The first full meeting of the new Moscoe-less TTC took place on Wednesday. Nothing was particularly astonishing. Like all first meetings, we watched as the newcomers found their way around the agenda and the complexity of what’s going on. One can only hope that new Commissioners will learn to address issues rather than making speeches.
To his credit, the new Chair Adam Giambrone stayed on top of the agenda and moved business along as briskly as possible without visibly throttling debate. A few delicate interventions framing the sense of the meeting in a motion rescued us all from interminable rambling.
Meanwhile on the agenda:
Chief General Manager’s Report to October 28, 2006
The rate of ridership growth dropped off from the six percent spurt in August, but is still running at about 3 percent over 2005. The year-end projection is now 444-million rides, and there will be a small “surplus” relative to the budgeted deficit.
October was less than 1 percent over 2005, but it is too soon to know whether this is just a blip or a trend. In October adult riding grew strongly (probably the effect of Metropass sales) while Senior’s and Children’s riding dropped off.
There is no money in the 2006 budget for service improvements to deal with riding growth, and we will have to wait until the January 31 meeting to see what 2007 will bring. (I will deal with service issues in a separate post.)
Straws in the Wind
The growing absentee rate among staff triggered a discussion of security because this growth is largely due to lost time injuries from assaults by passengers. Acting Chief General Manager Gary Webster mentioned that recent changes in the fare structure are aimed at reducing situations where operators must confront riders. The move to a transferrable Metropass avoids the need to check for photo id, and Webster mentioned the time-based transfer on St. Clair as another example.
I spoke to him after the meeting about this, and extension of this scheme to the entire system is under consideration. This would eliminate debates about the validity of a transfer — it would be good until the time marked, and then a new fare would be required. Transfers would in effect be short-term passes. This fits well into a Smart Card scheme because it’s a lot easier to keep track of how long ago someone “paid a fare” than it is to figure out the logistics of a multi-link trip and how many fares should be charged.
The security discussion also included talk of a much expanded Special Constable force to be dedicated to the surface system. Although not explicitly mentioned, this is not just about security, but of the creation of a roving fare inspection force.
Spadina Subway Funding
An odd bit of business appeared under the title Spadina Subway Extension — Cost Avoidance Funding Scenario.
Staff asked the Commission to request that the City of Toronto, the Region of York and Queen’s Park agree that $12.4-million be released from the Spadina Extension trust fund so that some early work can be done to avoid future conflicts between the subway project and construction that will take place in the near future.
This is a straightforward procedural request given that the TTC doesn’t really have to do anything but ask other governments to belly up to the bar. Unexpectedly, Commissioner Anthony Peruzza (whose ward contains the subway extension), moved that the report be deferred to the January 31 meeting while we await possible announcements from Ottawa. This passed with little debate.
The TTC has more committees than Commissioners. Some shuffling from the past term was inevitable and, for example, Howard Moscoe’s Pizzazz committee was rolled into the Ridership Growth Strategy Committee.
The real question about this whole structure turns on whether these committees should meet in public with published agendas. Some issues, such as litigation and property development, clearly belong in a private session. The principle at stake, however, is whether policy will be made in public with public input, or will arrive as a fait accompli at a Commission meeting. Since the Ridership Growth Strategy and Building a Transit City would not exist without considerable public input, I have my doubts of what an internal, private committee on ridership growth is going to accomplish.
We need a Mayoral Round Table on transit that actually has good staff support, meets regularly, and provides real input to transit policy decisions. In the last term, the environmental round table really didn’t spend a lot of time on transit issues, and this is too important a portfolio to be a sideline.
Redevelopments at Kipling, Islington and Victoria Park
Major changes are in the works for these three sites, but the debate surrounding them has a surreal flavour to it.
- At Victoria Park the existing bus bays are to be demolished and changed to a set of indented bays on the level now occupied by the carpark. The entrance onto Victoria Park is to be modified to be more attractive and open, and a dedicated kiss-and-ride area will be established within the parking lot. Other changes will enhance the attractiveness and safety of this station for people walking to/from nearby high-rise clusters.
- At Kipling, a new regional bus terminal for GO and Mississauga Transit will be built where the west parking lot sits now, and new parking will be built elsewhere in vacant land. Pedestrian access to the station will be improved to reduce the level of bus/pedestrian points of conflict, notably by providing a new eastern entrance to the station.
- At Islington, a new, much smaller TTC bus loop will be built on the current north parking site. With the move of Mississauga Transit to Kipling, far less space is needed for buses at this station. The loop will enter and exit directly onto Islington. A new office tower will be built by SNC Lavalin west of the existing bus loop, and the space now occupied by the loop will be available for redevelopment at the end of the project.
The Kipling and Islington projects are interlinked because of the Mississauga Transit move, and the complexity of funding from many sources. SNC Lavalin wants the deal wrapped up by January, but given the budget cycles everywhere, I will be astounded if this happens. They should know better, and if this is a bargaining tactic to force a quick agreement, they may be threatening the whole scheme.
At Victoria Park, the main issue is the improvement of non-TTC areas around the station as part of the project. This includes the pedestrian bridge to Crescent Town, the walkway to the Teesdale development northeast of the station, and the roadway itself near the bridge. Some of the Commissioners actually think that they can shake down nearby property owners for a contribution, but I think they are hallucinating. It’s time the City realized that a lot of streetscape improvements are going to be funded from general revenues, and got on with the business of building them.
Adam Giambrone is eager for the TTC to work on energy saving projects together with Toronto Hydro as a contribution to the reduction in overall demand for electricity in the city. The TTC is probably the largest single customer of Toronto Hydro, and among the largest customers in Ontario. Any savings that can be made here have significant impacts on the requirements for power in the city.
However, this needs to be placed in context. Most of the TTC subway fleet and all of the streetcar fleet already uses energy saving solid state controls and regenerative braking. Some improvement is likely with new generations of equipment, but the big saving versus “conventional” (read 50s) technology has already been achieved.
There are opportunities for savings with lighting, heating, appliances, etc., but we need to keep things in perspective. If the TTC is going to embark on an energy saving campaign, it should break down power usage into major areas so that the potential for improvement — both in percentage and absolute consumption — can be clearly identified. If, for example, the lion’s share of power is now consumed to run trains, then a big saving on some smaller component such as heating won’t have much of an impact on the total power needs of the TTC.
Finally, of course, if we ever restore the streetcar service lost since the early 90s, expand the system with new routes, and beef up subway service, we will need more power. Any efficiencies that can be found are worthwhile, but let’s not forget that the system will be growing again soon.