soon as trains depart these busy stations, the picture changes. At the next stops along the line, you don’t see people trying to jam themselves onto the train. Going north from Bloor, the stations at Rosedale and Summerhill see only 8,000 and 6,300 commuters a day, respectively. Going south from St. George, Museum station sees only 8,600 people.
However, Brad Ross, spokesperson for the TTC, says it’s not the commission’s priority to even out the ridership between stations.
“The station counts are what they are,” he says. “We don’t try to lessen them at some stations and increase them at others.”
“A lot of those stations and key properties are never going to change,” adds Paul Bedford, former Chief City Planner for the City of Toronto and a former Metrolinx director. He explains that certain stations will always have lower ridership because the surrounding landscape affords little opportunity for condos or other developments to move in. In Rosedale’s case, it’s thanks to a ravine and nearby Ramsden and Budd Sugarman Parks, while Old Mill—the stop with the lowest ridership on the Bloor-Danforth, with 6,100 riders daily—sidles up to the Humber River, where there’s little room for additional development.*
Buses and streetcars feeding into the subway system also contribute to congested stations. “There’s a reason buses come into key stations,” Bedford says. “More opportunity for development around key stations makes sense.” And stations with no connecting surface routes, like Chester, will always have lower usage, adds Ross.
Joseph Chow, a civil-engineering professor at Ryerson University with a specialization in transportation planning, says one way to address the problem of overrun subway stations is to change fare pricing—a strategy that will become more feasible when Presto cards are introduced to the TTC within the next two years. “Once the technology is in place you have better control of the system,” Chows says, before suggesting that reducing fares at less-populated stations may encourage people to use them more.
“They’re trying to cater to everyone,” Chow says of the TTC’s approach to station location, but Bedford emphasizes that poor ridership through some stations is simply a result of just that: location.
“Spacing between stations is important,” Bedford says, pointing to the Sheppard line—with its five, spread-out stations and dismal ridership—as a case in point. “It’s totally ridiculous.”
According to Bedford, the amount of people that ride the Sheppard line in an entire day (roughly 50,000) equals the amount of people that ride the Yonge line in an hour. “If you’re going to have a public-transit system,” he says, “you want people to be able to walk to the stations.”
The proposed Downtown Relief Line would certainly ease congestion at the busier stations but, for Brad Ross, it’s not the stations themselves that are the problem, it’s the trains and the loads. That said, some stations with centre platforms, like Union and St. George, leave much to be desired in terms of elbow room.
“Union station, for example, was originally a terminal station,” Ross replies, “so the centre platform served Union well. Now, it’s one of our busier stations, so we are building a second platform.”
And Ross adds that the new stations being built as part of the Toronto-York Spadina extension will all be more comfortable for users.
“Their design is architecturally beautiful but, in terms of practicality, they’ll have elevators and second exits,” Ross says. “Stations are designed first and foremost around safety and practicality.”
The Top 10 least-busy TTC stations
(Based on average subway ridership per weekday)
1. Ellesmere (1,310)
2. Bessarion (2,080)
3. Midland (2,420)
4. McCowan (4,040)
5. Leslie (5,510)
6. Glencairn (6,130)
7. Old Mill (6,130)
8. Summerhill (6,260)
9. Chester (6,790)
10. Rosedale (8,060)
See complete station-by-station ridership numbers here.
CLARIFICATION, DEC. 17, 2012: This sentence has been modified to account for some development currently underway near Old Mill station.