Fun With Figures at the TTC

After a long hiatus, we finally have a Chief General Manager’s Report for the first quarter of 2008.  Over the past few years, the CGM’s report dwindled, and the online version of this one is a threadbare five pages long.  There are three appendices with the meat, no doubt, but you have to actually attend the meeting to read them.  Within those five pages, however, we still see the TTC’s inventive approach to reporting ridership.

Last summer, in the midst of the financial crisis, the TTC suddenly discovered that Metropass riders were taking too many rides.  Even though they were selling more passes, probably due to the tax incentive for pass use bringing a new demographic into the Metropass cohort, they were collecting less revenue.  This brought out the thundering forces of the TTC’s right wing who demanded that the price of Metropasses go up to compensate for the lost revenue.

However, after the City’s new taxes (and their revenue for 2008) were safely in place in the fall, we learned that the TTC had been counting those passholders as more “rides” than they actually represented, and retroactive to July, they dropped the calculated  total ridership by using the new, lower multiplier.  Nobody bothered to apologize about the erroneous claims of how Metropass users were ripping off the system.

This year, ridership for the first quarter is not doing as well as projected.  It’s 0.7% above budget, but ever so slightly below last year.  Never fear!  TTC New Math to the rescue!  If we use the lower Metropass multiple for all of last year, then the ridership for Q1 last year goes down by 3.3-million and — Presto! — we have a tidy jump in riding this year.  The TTC seems to have missed the point that adjusting their ridership for last year downward throws off all their claims about a banner year for transit and causes a slight increase in the overall average fare per ride, but we’re not supposed to notice that.

You can count the riding increase in 2007 or you can count it in 2008, but double-dipping ain’t allowed in my transit planning 101 class. 

The Metropass Multiple is supposedly calibrated every month by selected riders keeping trip diaries.  Even I did it years ago.  There will always be some month-to-month variation, but over time there should be a good trend (rather like the headway charts for the Queen car).  However, you can make the ridership numbers, and the imputed impact of passes on the revenue stream, jump all over the place simply by twiddling that multiple.  It’s a basic piece of data that should be published so that we can get some sense of how it shifts around over time and in response to external factors such as tax regimes, the price of gas, and seasonal changes in tripmaking.

It’s particularly odd to think that a value that is recalibrated as part of a monthly moving average can be changed retroactively over a year backward in time.  Have they only now gotten around to looking at those early 2007 trip diaries?  Of course not.  If the multiple was actually dropping in early 2007, the TTC would have known it by early Q2 at the outside, and certainly should have known it by the time of the fare and budget debates in the summer, Q3.  However, that was news best kept under wraps as long as goading the Commission into approving a jump in pass pricing was the real agenda.

This is a case where the TTC has that classic choice:  admit that you presented faulty data because you were asleep at the switch and didn’t know what was happening on your own system, or admit that you misled the public into thinking that a Metropass increase was essential.

Postscript:  Recently, we’ve seen media reports that the TTC faces a big jump in fuel costs later this year and is thinking of adding a fuel surcharge to the fares rather like the airlines.  Please don’t insult everyone’s intelligence.  If total costs go up, you raise fares or subsidies.  Period.  Don’t call it a surcharge when we are in an era of higher prices as part of the landscape.  Or does the TTC know something about the oil market they’re not telling anyone?  Do they have some magical access to cheap diesel fuel a year or two out?

That’s hardly the message for a transit system to send to motorists who, we hope, are in mortal fear of never affording to drive their SUV to the corner store again, much less to work.  Don’t worry, folks, it will all be over in a little while and you’ll be back to 70 cents a litre before you know it.

If the TTC wants more money, call it a fare increase and be done with it.  Or is someone not wanting to break a political promise to hold the line on fares?

The creative accounting at the TTC has got to stop.  It takes X dollars to run the place, and Y dollars are needed from the farebox.  Period.  Decide how you want to divvy up the revenue among available fare classes and get on with it.  If we ever do get back to 70 cent fuel, I will expect a reduction in the cost of my Metropass.

Route 501 Queen in December/January 2007/08 (Part 7: East vs West Followup)

Back in Part 2, I wrote about the proportion of service that actually arrived at the terminals in the Beach, High Park and Lake Shore.  A comment from a reader (actually in the Part 3 thread on headways) suggested that I include trend lines in the charts for this topic, and I linked a version from my reply.

Now, having caught my breath from all those weekend postings, I offer a few comments on the new charts.

Proportion of Service Reaching Terminals on 501 Queen

Page 1 shows the proportion of cars reaching Neville on weekdays from December 3 to January 31 broken down by three-hour time period.  Trend lines are included to show the overall patterns.

Generally speaking, the worst period is the afternoon peak (1500 to 1800) with midday (1200 to 1500) and early evening (1800 to 2100) roughly tied for second last place.  The best service, stated as a percentage of total trips leaving Yonge eastbound, occurs after 2100.

Seasonal fluctuations and the impact of the mid-December snowstorm are evident here.

Page 2 shows the proportion of service reaching Humber.  This chart starts off better than the Neville plots for December, but there is a clear change in late January when the proportion of service getting to Humber goes down.  This suggests a change in line management strategy.

Page 3 shows the proportion of service reaching Kipling.  I chose this point to put the best possible face on service to southern Etobicoke, and Kipling short turns are included here.  Note that the scale is different here than on previous charts because only half of the service is supposed to get past Humber under ideal conditions.  Values above 50% occur because the numbers are relative to the total cars leaving Yonge Street westbound.

Note that the pm peak is consistently at about the 40% mark.  Relative to the expected 50%, this means that about 20% of the service destined for the Lake Shore never gets there between 1500 and 1800.

Page 4 shows the situation at Long Branch, and you can see the effect of Kipling short turns.  On this chart, the pm peak trend line rides between 30% and 40% meaning that there are days when over one-third of the scheduled service never reaches Long Branch Loop.  On an 11-minute headway, this produces unacceptably irregular service.

The late January decline noted above in the Humber chart is echoed at the points further west.

Page 5 shows the ratio between the values for Humber and Neville.  If short turns are affecting both ends of the line equally, the trend line should sit at about 1.  A mid-December rise in the values from 0900 to 1800 shows that more cars were short turned in the east end.  This was probably a combination of traffic congestion eastbound to downtown (as discussed in other articles) and snow delays in the Beach.  In late January, the situation changes, and it is the west end that has more short turns in the period from 1500 to 2100.

Page 6 shows the ratios at Long Branch.  If the level of short turns were equal, proportionately, the trend lines should sit at 50%.  Although they are clustered around this value, there are clear differences by time of day.  The large rise in the midday ratio (yellow) corresponds to the aftereffects of the December storm in the Beach.

Looking at these charts, it is important to see not just the trend lines, but the considerable day-to-day fluctations in values.  The trend lines show that there are consistent patterns over the two-month period, but there are some very wide swings in some of the individual data points.  For example, on one day, only 40% of the pm peak service actually reached Long Branch.