Please see the end of this post for additional text.
Over the past few years, careful readers of the annual TTC Service Plans will notice that more and more requests for new service are denied because they don’t meet the financial criteria. Today at the TTC we had yet another example, and it’s worth examining to see, in miniature, the problems brought on by blind, formulaic decision-making.
The route in question is the Emmett Avenue branch of Eglinton West which does not run evenings and weekends although parts of it are a considerable walk from Eglinton Avenue or Jane Street, and it has many residents and other traffic generators. Here is the report:
Service around the large onstreet loop at Emmett is provided by the 32D branch of the route. Requests for additional service meet with the following analysis:
- Adding to the 32D service will require more vehicles. The TTC does not consider the option of diverting existing buses on the 32 and 35-Jane services through this neighbourhood on the grounds that this would inconvenience through riders. This may prejudge the issue and lead to an excessive cost estimate for the service, $350K annually in this case. The entire Eglinton West route costs about $15.4-million to operate, and so we are looking at an increase of 2.3% in projected cost.
- The TTC’s riding estimate indicates that the lion’s share of trips that will be taken on the added service will be by people who now walk to or from existing services. Therefore, the number of estimated additional trips is small.
- The standard requires that any change generate at least .23 new customers per net dollar of added cost. The annual cost cited means that to be implemented, we would have to get 80,500 new rides from Emmett Avenue and do this only at evenings and weekends. This is well over 200 new riders per day, but the projections are for at most 60 during the Saturday daytime period.
What’s wrong with the numbers?
In the late 1990s, the TTC’s current standards process more or less fossilized in place. The idea behind the .23 new passengers per dollar was based on the then-current financial evaluation model. No new service would be operated if it incurred more than five times the system average subsidy per passenger. Turning that around, if the average subsidy per passenger was $1.00, then the maximum subsidy was $5.00 and the passengers per dollar value was .20. The value of .23 translates to a maximum subsidy of $4.35 and a subsidy per passenger of $0.87.
The value of .23 has not changed since 1998.
Times have changed. Assuming that we kept the percentage of subsidy at the same level year-over-year, the subsidy per passenger will rise. The CPI has gone up about 20% since 1998. All things being equal, the subsidy per passenger would have been $1.04 by 2006, the maximum permitted subsidy would have been $5.20, and the screenline for new services would have been .19 new passengers per dollar.
In fact, the subsidy per passenger in 2006 was about 55 cents. If we followed the formula, this would translate to a maximum permitted subsidy of $2.75 per passenger, and a screenline of .36 new passengers per dollar. The TTC is still using the more generous value of .23.
Note that in all of this we have not spoken of passenger convenience or anything else vaguely connected with making the system attractive. The entire process is highly sensitive to:
- An outdated measure of acceptable subsidy per passenger
- Estimates of net new riding that are stated without a supporting rationale
- Service designs that may artificially inflate the cost of adding new services
I have no objection to the fair allocation of the TTC’s meagre resources, but we need a better understanding of how this is done and the impact of hidden assumptions in the process.
Footnote: The reaction of Commissioners was intriguing. First off, they took the staff report at face value, methodology included, but they also said “there are many more people waiting for service”. This is definitely true, as the list of deferred service improvements each month gets longer and longer. Next, the “ladies” who came to speak on this issue, including Councillor Nunziata, were told “keep trying, maybe next year if and when we change the standards”. Leaving aside the patronizing reference to the deputation (“ladies” is not my term), the Commissioners really do need to understand just how deep the backlog in unmet demand for service we have. This connects to my post regarding the paltry increase in budgeted ridership and service built into the 2007 budget and the as-yet uncertain future of relaxed Service Standards for 2008.
Updated March 1, 2007:
In the comments attached to this post, I observed that the Dufferin bus extension within the CNE was not subject to the Service Standards process used to block so many service requests. In fact, TTC staff did such an evaluation and recommended against the idea because the scheme didn’t meet the standards. The Commission chose to ignore this and implemented the service anyhow.
I am hoping to do a historical review of the evolution of the service standards, but need to get some other projects off my plate first.