TTC Capital Budget: Where Will The Money Come From?

In between many screenings at the Film Festival, I took the opportunity to write up the TTC’s Capital Budget presentation from August 30.  The information here is a combination of the TTC staff presentation, remarks by Ted Tyndorf, Chief Planner for Toronto, and my own opinions.  This is intended mainly as a view of the most recent TTC thoughts on the subject. 

Here are the high points:

  • Expenditures on transit have been deferred over and over again, with most big-ticket attention going to a handful of subway lines.  This is not sustainable.
  • Population and ridership growth is happening faster than predicted, and significant investment in new and improved service is essential.
  • The goals of the Official Plan and Building a Transit City are not worth a penny if we are not going to invest in transit.
  • The TTC budget projections push some projects further into the future than is reasonable if we are going to lead population growth with transit, for example, the Transit First policy for the eastern waterfront. 
  • There is no provision for many new lines including the proposed LRT/BRT network in Scarborough or anything in the Don Mills corridor.

I will take up the issue of where we should go next with transit planning in a future post, likely over the weekend.  Meanwhile, the gory details.  

The Official Plan

This plan foresees a 20% growth in population for the City of Toronto by 2021.  No new roads will be built to serve rising transportation demand.  The goal is that:

No one should be disadvantaged getting around Toronto if they don’t own a car.

I will pause here while the laughter subsides because, as anyone who actually tries to do this knows, getting around Toronto without a car, especially if you don’t live and work at rapid transit stations as I do, is quite a challenge.  Every attempt to provide better service on surface routes has met with strong resistance at Council where holding the line on taxes takes precedence over everything else.

Ted Tyndorf spoke about the actual rate of development and population growth in the City and noted that we are already several years ahead of the projections.  The rate of new housing construction was 6,800/year in 2001, but it is now over 10,000/year.  About 122,000 units are in the pipeline of approval and construction.  We have already gone past 50% of the proposed target for population growth to 2031.

Growth has returned to the City of Toronto in downtown and at the major centres.  Employment is coming back into the city from the 905 because employers cannot get their staff to work with the almost non-existent transit service outside of Toronto.  500,000 new jobs are expected in the city by 2031, mainly in the centres, and mainly served by transit.

If this continues, plans that were merely urgently needed to accommodate this growth will become critical just at a time when we must digest further cutbacks in transit spending.

The proposed budget does not include:

  • additional streetcars for RGS peak service improvements or new lines
  • construction of new surface LRT/BRT rights-of-way such as Kingston Road, Don Mills or Eglinton
  • any subway construction

Fully funding the Transit City needs would add $250 to 300-million to the annual budget.  However, the lion’s share of this, $200-million, is due to the subway schemes.

Ridership Growth Strategy

I have written much about RGS here and won’t go into the details.  The main point is that RGS includes improved service quality through changes in loading standards and expansion of the surface fleet.  RGS also proposed new Scarborough RT cars and subway expansion (although this was not part of the original RGS report).

The target ridership for year 2011 was 500-million.  However, current growth is faster than predicted, and we will reach this level by 2011 even without all of the RGS improvements in place.  Several factors drive riding growth:

  • Economic activity, population growth and employment
  • Congestion and high fuel prices
  • Transferrable passes and the tax credit (although the impact of this is not yet quantified)

Riding has grown at 3% per year from 2003 to 2006 even though past projections assumed only a 1% growth.  With only a 2% growth, we will achieve 490-million by 2011.

This requires a 1% annual increase in the fleet size over and above replacements and the added vehicles needed to compensate for the lower capacity of low-floor buses.  Note that ridership growth in the off-peak is strong and no new vehicles are needed to accommodate it.  However, off-peak riding and loading standards do affect staffing needs because more vehicles are in service all day.  One major concern is that this growth will crowd out any gains we might get from better RGS loading standards.

Additional capacity on the RT and subway will not appear for many years due to the lead times for vehicle procurements and physical changes planned on these lines.  Lead times are quite long:

  • Buses – 2 years
  • Garages – 4 to 5 years
  • Rail vehicles – 4 to 5 years
  • Subway expansion – 8 to 10 years

The lead time for garages is striking.  Conventional wisdom has it that buses are an inherently more “flexible” vehicle to deploy because they can be acquired in a relatively short timeframe.  However, the long lead time for garages makes it impossible to expand bus services quickly.  We saw this with the 100 new RGS buses that will finally enter service in late 2007 when the Mount Dennis bus garage opens.

That long lead time shows the foot-dragging and red tape that surrounds any new project in Toronto.  Imagine an auto manufacturer taking five years to go from a decision to build a plant to having it in operation.

The Base Budget and the Growing Funding Gap

The so-called base budget for the TTC averages $770-million annually for the next five years.  Of this, roughly half goes for vehicles (buses, streetcars, subway cars and the RT), and most of the rest goes for structures (maintenance facilities, bridges, tunnels and track).

Even before policy changes at Queen’s Park and Ottawa, there was a shortfall in the budget.  Originally, the TTC had expected this funding:

  • The Canadian Strategic Infrastructure Fund (CSIF) peaks at $224-million in 2007 and falls off to only $20-million by 2010.  This program is jointly funded by Queen’s Park and Ottawa.
  • The provincial gas tax funding builds up to $71-million in 2007, but is unchanged thereafter.
  • The federal gas tax funding builds up from $49-million in 2006 to $163-million in 2009, assuming that Ottawa doesn’t change the rules.
  • Other provincial programs were expected to build up from $77-million in 2006 to $133-million by 2010.
  • One-time annual capital grants from Ottawa of $98-million end in 2006.
  • The City of Toronto approved debt target related to transit falls from $200-million in 2006 to $135-million by 2009.

This combines to give a shortfall of $319-million over the 2006-2010 period, most in 2009-2010 when the CSIF funding tails off.

Then Queen’s Park cut its vehicle funding and we lost $392-million, nearly 80% of the expected subsidy for these programs.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, the TTC (following a distressingly common pattern) added several major items to the capital plans for 2006-2010.

  • New streetcars and maintenance facility – $395 million
  • Increase bus fleet plans to a 3% growth rate – $50 million
  • Yonge-University subway resignalling – $63 million

We can build budgets that pretend riding will not grow, but this is hopelessly shortsighted.  The lead time for additional capacity is long, and we cannot make up lost time in a few months if policies change.  Indeed, the backlog is so bad that any new funding announced today would not produce results until after a full election cycle at the municipal and provincial levels.  There is no guarantee that funding would actually be in place four years from now when garages are completed and new vehicles arrive.

At this point in the discussion, the shortfall for 2006-2010 is $1.2-billion made up of:

  • The original $319-million shortfall
  • The loss of $392-million in Provincial funding
  • The addition of $507-million in new or necessary-but-ignored programs.

The 2007-2011 Capital Program

Now we come to the updated 2007 version of the budget.  The funding request for 2007 is $759-million, $42-million above the level proposed in the 2006 review described earlier.  The major components of this are:

  • 320 Buses (220 replacements plus 100 for RGS)
  • Initial costs for the new subway cars
  • Vehicle overhauls
  • Assorted facilities renewal
  • Completion of Mount Dennis garage
  • Trackwork and signals (surface and subway)

Several items have been added to the 10-year “base budget” although I have to wonder why many of these are such a surprise:

  • New streetcars
  • New SRT vehicles and facilities
  • Additional buses
  • Yonge subway automatic train control
  • Fire ventilation
  • Eglinton bus terminal
  • Security

Notice that there is no mention of new lines of any flavour — BRT, LRT or subway.

New Streetcars

The streetcar plans deserve special mention.  This is an expenditure the TTC and its funders cannot ignore, but until this point it has never been officially in the budget.  Both City Council and Queen’s Park are dragging their feet on funding new streetcars even though this has serious effects on the system.  They pretend that merely fixing up the cars we have will tide us over until some day when we can afford new cars.  This has serious impacts on the system and its future:

  • There is little margin for additional service even if the rebuilt fleet has improved reliability.
  • There is no fleet available for new lines such as those in the eastern waterfront.
  • Despite Provincial policies that encourage transit accessibility, the streetcar lines will remain unavailable to those who cannot board high-floor vehicles.

The new streetcar purchase would be cheaper than the planned rebuild over the long haul, but for the next decade this is much more expensive because we must build a new maintenance facility and we must buy rather than rebuild cars.  Today, nobody wants to spend money on anything, and both Council and Queen’s Park are serious roadblocks in our seeing a new streetcar fleet.

The recent RT recommendation was no surprise in Scarborough, but this will postpone, possibly forever, any demand for a new fleet to serve an LRT network in that part of the City.  I have serious doubts we will see the eastern waterfront lines build despite all the brave words about “transit first” coming from the TTC.

If I were a cynical person, I might think someone is trying to get rid of the system again by making it too unattractive to keep.  With so many expenses concentrated in a big, future pile, there will be no option when the time comes that the system wears out.

Scarborough RT

In the budget, the anticipated cost of the refurbished RT is given as $501-million, a 40% increase over the $360-million figure claimed in the recent Scarborough Rapid Transit study.  Some have claimed that this difference is a function of different approaches to costing:  the budget uses figures inflated to the year they will be spent, while the SRT study used 2006 dollars throughout.

A nice story, but it does not fit the facts:

  • Any work on the SRT must be completed well before 2015 when the existing fleet is expected to drop dead of exhaustion.  We can reasonably assume that the bulk of the project spending will be in 2011-12.  This gives us only 5 years or so of inflation from 2006 prices.
  • At the current rate of inflation, 40% is at least a 10-year increase.
  • Previous budget estimates did not include upgrades to the line and yard even though they did include new cars.  These additions account for $225-million in the budgeted project.

Until someone proves me wrong, my opinion will be that the $360-million RT refurbishment, as compared with about $500-million for an LRT replacement, is a suspect figure. 

In any event, we already know that Scarborough Councillors want the line extended to Finch as a condition of trading in their dreams for a Scarborough Subway.  That will raise the price to at least $1-billion before we even contemplate new LRT or BRT services in Scarborough.  None of this is included in the budget projections.

Other New Spending

The TTC plans to advance bus purchases from 2010 to 2008 to deal with growing demand, and to increase planned purchases in 2011-15.

A 20-year project to improve ventillation for fire control in the subway, originally estimated at $270-million, is now costed at $385-million.

Automatic train control for the Yonge-University line will cost $306-million.  The TTC’s goal is to hav automatic train control in place by 2016.  Part of the rationale for this change is that we will be able to operate more service on the line.  That may be true, but not without changes at the terminal stations to reduce turnaround times.  Such changes are not included in this project cost.

A related issue will be the capacity of Bloor-Yonge station to handle a faster rate of delivery of transferring passengers to the Bloor line in the afternoon peak period.

Putting It All Together

I use the word “all” with some care here because, as I mentioned earlier, many well-known projects are not even in the list.  The combined value of all of this for 2006 to 2015 is a staggering $10.9-billion.  Almost 30% of this is for new subway projects on Spadina and Sheppard.

TTC riders must ask where they would spend money if it were not attached to pet projects like the York University subway.  Would they rather have vastly excessive service for a pampered few, or better service for the system as a whole?

Planners and politicians must answer clearly:  if we don’t fund all of the transit projects we should be building, but continue to fund the expensive subway lines, how do we address the requirements of the Official Plan?

I will return to these topics in the next installment of this thread.

11 thoughts on “TTC Capital Budget: Where Will The Money Come From?

  1. What’s the Yonge subway automatic train control?

    Steve:  The existing signal system on the original Yonge line is now over 50 years old, and by 2016 most of the line will be well over 45.  The technology has to be replaced and updated because parts are already hard to get for the older technology, and there are reliability issues.  This subsystem is critical and cannot fall into disrepair.

    Since the system must be replaced, this is a chance for the TTC to change over to some form of automatic train control similar to that used on the SRT.  This does not eliminate the driver, but it does allow for much more fine-grained control of train position and speed because the signal system knows with great accuracy where everything is.  The level of resolution of the current system is between 500 and 1000 feet depending on the signal spacing.

    Changing to this system will allow trains to run closer together and more service to be operated.  However there are a number of problems still to be addressed:

    Existing terminals at Finch and Downsview cannot operate a headway closer than 140 seconds because of the track layout.
    The Spadina extension is intended to be operated such that half of the trains turn back at Downsview and the rest go through to the terminal.  This would allow reduction of the combined headway to 120 seconds or less.  However, without a major change in operations at Finch, this would not buy us anything.
    Bloor-Yonge station has capacity problems when Yonge trains deliver passengers faster than the Bloor line can take them away.  If the Yonge line is upgraded, we may have severe platform capacity problems on the Bloor line.
    The proposed order for T2 cars (or whatever they will be called) is not sufficient to replace the entire fleet on the Yonge line.  Either we will need to retrofit ATC to some existing T1 equipment, or we will have to buy even more T2 cars so that the entire Y-U-S fleet will have ATC capability.


  2. It’s deja-vu all over again.  I remember a decade ago, when the TTC was seriously considering the possibility of converting 22 COXWELL, 40 JUNCTION and parts of 29 DUFFERIN and 63 OSSINGTON to streetcar because, they claimed, they had a surplus of over twenty vehicles. 

    Somehow, they managed not to take into account that the surplus meant nothing because they did not include the possibility of vehicles being out of service for repairs.  The reality was more along the lines of not having enough vehicles to handle present service levels to the point where they were actually using buses to fill the gap because there were not enough servicable streetcars available for any given day.  If they can’t figure out such basic, non-rocket-science immediate needs, how on earth do you expect them to figure out service needs for the future?


  3. Deciding between big sexy projects and small mass upgrades is not a choice TTC gets to make.  Politicians want big sexy projects attached to their names.  Big sexy project money is attached to big sexy projects.  Not doing the big sexy projects results in TTC not getting the money in the first place.  Whether big sexy project money comes with an increase or decrease in normal funding is a different question.

    Steve:  But the TTC only ever puts big sexy projects on the table, and the pols don’t know that there is any alternative.  The recent SRT replacement study raised the issue of an LRT network in Scarborough, and I don’t think this would have happened if the study had been done completely inhouse. 


  4. Steve

    I don’t think referring to York U users as pampered is productive.  Commuters crammed into the Y-U-S or BD at peak certainly wouldn’t recognise the term.  If you want to call it unnecessary or underutilised that’s your prerogative but don’t label the riders.

    Steve:  The term “pampered” refers to the situation that would apply if we spend $1.5-billion on a subway extension which will carry a level of riding that does not justify it.  People who cannot get on crammed trains on Bloor-Danforth and Yonge-University know this today.  When we spend money on lines that cannot be justified, we diminish the problems that all other riders face.

    Right now it is almost impossible to board the first train that arrives at several stations during the peak period, and the slightest delay means that riders must let several trains pass before they can board.  Part of the problem here is that we keep spending money on suburban rapid transit expansion without recognizing that some of the long-haul demand should be on GO Transit.  I’m no saying GO should carry everyone, but we shouldn’t be building a subway out into the middle of Vaughan to handle riding that should be on the commuter rail network.

    York University strenuously blocked efforts to get the busway built from Downsveiw Station partly because they worried this would preclude a subway forever, and partly because they claimed it would conflict with future developments planned for their land.  With the busway, we will be able to provide faster service to York U and much sooner than the subway will ever appear, assuming it gets funded.  York U was more interested in playing politics than it getting better service for their students.

    By the way, by the time that line opens, the graduating class at York will be students now grade 7 or 8.


  5. I see that both Howard Moscoe and Gary Webster now say that the TTC made a mistake with the 800 new Orion buses they bought and agree with customers who have complained from Day 1 that the seats at the back are poorly arranged.  They say they will do better next time.

    This is exactly the same thing that happened in Montreal several years ago and it does raise the question of why don’t transit commissions buy a few “test vehicles” so that they can judge them based on the experiences of REAL customers (and I assume real mechanics as I suspect they are not consulted either!)  Any bus or subway or streetcar maker who wants to win (or has just won) a big contract could surely provide a few “samples” for on-road testing and then at least the remainder of the order could be adjusted to take account of rider and mechanic comments.  It is crazy to take delivery of a huge order of 800 buses before realising they could be better designed!

    Steve:  I think that the realization set in very early in the delivery cycle.  I remember hearing Moscoe complain about this at Commission meetings some time ago.  However, it takes the TTC an eternity to admit it’s wrong about anything.  This is a deep flaw in their corporate culture, but not surprising for a large organization used to thinking it’s the best in the world.


  6. Actually, getting around Toronto – no matter how you do it – is somewhere on the fun scale between after school detention and water torture.

    I’m not sure if growth has really returned to the employment centers.  The City’s employment survey still (as of 2005) shows employment below 2001 levels.  Vacancy rates for Class A downtown have inched down – but that dictate the whole employment picture.  [Do you mean “that doesn’t dictate”?]

    In general, ridership does track closely to employment.  There was an anomalous blip down in 1995 – which coincides with the Russell Hill accident.

    The recent growth in ridership – in my estimation – is mostly attributable to gas prices.

    In the long term, the city will likely absorb population growth without a proportional strain on transportation by having people choose to live closer to work.  The residential construction around downtown is indeed part of this trend.


  7. N Clawson wrote:

    In the long term, the city will likely absorb population growth without a proportional strain on transportation by having people choose to live closer to work.  The residential construction around downtown is indeed part of this trend.

    I think you are ignoring the fact that if all these people choose to live closer to work and not use a car they will still need to get onto one of our buses and streetcars to get to and from work.  Some bus/streetcar routes are already overcapacity during rush hour, with riders at some stops being to be left behind to wait for less full busses, just as happens at some subway stops.  So people moving back into the 416 for work just transfers the problem frm the suburbs to the core.


  8. In response to Joe:

    I think you are ignoring the fact that if all these people choose to live closer to work and not use a car they will still need to get onto one of our buses and streetcars to get to and from work.

    First, I specifically use the word ‘proportional’.  There will be an increase in transportation requirements – unavoidable because the amount of commercial and support services traffic will grow with the population.

    2nd, while some people move downtown do take public transit to work, many in fact walk to work.  (Many choose to live downtown and make the reverse commute to Mississauga for work.)

    3rd, the load on the transportation system is based on the number of passengers or cars x the length of those movements.  If someone moves from being 12 km from work to being 3 km from work, there is approximately a 75% reduction in the demand his or her commuting places on the road or transit network.  This could be either as a result of moving closer to an existing workplace – or transferring/changing jobs to be closer to home.

    Steve:  However, we have to consider where demand is added or removed from the network.  Unless someone lives close enough to work that they will walk, someone living close to downtown will add that remaining 3km trip to the system at its most heavily-loaded point.  It is physically impossible to board trains near Bloor-Yonge, and some streetcar lines are badly overloaded during the peak period.


  9. Given the loading of the Yonge line and the Bloor Yonge junction, some form of downtown relief line always made more sense to me, from the business district east and north to the bloor-danforth line, maybe eventually to the area of Thorncliffe Park.  Surely would have met more need than a Sheppard subway.


  10. The Downtown Relief Line would certainly be my first choice for a new subway line, rather than the Sorbara Line we’re getting to Vaughan.  Even the B-D extension to Scarborough makes more sense.  As well, it looks like in the Star, we’re getting one or the other — the subway favoured by the province, versus the LRT/SRT replacement that the Scarborough councillors surprisingly settled for.  Guess which one we’re getting.

    On another matter, I also read through the capital budget presentation.  One thing that sets off alarm bells is text like “Buy 67 ALRVs (=100 CLRVs).”  Is the thinking that we will replace CLRVs with larger vehicles, that will run less frequently?  I already get the feeling that on some routes, streetcars aren’t frequent enough.  Only on Spadina do I think less vehicles with more capacity would be a great idea, as the streetcars bunch and run at such frequent intervals.

    Steve:  I have written several times of my concern that with larger vehicles and less frequent service, we will destroy the attractiveness of many streetcar lines.


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