Coming Soon

Welcome to the department of Best Intentions.  I’m still working on the backlog of ideas for articles while leading a life that does not include staring at the Word Press Edit screen.

Ideas in the pipeline, not necessarily in this order, include:

  • TTC streetcar fleet planning for the “legacy” system
  • Review of the Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis for the Yonge Subway Richmond Hill Extension
  • Transit City update
  • Steeles West Station design
  • Queen Car Split operational review (pending arrival of the TTC vehicle monitoring data for October)
  • A discussion of TTC fares

TTC Capital Budget 2010-2019 (4): Trimming to Fit

In response to long-term funding constraints at the City of Toronto, the TTC has amended its Capital Budget  to remove about $548-million from the 2010-2019 plan.

“Remove” is not quite the right word, but to explain what is going on, I will first give a short tutorial on how TTC capital planning works.

Above and Below the Line

Capital projects are classified into major groups with the following hierarchy:

  • State of Good Repair & Safety
  • Legislated Requirements
  • Capacity Enhancement
  • Improvement
  • Expansion

In theory, expansion comes last, at least if it has to compete with funding for groups that rank higher in the list.  However, much of the provincial and federal funding is project-based, and this tends to focus on major expansion projects.

“Below the Line” projects are those without funding.  Originally, this category was reserved for large projects, such as the Richmond Hill Subway, that were a gleam in someone’s eye, but for which funding had not yet been committed.  However, this clear distinction has blurred, particularly starting in 2010.

There is a major problem with the term “State of Good Repair and Safety” because, in some cases, a project may be a “nice to do”, not a “need to do”.  If everything is lumped into this category, we are back to the old budgeting style where there is really no distinction made, everything is “top priority”, and funding cutbacks require politicians to perform line-by-line budget surgery.

Continue reading

Metrolinx Publishes Full Richmond Hill Subway Study

The full version of the Benefits Case Analysis for the Yonge Subway extension to Richmond Hill is now available online.  I will comment on it at greater length when I have the time to do so.

Notable in this report is the acknowledgement of the effect of this extension on the existing subway system and especially Bloor-Yonge Station.  There are conflicting remerks in the BCA regarding the degree to which improved service on GO Transit to Richmond Hill can divert riding from the subway line.  A major issue here is that the implementation of very frequent all-day “Express Rail” GO service to Richmond Hill is not contemplated in the Metrolinx plan until 2031, long after a subway extension would open.

Detailed work on a number of related proposals will continue, and Metrolinx expects that a full evaluation will be available in late 2010.

TTC Capital Budget 2010-2019 (3): Bus Fleet Plan (Update 3)

Updated October 28 at 12:45 pm:  A revised fleet plan appears on the Supplementary Agenda for the TTC meeting on October 29 as an appendix to a report regarding the purchase of new buses for 2011 and 2012 delivery.  This version differs from its predecessors mainly in the removal of vehicles for the Transit City Bus Plan, offset by the additional vehicles required due to deferral of the Transit Signal Priority project for the bus network.  Accounting for maintenance spares and contingency buses has also changed.

The net effect is that bus purchases originally planned have been scaled back by 50 and the remainder are rescheduled:

  • from 40 to 35 in 2011,
  • from 105 to 60 in 2012,
  • from 35 to 60 in 2013,
  • from 85 to 40 in 2014,
  • from 55 to 75 in 2015

An order already placed for 120 buses for 2010 is not affected.

I will comment on this in detail after the Capital Budget Update report also on the October 29 agenda is available.

Updated October 24 at 10:00 pm:  A postscript has been added with notes about other known or possible events affecting the bus fleet.

Updated October 24 at 3:45 pm:  Provision for bus route changes triggered by the Spadina Subway Extension have been added to the projection.

The TTC’s proposed 2010-19 Capital Budget includes an ongoing plan to rejuvenate and expand the bus fleet.  While these may seem to be laudable goals, the actual plans leave much to be desired.

The Bus Fleet Plan is a marvellous document that changes in every iteration.  Barely is the ink dry on one version when it is revised again.  There are three different versions of this plan within the Capital Budget documents alone, and these are a substantial revision from the version shown in the 2009 Capital Budget.

Bus Fleet Plan [From Appendix E of TTC Capital Budget Report, September 24, 2009]

However, two different sets of numbers appear in the version of the plan in the Capital Budget “Blue Books” (the detailed report of all capital projects).  One is in the project covering purchase of new buses, and another in a project for temporary accommodation of an enlarged bus fleet (about which more later).

A major change in the TTC’s fleet planning came earlier in 2009 when, with little fanfare, the TTC decided to get out of the Hybrid Bus business for new purchases starting in 2010.  The special subsidies available to “encourage” hybrid purchases are no longer available, and at the time of the decision, the hybrids were problem children in the fleet.  A project to replace the original lead-acid batteries with lithium-ion batteries will complete within the next half year, but TTC staff have not yet reported on the improved reliability and performance, if any, of vehicles with the new batteries.

Rather than paring the capital cost of future purchases down, the Capital Budget now uses this money to purchase more buses than originally planned.  This can be seen in comparing the projected fleet size in 2018 for different versions of the fleet plan.

  • 2009 plan:  1549
  • 2010 plan (as seen in the Commission Report, Appendix E):  1796
  • 2010 plan (as seen in the project description for bus purchases, Blue Books Page 954):  1793
  • 2010 plan (as seen in the project description for temporary bus storage, Page 927):  1748

In short, the TTC now aims for its 2018 fleet to be roughly 250 buses larger than what it projected only a year ago.  What generates this additional requirement? Continue reading

The TTC Responds: TTC Times 2 / Riding Around Loops

Recent comments in the thread regarding the split operations on 501 Queen, as well as a reported incident where an operator was unaware that GO Transit could be used as a “bridge” between two TTC routes, led me to send questions for clarification to the TTC’s Director of Corporate Communications, Brad Ross. 

Here, with my comments, are the replies.  The questions have been slightly reformatted so that they can stand outside of the context in which they were written. Continue reading

GO Transit’s Service Plans: Small Changes Now, More Later

After a brief public session at last week’s Metrolinx Board meeting, there was a press scrum with GO Transit’s Gary McNeil.  Many questions focussed on GO’s plans to conform with the recent order from the Minister of the Environment that service in the Georgetown Corridor would have to meet Tier 4 diesel standards in 2015.  McNeil stated that GO’s goal was to have its entire locomotive fleet at Tier 4 by 2017 thanks to a planned overhaul.

To clarify what was said, I sent followup questions to GO/Metrolinx.

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TTC Riding Up, But Not Quite Enough

TTC’s Operating Budget results for the first eight months of 2009 were published in the Chief General Manager’s Report on the Commission Agenda for the meeting of October 29.

Although riding is up 1.9% over 2008, the budgetted expectation was 2.5% and, therefore, the TTC faces a shortfall in farebox revenue.  The drop came mainly in July and August which were affected by the civic workers’ strike and other employment losses.  Although September is beyond the scope of the report, preliminary data shows that ridership is climbing back up to the projected level, and full-year ridership is now projected at 471-million (compared to the budget figure of 473-million).

The average fare is expected to come in at $1.78, two cents below the budgetted value of $1.80, because Metropass and other concession fare use is above budget.  The combined effect of the lower average fare and ridership is $15.7-million less farebox revenue for 2009 that expected.  To put this in perspective, that is on a base of about $900-million in budgetted fares, or less than 2%.

Expenses for 2009 are expected to be almost on target due to a mix of overruns and savings that are roughly in balance.  These arise mainly from unexpected factors such as the severe winter and lower than projected utility costs.

Overall, the TTC projects a deficit $22-million higher than its original budget. 

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Streetcar Track Replacement Plan 2010-2014

For those who are purists about their transit advocacy, listing all of the planned track replacements may seem just the sort of thing a railfan might do.  If that’s your attitude, you’re in the wrong article, probably the wrong site.

The streetcar track repairs planned for the next five years mark an important milestone in Toronto’s streetcar network.  For two decades after the TTC decided to keep streetcars in operation, they continued to build poor track, and the quality of construction actually deteriorated as time went on.  Some bright spark thought that unwelded rail, sitting on untreated wood ties, all poured in a slab of concrete, was a wonderfully modern way to built track.  It wasn’t, and we saw streets fall apart quickly, in some cases within a decade of construction.

Things changed in the early 1990s, and over the years the TTC has moved to use continuously welded rail (a practice abandoned in the late 1960s), steel ties and rubber insulation to keep the track from vibrating the roadbed like a gigantic sounding board.  At intersections, the change started later, but recent installations such as Church at Queen and at Adelaide are built to the same standards as the regular tangent track.  This is track built to last.

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The photo above shows Church and Adelaide.  Visible here are:

  • steel ties where they can be used, otherwise treated wooden ties
  • welded rail
  • rubber matting around the rails, and rubber moulded around the special work
  • the machine used to move pre-assembled track panels into location

Within five years, presuming the gods of budget cutting don’t intervene, all of the track used by main routes in Toronto will have been rebuilt.  Intersections will take longer because there are so many, and the TTC settled on its current standard of construction for them only recently.

This list may be amended to stretch out spending and relieve pressure on the City’s capital budget.  However, even with some delays, this will see the streetcar track network back in first class condition over the coming decade.

Continue reading

Trial Split of 501 Queen Car (Updated)

Updated October 22 at 10:25 am:

Brad Ross, TTC’s Director of Corporate Communications, advises that effective 9:30 am today all Queen operators will carry passengers around the Shaw/Dufferin and Parliament/Broadview loops, and tell passengers of the layover that may occur.

Also, for those who like to know the internal trivia, the east and west ends of the route are known as “500” and “507” respectively so that they can be scheduled and managed independently.

Original post:

Today, the TTC begins a five-week test of operating the Queen car in two overlapping sections, weekdays only.

  • East end cars will operate between Neville and Shaw, looping via Shaw, King and Dufferin.
  • West end cars will operate between Long Branch or Humber (alternate cars) and Parliament, looping via Parliament, Dundas and Broadview.

Without rehashing many previous posts on this topic, here is a preliminary look at the issues:

  • The design of the overlapped routes may not be ideal, and I hope that it will work well enough that TTC staff don’t reject any alternative arrangements.  Part of the problem is a tradeoff between the number of cars and operators available and the amount of additional service on the route.  A long term arrangement may require a different route configuration and/or even more service.
  • Scheduled service to the outer ends of the line has been cut to provide for the overlap.  The premise is that with more reliable headways and fewer short turns, the actual service provided to Neville and Long Branch will be better than on the unified route.  However, the AM peak is not, for the most part, affected by congestion and short turns were comparatively rare.  Will the reduced service be able to handle demand outside of the overlapped section downtown?
  • Overlapped TTC services have a long history of badly managed integration.  This can be seen with the  behaviour of 502 Downtowner cars that often pull out from McCaul or Kingston Road right behind a 501 Queen and carry as few passengers as possible.  How many times will we see pairs of east and west end cars travel across the central part of Queen together?
  • Both turnbacks involve on-street loops.  Cars waiting for their scheduled departure times may be pushed out by other services, or may simply create congestion of their own while laying over in the middle of the street.
  • On the brighter side, both scheduled turnbacks are  far enough away from Yonge Street that even a short turn (say westbound at Bathurst or eastbound at Church) will maintain service in the heart of downtown.

With shorter routes, the need for recovery time should be reduced as operators won’t face a 90-minute more trip between termini.  For the east end service, recovery times are no more than 4 minutes (peak periods). 

In the west end, recovery times are longer, but these are mainly intended to make the schedule merge at Humber work properly — the difference between Humber and Long Branch trip times must always be a multiple of the headway.  For example, in the early evening, the Long Branch cars get 13 minutes “recovery” so that their round trips differ by one hour (four times the 15-minute headway) from the Humber cars.  Later in the evening, the difference in round trips is only 38 minutes (two times the 19-minute headway), and the Long Branch runs get only 4 minutes recovery.

This thread is intended as a repository for observations and comments about the split route operation, and I am particularly interested in hearing from regular users of the Queen car on their day-to-day experiences.

I have asked the TTC for their vehicle monitoring data for the months of October and November for the 501 and will publish an analyses of route behaviour comparing the unified and split operations.

Streetcars on the Waterfront (1968)

With all the discussion of waterfront transit, many people may forget (or never have seen) a previous visit of streetcars to the water’s edge.  Back in 1968, the TTC sold many of the PCC cars retired after the Bloor-Danforth Subway opened, and a batch of these went to Egypt.  On July 20, 1968, a much younger version of your faithful scribe was there along with many others to record the event.

All photos here were taken by me and I reserve copyright in them.

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Sitting on the dock, here are two ex-Cincinnati PCCs including TTC 4575, a 1939-built  demonstration car for Cincinnati.  This car had many oddities including windows, marker lights and some interior features as befits a one-of vehicle.

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Cars were loaded from both sides of the ship, the Mare Tranquillo.

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Here, 4217 joins its mate 4222 on deck. A short turn destination right to the end!

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A group of cars begins their sea voyage from a lighter. The railfans have obviously been busy with destination and route combinations that were already obsolete when these photos were taken. Parliament and Harbord vanished with the opening of the BD subway in 1966, and Dupont was a casualty of the University line in 1963.

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A quartet of cars sits on deck seen from the dock.

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The view from the bridge.

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Looking out from the bridge to the Toronto Islands.

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4007, one of Toronto’s first PCCs, meets the Island Ferry for the last time.