TTC Board Meeting: February 25, 2020

The TTC Board meets on February 25 to discuss several reports and proposals. Among items on the agenda are:

I will add to this article following the Board meeting with additional information from the discussions.

Notable by its absence from the CEO’s Report is any information on route crowding or improved metrics for service quality.

Trials of electric buses are in early days, and Toronto is a long way from seeing an entirely zero-emission fleet. My column this week in NOW Toronto present some of the history of evolving bus technology.

Commissioner Brad Bradford has a Notice of Motion which seeks to link spending on improved transit service to potential funding for new vehicles. While the recently improved City Building Fund provides more money for transit vehicles, this covers only one third of their cost and none of any future increase in operations. Bradford’s motion requests:

The TTC Board request that the TTC Chief Executive Officer, when engaging in negotiations with the provincial and federal governments for funding for the TTC’s vehicle procurement priorities, tie funding requests to the implementation of the TTC’s 5-Year Service Plan and service levels as prescribed by the strategy.

There are two problems with this stance.

First, if the TTC and Council choose not to actually fund the added service, this would imply that the capital funding should not come from other governments. I doubt that is Bradford’s intent, but the real issue is that there is no Council commitment to fund better TTC service. Other factors such as the jump in operating budgets to fund new lines such as Eglinton Crosstown and increased fare subsidies could crowd out spending on service.

Second, the scale of service increases proposed in the Service Plan is quite modest, and it really should be revisited. Sadly, the TTC chose not to include more aggressive options for expansion in the Plan even if only on an aspirational basis. Back in 2003, the strength of David Miller’s Ridership Growth Strategy was that it addressed what Toronto could do for modest increases in spending, but this approach has never been repeated.

Bradford also has a Notice of Motion that seeks to consolidate updates on two reports so that both sides of the revenue protection and enforcement issue can be seen by the Board together.

  • Auditor General’s Report – Review of Toronto Transit Commission’s Revenue Operations
  • Ombudsman Toronto Enquiry Report Review of the TTC’s Investigation of a February 18, 2018 Incident Involving Transit Fare Inspectors

Further discussion of fare issues and Presto are likely at the meeting.

Metrolinx Scarborough Subway Extension Info Session

Metrolinx will hold two information sessions on the Scarborough Subway Extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard & McCowan in early March.

Each session will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020
Scarborough Civic Centre
Rotunda
150 Borough Drive, Scarborough, ON

Thursday, March 5th, 2020
Grace Church Scarborough
Parish Hall
700 Kennedy Road, Scarborough, ON

There are no presentations materials available yet for these sessions. I will add links and comments once these appear.

Eglinton Crosstown LRT Chronology (Updated)

Updated February 21, 2020 at 11:00 am:

This update includes a reply from Metrolinx detailing the nine-month contractor delay he cited in his announcement of the 2022 opening for the Crosstown, as well as additional information on delays to the project.

Metrolinx Metrolinx Media Relations provided additional information on the status of work at this point in an email on February 20, 2020.

Based on CTS’s original schedule, 30% design packages for the majority of stations (the first step in the final design process) were to have been completed and approved by December 2015/January 2016.

With the exception of Keelesdale station, none of that work was completed until March 2016 or later, and in the case of Eglinton station the 30% design was rejected due to design deficiencies.

It’s also important to note, that other key aspects of design, such systems design components, were also delayed significantly.

Despite the known delay at this point, this was not mentioned in public reports in following months.

While the update explains some of the issues CEO Phil Verster referenced in his announcement, it does not explain the reason why the in service date continued to be cited as September 2021 well after Metrolinx knew that this was not likely or possible. The opening date has been cited publicly and is included in TTC’s 2021 budget and bus fleet plan.

Internal Metrolinx status reports from September 2019 show that the problem at Eglinton Station was already a known issue as were problems with ground water at Avenue Station and a conflict with CPR at Mount Dennis, among other construction-related delays. The estimated substantial completion date was already in 2022, and it continued to move later in the year to at least May 2022. It is not clear whether “substantial completion” coincides with opening, or merely with the point where commissioning of the line can begin, a process that is several months long and during which other problems that could delay revenue service might arise.

Moreover, the claim by Minister Mulroney that proposed legislation would have accelerated this project by three years remains completely unsupported by the actual project chronology.

Updated February 21, 2020 at 7:00 pm: Metrolinx has confirmed that “substantial completion” includes commissioning so that revenue service can begin.

Original article:

On February 18, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney introduced the Building Transit Faster Act which is intended to speed up progress on the four key Ontario transit projects in the Toronto area: The Ontario Line, the Eglinton West LRT extension, the North Yonge subway extension to Richmond Hill, and the Scarborough Subway extension to Sheppard.

The day before, February 17, the Star’s Ben Spurr reported that the Crosstown line’s opening would be delayed until “well into 2022” according to Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster. This delay had been rumoured for some time, but was denied by Metrolinx until now.

Metrolinx published a statement on their website including photos showing unexpected conditions discovered on the Yonge Subway tunnel structure at Eglinton Station that were responsible for part of the delay.

The statement also includes a claim that the consortium building the project, Crosslinx Transit Solutions started work “nine months later than planned after contract award in July 2015”. This does not align with actual events as shown later in this article. I expect to receive a clarification from Metrolinx on this matter soon.

During her press conference, Minister Mulroney claimed that the Eglinton Crosstown project would have opened three years sooner had the provisions of the Act been in place. This claim is hard to believe considering the nature of the delays we know about, the types of delay addressed by the legislation, and the actual chronology of the project.

Eglinton and other projects have faced numerous hurdles, but these have overwhelmingly been political and financial.

To sort this out, I have assembled a history of the Eglinton Crosstown.

Continue reading

GO Transit Expansion Plans & Meetings

Metrolinx will conduct a series of public meetings at various locations to present information about their plans for the GO Transit network.

Location Date and Time
Markham Village Community Centre
6041 Highway 7
Markham, ON L3P 3A7
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Southshore Community Centre
205 Lakeshore Drive
Barrie, ON L4N 7Y9
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Aurora Community Centre
1 Community Centre Lane
Aurora, ON L4G 7B1
Monday, February 24, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Scarborough Civic Centre
150 Borough Drive
Toronto, ON M1P 4N7
Monday, February 24, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Evergreen Brick Works
550 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, ON M4W 3X8
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Central Recreation Centre
519 Drury Lane
Burlington, ON L7R 2X3
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Metropolitan Centre
3840 Finch Avenue East
Toronto, ON M1T 3T4
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Lucie & Thornton Blackburn Conference Centre
at George Brown College
80 Cooperage Street
Toronto, ON M5A 0J3
Thursday, February 27, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Vaughan City Hall
2141 Major Mackenzie Drive West
Vaughan, ON L6A 1T1
Saturday, February 29, 2020
11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Abilities Centre
55 Gordon Street
Whitby, ON L1N 0J2
Saturday, February 29, 2020
11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

For the full set of documents, go first to the list of “participation opportunities”, then click through to an individual project page, and finally select the “Important Documents” tab. The same set of documents appears on every project’s page.

An important note here is that electrification is still officially an important part of the overall plan. The provincial flirtation with Hydrogen Trains seems to have disappeared at least for the projects on the major GO corridors that Metrolinx owns.

This is intriguing because Metrolinx has been sidestepping the decision on technology by saying that the private sector partners in the expansion plan would make that choice. Now, their literture is full of electrification including one document about effects on vegetation along the rail corridors to provide clearance for the infrastructure, and another on electromagnetic fields.

Several key documents are online as I write this on the morning of February 18, 2020.

  • Station Overview : Despite its title, this document covers many other topics, notably planned service levels for the GO corridors.
  • Station Studies : The title of this document is misleading because it contains little about actual stations, but a lot about environmental issues and a catalog of “cultural heritage” features which are bridges on the Richmond Hill and Lakeshore West corridors.
  • Infrastructure : This is the most extensive of the documents with information about bridges, stations and yard expansion plans.
  • Don Branch Storage Area Roll Map : The only detailed map of proposed infrastructure online at this point (February 18, 2020 at 5 pm) is a map showing the proposed use of the Don Branch as a three-train storage facility northeast of Union Station. There are no detailed maps for other projects.
  • Vegetation Removal Program
  • Electromagnetic Fields and Interference

Continue reading

The Transit Nest Egg Toronto Won’t Spend

Between the Scarborough Subway Extension, now rebranded as the Line 2 East Extension, and SmartTrack, Toronto has a lot of money sitting in the bank that could be used to fund other, much more deserving projects.

Ontario has taken over responsibility for the SSE/L2EE, and at least three of the proposed six SmartTrack stations compete directly with the SSE or the Ontario Line. A fourth (at Finch East) would certainly be affected by the SSE running north to Sheppard.

My latest for Now Toronto: Why is city council pretending that SmartTrack is still alive?

The Child Pass Problem (Updated)

Updated February 15, 2020 at 10:00 am:

Additional information from the TTC has been added to clarify some issues raised here including:

  • How the number of child card taps relates to the number of rides.
  • Which “average fare” is the one used in loss calculations for fare evasion.
  • The discrepancy between full year child card losses and associated citations as compared to the fare evasion study conducted late in 2019.
  • The difference between evasion rates calculated from tap data on Presto machines as opposed to from in-person observations, and the time periods covered by each.

Changes are flagged in the body of this article for readers who have been here before.

Introduction

The TTC’s Audit and Risk Management Committee met on February 11 to discuss three reports of which two dealt in detail with the problems of fare evasion and revenue loss.

Documents related to this are:

Among many areas covered by these reports was the problem of misuse of Presto cards set up for free travel by children by riders who were anything but.

Although this was flagged as a problem when the reports were published in advance of the meeting, the scale and potential revenue loss only came out in the staff presentation to the committee. To complicate the debate, there were two separate and different estimates of the scale of this problem.

The range of fare evasion losses with Child Presto cards ranges widely depending on how one does the calculation. The root of the problem is that there were only 10 million Child Presto taps in 2019.

In one version, a the TTC concludes that 89 per cent of child card taps are not by children. However, the small total number of taps limits the size of the potential revenue loss to about $12 million, well below the total projected losses of $70 million.

In the other version, the TTC claims that one third of all fare evasion is due to Child Presto abuse, but there were not enough child taps in 2019 to account for this level. It is possible that the level of abuse has been growing strongly and was much larger in late 2019 (when the study yielding the “one third” figure took place) than for the year overall.

Updated February 15, 2020:

The TTC confirmed that there are two separate calculations for Child Presto losses that cover two time periods and methodologies.

  • The estimate of $12.4 million loss was based on estimating the number of rides that do not fit with a typical usage pattern one would expect for children, and it is calculated from all-year card usage and the system average fare of $2.25.
  • Statistics for provincial offenses in court showed that about 13% of cases related to Child Presto abuse. This was based on the full year 2019.
  • The 33.7% overall evasion rate for Child Presto use is based on a study in the final months of 2019. This implies a strong growth in the fraudulent use of Child Presto cards.

Continue reading

Fare Evasion on the TTC

This week’s article for NOW Toronto: Fare evasion storm diverts attention from TTC’s real problems

There are two reports on the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee agenda for Tuesday, February 11 dealing with fare evasion and revenue controls:

These reports contain far more information, and cover more ground than I could fit into the NOW piece, and more details are likely to come out when TTC management presents their reports at the committee meeting.

I will update this article following the meeting.

Metrolinx Declines to Answer, Again

On Monday, February 3, both my recent NOW Toronto article about the Ontario line and my own Q&A with Metrolinx diving more deeply into the issues appeared.

On the same day, Ben Spurr reported in The Star that members of Toronto Council had learned of private discussions between Metrolinx and interested developers about alternative alignments and station sites. These issues are at the heart of many questions about and objections to the OL plans, and in particular the reluctance, if not outright refusal of Metrolinx to entertain alternatives.

With the Star’s article, Metrolinx can no longer claim that they only have one design, or that alternatives cannot be discussed.

At tonight’s community meeting, on February 5, conveniently a few blocks from my home, I asked Richard Tucker, who is in charge of this project from Metrolinx, point blank what alternatives were on the table.

He responded “Is this for media” and I replied “Of course”.

To which, in turn, Tucker said, in effect, I cannot tell you about that.

If I had merely been an interested member of the community unknown to Metrolinx, who knows what he might have told me, but for official consumption, mum’s the word. This is a senior public servant who simply does not understand (or whose bosses do not understand) the concept of openness, transparency and actual “consultation”.

In many ways, Metrolinx is its own worst enemy with its secrecy and refusal to engage in discussions. This is not confined to pesky media, bloggers and community groups. It is commonly reported by members of Council and the Legislature, not to mention privately by professional staff at the city and TTC.

In the absence of any official pronouncement from Metrolinx, I would be happy to receive information from members of Council who were briefed, or via the tried and true “brown envelope”.

Ontario Line: Many Questions, Few Answers

This article is a companion piece to my article in NOW Toronto Doug Ford’s Ontario Line headed down the wrong track which should be read first as an introduction.

In preparation of that piece, I sent a set of questions to Metrolinx to clarify and expand on many elements of the project. Some of their responses were included in the article, but for limits both of space and complexity, not all of them.

The many duplicate responses (which begin at question 5) are here for readers to see. The text is copied “as is” from a Metrolinx email received on Friday, January 31, 2020. My comments, if any, are in italics after each question and answer.

I look forward to Metrolinx providing more substantive answers to many of these questions before they bother the public with another round of superficial consultation.

Continue reading

Fourteen

January 31, 2020 marks the fourteenth birthday of this blog.

Back in those early days, I posted both transit commentary and film reviews, but the latter fell aside as online reviews by everyone crowded the field, and governments got into the bad habit of making major announcements just when I would otherwise have some time free to write about TIFF or HotDocs. It was a dastardly plot!

In the mid 2000s, urban affairs were brewing again, and a new generation of civic activists found their voices. Many of them now have moderately influential positions as writers both online and in print, a much endangered medium.

When I started out, my thoughts were to delve into issues at a level the daily press could not, and to provide a place where people could discuss whatever was going on in the transit world from a more detailed technical level. Little did I expect that this would evolve to the breadth of followers here and on social media, much less that I now have fans!

Two factors in the evolution of this blog have been most rewarding:

First is that new generation of activists fighting for a better city and a better transit system. We are not alone, and there are many thoughtful, well-informed voices in Toronto and the region beyond. If only more of us could be in government, I could be happier, but our time will come.

Second, I have evolved from a professional IT person who attends an inordinate number of cultural events and dabbles in transit issues on the side, to a writer, albeit of technical material, and moderator of a very long-running transit salon. This was never an ambition all those years ago when my transit advocacy began as part of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee.

There are now 2,300 posts on this site, and almost 53,000 published comments from you, dear readers. Well, most of you are dear, and the ones who are not tend to invite a click on “Delete” with accompanying laughter and scorn.

A special thank you to those who “lurk” – you know who you are – and the occasional private thank you lets me know the reach this blog has.

Where is transit going in Toronto?

The near future has the sense of a gloomy night with the first hints of a dawn to come. There is finally a recognition at Toronto Council that transit simply cannot get by on the crumbs that so-called inflationary spending increases produce. There is a huge backlog of spending required that, for many years, the City and TTC kept hidden from view lest the borrowing it would trigger frightened passing financial analysts.

But that is only half of the problem. Surface routes both inside Toronto itself and in the GTHA beyond have long been neglected as a vital part of the transit network. We cannot move everyone everywhere on a handful of commuter rail and subway lines.

The assumption that transit’s main goal is to get people to and from King & Bay has not been valid for decades, but that is where almost all planning and political capital was focused. Even calls for more suburban subways claimed that riders needed to get downtown where the good jobs are, and left those wanting to travel elsewhere to their own devices.

Speaking of capital, a bigger challenge than getting a new rapid transit line, regardless of the technology, is to get money for better service everywhere, not just on whatever new bauble we manage to open once a decade. Nobody holds photo ops and press conferences to announce better service on the Queen car or the Finch bus because the money required to make a real city-wide difference is substantial, and usually comes 100 per cent from local tax dollars.

Changing that outlook and increasing transit’s share of trips beyond the rail rapid transit network will be a hard slog. Travellers will not give up their car-oriented patterns both from convenience and from a long-standing distrust that transit will ever amount to more than an occasional, inconvenient bus intended to move a few seniors to and from the local mall.

Left to their own devices and revenues, local governments are not going to invest in better transit, and the provincial government shows no indication of moving into this arena either.

There is plenty to do. Politicians to elect and others to send to a well-earned and thumping defeat. But there is more than just elections, there is the vital need for new policies that will address a city-region where transit must take a much bigger role. The alternative is traffic strangulation, an environmental nightmare, and economic decline.

Lest this sound a too gloomy end in what should be a festive post, I will leave you with a swan gliding in the summer sun on the Avon in Stratford. For those who still have not figured out where the Twitter handle @swanboatsteve comes from, please read A Bold Initiative for Don Valley Transport.