TTC Service Planning Reports Online, Finally, Sort Of

The TTC now has a Transit Planning page linked from “About The TTC” on its website.

The detailed service summary for the current schedule period is available on this page and, therefore, I will no longer have to host it here.

Missing from the new TTC site are many of the historical reports — operating statistics, Annual Reports, etc., going back to past years.  With a bit of sleuthing, you can find some of these on the City of Toronto website by using its search engine to access cached copies of the reports and pages.

A cached copy of the old “Documents” page is still available.

Where Will Fido Sleep?

Those who ride the Danforth subway might be forgiven for thinking that we did not fit into the “One Stop” universe as so few of “our” stations had video screens.  Not enough eyeballs, obviously, to make it worth their while.

Just last week, however, things started to change with the disappearance of the electronics from the old “Metron” displays and the installation of new “One Stops”.

Gone is the full working set of Metrons at Donlands Station which faithfully displayed ads for a travellers’ kennel near Pearson Airport for all those years.  Now dogs on the Danforth will have to put up with what passes for news and the occasional, if erratic, notice about service blockages.

At least the time will be correct.

Metrolinx Agenda and Regional Transportation Plan

The agenda for this week’s Metrolinx Board meeting has been online for about a day.  From this, you can link to the final version of the Regional Transportation Plan and to other reports.

I am not going to comment in detail on this material until after the Board meeting so that I can incorporate any information about discussions there as well as last-minute changes, if any.

There is some interesting reading in the covering report concerning feedback from the public consultation process, and the changes made to the draft plan flowing from those meetings.  The public appears to be ahead of Metrolinx on some things especially on the need to move projects that will relieve demand in the Yonge Street corridor forward from the 25-year to the 15-year plan.  I will be writing about this in much more detail in coming days.

Another important evolution in the RTP is that Union Station is now one of the “Big Moves”, a major goal in its own right.  How much Metrolinx has actually thought about the implications of all of the service they plan to concentrate on that site is quite another matter.  This too will be the subject of a future post.

An important change in tone came in later versions of the RTP as it evolved — this is a “conceptual plan”, not a prescriptive, carved-in-stone map of what will be.  That change, had it come earlier in the Metrolinx process, could have avoided many spats about proposals that were touted long before anyone even knew what was required.  Moreover, Metrolinx could have concentrated on the larger picture — where are the demands, how would people flow through various optional networks — rather than trying to nail everything down in one definitive map.  We still don’t know enough about alternative approaches to the transportation problems, and probably won’t until Metrolinx gets around to its detailed studies.

Those studies (the “Benefits Case Analyses” or “BCAs”) have not yet appeared on the public agenda although we know when they are supposed to be available.  The BCA for York Viva was presented in private session at the November board meeting, and the BCA for the Scarborough RT is up this week.  Metrolinx needs to stop hiding vital reports in private session and bring this most important step in project and alternatives evaluation out into public view.

Finally, the eternal question of money remains unanswered, and there is almost a three-year built-in hiatus between the completion of projects paid for by the MoveOntario seed money, and the point where new funding might actually flow to Metrolinx.  This is an unacceptable delay whose only purpose is to buy political time for the options of tolls or some other form of additional tax to be massaged into public acceptance.

We are supposed to be planning a sustainable transit network, not an election campaign, and the sooner Metrolinx and Queen’s Park get on with figuring how to pay for everything we need, the better.

Humber Bay Gets Its Express Bus

Today, the TTC, in the best tradition of oiling the squeaky wheel, agreed to a one-year trial operation of a premium fare express bus from eastern Mimico to Union Station.  This ran contrary to the staff recommendation that the route would not meet the criteria for a financially viable operation.

During the debate, Commissioner Hall suggested that, as a condition of this trial, the Humber Bay condo owners should stop operating their own private bus service over the same route.  However, this idea was withdrawn.  Chair Adam Giambrone supported the scheme with reservations, but expected that the ridership numbers would bear out what staff predicted and the route would not survive its one-year review.  We shall see.

This service will require 3 additional peak buses to provide 5 inbound morning and 4 outbound afternoon trips.

I cannot help observing that this situation (the demand for a special bus) mirrors the situation in the Beach.  The TTC is reaping the effect of two decades of ignoring the poor quality of service offered on Lake Shore.  Despite all the claims of better operation on the 501, the efforts at managing operators to avoid short turns only takes place in the east, and has yet to be implemented westbound at Roncesvalles.  Moreover, the 3 morning trips on the 508 Lake Shore, trips that should run like clockwork, are not predictable or worth waiting for.

It will be amusing to see whether the TTC manages to get the buses to their stops on schedule, and how long it takes for the would-be riders to complain about infrequent, unreliable service.

It’s always interesting to listen to people talking about how fast they can drive downtown, and therefore how good the bus would be.  They ignore the need to walk to a stop, to wait for a bus and to get through downtown traffic to their stop.

Meanwhile, all of you whose routes are still crowded will wait a little longer for service meeting the TTC’s own standards.  Even with recent increases, there remains a considerable number of routes that are overcrowded and for which the TTC has no spare equipment.

Sometime late in 2009, we may see the 501 Queen service extended from Humber to Park Lawn, provided that the forty-two municipal agencies that appear to be incapable of co-ordinating any transit-related construction can get their acts together.  It will be intriguing to see what effect this has on demand for the premium fare bus service and what the comparable running times, including waits, really are.

Better Batteries for Hybrid Buses

The TTC’s supplementary agenda for this week includes a report on the settlement of negotiations with Daimler for the problems with the hybrid bus fleet.  Parts of this report are confidential, but the main items of interest for system users are in the public report.

  • The existing fleet of hybrid buses will be converted from lead acid to Lithium-Ion batteries.  This is expected to greatly improve reliability and to reduce fuel consumption by about five percent due to the much lower weight (4,100 vs 1,000 pounds) of the batteries.  (The TTC quotes the weight in pounds.)
  • The 2009 bus order for 130 hybrids will remain in place.
  • The optional 2010 bus order for 120 diesels will proceed.  It should be noted that supplementary Federal funding for “green” bus technology is not guaranteed into 2010.
  • Due to the larger than expected number of vehicles required both for construction projects (e.g. St. Clair) and to compensate for poor hybrid reliability, 52 “retirement-eligible” GM buses will undergo a life extension.  This is expected to add 2 to 3 years to their life.  Buses now out of service will be the first to go through this rebuild so that the active fleet is not further depleted.  This project will cost $3.5-million or about $65K per bus. 

From a budgetary point of view, the total spending remains below the original Capital Budget mainly due to the savings on diesel versus hybrids on the 2010 bus order.

Express and Premium Fare Buses

The supplementary agenda for this week’s TTC meeting includes a report on Express Buses.  Unfortunately, this report has been badly misreported in today’s Star to the extent that the article and the report are diametrically opposed to each other.

The Star, drawing on information from Adam Giambrone, claims that a new network of express buses with premium fares has been proposed.  In fact, here are the changes recommended by the report:

  • In the interest of encouraging riding on the routes parallel to the Yonge Subway (141 Mt. Pleasant, 142 Avenue Road, 144 Don Valley), these routes will become regular fare routes effective September 8, 2009.  The report is silent on whether this change in status would also trigger an RGS-based implementation of full service to match “subway operating hours”.  I don’t think that the TTC has digested the full impact of the RGS changes or how they would specify exemptions.
  • A downtown express from Bayview/Lawrence will be evaluated following the trial period of regular fare operation on the three routes listed above.
  • New local-express service will be implemented on 41 Keele and 60 Steeles West, but not until November 2009.
  • The express services on 35E Jane and 96E Wilson will be improved to see whether this boosts riding, but again not until November 2009.  The effects will be reviewed in 2010 with a view to keeping, improving or eliminating this service.
  • No other express services are warranted at this time on existing routes because the travel time savings and travel patterns are such that new express services would cause at least as much harm by degradation of local service as they would benefit riders who might use them.
  • A network of express routes paralleling the eventual Transit City network is not warranted because they would operate in mixed traffic, and their additional operating cost could not be justified.

I will not repeat all of the detailed information from the report here.  The common thread you will see in the recommendations is that everything happens late next year so that the impact on the 2009 budget is minimal.  By that time, we should also know about:

  • The RGS proposal to move to 20-minute minimum headways
  • Additional express services, if any
  • Fine tuning, if any, of the RGS hours of service to deal with exceptional situations

A parallel issue, mentioned in the TTC report, is crowding on the subway and plans for future capacity increases.  I will be posting a separate article about fleet planning and options to divert ridership onto other corridors later this week.

Front Street Extension: RIP?

On November 13, Toronto’s Planning & Growth Management Committee will consider a report recommending that the Front Street Extension be deleted from the Official Plan, and that an Environmental Assessment be conducted on a local road north of the rail corridor in Liberty Village.

Official Plan Amendments take time, and the formal change would come before the January committee meeting and then go on to Council.

This change is long, long overdue.  For decades, planning for downtown streets was influenced by Front Street’s eventual purpose as a distributor for traffic from the Gardiner.  Streetcars for Toronto’s original scheme for the Harbourfront line was a bidirectional loop line via Front, Bay, Queen’s Quay and Spadina with a surface transfer station directly above the mezzanine of Union Station modelled after the Bloor Station transferway.  This option was rejected specifically because it would interfere with Front Street’s use as part of the expressway network.

(We were also told that the line could not possibly be on the surface under Bay Street because there was no place to shift the pedestrian traffic.  Tell that to all the people streaming through the teamways today enroute to GO trains and the ACC.)

With the FSE removed from the plans, we can examine transit needs in the western waterfront without it getting in the way.  The Waterfront West LRT is itself badly in need of review as a single entity, not as a hodgepodge of separate projects.

Sadly, the WWLRT seems condemned to travel through the Exhibition Grounds via a route under the Gardiner rather than along the south edge of the park where it could serve Ontario Place and any redevelopment on the CNE lands.  The alignment east of Strachan via Bremner Boulevard is fraught with problems of available road space, conflict with pedestrians and road traffic at Skydome and overcommitment of the capacity of the Union Station loop.

So much of our waterfront transit planning is done piecemeal with past studies used as excuses for continuing down the same failed path, a path of compromises and bad choices where transit always comes second.

Killing off the Front Street Extension is only a first step.