“TTC Culture” : 1 Queen Car : 0 (Updated June 25)

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 updates.

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?

50 thoughts on ““TTC Culture” : 1 Queen Car : 0 (Updated June 25)

  1. Long time ago you mentioned that the Queen line was two seperate lines, where was the split? where would this new split be at?

    Steve: The original split was at Humber Loop. Please see my previous post (linked from the main item) on this issue for a list of the alternatives under consideration.

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  2. That is a positive way to end this rather negative post when you stated “Here we are on the verge of a transit renaissance in the GTA”. I hope you are correct and Toronto once again becomes a city that other cities look to when it comes to its transit system.

    I hope at the Wed. transit meeting they talk of splitting this important route in two. I am almost positive that the headways will be more manageable if it were split between the Queen East route and the Queen west route, with it maybe divided again down the road when the Downtown Relief Line is in place. If the DRL was there the Queen East could travel from Neville Park to about Carlaw I imagine where the passengers could transfer to this new rapid transit l think. We can start this “renaissance” by fixing this heavily used route now though with what we have.

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  3. I too was at the meeting yesterday and I found that, on several occasions, I had to stifle my laughter. This is becoming an absolute farce.

    As Mr. India pointed out, in the City and the TTC, where are all the experts on this matter?

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  4. Well, as I explained over my post-meeting Diet Pepsi (I ordered a Diet Coke!), I am willing to believe that it really is a “cultural” problem. I commend TTC for being honest. Remember, this is the same culture that, indeed, has to be hauled in front of a human-rights tribunal twice on the same issue and that somehow cannot keep its “operators” from driving drunk or plowing one streetcar into another.

    They’re hiring American consultants at great, and probably unavoidable, expense to remedy TTC’s “safety culture,” or at least to create on in the first place. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the old guys (sic) do not have a customer-service or even a reliable-service culture. I certainly find the new drivers to be quite different and much better, but they aren’t running the show.

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  5. Mark Dowling said, “And that’s why we have automatic stop announcements.”

    And even the two systems responsible for the audio and visual versions frequently don’t work properly. They’re brand new!

    Steve: Just be happy that they’re in no way dependent on selling advertising or we would be listening to endless pitches like “this stop, Bessarion, is brought to you by IKEA!”

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  6. I disagree with you about the express buses. My idea is to run the existing express bus to the Beaches via Eastern more frequently and with a regular fare, and to run a new express bus to Long Branch via the Gardiner, running express via the Gardiner or Lake Shore between around Humber Loop and Spadina, and running along Richmond and Adelaide downtown, until the Waterfront West LRT is built. (Personally, I think that the WWLRT is a low priority, given that the loads on the 501 west of Humber are light. That could change with better service though.) These would supplement, NOT replace, the existing streetcar services.

    It is true that not everyone is going downtown, or transferring to the subway downtown – that’s why the existing services will continue to exist. (But not everyone is going to destinations along Queen between Humber Loop and Spadina or between Parliament and Kingston Road either.) However, one must realize that service will NEVER be fast along Queen Street even with good service management, signal priority, turn restrictions or even dedicated lanes. It takes about 30 minutes to get from Kingston Road or Roncesvalles to Yonge Street during rush hour. Providing additional express services to downtown will greatly benefit people who are going downtown or transferring to the YUS subway line and will provide some local service along Lake Shore West as well.

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  7. After reading this, anyone who says that the TTC should not be privatized or uploaded to Metrolinx gets exactly what they deserve in crappy service.

    “It’s cultural” is Spanish for “the route supervisors are in bed with the drivers”. I can see them all giving you guys the finger right now.

    Steve: I refuse to believe that the organization as a whole is so far gone. For one thing, the problems on Queen are far worse than those on other routes I have studied, and this shows that at least some of the issues are route-specific. However, I can’t help think it’s the same “culture” that led TTC brass to ensure the “failure” of integrated subway service by poor design and management. This “cultural” thing is deeply embedded and the rot goes a long way up the organizational ladder.

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  8. Steve: You are usually dispassionate and your opinions are clearly based on fact and not emotion. It seems to me that your tirade above is also based on fact, but with an overlay of emotion. It is understandable.

    Why can’t the bureaucrats and the Union get it together. This City is unique in North America. We have lots of people who want to take transit. Why does the supposedly GREEN City allow such inadequate transit. It is a mystery.

    One of the groups that cloud matters is the extreme anti car advocates. They don’t read your site and they don’t worry about the facts. They remonstrate that their 45 minute wait is caused by too many cars. In fact, as you have so eloquently (repeatedly) pointed out, the 45 minute waits are caused by the TTCs willingness to run inadequate service. There is no excuse for the service levels we are seeing.

    Today I rode the King car and missed the one at the stoplight before I could cross. There was a “streetcar (always) in sight” and I rode that one. It was half to two thirds full and was only 30 seconds or so behind the one in front. I can’t imagine the crowding and the wait for the people who missed this second car.

    The Globe and Mail recently published a lot of nonsense about public transit – they averred that the car used less greenhouse gases that public transit. This was based on the average load in USA of 10 passengers. The TTC, at midday, had about 30 passengers on a King car based on a 30 second headway.

    We as a society say one thing and do another. We are against Global Warming and smog, but we refuse to adequately promote and provide public transit. In the outer dysfunctional suburbs there is virtually no transit at all. This is disgusting, but who is holding our politicians to account.

    Steve: Yes, I try to be dispassionate about what I write here because the debate should be on an informed, civilized level, whether I agree with what everyone comments or not.

    Last night was different. In effect, the TTC said that the organization has been dysfunctional for years, decades maybe, and they are powerless to do anything. Who let it get that way? Why is there no desire to inspire change?

    Does management really believe in change or have they been giving themselves awards for so long that they don’t know how to fix anything? I’m sure that they will figure out a way to get a nice trophy from someone for running one more Queen car on time this year than last year, and they won’t mention that it was at 4 am.

    It’s really a shame we didn’t have more people in the room, and the audience was amazingly polite about the bilge pumping out from the officials present at the meeting. They should have been shouted off of the floor.

    But we’re Canadian. Torontonian. We don’t do that sort of thing.

    If, as a transit advocate, my work will be met with “we can’t change anything”, what has the last 36 years been for? Despondent. Disgusted. That’s how I feel about TTC management right now. I will take anti-transit Tory cronyism any day over this.

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  9. Steve said: “Is this Mayor Miller’s city? A city that is powerless to change?”

    Steve also said:Is there no inspiration? Is there no leadership? Does anyone care about running a truly great transit system?

    There are a great many of us, sir, who believe the second point answers the first. A union that would go on strike with 90 minutes notice pretty well describes their feelings to the city. And when you have a Mayor that tolerates this behaviour, is it any surprise we have meetings like what happened last night?

    This is why this city is declining. This is why I don’t believe this is a real city, or a city with a real mayor. Anyone who voted for this farce of a mayor 18 months should be ashamed of themselves. But, he’ll win again in 2010 because no one believes they can beat him because this city is too lazy and/or stupid to do anything about it.

    Sigh.

    Steve: Sigh, indeed. Part of the reason I wrote what I did is that I believe the Mayor has a leadership role to play. How people in his own camp can sit by and allow a major civic agency to portrary itself so badly is beyond me.

    This “cultural” attitude infects many facets of the TTC from service quality to environmental assessments to complaint handling. It has been present for a long time, and it’s been evident on the management side of the shop much longer than the union side. Why this is tolerated escapes me.

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  10. There have been some indications that we might suffer similar “cultural influences” on Transit City based on some first-hand accounts posted on this blog by others of what the mood was like at some of the meetings for the routes that have already had meetings. There’s already a disturbingly apparent lack of co-ordination between Transit City lines and their relationship to each other, and I’d argue to other parts of the network as well (but that’s a different topic).

    This “culture” could undermine Toronto’s Transit Revolution if this is left unchecked.

    I think the TTC has issues with some of the older people on board that have lost their faith/interest/passion for what they do; they or their predessors obviously did better 20 years ago and are dragging the agency down (along with a hefty chunk of the city with it if they don’t smarten up), but some 1.5 decades (or more) of seemingly endless financial hardship and service cuts must do wonders for Commission morale. The TTC likely needs new blood not tainted by the 90s recession and the Harris/Eves era. I could step up (especially since I move back to Canada next month).

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  11. The thing that bothers me most is that the TTC and city staffers talked about “culture” as though it was the weather: just something that happens, totally out of their control. But they made the culture with their choices and actions (or anyway, they contributed to it) and, if they are any kind of managers at all, they can unmake it.

    A sense of agency from of those running the organization is what I want, and I want that a lot more than I want any specific improvements on any given route.

    Steve: Andrew’s remarks sum up well the sense of inevitability with which the “cultural” issue was raised. It wasn’t a crisis. It was a deeply ingrained part of the organization.

    How does this fit with the decades we have heard that all problems come from congestion? Is there just a tiny hint that “culture”, whatever it may do, may be part of the problem? How many short turns a day arise from a culture that treats riders as nuisances rather than customers?

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  12. “TTC culture”? Is that a new euphemism for blaming the operators?

    As far as I’m concerned, barring some kind of shift scheduling showdown with the ATU, TTC management is squarely on the hook for solving this. (It would help to have a clear reminder from the Commission that the status quo won’t cut it.) Management can change culture, but they have to lead by example, from the top down. If the top people put in a half-hearted effort before passing the buck, they can hardly blame others for doing the same.

    As for newer drivers not being the problem, I’d love to know if this is a recent development (i.e. the TTC is doing a better job at hiring) or a long-standing pattern (i.e. the grumpy veteran operators of today were just as friendly and eager when they were new).

    Steve: At the risk of sounding as if I am taking this personally, in the year since I published the first of my CIS data analyses (King route), NOBODY at the TTC has called to say “come in and talk to us about how you do this and what your suggestions are”. It’s obvious that I have to move to the USA and charge them dearly for my advice.

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  13. The TTC needs a culture change indeed. The first thing they should do is get rid of all of these consultants and engineers and hire real transit experts like yourself who will do a much better job. It doesn’t make any sense that you have to be someone with a P.Eng. to plan and design a transit system. Since when do you have to be an engineer to become a qualified transit planner or designer? The TTC should listen to real transit experts who are closest to the transit system, not those engineers and consultants who claim to have the experience.

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  14. Steve said … NOBODY at the TTC has called to say “come in and talk to us about how you do this and what your suggestions are”.

    Good point. Any sane organization would have done this a long time ago.

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  15. “Gary Welch actually suggested that removing parking may be a bad idea because it reduces congestion and encourages more traffic. I am not making this up.”

    This is a debate we’re having in Melbourne, too. I think there is some truth in it. After all, removing parking in favour of a traffic lane, assuming no dedicated tram/streetcar lane is created, is road expansion — why wouldn’t it result in induced traffic?

    (Sorry, I’m not clear on whether in this case there would be a dedicated streetcar lane?)

    Steve: A related issue is the well-known phenomenon that traffic expands to occupy the space available. This is tempered only by any constraint on supply that may exist.

    However, the difference between a single lane plus one lane for parking, and a pair of working lanes is very large especially from the streetcar’s point of view. It’s not just a question of more capacity but greater flexibility in movement of traffic including the transit vehicles.

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  16. I am Not surprised Steve but to be so blatant stating “it’s in our culture” baffles me. It seems some evil force has brain washed these pundits to the point of no return. 501 RIP !! This is a case for Mulder and Scully to figure out because I sure can’t.

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  17. Call me naive, but I had always assumed that senior staff at the TTC and their political masters would read this site (and others dealing with transit in Toronto) daily and would thus get an idea of what at least a segment of their customers thought should be happening. Though some ideas put forward by customers, and even transit experts, are contradictory, crazy and too expensive, there ARE lots of very good and practical ones. It’s FREE too. (Steve: Does your site allow you to see if hits come from the TTC? Are the TTC folk just “lurking”?)

    As has been said before, you (Steve) “… are usually dispassionate and your opinions are clearly based on fact and not emotion.” This being the case, I find it amazing that you have not been enticed to TTC HQ (even with only promises of Belgian mussels and beer) and had your brain pumped for ideas of how to improve the TTC and return it to the state I hear it once was in. (Though I am starting to wonder if it was EVER as wonderful as some ‘old timers;’ say! – I have only lived here for 7 years.)

    Steve: At one point, my site was blocked (along with blogs in general) at TTC, but this was quickly fixed after howls from affected staff to the IT folks.

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  18. After may years of having the Eastern and Western ends of the 501 Route simply treated as though there is no schedule whatsoever, in these communitties, I find the TTCs “solution of adding a few supervisors to space out vehicles disappointing. Our last meeting was in December, and the service is still nowhere near reliable. I am waiting 20 minutes on average for a streetcar that is supposed to come evry 8 minutes according to TTCs schedule. Many days I wait 30 minutes or more, which is only a slight improvement from waiting 30-45 minutes and 20-25 minutes on average for a streetcar that by it’s own schedule says every 8 minutes you can expect to see a streetcar, published fiction, I say!

    Supervisor’s and spacing out cars is a start, but the short turning is still happening a lot more than is acceptable, people in the Beach are still having to take several trips to get home at least a few times a week, only slightly improved from on a daily basis.

    It is at least a start, but I must point out that the 6 new supervisors have been working since April, and I am seeing no major difference in service in the Beach. Maybe if they had hired a Beacher…

    The culture in the TTC basically treats passengers as inconveniences, and that truly needs to change. The culture in the TTC basically ignores telephone and written complaints to the TTC, and does not communicate well with passengers or staff. In short, save an organized democratic process, you will not be heard, and you will not know what is going on to change things. We all have little free time to spare, to spend it at meetings to try and get transit working, when the changes are so slow to happen can be infuriating.

    For those that chose to judge Steve, please put yourself in the shoes of an advocate volunteering a lot of time on your behalf, and basically banging his head against the wall for small carrots being dangled in front of the nose. And then come out to some of the meetings yourself to see for yourself, then go ahead and judge his disappointment!

    Nearly all who came to the meeting felt little satisfaction that anything significant was going to happen for years, and we needed an improvement in service yesterday! The service to the Beach and the West end is simply unacceptable, but the TTC is at least talking and looking at solutions, which they weren’t until last year, when the combined efforts of a lot of activists came together and lit a fire under their behinds.

    The City and the TTC are giving us their spin as do all political organizations, at any meeting for the public. Should this be surprising?

    20 years ago, the TTC was a model of efficient transportation, sadly it has been underfunded and in decline for some time. Previous governments and current government have given little attention to transit, and transit needs in the future as rhe city grows, and we are paying for it now.

    Renee Knight (Yoga Rani)
    501 Neville Park Service Improvement Petitioner

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  19. I’m pretty sure it’s Gary *Welsh*, Steve.

    Steve: You are correct, and I am going to correct the post as part of an update now in progress.

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  20. In response to Andrew M’s post were he mentions the light loads west of Humber – as someone who uses the 501 west of Humber, there are two major reasons for this:

    1) Low service levels – who would want to wait for long periods of time in the cold, heat, rain, snow, etc. for a streetcar.

    2) Transfer policy. The TTC needs to implement a transfer polciy that supports local service – i.e. you can do a return trip within a specific time period on one fare, just like in many other cities in Canada.

    Also, if there was a dedicated 507 CLRV car (with or without the through 501 car), you might notice that there are more people on the route as there would be more frequent service.

    As for the TTC pushing saying that they are not here fore “individual trips”, then what is their purpose. I thought that the TTC was about local TRANSPORT – not the easiest route.

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  21. Hi Steve.

    There is one really interesting point coming out of what the TTC has said regarding the Queen car.

    To now blame culture is quite a change. That proves all along that traffic congestion was not the real culprit for the service foul ups. I find it refreshing that the TTC has admitted this in a rather backhanded way. A big change indeed!

    Laying blame in such a way, I hope, does not further demoralize the rest of the people running the TTC. Some of the managers seem to be very competent. The TTC’s management does a great job of squeezing the most from the meagre funding that it gets to cover expenses. A part of that management group also came up with their new method of track construction, which I understand is excellent. And, while TC may not be perfect, it is nothing short of astounding that such a plan could come from an organization that could previously only think of subways and RT lines.

    I liked W Zento’s idea of getting in Mulder and Skully to investigate the management of the TTC. Trouble is they will not find a cigarette smoking man or a big government cover up. I am afraid that they will find a lot of departments being run by Curly, Larry, and Moe.

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  22. The underfunding by the city and province, and nearly nonexistent funding by the federal governments is only one problem. The other problem is that only politicians sit on the Toronto Transit Commission. While some of the politicians (ie. Giambrone) do try to make the commission work, it should be remembered that they also sit on other commissions, boards, or departments as well. This makes their commission work, a small part-time concern.

    Another problem is priority within the city. Currently, it seems to me, the Transportation Department (read, Roads) forces public transit to sit behind the solitary-occupant of cars. When will the powers that be realize that public transit should get priority ahead of the car and do everything in their power to do so.

    Steve: The General Manager of Transportation Services, Gary Welsh, did make the point that the emphasis is shifting, but he, like the TTC, has a cultural problem with generations of road engineers who see their manifest destiny as the optimization of roads for cars.

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  23. I’ll be frank, I never boarded a streetcar in months, (Only because my travel doesn’t require a streetcar.) but I really feel that this whole Queen car fiasco is beyond stupid, it’s just another ignorant indentation.

    40,000? people a day ride this route, what about the old days where I was told that streetcar trains were the norm? People were proud of the Queen car. Lots of old world war two vets at the bar I drink at was talking about the greatness of the Queen car, and how much they liked it. They had their cars but dropped a “dime every time.”

    The term “Culture.” is bullcrap, it’s politics. Politics should not be involved in the basics. Not everyone can drive a car, but everyone can take a streetcar, hence transit gets unconditional priority. This attitude is lost.

    This attitude can come back and anyone from the left to the right can fix it, I want to fix it. Steve, it doesn’t matter about the past 15 years of pain. We will do the right thing, it just takes the right people. 🙂 THE QUEEN CAR WILL BE FIXED PROPERLY!

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  24. It was pretty telling that Mitch Stambler couldn’t elaborate on the “no short turns except to fill gaps” policy that consumed an entire powerpoint slide.

    It’s evident that eastbound gaps are being filled by turning cars somewhere west of Yonge; McCaul sometimes, Bathurst sometimes, and Shaw fairly often.

    But Shaw is only about the halfway point for Neville-Long Branch service.

    Filling a westbound gap — specifically a westbound gap to Long Branch — is considerably tougher.

    If the gap is not caught at Church, the next possible place is Spadina (send the eastbound car south, loop at Charlotte, and proceed westbound).

    Shaw is not a useful short-turn for eastbound cars, because they’d have to run either to Roncesvalles or to Spadina.

    The next possible short-turn to fill the gap may be at Roncesvalles (would have to go up Roncesvalles, in to the yard through the alley, and exit by that same alley; can it even be done?).

    Finally, Humber loop is a “duh” short-turn.

    The problem with all the possible short turns other than Church is that a lot of downtown people are left waiting for a Long Branch car that swung into service somewhere beyond them. For instance, people waiting westbound at Spadina will miss a car that’s turning via Spadina, and people waiting at Roncesvalles will miss any car that shows up via King, or loops through the yard.

    Frankly, I think that they’re doing significant filling for eastbound gaps, but there’s not much they can even do for westbound gaps to Long Branch. And Long Branch riders experience this.

    Steve: A lot depends on where the Long Branch gap develops. There is more congestion west of Yonge than east, and gaps in Long Branch service westbound from Yonge are likely due as much to cars that are short turned westbound before they even reach Yonge Street.

    This has been an issue for decades — short turning on the assumption that the car will be late after it crosses the city rather than making the decision at, say, Roncesvalles and managing service beyond Roncesvalles on a headway rather than “on time” performance.

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  25. I was out on the TTC today. The driver of my bus said “Have a great night Sir” when I got off. I thanked him as well. The Queen Car may be a mess and the system is underfunded. The excuses used by the bureaucrats may be maddening (traffic congestion, culture). We may have non-existent transit in the dysfunctional suburbs. But in Toronto, in the main, we have a damn fine transit system – especially by the abysmal standards of North America.

    I am going to go to London in August and have been exploring the Transport for London Website. I think I have figured out the fare system and will get an Oyster Card at Heathrow. It will charge me a fare by distance for initial trips each day, but there is a (not cheap) cap and additional trips are free. I think this system holds some of the keys to unlocking our transit paralysis. Perhaps proper pricing is indeed the right idea and could allow proper service. However, proper pricing for the automobile would allow transit to effectively compete. The massive subsidy of the car makes transit’s role difficult and the resentment by the right of “transit subsidies” makes it more so.

    I love the TTC in its old fashioned antiquated ways. However, it might benefit by looking at European systems and aspire to their level instead of resting on its laurels as a superior system to most in North America – or even Canada.

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  26. Not to worry – there will be plenty of streetcars to play with now that St Clair will have to be shut down – again – to placate the Fire Dept. Cesar Palacio has found his smoking gun. However, is the bullet lodged in Chief Stewart? After all, as Chief since 2003, the signoff on the design presumably happened on his watch…

    Steve: The Fire Department agreed to the designs, and Palacio is just trying to make political trouble. Meanwhile, the TTC has not yet even produced the draft design for the line west of Caledonia, although the whole centre pole infatuation is very hard to break. I should note that the Transit City designs emphatically do not assume centre poles as the only possible design although that’s what shows up in the preliminary sketches.

    Also, it is worth noting that the letter was not from the Chief, but from a District Chief. Whoever wrote it, a senior public official only gets to do this sort of thing once, and I hope that the Fire Department knows what they’re in for. If they had problems with the St. Clair design, they should have raised them, publicly, long before they were built. Now it simply looks like opportunism and a petty attempt to derail other transit projects.

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  27. Its really very very sad. It seems in Toronto city staff and departments have become so dysfunctional that even with a big step forward. we end up going right back because of senseless stupidity.

    I said in a previous post this exact same thing, how the hell could this be the attitude of the politicians of the 4th largest north American city. How is the TTC letting a route which is so integral to its passengers fall apart and not care? They’re acting like this is some small city and the ridership is minimal. But this is the 3rd largest mass transit system in North America. A system responsible for moving citizens in Canada’s largest city and economic heart!!

    Things seem to be getting so bad and the attitude so apathetic perhaps the TTC should be stripped of its powers. Perhaps we would be better off with Metrolinx running the show. Until we rid the TTC of the old school boys we will be running a sub-par system. Too many of these supervisors, councilors, managers just do what’s in the best interest of them/their area. They don’t have any pride in the system or the city, its future and its long term success mean nothing to these people and that’s really pathetically sad.

    Toronto is such a great city, and the TTC once was world renowned.

    Steve: Don’t expect better from Metrolinx. They are a small organization overwhelmingly focussed on capital construction and regional planning, not on operations. Whatever they might “run” on paper, the people doing the work will be the same folks we have today.

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  28. Steve, I was at the Wed. June 18/08 TTC meeting at city hall and I was quite impressed with the way Sandra Bussin (I believe that is the councillors name) stood up for herself. Another councillor defended her as well about the “cultural” quote you had pinned on her. Since it was two councillors standing up and facing the music I am inclined to believe that maybe you had interpreted her comments on Monday night incorrectly. Everybody makes mistakes sometimes including you Steve.

    Steve: The “cultural” comment was not made by Sandra Bussin. Her statement at the meeting was that she interpreted what was said differently than I did. I “pinned” it on the organization, not on a Commissioner.

    Given past statements about the difficulty of getting things changed, I stand by my position — there is a danger that this will become an excuse for inaction, ironic in an organization that prides itself on being so dedicated and active in seeking to improve itself. It’s not the first time I have heard this excuse, but I hope it will be the last and that’s why I wrote what I did.

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  29. You have hit it on the head, “LEADERSHIP” or lack there off. Blaming the supervisors and operators is just an attempt to divert attention away from the real problem, Senior Management who could actually care less about quality of service. Just look at what they have done to Route Management, they have abolished it, demoted Route Management Supervisors and stopped measuring route performance. These decisions were made at the highest levels. You think Queen service is bad, try taking a good look at the bus service and the significent increase in customer complaints especially delay complaints.

    People who have no experience in running the day to day service are making decisions which are having a negative impact.

    Just look at the daily bus cancellations(50 to 60 daily) prior to the service increases announced by the Mayor and Chair back in January 2008 that took place in February 2008. There was not even sufficient increases to cover the already daily cancellations. After the February service increases there continued to be numerous daily cancellations(30 to 40 or more). There are daily reports on file that list these cancellations going way back. It was a scam. Were the politicians mislead, probably.

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  30. Lets start a TTC Customer Union. Can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Customers need organization to make any change.

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  31. Steve if politicians and TTC management are angry with you, then they are angry at all of us. I stand behind you 100% on this blog and if they don’t like it they can *&^%^^&&. Be careful though, they might send out there THUG SQUAD and from my experience, It will be the garbage police or a building inspector by your house for some strange reason. City Hall don’t like freedom of speech.

    Let us all keep writing and discussing because we have rattled their cage and without you Steve, we would never be able to set the wheels in motion for cultural change. I hate to say it but privatization looks good right now. What does it take for the TTC to assign three permanent cars to 507. What’s with the red tape and politicking on this route? My Message to the TTC is wake up and smell the coffee, the day of change is coming.

    Steve: Fortunately I live in an apartment, and neither the garbage police nor the building inspector could have much effect. The point I was making, which has been driven home rather more clearly than some might have liked, is that you only get to use that “culture” excuse once. After that, the question is “what have you done lately to change it”.

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  32. The suggestion of the problems on the 501 being “cultural” seems to match the experience since the last meeting when changes were promised. Both with anecdotal evidence (comments on your blog) and with data evidence (the analyses you’ve done on the December/January CIS data), we are seeing that there are still some major problems, not only near the end of the route but near the start of the route when service should at least be starting out running evenly.

    The TTC complains about traffic congestion and other factors that are out of its control, as if the City would ban parking and left turns on Queen 24/7 and all would be solved with the 501. I think your recent analyses (of Queen and also of Spadina, where the TTC has their streetcar ROW) illustrate that the TTC should be fixing things that are in their control first. And if nothing else, it should start with making sure the damn cars leave the terminal on time and/or at even intervals. Maybe this means decreasing the average frequency so that they can build in more catch-up time at the end terminals, or so that they can take off a couple cars and store them in a loop somewhere near the end of the line (Humber, Russell) if an outbound gap is going to result in a gap inbound at Long Branch or Neville. We know that the “on paper” headway has no relationship to the ragged and random headways that show up on the street anyway.

    If the TTC can run even headways leaving the terminal for a month and is still running into reliability problems downstream, then they will have the credibility and should be able to round up the political capital to make changes currently out of its control. Or, better still, if they could at least make sure the cars leave the terminals at even intervals, they might find that service on the rest of the line isn’t too bad anymore either. Then they might have a solution that could be applied to other routes.

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  33. The “culture” comment suggests that it is the whim of front-line workers and not policy that defines TTC operations. Is TTC Management actually saying they aren’t running the show?!? What a stunningly stupid and yet eye-opening statement! How do they expect to ever effectively direct their workforce? No one is a leader if they don’t believe it, and neither will anyone below them believe it.

    Hell, I’d love to get Supervisors’ pay to guess wildly at when to short turn Queen Cars with no fear that Management gives a damn!

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  34. The ‘culture’ problem is not so much a problem as it is a needed shift in mindset. The old dinosaurs which are causing so much frustration are stuck in the thinking that public transit is a social service to people who cannot afford to drive – a label which carries all sorts of stereotypical baggage.

    This is an issue simply because public perception is moving on. Buses and streetcars are now seen as legitimate transportation modes to compete with the car…although it will be some time until they can effectively do so.

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  35. First off, I am appalled to read that if you have $22,500 you can simply have a street closed off for a nonsensical event like the muchmusic video awards. (lack of capitals intentional) This type of thing should simply not be allowed – the right to occupy and close streets should not be negotiable at all. Offering money for such closures as compensation should be illegal. Similarly the ridiculous displays after victories of certain sports teams should not be tolerated either as these hamper service and probably emergency vehicles as well.

    Giambrone is not at all impressive in his role. Being elected to municipal office does not necessarily mean that you have any qualifications for anything let alone being involved in overseeing the largest transit system in the country. Ducharme was no David Gunn and Welsh is no Ducharme so should we be surprised at the decline in things in the last little while? And my mayor is eighty five years old and has way more on the ball than Miller does, even if she has not always been on the transit bandwagon.

    You’re right. It is hard to feel positive about this situation. Hopefully they walked away from this and spent the next day feeling uneasy about the level of annoyance the public had in their performance. Making them feel uncomfortable is going to have to be a tactic in your arsenal.

    Steve: To clarify who’s who: Gary Welsh is the General Manager of Transportation Service for the City. Gary Webster is the TTC Chief General Manager and the successor to Rick Ducharme, and for my money, is a big improvement.

    As for making the TTC and others uncomfortable, if I don’t do that, there wouldn’t me much use for this blog. Cheerleading ain’t my style.

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  36. 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.

    Good for you. If telling the truth annoys the TTC and City Hall, then so be it. You’re fighting for Transit, not for the TTC and not for the City.

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  37. Hi Steve:-

    This is the same unchangable ‘culture’ that knows there’s lots wrong with retention of the SRT technology, as there has been admission of Queen car troubles, but since we’re the best in the world, well North America, or well Ontario, maybe? we’ll tough it out ’cause we’re the best!!

    This ‘culture’ is bacterial I believe and growing in the petrie dish at 1900 Yonge, eh?

    Mr. D.

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  38. My apologies for confusing Welsh and Webster above. I meant Webster in that post. Welsh is the one that every reporter in town calls for reassurances in the hours before every projected significant snowfall.

    I kind of get the impression that Webster (and even Ducharme to some extent before him) does not have as good an ability to see things for what they are as Gunn may have. Having a CGM walk through a garage and chat up mechanics may be unconventional but it shows an interest in the operation as a whole and likely gives information that all the memos and middle managers in the world could not relay as well.

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  39. To Rob M’s comment, there was a series of management theories in the 1980’s spawned by the book series “In Search of Excellence” (Tom Peters) that proposed amongst other things that management in the best organizations used a technique described as “management by wandering around”.

    Essentially it was talk to and observe the people actually doing the work and find out what is actually going on and not what the people in between want you to think.

    How many of the TTC management and commissioners actually engage the TTC staff that do the work on a regular basis?

    Sadly all the series of books did was spawn a new consulting business for the organizations that most needed help… the boss was too busy in meetings to read them!

    Steve: I can report from personal observation that TTC’s Chief General Manager Gary Webster does a lot of “walking around”. He may not have the gruff, can-do demeanour of David Gunn, but he’s no prisoner of an ivory tower either.

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