Will The TTC Ever Finish On St. Clair?

I spoke to Vice-Chair Joe Mihevc at the TTC meeting on Wednesday about the situation at St. Clair West and on the portion of the line east to Yonge.  Here is the current status.

The problem with rebuilding the track is that there is one section on the east side of the loop where there are electrical cables buried in the concrete.  Breaking up the concrete so that these can be moved is a delicate business and won’t be done for a few months.  Meanwhile, the rest of the loop is being installed.

In about two weeks, this will allow pavement restoration in most of the loop.  At that point, the buses that enter from the west will be able to loop down the ramp and around the west and north sides of the platform.  They will all exit via the ramp that comes out in the Loblaw’s building on the north side of the street.

Meanwhile, Mihevc is getting a complete runaround from staff on the installation of new shelters.  It’s always something that will happen in a week or two, and has been like this since the summer.  He is getting very frustrated because he takes the blame every time he parrots information to his constituents.

TTC staff should carefully consider what they are doing.  Mihevc has defended staff positions on the St. Clair right-of-way against all criticisms and burned up some of his credibility, with me among others, in the process.  The last thing the staff needs is to lose that champion in the Vice-Chair’s office.  If he stops believing what he is told, they are in big trouble.

Of course, many of us stopped believing what staff said about St. Clair a long time ago.  Vice-Chair Mihevc has some catching up to do.

A Place to Stand, Revisited

Some time ago, I wrote about the disappearance of “Walk Left, Stand Right” on TTC escalators and the cock-and-bull story the TTC puts out on why such an unusual burst of efficiency was launched to remove all of these overnight.

The latest installment in this saga is a new brochure that has shown up on TTC vehicles called the Escalator Safety Guide.  Notable by its absence in this guide is any reference to walking on escalators.  Indeed, we are told:

Escalator steps are not the correct height for normal walking and should not be used in that manner. The risk of tripping and falling is greatly increased.

I would have more faith in this statement if the escalators I use regularly were actually running.  In many locations, walking to an alternate route either requires a considerable detour, or the available stairs are incapable of handling the demand in both directions.  People walk on escalators whether they are stopped or running, and the TTC should get used to it.

Later, the brochure goes on, in the best TTC tradition, to blame customers for all of their problems:

Many escalator incidents are due to:  falls, resulting from the rider losing balance;  entrapment in the mechanics of escalators caused by clothing, footwear or suitcases; and use of mobility devices or strollers.

Strollers and the like are supposed to use the elevators, if you can find one, and it’s working that day.

But bless the TTC.  One of their great traditions is the preservation of old signs, and they even manage to do this online.  There is an Escalator Safety Poster (I passed FIVE of them leaving Broadview Station) linked from the Safety page on their website.

The third bullet, complete with illustration, is “Stand Right”!

TTC Operating & Capital Budgets For 2008

The covering reports for the 2008 budgets are now available on the TTC’s website, although as usual there are severe formatting problems and the tables don’t display at all.  Once I have “real” reports, I will scan and publish the pictures here.

The TTC is supposed to be converting to PDF format.  Given that their IT Strategic Plan [sic] (also on the agenda for November 14) includes items that are six years old and counting, my guess is that we will see PDFs only after a multi-gazillion-dollar website redesign.

In the Operating Budget, we learn that the TTC is a bit shy of cash for next year, $13.6-million to be exact, to which must be added the cost of any contract settlement.  The annualized cost of a 1% increase in wages is about $8-million according to the report, although I have problems with this statement.  It implies that total wage costs for unionized staff are $800-million before any benefits are added, and before the cost of materials, fuel, power, fixed plant operations and, oh yes, those pesky non-union managerial staff.  I will return to this once I have a chance to review the detailed budget figures.

Ridership is growing, and is forecast to rise to 464-million next year.  However, we also learn than this year’s projected ridership, 454-million, is about 10-million high because the TTC overestimated Metropass usage.  Poof!  Ten million rides gone from the 2007 projection.  This may be the first time the TTC has lost rideship due to an accounting error.

An ironic side effect is, of course, that with fewer notional “riders”, the revenue per rider has gone up without the TTC lifting a finger (well maybe a few fingers to dip the quill pen into the inkpot).

Try telling people jammed onto the subway that there are really 10-million less of them.

The Ridership Growth Strategy kicks in next fall along with, if we are lucky, improvements to get service simply back to the TTC’s own standards early in 2008.  There has been no definitive announcement on the timing of this change, although February had been mentioned by some at TTC.

The story in the Capital Budget is much darker.  As I reported a few weeks ago, the TTC will scrape by in 2008 within the City’s budget target but future years are grim without major increases in subsidy from any government willing to lend a hand.  There is no funding in place for the proposed new streetcar order, and this needs to be sorted out by next spring if the procurement process is to continue on schedule.  This is only the first of several major unfunded projects.

(There is a followup report on the streetcar project listed on tomorrow’s Supplementary Agenda, but the report is not yet online.)

As the TTC rightly points out, we are in the “unusual” (their term) or “ludicrous” (my term) position of having a $1.5-billion shortfall in the base capital budget while, simultaneously, the Spadina/York Subway extension us fully funded.  If anyone says “the cupboard is bare”, we know where to look.  Anyone who feigns surprise that this extension has elbowed other projects off of the table deserves a dunce’s cap (in TTC colours of course).

Meanwhile, both the new streetcar procurement and Transit City are getting more expensive as cost estimates are refined.  This is not making friends among Councillors who want so badly to be pro-transit, but who are sideswiped by the TTC’s inability to price their projects.

Finally, there is a long report about Transit City laying out the rationale for the choice of lines and in particular the selection of Sheppard East, Etobicoke-Finch and Eglinton-Crosstown as the candidates for the first three Environmental Assessments.  There isn’t much here that we haven’t seen before, and some of the discussions about how to fit new LRT lines onto streets echo the comments in earlier posts on this site.  Transit City was designed to fit with known planning goals and to serve those communities with reasonable expectation of demand.  This is, of course, totally contrary to good transit system design where lobbying and political favouritism win out over, dare I say it, common sense.

Where’s My Streetcar? (Updated)

Today, TTC Chair Adam Giambrone gave a press conference at noon at 1900 Yonge Street about the Transit City Electronic Customer Communications Plan and the Next Bus Arrival Project.

A report on this subject will be discussed at tomorrow’s Commission meeting, and it went online this morning after the original version of this item was posted.

At the risk of prejudging the announcement, I can’t help thinking this is another wonderful example of millions of dollars worth of technology being used in place of the basics: running frequent, well-managed transit service.

The report addresses several related projects:

Next Bus Arrival

This system, to be integrated with both the City’s new standard street furniture program and with the TTC website, will provide estimated arrival times of approaching vehicles.  A critical part of such an undertaking will be accurate knowledge of a vehicle’s position and movement along a route, and in turn this depends on converting the antiquated vehicle monitoring system now in use (CIS) to use GPS data rather than “signposts”.  (For more information about how CIS works, please refer to this article.)

Also needed will be information about the alleged destination of the vehicle.  In the case of buses, this could be obtained if the code for the current route sign display were available to the monitoring system, although keeping CIS in sync with the frequent updates to the database in bus signs would be a challenge.   For streetcars, there is no way to know what sign is set by the operator, and drivers would have to key in a destination code to the CIS unit for each trip (and every time they are short turned).  I doubt that this information would be reliable and a next car display would proudly announce a car to Long Branch that was in fact turning at Shaw Street.

My real concern about this system, aside from the dubious value of building it at all when there are far worse problems with service quality and management, is that the TTC will undertake a typical design that works only when everything runs as it should.

The pilot will involve 12 bus stops, and I will bet that they will be on a sleepy route such as Bayview that was the testbed for the on board stop announcement system.  Figuring out when the next Queen car will show up and where it is going is a much bigger challenge.

The total project cost is $5.2-million, but it is not clear whether this is just for the central system and additional costs both for shelter-based equipment and on-vehicle system changes will be add-ons to the project.

E Commerce

The TTC is planning to contract with an external agency for online sale of passes.  This project has a budget of $1.2-million, but there is no detail about what this covers.

TTC Website

Evaluation of responses to the Request for Proposals is now underway and approval of a vendor is expected in January 2008.  The new site should be rolled out in “late spring 2008”.

Wheel-Trans Remote Trip Booking

The ability to make, inquire about and cancel bookings via the Internet should be available in February 2008.  It is unclear whether this is a real-time booking system, or simply a portal allowing users to queue up emails to Wheel Trans staff.  Further clarification is needed.

I will update this page based on whatever presentations or discussions occur at Wednesday’s TTC meeting.

Analysis of 501 Queen: Part III — Monday, December 4, 2006

December 4 was an odd day.  The weather was uneventful, and service on the nearby King route was well-behaved (see the analysis of 504 King).  CIS Control seemed to adopt an unusual strategy to “managing” the Queen service to the point that short turning must be described as “aggressive” if not “pre-emptive”.

  • Most of the “Humber” service actually short-turned at Roncesvalles.
  • Many of the cars on both branches short-turned at Woodbine Loop.
  • There is little evidence of serious traffic congestion or major delays in the charts, but ragged headways and bunched cars were common.  

Continue reading

Analysis of 501 Queen: Part II – Friday, December 1, 2006

December 1, 2006, was not a good day for transit operations.  As I have already discussed for the King route, it was probably the worst day of the month.  The weather was bad through the afternoon and early evening, and severe congestion problems affected many routes.

This is a contrast to Christmas Day, discussed in the previous post, where good weather coupled with little congestion or passenger surges made for ideal conditions.

Among the problems we will see for December 1 are:

  • bunching of cars due to congestion
  • pairs of cars running together over the entire route
  • large gaps to the termini
  • congestion, most severely in an area well away from downtown, and only in one direction

This shows what the line looks like under worst case conditions.  Even though the service is seriously disrupted, this data has important lessons about how the line is scheduled, managed and operated. Continue reading

“Driver Bob” Writes About the Queen Car (Updated, Again)

I received a long comment in reply to an earlier post about service in the Beach from a TTC operator, and this deserves its own thread.

Updated November 11:  Driver Bob left a short note attached to the wrong thread in which he dismisses the discussion here.  I have added it to the end of this post just before the comments. 

A second comment, apologizing for the first, has also been added.

Continue reading

Analysis of 501 Queen: Part I – Introduction & Christmas Day 2006

The Queen streetcar is the subject of much discussion here, and I have been remiss in failing to post an analysis of the CIS (Communications & Information System) data for this route to substantiate many of my (and everyone else’s) observations.  Over the next few weeks, in preparation for a Rocket Riders’ meeting in early December, I will post a series of articles looking at the line’s operation in detail.

For those who are unfamiliar with the sort of analyses that will appear here, please read all of the articles about the King route filed under Service Analysis on this site.  As I write this, there are nine of them (with one more to come), and you should read them in order.  They include some of the background on how the CIS system works and the various ways I have sliced and diced that data.  I will not repeat this information here in the interest of brevity.

By way of introduction to the data, this post deals with Christmas Day, 2006.  This is important for a few basic reasons:

  • Operating conditions on Christmas were as close to ideal as one could ask for.
  • There was no traffic congestion.
  • There was no inclement weather.
  • Passenger loads were modest.

Collectively, this means that the observed behaviour of the line shows what happens when most of the sources of random delay are eliminated. Continue reading

Thirty-Five Years

November 2007 marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the TTC’s decision to retain streetcar operations in Toronto.  Godfrey Mallion wrote me recently asking if I would reflect on the events of past decades prompting this post.

When the Streetcars for Toronto Committee formed in 1972, our goal was to fight the proposed removal of streetcars from the St. Clair route which, at the time, ran from Keele Loop to Mt. Pleasant & Eglinton.  The TTC had surplus trolley buses from the Yonge 97 route (Eglinton Station to Glen Echo) that was replaced when the subway opened to York Mills Station, and these buses were to operate on St. Clair.  The fact that the TTC didn’t have anywhere near enough trolley buses to replace the streetcars, and a substantial service cut was required to make this work, undermined the proposal from the beginning.

The TTC’s long-range plans foresaw removal of all streetcars by 1980 when the Queen Subway would open.  Pause here for laughter because it was clear, even then, that a Queen line was not going to be built any time soon, if ever.  However, the streetcar fleet was wearing out, and St. Clair’s conversion was to be the beginning of the end.

A few years earlier, the TTC had worked with Hawker-Siddeley (whose Thunder Bay plant is now owned by Bombardier) on the development of a new streetcar for Toronto.  Its cost was quite reasonable for its day, and one big advantage was that it evolved from the existing PCC, a car long-proven on Toronto’s streets.  It did not have to be re-invented.  Work on this car stopped cold when Queen’s Park got into the high tech transit business with Maglev trains and GO Urban.

Toronto’s decision to retain its streetcars came at the beginning of a light rail renaissance in North America, although the real leadership came from cities like Edmonton, San Diego and Calgary.

Over the years, Streetcars for Toronto, and later I as an individual advocate, were involved in many issues:

  • Implementation of trolleybuses on Bay Street as a hoped-for first step in renewal and expansion of the network.
  • Advocacy for LRT technology to build a network of suburban lines at a time when much of the suburbs did not yet exist.
  • A detailed review of operational practices on downtown streetcar lines to address service quality.
  • Advocacy for increased transit funding, not just as capital megaprojects (usually subways), but for day-to-day operations.
  • Advocacy for what became the Harbourfront and Spadina streetcar lines.  This started in the 70s, but only bore fruit two decades later.
  • Advocacy for improved service quality as a TTC goal leading to the Ridership Growth Strategy.
  • Renewed advocacy for LRT leading to the Transit City plan.

Continue reading