TTC 2008 Capital Budget and Long Term Funding Issues

[For those who are wondering where their comments are:  Several of these touch on the question of Transit City project costs.  I plan a separate post on that topic and am holding your comments until that is ready.

[The many comments about the future of the RT have been moved to their own thread.] 

On November 14, the TTC considered its 2008 Capital Budget.  Although there are major issues with funding of many projects, especially on a long term basis, the budget has been passed on to Council. 

One important approval, made with the concurrence of the City Budget Committee, is that work can begin on the three top-priority Environmental Assessments for Transit City:  Eglinton-Crosstown, Sheppard East and Finch West-Etobicoke.  This work will stop Queen’s Park does not make funding available as part of their budget announcement for the fiscal year starting in April 2008.

The Capital Budget presentation at the meeting is not available on the TTC site, nor are several tables and charts from the main report.

The 2008 Capital Budget Summary gives a broad overview of the five and ten year projections.  The 2008 Capital Infrastructure and 2008 Capital Vehicles tables give some break downs.

The same information is subdivided in a different ways:

Growth and system renewal drive many aspects of the budget.

  • Peak period riding increases the fleet and garage space requirements.
  • The shift to low-floor buses reduces vehicle capacity and increases the size of the fleet needed to handle demand.  This changeover will be completed by 2010.
  • Replacement and expansion of the streetcar fleet for the existing base system plus planned additions such as the Waterfront lines.
  • Replacement and expansion of the SRT fleet both for capacity and for the proposed extension to Sheppard & Markham Road.
  • Expansion of the subway fleet and partial replacement with new cars to increase capacity on the Yonge-University line.
  • Transit City will add seven new LRT routes to the network.
  • Subway expansion on both the Spadina/York and North Yonge lines.

The Base Budget of $4.4-billion for 2008-2012 (detailed in the links above) covers only State of Good Repair projects.  At present, there is a $0.7-billion funding shortfall for this work.  Later in this article, I will return to this issue.

The Spadina/York extension was approved on the basis of a $2.1-billion cost estimate, and funding was committed to one-third shares of this amount.  However, delays in starting the project have driven the price up to $2.6-billion, and funding for this shortfall has not been identified.

A variety of “below the line” projects (those which do not yet have project approval) total $12.6-billion in estimated final cost of which $11.4-billion falls in the next 10 years.  Some funding is available through Waterfront Toronto and MoveOntario, but there is still a big gap. 

Some changes have been made to the Base Program described above after it was prepared earlier this year.  These are set out in the 2008 Capital Amendments chart.  The customer service initiatives (lumped under the heading “Geospacial”) and some station modernization were added, while two projects (new SRT cars and McNicoll Garage) have moved back below the line.  Whether this is any more than an accounting fiction remains to be seen, but it keeps the five year program in the ballpark on paper.

Five “Key Issues” were flagged in the budget presentation.

1.  New subway cars, the Toronto Rockets, were ordered in late 2006 for delivery in 2009-2011.  However, this order is nowhere near enough to cover the entire YUS line and a follow-on order will be placed.  This will accelerate the retirement of the H-6 cars, and allow the entire T-1 fleet to move to the BD line.  The TTC claims that this is a cost effective scheme, although that sort of analysis always depends on many underlying assumptions. 

One important claim is that the new cars will be much  more reliable even than the T-1 cars which, themselves are more dependable than the H-series cars.  This will reduce both the ongoing costs of maintenance and the size of the spare fleet.  Whether this will hold up over the life of the cars remains to be seen.

Thunder Bay will be kept busy well into the next decade building subway cars, the TTC will get rid of the last of its H-series cars, and the YUS line will be fully operated with new trains and automatic train control.

2.  The streetcar fleet will be replaced with 204 new low-floor articulated cars during the period 2012-2018.  Fleet comparisons are tricky because the existing 196 CLRVs and 52 ALRVs have a large spare pool, in part due to long-term construction projects such as St. Clair and Dundas.  We will not see the system back in full operation until the fall of 2008 at best.  Also, we can expect a lower spare ratio for new cars and a better availability for scheduled service. 

Taken on a strict capacity basis, the existing fleet is 196 CLRVs plus 78 CLRV-equivalents (the 52 ALRVs) for a total of 274 CLRVs or 182 ALRVs.  If the new cars have an effective capacity equal to an ALRV, then the new fleet is definitely bigger than the old.  However, known demand for added peak capacity will consume this and more.  A realistic number of 234 is used by TTC planning staff internally, but has not shown up in capital plans.

No funding is available yet for the streetcar purchase, and this is a major concern given that the contract is to be awarded in spring 2008.  Additional lines (Transit City, MoveOntario and Waterfront) will raise the fleet requirement, but may at least come with their own funding sources.

3.  The SRT is to be converted to use Mark II RT cars (similar to Vancouver’s) by 2013, and this work will likely be co-ordinated with the MoveOntario project extending the line to Sheppard.

4.  The original Yonge line (Eglinton-Union) has a signal system that is over 50 years old, and other parts of the line have aging technologies.  Increased capacity cannot be operated without closer train spacing, and that is impossible with the existing signals.  (Other changes such as terminal operations are also needed, although this is not mentioned in the TTC overview.)  Extending the Yonge line into York region and feeding it with new LRT lines will require added capacity possible with the new automatic train control system.

5.  The bus fleet will be fully accessible by 2010 and, at that point, the change in mix of vehicle capacities will be completed.  Future bus requirements are partly dependent on the timing of new LRT lines that will replace some existing bus routes.

Several issues complicate the TTC’s medium-to-long term capital planning.  Earlier, I mentioned the $0.7-billion gap in funding for the five-year plan.  However, this number assumes that the TTC will receive a total of $805-million from Queen’s Park and Ottawa that has not yet been committed by those governments.  Therefore, the shortfall is really $1.5-billion.

Despite this situation, work is proceeding on the $2.6-billion Spadina/York subway project because it has the political clout to get funding.  TTC staff quite strongly point out that 2008 is the last year where they can cobble together funding for the State of Good Repair (SOGR) budget, and that as new projects ramp up, sustained funding must be found.

At this point, the TTC gets into some financial sleight-of-hand.  Their scheme is to link projects now in the SOGR base with MoveOntario, effectively offloading the base program (and its funding problems) onto MoveOntario.  This only works, of course, if MoveOntario has a lot more money in the bank than originally planned and if Ottawa (or the Tooth Fairy) gives us the missing 1/3 funding on which MoveOntario is premised. 

Projects that might be part of this scheme include:

  • New streetcars ($1.15-billion for 204 cars).  This cost does not include cars for any system expansion (the sort of thing MoveOntario is intended to pay for), nor for facilities like one or more new carhouses.  A joint procurement with Mississauga Transit is suggested by the TTC, but the number of cars they would need especially in the short term is quite low.  The TTC may also consider “alternative financing options” (code for 3rd party vehicle ownership with a leaseback to the TTC).  All this does is to move the debt off the city’s books and increase operating costs in the long term.
  • SRT.  This project has now ballooned to $1.279-billion made up of $203-million for new cars, $236-million for conversion of the existing line to accommodate these cars and $840-million for the extension to Sheppard (including additional fleet).  (I will restrain the urge to write a polemic about the TTC’s sham comparison of LRT and RT technology in this corridor.)  Again, the TTC sees the whole thing as a possible MoveOntario project and an opportunity for 3rd party ownership of some or all elements of the line.
  • YUS Capacity.  This contains several sub-projects including $342-million for automatic train control, $312-million for early replacement of the H6 cars, $25-million for the Yonge BRT and an unspecified amount for enhancements to Bloor-Yonge Station.  Some of this really does not make sense.  First off, the TTC claims it will save money by advancing the H6 replacement and, therefore, doing this should not add to costs they would bear anyhow.  This cannot possibly be counted as a “capacity related” cost.  The Yonge BRT will be rendered obsolete by a subway extension and similarly has nothing to do with additional subway capacity.
  • Accessibility.  Provincial standards require the system to become fully accessible, and the TTC would like Queen’s Park to pick up some or all of the $192-million cost.  However, they are also including Wheel Trans vehicles which are largely replacements for the existing fleet.  Their cost and operation have nothing to do with making the system fully AODA compliant. 
  • GTA Farecard.  The estimated cost of implementing a smart cart has risen dramatically from the $140-million included in CSIF (Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund) to $260-million.  I have yet to see any justification for this level of spending on a complete re-engineering of our fare collection system when other much more critical needs go unmet.  It is unclear where the money to pay for this will come from, but I am sure that some technology company will make a killing on the system.

As if this were not bad enough, many other projects are in the queue for funding:

  • Spadina/York extension (difference between committed and projected costs)
  • Transit City (now $9.08-billion)
  • Bremner Boulevard LRT ($198-million)
  • Energy conservation and green initiatives ($85-million)
  • Warden Station and related projects ($127-million)
  • Toronto Coach Terminal redevelopment ($21-million)
  • Union Station new platform ($84-million, from Waterfront Toronto, committed)
  • East Bayfront / West Donlands LRT ($169-million, from Waterfront Toronto, not committed)
  • Additional streetcars for Waterfront LRT ($55-million, as above)

If you have read this far, you are probably getting rather depressed about the future of transit in Toronto.  Unless very large sums are found and clarity (a rare commodity) about funding from various governments and agencies is obtained quite soon, all of the great dreams for transit will stop dead.

For Ottawa, a reasonable bet would be on an election sometime in 2008 that will totally preoccupy all parties.  Any funding, or even promises, will not flow in the 2008/9 budget year and I would be surprised to see substantial spending in 2009/10.  The Tories hate cities, especially Toronto, and the Liberals, were they to regain power, will likely keep their distance too based on comments from their leader.

Waterfront Toronto has lots to do, but if their projects run aground because the TTC and City cannot get their acts together, we risk losing the new “transit first” plans for the new eastern waterfront developments.  This would be a huge tragedy for the City as we would build a brand new, car-oriented community right downtown.  However, the waterfront is not high on anyone’s list of key projects, and I worry that this might just slip through the cracks.

Queen’s Park bravely announced MoveOntario, but that funding is only 2/3 of a bunch of estimates, many now out of date, of everyone’s wish list.  A lot is missing, not least funding for basic transit operations everywhere.  Ontario pleads poverty every time someone suggests they should shell out more municipal funding, and I’m not holding my breath for big increases on that front.

We could simply throw up our hands, stop and do nothing.  We could argue endlessly that if only governments pinched their pennies, funding for all this and more could be found with a few hours’ work.  Dream on.  Our needs for transit funding in Toronto and the GTA are huge, and we must be prepared to pay for them one way or another.  That’s a whole new topic that I will leave for another day.

3 thoughts on “TTC 2008 Capital Budget and Long Term Funding Issues

  1. Steve, what exactly is the nature of the Toronto Coach Terminal redevelopment project ($21m) and is the TTC not going to first wait for the GTTA’s upcoming cost-benefit study of constructing a new regional bus terminal on Harbour Street (linked to the Union Stn. redevelopment plans)?

    Steve: Yes, I wondered about that one too. If all operations are to move down to Harbour Street, the only thing left to do with Bay Street is to sell it, not spend money on the site. I will dig into this.

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  2. Indeed, this is very depressing. What can the TTC do to raise capital funding? Does the commission have any control over their funding?

    Steve: No.

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  3. You’ve mentioned that the Yonge line’s going to be getting automatic train control in several of your articles. Are you referring to the speed control system, which is essentially a cab signalling system, or a full automation system like SELTRAC as found on the Scarborough RT that’s capable of fully operating the trains?

    If the TTC’s changed their project from merely speed control with the addons to implement the automatic stop announcements to a full blown ATO system, how did it happen?

    Steve: I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but the way that the new signalling is being discussed as being essential to much closer headways, this has to be full-blown ATO.

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