Updated June 25:
Jonathan Goldsbie has an article about the Queen car forum on the Eye Weekly site.
Updated June 18:
First, apologies to Gary Welsh of City Transportation Services whose name I misspelled in the original post. I’m used to the many permutations possible with “Stephen Munro” and don’t like to screw up other people’s names myself.
Today I deputed on the subject of the Queen report and forum, and the thrust of my remarks was:
- I agree that some of the proposals for traffic-related improvements on Queen will be good for the route. This and other operational changes have been under discussion for some time and were part of the reason I started my analyses of CIS data in 2007.
- There are many items on the “to do” list including detailed evaluation of alternate route structures, monitoring and management of the existing service, and bringing reports on traffic changes to Community Council for discussion and approval. They’re worthwhile and we mustn’t lose the momentum.
- The monthly update on cancelled service and short turns is missing, and we have no idea of how effective any new practices might be since late April.
- At the Queen Car Forum, the same May report was presented without updates, but the big problem was the issue of “TTC Culture” as an explanation for the slowness of change. I made the point that this is hard to believe given enthusiastic celebration of TTC employees’ skills and dedication at the 40-year service presentations that opened the meeting, and the extensive review and recommendations for immediate change in the report on the Lytton Boulevard subway fatality. Both of these show a culture that celebrates skill and dedication. I made it clear that my remarks were aimed at corporate culture, not at any individual who happened to be the bearer of the message.
- My own view is that problems on Queen are disproportionate to those on other routes and this is a function of the length and challenges posed by the 501, not just any “cultural” issues.
- When the report with a recommended strategy for dealing with the 501 comes forward in October, I hope that it will have more substance and a positive outlook about what can be done.
- Commissioner Bussin (who attended the Forum) replied that she felt the “culture” reference was only to short-term problems with introduction of change and asked how I took the impression I did. I replied that the sense was not just mine, but that of others I had talked to and responses to the original post here.
- TTC staff argued that they only intended the “cultural” reference as a short-term problem to be overcome, that years of line management style can’t be changed overnight. They haven’t given up on the system. Also, the problem with a lack of updated info appears to be a staff resource issue (for which read they’re too busy with other things), but the information will be incorporated in the monthly Chief General Manager’s Report.
I have managed to cheese off a number of folks at the TTC and City Hall, but feel it’s not my job to be a cheerleader. I report what I hear and what I see. Possibly my comments influence how others see the same events, but such is the problem of any media (the “it’s in the Sun so it must be true” syndrome).
Some of you have already written with your own reflections on Tuesday’s meeting, and if there are others reading this, I would be interested in your take on what was said. This blog exists not just for my opinions, but as a forum for many others to let those interested in transit matters see a variety of positions whether I agree with them or not.
The original post follows below.
Last night I sat in Toronto’s Council Chamber for the Queen Car Forum. Forum is hardly the word. Wake would be more appropriate.To my astonishment, the TTC trotted out the same presentation they made back at the May Commission meeting. (It’s still not online, and you will have to take my word for what’s in it. How people are supposed to depute on the item at tomorrow’s Commission meeting is beyond me.)
No information about how service might have improved. We saw the same graphs of slight progress from winter to early spring, but no updates to bring us into June.
Memo to TTC: it’s almost summer and it’s time to stop talking about cars parked in the snowbanks.
From both Beachers and Long Branchers we heard tales of woe, how interminable waits for unpredictable service rendered it useless. How any claims that they have a new protocol for managing service to headways were fixing nothing. How six new supervisors supposedly vigilantly monitoring the service had no effect.
The TTC’s response?
It’s a cultural thing. Changing the way people work is hard to do! This statement, made by the Manager of Service Planning and echoed by the General Manager of Operations, is the new TTC mantra.
We can’t fix it because it’s cultural.
This is totally unacceptable.
In my professional life, I too am a civil servant, and I would be deeply ashamed to make a presentation like the one we saw last night.
Voters and riders expect their public agencies and their Councillors to do things, not to throw up their hands in defeat. Is this Mayor Miller’s city? A city that is powerless to change?
The low point came in an exchange with a Beacher who complained that his commute was impractical by TTC. It’s a difficult route — drive from the Beach to Birchmount CI (Danforth & Birchmount) to drop off his son, then to Dundas and University. The first leg is a hopeless trip by transit due to geography and the historical orientation of routes to downtown, major subway stations and peak direction travel, and that’s why the son gets a ride, not a TTC ticket.
The response should have been that transit does some jobs well and some poorly, and isolated areas like the beach don’t have good anywhere-to-anywhere service. Instead, the response was to berate the speaker and argue that the TTC can’t cater to individual trips. True, maybe, but the way it was said left a lot to be desired. Is this the TTC’s new face, or are we finally seeing their oft-described uncaring customer relations surfacing in a public meeting?
Commissioners Giambrone and Bussin added nothing to the discussion and it was impossible to discern whether they agreed or were in shock.
I had a bunch of questions ready to go, but it was clear they were not going to be answered:
- What updates do we have on the effectiveness of new supervisory strategies up to mid-June? Why is there no data for May or the first two weeks of June?
- What metrics has the TTC constructed (above the ones they already admit are of dubious value) to track improvements?
- Why are they still “educating” supervisors?
- How do they reconcile the claim for six new supervisors (who supposedly started in April) with six monitoring locations (sprinkled from Neville to Long Branch) over a 14-hour period?
- What do these supervisors actually do? Are they keeping records of the service adjustments they make or the problems they observe?
Meanwhile, in a presentation by Gary Welsh, General Manager of Transportation Services, we heard that streetcar operators can activate transit signal priority. This is not true. Streetcar priority, such as it is, depends entirely on loop detectors in the pavement. It’s a passive system in the sense that operators cannot change the preprogrammed way it operates, assuming that it is working at all. It’s a sad comment when the person in charge doesn’t know how his own system works.
The TTC hopes for improved priority on Queen and other routes and some of their proposals are quite reasonable. Counter-peak parking restrictions. Extending the peak periods into the shoulder hours. Turn restrictions to reduce left turn delays.
I was mightily amused by comments from Gary Welwh about the City’s colleagues at the TTC considering what I have heard regarding inter-agency turf wars. Transportation Services may be getting the message that transit matters, but it’s an uphill battle to progress from policy to action.
Welsh claimed that streetcars have transit priority at all but 4 locations on Queen. Maybe he should talk to his “colleagues” whose shopping list is rather longer and includes locations not on Welch’s list.
Gary Welsh actually suggested that removing parking may be a bad idea because it reduces congestion and encourages more traffic. I am not making this up.
To be fair to the staff, there are reports coming to Toronto Community Council later this year with various recommendations for pro-transit traffic restrictions. We will see just how dedicated Councillors are to transit priority when these ideas land on their desks.
Another area for Council’s attention will be various street closures both for construction and for special events. Although Much Music paid the TTC $22,500 for the diversions around the music awards site last weekend, reports from riders indicate that service on the outer ends of the 501 was quite sparse. People who wait 45 minutes for a streetcar don’t care that somebody paid the TTC for the right to close Queen Street, they care that they can’t go anywhere. If we closed expressways with the same cavalier attitude, there would be riots.
On the TTC side, there are always going to be special events downtown, and the TTC needs to design operational plans for them. Split the line if need be. Run some cars dedicated to each end of the route. Don’t just send out the service and hope it can vaguely stay on time, helped along by numerous short turns. This is a classic example of a situation where managing headways rather than schedules would work wonders.
In questions from the floor, the Queen Subway made a brief appearance, and Adam Giambrone to his credit replied that we have to get away from expensive, long term projects and concentrate on what we can do with existing conditions. Queen isn’t the only street with problems, and we need techniques that can be used on the whole system.
One speaker from Etobicoke noted that the Long Branch service performs a vital local purpose on Lake Shore, but alas the TTC treats it as the tail end of the Queen car and only sends occasional cars beyond Humber.
Others suggested replacing the streetcars with buses. This is the classic situation the TTC’s “culture” has brought us to. Since the Long Branch and Queen routes were amalgamated and the line scheduled to run on ALRV headways (whether the cars were actually ALRVs or not), the TTC has managed to drive away 1/3 of the ridership through poor service. Express buses from the extremeties to downtown won’t solve all of the problems because, among other things, everybody doesn’t want to go downtown. What people need is reliable service, and that’s something TTC culture is chronically unable to provide.
Several people spoke of unreliable service with huge gaps. They were not talking about last December when Toronto lay under mounds of snow, they were talking about recent trips. There may be more supervision, but nothing is happening.
In response to a question about moving traffic enforcement to a separate agency or to the TTC, Adam Giambrone replied that Council cannot force the Police Services Board to do anything as they are governed by long-standing Provincial laws. However, discussions are underway, and the Mayor has requested that enforcement issues come to the Board.
Sandra Bussin noted that other Councillors do not necessarily support Queen Street restrictions. She thinks that total transit dedication is unlikely, but smaller changes such as signal timings are possible. With respect to police, they are also requested for other demands such as traffic monitoring near schools, and the City rarely gets police attention on any one street for very long. A big problem is “cultural” — the police didn’t believe in the Queen’s Quay experiment and, by implication, can’t be counted on to make it work if it becomes permanent.
Hamish Wilson raised the Front Street transit corridor in an almost demure manner, and we can forgive him for being just a little smug after his long battle against a would-be Gardiner off-ramp. I will turn again to this corridor and to the Waterfront West project in another post, but right now the issue is Queen Street.
After the meeting wrapped up, those present would have seen me in an animated state, but it certainly wasn’t for joy. Yes, we are finally talking about transit priority with senior TTC and City staff and members of Council. However, we’re still getting the same tired excuses about “traffic congestion” as the root of all evil despite overwhelming evidence (from my own studies of route operations) that there are serious problems with service management. Now that we have added the sense that ingrained “TTC culture” prevents any change, I wonder why we bother.
This is precisely the attitude that has people talking about privatization and union busting even though I suspect a private “culture” would bring a raft of its own problems.
Here we are on the verge of a transit renaissance in the GTA, and the best the TTC can come up with is “we can’t do anything about it”. Is there no inspiration? Is there no leadership? Does anyone care about running a truly great transit system?