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