The Bogus Business Case for Fare Integration

In my reporting of the September 2017 Metrolinx Board Meeting, I reviewed a presentation on Regional Fare Integration. At the time of writing, only the summary presentation to the Board was available, but the full Draft Business Case appeared some time later. This is the sort of timing problem that Metrolinx has vowed to correct.

A basic problem with such a delay is that one must take at face value the claims made by staff to the Board without recourse to the original document. This will mask the shortcomings of the study itself, not to mention any selective reinterpretation of its findings to support a staff position.

In the case of the Regional Fare Integration study, this is of particular concern because Metrolinx planners clearly prefer that the entire GTHA transit structure move to Fare By Distance. However, they keep running into problems that are a mix of organizational, technical and financial issues, not to mention the basic politics involved in setting fares and subsidies. If FBD is presented as the best possible outcome, this could help overcome some objections by “proving” that this is the ideal to which all systems should move.

At the outset, I should be clear about my own position here. The word “Bogus” is in the article’s title not just because it makes a nice literary device, but because I believe that the Fare Integration Study is an example where Metrolinx attempts to justify a predetermined position with a formal study, and even then only selectively reports on information from that study to buttress their preferred policy. The study itself is “professional” in the sense that it examines a range of options by an established methodology, but this does not automatically mean that it is thorough nor that it fully presents the implications of what is proposed.

The supposed economic benefit of a new fare scheme depends largely on replacement of home-to-station auto trips with some form of local transit (conventional, ride share, etc) whose cost is not included in the analysis. This fundamentally misrepresents the “benefit” of a revised fare structure that depends on absorption of new costs by entities outside of the study’s consideration (riders, local municipalities).

The set of possible fare structures Metrolinx has studied has not changed over the past two years, and notably the potential benefits of a two-hour universal fare are not considered at all. On previous occasions Metrolinx has treated this as a “local policy” rather than a potential regional option, not to mention the larger benefits of such fares for riders whose travel involves “trip chaining” of multiple short hops.

One must read well into the report to learn that the best case ridership improvement from any of the fare schemes is 2.15% over the long term to 2031, and this assumes investment in fare subsidies. Roughly the same investment would achieve two thirds of the same ridership gain simply by providing a 416/905 co-fare without tearing apart the entire regional tariff. In either case, this is a trivial change in ridership over such a long period suggesting that other factors beyond fare structure are more important in encouragement or limitation of new ridership. Moreover, it is self-evident that such a small change in ridership cannot make a large economic contribution to the regional economy.

Specifics of the Board Presentation

The Board Presentation gives a very high level overview of the draft study.

On page 2:

The consultant’s findings in the Draft Preliminary Business Case include:

  • All fare structure concepts examined perform better than the current state, offering significant economic value to the region
  • Making use of fare by distance on additional types of transit service better achieves the transformational strategic vision than just adding modifications to the existing structure, but implementation requires more change for customers and transit agencies
  • More limited modifications to the status quo have good potential over the short term

“Significant” is the key word here, and this is not supported by the study itself. Ridership gains due to any of the new fare structures, with or without added subsidies, are small, a few percent over the period to 2031. The primary economic benefit is, as the draft study itself explains, the imputed value of converting park-and-ride trips to home based transit trips thanks to the lower “integrated” fare for such services, encouraged possibly by charging for what is now free parking.

A large portion of automobile travel reduction benefits come from shift from park and ride trips to using transit for the whole trip – highlighting the importance of exploring paid parking to also encourage a shift from automobile for transit access. (p. xiv)

However, local transit (be it a conventional bus, a demand-responsive ride sharing service, or even a fleet of autonomous vehicles) does not now exist at the scale and quality needed, and this represents a substantial capital and operating cost that is not included to offset the notional savings from car trips.

Fare by distance does perform “better” than the alternatives, but none of them does much to affect ridership. Moreover, the fare structure, to the limited extent that the study gives us any information on this, remains strongly biased in favour of cheaper travel for longer trips. An unasked (and hence unanswered) question is whether true fare by distance and the sheer scale of the GTHA network can exist while attracting long-haul riders and replacing their auto trips with transit.

On page 3, the presentation includes recommendations for a step-by-step strategy:

  • Discounts on double fares (GO-TTC)
  • Discounts on double fares (905-TTC)
  • Adjustments to GO’s fare structure
  • Fare Policy Harmonization

This is only a modest set of goals compared to a wholesale restructuring of the regional tariff, and it includes much of what is proposed by “Concept 1” in the study – elimination of the remaining inter-operator fare boundaries, restructuring GO fares (especially those for short trips) to better reflect the distance travelled, and harmonization of policies such as concession fare structures and transfer rules.

Further consultation is to follow, although as we now know, the first of the four steps has already been approved by TTC and Metrolinx.

On page 6:

Without more co-ordinated inclusive decision making, agencies’ fare systems are continuing to evolve independently of one another leading to greater inconsistency and divergence.

This statement is not entirely true.

  • The GO-TTC co-fare is an indication of movement toward fare unification, although the level of discount offered on TTC fares is considerably smaller than the discount for 905-GO trips. That distinction is one made by the provincial government as a budget issue, and it cannot be pinned on foot-dragging at the local level.
  • Assuming that Toronto implements a two-hour transfer policy later in 2018 (and the constraint on its start date is a function of Presto, not TTC policy), there will be a common time-based approach to fares across the GTHA. All that remains is the will to fund cross-border acceptance of fares (actually Presto tap-ons) regardless of where a trip begins.

Without question, there should be a catalog of inconsistencies across the region, and agreement on how these might be addressed, but that will involve some hard political decisions. Would Toronto eliminate free children’s fares? Would low-cost rides to seniors and/or the poor now offered in parts of the 905 be extended across the system? Will GO Transit insist on playing by separate rules from every other operator as a “premium” service? These questions are independent of whether fares are flat, by distance, or by some other scheme as they reflect discount structures, not basic fare calculations.

Pages 6 and 7 rehash what has come before on pp. 2-3, but the emphasis on fare by distance remains:

Fare by distance should be a consideration in defining the long-term fare structure for the GTHA. [p. 7]

“A consideration” is less strong language than saying that FBD should be the target framework. If this is to be, then Metrolinx owes everyone with whom they will “consult” a much more thorough explanation of just how the tariff would work and how it would affect travel costs. The draft report is quite threadbare in that respect with only one “reference” tariff used as the basis for a few fare comparisons, along with a caveat that this should not be considered as definitive. That is hardly a thorough public airing of the effects of a new fare structure.

No convincing rationale has been advanced for moving to a full fare by distance system, including for all local travel, and it persists mainly because Metrolinx planners are like a dog unwilling to give up a favourite, long-chewed bone. At least the draft study recognizes that there are significant costs, complexities and disruptions involved with FBD, begging the question of why it should be the preferred end state.

On page 8:

Amend [GO Transit fares] to address short/medium trips and create a more logical fare by distance structure based on actual distance travelled instead of current system to encourage more ridership.

This is an odd statement on two counts:

  • Lowering fares for short trips will encourage demand on a part of the GO system that overlaps the local TTC system, and will require capacity on GO that might not be available, especially in the short term before full RER service builds out.
  • True FBD will increase long trip fares on GO and discourage the very long haul riders whose auto-based trips GO extensions were intended to capture. The reference tariff implied by sample fares in the draft report is most decidedly not FBD with short haul fares at a rate about four times that of long hauls.

In other words, the goal as presented to the Board does not match the actual sample fare structure used in the draft study.

On page 14:

GO/UP uses tap on/off, other agencies are tap on only. Emerging technological solutions may allow tap on-only customer experience while maintaining compatibility with fare-by-distance or –zone structures.

The technology in question, as described in the study, would require all Presto users to carry a GPS enabled device that could detect their exit from vehicles automatically without the need to physically tap off. This requires a naïve belief that all riders will carry smart mobile devices to eliminate the congestion caused by a physical tap on/off for all trip segments, and is is a middle-class, commuter-centric view of the transit market.

On page 15:

Completely missing from the discussion is any consideration of loyalty programs such as monthly passes or other “bulk buy” ways of paying fares. Already on the TTC, over half of all rides (as opposed to riders) are paid for in bulk, primarily through Metropasses. GO Transit itself has a monthly capping system which limits the number of fares charged per month, and software to implement the equivalent of a TTC Day Pass through fare capping is already in place on Presto. (It has not been turned on because of the possible hit to TTC revenues if riders were to start receiving capped fares without having to buy a pass up front.)

Several issues are listed here that reflect the complexity of a system where the lines between local and regional service have already started to blur, and where simplistic segmentation of classes of service simply do not work. The argument implicit in this is that only a zonal or distance based fare will eliminate many of the problems, but there is no discussion of the benefits obtained simply by a cross-boundary co-fare plus time-based transfer rules to benefit multiple short-hop trips. This demonstrates the blinkered vision at Metrolinx and a predisposition to distance-based “solutions”.

For those who will not read to the end of the detailed review, my concluding thoughts:

There are major gaps in the analysis and presentation of the Draft Report. By the end of the study, it is abundantly clear that the target scheme is FBD and future work will aim in that direction. Metrolinx’ FBD goal has not changed, and this begs the question of how any sort of “consultation” can or will affect the outcome.

The remainder of this article examines the 189-page Draft Report and highlights issues in the analysis.

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The Next Big Move (II): Where Is The Plan?

Two months ago, I wrote about the Regional Transportation Plan that Metrolinx had put out for public comment, and that period for online feedback has now closed. In the interim, I had hoped to see more details in the new plan, more analysis that could inform debate and feedback, but very little has appeared on the website where one might expect to see a wealth of background. Instead, there are three studies:

The last of these drew my attention first both because of its size and because this would be the place one would expect to learn how the draft network came to be, and what the benefits are expected from its components. Alas, that information is not just missing, it is not even hinted at as if it might exist in some deeper background study. Metrolinx provides a very general overview of the anticipated effect of their network, but little sense of the relative value of its components.

The purpose of the regional network study is quite clear:

This will serve as one of several technical background reports that will provide a foundation for the RTP Update.

The purpose of this Phase 1 report is to describe the preliminary recommendations for a 2041 strategic transit network for the RTP Update. This includes the identification, analysis and evaluation of potential transit projects and the development of a regional transit network to effectively meet existing and future transit needs across the region. Together, these activities comprise Phase 1 of the Regional Transit Network Planning Study.

Phase 2 of the study will support the RTP implementation plan, and will include the preparation of refined alternatives, specific recommendations, potential roles for various service providers, and a preliminary phasing strategy for the proposed strategic transit network. [p. 1]

In other words, don’t look for specifics here because they’re still working on the details.

Only one paragraph later comes a vital comment under the heading of “Regionally Significant Transit”:

While the provision of effective transit is dependent upon a fully integrated system with local transit supporting regional routes, this study focuses on transit projects
that are considered regionally significant. The resulting regional network is intended to link seamlessly with municipal transit services that are planned and operated
by GTHA municipalities. [p. 2]

Local municipally-provided services are an integral part of any network, but they are assumed to “be there” and are not the focus of this study. However, the funding and expansion of local transit is essential to the “last mile” problem where most regional network users access it via park-and-ride lots, a mode that is not sustainable for an expanded system. This is particularly important for trips that are not anchored at one end by a major destination node, or very good local transit. There is no point in making a trip through a “regional” station if there is no “local” service to complete the journey.

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TTC Service Changes Effective January 7, 2018

There are few changes planned for the January 2018 schedules.

2018.01.07_Service_Changes

14 Glencairn is the latest of many routes to get additional running time compensating for the Crosstown LRT construction. Oddly, the end date shown for this change is December 2022 where all other Crosstown-related end dates are in 2021.

Supplementary service on 32 Eglinton West is being reorganized. There are currently several Service Relief buses operating from Mt. Dennis during most operating periods. These will be replaced by peak-only buses from various garages.

75 Sherbourne trips at the start and end of service are being changed to begin/end at Sherbourne Station rather than at South Drive in Rosedale.

The official route and stopping arrangements for various lines serving Finch West and Pioneer Village Stations have been clarified for periods when these stations are closed.

The TTC has already confirmed through the media that due to the late delivery of Flexitys from Bombardier, there will be bus substitutions on 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton starting with the February 18, 2018 schedules. This is also related to service reorganization to boost capacity on King Street. I will report the details when they are available.

(Bus trippers originally planned for 504 King are now actually operating on 505 Dundas replacing CLRVs that have been redirected to King Street for extra capacity.)

It should be noted that due to track construction on Broadview planned in 2018, there will be effects on the Carlton, Dundas and King routes that will probably last two schedule periods.

Metrolinx Board Meeting and Town Hall: December 2017

Metrolinx held a Board meeting on December 7, followed on December 12 by a Town Hall.

Public questions to the Town Hall were submitted in advance and in real time during the Town Hall online, and in person by attendees. Metrolinx plans to put answers to all questions, including those that could not be handled during the Town Hall itself online in coming weeks. That record is now available at MetrolinxEngage.

My interest in both events was as much to see how the new CEO Phil Verster would handle himself especially during an open Q&A session which has not, to be kind, been part of the corporate culture at Metrolinx.

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A Gallery of Throwback Thursdays for 2017

As a Christmas gift to all my readers here, this post is a gallery of the photos I put up on Twitter (@swanboatsteve) for “throwback Thursday” this year. I know that not everyone follows me on social media, and in any event, I wanted to assemble all of the photos in one convenient place.

There is no particular rhyme or reason to this collection beyond whatever happened to be a topic appropriate for the occasion.

Also, an apology to regular readers for the lack of updates, beyond promoting comments, recently. I have been distracted and many articles and ideas are marooned “in progress”. Over the holidays there should be no new political crises to attend to, and I hope to catch up.

Best wishes for the holidays to everyone!

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Early Days of the CLRVs (Updated)

With the demise today of car 4000, the first of the Canadian Light Rail Vehicles, a look back on the prototypes when they were brand new.

The photos here were taken on June 4 1978 at St. Clair Carhouse. I don’t know which fleet numbers the cars shown here wound up with, but I’m sure there is a reader who knows these details and will supply feedback.

Updated December 25, 2017 John Bromley has provided additional information about the prototype CLRVs:

The car in the photos you posted is 4003 II.  The photo op was June 4 1978, I was there and have a few photos.  Perhaps the July date is the processing date on the slides?

Steve: Thanks for the correct date. I had neglected to write it on the slides at the time.

Below pic shows 4000 II from the rear June 29 1977 at SIG, taken from inside the unfinished carbody of 4003 II.  Even then 4000 II had the all-white top on front rather than the black just visible in 4001 II behind it.  Do I need to mention the pantograph?

Sorry for the delay in sending, we’ve been in Europe for three weeks.

TTC Board Meeting: Monday, December 11, 2017

The TTC Board will hold its final meeting of 2017 on December 11 at the usual time and place, 1:00 pm in City Hall Committee Room 2. The agenda contains a few items of particular interest.

Updated December 13, 2017 at noon: The section on the Ridership Growth Strategy has been updated with comments about the staff presentation.

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Analysis of Routes 501 Queen and 6 Bay: November 2017 (Part 2: Preliminary King Street Pilot Review)

This is the second article reviewing the effects of the pilot King Street transit priority scheme. Part 1 looked at the behaviour of the 504 King streetcar route, and Part 2 concerns the operation of 501 Queen and 6 Bay during the same period.

Among the effects anticipated from the pilot was an increase in traffic on parallel streets with the effect reaching as far north as Queen Street. Queen suffers badly during the shutdown of King for TIFF in September, and by extension some problems were expected to show up with the pilot’s changes changes on King.

Another effect that was expected was congestion on the north-south streets crossing King. Only one transit route in mixed traffic, 6 Bay, operates on such a street.

The City of Toronto is monitoring traffic behaviour on many streets in the study area and will publish their own preliminary findings in mid-December.

The charts presented here are in the same two formats as those in Part 1:

  • One pair of charts shows the travel times between Bathurst and Jarvis on Queen, and between Dundas and Front on Bay, both ways. Each day’s data are plotted individually to show the difference between individual trips, the evolution of travel times over the day, and the degree of dispersion in travel time values (i.e. the predictability, or not, of travel time for any journey).
  • One pair of charts shows average times, by hour, for each day to illustrate daily fluctuations and any before/after changes concurrent with the King Street Pilot.

For both routes, there is almost no change in the average travel times after the pilot began. Values on Queen bounce around a lot, but they do so both before and after the pilot began.

There is a quite striking weekly pattern with much higher than usual averages during the PM peak eastbound on Queen and southbound on Bay with low values usually on Mondays, and much higher values later in the week. This shows the importance of studying route behaviour over several days, while remaining aware that external events can create patterns in the data, or can create one-time disruptions for special events such as parades or sporting events.

501 Queen:

6 Bay:

Analysis of Route 504 King: November 2017 (Part 1: Preliminary King Street Pilot Review) (Updated Dec. 5, 2017)

Updated December 5, 2017 at 8:15 am: Charts showing travel speed profiles in the pilot area have been added at the end of this article.

Updated December 3, 2017 at 10:50 am: Charts showing hourly average travel times by day have been added in a section at the end of this article.

The pilot operation of King Street as a transit thoroughfare began on Sunday, November 12 and will continue for the next year.

This post is the first in a series of articles reviewing the effect of the new configuration on the operation of 504 King and related routes.

The methodology behind the processing and presentation of TTC vehicle tracking data is explained in Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data on this site.

The first sets of charts show the running time for 504 King streetcars westbound and eastbound between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets.

Within each set, there are five pages corresponding to weeks (or partial weeks) of the month with Monday-Friday data, and separate pages for all Saturdays and all Sundays.

Worth noting:

  • The break between “before” and “after” data occurs at Week 3, Monday, November 13. There is a clear difference in running times over the pilot segment after the implementation.
  • Sunday, November 5 was a home game at BMO field for the Toronto FC, and its effect on King Street traffic is clear.
  • Sunday, November 19 was the Santa Claus parade.

The change in running time also had an effect on the quality of service provided on the route. This showed up in more reliable headways (less scatter in the actual values around the average) which, as with the link time charts, is visible starting in week 3. The benefit is visible both at the terminals and at Yonge Street. I have also included a chart for Dufferin eastbound to show service coming into Liberty Village.

The charts are in the same format as for the link times above, but show headways between cars at various locations on the route, not travel times between them. Note that 514 Cherry cars are not included here.

Westbound:

Eastbound:

The improvements in travel time are not uniform across the study area, but are concentrated in certain segments of the route.

(Note that for these calculations the screenlines are in the middle of the cross street. This means that dwell time at stops will shift to a different segment if a stop at a screenline was nearside before the change, but farside after the change.)

The afternoon of November 2 saw severe congestion across the west end of the route, and this appears consistently for all segments.

Westbound:

  • From Jarvis to Yonge there was never much congestion except when triggered by construction or a similar event that blocked the curb lane. There is little change here in running times.
  • From Yonge to University running times are very slightly reduced, but again this is a segment that was not severely congested before the pilot.
  • From University to John there is almost no change.
  • From John to Spadina there is a quite noticeable change in both the length and the consistency of travel times. A considerable amount of this is due to the elimination of delays from turning traffic at Spadina.
  • From Spadina to Bathurst there is also a change in running times, but mainly in the evenings when the club district is active. This change also varies by day of the week.

 

Eastbound:

  • From Bathurst to Spadina there is a change in running times which, like the eastbound data, is mainly in the evening.
  • From Spadina to John, there is little change.
  • From John to University, there is an improvement, although on Wednesday and Thursday, November 29-30, there are extended running times during the pm peak period. This backlog was west from University Avenue implying that something was preventing streetcars from crossing quickly to the east. (Some readers here and on social media have commented that there are days when north-south traffic crossing King prevents service from clearing intersections.)
  • From University to Yonge, the running times are more consistent after the pilot began, but the averages stay roughly the same.
  • From Yonge to Jarvis, running times are slightly higher. This reflects the shift of the busy Yonge Street stop east of the screenline at Yonge.

 

In future articles, I will review:

  • Details of specific days when the line was disrupted.
  • Detailed speed profiles in the pilot area.
  • Operation of 501 Queen and 6 Bay before and after the pilot.
  • Operation of 514 Cherry.
  • Capacity of service provided on King Street.
  • The effect of TIFF on the King, Cherry and Queen cars.

My thanks to TTC staff for pushing the November data out the door on December 1 to permit early publication of these results.

Updated December 3, 2017

Average Travel Times

The charts above show data for the individual trips across portions of the route together with trend lines showing the overall pattern through each day.

The following charts are organized to present hourly averages for each day of the month to illustrate the contrast between the “before” and “after” conditions. The times on the charts refer to the hourly periods when vehicles entered the segment westbound at Jarvis or eastbound at Bathurst.

Each set contains four pages corresponding to the AM peak, midday, PM peak and evening periods, followed by all Saturdays and all Sundays.

  • In the AM peak, there is not much change in average travel times before and after the pilot.
  • During the midday, travel times are lower on average by 2-3 minutes.
  • During the PM peak, average travel times are lower, and dramatically so compared to some days early in the month. Note that November 6 is a Monday, and these are typically the least congested weekdays on King.
  • During the evenings, average travel times are lower and more consistent after the pilot begins.
  • Results on weekends are less dramatic than for weekdays. The effect of the Santa Claus parade is visible on the 19th and this is particularly striking for eastbound service.
  • In some cases there were no cars for specific days and times due to a major blockage or diversion. These show up as “zero” values for the averages in the charts.

I have created but did not include charts of Standard Deviation values. Although they do show some improvement after the pilot begins (lower SD values indicate less scatter in the individual travel times), the values are rather “noisy” because the number of data points for each day and hour is small.

Another issue for service capacity is that the number of vehicles crossing the pilot area varies quite a bit on a day-to-day basis for each hour of the day. If the service were “on schedule”, these values should not change much (±1 vehicle), but this is not the case. I will review this as part of the service capacity analysis in a later article.

Updated December 5, 2017

The charts in this section compare the travel speed through the pilot area in detail for the week of October 23-27 (pre-pilot) to November 13-17 (first week of pilot). Early November was not used for “before” data because the route was diverting around bridge repairs on Queen at the Don River, and travel speeds downtown could have been influenced by operators driving faster than usual to make up time.

As a guide to reading these charts, here are two sample pages showing travel speeds in each direction for the hour beginning at 4:00 pm. The blue lines show the “before” data and the green lines show “after” data. The charts should be read in the direction of travel with westbound going left to right, and eastbound going right to left.

Where the pilot speeds are faster than before the changes, the green line is higher than the blue one. One immediately obvious change is that the dips in average speeds at stops shift from the nearside to the farside of interesections. However, delays caused by traffic signals at some locations are common to both sets of data.

A common problem on King before the pilot was a backlog of traffic from certain intersections, notable Spadina westbound. This shows up in much lower speeds not just at Spadina but for a considerable distance east of it. These dips are wider in periods when congestion backed up from problem intersections is the worst.

By paging through the full sets of charts linked above, one can see the evolution of travel time patterns over the day rather like a flip chart animation. Areas and times that were not congested before the trial generally show the same travel speeds for before and after except to the degree that stop placement affects behaviour at intersections. Where speeds are improved by the pilot, the green line rises above the blue one, and the separation changes through the day.

There is a marked difference between the patterns in the AM peak, midday, PM peak and evening hours.

As other charts have shown, the average travel times through the pilot area are not affected as much in the AM peak when competing traffic is less of a problem, but later in the day, problem areas show up in the “before” data. There is a peak at midday when travel times have now been considerably improved and another, of course, in the afternoon rush. During the evening, the benefit in the financial district drops off, but it remains west of University Avenue.

At the beginning of the pilot, all transit signal priority was turned off to see how the street would operate without it, although this mainly affected crossings with less important streets. This shows up as “double stops” at locations where there is now a farside stop and approaching streetcars can be caught without extended green time to clear an intersection.

As the pilot continues, this type of chart will provide a base for comparison of the effect of various changes and of seasonal effects.