Updated Dec. 11, 2010 at 2:20 pm: The section on the site remediation report for the proposed Ashbridges Bay carhouse has been updated to reflect a June 2010 report on a possible alternative site near Broadview and Eastern.
Original article from Dec. 10, 2010:
The new Toronto Transit Commission dominated by political supporters of Mayor Ford will hold its first substantive meeting on December 15, 2010. Among items of interest on the agenda are:
- The Chief General Manager’s Report to the end of October, 2010 including updated financial and ridership data.
- Award of the contract for soil removal and remediation at the proposed Ashbridges Bay Maintenance Facility
- Lease of a property to house an expanded streetcar overhead maintenance department.
- An update on requests for service to Variety Village.
- Award of the contract for the Union Station Second Platform construction.
- A review of eligibility for the Post Secondary Metropass.
Chief General Manager’s Report
Ridership growth over 2010 continues through the early fall, and the rate of increase appears to be up slightly relative to the spring. The projected year-end figure is now 477-million compared with a budgeted figure of 462m, and a 2009 actual of 471m. This is a 1.2% growth over 2009 achieved when budget expectations had been that the 2010 fare increase would drive some riding away.
The TTC repeatedly argues that service is the most important determinant of riding, and points to the continued implementation of aspects from the Ridership Growth Strategy. However, the budgeting uses a more conservative approach and assumes that fare levels will always trump service quality. This is a difficult relationship because much depends on the base from which one starts. If service is already seen to be at least “adequate” if not “good” or “excellent”, then this means customers begin their reaction to fare changes on a vaguely positive note. However, if service is perceived to be “bad” or “worsening”, then the compound effect of a fare increase leads to the feeling of “paying more for less”.
As we go into a new era of fiscal conservatism in Toronto, it remains to be seen which approach the TTC will recommend and Toronto Council will take.
The projected revenue totals $43.1m over the budgeted level, of which $40.5m is from fares. Given that the change in riding relative to budget is about 15m, this is about $2.70/rider. This implies that the average fare is considerably higher than the budgeted projection because the additional revenue per additional ride is well above the average fare, even greater than the token fare. The average fare overall will be about $1.95 ($928.5m in fare revenue divided by 477m riders).
[Note: the appendices containing the detailed budget breakdown are not included in the online material, but are in the hard copy agenda.]
Expenses will be $17m under budget for the year due mainly to savings on fuel and depreciation, partly offset in other areas, notably service increases to deal with unexpectedly strong riding.
Overall, the preliminary estimate for the TTC’s surplus (relative to subsidy requirements) is $60m, but this must be tempered for future years by several factors.
- The favourable price for diesel fuel may not continue depending on conditions in world markets.
- The cost of additional service to address demand will be felt for a full year in 2011, not to mention any further effects from riding growth.
- Changes in financial reporting requirements may produce one time accounting changes in 2011. Whether these will be non-cash items (bookkeeping entries that do not require cash infusion to the TTC accounts) remains to be seen.
- Pension obligation provisions. The TTC pension fund has an actuarial liability of about $1-billion. Depending on the way this is handled, a considerable extra cost may appear in coming years’ Operating Budgets to pay down this liability.
On the Capital side of the organization, spending runs below budget mainly due to slippage in various project schedules. For coming years, the Capital Budget may undergo significant changes depending on whatever changes are made in Transit City and subway plans, not to mention the future of the new streetcar fleet (see below).
New Streetcar Projects
Ashbridges Bay Maintenance Facility
The estimated cost of the new carhouse has gone up by $89.7-million relative to the approved amount of $345m. In December 2009, the Commission received a report on the proposed Ashbridges site that flagged the need for additional costs for soil remediation, but this information was in the confidential attachment. There is no way to see how strongly, or at what potential cost, this issue was raised at the time, nor how this might have affected comparison of the Ashbridges site’s suitability with other proposed locations.
At the Ashbridges site, the proposed soil removal and capping contract will cost roughly $51-million. This unexpected cost is sure to trigger further debate about the choice of site which was controversial at the time for various reasons including the neighbourhood’s concern that the land in question is functionally a park and issues regarding streetcar traffic on the new connection track south from Leslie and Queen.
Updated Dec. 11, 2010: In June 2010, the Commission considered a report regarding an alternative carhouse site at the Unilever property south of Broadview & Eastern. During the site search which led to the selection of the Ashbridges Bay property, the Unilever site had been dropped from consideration because:
- Part of the site was leased, and the remaining acreage was too small to hold the new carhouse and yard.
- Demolition and cleanup costs for the site were thought to make it about 20% more expensive than the Ashbridges site.
- There was concern about noise interference with a neighbouring film studio.
By June 2010, the leased property was now vacant. We also know that the available space at Ashbridges turned out to be smaller than expected as some land was directly above a major water main.
From the report on the December 2010 agenda, we now know that there will be a substantial cost to clean up the Ashbridges site.
This leaves only the Film Studio and the procedural issues involved in acquiring the Unilever site as potential issues.
Access to Ashbridge’s Carhouse
Other issues related to Russell Carhouse have changed since the Ashbridges design was approved by the TTC.
- A proposal to use the westernmost part of Russell Yard for access between Queen and Eastern had been rejected due to conflict with an existing building and business at the northwest end of the yard. This property has been on sale for several months.
- A proposal to extend Russell Carhouse to provide a major repair facility for new cars which would have reduced the capacity of the yard (coupled with loss of space to a connection corridor at the west side of the property) has been dropped.
During discussion of this access, it was claimed that operation via Knox Avenue would conflict with Canada Post operations. In fact, the main access for trailers to Canada Post is at the east end of their site on Woodfield. It was rather embarrassing that TTC staff dragged in a Canada Post rep (who didn’t even live in Toronto) to give an erroneous deputation to the Commission on this point.
[End of update]
Whether the matter of the site selection will be reopened, or will further cloud the future of the streetcar system, remains to be seen.
Streetcar Overhead Replacement
The report proposes that the Commission lease space for the Overhead Department for a period of five years to handle the workload of rebuilding the tangent and intersection wiring on the streetcar network. The report explicitly refers to “pantograph hardware”, and it is clear that the TTC has decided to move to that technology.
The Capital Budget already contains an item for overhead reconstruction, but until the 2011 version of the budget comes out, we will not know whether the previously approved dollar amount covers the scope now proposed.
Service to Variety Village
Variety Village has been the subject of service requests at the TTC in the past, most recently in 2004 when TTC staff recommended that this be provided with a Wheel Trans shuttle service. As a letter from John Wilson, CEO of Variety Village, points out, Wheel Trans is not available to most of their members and staff making this of limited benefit. Walking into the site which is isolated in the Danforth, Kingston Road, Birchmount triangle is quite difficult. Although on a map, there appears to be good service around the site, in practice it is of limited use.
This is an excellent example of problems that can arise from poor site planning for transit. Variety Village has existed for nearly 30 years on a site that is unfriendly for pedestrian access, let alone access by the disabled. Clearly, the frame of reference for travel to such facilities has changed over the decades.
Variety Village proposes that the Warden South bus be diverted from Birchmount to loop via a driveway used by both Birchmount Collegiate and Variety Village, and with an exit traffic signal already in place. The TTC is going through its usual motions about “inconvenience” to passengers who are taken out of their way by such a route even though this type of operation exists elsewhere on the network.
Given that then-Councillor, now-Mayor Rob Ford has taken an interest in the matter, it will be intriguing to see whether the situation is now evaluated in a more favourable light. The actual staff recommendation will not be known until it is presented at the Commission meeting.
Union Station Second Platform
The Commission will consider a tender in the amount of $161.6m from EllisDon for the second platform and concourse improvements at Union Station. Of this amount, $137.5m will come from the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (itself funded by all three levels of government plus development proceeds). The remainder will come from various TTC project budgets dealing with station and facility maintenance and improvements.
This project does not include any work on expansion of the Waterfront LRT station.
Construction will begin in January 2011 and run to April 2014. This work will be co-ordinated with other projects in the area, notably the Union Station Revitalization underway already by the City.
Schedules for route 6 Bay will change in February 2011 to give extra running time on the Dupont to Jarvis service, and during peak periods only the 6B Dundas short turn will operate. I will include details when I post the service change overview.
Post Secondary Metropass
Post Secondary student metropass use is now restricted to full and part time degree and diploma students. Sales have been good, running slightly above (6%) projections.
In September, the TTC received requests from student organizations and from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities that access to this pass be extended to a wider range of students. The estimated loss of revenue from such an action is estimated at $2.5m for a ridership gain of about 100,000.
Staff do not recommend changing the eligibility criteria, and it will be interesting to see how this request fares in the coming TTC and City budget process. Other groups, notably those on various forms of social assistance, also seek transit subsidies, but the reception they receive from the new Commission and Council is likely to be frostier than in past years.