TTC Meeting Preview — December 2010 (Updated)

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:

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.

64 thoughts on “TTC Meeting Preview — December 2010 (Updated)

  1. Accessibility has always been on VV’s radar as it is a facility specially targeted toward the disabled. Transit, however, was not and it was built with a suburban mentality that was 100x more car-centric than it is today. This is more a consequence of the time and place than anyone’s incompetence.


  2. St. Joseph’s Hospital, Baycrest Hospital and East York General are served by 400-series “Community” routes; which I guess will last as long as the long-version Orion IIs last. I can’t see the “Friendly Bus” Wheel-Trans tanks operating in what is technically full public service. (There’s several private commercial plazas served by the 400-routes such as the No Frills at Wilson and Bathurst).

    The Toronto Zoo, Downsview Park, Pearson Airport, and Exhibition roadways are also technically private roads (though operated by other government agencies), as is the York University Commons, U of T Scarborough loop, Centennial College Sherway Gardens Drive and the already-mentioned Sunnybrook Hospital.

    I believe Yorkdale Road is actually a public roadway as it connects Dufferin with the Allen Road and 401 and has Metro-standard traffic signals and lights. But the 47B and C branches do use private property on Yorkdale, though, on the south side of the mall; but GO and YRT buses stay on city streets or provincial highways.

    Scarborough Centenary’s loop is on the City of Toronto’s Seven Oaks property next door.


  3. A lot of suburban venues were designed with the automobile in mind. Malls, shopping centres, office buildings are initially surrounded by parking lots. Yorkdale only got a connection with the subway after the fact, but not very accessible because of all the steps. Shoppers from the Dufferin bus face a safari across an asphalt desert in blizzard conditions even today, worse for some than others.


  4. This is a very good point. It can be most enlightening to see some pics of some Euro streetrail routes with grass in between rails. Yes, it would require some mowing – I guess that’s the reason for avoidance here for labour costs. And tho I’m sure some technical reasons would be raised for not being able to do it here like putting coloured paint on to the road eg. bike lanes, if it’s done in Europe, then why is our concrete and climate etc. different?


  5. Joseph, the Queensway ROW has issues too.

    1) Transit-unfriendly traffic signals.

    2) “Streetcars 7 km/h through intersection” signs put up by the TTC to mitigate against cars turning left into streetcars. I don’t know how often this happens — I have seen clueless behaviour by drivers on the Queensway — but this reg, if followed to the letter, really slows down service. (There seems to be a current blitz on these regulations. I had one operator last week stop at each intersection — we had the green — ding the gong twice, and then creep through the intersection. At least once he just sat there as the ped crossing counted down from 5 to 0.)

    3) Recurring speed restrictions on various stretches of the track. And the curves at each end of the ROW aren’t set up for speed either.

    4) Some streetcars do speed along this stretch, easily doing 70+ km/h. Others dog it at 25 km/h. This problem is more with the Queen car’s operation than with the ROW itself, but riders experience all this as a package.

    5) The Queensway is atypical for a suburban artery. More than half the ROW is through parkland, both through High Park and across the Humber river. The rest of the north side is almost exclusively low-density residential, with little or no commercial. Higher-density development can be seen in a short stretch around Windermere. It’s not a model for large stretches of Finch, Eglinton, Sheppard, Jane, etc.

    6) The Queensway was build with the ROW, so there was lots of room set aside. The number of car lanes has been reduced to allow for the bicycle lane, however the third car lane in each direction tended to come and go anyway, so it wasn’t much used.

    By the way, there isn’t grass in the ROW, but there are a lot of trees planted along the edge of the ROW. I hope they survive better than the ones on Spadina!


  6. Does the “alternative to Transit City” include the Eglinton line, or at least the tunneled portion? Is the plan publicly known? I don’t recall any reporting of details from the meeting between Ford and the TTC CGM.

    Steve: We don’t know. Gary Webster is supposed to report back in January, but who knows how his proposals will be received by the Mayor and Council, presuming they get a chance to consider the matter.


  7. Ed said: And the curves at each end of the [Queensway] ROW aren’t set up for speed either.

    At the east end of the ROW, are you referring to the curve east of Parkside Dr, or the curve west of Roncesvalles? If referring the curve west of Roncesvalles, it is a non-issue, as westbound cars cross both a carhouse ladder and a loop switch (Sunnyside), and eastbound cars have a 3-way (east/north/southeast) junction at Roncesvalles.

    As for the west end of the ROW, why would speed matter so close to a loop? I agree that when Humber loop is eliminated, some thought could maybe be given to altering that curve (it’d certainly be pretty pricey though), but not so long as the loop is there.


  8. Maybe whenever they actually put in real transit priority along the Queensway, they should also put in crossing arms for the idiot drivers benefit. Either that or true transit traffic signals similar to those in Europe and in some states.


  9. An excellent example can be found in New Orleans on the St. Charles Avenue line. One really good example I got to see in Europe was in Oslo, Norway. Both have lots of grass in the rights of ways that I saw.


  10. Ballasted tie construction (with or without grass) instead of concrete encased is slightly less likely than flying pigs. The TTC’s track maintenance department hates this with a passion and has a hissy fit every time it is brought up.

    It is too bad Ford’s anti-LRT stance is so ideologically based on a perceived war on cars (so much so that any waste of money over it seems to be not an issue despite his stop the gravy train and save money mantra). If Ford were really truly guided by saving money for the taxpayer, he would not only support light rail where appropriate, he would kick some behinds at the TTC who insist that expensive concrete-encased tracks are the only way to go.


  11. I came across this video clip on the Star’s website of columnist Christopher Hume speaking with councillor and former budget chief Shelley Carroll on the potential costs of cancelling the Sheppard LRT in favour of a subway.

    Sounds a lot like what happened when the ill-fated Eglinton West subway was nixed back in ’95. Ideally cooler heads would prevail in any decisions to cancel TC but I can’t help but see the image of many sticking fingers in their ears and shouting “la la la…”

    Among the commissions recommendations they passed is to make the TTC an essential service. Much as I agree the transit system is vital and for many the only way to get to work and shopping I don’t agree that is in the same league as fire, police and ambulance and also the any such declaration would in the long run increase the costs and negatively impact service quality. But then I’m a pinko that rides a bicycle : )


  12. The problem on Queensway is drivers turning left in front of a streetcar when the regular signals is green but the left turn signals is red. (For those who don’t know, the signals on The Queensway work like Spadina, except the cross roads get a lot less green time) One thing that would help would be make the left turn signal a red arrow instead of a red light. That would make it more clear they they are not allow to turn left. Doing that would probably require a change to provincial legislation.


  13. Or make streetcar signals incomprehensible to autos. Why a double mini green? (costs more) In Europe they use white symbol dashes that are none of drivers’ business to know, just watch the signals that pertain to your own vehicle type. Using signals that are too similar is confusing.

    But nope, we can’t use experience learned in other countries in this global age.


  14. Regarding the video, I can’t help but think Transit City advocates are exaggerating the cancellation costs, since the “work underway for Transit City” is work that has to be done anyways. I asked Steve about it, and he says the only major waste of money is the work put in before.

    But I really hope the cancellation costs are huge.


  15. As much as I agree that there are probably significant unintended consequences attached to declaring them an essential service it is better than the current situation which is untenable for both parties. As things stand, the ATU retains a nominal right to strike, without any kind of mandatory arbitration, yet has no real ability to strike. The moment they do so they are ordered back to work; effectively the ATU is already treated as an essential service without any of the benefits being one grants. The city meanwhile is left dealing with a union full well expecting an arbitrated resolution one way or another.

    In short, something needs to change, and seeing as we aren’t terribly likely to start accepting transit strikes, essential service is probably what has to be done. As much as it doesn’t work in Montreal, it does in New York, so maybe we don’t need to panic quite so much. Then again, New York is still broke…


  16. One question I would have on VV is why, after all these years, they have not pursued other options for better access to their facility for their clientele? e.g. Why haven’t they looked at building a properly accessible path from Kingston Road (or at least asked the City to look at it to see if it is possible)? Why haven’t they looked at establishing a proper entrance to their facility on Kingston Road? I notice that there already is a service entrance there — perhaps over the last 30 years, they could have looked at making changes to their building that would put a client entrance there from Kingston Road. Maybe they could even have got some funding help from the City and/or the TTC for this, but as far as I know, they have focused their efforts solely on lobbying the TTC for service that doesn’t meet the TTC’s policy standards. Why is it just the TTC’s responsibility to solve this issue?


  17. What is a massive density?

    Scarborough has a density of: 3161 / Sq KM

    Calgary city – with an overflowing subway like LRT
    ==> 1360 / Sq km
    Laval – now with a very busy subway and plans for more:
    ==> 1492 / Sq km

    There is plenty of population in Scarborough to support mass transit. Consider how ridership the (much denigrated by so-called transit advocates) SRT soon grew to over capacity.

    Steve: The density issue is often abused by both sides in these debates. As I have often pointed out here, the BD subway spends a lot of its time passing through old residential neighbourhoods full of houses, but acquires a large cumulative load because of feeder routes. Also, the nature of this demand is that much of it is bound for the stations between Yonge and Spadina rather than ons and offs all along the way.

    When comparing systems, it is important to look at how they evolved. The SRT is another good example of a line entirely dependent on feeder operations. I don’t denigrate this line as a route, but for the technology that consigned it forever to be a short shuttle because we could not afford to extend it. The original LRT line had a Malvern extension proposal over 30 years ago, and it would have run as LRT with low implementation costs. The ICTS technology cost a fortune for the cars and for the need to grade separate the entire guideway.


  18. The TTC didn’t seem to apply much in the way of their stop spacing standards when they built this.

    The stops straddling the Parkway are a one minute walk apart.

    Steve: I suspect that the idea was to avoid having people walk under the Parkway.


  19. NCarlson mentions the one point why I believe the TTC should be declared an essential service: because it unofficially is, without the benefit of no strike action. Anyone arguing that making it essential means it will drive costs up because of binding arbitration is either naive, disingenuous, or forgetful, as every strike over the past few decades has ended with binding arbitration. If we are paying for this cost, why are we not receiving the no strike benefit?

    Personally, I feel that ALL government services should fall under no strike legislation. Whatever the government does by definition is essential. For any service that the government currently is providing that you can name and claim it is not essential (and I can name some), the government should NOT be providing it. In some cases, the it is our best interest for the government to manage it, but if it is deemed to not be essential, then its delivery should be contracted out. I would also add the caveat that requiring binding arbitration when negotiations fail across all government services should not be done without proper guidelines (procedures, means tests, etc.) in place for arbiter to make their decisions. Possibly with a labour court set up. Currently, this does not exist arbiters decisions are virtually arbitrary.

    I will be the first to say that employees of a private firm should have the right to strike, and this includes employees of a company that is contracted to do something by the government. Rob Ford’s comments during the election about contracting out garbage pick up to eliminate any future strikes is pure BS. Private employees contracted out could still strike, but then the city hopefully will change contractors the next time the contract is up. Better still, they could write an escape clause in the contract allowing immediate termination if a labour dispute halts their service beyond a reasonable period. When I built my own home, all the subcontractors I hired were subject to a clause that allowed me to terminate their contract if a labour dispute continued beyond three days.

    As for all those who believe that government employees deserve to have “the threat of a strike” as a bargaining tool, I have to ask if you are just as enthusiastic about the government having “the treat of contracting out”.


  20. Did the December 15 meeting of the new TTC board take place as planned, or did the major winter storm which struck with such force much of lower South-Eastern Ontario between Windsor and Toronto compel its postponement? I am very interested to know what happened at that meeting, if indeed it was held as originally planned.

    By now (Saturday, 18 December), I would expect that Steve, in his usual very prompt and on-t0p-of-things manner, would have posted his report on this meeting and how the specific items on its agenda were voted on or dealt with.

    Steve: Sorry for the delay. I have been preoccupied for the past few days and have not posted a report on the meeting. This will appear in the next 24 hours.


  21. The problem isn’t that cars are looking at the streetcar signals. Steetcars and cars on the The Queensway get green at the same time. On most streets, even if they have a separate phase for left turns, it is safe for cars to turn left on green is there is no on coming traffic. The problem is that with a streetcar ROW there could be a streetcar coming from behind you that is difficult to see when trying to turn left.


  22. The minutes of the meeting will not show up until the next meeting. I would like to see a brief checklist of the agenda with at least a pass/fail or whatever outcome of agenda item. For example: what happened with the proposed Ashbridges Bay Maintenance Facility item, what about the streetcar overhead item?

    Steve: Be patient. I am not the Toronto Star.


  23. This accident should be a wakeup call for TTC management to fix the traffic lights on streetcar lines so that they are less confusing for drivers.

    Steve: Not just for TTC management, but for the City’s traffic engineers and the provincial Ministry of Transportation who make the regulations for this sort of thing. The Christmas tree arrangement of traffic signals has been a mess for years on Spadina with lots of opportunity for confusion, but nobody does anything about it, not even as simple a change as having signals with clearly different aspects for through, turning and transit traffic. There is also no need for so many separate traffic heads at each intersection to add to the confusion.


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