Not Quite So Many Service Cuts (Updated)

Updated February 2, 2011 at 8:10 am:

The staff report regarding proposed service cuts is now online.  The “Justification” section is worth repeating here:

The Commission should approve the service eliminations/re-allocations, as described in this report and as detailed in Appendix 1, because ridership is continuing to increase on the TTC and is projected to reach an all-time record-high of 487-million this year, an increase of 10-million customers over 2010. There is a need to add service to accommodate these additional customers, but sufficient funding is not available, so some of this funding must be found by re-allocating resources away from more lightly-used services to other services where better use can be made of the resources.

The process which has been followed in order to identify services for elimination/ re-allocation has been objective, consistent, and data-driven – in order to ensure fair and consistent treatment of all parts of Toronto – and reflects the concerns and input expressed by the public at the Open Houses held on this matter and in correspondence provided to the TTC.

The revised recommendations achieve the best possible balance between saving costs for the purpose of re-allocation to routes in greater need of resources, and retaining services which the public strongly advocated.  [Emphasis added]

In other words, these cutbacks are implemented in response to a funding situation.  Whether we call this a “reallocation” or a “budget cut”, the effect is the same.  There is still no sign that the Commission will address the general issue of “reallocation” as a way to handle riding growth on the busiest parts of the system.

As for the remark about the “objective, consistent and data-driven” process, I must point that detailed data published on this site revealed the TTC had done a poor job of following its own criteria.

[Original post from January 31 below]

The TTC has announced that, after due consideration, not to mention a week of evenings with restless peasants bearing pitchforks and torches, they’ve got the message, sort of.  The service cuts proposed for the end of March will be slightly less than originally planned, notably on the many routes where a case can be made that the TTC’s original analysis left a lot to be desired.

The original “standard” by which services were measured was that they must carry at least 15 passengers per vehicle hour to remain in operation.  The term “weighted” shows up in some commentaries, but there was no weighting about it.  Indeed, a vehicle hour at 6am on Saturday when loading will always be light counted the same as a vehicle hour on a Saturday afternoon which happened to be part of the same period, for calculation purposes, in the TTC’s scheme.

The new “standard” is a bit more subtle.  If, during any hour within an analysis period, a route manages to get 15 riders per vehicle, then service for the entire period is kept.  This corrects for situations where uneven demands were good at times, bad at others, and it is particularly helpful to longer evaluation periods (daytimes on weekends) when there can be considerable variation over many hours.

If riding is between 10 and 15 per vehicle hour, and the nearest alternate service is more than 600m away, then the service will be preserved.

If a route and period of service doesn’t manage to crest 10 riders per vehicle hour, wave goodbye to that bus.

The whole exercise was rather embarrassing, and it exposed the folly of trying to push through a change in the process for evaluating services on the fly.  Rather than bring forward a general discussion of how services might be ranked for cutbacks and the effect of choosing various levels for cutoffs,  the new “standards” were implemented and service cuts proposed without any public discussion.

This is all presented as “not a budget cut”, but a reallocation of service to routes that are overcrowded.  That’s a nice bit of hot air.  Adding service costs money, and you get it either by raising fares, getting more revenue from passengers or other funders, or by making cuts to the operation somewhere else.  You may mop the floors less often, or you may cut service.  Either way, it’s a budget decision.

Riders whose service is “reallocated” can feel a sense of civic pride in doing their bit for other routes.  How, if ever, they will get their service back is anyone’s guess.  Far more serious budget problems loom in 2012, and many more riders may find their services “reallocated”.  If this really is a one-time budget trick, we can shrug and say “those were the worst of the worst routes” and “I never thought those people in Forest Hill deserved a bus anyhow”.  But you can only cut the Forest Hill bus once.

Will politicians at City Hall have the guts to defend services that remain in 2012, or will yet another batch of “poor performers” fall to the budget knife.  What route will cease operation so that even longer herds of buses can roam up and down Dufferin Street?

For readers’ convenience, I have recast the list of cuts so that those routes and periods where service has been saved from the Guillotine in 2011 are listed first, and the remainder of the cuts in a separate section below.  Rows in the list that are red are those where the proposed cut violated the criteria the TTC claimed to be using.

The TTC’s new and old plans are worth contrasting:

  • Originally, 1.3-million trips would have been affected by the cuts annually.  The number is now down to 552-thousand.
  • The annualized savings, by my calculation, have dropped from $9.33m to $5.23m.
  • The cost per rider on the service to be cut has risen from $7.16 to $9.47 showing that those services to be retained are doing comparatively better than those that will disappear.

There’s some budget hocus-pocus going on with the TTC’s original claim of a $7m saving from the cuts.  That was a 9-month figure assuming the change went into effect on March 27.  About $1m in savings were given up by deferring the change until May 8, and a few million more have already been dedicated to service improvements in January 2011.  This doesn’t leave a lot for additional service in fall 2011, let alone for those changes to roll out for a full year in 2012.

While “efficiency” is worth looking for, we seem to have spent a great deal of effort to accomplish very little.

12 thoughts on “Not Quite So Many Service Cuts (Updated)

  1. I think you lost the link to the RSS for comments for specific entries again.

    Steve: The problem is that the code that generates this link was only executed if there is at least one comment. This has been fixed.

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  2. It’s hard to argue with many of the remaining cuts.

    Though the poor Cliffside Saturday night service. It needed 67.5 riders to meet the magical 15 rider criteria. As it only had 67.0 riders it was cut.

    Some of the cost savings look pretty minor. $26,300 saved by cutting Sunday evening service on Pape? (hopefully that’s restored for the summer runs to Cherry Beach). I wonder if they’d take sponsorship to restore some of these services. They could adjust the electronic signs … 72A Pape – by Ashley Madison – and perhaps run infomercials during the ride … 🙂

    Steve: The Pape cut is September-May only. There will be summer service.

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  3. “While “efficiency” is worth looking for, we seem to have spent a great deal of effort to accomplish very little.”

    This fiasco has shone a light on how TTC counts (or doesn’t count) ridership and how it makes route decisions (badly). We may not have saved much money but the TTC has been forced to face the public. Sadly no matter how many times this happens not too much seems to change — and now another fiasco is heaving into view about the York Mills project.

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  4. 1. What do the red rows indicate? It’s not obvious.

    2. There seems to be no consideration in the newer, better, improved planning criteria where an accessible route is the recommended alternate if an elevator is out of service (e.g. Lambton). This is not something that the Commission can ignore for long. I expect that late-evening Sunday service on Lambton, and Wellesley west of Yonge, will reappear sooner or later, if they go away at all.

    Steve: Sorry about the red rows. They were in the original version of this table that was explained in a previous post on the subject. These are rows where the proposed cuts did not meet the TTC’s own criteria — in other words, places where they screwed up the analysis the first time through.

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  5. Councillor Josh Matlow took a photo of the 74 at 7:45pm. I counted more than 15 people.

    Steve: You are obviously hallucinating. It’s the blurry effect around the bodies.

    Chair Stintz said on Metro Morning (right after your interview Steve) that people would have to walk 400-500 metres … ok there are people who have many physical disabilities, not all of us are on wheel chairs/walkers/canes/etc…

    Ask your granny to go 500 metres on our icy streets.

    I am your boss Ms. Stintz – you are fiiiiiiired.

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  6. Am I correct in thinking that these ridership statistics were obtained on a very limited ride every trip once per year with schedule checkers, or did the TTC implement APC equipment when I was not looking? If the former then it doesn’t seem that enough data was available to make an informed decision. Maybe the schedule checker rode the 20 Cliffside bus on a low ridership Saturday night – perhaps heavy rain or snow.

    Do you think the TTC will ever consider articulated buses again? Not only would operating articulated buses on Dufferin every 3 minutes be more efficient than running regular buses on Dufferin every 2 minutes, but bus bunching would be reduced. I know that if implemented poorly this could result in the CLRV – ALRV issue.

    Steve: The TTC is implementing automatic passenger counters on about 20% of its bus fleet starting this year so that it can get regular, accurate counts from the entire system. The counts used to assess route cuts were almost certainly one-time counts done in a blitz not long after the election in reaction to the new regime’s agenda.

    The bus fleet plan (which I looked at this afternoon) has no provision for artics, and purchases in general dry up after 2015 because it is assumed that rapid transit growth (of whatever flavour) will replace bus requirements for several years running.

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  7. One of the issues affecting “counts” however they are made, are the TTC Passengers who give up. Last time I was counted on the King Car, eastbound at Atlantic, there were four others waiting at the stop. They were either more affluent or less patient than me (or less committed to the idea of public transit) and after a reasonable period when the streetcar should have come, but didn’t, they decided to take a taxi. Now the interesting outcome is that the lack of these passengers might suggest that less service is necessary. However, based on the whole story, more is actually required.

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  8. On one hand I think rider reaction to the bus cuts might discourage more drastic cuts in future. However, there are many voters not affected by the cuts who take the view that any route with empty or near empty buses should be cut because they are a “waste of money”. I fear they may encourage some politicians to continue cutting. However, they don’t seem to mind high subsidies for subway lines with low ridership.

    Does the cost per rider exclude fares/passes paid? As a comparison, would you know the cost per rider for the Sheppard line or Vaughan extension and the system-wide average cost/rider?

    Steve: The cost is the gross cost before revenue which is very hard to allocate in a flat fare system. The anticipated cost of the Vaughan extension is $33m gross per year, or $14m per year after taking into account expected new revenue. When the Sheppard line opened, it was estimated to add close to $10 per rider to the TTC’s deficit but the figure is now lower. There is no time of day breakdown on the Sheppard line’s “efficiency”.

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  9. Though I am happy that the TTC reversed most of the really stupid cuts, this whole exercise has (as Mark Dowling says above) shown how poor the TTC is at knowing what’s going on and in proposing changes that can be backed-up by believable statistics. The TTC Commissioners and management really need to look at the figures they collect and see where they lack them and WHAT THEY DO WITH THEM. The fact that you, Steve, have done the analyses of the streetcar routes (using TTC figures) is an example of the kind of stuff they OUGHT to care about and it’s sad that nobody in ‘planning’ has even bothered to talk to you about your work and the conclusions you have arrived at. Of course things will change over time but if you lack data (or analysis) you are not too likely to make good decisions.

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  10. The TTC can’t really be blamed in all of this, except for the fact that the TTC planners should have stood up and not put their name behind this idea. They could have said that everything should be kept the way it is and if overcrowding occurs, than funding will have to be found.

    I talked with one of the planners at the public meeting and he said they don’t believe this reallocations are the right thing. He pointed to Stintz who was at the meeting as the reason for all of this.

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  11. Dumb question time – has anyone heard anything about demand on the bus routes that were on the chopping block start to increase suddenly in the past month?

    Or was the effort to preserve bus routes just limited to attending the meetings (with torches & pitchforks at hand)?

    From what I read of the numbers on some of those routes, it would not have taken large numbers of people to get them over the ‘cut’ – and with oil prices slightly upwards, gas prices above 1.15 / L and the realization that maybe it would be safer to have TTC drive in the snow, we might actually see more users.

    Cheers, moaz

    Steve: The TTC Commissioners didn’t give a toss about whether riding might be improving, or how close to the line a route might be. They had a formula, and slavishly applying it provided the fig leaf of claiming that they were “unbiased and objective” in making the cuts. The possibility that the formula might have intrisic errors or bias never entered their minds.

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  12. Perhaps I’m not reading your chart correctly. The anticipated savings are shown? If so, what is the point of cutting Leaside 56 between Laird and Eglinton on Sundays. There are no savings.

    Steve: This is a cut that was not in the TTC’s original proposal, and therefore I have no idea of what the estimated saving or rider effect may be. That’s why the row is blank.

    I accept that the TTC must have employed a very, VERY discreet method of counting passengers when the writing on the wall became clear and imperative (regime change). Who’s seen anyone counting any time recently? I asked my Councillor, Fragedakis, and Stintz to tell me how the TTC counts riders (oops, “boardings”). No replies.

    Steve: In the discussion at the Commission meeting, it came out that the riding counts may be up to two years old, and that they are one-day counts. We are seeing whatever the most recent count happened to be.

    Finally, what does an Automatic Passenger Counter look like?

    Steve: An APC uses infrared beams across the step wells to monitor movement of passengers onto and off of vehicles. There is some error, but the info is close enough especially considering the much larger number of samples that will be available with, eventually, 20% of the fleet equipped with counters.

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