HotDocs 2021 Part I

HotDocs 2021 began on April 29 and runs officially to May 9. For the hard core doc fans, the unlimited access pass gives an extra 10 days to watch films stretching the online festival out to May 19. I will post reviews of films here from time to time over this period.

Most films are still available to ticket buyers until May 9. Even after that viewing period, the good films are worth watching for if they show up on streaming services, TV channels like TVO or PBS, or, when we can return to them, real live theatres.

The films reviewed here were screened on Thursday, April 29 through Saturday, May 1.

Apologies to those looking for transit articles. I’ve been at the movies!

Reviewed here:

Continue reading

The TTC CEO’s Report: Old Wine in New Bottles?

The April 2021 TTC CEO’s Report came in a new format, and with that a hope that the long-promised improved content had arrived, not just better graphics. The new report looks good, but it continues to over-simplify key details and omits measures of major system components.

Back in January, I reviewed the then-current version in Measuring and Reporting on TTC Operations: Part I and planned a Part II that would look at how metrics used in other cities might be applied in Toronto, and what they would reveal. That article has been sitting in rough draft for a while. Building alternate views of the TTC requires some data crunching I just have not brought myself to do yet.

I recommend that earlier article to readers if only to avoid reiterating the shortcomings of past reports here.

A key point is that the report tells us what the TTC did, not what it might do if its assets were fully utilized. For years the combined tropes of “we have no buses” and “we have no garage space” were used to rebuff calls for more service when the real problem was underfunding on both the capital and operating side. More service means not just more buses, but hiring enough drivers to take as many buses as possible out of garages and onto the streets.

The CEO’s report tells us how successful the TTC was at fielding scheduled service, but is silent on the constraints that prevent the operation of more.

In the pandemic era, it is not enough to say that the TTC provides “98% service hours for 32% ridership” when social distancing fundamentally changes how we think about system capacity. As ridership returns, there will be a balancing act between providing more space (i.e. more service, more seats) and changing crowding standards. We are likely to see a period when the social comfort riders hope to see will exceed the space the TTC can provide due to both financial and fleet limitations. Already service is being shuffled between lower and higher demand routes to address crowding without extra costs.

The eagle-eyed readers will note that the cover photo on King looking east from Yonge includes a 514 Cherry car (a route that was replace by the 504A King to Distillery service in October 2018) and a CLRV (a vehicle retired at the end of 2019).

An important improvement is the presence of a “Hot Topics” section to focus attention on key items of note. That said, a few potential problems come to mind:

  • How does a topic get on this list?
  • What happens when a topic remains “hot” for an extended period?
  • Is there an upper bound to the hot topic count?

Most of the “hot topics” in this report belong in the permanent lists as they represent standing issues, not monthly flashes. If the “hot topics” really are “hot”, they should appear sooner than three-quarters of the way through the report.

The report has no tracking of infrastructure reliability even though, for example, track, power and signals are responsible for interruptions of subway and streetcar service.

Averages vs Details

A common problem throughout the TTC’s presentation of various metrics is the degree of averaging, of consolidating data and thereby missing its variability in time, space and effect on riders. If something “works” 90 per cent of the time, that may sound good, but that other 10 per cent can have a disproportionate negative effect. Moreover, as discussed here many times, it is not enough for “n” vehicles to show up every hour. They must be reasonably spaced to give predictable wait times and crowding levels.

By reporting on average values, the TTC ignores the day-to-day, trip-to-trip experience of riders.

Corporate Views vs Rider Views

Corporate plans look at the world from a corporate view, but the TTC’s job is first to serve riders and move people around the city.

The “core metrics” are now aligned with the corporate plan’s strategic objectives and, in theory, demonstrate how the TTC is advancing that plan’s goals. This approach consolidates metrics that are most important to riders in one category, and shuffles some key ones into an appendix.

There is a particular problem that accessibility issues do not get their own grouping because this is not one of the TTC’s five corporate objectives. Given the TTC’s long history of underserving these needs, metrics of accessibility should be reported as a group and tracked together rather than being scattered through each section of a corporate view.

This does not mean hiving Wheel-Trans off into its own section, but recognizing that there are many aspects to accessibility that affect users of both WT and the “conventional” system, especially now that riders are encouraged to use the “family of services” as much as possible.

Metrics should include items from the capital budget, not just strictly “operating” statistics. Ongoing plans and progress on key projects that will affect system capacity, safety and accessibility should be included even though they may be in the capital budget. It does not matter (and riders do not care) how various parts of the system are funded, only that system improvements are tracked in one place.

This would not preclude the quarterly Financial Report from going into more detail, but the absence of “one stop shopping” in the CEO’s Report weakens its value.

There are five strategic areas plus a group called “Hot Topics”:

  • Ridership
    • Revenue rides (linked trips)
    • Customer boardings (unlinked trips)
    • Wheel-Trans passenger trips
  • Financial
    • Fare revenue
  • People and Diversity
    • (Metrics to be announced)
  • Safety and Security
    • Lost time injury rate
    • Customer injury incidents rate
    • Offenses against customers
  • Customer Experience
    • Customer satisfaction
    • Customer service communications
    • On-time performance (subway)
    • On-time performance (streetcar and bus)
    • On-time performance (Wheel-Trans)
    • Accessibility: Escalator and elevator availability
  • Hot Topics
    • Wheel-Trans contact centre wait time
    • Customer mask use
    • Bus occupancy

Of the three Hot Topics, only customer mask use might be considered as a “topic of the moment” although it will be with us as long as the pandemic and infection are a concern to riders.

Problems with Wheel-Trans booking systems have existed for years. Measures of availability and response time deserve a permanent spot within an Accessibility group.

As for bus occupancy, this is fundamental to the perceived quality of transit service. This has been a pressing issue for years, but is a particularly hot topic in the pandemic era . We often hear about “run as directed” buses, but never see stats to support the benefit they might provide at key locations rather than as a system average. With Automatic Passenger Counters across the bus fleet, the TTC should report regularly on crowding at a granular level including problem routes, locations and times of the day.

Continue reading

Metrolinx Ducks and Weaves in Riverside

Metrolinx held one of their online consultations on April 22. This time the subject of the Ontario Line between the Don River and Gerrard Street. Normally, I would not review meetings like this in detail. However, I had proposed an alternative alignment and have worked with community groups on this. A reply to statements made by Metrolinx at the meeting is, sadly, essential because of the misdirection and misinformation in their presentation.

The presentation deck for the meeting is available online as is the video of the session on the event page. I will not rehash all of this material and leave these to interested readers.

It was quite clear that Metrolinx thought that they had a presentation to answer the community’s questions, and they launched into it in their usual confident style. However, as the session progressed, and especially during the question-and-answer period (which require a meeting extension to fit everything in), things started to come unglued.

A common tactic would be for Metrolinx to reply to a question with either a partial response, or with a discussion of an issue that had not been asked. I could be generous and assume that they just didn’t hear the question properly, but this happens too often to be pure chance (or mere incompetence). This suggests a deliberate misrepresentation of questions by providing an answer to something that was not asked.

Many questions were submitted in advance on the event page, and these were bundled by the moderator for Metrolinx’ answers. I have consolidated responses from different parts of the session to group related comments together.

Readers of previous articles will be pleased to see that Metrolinx has produced a map with North at the top where it belongs.

The original hoopla about this portion of the Ontario Line included the alleged virtues of the “straddle” design with OL tracks bracketing the GO tracks to allow cross-platform transfers at East Harbour. Metrolinx has now discovered that this brought extra cost and design disadvantages, and they now tout the side-by-side alignment’s benefits. Metrolinx plans are immutable, at least until they embrace a better idea.

Presentation deck, p. 6
Continue reading

Missing Riders, Uber and the TTC

It is impossible to browse the news online or in print without seeing an article about transit ridership. Will people ever go back to work in office buildings? Has work-from-home destroyed transit demand? What is the future of cities in general and our town, Toronto?

I am not going to attempt to peer into that crystal ball as there are too many possible futures. However, I want to throw out a few ideas that should be part of any debate or prognostication.

The transit market is not a monolith, not in Toronto and certainly not from city to city, system to system. There are different markets each with its own demand patterns and riders, and recovery of these markets will not all happen at the same time.

The TTC has a particularly broad reach in that, in “before days”, there was strong demand not just for downtown commuter trips, but around the suburbs. Many types of jobs do not have the work-from-home option. They are keeping us fed, alive, and supplied with an unending delivery of goods we once picked up from a local store.

Moreover, many trips are not “work” trips but are for other purposes.

  • School trips for all ages are an important market, and these are often overlooked as part of transit demand.
  • People make trips for shopping and other personal errands on the TTC, especially if they do not have a car (or if the only one in the family is being used by someone else).
  • Finally, there are leisure trips, broadly speaking, for outings to sports events, theatre, movies, an afternoon on the beach or a walk through the cherry blossoms.

Office commuting will resume when employers and employees feel safe gathering together. Yes some prefer working at home, at least some of the time, but others are just as happy to escape to the alternate universe of their work space and colleagues. There were already moves to reduce the space per office worker and design more for “hotelling” to make better use of expensive space, but there is still a demand for office space, at least in the core area. The creation of new space may halt or slow for a time, but “downtown” still has its allure.

We have already seen that workers in critical industries and in many settings where there is no online alternative are straining the transit service despite claims that crowding is rare.

School traffic is not going to disappear either, but it will return under different circumstances and at a different pace. Much depends on when it is really safe to resume gatherings on that level, based on actual health science, not on political pressure to reopen at whatever cost.

The last to return will be the leisure trips because here has to be something “there” to generate the traffic.

This affects the TTC in a different way from GO Transit which is almost entirely dependent on one market: downtown commuters. GO’s future is tied to these riders much more than is the TTC’s largely because it is the only market they pursued for most of their existence. They are highly dependent on parking lots and personal cars for “last mile” feeder service.

GO has tried to market itself for off peak traffic and group travel, but that demand is trivial. It is viewed as a loss-leader to get potential new customers onto GO who would try weekday service after they use it on the weekend. Of course, someone bringing their family in for a ball game might not actually work downtown, and GO has little service to other destinations.

GO’s daily ridership dropped much further than the TTC’s and it remains in single-digit percentages of its former level with some trains carrying loads that would fit on a bus.

The TTC is different as its stats show. Ridership (equivalent to fares paid, or “linked trips” in planning parlance) are at 25-30% of former levels across the system, with higher values in some areas. The budget plans for a growth to about 50% by fall 2021, but whether this is achieved depends a lot on the perceived success of the vaccination campaign and a big drop in future infection rates. In the first quarter of 2021, the TTC expected to see the first glimpse of a recovery but, thanks to political bungling, we got a third wave of infections and another “lockdown”.

That hoped-for growth starting in September may turn out to be wishful thinking, and that does not bode well for a transit system that cannot be kept on financial life support forever. The 2022 budget assumes a fairly healthy growth in demand, although not back all the way to pre-pandemic levels.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

“Boardings” or “unlinked trips” count each leg of a journey separately. Any transfer between vehicles (except on the subway) counts as a new boarding. While all modes suffered a downturn through the fall and winter, the bus network did best of the three showing its relative importance to riders who continue to be on the TTC.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

Crowding complaints come overwhelmingly on the bus routes, in part because there are so many more of them. The bus fleet has automatic passenger counters that can report real stats, but these are not yet widely available on the streetcar fleet.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

In the near future, the TTC will provide a crowding level feed to two apps: Rocketman and Transit App. This will allow riders to see how crowded approaching buses are, although it will of course do nothing to prevent a bus, once boarded, from filling up later. This information, however, will make an interesting adjunct to real time and historical tracking analysis because it will allow crowding and service reliability to be compared.

The TTC’s analysis above fails to show the real situation riders face because it lumps every bus trip on every route all day together. Many routes are never crowded. Routes with chronic bunching might only be crowded on the “gap” bus. Routes with highly directional demand will have a lot of lightly-loaded counterpeak trips. Having “only” 5% of trips show up as “crowded” will understate the degree of the problems when and where they actually exist.

Moreover, there are more riders on a crowded bus than on an empty one, and so the “average” experience will be that more people to see crowding. A good analogy might be that someone trying to board the subway southbound at Bloor in the AM peak as opposed to eastbound at Broadview at the same time will have a very different experience of subway crowding. The same is true for bus routes.

With route level crowding stats, the TTC should be able to provide “hot spot” reports rather than simply averaging the entire system.

Clearly they are doing some of this already because service plans for coming months, including the May schedule changes, will reduce service on some less-loaded routes to be redeployed on other busy routes.

An important improvement would be to include the hot spots/hot time list in the Daily Customer Service Report so that riders can compare their experience with what the TTC thinks happened. The next challenge is to make the service run reliably, a frequent topic on this blog.

Continue reading

Ontario Line Maintenance Facility Site Selection

This article is a follow-up to Ontario Line Maintenance & Storage Facility and provides detail on the MSF location selection process.

When I first wrote about this project and its effects, Metrolinx advised that they would not be releasing information about the site selection until late 2022, roughly the same point where a contract for construction would be awarded and long after any design changes would be possible.

This position changed quite recently, and the presentation deck for a public meeting on April 15 includes maps of the proposed sites. The original version included the legend “Elected Officials Only” is part of these illustrations and shows how this deck was closely held until quite recently. A revised version posted during the meeting has some differences in the deck.

Although sites downtown and west to the Exhibition were considered, none of them was large enough to accommodate the MSF and yard.

A common thread through this process is that all of the facilities will be at one location as opposed to building storage at various points along the route. That approach would take advantage of train automation to allow remote dispatching of trains to and from service, but it has not been included in the design.

Most of the sites are clustered around the Ontario Line corridor with a few exceptions well away from the line. These are described in the maps below.

The slides describing the removal of various sites from consideration were in the originally posted version of the deck, but they do not appear in the version now online and shown at the meeting.

Four sites in various parts of Flemingdon Park were rejected either because they are too small, they are too far from the main line, or because major development is already planned on the site.

In the original Relief Line Subway plan, trains would have been stored and serviced at Greenwood Yard. This yard is too small for the projected Ontario Line fleet, an intriguing claim considering the relative demand and capacity on Line 2 (now served mainly from Greenwood) and the future Ontario Line.

This leaves three sites on either side of the CP rail corridor through Leaside. Each of these sites has its challenges.

Metrolinx settled on using parts of site 1 (the southern part of the Wicksteed block), and site 2 (the northern part of the Overlea block).

In the previous article comments thread, a reader suggested placing the storage yard in Site 3 (the northeastern portion of the Leaside block). This requires an underpass at the CPR. It is not clear whether Metrolinx considered a hybrid Site 1-3 scheme that would not require the entire Leaside block, only enough room for the storage yard now planned for the northern portion of Site 2.

In the public meeting, Metrolinx stressed that they would be talking to affected businesses about support for relocation. The surprise expressed at this plan by members of the community suggests that consultation is comparatively recent although planning has been underway for some time.

The affected properties are shown in the map below.

The Islamic Society of Toronto plans to the move the Masjid Darussalam mosque from 4 Thorncliffe Park Drive to 20 Overlea Boulevard according to Metrolinx.

Metrolinx said that they are “keenly aware” of impacts to businesses and importance of Iqbal Foods (located in 2 Thorncliffe Park Drive) in the community. They are dedicated to work with all of the business owners to relocate “within the neighbourhood”. How much financial help will be involved remains to be seen. CEO Phil Verster said that it is “100% our intent” that these businesses are not lost to the local community.

Metrolinx received many complaints about timing of their announcement and holding the meeting during Ramadan in an area with a large Muslim population. They plan to hold more consultations after the holy month concludes in mid-May.

The overall project timeline for the North Section of the Ontario Line is summarized in the chart below.

TTC eBus Update April 14, 2021

This article is an update to TTC Plans Massive eBus Order to include information from the TTC Board meeting of April 14, 2021. The staff presentation video is available on YouTube.

The TTC has tested eBuses from BYD, Proterra and New Flyer in a “head-to-head” comparison over the past year (times vary due to delivery delays). There was a sense when this trial began that it would reveal whether certain products were inherently better than others, and possibly winnow the field of potential bidders.

They plan to award a contract for 300 hybrid buses in 3Q2021, and a contract for eBuses in either 4Q2021 or 1Q2022.

In his presentation, Bem Case, Head of Vehicle Programs, made considerable effort to note that the trial was not intended as a selection process, but rather to inform vehicle specifications and contract provisions for a future purchase. Case claimed that BYD and Proterra would be “upping their game” for the large eBus RFP, and their bids should address many issues from the trial. The expected cost for an eBus is around $1 million, about $200k less than the average cost for the trial fleet.

The three trial vendors are not the only ones in the running. Nova Bus, was not part of the trial, but Case advise that they plan to be compliant with the requirements when a Request For Proposals (RFP) goes out.

There are two unnamed manufacturers, one in Canada, one in the US, described as “upstarts” who are trying to get into the market.

Reading between the lines, one can sense that lobbyists have been busy to ensure that no vendor has an inside track. With a 300-bus order on the line, there is a lot of money at stake.

The challenge for the TTC will be to frame a tender whose language actually protects the system up front from bad products rather than simply counting on provisions such as liquidated damages (penalties for non-performance). Issues with the first generation of hybrid buses and the Bombardier streetcars order are fresh in everyone’s mind.

An important clarification emerged regarding the “Negotiated RFP” process. It is not the TTC’s intent to select one vendor in advance and negotiate a contract, but rather to invite bids and then negotiate with vendors to fine tune requirements and issue a revised RFP if necessary. The intent is to avoid writing a spec that disqualifies most or all vendors and forces the entire process to start again from scratch.

Case emphasized that the eBus industry is maturing quickly especially with respect to spare parts availability and post-sales support. Both of these are essential to keeping the fleet on the road, and for ensuring that warranties are honoured promptly. The head-to-head comparison will continue through 2021, and this will provide additional experience to inform both the specifications and evaluations. The TTC expects that availability and reliability issues to date with the trial fleets will be resolved, and they expect strong competition between would-be vendors.

During the trial, many of the problems with vehicles did not lie with the propulsion systems, but with other factors such as vehicle quality, doors and heating. This implies that the ability to actually build a reliable bus is at least as important as packaging the electric technology, and bidders with a track record as bus builders should have an advantage.

A question arose about why management needs to have negotiation authority now when the trial period is still underway. Staff claim that this is needed to begin the process so that eBus deliveries can begin in 2023 rather than pushing the hybrid-to-eBus transition out to 2024. This puts the TTC Board in the difficult position of handing authority for a major procurement to management with little oversight of the decision, but that appears to be how the Board prefers to operate.

Commissioner Ron Lalonde asked whether a larger bus fleet would be needed to compensate for charging time. Case replied that at current battery capacity and usage, so-called “long range” buses can operate for only about 15 hours. This covers only about 40 per cent of TTC service as it is now scheduled. (Many diesel and hybrid buses enter service for the AM peak and stay out until well into the evening.) Various options are available to address this:

  • Reschedule routes so that vehicles return to the garage before they run out of charge. With a 15 hour limit, this constrains vehicles to operate from the AM peak until the early evening, or from the PM peak through late evening.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell buses were mentioned by Case as a longer-range option, although they bring their own challenges.
  • On route charging was also mentioned, but with no details such as a distinction between charging stations such as those used in other eBus systems, or in-motion charging using trolleybus overhead.

Case advised that in the short term, eBuses would be used on routes where their range was not an issue, and that options to expand charging options could be left to the future.

Lalonde asked that management provide an ongoing comparison of the economics of eBuses with comparison to hybrids so that the Board can follow the evolution of the technology.

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong took the, for him, unusual step of promoting himself as an advocate for green technology. He noted that according to a Columbia University Study (done for New York’s MTA), although the capital costs of eBuses are higher than for other technologies, this is offset by lower operating costs and the green benefits are, essentially, a free benefit of converting. (The situation is a bit more complicated than this because the analysis also includes health care savings that do not accrue to the transit budget.) He did not mention that capital purchases are much more heavily subsidized than operating costs, and this has a beneficial effect on the TTC’s bottom line and City subsidy requirements.

There was only limited discussion of the proposed arrangement with Ontario Power Generation and Toronto Hydro for the supply and operation of the electrical distribution and charging systems. Responding to a question about various configurations of lease and purchase of system components, Bem Case noted that it is to the TTC’s advantage to buy buses and to specify an industry standard charging system because this avoids being locked into a single vehicle that is part of a vendor/lessor’s offering. This keeps electricity supply separate from vehicle selection.

An important factor in the timing of the planned order is the availability of federal subsidy. It is ironic that the feds will be pushing the transit market to buy eBuses as part of their “green” strategy, when a predecessor government (Paul Martin was PM at the time) forced the purchase of early generation hybrid buses that were quite troublesome.

An annoying part of the discussion was the TTC’s penchant for being the best and biggest and first in whatever they might do. Many other cities are testing eBuses. Toronto is not the only one with a cold climate (Edmonton and Winnipeg, for example, are much worse). Despite repeated statements that this order would give Toronto the largest fleet of electric buses in North America, the existence of three large trolleybus systems (Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco) was not acknowledged.

TTC management would do well in future reports to include more comparative data and experience from other cities. This should not be difficult considering that they chair a regular online meeting of 26 properties who are testing and operating these vehicles.

The staff recommendations were amended by a motion from Commissioner Bradford asking management to include in their next Green Bus report a fleet plan showing the TTC’s existing fleet, potential eBus allocations and possible deployments to routes.

The presentation included a chart showing the planned rollout/conversion of garages to electric operation. This shows that the intent is a gradual buildup of eBus operations across all garages rather than full conversion of a few sites early in the program. This plan distributes whatever problems might arise with eBuses across the system, but more importantly it defers the need for large scale hydro infrastucture until 2024 and beyond.

This chart was included in the online presentation and is clipped from the video, but it is not included in the online presentation deck.

Ontario Line Maintenance & Storage Facility

Updated April 12, 2021 at 9:30 pm:

The map of the northern segment of the Ontario Line published by Metrolinx in their October 2020 blog article has been added for reference. Scroll down to the end of the article.

Metrolinx has unveiled a plan for the Ontario Line’s Maintenance and Storage Facility north of Thorncliffe Park. Because of the local terrain, green space and the Hydro corridor (not shown on the map below), this is split into three distinct sections:

  • The main buildings are west of Beth Nealson Drive north of the Don River.
  • Some servicing areas are in a long spur parallel to the CPR corridor. This will also be the location of a delivery track where vehicles will arrive from the manufacturer.
  • The storage yard will be in an area now occupied by various shops and offices as well as a mosque.

Here is a satellite view from Google Maps rotated to match the orientation of the map above.

Source: Google Maps

The area to be occupied by the yard at the north end of Thorncliffe Park Drive West is shown below. This was taken before the Costco building went up on the vacant land in the upper right of the photo. The Ontario line will run north from Overlea Boulevard along the west edge of this property.

Source: Google Earth

Google Street View east from Thorncliffe Park Drive at the future storage yard.

The area for the main buildings on Beth Nealson Drive is shown below as it currently exists.

Source: Google Earth

According to the Metrolinx Blog article on this plan, the site was chosen from a list of nine. Metrolinx has not published the other locations that were considered.

The work we did to identify the best site for the MSF and yard will be pulled together as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report that will be available in 2022.

We can let you know we looked at land near the western terminus at Exhibition all the way to the east and to the northern end of the alignment. A list of nine sites were brought forward for more detailed analysis, some of which were ruled out because they weren’t big enough or they affected too many businesses and jobs.

The site in the southeast portion of the Leaside Business Park was selected because our studies showed that it keeps impacts to the local community to a minimum while meeting all of the needs for the project:

• it is already zoned for industrial use;

• it is close to the main line, making it quick and easy for trains to go in and out of service;

• it is large enough to meet future needs;

• it minimizes community impacts;

• has less individual job impacts.

Email from Metrolinx Media Relations, April 9, 2021

While the northern portion that will house the main buildings might only displace a self-storage farm, the southern portion where the yard will be located sits on top of buildings that are an integral part of the Thorncliffe Park community. What the reaction will be might be gauged at an online meeting to be held on April 15, 2021 at 6:30 pm.

Updated April 12, 2021 at 9:30 pm:

When Metrolinx announced their revised route through Thorncliffe Park in October 2020, they touted the fact that this would avoid disruption of buildings such as the Macedonian Orthodox Cathedral. The map of the revised route is below.

Note the area labelled “MSF Study Area”. This is the location, in the updated plan, for the Operation and Maintenance building. The area at the north end of Thorncliffe Park Drive West is not touched by the line and there would be no reason for anyone to raise flags about the businesses and institutions already there.

The yard which is now part of the complex is completely new, and there was no advance indication that this would be part of the design.

On a related note, one of the comments below from Simon Hirst suggests that an alternate location might be the land on the other side of the CPR corridor now occupied by a gravel and cement company. This is visible as a white patch directly above the “MSF Study Area” in the Metrolinx map above (where “north” is to the right, and “west” is up), and in the view below which is a closer view of the same area in the usual geographic orientation.

Source: Google Maps

If that area were to be used, a connection tunnel would have to go under the CPR to link with the Ontario Line whose main shops and offices would be where the brown-roofed buildings labelled “Toronto Moving and Storage” are in the upper right of the photo.

Because Metrolinx has not published its list of alternative sites, we do not know whether this option was considered but rejected for some reason.

Metrolinx does not plan to publish its alternative site analysis until Fall 2022 with the Environmental Project Report, but they also intend to let the contract the includes construction of the MSF and yard at roughly the same time precluding major changes in design.

TTC Plans Massive eBus Order

At its coming meeting on April 14, 2021, the Toronto Transit Commission will consider two reports that, if adopted, will begin a transition to an all-electric fleet over the coming decades.

Although the first report’s title suggests that this is simply an update on the trial of 60 eBuses now in progress, in fact the report includes recommendations for eBus purchases:

The Board delegate authority to the TTC CEO to undertake a public procurement through issuance of a Negotiated Request for Proposal (NRFP) and enter into up to two contracts for the supply of approximately 300 long-range, battery-electric buses (eBuses), based on the following:

a. Limit the total contract award amount, including all applicable taxes, and project delivery costs to within the approved funding of approximately $300 million;

b. Apply lessons learned through the TTC’s eBus Head-to-Head Evaluation to pre-qualify potential suppliers based on demonstrated compliance with system compatibility requirements and Transport Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Standards;

c. All 300 eBuses to be delivered between Q1 2023 and Q1 2025; and

d. Negotiation of an acceptable agreement that is satisfactory to the TTC General Counsel.

Procurement

The TTC plans a split contract to two vendors. Based on experience to date, this would seem to guarantee work to New Flyer Industries [NFI] but a second vendor is a more difficult question.

The TTC raises important caveats:

When reviewing this report, it is important to understand that the findings are specific to the eBus models procured, and to how those buses have performed in the TTC’s operating environment. As a result, the findings of this report may not be applicable to other transit authorities. Further, as the results are preliminary, we expect that action plans across all vendors will result in improvements to vehicle and vendor performance that will be reflected in our next report on the eBus head-to-head evaluation in Q1 2022.

As well, new eBuses offered by BYD, NFI and Proterra are expected to address system compatibility issues, which for the TTC will be critical for the successful adoption of this technology.

Eventually, TTC management has to qualify or disqualify each would-be vendor, but clearly we are nowhere near that point.

Under normal circumstances, the TTC would have an open bid on which any vendor could make an offer. An invited bid creates a process where we must trust that no untoward influence occurs. Considering the unseemly way in which BYD elbowed its way to the table through lobbying and a direct sales pitch to the Board in the guise of a “deputation”, a closed process could be subject to challenge depending on who is invited to bid, and who is excluded.

It is totally unclear why management seeks authority to negotiate a contract at this time when the head-to-head comparison has a year still to run and the vendors might, or might not, correct performance problems in the meantime. Conversely, none of the vendors in the trial has a vehicle that comes close to meeting the performance of the hybrid fleet.

Assuming that Nova Bus, a major Canadian supplier whose vehicles were not in the trial, is asked to bid, it will be interesting to see what types of vehicle they will offer. The TTC plans to pre-qualify bidders based on experience in the trial, and it is hard to understand how, within this constraint, Nova Bus would be invited unless the TTC uses experience from other properties as a reference.

One expected outcome of converting to eBuses is that by 2040:

Vehicle reliability and availability will have increased by an estimated 25%

It is not clear what the base for this improvement is. Is the TTC including its aging diesel fleet in the baseline, or speaking relative to the hybrids already in operation?

Aside from transparency, the results to date raise another key issue. Suppose that eBuses simply do not attain the performance and reliability we have come to expect from transit buses. Do we embrace the technology in the hopes that it will catch up and for the larger “green” agenda, and will we provide adequate budget to the TTC to handle the extra cost of ownership?

Throughout the evaluation report, there are many points under the heading “Lessons Learned”. For readers’ convenience, I have consolidated these in one document. They show just how many topics require a hard-nosed negotiating position by the TTC together with credible vehicle performance data.

There are few surprises, but clearly the TTC intends to go into this bus procurement cycle with is eyes open. Many of these lessons depend on work still underway as part of the trial making the delegation of purchase negotiation authority to staff at this stage even more troubling.

Quite bluntly, the proposed procurement process does not make sense and leaves Toronto open to being saddled with less than ideal vehicles. The authority to negotiate a purchase should be deferred until the results through 2021 are known, and the eligibility (or not) of Nova Bus as a potential supplier is clarified.

Fleet Planning

Updated April 10 at 8:20 pm: The original table of buses incorrectly showed vehicles 1000 to 1689 as diesels when they are, of course, hybrids. This is corrected below.

The TTC is not prepared to completely switch its purchases to eBuses because the technology is not yet mature. Purchase of 300 hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) was authorized by the Board in October 2020. Together, the orders would allow eBus and HEV technology to displace about forty percent of diesel fleet where many buses are near end of life.

What is not clear is the proportion of net new vs replacement vehicles in the 600 bus procurement, nor of the amount of additional service that the refresh of the fleet on this scale will represent. As I write this article, I await the TTC’s provision of an updated fleet plan showing the overall fleet size, service allocations and maintenance spare factors for coming years.

The current bus fleet numbers 2,113 vehicles of which 1,404 are diesels.

Adapted from Scheduled Service Summary for February 14, 2021 (p. 74)

The purchase calendar for new buses in the October 2020 fleet plan shows that the TTC anticipated more than 600 buses in the coming five years, but the number is capped by available funding.

Over recent years, the TTC increased its spare factor in response to dropping vehicle reliability and increased technical complexity. A tactic to offset this was to shift from an 18-year to a 12-year replacement cycle so that buses are retired before they reach an age where maintenance needs rise and reliability drops. This has an obvious effect on capital budgets, and that is compounded by the current premium paid for electric buses compared to diesels.

An important part of buying new buses and a new technology is the hoped-for improvement in vehicle reliability and availability. This would mean that the size of the fleet needed to provide a given level of service would go down. For example, if the spare factor is 20%, then a 120-bus fleet is required in order to field 100 of them in peak service. If the fleet overall becomes more reliable and the spare factor can be lowered, this translates to savings in both capital and operating costs.

Conversely, if new eBus technology cannot achieve a spare ratio equivalent to the existing diesel and HEV fleet, then more buses are needed just to provide the same service. This will be affected not just by reliability factors but by the capacity for charging vehicles that could remain in service through the day. If buses must be scheduled for garage trips simply because they will run out of power, that represents non-productive mileage and driver hours that add to fleet size and operating costs. (An alternative is on-route charging, but the TTC has not yet discussed that option in detail.)

With the shift to HEVs and eBuses, the premise that a bus should only be retained for 12 years may no longer be valid, but it will be at least a decade before we know if the new propulsion technology translates to long-term reliability and a longer replacement cycle. Past experience with trolley buses suggests that eBuses should last longer, but other factors including the robustness of bus bodies and the pace of technology change in the propulsion systems might work against this.

A more subtle problem can arise if a fleet is larger than needed to achieve the target spare factor for an extended period. Surplus “problem” vehicles might be sidelined rather than kept in working order. An organization can reach a point where a larger spare pool becomes part of the maintenance culture and a return to the target level is not as simple in practice as in theory.

For a fleet of 2,113 vehicles a 20% spare factor should allow a scheduled peak service of about 1,761 buses. The peak requirement in May 2021 schedules is about 1,500. Similarly, a streetcar fleet of 204 should allow peak service of 170 vehicles. Whether the TTC will achieve this by the end of 2021 when major overhauls are completed and construction projects affecting streetcar routes will all wind down remains to be seen. Buses now operating on streetcar routes are included in the peak service count, and they would be available for redeployment to bus routes.

This is an issue for the TTC as it moves out of the pandemic era: despite its large fleet, how many vehicles are actually available for service? Do vehicle purchases perpetuate a higher spare ratio? Is the service offered limited by actual vehicle availability, by the number of drivers the TTC hires, or both?

Comparing eBuses with Hybrid Bus Performance

Over the course of testing their 60-vehicle fleet of eBuses, the TTC used its existing Nova Bus hybrid fleet as a comparative benchmark. Despite problems with early generations of hybrids, reliability of recent purchases has been quite good. If an eBus cannot at least match this reliability, this has grave implications for service planning and ongoing costs. It is all very well to be “green”, but a bus in a garage for extra maintenance work chews up funding that could be better used to serve riders.

A very high level comparison of the four fleets for four key criteria appears below. There are many other factors in the evaluation, but these are considered essential. Of the three eBus vendors, only New Flyer avoids the “Needs Improvement” flag in this key group.

Note that Nova Bus was not part of this trial because they did not have a “long range” vehicle capable of extended service when the TTC issued its RFQ.

When the TTC procured its eBus fleet, Nova Bus did not offer a long-range battery electric bus. However, it is now building on its experience with HEVs and opportunity charged battery-electric buses to offer a long-range bus starting in 2022.

For clarity, “opportunity charging” refers to the use of charging stations installed along routes where buses can recharge “on the fly” using a pantograph to link to an overhead power feed.

Continue reading

Infrastructure Ontario’s April 2021 Update

Infrastructure Ontario issues quarterly updates about the projects it is managing for P3 procurement, and I have been tracking the transportation items on this site. Their April 2021 Market Update came out on April 8, but I have been waiting for clarification of some issues before posting here.

Here is a spreadsheet tracking changes in project status since these updates began.

Items highlighted in yellow have changed since the last update.

Note that this report only covers the procurement portions of Metrolinx projects that are undertaken through Infrastructure Ontario. Contracts that are in construction, or are directly tendered and managed through Metrolinx outside of the P3 model, do not appear here.

Ontario Line, Line 1 North Extension (Richmond Hill Subway), Line 4 Sheppard East Subway

There are no changes to these projects in this update.

Line 2 East Extension (Scarborough Subway)

As previously announced, the tunneling contract gets underway this spring. The contract for the remainder of the project (stations etc.) enters the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) stage this spring/summer, but contract execution is not expected until spring 2023.

Note that vehicles for the extension will be procured as part of a TTC order for fleet expansion and renewal that does not show up in the IO updates.

Line 5 Eglinton West Extension

As previously announced, the tunneling contract gets underway this spring. There is no date yet for the remainder of the project to enter the RFQ stage.

GO Expansion Projects

Metrolinx came up with a new term for procurement, the “alliance” model where more responsibility for the project is shifted back onto Metrolinx as owner rather than expecting bidders to take on a substantial project risk. This showed up in the Union Station platform expansion project early in 2020.

In this round of updates, things appear to have gone a step further. Three projects (Lake Shore East and West Corridors, and the Milton Corridor) are reduced in dollar value. I asked Infrastructure Ontario about this, and they replied:

Since the previous Market Update (Dec 2020), there have been some changes in scope of work for these projects. Items which have been descoped may be carried out by Metrolinx in the future under separate, traditionally-procured contracts. The intent is to better manage risks and costs with respect to the GO Expansion program.

As these projects remain in procurement, we will provide further updates this spring/summer.

Email from Ian McConachie, IO Media Relations, April 9, 2021

Specific changes by corridor:

CorridorChange (per Infrastructure Ontario)Previous CostUpdated Cost
Lakeshore WestDescoping of Exhibition Station in-corridor enhancement works and track improvements, Clarkson Station and Bronte Station in-corridor enhancement works.$500M-$1B$200-500M
Lakeshore East-Central Descoping of Scarboro Golf Club Works and 2.5km of grading (previously part of LSE-E) and deferral of Highland Creek Expansion $200-499M$100-200M
Milton Descoping of Station Operations West Facility and replacing the pedestrian tunnel with a pedestrian bridge. $100-199M< $100M

The project formerly called “Milton Corridor” is now called “Milton Station”.

A separate project line, Lakeshore East-West Corridor, dropped off of the IO Update in mid-2020. The project was transferred to Metrolinx for delivery as a non-P3 contract.

The comment about “better manage risks and costs” is telling here, and it implies that the P3 model has not worked out as favourably as hoped for all of Metrolinx’ work. In some cases it is simpler and cheaper to just go out and buy/build something yourself than to set up elaborate machinery for others to do this for you.

Notably the $10B GO “ON-Corr” project which entails a complete restructuring of GO including future operation, maintenance and electrification has not changed status in a year. With GO’s ridership uncertain in the near term, projecting just what Metrolinx might ask a P3 to undertake, let alone contracting for it, is like peering into a very cloudy crystal ball.

TTC Service Changes: Sunday, May 9, 2021

The May schedules will bring many changes across the TTC network including:

  • Streetcar network changes due to construction projects
  • Route reorganizations in Downsview and Scarborough
  • Many service reductions due to reduced pandemic-era riding
  • Some service improvements to address crowding

Updated April 10, 2021 at 9:35 pm: References to “117 York University Heights” in the spreadsheet of detailed changes have been corrected to route “107”.

Streetcar Changes

Construction continues at the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles intersection. Phase 1 now underway is planned to run through August 2021. In Phase 2, work will shift to other parts of the intersection. The full project is planned to run through late 2021.

The only schedule change in May for this project is to give the Roncesvalles 504G shuttle additional running time.

The central-west Queen reconstruction includes conversion of overhead west from Parliament Street for pantograph operation as well as track replacement from University to Fennings (west of Dufferin). The 501 Queen streetcar service will divert via Parliament to King and will loop at Spadina via Charlotte Street. The 501L/P Queen bus service will be extended to Broadview Avenue.

The 503 Kingston Road service which also loops at Spadina & King will be adjusted so that headways and service blend with the 501 Queen service.

Water main reconstruction on Broadview between Danforth and Gerrard will require a bus shuttle until late in 2021. A 504D King shuttle will operate from Broadview Station to Front & Parliament via King. This will replace both the 504 King and 505 Dundas streetcar service north of Gerrard.

All 504 King service will run between Dufferin and Distillery Loops. Service west of Dufferin will continue to be provided by the 504Q shuttle between Shaw and Triller. Service east of Parliament will be provided by the 504D shuttle.

All 505 Dundas service will terminate at Broadview looping via Parliament and Gerrard.

Reconstruction of the overhead for pantographs on the east end of 506 Carlton as well as construction work at Main Station will be complete, and streetcar service will resume over the full route from Main Station to High Park Loop.

Weekday service on 510 Spadina will all terminate at Queens Quay Loop. Riders bound for Union Station will have to transfer to 509 Harbourfront. Weekend and overnight 310 Spadina service is unchanged.

Streetcars from 512 St. Clair running out of service via Bathurst southbound will no longer loop through Bathurst Station to avoid blocking the road and sidewalk when the platform is occupied by a 511 Bathurst car. 512 cars entering service will continue to run through the loop northbound.

The resulting streetcar network is shown in the map below.

Service Reorganizations

Two service reorganizations will occur in May.

In Scarborough, the 116 Morningside service will be consolidated so that all trips operate to Finch. The branch to Conlins Road will now be served by an extension of the 905 Eglinton East Express route.

In Downsview, the 107 St. Regis and 117 Alness-Chesswood routes will be combined as one route 107 York University Heights as shown in the map below.

Service details are in the spreadsheet at the end of the article.

Service Reductions and Improvements

The list of changes for May includes many routes under the heading of pandemic-related service reductions. This is also a time of year when seasonal effects would normally trigger reductions across the system.

Routes with service improvements:

  • 35 Jane M-F peaks
  • 92 Woodbine South weekends (seasonal)
  • 96 Wilson M-F peaks improved; early evening service blended with 165 Weston Road North
  • 102 Markham Road service improvements and reallocation from 102A Centennial branch to 102B Steeles branch
  • 119 Torbarrie new midday service
  • 121 Fort York-Esplande extensions to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach (seasonal)
  • 126 Christie Sunday/Holiday service adjusted to be consistent with weekday schedules
  • 165 Weston Road North service improved; early evening service blended with 96 Wilson
  • 175 Bluffers Park (seasonal)
  • 509 Harbourfront M-F (seasonal)
  • 510 Spadina M-F service consolidated to Spadina Avenue
  • 924 Victoria Park Express weekday peak service restored
  • 927D Highway 27 Express M-F peak service to Steeles
  • 929 Dufferin Express: articulated vehicles replace standard length buses
  • 989 Weston Express weekday peak service restored

Routes with service reductions:

  • 1 Yonge University weekends
  • 512 St. Clair M-F
  • 6 Bay M-F
  • 7 Bathurst M-F
  • 11 Bayview M-F peaks
  • 23 Dawes AM Peak
  • 24 Victoria Park M-F early evening
  • 32 Eglinton West (weekday running times reduced due to less Line 5 construction delay)
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 38 Highland Creek M-F early evening
  • 52 Lawrence West M-F midday and late evening
  • 60 Steeles West M-F midday and early evening
  • 63 Ossington M-F St. Clair 63B short turn trips reduced
  • 66 Prince Edward M-F peak service on 66B to Lake Shore reduced
  • 71 Runnymede M-F peaks
  • 73 Royal York M-F
  • 75 Sherbourne M-F (seasonal)
  • 76 Royal York South M-F
  • 88 South Leaside M-F peaks
  • 94 Wellesley M-F
  • 100 Flemingdon Park M-F AM peak and midday
  • 106 Sentinel M-F peaks and midday
  • 109 Ranee M-F PM peak
  • 113 Danforth M-F peaks
  • 129 McCowan North M-F
  • 134/913 Progress M-F
  • 900 Airport Express weekends
  • 927C Highway 27 Express to Humber College (seasonal)

Routes with revised schedules for reliability

The effect of reliability changes varies from route to route. Usually, the change involves adding running time without adding buses so that scheduled service becomes less frequent. In some cases, running times are trimmed to reflect changing traffic conditions such as the wind-up of construction projects

  • 14 Glencairn
  • 26 Dupont
  • 29 Dufferin
  • 32 Eglinton West
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 86 Scarborough
  • 116 Morningside
  • 127 Davenport
  • 929 Dufferin Express
  • 941 Keele Express

For details of service plans and changes, please see the spreadsheet linked below.

2021.05.09_Service_Changes_V2