Notes From a Lecture at Ryerson University

This post is intended as a link to the presentation I gave today at Ryerson University.  It is substantially the same as the material shown there, with the following changes:

  • Images from the City of Toronto Archives are linked directly from the document so that readers can access the full resolution versions on the City’s site.
  • A few comments have been added

Some material here has been recycled/adapted from the Public Transit 101 Webinar that I gave for the Maytree Foundation earlier in 2010.

The presentation contains some information on the streetcar system as it existed in 1972 when the fight to preserve it was launched, and with it, my “career” as a transit advocate.  This is not intended as a definitive description of the pro-streetcar position, but as an overview of the conditions that applied at the time.

2010.09.24 Ryerson Lecture Notes V2A

TTC Mobile / Trip Planner Not Quite Ready For Prime Time (Updated)

Updated September 18 at 2:30 pm:

The following additional “features” have been noted on the mobile interface (in addition to many reported in the comment thread):

  • Service alerts started to appear this morning with announcements about the Howard Park and Roncesvalles work.  However, there are two separate notices for the same thing, and no notice for the subway shutdown on the Spadina line.  If I call up the page for the YUS and ask for info about Yorkdale Station, I get a wealth of material, but not the vital information that there is no service today.
  • The service alerts are not hotlinked back to the longer version of the information on the main TTC site.  Of course the fact that the TTC has multiple pages describing the same project/diversion makes consistency on this sort of thing difficult.
  • When I call up a schedule for a route, I am presented with the weekday schedule, even though the system is smart enough to present me with the next three vehicles at my selected stop for Saturday.  This has long been a problem on the desktop version of the site, and clearly has not been fixed yet.

Meanwhile, NextBus still doesn’t know about where the King car is these days.  In the west end, it is back on King east of Roncesvalles, but in the east end the Queen diversion from Church to River is not reflected in the stop list.  The TTC really needs to have a simple way of modifying NextBus info to reflect where routes really are.

Original Post from September 17 at 23:52:

On September 17, the TTC announced an updated version of its website with mobile device support, as well as an improved (and no longer “beta”) trip planner.

I kicked the tires briefly, and was only mildly impressed.

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Has Transit Short-Changed Toronto?

Toronto’s election campaign has produced two real stinkers in the Mayoralty race.  Rob Ford wants a few subway extensions, elimination of streetcars and everyone else left to buses.  Rocco Rossi would sell Toronto Hydro, use the supposed proceeds to build subways, and last but not least, extend the Spadina Expressway via a tunnel to downtown.

I will not waste space on critiques of these plans.  The proposition that subways will solve every problem has been discussed at length here and doesn’t need yet another round.  The idea of an expressway tunnel is so outlandish, so contrary to four decades of city planning, so much an attack on the City of Toronto, so unworthy of one who would be Mayor, that it deserves only contempt.

However, these ideas come from somewhere.  “Out there” the pollsters must say there is a gold mine of resentment by those who drive, and by those who would drive given half a chance.  That translates to support for anyone who wants all transit plans to take a back seat to right-thinking, road-oriented policies.  How, in a city that considers itself a progressive, pro-transit 21st century metropolis, is this possible?

The origins lie decades ago, even before the Spadina Expressway was stopped by then Premier Davis.

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Revisiting The Waterfront

Toronto’s election is now in full swing.  Testy candidates fling mud and announce what passes for platforms.

On the transit front, the three big debates seem to be how many subways can fit within a single announcement, and how much transit service will remain after a review of the so-called fiscal irresponsibility at the TTC.  And, o yes, what to do about our streetcars.

One big topic everyone has missed in all of the debates and counter-claims is transit to the waterfront.  Consider the land from east of the Don to the west end of Exhibition Place, not to mention the long-term potential of southern Etobicoke and Scarborough.  The room for development dwarfs what is now “downtown” Toronto.  What will we build there?  How will people move around?  Will we have downtown densities with suburban transit?  Will we invest in the waterfront and show that “Transit First” is more than a slogan?

Toronto is a “city of neighbourhoods”, a fine motto, and with luck the new waterfront communities will extend the fine-grained street life we see in the “old” city including its already redeveloped areas like the “two Kings” and the St. Lawrence.  Waterfront Toronto’s plans for the water’s edge and for a totally redesigned, transit, cyclist and pedestrian focussed Queen’s Quay will be wonderful if we pull it off, if the money doesn’t run out, if the will to build streets for people, not for cars, survives the coming election.

So far, there are few stirring speeches, visions for our future lakefront, commitments to see beyond individual developments to an overall design.  A review of the waterfront lands is a worthwhile topic for a new article and, no doubt, a robust discussion.

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Rob Ford Wants a Few Subways, But Mainly Buses (Updated)

Updated September 9, 2010 at 10:15pm: The Toronto Sun cites Rob Ford’s “transit policy guru” Mark Towhey in a followup article to the Ford transit platform.  Oddly enough, Towhey’s own blog post, an inaccurate rant about the TTC from February 2010, is still online even though Ford’s people disowned the article.

Toronto deserves an explanation of just what Rob Ford’s real agenda is, and to what extent it is driven by someone who has an even more radical view of what would happen to transit in this city than candidate Ford’s own official position.

The original post from September 8 at 4:00 pm follows here.

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The Mysteries of TTC Subsidies (Update 2)

Updated at 3:20 pm, September 7: Metrolinx wrote pointing out that there is a ten-year cash flow for the “5-in-10” Transit City projects.  It is at pages 25-26 of their presentation[Note that Metrolinx has fouled up its website, and their presentation is no longer visible.  The link here is to the two-page cashflow taken from their report and posted on my site.]

Updated at 10:00 am, September 7: The section on funding of Transit City lines has been clarified to distinguish between announced and suspected funding strategies.

Updated at 10:40 pm, September 4: A small section has been added near the end about the problem of creative project descriptions and their effect on capital planning.

Politicians love to claim that other people don’t know what they’re talking about.  Even transit commentators and activists like me say this sort of thing, but the pols tend to be more aggressive in their tone as they play for media and public attention.  Reading the source material helps, but it can be a long slog.

As a service to my readers and would-be transit financial analysts, here is a review of how TTC subsidies work.  The primary source material for this article is the draft audited financial statements of the TTC for 2009 which were published in May.  They are “draft” only in that, when published, they had not received formal Commission approval which has subsequently been given.

A journalist whose bluster is greater than his accuracy recently implied that the TTC was hiding its financial results when in fact they have been available for months.  This sort of thing passes for penetrating analysis in some quarters.

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Buses vs LRT: “And”, Not “Or” (Updated)

Updated September 6, 2010 at 4:50 pm:

Anna Mehler Paperny of the Globe and Mail writes about the difficulties of getting around on a bus network where service leaves much to be desired.

The better way? Don’t get Janet Fitzimmons started.

The East Scarborough resident lives less than five kilometres from her work in the Kingston Road-Galloway Road area. But the bus ride takes a good 40 minutes – once the Lawrence Avenue bus comes, if it isn’t full. If the weather’s nice, her commute is faster by foot.

“But I’m lucky: I’m able-bodied and healthy.” And, she adds, “my commute isn’t bad for Scarborough.” A colleague of hers takes three buses to traverse what’s barely a seven-kilometre direct trek.

Meanwhile, Tyler Hamilton of The Star tells of the travails of attempting to use service on Kingston Road in The Beach.

Last Tuesday I needed to head downtown – Bay St. and King St. – for an event. […] It was rush hour. I seemed to have plenty of time, so I decided to take the 503 Kingston Rd. streetcar route. Checked the schedule. Walked to my stop and arrived what I thought was 10 minutes early.

No streetcar. Twenty minutes later, no streetcar.

This is rush hour, remember. Finally a bus that would take me along Queen St. arrived and the driver encouraged me to get on. “The 503 won’t be coming. Take Queen St.,” he says. “It will get you close. Hop on.”

I hop on. A man sitting across from me leans over and says, “TTC, eh… it means take the car.” I offer a forced chuckle. The bus drives along Kingston Rd. for five minutes and then reaches Queen St. “Time to get off,” the driver says. Huh? I join a herd of passengers exiting the bus. Apparently I should have known about transferring onto a Queen St. streetcar.

Confused, I wait. I wait. I don’t see a streetcar. I see a cab. Hail it. It will be worth the $20 at this point – enough money, mind you, to drive half a month in my Honda Civic.

I share my frustration with the cab driver. “The TTC is good for the cab business,” he replies with a smile.

Of course, a regular rider would know that there is no such thing as a 503 car, at least not until September 7 when streetcar service returns to Kingston Road.  The scheduled bus service is every 12 minutes on the 502 and 503 providing a supposedly blended 6 minute headway.  Take the first thing that comes along if you’re going downtown.  If it’s a 502, change to the King car at Broadview if you want King rather than Queen Street.  This is the sort of survival tip a regular will know, but a novice won’t.

By the way, the streetcar services will run every 15 minutes, with an allegedly combined service of 7’30”.  Don’t hold your breath.  A big problem with both of these routes is that they are short-turned and wind up missing the very customers they are intended to serve.

Add to this the appalling off-peak service and you have a recipe for driving away customers.  The 502 bus or streetcar is scheduled every 20 minutes, but only a few days ago I waited 36 minutes for one to show up.  I had not just missed one, and so the gap was easily over 40 minutes.  By the time we reached Queen Street westbound, we had a light standing load even on that wide headway, and we had also passed two eastbound 502s.  That’s right:  3 of the 4 buses on the route were east of Coxwell.  This is called “line management”.

The real irony is that the 12 Kingston Road bus comes and goes at Bingham Loop every 10 minutes.  There is better service east of Victoria Park than west of it on weekdays.  Evening and weekend service on the 22A Coxwell is better than on the 502.  This is one of the few places in the TTC where weekday service is worse than at any other time, and that’s assuming the weekday service is vaguely on schedule.

An important part of improving bus services generally is that the TTC must stop thinking of the outer parts of lines as places where short turns and unpredictable, infrequent service are acceptable.

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What’s a Fair Share?

The question of a “fair” allocation of TTC revenues between the farebox and subsidies comes up quite regularly, often at budget time, but now also in the election campaign.  Some argue that the riders don’t pay enough, while others argue that they pay too much.  Rarely does anyone look at the detailed figures.

The TTC publishes a statement, as part of the Chief General Manager’s more-or-less monthly report, showing a breakdown of revenues and costs.  The report linked here takes us to the end of May 2010.  (There are separate accounts for Wheel-Trans which is not part of this discussion.)

There are three sets of figures:  data for the current 5-week period (this interval is used to avoid variations due to lengths of months), year-to-date data, and full-year data.  These are further subdivided by actual and budget values.

On the income side, the total 2010 revenue is projected at $957.515-million against expenses of $1,412.034-million.  However, within the revenue, only $905.200m comes from the farebox, while $52.315m comes from other sources.  Charters and services operated under contract for transit systems in the 905 are on at least a break-even basis.  Although the expense of running them appears as part of the system’s total, this expense is completely offset by revenue (projected at $17.675m for 2010).

On the expense side, the total cost for subsidy purposes is reduced by two deferred items:  post-retirement expenses and accident claims.  These do not require cash outlays in the current year because they not be paid until future years.  This gets us to a net cost for operations of $1,368.684m and a projected shortfall of $411.169m.

The City has actually budgeted for a shortfall of $429.805m, but the TTC’s ridership and fare revenue held up better than expected in 2010, and the City’s full subsidy provision will not be required.  Any leftovers remain under the City’s control for year-end budgetary adjustments.

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Catch The Spadina Bus While You Can

Some time ago, I wrote about the haphazard way in which station vicinity maps were replaced (never mind their content).  There are a few spots in the system that time forgot, and, while it lasts, I thought to bring you a map from before July 1997 when the 510 Spadina car began operation.

This is one of the older style of maps, back when the TTC actually put connecting surface routes on them.  If you look closely, you will see that Spadina south of Bloor is served by route 77.  The date on the map is “03/96”.

The “You Are Here” pointer gives away the location — the Walmer Road exit from Spadina Station.  This was built as part of the reconfiguration of Spadina Station to accommodate the LRT line.  Oddly enough, the route map right beside it is recent enough to include the Spadina car.

Another version of this legacy map at the bottom of the stairs from the west side of Spadina has been replaced with the new version.

Elsewhere in Spadina Station, a poster still advertises the August subway diversions for construction at St. George.