How Will SmartTrack and GO/RER Co-exist?

Metrolinx has published an update on studies of how the proposed SmartTrack service will be integrated with its own GO/RER (Regional Express Rail) offering. This will be considered at their board meeting on February 10.

This covers several issues, and begins to nail down just what SmartTrack might, or might not, resemble that is beyond the scale of postcard election literature. As we already know, major changes are planned to the western leg where the Crosstown West LRT will take over the function proposed for SmartTrack beyond Mt. Dennis. To the east, SmartTrack remains in the GO Stouffville corridor, but the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) has been scaled back to a one-stop line serving only the Town Centre, and the Crosstown East LRT will provide service to eastern Scarborough.

What is GO RER?

WhatIsRER

This graphic is amusing for its complete contrast with the way that Metrolinx/GO presented electrification of their services during early days of public consultation. That hit a low point when it was suggested that electric trains might not work in snow.

Note that the official line now is that lots of cities use this type of service, and that electrification is an integral part of the package.

Metrolinx owes us all an apology for their initial foot-dragging and misinformation campaign. Now if only they had been more supportive of LRT during the dark days of Rob Ford.

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Metrolinx Fare Integration: Get Ready to Pay More For Subway Trips

One of the great mysteries surrounding the roll out of Presto on the TTC has been the whole debate about “Regional Fare Integration”. Now and then, discussion papers surface at Metrolinx, but folks at the TTC, especially the politicians, are strangely silent on the subject. “Wait and see” is the order of the day.

Well, folks, we have waited and now we are beginning to see the direction Metrolinx is heading in for a consolidated GTHA-wide fare structure. The results will not please folks in suburban Toronto or the inner 905 for whom long subway trips are a routine part of their commutes.

The Metrolinx Board will consider an update on this subject at its meeting on February 10.

The presentation is in a sadly familiar Metrolinx format: lots of wonderful talk about consultation and fairness, and philosophical musings about what a fare system should look like. One big omission is any evaluation of the relative numbers of riders who would be affected by various schemes, and even worse of any sense of calibration of the fares to produce different results.

This comes at a time when we know from SmartTrack demand studies the importance of fare levels in attracting ridership. It is important here to remember that we are not talking the relatively small differences between types of TTC fares, or year-by-year increments, but the much larger deltas between TTC fares and those on GO Transit.

The problem begins with the arbitrary segmentation of the travel market into “local”, “rapid transit” and “regional transit”.

201602_DefiningServiceTypes

This is a wonderful theoretical view of the world that might find a home in a sophomoric academic paper, but it ignores the very real world in which (a) “rapid transit” today only exists within Toronto and (b) Toronto decided over 40 years ago that “local” trips paid one fare regardless of the mode they used. The entire system is designed on this principle, one that has consistently evaded Metrolinx planners.

If only the world were so simple. Why is Bus Rapid Transit omitted from this list? Why is a streetcar (aka LRT) on right of way “rapid transit”, but not a bus? How close must subway or LRT stops be to each other for the service to drop back to a lower tier? Conversely, if someone slaps a “19x” route number on a bus, should it become “rapid transit”?

The basic problem with this world view is that transit modes, especially bus and streetcar/LRT, have a wide range of overlapping implementations.

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TTC’s 2016 Customer Charter Reviewed

The TTC has released the 2016 version of its Customer Charter listing a number of areas in which they promise improvements through the year.

First Quarter:

  • Ensure that 510 Spadina is served by fully accessible streetcars: Mostly done already with a few of the high-floor ALRVs still in service but the majority of runs operated with low-floor Flexitys.
  • Apple Pay at collectors’ booths: In progress.
  • Reduce streetcar short-turns by a further 20% over Q1 2015: New schedules on 501 Queen effective January 3 make a big contribution to this coupled with the milder winter weather.
  • Start subway service at 8:00am on Sunday: Done effective January 3.
  • Add service to Line 1 (YUS) during off-peak: Not done yet, but the schedules going into effect at the end of March have not yet been announced. (Note 1)
  • Establish a Local Working Group for Donlands Station second exit project: Done.
  • Add five new express bus services: Planned for late March.

Second Quarter:

  • Wifi at 22 new stations (Note 2).
  • Roll-out of new fare gates with Main Station as a pilot: Work at Main in progress.
  • Improve bike parking at 5 stations.
  • Add 20 bike repair stops at subway stations: Subject to outcome of a pilot.
  • Install notice boards in 12 busy stations to inform passengers about planned/unplanned closures.

Third Quarter:

  • Ensure 509 Harbourfront and 511 Bathurst are served by low-floor streetcars: With delivery of new cars, Harbourfront is already planned to ramp up beyond two assigned Flexitys in mid-February. Delivery rates for new cars are supposed to be up to 1/week by the end of March and this should make conversion of 511 Bathurst an easy task provided Bombardier manages to stay on track.
  • Pilot high capacity bike parking at one station.
  • Replace T1 trains on Line 4 (Sheppard) with 4-car TR sets: The order for these cars is in progress at Bombardier with delivery expected later this year.
  • Improve 28 Bayview South and 101 Downsview Park routes to be part of all-day, every day service. This will bring services to two park-based areas. The Bayview South bus serves the Brick Works from the west (Davisville Station), but service from the east (Broadview Station) will still be operated by a free shuttle bus.
  • Add 3 trains to Line 1 (YUS) to improve AM peak service. It is unclear whether these will be “gap” trains used to supplement service when things go wrong, or an attempt to slightly shorten the average headway over the entire line. Gap trains generally make a bigger difference for situations where holes in service at peak times and direction need to be filled because the extra train is used specifically where it is most needed.
  • Add peak service to 25 busy bus routes.
  • New streetcar service on Cherry Street: (Note 1) This service could most easily be implemented by converting the 504 buses now scheduled from Dufferin to Parliament back to streetcars as a Dufferin to Cherry operation. Peak vehicle requirements would probably go down, but the off peak service on Cherry would be a net addition. This change is related to whatever modifications the TTC will make to the 72 Pape and 172 Cherry bus routes.
  • Begin revamping the east parking lot at Finch Station.

Fourth Quarter:

  • Widen 25 bus stop pads to improve accessibility: Locations TBA
  • Install external route announcement system on all vehicles: Work in progress.
  • Add two new elevators at Ossington Station: Work in progress.
  • Install customer info screens at Union Station mezzanine and platform levels: An overdue follow-up. This work should have been an integral part of the station renovation.
  • Install customer info screens at Dufferin, York Mills and Lawrence stations.
  • Install transit signal priority at 15 intersections: Locations TBA
  • Complete PRESTO roll out to the entire system: Bus fleet conversion in progress; new fare gates will finish PRESTO subway access as they are installed.
  • 10 additional WiFi stations: Locations TBA (Note 2)
  • Lengthen 10 bus pads for compatibility with articulated buses: Locations TBA
  • Start construction on a bus queue jump lane: Location TBA
  • Introduce a new Wheel-Trans qualification process: Details TBA
  • Install new, “more informative” stop markers at over 3,000 surface stops.
  • Review schedules on 32 bus and streetcar routes to improve reliability and travel times.
  • Reduce subway delays by 10% (counted as both incidents and minutes of delay). See What Causes Subway Delays?
  • Consult with riders and other stakeholders to revise service in three neighbourhoods around routes 40 Junction, 54 Lawrence East and 116 Morningside.

Note 1: Some items in the Charter are not yet funded in the City’s budget. Whether they will actually operate depends on the TTC’s ability and desire to squeeze money out of other parts of their operation.

Note 2: The WiFi rollout in the subway is limited to internet access only because the major telcos – Bell, Rogers, Telus – will not provide service over the incumbent provider’s network. Even the internet access has its problems due to login requirements recently introduced that require signon to a sponsoring site such as Twitter. This state of affairs can be traced to a bad system and contract design by the TTC who appear not to have contemplated the difficulties of the “big” players refusing to come onto, and thereby financially support, the network.

I cannot help feeling that a lot of this “Charter” is a shopping list of the low hanging fruit, things the TTC planned to do anyhow, but repackaged in a “look at us” format where green tick marks will gradually fill up the boxes. What is missing, and this is as much a political discussion as a managerial one, is a “what could we be” dimension and aspirational goals that might not be achieved, certainly not in a one-year timeframe.

Of course, when there are members of Council and the TTC Board who would rather count paperclips than address fundamental issues of just what  “good transit” really is, this situation is almost inevitable. Good news, but as cheaply as possible, and so we aim low.

What Causes Subway Delays?

The TTC’s Andy Byford recently committed to a major reduction in subway delays by 2019 thanks in large measure to the introduction of a new signal system on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina.

Can this level of reduction actually be achieved? To get a sense of this, we must look at the actual delay reports from the TTC to see the location and type of service interruption. If a problem only account for one quarter of all delays, then a three-quarter reduction in delays cannot possibly be achieved simply by eliminating this class of problem. Similarly, if half of the delays are on one line, and a new technology is implemented on another, then nothing has been done to address delays on the untouched part of the system.

The TTC reports overall reliability statistics in the CEO’s report, but these are (a) not subdivided by cause and (b) use a measure of service “reliability” that would give a perfect score even if a large proportion of the service were missing. As long as trains are close enough to each other, even if there is one gap leading the pack or all of the trains crawl along the line, they do not count against the metric the TTC used for years to report service quality.

The counts below were calculated by reviewing all of the TTC eAlerts for service interruptions on the four rapid transit lines for January 2016. Anyone who reads these alerts and rides the system regularly knows that some delays never make it to an alert, but this is the best we have for published information.

Type of Delay                    Line 1    Line 2    Line 3    Line 4

Passenger Alarm                   6  16%   14  23%    2  18%
Signals                          11  30%   11  18%              3  60%
Mechanical                        1   3%    4   7%    8  73%    1  20%
Track                                       3   5%
Switching                                   1   2%
Security                          5  14%    6  10%              1  20%
Police Investigation              3   8%    4   7%
Fire Investigation                3   8%    8  13%    1   9%
Medical                           3   8%    4   7%
Power Off                         4  11%    3   5%
Unauthorized at Track Level                 1   2%
Late Clearing Work Zone           1   3%    1   2%
Unspecified                       0         1   2%

Total                            37        61        11         5

The details of the incidents are in the following table.

201601_SubwayDelayStats

This is only a one month sample, and there are bound to be somewhat different numbers for other periods, but this gives the flavour of the situation.

Signal problems, annoying though they may be, account for only 30% of the delay incidents on the Yonge line, and 18% on the Bloor line for January 2016. That said, these tend to be the most long-lasting incidents and so their effect is greatly out of proportion to their number. Moreover, the incident count is higher on the Bloor-Danforth line by a wide margin. The new signals on Yonge-University will certainly improve conditions on that route, but delays overall will not be a thing of the past.

If the TTC is going to shoot for improvements, then they must start reporting their delay statistics at a more granular level so the a link will be visible between the type of “fix” undertaken and the location and type of delay whose stats go up or down. This would be a much more useful measure both of service quality and of the effects of management programs to improve the quality of transit service.

GO Transit Electrification Study Public Meetings

Metrolinx has announced a series of meetings for public participation in the TPAP (streamlined Environmental Assessment for Transit Projects) for their GO Rail Network Electrification Study.

Four of these overlap with sessions previously announced by City Planning for other projects under review:

  • Tuesday February 16: John Vanier school in Scarborough
  • Wednesday February 24: Metro Toronto Convention Centre in downtown Toronto
  • Wednesday March 9: Lakeshore Collegiate in Etobicoke
  • Tuesday March 22: Nelson Mandela Park school in Toronto

The area of this study covers only the trackage already owned by Ontario through Metrolinx.

Memo to John Tory: Where’s The $50 Million? (Updated)

The Mayor and other worthies showed up for a press conference and photo op today at Davisville Shops to trumpet all the new money the TTC will be getting in 2016.

Quoting the TTC’s Media Release:

In 2015, the TTC received an unprecedented $95 million increase to its budget and is set to receive over $50 million in new, annualized funding in 2016 to improve service on buses, streetcars and subways that serve the 555 million riders who use the TTC each year.

“Through two budget cycles, we have made significant service enhancements and continue to improve the experience for our customers” said TTC Chair Josh Colle, “As TTC Chair, I will continue to push for further investments to enhance service, and make the TTC less crowded and more reliable for our customers.”

Those are stirring words, but let’s have a look under the covers. Here is the TTC Budget as presented by the City Budget Analyst going into debates at Budget Committee.

PrelimANotes_OpsBudgetByCategory

The important line here is “Total Net Expenditures” which is another way to say “subsidy from the City of Toronto”. The actual increase from 2014 actual to 2015 projected is only about $77 million ($393m to $470m). The projected bump to 2016 is a further $25.6m, and that looks good only because it is relative to the 2015 actual, not budget.

On a budget to budget basis, the change is only about $21.5m ($473.7m to $495.2m). Even that may overstate the real increase because the “change from 2015 approved” budget shows growth of only $11.1m. This is probably due to in-year amendments to the 2015 budget.

(The inconsistencies in budget reporting at the City and TTC are an ongoing challenge, and there is usually just enough information missing to cloud any analysis.)

Note that these numbers include the effect of the fare increase, but do not include the TTC Board’s proposed enhancements.

There was a lot of fine tuning at the Budget Committee, but at the end of the day only the following changes were approved:

  • POP Inspectors: $1.7m
  • Streetcar service reliability: $1.2m
  • Early Sunday surface (surface routes): $0.6m
  • Discretionary spending : $5m reduction

That’s right – the cut in discretionary spending (paperclips, conferences, and other accounts the TTC has already pillaged to find “efficiencies”) is bigger than the approved additions to the budget. This is in a budget where there is already an across the board $10m reduction to reflect savings based on actual spending patterns vs budget in 2015.

The key phrase in the release above is “new, annualized funding” which is takes the improvements approved for 2015 and operates them for the full year. No real “new” investment for 2016. Worth remembering are the items that were not approved by the TTC Board and/or the Budget Committee:

  • Reliability Centred Maintenance (Pro-active vs Re-active): $7.7m
  • Track Safety (Flag Persons): $1.8m
  • Training: $1.8m
  • Bus Service Reliability: $2.0m
  • Express Bus Services: $1.6m
  • Subway Service Reliability: $0.6m
  • Line 1 3-minute service: $2.8m
  • Cherry Street streetcar service: $0.8m

When the TTC turns into a publicity machine for the Mayor, and so much that was touted as part of the 2016 Budget doesn’t make it past the sharp knives at Budget Committee, press conferences about “improvement” and “investment” ring rather hollow.

So, please Mayor Tory, stop using our subway trains as publicity props, and start being straight with Toronto about what you are really spending on transit service. As anyone who reads the budget can tell, the big increase in TTC “funding” comes from the paying customer, the riders who pay higher fares, not from the penny-pinching City Council and a Mayor who cares more about looking like he is pro-transit than actually paying for the honour.

Updated:

The TTC’s Brad Ross explains the $50m figure thus:

There’s $20M in additional subsidy over 2015. The balance of $30M is annualized for the new and enhanced services begun, primarily, in the fall that now apply to all of 2016. That’s in addition to POP, early Sunday service, streetcar reliability and the 5 express routes that start in March.

I hate to point this out, but the basic numbers show that the City has very little on the table in this game, and the riders are paying the freight for a lot of the new services carried into 2016 from 2015. As for new services in 2016, don’t hold your breath.

The Lord Mayor’s new transit clothes are rather tattered.

Updated:

The section about year-to-year budget comparisons has been clarified.

Ten

Dear Readers:

It’s been a long time you and I have been chatting with each other, ten years today, January 31. This blog started out with an archive of Film Festival reviews and a certain now-legendary piece about Swan Boats.

As I write this, there are 1,812 live posts (this will make 1,813), and 43,881 comments some of which are substantial epistles in their own right. Many ideas, many vibrant discussions even if we don’t always agree.

Ten years is a lot of transit and personal history.

Back in 2006, David Miller was Mayor of Toronto, and Transit City was just beginning to creep from the back of napkins to a real plan, although it wouldn’t surface until March 2007. There was a brief chance that we might have seen suburban expansion in more than one corridor at a time, but that met its fate with the financial crash of 2008, cold feet at Queen’s Park and the dark years of Rob Ford, about whom the less said the better. John Tory appeared as the Ford-slayer, but with his own transit plan warped by consultants who were keen to promote a scheme without understanding exactly how it would work. Getting Tory elected was the important part, and only now, over a year later is there some hope of sanity returning to transit planning in Toronto’s mayoral offices.

Toronto has seen many false starts on transit projects. There was always an economic crisis, or a change in government, or a simple lack of will to sabotage just about any transit plan that came along. The city planned only one line (at best) at a time because councillors must first settle on which of their wards is most deserving of political “relief”, and funding can turn into an exercise of begging for pennies on Queen Street. Metrolinx has a “Big Move”, but actual progress depends on political fortunes day-to-day, election-to-election. Transit is very expensive, and the political will is usually to lowball costs in the early years with the inevitable effect that costs “run over” and the planning map becomes more and more tattered.

Even worse, from the 1990s onward, in part thanks to the combined effect of that decade’s recession and the Harris Tories at Queen’s Park, a new motto seeped into politics at all levels in Canada: “no new taxes”. When times were good, we would hear bold announcements of new “investments”, but somehow the money to pay for them would fall short. Operate better service on what we already had? What kind of flaming radical are you? Don’t you know that turning the screws, weeding out inefficiency, counting the paperclips, that is the way forward, and we will cut the service anyhow.

Writing about transit can be frustrating especially over the long haul, but it is also rewarding to hear more and more people talk about transit from an informed point of view (whether it’s my point of view doesn’t matter, although I won’t object). Transit is coming back into vogue as a city building tool, as an environmental benefit, and as a vital way to allow people to travel around town for work, school, shopping, entertainment – many, many reasons beyond the basic 9-to-5 commute to work. Whether we actual build such a network, let alone pay to operate it, remains to be seen, and an upheaval could still push transit improvements back years if not decades. A more optimistic view would see substantial advances to the point that real improvement has momentum and is the last, not the first, item on any chopping block. A truly core service in Toronto, not something we can afford to short-change.

The writing is fun (well, maybe not always when vetting some of the comments) because there is a community of people interested in transit “out there”. You are not just on my site, but many others covering a wide variety of urban issues, not to mention the big social media sites. Following City Hall would be almost impossible without Twitter, and I remember the little cheer that went up when @SwanBoatSteve made his first appearance.

“Chatting” might not be the right word for some of the more vociferous would-be contributors to the comment threads, but the worst of them are banished to the outer darkness of the blog-o-sphere with the delicious thrill of the “Trash” button, or even better, “Spam”. There should really be sound effects and fireworks.

One part of the blogging evolution has been particularly gratifying – the emergence of a respected group of writers who are outside of the traditional press corps, but who have become part of the City Hall family. Some of us have moved up (or maybe “over”) to mainstream media, and that says something about our Internet world as a breeding ground for a new generation of writers and editors.

I may have the luxury of writing long, detailed articles about whatever attracts me, but I tip my hat to the working press. They don’t have the option of just rolling over in bed and writing some other day and then only on their favourite topic. There is a lot of work behind the articles that show up in print and online, and traditional media are under threat with the changing landscape of how people get “news”. Fewer voices, less time for research, more concern for advertising lineage (itself an anachronistic term in the age of clicks and pop-ups) than solid journalism. Not a happy situation, and the blogs cannot possibly make up the slack.

My life isn’t only about this blog, although some may think I have a limited life outside of writing about transit. They would be wrong. Many know me not as a transit geek, but as an avid audience member and supporter of the performing arts. It is amusing when someone who sees me only in one context “discovers” another side they didn’t know about for years (although these days, my transit persona is rather better known than a decade ago, and it’s harder to hide). Music, theatre, dance, design, urban planning, architecture, cities – this is a continuum, not two separate worlds.

In my professional life, I worked first as a software programmer back in the days of punched cards and “mainframes” of 32k. That evolved over time, and I retired as an IT Ops Manager seven years ago. Never looked back. Transit and politics are more fun, and I would rather write than code (or even worse, manage) although I have “kept my hand in” with those detailed analyses of TTC operations.

When this blog started, WordPress was only a few years old, and had just reached version 2.0. Even then, it attracted me as a platform because, for the most part, I didn’t have to wrangle code, but could concentrate on writing. Now this site sits on wordpress.com which hosts an impressive number of blogs, not to mention major commercial sites.

Toronto has a long way to go, a lot of catching up to do in transit and other files if it hopes to regain that mythic “world class” status we once so easily bragged about. This will happen because many people care about the city and collectively hope to see a better Toronto. Some will be bloggers and media, some will be behind the scenes advisors, some will be professionals in many fields, some may even be politicians.

But it is the readers who are most important. Only if the message about how our city can grow, what it can be, finds an audience and through them sustained political support, will all of the advocacy in so many fields bear fruit.

To my fellow writers and advocates: write more.

To my comment contributors: thanks for adding to the discussions. It makes me (and my colleagues elsewhere) think about what we claim as “the best way” ahead.

To my readers: a big thank you even if you only lurk in the Internet’s shadows. You give your time and attention, and that’s the best gift a writer can ask for.

Relief Line, SmartTrack, GO/RER, Scarborough Subway Consultations

Toronto City Planning has released a draft list of upcoming public consultations on various transit plans including:

  • The Relief Line
  • The Scarborough Transit Plan (Subway, SmartTrack, Crosstown East LRT)
  • The Western SmartTrack Plan (SmartTrack, Crosstown West LRT)

2016_ConsultationCalendar

Additional meetings and information about Metrolinx plans (GO Regional Express Rail) will be organized by that agency.

Even more information will be available in March 2016 when the City releases a compendium report on all transit initiatives currently under study. These will include items listed above as well as the “Waterfront Reset” study, TTC Fare Integration proposals and a review of how (or if) Tax Increment Financing can contribute to the many transit projects under review. The intent is that this report will form the basis for public consultation and debate leading to recommendations at Council in June 2016. This is a very aggressive schedule, and there is no indication how consensus will actually be achieved in so short a time, especially with the usually-secretive Metrolinx as an essential player. At least the discussion will be at a network level, not ward-by-ward with a “relief” line for every member of Council, and there will be some filtering of various schemes based on engineering and operational realities.

What is sadly missing from all of this is a discussion of day-to-day transit operations and the backlog in the state-of-good-repair budget. We can blithely discuss billions worth of subway building to Scarborough and a Relief line, but Council won’t fund the basics of running a transit system.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday February 14, 2016

The TTC will implement several service changes for its February-March schedules primarily to improve peak service on some overcrowded bus routes. This is a sign that the available bus fleet is expanding and more peak service can be offered.

A few routes have new schedules to reflect actual operating conditions.

The 66 Prince Edward bus will be revised so that the same level of service is provided to Lake Shore (Humber Bay) and Humber Loop at all times.

2016.02.14_Service_Changes