The Toronto Star’s Royson James writes today about automation of the TTC’s subway service and the elimination of train crews. His article includes a figure taken from a paper published by the Neptis Foundation which claims:
Converting the TTC subway to UTO [unmanned train operation] could save about $200 million per year, or $2 billion NPV [net present value].
Installation of PSDs [platform screen doors] might cost another $300 million to $500 million.
I wrote briefly about the Neptis paper last year, and keep meaning to return to it if only to debunk some of its more outrageous claims. However, the emergence of fantastical statements about the potential benefits of total automation force me to address this separately.
First off, the cost of PSDs is considerably higher than stated in the report. When this was still part of the TTC’s “above the line” budget, the cost stood at roughly $1-billion (about $15m per station).
The Neptis report says that automation could save “about $200 million per year”. This is wildly inaccurate as can be proven in various ways.
The total TTC operating budget for 2014 is $1.6-billion. Of this, at most 80% of the costs are for labour, and only half of that will be for operators who make up roughly 50% of the workforce. This means we are starting with a total cost of everyone who drives a bus, streetcar or subway train of $640-million. Saving almost one third of this by eliminating crews on the subway simply is not credible.
How much would a subway crew have to be worth to generate $200m in savings per year? Here are a few “back of the envelope” calculations. Note that throughout this I have tried to err on the conservative side to avoid accusations of bias and cooking the books to suit my argument. Without question, the numbers can be refined with more detailed background information, but they are certainly accurate to the level needed for this discussion.
Weekdays: Peak 8 hours x 95 trains = 760 train hours Off Peak 13 hours x 66 trains = 858 Total per day 1,618 Weekdays per year 250 Total per year 404,500 Weekends/holidays: 21 hours x 66 trains = 1,386 Days per year 115 Total per year 159,390 Grand total 563,890 train hours
For the sake of simplicity, round this to 564,000 train hours.
If we are going to save $200m annually, then the crew for one train hour must be worth $355. This is quite substantially more than they are actually paid including benefits. In this calculation the number of train hours is overestimated because all off-peak service is based on weekday mid-day levels. Other adjustments such as the shorter Sunday operations and higher rate of pay for Sunday work would also be needed. However, the number is certainly “in the ballpark” and, if anything, overestimates the amount of service on which savings can be achieved.
Another way of looking at this is to build up from operator wages and benefits. For this we must calculate how many operators are required to drive the trains by looking at their annual working time.
An operator’s shift includes paid breaks and other time that is not spent actually driving a train with passengers such as dead-head trips to/from carhouses, and the time allowed for reporting for work and travelling to the point where a train is picked up. The numbers here are for purposes of this calculation and are almost certainly conservative (i.e. will make calculated costs higher than actual).
Driving hours per day 6.5 per week 32.5 Weeks worked per year 49 Driving hours per year 1,592.5
Next there is the question of what an operator costs per year.
Hourly wage $ 35.00 Benefits @ 30% 10.50 Total 45.50 Weekly cost @ 40h/wk 1,820.00 Yearly cost @ 52wk/yr $94,640.00
Now we convert train hours to operators and hence to the cost of staffing based on 1 operator per train.
Train hours/year 564,000 Operator hours/year 1,592.50 Operator years 354 Annual cost $33,502,560
In other words, elimination of the guards on existing train crews would save about $33m annually. This is something the TTC plans to do anyhow. A further $33m is all that is left to save for elimination of the train driver.
This saving would not pay off the substantial cost of installing platform screen doors.
The Star is irresponsible to publish a claimed “saving” which is so vastly out of line with reasonable estimates and so transparently in error. This does not serve discussions of transit policy well at Council or at the TTC.