Toronto Mayor John Tory says a recent response the TTC made to a customer's concern about a lack of physical space aboard her crowded Scarborough bus was "insensitive" but there is little more he can do to add capacity to the transit system when it is heavily underutilized.

On Tuesday, a transit rider named Victoria tweeted to the TTC about her Kingston Road bus, with a photo of people standing shoulder to shoulder, asking how she was supposed to maintain physical distance.

The TTC replied in a tweet that "As the city re-opens, social distancing will no longer be possible on our vehicles. As such, if you feel that a vehicle you are on is overcrowded, I would suggest getting off and boarding the next one. Apologies for the inconvenience."

The exchange sparked a flurry of messages from riders into the CP24 newsroom, with similar observations on their own commutes.

"I feel like the city doesn't care about the working poor who rely on the TTC. I can't get in a car and go to work using it and my coworkers are all in the same boat. It's extremely frustrating. I feel like we have been left behind by the city," Victoria, who has moderate asthma, told CTV News Toronto on Tuesday.

Tory said he would voice his concerns about the social media response to the TTC directly.

"Just to say to get on the next bus is not a sensitive answer to a difficult circumstance for riders," Tory said on CP24 on Wednesday.

TTC CEO Rick Leary apologized on Wednesday for the message Victoria received.

"I apologize for that tweet, I apologize for that tweet because it was poorly worded," he said.

Leary said that they are constantly rebalancing service levels on major bus routes based on demand.

"There are many areas today where we have more buses than pre-COVID," he said.

Tory said that ridership on the TTC system-wide has only returned to 37 per cent of what it was before the pandemic began. The TTC has added 100 buses to its busiest bus routes and is now operating at 95 per cent of its pre-pandemic capacity, and up to 92 per cent of all buses are running half-full or less.

"Yes, there will be a photograph of one where that is not the case."

But he said he and the TTC have been upfront about the lack of distancing on some routes, which is why they made masks mandatory.

"I am not saying it's an ideal situation at all – but we cannot materialize buses out of nowhere overnight."

TTC board member and councillor Shelley Carroll saw the exchange online and remarked that the city was just put under a number of COVID-19 restrictions, and she was not aware that social distancing aboard transit vehicles was no longer a stated goal of the service.

Tory responded that not all of the hundreds of workers furloughed in April are drivers, and even if they all were, there are not many buses left idle that could be put into the system, as some must be held back in the event of a major subway service outage.

The TTC says 280 of its 450 laid-off drivers and 191 buses have been brought back into service since the lockdown of April and May was loosened.

"They need to go back to 100 per cent capacity," Victoria said on Tuesday.

She says that there is a disconnect between the orders the city and province are giving as cases rise, and what they are doing to keep people who use their services safe.

"As cases go up they're constantly reiterating this need to social distance, this need to not see our families and they're not doing anything to address the things that they directly control."

When asked about overcrowding on TTC buses, Premier Doug Ford said he "went to town" on the federal government to secure more money for transit.

"I fought harder than anyone in this country to get proper funding for transit and for communities and for all 444 municipalities and I can say that with confidence," Ford said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. 

"I just want to remind Toronto and the TTC, they ended up getting $400 million because of how hard we fought so that is $400 million dollars."

As of Aug. 30, the TTC has lost more than $400 million in revenue due to a drop in ridership, according to recent data released by the City of Toronto.

Ontario's Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said as long as people wear masks and practice good hand hygiene, the risk of infection on the TTC is relatively low.

"Obviously we need everyone who gets on public transit to be wearing a mask. That is required. And there needs to be I guess better education and enforcement around that," she said on Wednesday. 

"If you are wearing a mask, you don't surfaces, or if you do, you wash your hands really well, you are substantially reducing any risk."

She said people also need to assess the risk themselves when boarding an overcrowded bus.

"If you are very concerned, don't get on the bus. I realize that may not be applicable or feasible for people," she said.

"Think about also how long the trip is. If it is a very long trip, can you keep away from other people as much as possible? If it is a very short trip, it may not be as much of a concern."