TTC November 2012 Meeting Wrapup

At its November meeting, the TTC considered various matters other than the 2013 budgets on which I have already reported.

New Commissioners

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.

CEO’s Report

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.

A New Approach for Construction Project Communications, Community Relations and Property Co-ordination

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.

Leslie Barn

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.

Wireless Service in the Subway

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.

Employee Overtime and Expense Monitoring

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?

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16 Responses to TTC November 2012 Meeting Wrapup

  1. Deborah Brown says:

    Re: New Commissioners: As CEO of Liberty Entertainment, Nick di Donato was part of Ford’s delegation to Chicago a couple of months ago. Today, he is quoted in NewsTalk 1010 deploring “the ridiculousness of our politics” which led to Rob Ford’s temporary removal from office. Enough said.

    Alan Heishey may be a self-declared cycling activist, but he did support Ford’s and Minnan-Wong’s plan of installing separate bike lanes in the middle of fields (such as the Hydro Corridor north of Finch) and the removal of existing lanes of Jarvis. In the Star article you linked above, he is quoted as saying that most of the debate about LRT vs subway construction is a FUNDING discussion. In other words, in his view, we are settling for the second best because that is what we can afford. No mention of LRT’s intrinsic merits in specific corridors. Pathetic to say the least. But that was probably the whole idea behind appointing these “private citizen” members in the first place.

  2. Karl Junkin says:

    One area where I actually agree with the union is the push to separate the operators from the vehicles. Management, for whatever reason that I can’t make sense of, is wedded to an inseparable bond between operator and vehicle for the duration of an operator’s shift. Abandoning that practice and allowing operators to swap vehicles at strategic points/times would have the potential to both reduce short turns and reduce overtime. That should be a win-win.

    Steve: Considering that this happens on the subway all the time, it’s odd that this is not more common on the surface routes. Of course, then the TTC would actually have to manage the routes and keep service spaced while “short turning” operators.

  3. I don’t understand the groans from people about the Steeles West issue? What’s the big deal with talking and letting the new commissioners have a chance to actually get their teeth into their work.

    Steve: You misunderstand my point. The debates at the Commission about station names had a combination of blatant parochialism and the ability to debate comparatively small details at great length while the big issues just sail by. If the Steeles West vs Black Creek debate in December goes on for any length of time, it may leave the new Commissioners wondering just what they got in for.

  4. DiCK says:

    Does the streetcar reliability report capture the percentage of service that actually makes it to the terminal points?
    I’ve heard Andy Byford express his displeasure with the volume of short turns. Has the TTC implemented reforms to line management?

    Steve: I am fairly certain that the reliability is measured at the peak point of the route, not at the termini. TTC is working on new ways to report this information in a way that will give a good overview without overwhelming people with fine-grained data. In the review of the 501 Queen car I am working on, I would say that almost none of the service west of Humber Loop operates within three minutes of the scheduled headway, but this is masked by system-wide reporting.

  5. DiCK says:

    What are the “unacceptable” reliability issues with the TR trains?

    Steve: We don’t know the details, but Byford implied that the advertised availability of the trains for service and breakdown rates were not being met.

  6. nfitz says:

    Karl Junkin wrote

    “One area where I actually agree with the union is the push to separate the operators from the vehicles. Management, for whatever reason that I can’t make sense of, is wedded to an inseparable bond between operator and vehicle for the duration of an operator’s shift.”

    I’d say that rarely a day goes by I don’t see a change in operators on a streetcar, and I only take 4-5 relatively short trips a day (2 to get downtown, 2 to get back, and invariably short-turned somewhere in there once a day). Hard to believe these are all at the end of the shift.

    Increasingly commonly, I’ve also been seeing two streetcars meeting nose-to-nose, and the drivers changing places.

    Steve: On street changeovers for streetcars are built into the crew schedules.

    The oddest thing I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks are buses running on both 503 and 504 on King East, for no apparent service-related reason in PM peak. Have they finally come to their senses, and are using buses to fill in streetcar service gaps? Or are they running out of vehicles?

    Steve: Sometimes, there are standby buses downtown to cover for gaps.

  7. A Different Michael S says:

    What improvements in the TR trains is the TTC looking for? I’ve got my own list, plus one I read about:

    - the trains don’t always meet the platform on the level, so wheelchair users can’t get on (I read about this one)
    - there are too few handles at either end of the cars under the AC units
    - the handles in the middle of the cars squeak
    - the doors take too long to open
    - when sitting in the flip-up chairs right next to the door in rush hour, the only handle for standing passengers to grab onto is by your shoulder, so they have to reach across your face
    - I’ve already heard one train with squealing brakes like the T1s

    I’m honestly glad the TTC has new trains, but even from day 1 I was surprised by the squeaky handles and lack of any handles under the AC units.

    Steve: I think the TTC is looking more for trains that do not fail in service as this is an important point in being able to maintain reliable headways and in the spare train factor they must allow for. It is unclear why it takes Bombardier so long to fix problems such as door timing, load-levelling and brake squeals. I suspect the TTC is being quiet about the details in case they have to sue for non-performance. A related question is how much of this is bad design, and whether the TTC signed off on those designs.

  8. Regarding the “citizen” members of the commission I was rather disappointed to see how professional they are as opposed to the average citizen. I was reading a bit about who they are and it seems to me that they chose the “citizen” members based on their professional experiences rather than their knowledge and use of the system.

    To be honest with you Steve I don’t see the point in having citizen members of the commission when the “citizens” are highly out of touch with the people who use the system. I feel like they used the term citizen to placate the masses while stacking the deck with so called “experts” who happen to be citizens.

    Steve: There is an odd attitude that people who are providing policy direction and upper management should not be too concerned with the details of how their organization and systems work. Someone who chairs a railway’s board shouldn’t be driving the locomotive or be able to draw track maps from memory. Maybe so, but they need to be aware of the details of what makes a railway work, of what their customers expect as “good service”, and of the way in which general policies at a board level get translated into operational practice in the field. If someone doesn’t have the “horse sense” to know when explanations they are fed by management are just so much manure, then their ability as a board member is at best dubious, at worst counterproductive when oversight turns into defensive excuse-making.

    As for the specific new Commissioners, I await their meaningful contribution to public debate.

  9. Robert Wightman says:

    I think that it called the “Leslie Barn” because it is near “The Beach”. If it were near “the Beaches” it would be the “Leslie Barns”.

  10. Benny Cheung says:

    The whole issue about using mobile phones in the metro is becoming a joke. There is no need to test it because it has already been tested. The T35A08s are based on the Movia platform. Movia metros have been running in New Delhi and Shanghai with mobile repeaters in the tunnels with no ill effects. Also, the ATO controller that will be installed operates on spread spectrum technology. Some phones operating in a narrow 20MHz segment of the 1900MHz or 850MHz bands cannot affect safe operation.

    People glued to their smartphones also makes for a safer ride. Which is safer? People sedated on their smartphones or people who have nothing better to do in a metro. It also opens up more advertising revenue for the TTC. Advertisers can strategically place QR codes in their ads which with a mobile signal allows for in train shopping.

  11. Tom West says:

    In the KPI report, the units for the safety/security measures don’t make sense. The first one talks about lost time injuries per 100 employees… but what’s the relevant time period ? Day? Month? Year?

    Steve: The chart is clearly labeled “Annual Injuries / 100 Employees”.

    On punctuality, I’d like to see a much better target (85%+), and some proper analysis of what it would take to get there. ( I once wrote a report on another transit system with punctuality of about 67%, which I described as “unacceptably low”. Staff, passengers and politicians all agreed!) I feel that most of these targets are just number that are missed or met, with no-one thinking about what’s needed to meet them.

    Steve: I agree. The problem is that this is a consolidated figure for all day for many routes and locations, and this gives no idea of where/when the problem spots are. If the average is 67%, then there are going to be places where the actual numbers are worse (I can confirm this from detailed vehicle tracking data I have analyzed). The methodology is faulty, and the reporting mechanism produces meaningless results. Internally, the TTC does break things down to a regional level, but this is not enough. For public and political consumption, we need more details, but presented in a way that they are not overwhelming.

    What is really odd in all of this is that to get to the averages, one must have raw analysis before all of the numbers are stirred into the pot, and yet these numbers don’t see the light of day.

  12. Long Branch Mike says:

    To correct some apparent typos:

    In the 7th paragraph of CEO’s Report, it should perhaps read

    “and it implies that one third of the service _operations are_ outside the target parameters.”

    DiCK comment November 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm In Steve’s reply paragraph it should read

    “I would say that almost _none_ of the service west of Humber Loop operates within three minutes of the scheduled headway”

    Excellent analysis as usual.

    Steve: Both typos fixed. Thanks.

  13. nfitz says:

    Steve wrote

    “Sometimes, there are standby buses downtown to cover for gaps.”

    Likely the case.

    BTW, in response to a recent complaint I made to customer service about frequent large service gaps for the 504 at Broadview Station between 8 AM and 8:30 AM they finally responded this week with an acknowledgement that they need to add more cars but there are no more available, however there are plans to add buses instead in the future during AM peak.

    Steve: Of course, the fact that they short turn a lot of cars before they get to Broadview is somehow lost in the shuffle. It will be interesting to see where they actually add the buses. Also, short term, with various construction projects, they do have spare cars.

  14. George Bell says:

    Just thinking of what would be a good way to show the on-time performance on a system wide basis in just a couple of images.

    They should show three maps of the city (rush hour am, rush hour pm, weekend) with each stop as a circle/dot … over one month figure out each stops on-time average for each time period from green to red (whatever the appropriate numbers are is a separate issue) … I think this would highlight the roads/routes that were causing trouble in a much clearer way with a quick view … obviously then they can roll it up to region or system.

    Maybe divide it out by subway/streetcar/bus as well (or even frequent-bus vs infrequent bus).

  15. TTC Passenger says:

    The Toronto Rocket item’s an interesting one. At least the TTC is taking the TR issues up with Bombardier now instead of letting them slide for 15 years like they did with the issue of the T1 brake screeching. This might not bode well for the new streetcars at first glance but it might – emphasis on might – actually be good news because by getting on Bombardier’s case now about the TR trains, the TTC is making it clear that fleets of lemons are no longer acceptable and that might prompt Bombardier to shape up with the new streetcars for the production fleet.

    I’m still disappointed that they took the Toronto Rocket concept drawings and built a fleet of subway trains to them instead of properly refining and finishing off the design and with apparently inadequate quality control over build quality or system performance. I’m not sure what’s worse, that Bombardier felt it was OK to build such junk and ship it to a paying customer, or that the TTC at the time thought it good enough to accept it and put up with it for over a year. At least the TTC decided to have second thoughts about it this time, even if a bit late. Maybe now the TTC will finally begin insisting their vendors produce better than mediocre products instead of accepting garbage and selling it to the fare paying passengers as the best thing since sliced bread.

    Steve: Some past problems with Bombardier’s equipment has, as I understand things, been in the systems integration area — getting the bits and pieces from various vendors to work together as one. With the new LRVs which are based on a European design already in operation, we have to hope that the integration work has been done by the folks across the pond who understand these things, and that Thunder Bay is just assembling known working designs.

  16. Herb says:

    @Deborah Brown, you said:

    “Alan Heishey may be a self-declared cycling activist, but he did support Ford’s and Minnan-Wong’s plan of installing separate bike lanes in the middle of fields (such as the Hydro Corridor north of Finch) and the removal of existing lanes of Jarvis.”

    That is misinformation.

    For my blog I have read the majority of the press about Jarvis and the separated bike lane plan. At NO point has it been said that Alan Heisey supported the removal of the bike lanes on Jarvis. Heisey supported a *downtown* network of separated bike lanes – on Richmond & Adelaide, Sherbourne, Wellesley, Hoskins and Harbord – as proposed by Minnan-Wong. Cycle Toronto had also supported the downtown separated bike lanes but also opposed the removal of Jarvis bike lanes.

    I have also not seen any evidence that Heisey has expressed an opinion at all on bike lanes in the suburbs or on Hydro corridors.

    The hydro corridor trails, by the way, have been in the planning long before Rob Ford. They are in the original Toronto Bike Plan in 2001, and were being built with federal money when David Miller was mayor.

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