Relief from crowding is finally getting close. TTC patrons have not only become used to riding overloaded buses in peak hours but sometimes have to endure it during the day, in the evening and on weekends. Packed conditions have contributed to delays and a few shortened tempers.

While we won’t suddenly be able to dance along empty aisles or sit where we please, this time next month some of Toronto’s busiest bus lines should be noticeably better. More vehicles will be put into service along many routes — although the streetcar network won’t see much increased service. Buses will run more often and night bus frequency is set to double at certain times. It’s all overdue.

TTC chair Adam Giambrone says the agency will announce specific changes in coming weeks, calling them “dramatic.” Riders are going to want to see if schedules for their “favourite” routes will change.

As part of the 2008 budget process, the city of Toronto has also proposed adding 100 more buses during peak periods by November, and all bus routes would run continuously from 6 a.m. to 1?a.m. on weekdays. If city council approves, this would reverse deep cuts made to lesser-used routes 12 years ago when the provincial government slashed transit funding.

The February boost is merely to reduce crowding for existing riders, but the planned November changes could actually attract new customers. The TTC has been constrained by tight budgets and conservative thinking for so long that the idea of actually going after new business has been off the radar.

The pent-up demand is there — despite marginal additions to service in recent years, the agency is poised to achieve record ridership in 2008. Although Giambrone cautions the economy strongly affects patronage, this year the TTC should surpass the previous highest-ever total of 463 million rides, set in 1988.

It appears the commission would have broken the all-time record last year, but revised its count after overestimating the number of rides being taken by new Metropass holders.

Now that the TTC has finally regained a level of popularity last seen 20 years ago, how can we ensure it continues to grow? Economic trouble in the city kicked off that two-decade decline, followed by a series of fare hikes and the painful service cuts.

We need to protect the transit system from repeating this cycle and unless a deep recession arrives, the number of potential GTA transit customers justifies adding even more buses in 2009. And that’s not to mention streetcars. Even without taking into account the new light rail lines that are being planned, we need extra trams as soon as possible. However, patience is still required — along with additional subway trains, which are still a few years away.