At its November meeting, the TTC considered various matters other than the 2013 budgets on which I have already reported.
The new “citizen” members of the TTC were sworn into office: Maureen Adamson, Nick Di Donato, Alan Heisey and Anju Virmani. Ms. Adamson was elected Vice-Chair of the Commission under a new Council-approved structure where the Vice-Chair is chosen from the citizen member ranks. At this point we know little of where the newcomers will take the Commission beyond background articles such as one in The Star.
Although they may claim to be focused on customer priorities, whether this will survive the political onslaught of budget constraints and the organizational morass of “TTC culture” remains to be seen. Commissioners tend to catch a “TTC disease” when it becomes easier to defend what the TTC has done and the official management outlook than to ask difficult questions, publicly, about how things could be better. At least there is a CEO in place whose goals lie in improvement, not in justifying more of the same.
Ridership continues to grow on the TTC with a projected year-end total of 514-million, 11m more than the originally budgeted level.
Although subway reliability indices were affected by the fatality on September 14 at Yorkdale Station, a larger issue is the matter of the performance of the new Toronto Rocket (TR) cars.
A high level CEO to CEO meeting is being arranged to allow the TTC to impress on Bombardier the need for substantial improvement in the performance of the TR units as current performance is unacceptable. [Page 5, section 2.1]
This is unusually strong language for the TTC who for years have put up with indifferent operation of new rolling stock, insulated in part by the availability of a fleet whose retirement can be deferred. We have heard grand claims of reliability, longer mean time to failure in service, and reduction in maintenance spare requirements, but these don’t appear to be reflected in actual experience. For once, the TTC is making its displeasure public although how this affects Bombardier’s performance is another matter. This does not bode well for the new streetcars.
The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) continue to interchangeably use “on time performance” and “within three minutes of scheduled headway” interchangeably even though they measure quite different things. A big problem remains that we are seeing system-wide, all day averages that mask problems with individual routes and with periods of operation when service may be less reliable than the overall average.
Bus reliability fell in September, and this is put down to changes in travel patterns with the end of vacations and the return of school traffic. Streetcar reliability, on the other hand, went up because construction projects are winding down, notably on Queen. I will be examining the Queen route in detail in a series of articles in December.
In any case, the target system average of 65% (bus) and 70% (streetcar) for 3-minute or better performance is hardly impressive, and it implies that one third of the service operates outside the target parameters. All-day, all-route consolidation hides far worse conditions.
The report includes a three-page discussion of noise and vibration problems near Jane and Old Mill Stations [Pages 20-23, Section 3.7]. Reading between the lines, it is difficult to ignore the common themes of gradual deterioration of older infrastructure and the level of ongoing maintenance. This begs obvious questions about the condition of other parts of the subway and more generally of the effects of budget cutbacks in recent years. We have seen before how the TTC can make cuts in maintenance while claiming that “all is well”, only to be brought up short.
As a follow-on to the issue of service quality, Commissioner Heisey asked for a report regarding elimination of auto traffic from Bay Street through the Union Station construction area as a means of improving transit. Whether such a report will be available before the major works now constraining traffic are finished is another matter. Heisey seemed less than fully informed about the many aspects of the projects at and around Union, and this begs the question of how thoroughly the new Commissioners have been briefed.
This item was deferred to the December 2012 meeting. By that time, we will have seen the new approach in operation in a planned update to the Donlands/Greenwood Station second exits project. A public meeting will be held at Wilkinson Public School (near Donlands Station) on December 3.
Although this is not mentioned in the web page linked above, the meeting notice contains the following information:
- Improvements to Donlands Station will be deferred for two years to allow for completion of the EA for the Downtown Relief Line and the evaluation of potential options for this station. This is an intriguing development indicating that an alternative route to Pape Avenue may be under consideration for the DRL.
- Second exit construction at Greenwood will begin in 2017, and the work will be co-ordinated with elevator installations at the primary entrance.
At the request of the local community, the “Ashbridges Bay Maintenance and Storage Facility” will be officially named the “Leslie Barn”. The inspiration came in part from the “Wychwood Barns”, the common name which attached itself to St. Clair Carhouse. Why it is a “Barn” (singular) is one of those mysteries of local politics, and I am sure we will hear it called “Barns” (plural) for decades to come.
Site preparation and utility work is still underway prior to construction of the carhouse building. See the CEO’s report for more information [pages 28-29].
Steeles West vs Black Creek Pioneer Village
Commissioner John Parker gave notice of his intent to move re-opening of the matter of the name for the station originally called “Steeles West”. This will be done at the December meeting. A chorus of groans met his desire for a sober second look at the “Black Creek” name considering that it is not physically beside the station.
This debate, if it occurs, will give the new members a chance to participate in the weighty matters that consume so much of the Commission’s time.
The TTC awarded a contract to Broadcast Australia to provide wireless service in underground subway stations. They will provide the infrastructure through which the various carriers’ signals will be delivered (e.g. Bell, Telus, Rogers, etc.). This contract does not include service between stations.
The initial installation will be in two prototype stations to determine whether the wireless signals have any effect on TTC subsystems, notably signalling. One might wonder how the TTC manages to operate in open air, but in any event having a prototype allows everyone to sort out potential conflicts before the service goes system-wide.
The Commission considered a report from the City Auditor on the issue of monitoring unusual expenses for overtime and expenses. Every so often, there are discussions of the evils of overtime, and threads spring up on Twitter or Facebook attacking TTC staff who are on the “sunshine list” of over $100k.
Overtime is a basic part of transit operations because it is generally cheaper to use existing staff for a relatively small amount of extra work than to hire net new people with all the costs of training and benefits. Some overtime is a direct result of the effects of special events and weather where it is not practical, in advance, to plan workforce requirements.
The report contains interesting figures that quantify the number of staff and the scale of overtime payments they receive [see Auditor's Report at Page 3]. For the year 2011, total payroll costs were $853 with overtime costs of $72m. In other words, overtime is less than 10% of the total. Within that $72m, $7.8m was “scheduled overtime”, extra payments resulting from crews that run beyond the limits for straight time pay. It is much easier to pay an operator an extra hour, say, to keep a bus out at the end of the day.
Other statistics that were used to flag “high rollers” were the number of staff whose unscheduled overtime exceeded 50% of their base pay (143 out of over 13,000), the number of staff who earned large amounts of standby pay, mileage claims or meal allowances. Targeted reviews like this allow a check of whether the payments and practices are reasonable without getting into a panic every time someone comes in 15 minutes behind schedule. That’s what should be happening, but …
Unfortunately, this is a financial report, and it does not deal with the organizational culture effects of trying to keep a lid on overtime. The TTC may talk a good line about customer service, but a desire to avoid overtime payments is directly responsible for some line management practices. What we don’t know is how much the overtime costs would rise, or whether there are problems with unreasonable schedules or some other factor keeping operators out working longer than expected. When the TTC “saves” on overtime, what is actually happening to service on the street?