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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.