MoveOntario 2020 : General Comments

In the interest of breaking up the long thread on MoveOntario, I am setting up various subsections where comments can be left on related topics.  Comments left in the original thread, or in an inappropriate thread in the new scheme, will be moved to their proper place.  Yes, this makes for more work on my part, but you can help by leaving your comment in the correct stream.

This thread will be used for comments that don’t fit anywhere else or talk about the announcement in general.

MoveOntario 2020 : GO Transit Section

With the growth in the comment string on the original post, it’s getting rather unwieldy.  Therefore, I am setting up new subsections to continue the threads on separate major topics.

This one is for GO Transit.  Any comments related to GO that are left on the other thread will be copied into this item.  In a few days, I will close off comments in the old thread on the assumption that everyone will have relocated to this one.

I have not yet decided whether to have a thread just for Swan Boats since Dalton didn’t announce any funding for them.

MoveOntario 2020 [Updated]

The Ontario government is announcing a huge program of transit improvements and funding.  Details are available on the Premier’s website.

Note to those who come to this item after about 10:30 on June 15:  Many comments were posted earlier today before I had added my own review of the announcement.  They reflect the developing level of information (there are still some gaps) as well as some gentle urging that I get on with writing about this.

Whether it’s just an election promise or a real plan for transit improvements in southern Ontario, Queen’s Park’s announcement today raises the bar very high.  Not only will Ontario fund 2/3 of the cost of transit capital works, the sheer number of lines and services, including several nobody ever thought to see in print, sets this apart from all previous announcements.

There have been a few.  Continue reading

The Fiscal Realities of Ridership Growth

During the TTC board meeting on June 13, two of the fiscal conservatives on the Commission ran aground on the cost of running a successful transit system.

As I reported earlier, the TTC has an embarrassment of additional riding and will begin increasing service in September and through the fall to bring crowding within the Commission’s service standards.  More service, of course, costs more money and it is very unlikely that this will be made up from added revenues.  We are, after all, trying to give all current riders better service rather than forcing them to ride on the roof, and we are trying to attract new riders to the system within the constraints of the fleet size and available operating staff.

With Metropasses now a highly attractive fare medium, more people are buying them and more rides are taken on each pass.  This dilutes the revenue per ride as ticket, token and cash fare riders migrate to the cheaper, fixed-price pass.  Riding is going up, but revenue is not. 

Commissioners Michael Thompson and Peter Milczyn wondered openly about changing the fare structure to recover some of the additional cost including schemes such as zone fares or charging for transfers.  They should talk to their constituents in Scarborough and Etobicoke respectively.

Suburban riders take longer trips to get to work, and a transfer between routes is almost inevitable for most of them.  Downtown riders might organize themselves to stay within one route, either the subway or a streetcar line.  Charging for transfers or imposing a zone system penalizes those for whom the transit system is already less attactive — the long distance traveller — and is likely to disproportionately affect those who can least afford it.

My rationale for that statement is that long, tedious trips including transfers are likely to have a larger proportion of “captive” riders who cannot afford to trade up to an automobile as an alternative even though it would be very attractive in comfort and travel time. 

Do these Commissioners/Councillors really understand the impact of their proposals?

During the same debate, Commissioner Thompson spoke of a “crisis” facing the TTC, and indeed he planned to launch a “strategic planning” process for the system.  Yes, we need a strategic plan, but the real “crisis” is that everyone hopes that somehow the problem of transit funding will solve itself for both the capital and operating budgets.

There is no magic here.  If you want better transit, then you must spend more money.  This may come from fares or taxes or transfers from other governments, but it must come from somewhere. 

Anyone who talks about charging for transfers or imposing a zone fare system, but  never breathes the words “fare increase” is not being honest with the TTC’s riders.  The irony here is that the amount of money needed to operate better service is between $6- and $7-million on an annual basis.  This is less than one percent of the total operating budget and could be funded by a miniscule fare increase.

Any change to bring in zones or charge for transfers would be complex to implement, and unless the base fare were lowered substantially, would bring in far more revenue than is needed for the service improvements.

In another context, Toronto Council seems willing to increase the subsidy to passengers by about $13-million to operate the York University subway extension.  Why do we happily go forward with such schemes but nickel-and-dime plans for better bus and streetcar service?  The real reason, no doubt, is that York U won’t see its first passenger until at least two further terms of Council while better bus and streetcar service is something for today, for this year’s budget.

Support future spending for a dubious subway project and you are a visionary investing in the future of our city.

Support better transit for riders today and you are a wasting precious taxpayer dollars on riders who should be paying more for their service.

I look forward to seeing Commissioners Thompson and Milczyn with coffee-pot fareboxes on buses in Scarborough and streetcars in Long Branch defending the public purse from marauding, oversubsidized riders.  It will be a great photo op for their re-election literature.

TTC Plans More Service to Handle Unexpected Riders

In a report on the supplementary agenda for June 13, the TTC proposes to increase service in response to unexpected growth in riding.  This will not actually happen until November, mainly to allow hiring of new operators to catch up with requirements, and the intent is that these changes will remain into the base budget for 2008.

The 2007 service budget includes provision for increasing the weekly operation of 142,000 service hours by an additional 2,400 in the fall, but this will not be enough to handle all of the crowding.  This report proposes 1,900 more hours of service.

The improvements will come mainly in the off-peak because that is where demand is growing, and they can be implemented without any new fleet.  The list of candidate routes and time periods is not included in the report, but I will publish the information whenever it comes my way. 

Preliminary Transit City Planning

The supplementary agenda for the TTC meeting on June 13 contains a report on the current status of Transit City and field observations from a review of the Finch West and Sheppard East lines.  You can read the details, but in both cases the assumption is that a centre pair of lanes would be taken within the existing right-of-way with some widening as needed.

At this point, there are no details of possible connections between the subway stations (Finch, Finch West or Don Mills) and the LRT lines. 

[To my regular commentators:  Please do not start the debate about how to build the Don Mills interchange all over again.  I think we have more or less exhausted that subject.]

An intriguing observation is the need for a connection between these two lines so that they could be served by a common carhouse.  Maybe we will get a Finch East LRT after all, but let’s not get too greedy.

The report makes clear that the TTC is awaiting approval of the new simplified Environmental Assessment process before starting these projects formally (they will save about a year with the new protocol), but they are continuing with preliminary work in anticipation.

Note to Dalton McGuinty:  Something really important you can do for transit is to get moving on this approval well before the election rather than making us all wait for months.  It won’t cost you anything and will actually save money by simplifying the EA process.

The TTC hopes to begin construction in 2010.

Working for Better Service in San Francisco

Mike Olivier sent in a note about San Francisco’s pilot project to improve service quality on the J-Church line, the least reliable of their streetcar services.

“What’s needed for King & Queen is a comprehensive evaluation of the route, much like what San Francisco Muni is doing with the J-Church Pilot Program:”

Today, Monday, March 5, we began a new on-time performance pilot project on the J-Church light rail line. The pilot will be conducted during peak service times over a 120-day period. The J-Church study will conclude on Friday, July 13, 2007. Working together we successfully completed the 1-California pilot, which resulted in an increase in on-time performance from 81% to 88% over the three-month pilot period. I am confident that through our continued collaboration and hard work we can expand this success to the J-Church.

As part of the Transit Effectiveness Project’s (TEP) Early Action Plan, we will apply the findings from the 1-California pilot to a rail line. These projects will help us cultivate our understanding and develop our plans for improving on-time performance system wide.
Our recent on-time performance (OTP) reports reflect that the J has the lowest OTP of the rail lines. I know that working in concert, all divisions will contribute to improving the J-Church.

The pilot will include on-going analysis to compare the pilot performance to the initial data, including collecting weekly data on OTP, vehicle loads, and overall performance of operations and enforcement.
A detailed description of the pilot follows. It includes the project objective, description, and improvement strategies. Thank you for your contributions to the success of the 1-California pilot, and for your daily commitment to keep San Francisco moving.

Pilot Description

Objective: Continue to implement the Transit Effectiveness Project’s Early Action Plan by applying the findings from the 1-California to a rail line to strengthen our understanding of how to achieve improved on-time performance system wide

Project description: Multidisciplinary effort to improve the J-Church peak periods service over a 120-day period

Test route: J-Church (average weekday ridership – 18,700; beginning OTP 61.9%)

Pilot begins March 5, 2007 and will conclude July 13, 2007

For the remainder of this text, follow the link above.

The program has been extended by 60 days according to more recent updates on SFMTA’s site.  For interesting reading, have a look at the Community Advisory Committee meetings especially April 2007.  Comments from the members indicate that many of the problems we have in Toronto can also be found in San Francisco including concerns that poor service management is a culprit in service quality. 

What I find most striking about this plan is the clear commitment to make the service work.  This involves many aspects of the organization and the city, and a recognition that things actually can be improved.  It is not a catalogue of whines about what cannot be done, about how we are too busy, about how department “x” won’t co-operate.

Such an approach is long overdue at the TTC, although I fear we will need the combined pressure of politicians on the Commission and a new Chief General Manager to make it happen. 

This exercise should not be used as an excuse to tighten the funding screws in a “see, we told you, then can do better with what they have” fit of self-righteousness.  Some improvements may cost money:  making sure that there are operators and vehicles available to run all of the scheduled service all of the time means that on some days you will have more than you need, and the bean counters will not be happy. 

Keeping service well-spaced will require active intervention and, where necessary, dealing with the minority of operators who abuse the schedules for their own convenience.

Real transit priority will mean taking green time away from cars at some key intersections, and making sure that the priority signals are actually working all of the time.

None of this is particularly difficult provided there is a will to make the system and the service better.