TTC Meeting for April 2011 (Update 2)

Updated April 6, 2011 at 7:20 pm:

I forgot to mention in my earlier update that there was talk going around the meeting that only half of the Sheppard Subway scheme (the eastern half) might be pursued in the short term (the next decade) to keep the cost down to $2 billion and change.  This echoes a comment by Vice Chair Peter Milczyn in yesterday’s Toronto Sun.

Updated April 6, 2011 at 5:00 pm:

At the Commission meeting, very little happened.

The new, but not yet official, Chief Customer Service Officer was introduced and he made a few remarks about his hopes for the new position.  He has a real challenge in front of him.  Customer Service may be the kind of thing Commissioners love to smile brightly and gush about, but wait until we start talking money, or the negative effects of cutbacks on the perceived quality of the system.

As expected, the proposed split of the 12 Kingston Road bus so that half of its service would run via past Variety Village (via Birchmount and Danforth) was approved.  This will begin operation on May 8, but the community shuttle bus (run by Wheel Trans) from Main Station will continue to run until Victoria Park Station (route 12’s terminus) becomes accessible later this year.

Unlike the previous meeting, Commissioner Minnan-Wong did not belabour the public session with inquiries about contract cost changes.  Some of these questions should be asked, but without implying that every change is a sign of waste and incompetence.  Whether he was equally silent in the private session before the main meeting, I don’t know.

However, in what must be the greatest example of how petty the new Commission (and the Ford regime) can be, there was continued discussion of the fact that former Chair Giambrone overspent his 2010 expense allowance by approximately $3,400.  The issue will come back to the May Commission meeting, and there were dark hints that more serious measures would be taken.  Considering that for many years, none of the Commissioners or Chairs has used all of their expense budget, this is really small potatoes.  However, it’s more important than worrying about how to pay for a $4.2-billion subway with magic beans.

The big issue, relatively speaking, was the new Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited report.  This company, renamed and resurrected from an older, inactive TTC subsidiary, will be used as a home for work on the “Toronto Subway Project” (the official name for the Sheppard Subway extensions in the Memorandum of Understanding with Queen’s Park).  It has $160,000 sitting in the bank from the original setup capital out of TTC when it was created, and retained earnings from work performed years ago.  This nest egg will allow it to operate without any funding approvals for the short term.

We learned that Gordon Chong, a former Councillor and Commissioner, has been retained at $100k/year as President, CEO, Secretary, Treasurer and Co-Chair.  The other directors and officers who are members of Council will not be paid for their work on TTIL.

A rather convoluted motion was passed by the Commission stating that it would approve paying invoices on TTIL’s behalf provided that a mechanism was set up for Council to fund them.  Presumably this would be required once they burn through their $160k nest egg.

Former Vice-Chair Mihevc spoke as a deputant, and raised a number of issues about the Sheppard Subway notably the lack of detailed information on the way it will actually be funded, what the effects will be for ongoing system subsidy requirements (as compared with the Transit City LRT lines originally proposed), and what type of service would be offered to those areas where the LRT plans have been cancelled.

A report on what to do with Finch West is expected back later this year, and the 2012 budget review will include provision for whatever is recommended.  Obviously, this won’t involve any significant construction such as a BRT lane and stations.

The Commission swatted these requests aside, and Vice Chair Milczyn said that “we don’t need to know what future subsidies might be” because in every past case the TTC has always just opened new lines and absorbed the cost.  The desire to not debate the wisdom of the Sheppard proposal, which hasn’t been approved by anyone yet other than the Mayor, was quite clear.  After the meeting, a press scrum with Chair Karen Stintz was notable for its evasiveness.  In the end, it all comes back to “the Mayor wants it”.

As long as Council has enough cheerleaders who let Mayor Ford get away with this sort of thing, it’s hard to understand why we even bother holding public meetings.

The original post from April 2 outlining major agenda issues (most of which were not discussed at all), follows the break.

The Toronto Transit Commission will meet on April 6, 2011.  Here is a preview of some items on the agenda.

Chief General Manager’s Report

This report covers the last two months of 2010 and includes the preliminary year-end figures.

Riding hit 477.4-million for 2010, and would have been even higher without the negative effect of the G20 summit in June (a loss of about 685k rides).  Ridership growth was strongest in the latter part of the year giving the TTC good momentum going into 2011, provided that limitations on service growth do not stifle demand.

There is a $60-million budgetary surplus (actually a reduction in the operating subsidy requirement) made up roughly 3/4 by higher revenues (more riders and a slightly higher average fare, higher advertising revenue, and one-time income from other sources) and 1/4 by savings on expenses (lower fuel costs and depreciation charges, offset by higher employee costs.

Run cancellations continue to be a problem on the bus and streetcar networks due to a shortage of operators, as well as Employment Standards Act changes in work hour limits.

Customer service issues (about which more later) will be tracked starting in 2011 with new measures including service punctuality.  I have commented many times before that the TTC’s standard by which a three minute deviation plus or minus is considered “on time” can produce ragged service on routes with short headways.  Moreover, problems with specific periods and locations can be masked by accumulation of stats over an entire route and many days’ operation.  If 90% of the service is somewhat vaguely “on time”, the stats won’t look bad, but this means that 10% of the service (and at least 10% of the trips riders experience) will be of less than ideal quality.

Steeles West Station Design Changes

The design cost for Steeles West Station has gone up by about $5m to $28m, and this will doubtless provoke more comments about out of control spending at the TTC.  In fact, the extra cost is due to design changes intended to reduce the overall project cost and to respond to changes requested by the affected municipalities.

Automatic Train Control System

A $4.9m add-on to the contract for the new Yonge-University signalling system will be issued to cover the cost of on-train equipment for 21 Toronto Rocket trainsets.  The cost of this equipment was not included in the base contract with Bombardier.

Service to Variety Village

This is a follow-up report on the result of the improved Community Bus service between Main Street Station and Variety Village that was implemented in January 2011.  The service is now used by about 45 people per day, most of whom are not ambulatory.

The TTC proposes to reroute part of the 12 Kingston Road service past Variety Village (a scheme staff previously opposed) so that the resources now used for the Community Bus (which runs with Wheel Trans vehicles) can be returned to the general Wheel Trans service.  Victoria Park Station is supposed to become accessible later this year.

The Kingston Road bus route would be changed effective May 8, and the Community Bus service would be cut back once the elevators at Victoria Park are available for use.

Customer Service

This is a status update on the many recommendations by the Customer Service Advisory Panel.  The list of items and planned actions is quite long.  I hope that the newly appointed Chief Customer Service Officer will figure out a way to re-digest this information into a form that regular TTC riders can understand and in a manner that tracks improvements.

Parliament Loop

Parliament Loop is a long-unused TTC property on the southwest corner of King & Parliament that was formerly used by the Parliament and Pape bus routes, and much earlier by the Parliament streetcar.  This property is involved in a land swap between the City, the Parking Authority and private developers that was intended to bring the site of Ontario’s first Parliament Buildings back into public hands.

A land swap had been arranged that would see the TTC give up this loop (on which, at one time, it intended to build a short-turn loop for the 504 King service) in exchange for Parking Authority property at Queen and Broadview.  Whether the TTC will actually take over the Broadview lands or not is uncertain, and they may receive land elsewhere (no specifics in the report) as an alternative.  If they do use the Broadview property, part of it will remain a parking lot as the entire site is not required for a loop.  A second property has already been acquired by the city for parking on the west side of Broadview a bit to the north.

Of interest to those who follow the legal details:  The City’s policy regarding property ownership has changed from past practices where each agency would hold title to the land it used.  Now, the City will retain title and grant its agencies the right of managing lands.  This consolidates all Real Estate dealings in one department.

Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited (TTIL)

The TTC has reactivated a dormant subsidiary, Toronto Transit Consultants Limited, and renamed it to reflect an updated function.

TTIL will provide consulting assistance on the “Toronto Subway Project” (the name used for the Sheppard Subway extension project in the recent Toronto/Ontario agreement) to the TTC.  In the short term, the TTC will advance funds to its subsidiary, but it expects to be reimbursed out of monies to be sought for the project from PPP Canada, the Ottawa’s agency that will invest in Public-Private partnerships.

The directors of TTIL are TTC Vice-Chair Peter Milczyn, TTC Commissioner Norm Kelly, Councillor Douglas Ford and Gordon Chong (a former Councillor and Commissioner, and now part of the Mayor’s inner circle).

Although it is a separate company, TTIL is subject to the same budgetary and policy controls applicable to City agencies and departments as its parent, the TTC.

Pension Solvency

The TTC operates its own Pension Fund Society for retired employees.  This has been in place since before the more widely-used OMERS pension fund for municipal employees was established.

Accounting rules for pensions have been tightened in recent years due to problems with corporate bankruptcies leaving private pensions stranded without adequate reserves or access to future employee contributions.  If the same rules were applied to the TTC’s pension fund, this would add $50-75m in annual costs to be shared between the TTC and its employees for several years until the actuarial deficit was redressed.

However, the TTC is not in the same position as many private funds, and shares with organizations such as OMERS the position that its funding sources will not go out of business.

Commissioner Palacio has a Notice of Motion asking that the Commission seek Council support for an application to Queen’s Park that the TTC pension fund be given the same exemption offered to other public sector pensions.

It is worth noting here that the Ontario Budget for 2011 included language talking both about reduced solvency requirements for certain pension funds, and for the possibility of some consolidations, but there are few details and one must dig into the budget papers to find even this information.

While this is an obscure issue in many ways, if the TTC does not obtain the same treatment as other pension funds, there will be an additional hit on the 2012 operating budget of $25-37m over and above the expected $70m gap going into budget planning.

21 thoughts on “TTC Meeting for April 2011 (Update 2)

  1. Any idea if David Gunn is actually coming back to assist or is it all a pipe dream?

    Steve: There is an explicit reference to Gunn’s return in one of this week’s reports.

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  2. Plus or minus 180 seconds is not on time. On the JR lines in Japan, the definition is plus or minus 10 seconds. Operators who are not consistently on time are given “re-education”. It is another word for re-assignment to a menial position to reflect and atone for not sticking to schedule. I am not advocating this since it does lead to more deadly accidents. It is just for reference and debate.

    Even on their tramways with no right of way, the variance is only plus or minus 15 seconds. On the 512 St Clair, I have waited many times over 10 minutes at Earlscourt even though their service there is supposed to be less than 10 minutes. The route supervisors there does not seem to do much except to short turn the tram. What about bypassing stops to break up a bunch of trams?

    Steve: Breaking up bunches of trams would (a) require actual management of the line and (b) according to TTC mythology would confuse passengers who might step in front of an out of service (express) car expecting it to stop. I am not making this up, and this sort of argument is the typical TTC response to any suggestion of change — make up some reasons, preferably associated with safety, to avoid the issue.

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  3. “…would confuse passengers who might step in front of an out of service (express) car expecting it to stop.”

    Funny, TTC buses had no problem switching the sign to ‘out of service’ so they could blow past my high school…

    Steve: Yes, I suspect this is a new form of “customer service” where vehicles skip stops by claiming to be out of service, even with passengers on board.

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  4. There was a Chair years ago at the TTC who said no vehicle could by pass a stop even if full. She insisted even a full streetcar/bus stop at every stop, open the doors and say sorry car is full you have to wait for the next one.
    An express bus has it easier to by pass stops than a streetcar being on fixed rails. It’s even harder to by pass a stop on a island because the patron are right there at the edge of tracks. Spadina can nerve racking as you try to pull up to stop pole at the far end of the island and patron all along island are standing close to rail.

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  5. If the Commissioners rubber-stamp staff reports and don’t discuss or set policy (that’s done by the Fords ad hoc), what is the relevance of the meeting? To tell the public what they need to suffer for the greater good?

    Have you seen enough of this Commission to grade it against its predecessors?

    Steve: Let’s say I am not wildly impressed. There have been do-nothing Commissioners in the past, but this lot is particularly bad.

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  6. If Toronto is not careful, this could happen.

    Steve: The question of inability to reach jobs is already an issue within the GTA, and it will only get worse if the various local governments (not to mention Queen’s Park) continue to treat good service as something we “can’t afford”. Why, oh why, can we talk about all sorts of investments in job creation, not to mention blatant pandering (the Quebec arena promise by Ignatieff), but don’t see how important transit is as a basic part of the economy. Imagine if we just started closing roads.

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  7. There’s been some radio/cbc mention of Sheppard stubway private financing being on the TTC agenda today, but I checked the site referred to above here, and didn’t see any mention of this. I’m pleased that Steve swipes at the quality of these Commissioners, and to some degree he’s quite correct, as they do seem to be more Fordist cronies, or (new term) – car-onlies as they don’t seem to take transit for the most part. But if we have a massive shift in approach, and without much opportunity for participation and definite doubts about some aspects of things, what sort of demockery is this?

    The answer is basically one that is quite costly to all of us.

    Steve: There is nothing on the agenda, but I think Commissioner Augimeri plans to ask questions. Whether the Chair will rule the matter out of order remains to be seen.

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  8. The Chief General Manager’s report says that there was an increase in ridership for 2010, they had underestimated the increase. However, I think that the increase was due to rising gasoline prices, people are turning to alternate transport because of that. I wonder what the ridership will be for the first 3 months of 2011? I especially want to look at the numbers of the 41 bus routes facing cutbacks in May of 2011.

    Not to worry, those addicted to their cars and SUVs will continue to drive, even if the price of gasoline continues to go up. That must be the thinking going on now at city hall.

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  9. “It has $160,000 sitting in the bank from the original setup capital out of TTC when it was created, and retained earnings from work performed years ago. ”

    This reminds me of a group of young kids trying to fundraise pennies and spare change to build their neighbourhood a playground.

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  10. “There is an explicit reference to Gunn’s return in one of this week’s reports.”

    I can’t find the report. What exactly does it say about David Gunn?

    Was Gunn mentioned in today’s meeting?

    Steve: It is in the report about governance and budgets, and the reference is at the bottom of page 1. There was no discussion of this at the meeting.

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  11. I missed the open public competition where interested candidates could apply for the position of head of the TTIL and the demonstration of the particular areas of expertise by all of the candidates. Surely such a lucrative job would not be given out under a “sole source contract” as gravy for a former political hack.

    Steve: Former?

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  12. “Not to worry, those addicted to their cars and SUVs will continue to drive, even if the price of gasoline continues to go up. That must be the thinking going on now at city hall.”

    Or if you happen to value your time, some are forced to their cars by a poorly integrated regional transit service – not everyone works and lives in the same city.

    My options from the Humber Summit neighbourhood to the middle of Mississauga are a 22km trip by car that takes 25-30min, or a two fare trip (TTC & Miway assumming tickets/tokens $10/day@4*$2.50) that takes a scheduled 1:28 (if everything runs to schedule) via the Islington subway station (which nearly doubles the length of the trip, but makes use of Miway express service to save time), an alternate more direct route going above the airport is just shy of a scheduled 2 hours.

    So while I would strongly prefer to not drive, by taking the car I gain 2 hours a day (round trip) that I’m not using to commute.

    That’s 10 hours/week (and $50 in fares – which nearly pays for gas for the week), or 500 hours/year (and $2500 in fares) – a substantial gain of free time at not much extra cost IMO.

    Steve: Even though I am a “transit advocate”, I agree that the price of fuel is only one part, and a relatively small one at that, in the decision process a would-be transit user goes through. The idea that transit will somehow be “saved” by high gas prices is a self-serving myth. Transit will be saved by providing good, attractive service.

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  13. Maybe instead of awaiting backbone from Council and the province, we need to talk with and depute to the credit rating agencies. They miss things though – please have a look at the film Inside Job to get real appreciation of the relatively small scale wa$te and gravy going to Dr. Chong, though I imagine most of us could live very nicely for a few years on this “fee” for “expertise”…

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  14. In terms of finding funding for the Sheppard subway; I can’t help but feel that the Ford administration is waiting for the provincial Conservatives to be voted into office, at which point the money that is to be used for the underground Eglinton LRT will be reallocated to Sheppard and we will, yet again, have a canceled Eglinton route.

    I know money has already been spent to buy the equipment necessary to dig the tunnels, but already having tunnels started didn’t stop the conservatives from filling in the holes last time.

    The money saved from Eglinton will be used for the Sheppard subway and whatever Finch BRT light Scheme they come up with. Not too mention 3-4 billions dollars not being spent at all or maybe being used instead to build more roads that can immediately be clogged with congestion!!

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  15. So they’re going to do the eastern Sheppard first – i.e. no day 1 connection to Wilson. Where are the net extra trains required for Sheppard going to be stored? There’s nowhere to put a full scale yard before Conlins (i.e. after the subway turns south) and it’s doubtful there’s even for something the size of Vincent – the alternative is even more deadheading to Greenwood at start/end of service, increasing operating costs even further (not to mention that even with a reactivated Vincent yard space isn’t unlimited there either).

    Steve: A few tail/pocket tracks at STC station would do the trick, assuming they can find some place to fit this in. I am looking forward to the design of STC station to see just where they have to put it to fit between the buildings. Two decades ago, when the Sheppard line was proposed, a lot of STC wasn’t built yet.

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  16. Good point re. the Commissioners spending time (at what hourly rate x the number of commissioners?) attacking Giambrone, Steve, while glossing over the funding of the Sheppard subway, the cost of which will ultimately be borne by the taxpayers in terms of forgone tax or development revenue through some P3 partnership. And how is it that one person can dictate to Metrolinx that the eastern bit of the Eglinton LRT should be underground. Aren’t there cost-benefit studies that have been done, etc. etc. So pathetic.

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  17. However, in what must be the greatest example of how petty the old Commission (and the former David Miller regime) can be, former Chair Giambrone still has not reimbursed the approximately $3,400 overspent of his 2010 expense allowance. Amazingly it appears the current commission will have to revisit this issue again in May as it appears unlikely that Mr. Giambrone will simply repay what he owes.

    Steve: It has not yet been definitively established that he actually owes anything. The details provided at the Commission meeting did not show all of his expenses, and it is unclear whether what he did spend might have been authorized separately from his office budget. This is a witch hunt by the new regime.

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  18. The customer service report is so irrelevant that you have to wonder whether the TTC has any valid conception of service at all. They do talk about refresher courses for staff, but considering the quality of service I get from staff I think they need to look at how effective their initial training is before they start refreshing it. It’s often clear when I’m dealing with ticket takers/sellers, for example, that they don’t intend to be rude, but they are.

    And brand image improvement is not an aspect of customer service. Neither is promoting use of services that don’t exist. And it seems (correct me if I’m wrong) they’re going to entrust a large part of customer service to students rather than to specially trained staff. Students turn over quickly, so training costs increase, etc.

    Anyway, the TTC has been talking about improving service for some time now, it’s appointed a customer service director, and very little seems to be happening. And they still have handwritten signs all over the place!

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  19. Perhaps a needed debate now after the routes have been cut is what routes will benefit in the fall service change. If you cut service on “gravy train” routes, then there should be planning on what routes need more buses (you need to plan moving buses and drivers around garages, and to teach drivers how to drive the routes). I think TTC management will not be able to answer this question in time (given the way TTC management does things) and it will in fact be a permanent service cut.

    Steve: Indeed there have been rumblings at the TTC meetings that they may not be able to put in the “reallocated” service in the fall unless their budgetary performance leaves room for it. This is all a big shell game intended to let the new crew have a few “quick wins” without addressing the heart of the funding and service problems.

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  20. Steve,

    Regarding the change of routing of the 12 Kingston Road route: I was at the sign-up today and there is NO indication of the re-routing on the crew guides or run guides. If the TTC changes the routing on May 8, they will actually be in violation of the sign-up rules (this is the same issue that caused the maintenance employees to stage the 2006 walkout). These changes to routings MUST be posted for the board period selections. This is a violation of the collective agreement (which, while it expired on March 31, under the ORLA ALL terms an conditions remain in effect until a new CBA is in effect). Ms. Stintz will have a major grievance on her hands on May 8 if the TTC forces this into effect.

    Steve: I believe that this will be implemented “at the Divisional level” as a temporary service. Frankly, if 113 gets bent out of shape just because half of the 12s will take a different route to serve Variety Village, they will deserve all the scorn that will result. Launch grievances over the things that count rather than the small change.

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  21. Steve,

    Re: your comments to my post of April 15.

    First, I would like to state that I am not advocating 113 start to take action against the route change, but rather that these types of changes (which are starting to occur on a more regular basis) are technically a violation of the terms of the contract, and are also a violation of the seniority/sign-up regulations. Taken in context with the TTC’s current “crackdown” on operators (operators relieved of duty for minor infractions such as uniform dress code violations, reading material visible, consuming food (beverages are okay, however) while seated in the operator’s area, etc.), it is just one additional frustration during contract negotiations (or actually lack therof apparantly). The management has a directive from “on high” to crack down on unionized staff for minor rules violations.

    Secondly, this past weekend there was a notice posted at Birchmount to reflect the routing changes for Kingston Road. I also discovered that the information has been posted on the TTC website.

    Briefly: 12B (Victoria Park Stn – Kennedy Stn via Brimley) becomes 12A (Victoria Park Stn – Kennedy Stn via Variety Village and Brimley). No 12A (formerly 12B) on Kingston Rd. between Birchmount Road and Cliffside Dr. Route 12 (Victoria Park Stn – St. Clair and Barkdene Hills) continues to operate Mon to Fri.

    The major effect is that 12 does not operate after 10 PM Mon-Fri or weekends and holidays. This means that there is no service on Kingston Rd between Birchmount and Cliffside on weekends. There will be four stops missed eastbound and two stops missed westbound. The major stop in both directions is Glen Everest (at the bottom of the hill for those who know the route). These two stops are very busy as there are several apartment buildings here (including TCHC). There are many seniors and mobility challenged passengers who will lose their late evening weekday service as well as all weekend service. I have been operating this route on weekends for quite some time now and I am very concerned for these people who will lose their weekend service. Seniors walking with the aid of canes and walkers will not be able to get to the closest stops to catch the bus. This past weekend, I kept an informal personal poll of riders at Glen Everest: every trip through this section had at least one person (usually two or three) getting on or off the bus (this was Sunday from 8AM until 4:30 PM. This is not the every other bus scenario that was originally proposed.

    Steve: I have made a separate article out of the Variety Village issue. This is a clear case where what staff implemented is not what the Commission approved, and the obvious problem is that whoever wrote the Commission report didn’t realize that the 12 does not run during all hours, notably on weekends, only the 12B. Let’s see how quickly, if at all, they react.

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