Mayor and TTC Chair Advocate For Time Based Transfers

Mayor Tory, TTC Chair Josh Colle and TTC Commissioner Mary Fragedakis have requested that TTC staff report later this month on the “costs and any other implications for the introduction of time-based transfers for PRESTO users” in 2018. This would make the single fare a payment for a limited-time pass rather than for an unbroken trip subject to transfer rules that predate the TTC’s origin nearly a century ago.

This proposal is pitched both as a way of assisting low-income riders (for whom multiple short trips by transit can be quite expensive) and local businesses (who would benefit from the hop-off, hop-on behaviour), as well as a way to reduce fare evasion whose cost is pegged at about $15 million annually. The more cynical among us would note that the change simply makes “legal” a behaviour TTC riders have engaged in since the dawn of time – maximizing the amount of travel possible for one fare.

The Presto smart card’s  operation would be greatly simplified with the elimination of the byzantine logic required to validate transfers between vehicles, and it would also remove the source of many disputes about overcharges when Presto does not recognize a change of vehicles as a legitimate part of a continuous trip.

This would also make fare integration across the 416-905 border simpler by unifying TTC transfer policies with those of the local 905 systems. What remains is the need for a funding mechanism to provide a co-fare arrangement between operators.

This is a surprising reversal for Tory and Colle who, in past years, treated the time-based fare as “too expensive” despite its many advantages. Previous estimates pegged this at a $20 million annual cost.

With CEO Andy Byford showing strong support for this policy as part of a Ridership Growth Strategy, the move is clearly on to make this change. The timing for the election year is an extra benefit for politicians looking for a transit improvement.

Now if only they would fund better service.

Postscript:

This should be the final nail in the coffin for the ill-conceived Metrolinx proposal to shift transit fares to a distance-based charge. With all of the GTA operating on a time-based system, and zones vanishing internally (York) and between regions (cross border fare sharing), there is zero justification for a wholesale upheaval in a flat fare arrangement. Metrolinx should wake up and drop this from its policy proposals.

TTC Plans Flatlined Service and Fares for 2018 (Updated November 17)

Updated November 17, 2017 at 6:30 pm

The TTC Budget Committee met today and considered the draft 2018 Operating Budget. Between the original release (described later in this article) and today’s meeting, Mayor Tory and two members of the TTC Board endorsed the concept of a two-hour fare to replace the complex transfer rules now in place.

Although this was listed as the second item on the revised meeting agenda, Commissioner Mary Fragedakis moved that it be considered first. This re-ordering was a procedural move to forestall a standard tactic used at City Council where a motion setting the next year’s tax increase is introduced and passed before the budget which it will fund. The result is that any proposed budget changes must fit within the already-approved tax level rather than having taxes set after the budget is finalized. In this case, the motion regarding a two-hour fare was only a report request, and the order was less critical. That request passed by a vote of 3-1 with Budget Chair John Campbell in the negative as he opposes the two-hour fare scheme.

The meeting then turned to a series of deputations which, as these things tend to do, fell on largely hostile ears. A favourite tactic is to challenge members of the public to explain “how would you do  it”, despite the fact that the issues are complex and do not fit within an answer of a few sentences. The Budget Committee itself cancels more of its meetings than it holds, and opportunities for an open debate about transit policy options and the budget rarely occur.

Beyond information already in the budget report, there were a few additional items of note in the staff presentation.

The Cost of the Vaughan Extension

This comes up from time to time, and it is clear that the Committee did not fully understand the costs and revenues associated with the extension.

For some time, a cost increase of $30 million annually has been cited for the TYSSE. However, the 2018 Budget only includes a $25 million bump because $5 million had already been included for start-up costs and operation in the 2017 Budget.

The $25 million comes from a combination of new costs, and revised revenues. The TTC now receives $8 million for bus services operated on contract for York Region, but those services will be assumed by the Region when the subway extension opens. The TTC will continue to operate the vehicles, but now at their own cost and so this is a net increase in costs because of the lost revenue. That amount is partly offset by a combination of $3 million in new fare revenue and $1 million in parking revenue.

Ridership

The projected ridership for 2018 is 539 million, a growth of 3 million over the probable results for 2017, but below the originally budgeted target of 543.8 million. The change from 2017 to 2018 arises from several factors:

Increases:

  • 4.8 million rides due to economic growth
  • 2.1 million rides due to service improvements and the GO Transit co-fare
  • 1.5 million more rides by children (who travel free of charge)
  • 1.2 million new rides from the TYSSE
  • 0.5 million additional rides counted due to improved reliability of Presto readers
  • Total: 10.1 million

Note that most of the expected ridership on the TYSSE will be by existing riders changing travel patterns, not by net new riders. This is further constrained because York Region Transit will continue to serve York University directly thanks to a lack of agreement on a co-fare between YRT and TTC. Riders who were anticipated to show up as YRT-TYSSE-YorkU trips will not be using the subway. It is ironic that there will be more new rides by children on the system as a whole than by riders on the subway extension.

Half a million rides were estimated to have not been counted in 2017 because failing Presto readers were unable to charge these fares. The TTC’s Brad Ross advises that these are

“rides not counted, assuming they still rode but couldn’t pay. The TTC is in the process of accounting for all lost revenue due to out-of-service Presto readers.”

Reductions:

  • 0.5 million rides due to increased subway closures
  • 0.7 million rides due to the elimination of the Public Transit Tax Credit
  • 2.8 million rides due to decreasing sales of Metropasses and Day Passes
  • 3.1 million rides due to a reduction in the average number of trips taken on each Metropass
  • Total: 7.1 million

This provides the net increase of 3 million over 2017 probable results.

Expense Risks

The budget has been drawn up on a conservative basis and leaves several areas where the outcomes in 2018 could be different than projected. The $14 million now sitting in the Transit Stabilization Reserve could be used to offset some of this risk, provided that Council does not scoop the reserve simply to hold down the subsidy increase.

Some of the items below refer to savings that allowed 2017 to show a “surplus” (actually a reduced requirement for subsidy), and these might not all continue into 2018.

The budget contains a provision for $4.1 million in extra costs through the provincially mandated payment for two emergency leave days per year. This has been estimated conservatively, and TTC staff advised the Committee that the worst case cost could be $18 million.

The History of TTC Budget Variances and Subsidies

For many years, the TTC has consistently come in under budget for the annual subsidy requirement. In the table below, the amounts are for the subsidies, not for the overall operating costs. This always leaves the TTC in a position for its next year estimates that a budget-to-budget subsidy flat-line actually represents an increase over actual requirements in the current year.

The subsidy per rider will go up in 2018 because of the fare freeze. Although this takes Toronto back to the level of 2010, that does not allow for cost inflation over that period which has been well above the CPI.

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TTC Board Meeting Preview November 13, 2017

The TTC Board will meet on November 13 with a full agenda. Among the items of interest are:

The Board will also receive a presentation on the Metrolinx Draft Regional Transportation Plan. If there are any new developments on this front at the meeting, I will report on them in an update to this article.

Notable by their absence are two long-awaited reports:

  • The Ridership Growth Strategy. This has been repeatedly promised, but not delivered. I spoke with Andy Byford at an event launching the King Street Pilot on November 9 and asked about this project. He advised that there would be an interim report at the December Board meeting setting out a work plan to verify that the strategies staff are looking at line up with what the Board actually wants to study. Then there would be a separate report or reports in 2018 with specifics of implementation. He reiterated past comments that the plan would be very “aggressive”. Note that a few RGS-related changes are listed in the 2015 Service Improvements Review, although they lack funding.
  • The Bloor-Danforth line renewal plan. This plan will address the need for a new fleet in the 2020s, a new carhouse, resignalling and conversion to automated operation, station upgrades, and any other work that reasonably fits in a package where a unified, co-ordinated approach will reduce overall project costs. The only problem is that Toronto has no funding for most of this. A related issue is that some work, notably a fleet capable of automated operation, will likely be needed for the Scarborough Subway Extension planned to open in the mid-2020s. Byford believes that this report will be coming to the Board in early 2018.

(The Board will consider its 2018 Operating Budget at a special meeting on November 28, 2017. The City of Toronto 2018 budget launch will occur on November 30, 2017.)

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Metrolinx Board Meeting Followup: October 26, 2017

Updated Nov. 2, 2017 at 2:50 pm: Typos corrected, notably “DBFOM”.

The Metrolinx Board met on October 26 with an agenda that was largely discussed in private. This article is a follow-up to the preview published before the meeting.

A major item on the confidential agenda concerned “Benefits Management and Realization”. Why this was handled at such great length in private is a mystery, and I attempted without success to clarify the topic of discussion with Metrolinx.

I asked:

Is this the issue of identifying, encouraging and capturing some of the benefits of transit expansion?

In a thoroughly opaque reply, Metrolinx stated:

Benefits management is a process to help us maximize project value as Metrolinx plans, builds, operates and connects transit projects in order to provide benefits to the region. [Email of Oct. 23 from Scott Money in Metrolinx Communications]

A major problem for Metrolinx and for the Regional Plan in general is the propensity to build stations surrounded by parking lots and structures (GO) or free-standing architectural sculptures that make integration with future development quite difficult. On a smaller scale, Metrolinx will have to get used to thinking smaller, in the sense that stops on BRT and LRT lines should not be planned around massive growth but depend on medium density locally plus intersecting feeder routes.

Metrolinx has committed to publishing information about its private sessions in the future, and it will be interesting to see how much we actually learn about evolving thoughts on this issue. After all, this meeting was billed as a “strategy session”.

The New CEO Introduces Himself

Metrolinx’ new CEO, Phil Verster, made a few remarks most of which were predictable as so much at Metrolinx meetings can be.

His focus since joining the agency has been on talking to customers and front line staff, especially those who do the invisible tasks that keep the system running. He has also been consulting with Metrolinx staff and management about the importance of positioning the agency to get the most out of the investment in the RER (Regional Express Rail) program over the coming years.

Among many projects, Verster spoke of the Kipling mobility hub (recently announced with a media event by sundry politicians), a project that has been brewing for over a decade.

Fare integration was another topic Verster focused on with the recently announced GO-TTC co-fare arrangement being the first step to region-wide integration. This will affect business case analyses, travel behaviours and patterns. New travel, of course, will depend not only on fares, but also on service, a topic on which Verster was silent.

In a telling comment, Verster observed that while Metrolinx has a lot of capital improvements underway, it is important to remember “the soft stuff” of organizational improvement, transparency to the community, and becoming an organization that represents transit in an objective and positive manner.

Being “objective” is a topic that returned in other discussions as the meeting went on.

Regional Transportation Plan Update

Antoine Belaieff presented an overview of the RTP consultations to date. He reported that reception to the draft plan as been generally positive, but that there is continued impatience for system improvements. Riders want seamless fares and service, have diverse opinions on parking and station access, and are interested in seeing how the plan will be staged and implemented. At the municipal level there were few surprises because local planners have been involved in developing the draft, although there is some interest in adding projects to the plan. Stakeholders want clarity about the first/last mile problem and how the growth in travel with RER will affect station access. There is continued interest in long and short haul goods movement by truck and rail.

There have been “fairly technical” discussions about roles and responsibilities for Metrolinx vs the provincial government, especially with respect to the provincial Growth Plan, and a desire for “crisp and concrete” language.

Phil Verster observed that the plan should not be “final” but should be open to changes. It should not be an “event” but an ongoing process.

Board member Upkar Arora asked whether people have been flagging omissions in the plan, have concerns about the environment and sustainability, or are split between an urban/suburban view of the plan.

Belaieff replied that, if anything, people are having to digest a “rich” plan that has a great deal to absorb. Feedback on environment issues has been supportive because of the plan’s “call to action”. Suburban areas tend to focus on how the plan will support growth both through new stations and with expansion that is timely relative to development.

Board member Rahul Bhardwaj asked whether “we hearing from the right people” or just those who are usually engaged, and using an unfortunate phrase, referred to the “silent majority”. Belaieff replied that he was pleased to see audiences not just of his planning friends, but that there was genuine input from “everyday” people. Getting attendees to meetings is hard, and Metrolinx is counting on local networks to help with this, but both “planning intellectuals” and “real people” were present. Leslie Woo, Chief Planning Officer, noted the need to reach marginalized communities.

Woo advised that there will be a report in December on the feedback Metrolinx has received and how it will affect the next version of the document. In parallel staff are working on economic information and will propose “a way forward” with the plan and its implementation. She proposed that the plan not be considered as finite, but as a generator of more specific studies.

One statement caught my ear, namely that this is a plan for ten years, after which there will be a new plan. That is technically correct, in that there is a legal mandate to review the plan every decade (the current review is triggered by that), but the RTP is intended to look forward a quarter century and given the lead time for the most complex projects, a ten year outlook simply won’t do.

As for the comments about “real people” at meetings, this cuts two ways. On one hand, it is vital that the plan be shaped by genuine public opinion as opposed to the “usual suspects” be they those of us who always comment on anything, or politicians who warp transit plans to suit their electoral goals. On the other hand, public opinion can be skewed by biased presentations, and some of the activism so familiar in transit circles arises directly from the need to provide contrary views to the official versions. Being “engaged” should not disqualify one from providing input to a vital plan, and engagement does not necessarily translate to agreement.

The finality of a plan, or its openness to change, is always a tug of war at the planning and political levels. Plans that are open to constant change can leave us with a situation where changing priorities and limited funding guarantee that nothing actually happens. On the other hand, the lack of published details behind many parts of the plan, specifically ridership projections, land use assumptions, project costs and priorities leave us with a full network for 2041 but no sense of how we will get there, or how subsets of the plan would perform.

Hydrogen Trains

Phil Verster introduced this report as an examination of an alternative “green” way to implement non-diesel propulsion for GO saying that there will be a very important feasibility study of the technology this fall. Mark Ciavarro, VP of RER Implementation, took the Board through the presentation (linked above) together with Peter Zuk, Chief Capital Officer.

Ciavarro noted that interest in hydrogen as a fuel goes back to 2012 when it was still a relatively new technology and, at the time, not worth further pursuit. In September 2016, Alstom unveiled a pilot and the vehicle is now in testing, although in a different, much smaller form than trains GO would use. The test train reaches a maximum speed of 140 km/h, and 60 trains are on order. Chief Operating Officer Greg Percy noted that GO’s top speed now is 90m/h or 150km/h. Greg Verster stated that speeds of 180-200km/h and up lie in High Speed Rail territory.

Chair Rob Prichard noted that there is a terminology issue in that all locomotives are electric, but the question is where the energy comes from. [Diesel locos generate their power on board while “electric” locos obtain power from an overhead wire. In both cases the actual propulsion is provided by an electric motor. However, truly electric trains give the option of powering all cars, not just the locomotive, and this changes a train’s performance.]

Zuk stated that GO is electrifying its network and the question is how this would be done. They are doing a feasibility study of hydrogen and other potential technologies. In Germany, commercial uses of hydrogen goes back to 2002, but there is a question here of the scale and applicability to large commuter rail operations.

Verster observed that the application of hydrogen trains in Germany would be to rural lines where electrification infrastructure is not cost effective. The train is small, and the issue is whether the technology can be scaled up. There will be challenges and that is why Metrolinx is conducting the feasibility study. There are hydrogen fuel cell applications in LRT and buses, but this is the first train. Surplus electricity can be used to create hydrogen, and that first stage is always expensive. This is a key part of the study.

Board member Carl Zehr asked whether the study will look at the transition to and integration of hydrogen technology. Verster replied only the technical feasibility is  being studied in the immediate future. His main objective is to deliver RER at the best cost and time. With respect to using the technology on track that GO does not own [portions of some corridors are owned by CN and CP which operate freight traffic over them], hydrogen trains could avoid the need for overhead contact systems (OCS) on non-GO trackage but there is no regulatory framework for this yet in Canada.

Zuk noted that each component of hydrogen fuel cell technology has been around for years. What is new is their integration into a rail system. Metrolinx needs to determine if and how fuel delivery will work, and how the technology would fit into EMU (electric multiple unit) trains.

There will be a symposium to assess the state of the technology on November 16, 2017 (see p. 13 in the presentation deck) and this will be open to outside parties. Whether this means media and the general public is as yet uncertain.

Rob Prichard wondered whether GO Transit would be the last system to build an overhead based system. The obvious rejoinder is that the whole world is building these systems. Verster replied that Metrolinx should not engage in delivering a program that is dependent on research and development.

The study will likely be done by the end of 2017 with a report for the February 2018 Board meeting.

During the press scrum after the meeting, the Star’s Ben Spurr asked Chair Prichard and CEO Phil Verster what made them think hydrogen technology is even possible. Verster replied unambiguously that there are significant community ridership benefits in RER, and Metrolinx will not jeopardize this based on a technology that is not ready to market. He observed that the study will affect RER procurement – under a DBFOM scheme (where a bidder does everything from designing to operating and maintaining the system) there is a question of what technologies a provide might bid.

Spurr also asked about Metrolinx attempting to position Ontario as a global leader, and whether this is a transit agency’s role. Verster replied that Metrolinx should “scan the horizon” to know what is available.

The DBFOM reference raises the question of whether Metrolinx is planning to outsource its RER operations completely on a turnkey basis. I attempted to obtain clarification of this from Metrolinx later on (the scrum ran out of time), but replies yielded no information at all. As for hydrogen itself, it is clear that there is a tension between the basic action of getting an update on the technology, and a political stance that would provide Ontario (and its politicians) with yet another chance to show off advanced technology. Our experience in that regard is less than stellar.

GO/TTC Discounted Double Fare

This report is substantially the same as the one presented at the recent TTC Board meeting. It deals with the proposed agreement between Metrolinx and the City of Toronto/TTC to implement the first stage in a planned four-stage evolution of regional fares:

a) Discounts on double fares (GO-TTC)
b) Discounts on double fares (905-TTC)
c) Adjustments to GO’s fare structure
d) Fare Policy Harmonization

Leslie Woo expects to report to the December Board meeting on all of these.

During the scrum, Rob Prichard observed that although the GO-TTC co-fare is a three year agreement, he feels that unwinding it is unlikely because it is so clearly the right policy direction. If anything, it will be rolled into a more extensive set of integrated fares.

We can only hope that Metrolinx has moved beyond regarding the matter of time-based fares (the two-hour transfer) as a matter of local policy rather than as a potential key part of regional integration for non-GO services. All systems outside of Toronto now use this scheme, and York Region recently eliminated its zone fares. Only the TTC remains as an exception, and there will be a proposal in the coming Ridership Growth Strategy that Toronto move to the two-hour transfer.

This could leave Metrolinx in the position of trying to foist fare by distance, their long-favoured scheme, on local systems that have already standardized on a flat, time-based fare.

Governance

The agenda included a private session item on governance which will be public at the December meeting. This may deal with the issue of which items and reports are dealt with in private session, and which are made public, especially before rather than after they are massaged to fit political reaction.

Rob Prichard, after much prodding in the media scrum, allowed that the controversy over Kirby and Lawrence East Stations was a “catalyst for discussion”. Phil Verster took a shot at the issue by saying that there are four phases to the benefits case process and the station review is at stage 1. There will be more information later in the cycle. Ben Spurr challenged him on the sequence of a Ministerial announcement that appears to seal the decision. Verster replied that communities should get a sense of direction, but that Metrolinx has a long way to go in the maturity of how they work with benefits cases. These are not an absolute science but have strategic overlays leading to a policy decision.

The Globe’s Oliver Moore asked if the Ministerial intervention was appropriate. Verster replied that he cannot comment, but wants to look forward. Metrolinx will give informed advice and options, but it is up to the politicians to make decisions.

These statements dip and dive around the issue, and the comments about the uncertain nature of benefits cases beg the question of the value of the degree to which Metrolinx has relied on these in the past as definitive studies. Either they can hide behind studies as the work of “experts”, or they can recognize them as works in progress that might not be “mature”.

Sustainable Cities, Best Transit Systems and Crowded Vehicles

Toronto loves to pat itself on the back for being the best at just about anything, although understanding exactly what that means seems to matter less than just being somebody’s “number one”. A few recent events combine to provide a view of the city and its transit system from different perspectives.

  • The TTC receives the American Public Transit Association’s “Transit System of the Year” award for 2017. (See APTA 2017 Awards Program at pp. 10-11.)
  • Arcadis, a design and consultancy firm, has issued their 2017 Sustainable Cities Mobility Index in which Toronto ranks 54 out of 100 on a global ranking, 9 out of 23 for North America.
  • The Toronto Star, in an article by Ben Spurr, reveals that some TTC routes are crowded beyond the target level of TTC standards.

The APTA Award

The APTA award was announced with much fanfare by the TTC even before it was actually acknowledged on the APTA website. Every vehicle now sports a logo touting this win, and it is a matter of considerable pride for TTC management. Riders might be forgiven for wondering just what APTA was thinking given long-standing problems with overcrowding and irregular service. If Toronto is the best, what are the rest like?

In fact, APTA does not send out teams of mystery shoppers to gauge the quality of its member transit systems. Nominations are submitted by member agencies like the TTC and cite the basis on which they feel entitled to the prize, and these are judged by an APTA panel. In Toronto’s case, the win is for activities that, in the main, made up the Five Year Plan instituted by CEO Andy Byford in 2013, completion of activities already underway such as the Spadina-Vaughan extension and delivery of new subway cars, and reversal of the service cutbacks of the Ford era.

The list of achievements to date in the Five Year Plan is notable for the omission of improved quality of service as an explicit, measured goal. Yes, there has been a reduction in short turns, but this has not been accompanied by an improvement in service reliability. Bunching of at least pairs of vehicles is common, and the TTC’s stock answer is that “congestion” is responsible for this.

Line-by-line reports of service quality, long-promised by the TTC, have not been published since the first quarter of 2015. Even with such data, the metric is on time performance at terminals with a six-minute window to qualify for acceptable service. The result on most routes is that service can leave a terminus in pairs of vehicles and still be “on time”. Despite this generous standard, the system comes nowhere near the overall target.

Subway trains are crowded during peak periods to the point that passengers cannot board, and this cannot be fixed without additional subway capacity that is, for parts of the network, many years away.

This is the reality transit riders experience, and the APTA award and logos brought as much laughter as praise when they appeared.

Sustainable Cities

When BlogTO reported on the Arcadis Sustainable Cities rankings, it did so under the mistaken headline “New ranking trashes public transit in Toronto”. In fact, the rankings look at a much broader view of how cities compare to each other, and transit is only one part of the evaluation.

The review is of urban mobility generally, with transit being an important part, but also auto congestion, cycling and pedestrian facilities. The scoring comes from three “pillars” of sustainability with several sub-indices for specific aspects of city mobility. For those interested in the component scores, a visit to the detailed rankings shows info that is not available in the main report. (Click on various tabs to see the three pillars, and then the components of these. Scores are normalized so that top cities get 100, and the actual component score can be view by clicking on the bars of the charts.)

Toronto lies in the middle of the pack at 54th out of 100, but this masks the offsetting effect of different scores in the three component pillars.

An important point to bear in mind here is that for the purpose of the study, a “city” is defined as not as the metropolitan area, but as the city proper. In Toronto’s case this means the 416 alone, and in the case of some other cities, the area covered would be less even that what Toronto represents in its own region.

The topics under which cities were scored are summarized below (click to enlarge).

These components were weighted based on their importance within each group.

Under “People” (which deals mainly with mobility issues), Toronto ranks 65th with a score of 43.9%. The ranks and scores for sub-indices are:

  • Fatalities: 18th / 90.1%
  • Access to Transport Service (Bus and Metro stops per sq km): 64th / 10.8%
  • Modal Split: 54th / 36.5%
  • Rider Connectivity (WiFi): 67th / 32.8%
  • Upkeep of the Transit System: 67th (note that there were no data for 28 cities) / 66.7%
  • Wheelchair Access: 68th /55.9%
  • Uptake of Active Commuting: 84th / 7.9%
  • Transit Applications and Digital Capabilities: 73rd / 63.2%
  • Airport Passengers: 33rd / 53.3%
  • Hours of Metro Operation: 34th (in a group of 54) / 20%

Some of these numbers are a direct result of the scope of the review. For example, Toronto includes large suburban areas where route spacing is wider than downtown, and the stop density is lower. A “city” with a comparatively small suburban component would have a higher stop density. Similarly, the uptake of Active Transportation as a mode will be higher in a dense urban area than in the suburbs. By contrast, the percentage of passengers to the airport by transit is high. It could well be that the airport in question is on the Island, not Pearson Airport which is outside of the city proper. Moreover, even Pearson’s transit mode share for Toronto-based flyers is higher than for those in the 905 simply because there is better transit service available from Toronto (TTC and UPX).

Under “Planet” (which deals with environmental issues), Toronto does well at 32nd and a score of 62.5%. It is this comparatively high ranking that pulls up Toronto’s overall score and prevents it from falling to the lower tier of the global rankings.

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: 67th / 60.3%
  • Provision of Green Space: 57th / 20.6%
  • Congestion and Delays: 51st / 56.3%
  • Bicycle Infrastructure: 26th / 65.4%
  • Air Pollution: 8th / 90.3%
  • Efforts to Lower Transport Emissions: 40th / 40%
  • Electric Vehicle Incentives: 34th (in a group of 62) / 100%

Almost none of these scores has anything to do with the transit system directly with an indirect effect only through the absence of good transit as an alternative in some parts of the city.As for “electric vehicle incentives”, this consists of a provincial giveaway to new vehicle buyers, not a widespread availability of the infrastructure needed to operate these vehicles. A significant part of Toronto’s good score is its low air pollution which has much more to do with changes in industrial activity in southern Ontario and the midwestern USA than it does with transit policy.

Under “Profit” (which deals with financial issues), Toronto ranks poorly at 86th and a score of 31.9%.

  • Commuting Travel Time: 60th / 45.2%
  • Economic Opportunity: 25th / 58.7%
  • Public Finance: 74th / 14.5%
  • Efficiency of Road Networks: 94th / 14.6%
  • Affordability of Public Transit: 85th / 34.7%
  • Utilization of the Transport System: 46th / 32.3%

Toronto’s low score here is clearly a combination of the relatively low level of public financial support and the low efficiency of the road network, something one must reasonably ask whether we should want to improve. Indeed, “efficiency” is measured as the maximum speed of the road network on the premise that higher speeds show that the roads can operate more safely. I am not sure this is a valid metric especially if one’s goal is to discourage rather than build travel by private auto.

Public financial support is measured against the operating budget, not capital, and Toronto ranks low on this score because so much of its revenue comes from the farebox. The affordability index measures the ratio of a monthly pass price to average monthly net earnings in the city, and Toronto has a high-priced Metropass compared to much of the rest of the world.

These scorings are not intended as an absolute measure, but as a way of providing a comparison across many cities. Toronto may do relatively well within the North American context, but it is still very much a car-oriented city compared to other parts of the world, and its fiscal policies are rules by keeping taxes down, not by constant improvements to transit service.

Overcrowded Routes

The Toronto Star article revealed that many TTC routes are overcrowded, although the degree to which this is so and the time of day when it occurs varies across the system. The following two files contain the raw data as provided by the TTC, and charts showing the percentages of overcrowding by time period.

Overcrowded routes 2017-10-25 Data

Overcrowded routes charts 2017-10-25

These data do not appear in published reports, but they should be part of the CEO’s Report to indicate the degree to which the system is falling short of the Board-approved Service Standards (see section 3.2, p. 10). The TTC, after all, prides itself on being a customer-focussed organization.

Where there is only a slight difference between the average load and the standard, one might be tempted to let things be. However, a critical factor not included in the data is the degree to which individual vehicle loads vary from the hourly averages. This is an aspect of service which can be quite sensitive to service quality and bunching, with the trailing vehicles running half empty while leaders of bunches are crammed. The difference between the “average” rider experience and the “typical” one can be quite substantial.

The standards are intended to allow for this effect in that there is “elbow room” to accommodate small variations in average loads. However, when service is erratic, this leeway is insufficient, and the crowding on lead vehicles, coupled with the extra wait endured for them to arrive, make for a less than ideal experience. Indeed, a route might have average loads within standards but typical riding experience of crowded, irregular service.

Finally, the TTC is fond of saying that it cannot run more service because it has no spare vehicles. This only applies to peak services, however, when the fleet is stretched thin. For off-peak services, the real issue is that the TTC is pinching pennies on service, operating considerably less of it this year than they had originally planned. That’s a political decision, one that says a lot about the kind of city we live in.

Summary

There are many factors by which a transit system and a city could be measured, and these will always come with a set of caveats, long footnotes to explain how the numbers work, and how to filter out the oddballs among them.

That said, there is an important place for seeing the transit system through the eyes of its riders and the city through the eyes of its residents. This is not necessarily the same as a more narrow view of attainment of management goals, or of reviews that only look at the tourist version of a city rather than its many neighbourhoods.

Metrolinx Mulls Strategy (Largely in Private)

Correction: The original version of this article claimed that the Board was meeting in private today to discuss matters that will be on the agenda tomorrow. The Tweet from Metrolinx about today’s is a Stakeholder meeting, not a Board meeting. Thanks to Ben Spurr at the Star for catching this.

The Metrolinx Board will gather on Thursday, October 26 for what is described in the media release as its “annual strategy meeting”. Much of the agenda will be discussed in camera, and if the agency has a strategy, we won’t learn much about how the board members feel on the subject.

The meeting announcement tells us that the Board will discuss “transit expansion progress”. Maybe, but that hardly sounds like “strategy” with the Draft Regional Transit Plan already out to the public for comment. The draft ignores many issues, and the plan does not improve the regional modal split for transit beyond current levels. Moreover, the transit growth is disproportionately focused on Toronto’s core, but transit loses ground (not that it has much to start with) the further from the centre one gets.

Hard discussions about how road space will be used – transit, multi-occupancy vehicles, freight, cycling, pedestrians – need to happen at the regional level, not just on a few “transit streets” downtown. This is a debate both for the 905 and for Toronto’s suburbs where the combination of built form and transit density work against a strong transit market share.

In any event, the public agenda item is a small update on consultation, not a review of any significant policy issues, and it is scheduled for only 15 minutes.

About a month ago, I published a review of the draft plan, and plan to return to the subject in another article soon. My intent had been to make a “deep dive” into the draft, beyond its introductory chapter, but I quickly found how little of substance is actually there.

Other items on the Metrolinx agenda include:

In Private

Benefits Management and Realization (90 minutes)

The title might suggest a discussion of the knotty problem of actually capturing some of the value created by transit investments. I asked Metrolinx to explain just what this was about, and they replied:

Benefits management is a process to help us maximize project value as Metrolinx plans, builds, operates and connects transit projects in order to provide benefits to the region. [Email from Scott Money at Metrolinx, Oct. 23, 2017]

Why, exactly, this should be a matter of confidential discussion is a mystery. This is quite clearly an important part of transit network building, but it has been sidelined when political considerations take precedence over planning issues and “mobility hubs” are little more than enormous parking lots.

Board Governance (15 minutes)

Given recent discussions about political interference in transit decision-making, I cannot help wondering if the Board is aware of its irrelevance, real or perceived. The rare public meetings, the superficial level of debate, and the blizzard of press releases and photo ops from the Minister of Transportation’s office don’t help the situation one bit.

Much of the real debate appears to take place in committee meetings which are so private they are not even advertised and there are is no public record of them.

Metrolinx’ new CEO, Phil Verster, has spoken of the need for “transparency” at Metrolinx, but the problem begins above his level at the Board itself.

Regional Express Rail (60 minutes)

This includes two items: the procurement of a new network operator, and an update on the capital program. Metrolinx has disqualified the current operator, Bombardier, from bidding, a strange move that might raise more eyebrows if Bombardier were not so late on its LRV deliveries. As for the capital programs generally, the only part of this that belongs in a private session would be information on contract issues.

A preliminary discussion of risk issues (30 minutes)

Risk management is an important topic for any Board, and some aspects rightly belong in a private session. That this is “preliminary” and is included in a “strategy” meeting begs the question of what new risks the organization faces, including political fallout from the coming election.

2018/19 Budget Submission (30 minutes)

Unlike budgets at the City of Toronto and TTC, provincial budgets are dark secrets until the moment they are unveiled in the legislature. This puts the public debate of “strategy” for Metrolinx in a difficult position because any spending proposals could embarrass the government by showing what could be if funding were available, or if projects face financial difficulties that could upset spending or delivery plans. The budget could also include new revenue generating strategies including mandated contributions from so-called “municipal partners” or changes to fare schemes.

These are important issues, but we will never hear about them from Metrolinx because of the way Provincial budgets work.

In Public

I will update these sections if there is anything substantive presented at the meeting.

Regional Transportation Plan Update (15 minutes)

This is superficial review of public engagement and has nothing to do with actual content.

Hydrogen Fuel Technology Analysis/Evaluation (30 minutes)

The Minister of Transportation is hot to trot on hydrogen as an alternative fuel, and so of course, Metrolinx must be as well. This report is a review of the current status of the Hydrail project in Germany and an overview of the study work needed to assess its implications for Ontario and GO/RER.

GO/TTC Fare Discount (15 minutes)

This is simply a repeat of the information in the report about the planned co-fare with TTC that has already been dealt with at that agency and is now working its way to City Council.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, December 17, 2017

The December schedules bring the opening of the Spadina subway extension to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station and a major reorganization of bus routes along the subway corridor.

2017.12.17_Service_Changes

Bus routes will be reorganized to serve the subway stations, and in some cases services will be split at the subway corridor. The map below is taken from the TTC’s project page for the line.

Services north of Steeles Avenue that were formerly operated by the TTC on behalf of York Region under contract will now be run by their own transit agency. Fares on the subway have yet to be integrated with YRT, and so a TTC fare will apply to subway journeys while a local YRT fare will apply to the bus feeder network. This is the subject of ongoing discussion, and as usual the issue is who will pay to subsidize a lower co-fare between the two agencies.

The subway will continue the same hours of service it now provides, and the new first/last train times are shown in the table below.

The first train of the day inbound from Vaughan will be at about 5:50 am except on Sundays when service begins at 7:50.

The late night schedule is driven by the long-standing meet at Bloor-Yonge between outbound trains to Finch, Kennedy and Kipling stations at 1:54 am. The last inbound train from Vaughan will leave just after 1 am, and the last outbound train will arrive at about 2:30.

Service on the bus routes affected by the subway is generally at levels similar to what operates today with only a few exceptions.

York Region Transit will take over service north of Steeles Avenue now provided by the following routes:

  • 35 Jane
  • 105 Dufferin North
  • 107 Keele North
  • 165 Weston Road North

Route changes:

  • 35 Jane and 195 Jane Rocket: Extended to Pioneer Village Station (Steeles).
  • 36 Finch West: Route split at Finch West Station (Keele & Finch) during most operating periods. Peak service west of Keele Street improved. Service east of Keele will be reduced in many periods recognizing that many riders will not ride east of the station.
  • 41 Keele: Local service extended to Pioneer Village Station. Express service terminated at Finch West Station.
  • 60 Steeles West: Service reorganized to focus on Pioneer Village Station rather than York University.
  • 84 Sheppard West: Peak period Oakdale service extended to Pioneer Village Station. 84E express from Yonge to Sheppard West Station replaces 196B York University Rocket.
  • 106 Sentinel: Formerly named 106 York University. Extended to Pioneer Village Station.
  • 107 St. Regis: Formerly named 107 Keele North. York U service rerouted and extended to Pioneer Village Station.
  • 108 Driftwood: Formerly named 108 Downsview. Extended to Pioneer Village Station.
  • 117 Alness-Chesswood: Formerly named 117 Alness. Rerouted to better serve the area west of Dufferin Street.
  • 196 York U Rocket: Replaced by the subway extension.
  • 199 Finch Rocket: York U branch cut back to Finch West Station.

Night service will be provided to the York U ring road by 335 Jane, 341 Keele and 353 Steeles. The 336 Finch bus will not serve Finch West Station.

Holiday Period Service

The summary of the schedule changes linked at the top of this article includes a page outlining the service to be provided through the December-January holidays. The highlights are:

  • Service on many surface routes and on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth will operate with summer schedules from Monday, December 18 to Friday, January 5. Extra school trips will not operate.
  • Christmas and New Year’s Days will operate with Sunday service including the 8:00 am opening time for the subway.
  • New Year’s Eve service will be extended on many routes until roughly 4:00 am with extra service on the subway.
  • Regular service resume on Monday, January 8, 2018.

New Year’s Eve services include:

  • Service is expected to operate free after 7:00 pm as in past years, but the details have not yet been announced.
  • The last train meet at Bloor-Yonge for outbound service will occur at 3:37 am rather than the usual 1:54 am. The last trains on 4 Sheppard and 3 SRT will wait for the last trains on 1 Yonge and 2 Bloor-Danforth respectively.
  • 501 Queen will divert via Church, King and Spadina after 11:00 pm for festivities at City Hall.
  • 509 Harbourfront will have extra service every 9 minutes until 2:00 am and every 15 minutes thereafter.
  • 510/310 Spadina will have extra service every 6 minutes until 1:30 am, every 8 minutes until 3:00 and every 12 minutes thereafter.
  • Gap and standby buses will be provided downtown and at other locations to provide extra service as needed.
  • Contract service outside of Toronto on 52 Lawrence West, 129 McCowan North and 68 Warden will be extended to 4:00 am. Service on 160 Bathurst North, 17 Birchmount and 102 Markham Rd will end at the usual time.

King Street Pilot Design Unveiled (Updated Oct. 30, 2017)

Updated October 30, 2017 at 10:00 pm: The City has announced the timing of various works to prepare King Street for the pilot implementation.

As various elements of the pilot appear, I will post photos here for those who are not regularly in the downtown area.

Updated October 25, 2017 at 10:50 am: The treatment of left turns from King at minor intersections, and of left turns onto King, has been clarified by the City. Also, my reference to a reduction in the number of taxi spaces in the banking district has been clarified.

The City of Toronto has released the design for new lane arrangements for the coming pilot of a transit and pedestrian oriented King Street that will go live in the second week of November.

The illustrations below are taken from a single long pdf on the City’s project website. Click for larger versions.

The pilot section of King to be modified runs from Bathurst to Jarvis. Between these bounds, through traffic will be discouraged by forcing motorists to turn off at regular intervals, and left turns will be banned.

The street will be broken into segments by intersections where all traffic except transit vehicles must turn off of King. Taxis are exempted from this rule between 10 pm and 5 am, but they must be bona fide, identifiable taxis, not Uber vehicles or private cars pretending to be.

  • Bathurst to Portland
  • Portland to Spadina
  • Spadina to Peter / Blue Jays Way
  • Peter to University
  • University to Yonge
  • Yonge to Church
  • Church to Jarvis

Vehicles wishing to access any segment of King will have to do so via the intersecting north-south streets, and through travel will be forced to divert to parallel roads.

At some locations it is now possible to make a left turn onto King from a north-south street (either a south to east or north to west turn). No ban on these turns is shown in the map, but they are not shown as possible ways to access King.

Some side streets such as Brant Street (other similar locations are Charlotte, Widmer, Duncan and Jordan, Victoria and Toronto Streets, and Leader Lane) can be accessed from King by left turns only during certain hours. It is unclear whether the hours of the ban will be extended or remain as is for the pilot.

Updated October 25: I asked the City to clarify these issues and they replied:

The map shows only new restrictions (all existing restrictions continue, and a note is being added to clarify).

Since we are making some signal changes, the left-turn prohibition is meant to apply to major (signalized) intersections. So some left turns, while being discouraged, are not prohibited. Of course, we will monitor and make adjustments as required if we start to see major impacts.

Similarly, we are not initially banning turns onto King Street, beyond existing restrictions, but these regulations could change over the course of the pilot project.

We fully expect that traffic patterns in the area will change significantly, and plan to respond accordingly. University Avenue is certainly one location that we’ll be watching closely.

[Email from David Kuperman, October 25, 2017]

At many locations, the transit stops will be moved “farside”, that is the streetcar will cross the intersection before stopping, and at these locations the sidewalk space will be widened out into what is now the curb lane to provide an expanded transit stop. The existing transit shelters will not be moved, but new ones will be installed at some of the relocated stops (the details are not yet published).

The farside stops will be protected from curb lane traffic with Jersey barriers that will be decorated for the pilot. Come the spring, a more attractive barrier such as planters might be used. The important point is that nothing will be “nailed down” and the configuration will be easy to change.

Sections of the curb lanes will be set aside for various purposes, and these are colour-coded in the diagrams below:

  • taxi zones (yellow)
  • accessible loading areas (pink)
  • passenger pick up/drop off/loading zones (blue)
  • public spaces such as seating, cafés or bicycle parking (green)

The most challenging points for traffic will be at the entries to the pilot area eastbound at Bathurst and westbound at Jarvis where through traffic will be forced to turn right or left. Bathurst is already the site of congestion eastbound, particularly in the morning peak, although the turns will be simpler with little westbound conflicting traffic.

Pedestrians will also be subject to new rules with dedicated right turn phases to allow cars to make their turns off of King at some locations. This will be a new experience for downtown where pedestrians travel in waves that give little quarter to competing traffic.

Although there are designated cab stands, considerable portions of the street will be given over to pedestrian areas that cabs could not access, notably west of Spadina in what is now the busiest part of the club district. By contrast, the north side of King in the Theatre District from Simcoe west to Widmer is designated as a zone for pick ups and drop offs.

Generally speaking, the curb lane is not maintained as a continuous route for traffic.

Enforcement will be key to making this work, and there is a very real chance, given past experience with City and Police priorities, that actively managing the pilot area will be a short-lived affair. Mayor Tory has talked about “Traffic Wardens” in the new year, and these will have to be out in force.

Bathurst to Brant

Through traffic will be banned both at Bathurst and at Portland.

The eastbound stop at Bathurst will be shifted farside so that stopped streetcars do not block traffic that is forced to turn north from the streetcar lane. This should work provided that the streetcars are not bunched and blocked from crossing to the carstop because it is already occupied. The westbound stop will remain in its current location.

Portland is another break for through traffic on King, and through east-west moves will not be allowed here. As at Bathurst, the eastbound carstop will be shifted farside.

Spadina to Widmer

Both Spadina Avenue and Peter Street are locations where through traffic is not allowed. Carstops here will be moved farside in both directions. The elimination of through traffic at Spadina should make turns by streetcars, when they are necessary, a lot simpler because there will be less competing traffic. The large volume of pedestrians here is another matter.

Note that on both sides of King, there are areas earmarked for improvements that will block through traffic in the curb lane.

John to University

This is the main Theatre District with four major venues:

  • TIFF at the northwest corner at John Street
  • The Princess of Wales just east of John Street on the north side
  • The Royal Alexandra east of Duncan Street on the north side
  • Roy Thomson Hall on the southwest corner at Simcoe Street

The north side curb lane is dedicated mostly for drop offs and pick ups, and this is an area already heavily used by tour buses coming to the theatres. They are not intended to park in the drop off areas. On the south side, there are extended areas reserved for pedestrian improvements that will prevent travel in this lane.

The carstops at John are both shifted to the farside of the intersection. This will place the westbound stop right in front of the TIFF Lightbox building, and this stop will almost certainly be taken out of service when the annual film festival is running (assuming there even is a King car). Left turns will not be allowed at John Street in either direction.

At Simcoe, the left turn is now a considerable delay for King cars when the theatres are busy, and this turn will be prohibited.

University Avenue is another break in the segments along King, and its carstops will be moved farside in both directions. Left turns from King, now a considerable source of delay eastbound, will be banned.

York to Victoria

There is no longer a carstop eastbound at York, although the relocated University stop eastbound will be a stone’s throw from the old York stop’s location.

At both Bay and at Yonge, the carstops will be shifted to the farside of the intersection. Use of the curb lane space as a streetcar loading zone will considerably expand the space available to transit riders at these locations where today (except for Bay eastbound) the nearside stops are constrained by narrow sidewalks and subway entrances.

Through traffic will be allowed at Bay, but not at Yonge where all traffic must turn.

The area between York and Bay which is now an extended cab stand on both sides of the street, and part of it will remain for this purpose, but a good chunk in each direction is dedicated to a pick up zone. This will provide space for commercial vehicles loading goods, as well as for taxi drop offs. The net result of the change is a reduction in taxi stand spaces on this section of King, although they are more elsewhere.

Victoria to Jarvis

Church Street will be another of the locations where non-transit vehicles are forced to turn, and the carstops will be moved farside in both directions. This will have an effect on short turns and diversions nominally headed to “Church Street” because there will no longer be an eastbound carstop there for them to use.

The curb lane in the area between the St. Lawrence Hall and St. James Cathedral and Park is largely given over to pedestrian improvements. This will have a significant effect for trucks that now use this area as parking during the Saturday market hours.

At Jarvis, as at Bathurst, all incoming traffic will be forced to turn. This presents a potential problem for westbound streetcars during periods when Jarvis southbound become impassible and traffic wishing to turn west to south will have no place to go.

This article will be updated as further information about the pilot’s design becomes available.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, November 26, 2017

The November 2017 schedules bring only minor changes, with one big exception: trains on Line 1 will begin operating to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station, albeit as “ghosts” for training and testing. Revenue service will begin, using the same schedules, on Sunday, December 17, 2017.

The revised subway schedule preserves existing headways, more or less, including the AM peak short turn at Glencairn which is not being extended further north. Service beyond Glencairn in the AM peak will operate every 4’42”. In the PM peak, it will operate every 2’36” with no short turn.

Queen streetcars return between Neville and Sunnyside with no diversions. A date for return of service at least to Humber has not yet been announced. Service beyond Humber to Long Branch is planned for mid 2018 due to ongoing road reconstruction on Lake Shore Boulevard. Please see my article on the Queen West projects for more details on the status of this work.

2017.11.26_Service_Changes

The December 17, 2017 schedules will appear in a separate article. They include all of the surface route changes associated with opening the Vaughan subway extension, as well as plans for special schedules over the holiday period.