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?
The Transit City Bus Plan has been cited as one driver for fleet growth. In fact, its proposals include:
- 10-Minute Network — a grid of routes on which service is maintained at 10 minute headways or better all day (planned fall 2010). This primarily affects off-peak operations and adds only 4 peak buses.
- 20-Minute Network — all bus services to operate at 20 minute headways except for the Blue Night network (planned 2011/12, but likely to be deferred due to budget constraints). This adds only 10 peak buses.
- Pre-Transit City LRT Express Services for Jane, Don Mills and Morningside (planned fall 2011). This requires 17 additional peak buses until such time as these proposed LRT lines are in operation.
- Enhanced Express Services (planned 2014 following decline in bus requirements due to Transit City LRT operations). This requires 56 additional peak buses relative to original plans.
- Grand total TCBP requirements: 87 peak buses.
However, this will be offset by savings due to operational improvements:
- Traffic Signal Priority schemes are projected to save the equivalent of 46 AM peak buses by 2013, although for planning purposes, TTC staff assume that only half of this will show up in reduced fleet requirements. In any event, that is a saving of 23 buses.
This brings us to a net requirement of 64 new peak buses compared with the 2009 projections, or 74 when spares at 15% are included.
The peak vehicle requirement in October 2009 is 1503. By 2018, the Sheppard East, Finch West and Eglinton LRT lines should be operating. This will replace bus service on a number of routes. (The list here is not definitive and is intended only to indicate an order-of-magnitude effect for planning purposes. I have not included all possible routes that would be affected, only those whose replacement or likely route change contributes substantially to reduced bus requirements.)
- 85 Sheppard East: 20 buses
- 36 Finch West: 30 buses
- 32 Eglinton West: 40 buses
- 34 Eglinton East: 20 buses
- 54 Lawrence East: 8 buses
- Total: About 118 buses
This will be partly offset by residual service especially on the part of Eglinton where the LRT is underground. For the sake of argument, I will use a total of 100 buses as the net number replaced by LRT service.
The Spadina/York Subway extension will replace service on some routes including:
- 196 York U Express: 26 buses (route replaced by subway)
- 107 Keele North: 6 buses (assume some demand redirected to subway)
- 60 Steeles West: 10 buses (assume some demand redirected to Finch LRT and subway)
- Total: About 42 buses
(I have omitted 41 Keele, 106 York University and 35 Jane on the basis that their peak demand is probably not much affected by the subway opening.)
This brings the current fleet requirement down to 1,361 for the routes that will survive the first round of the LRT rollout and the Spadina subway opening.
If ridership grows at 1% per year, the compound growth is 9.4% to fall 2018, and this would raise the service requirement to 1,489. If ridership grows at 2% per year, the compound growth is 19.5% to fall 2018, and the service requirement would rise to 1,627. Both calculations assume that fleet and ridership numbers grow in sync, but that is not always true due to distribution of growth among routes and times of day. However, this will do for the purpose of estimates.
When spares at 15% are added to the numbers above, the fleet size would be 1,712 (1% growth) or 1,870 (2% growth) before the 74 buses for the Transit City Bus Plan are included.
Although we are discussing the Capital Budget here, any increase in service triggers the need for more operators and maintenance personnel. Budget hawks at Council are always quick to quote growth in the level of TTC staffing, but a great deal of this is to provide additional service on the street. However, the mainstream media regularly quote this growth as if it were symptomatic of runaway hiring in the civil service. That will be an issue for the Operating Budget debates.
The TTC also has a “contingency” included in its fleet plans that typically has been used to account for the difference between service needs plus spares and the actual fleet size. In the fleet plan, they propose to stabilize this at 25.
Although I have used a spare factor of 15%, the current spare factor is about 14.5%, and the TTC aims to get this down to 12% in the out years of its plan. This will partly be accomplished by reducing the average age of the fleet and retiring problematic older buses by 2012. However, to maintain this lower spare level, the TTC must deal with a large number of now-new buses that will come due for major overhauls that are not currently included in the budget.
The net effect of these many considerations is that the TTC requirements for buses may well grow beyond even the current fleet plans. Indeed, if it were not for the technology change back to diesel from hybrid, and the larger bus orders this allows (assuming spending at the level originally proposed), the TTC would have been badly short of vehicles.
In a “best case” scenario, with only 1% growth and a 12% spare factor, the fleet would grow to about 1,760 buses by 2018. In a “worst case” scenario, with 2% growth and a 15% spare factor, the fleet would grow to about 1,970 buses. (These numbers are subject to any adjustments in the assumptions I made above.)
A major shortcoming in the plans, such as they exist in a public format, is that we don’t see the past and future changes broken down into components as I have done here. This makes direct comparison of old and new versions of the plan rather difficult and hides the effect of specific initiatives in summary information.
Earlier, I mentioned the issue of a temporary bus storage project. This arose because the original 2009 fleet plan showed the fleet ramping up to a high of about 1,850 buses by 2012, and then falling back to about 1,550 by 2018 following implementation of Transit City Lines and the Spadina Subway extension. That’s a big drop compared to the 100 or so the new lines will release (see above) and is hard to understand even in the context of the full rollout of the Transit City network. In other words, the 2009 plan appears to underestimate future fleet requirements.
In that context, the TTC felt it would not require an additional bus garage to accommodate a growing fleet, and dropped this project from their long-range plans. However, the capacity of existing garages is only 1,630 buses, with a less-than-ideal “crush” capacity of 1,835. The TTC fleet plan shows a requirement well above 1,630 for the coming decade, and the fleet size I calculate above, allowing for new initiatives, will keep the number well above the capacity of existing garages permanently. This could require the TTC to reinstate plans for at least one new bus garage just at a time when they are attempting to contain capital expenditures.
Fleet and service planning are tedious as the discussion here demonstrates because factors that could have large effects a decade away must be tracked and projected. However, budget plans must be based on realistic numbers lest the TTC be trapped by claims that “surprise” changes were not included in their projections.
The coming decade will be a difficult one for transit, despite the best intentions of many politicians. Credible, reliable, consistent budgets and project estimates are essential.
In addition to the possible changes in fleet requirements shown above, the following events will free up buses in the medium term.
- Dundas 505 return of streetcars. Whenever the watermain construction on Dundas completes, about half a dozen buses will be released for service elsewhere. The exact number is uncertain as this shuttle does not appear as part of the official schedules, and it was supposed to end in September.
- St. Clair 512 return of streetcars. Effective with the return of streetcars between St. Clair West and Lansdowne, the number of shuttle buses will be reduced from 21 to 8. Those remaining buses will be replaced by streetcars when the line opens to Gunn’s Loop in 2010.
- King 504 return of streetcars. Effective with the return of streetcar operation on Roncesvalles Avenue, the 8 peak shuttle buses will no longer be required.
This will be offset by the planned reconstruction of the Harbourfront and Spadina lines. This is now planned almost entirely within 2012, but I suspect it may be split over two seasons given the size of the project.
Also in the mid 20-teens, the SRT will be shut down for some period for conversion to LRT. We can only hope that the TTC will simply implement a direct shuttle running via a north-south street like Midland without attempting to serve the existing stations at McCowan, Ellesmere and Lawrence East. Buses, as we often hear, are flexible and do not have to slavishly follow the rail lines they replace.
All in all, I suspect that these changes will balance each other out and the fleet requirement, at least until after the SLRT opens, will follow roughly the trend I described earlier.