TTC Meeting Wrapup May 2011

The TTC Agenda for May 11 contained a number of items of interest.  In a previous article, I reviewed the preliminary report for the Finch bus service improvements.

Items detailed below the break are:

  • PRESTO Update
  • Adam Giambrone’s Office Expenses
  • Station Ambassadors
  • Chief General Manager’s Report for January-February 2011
  • 510 Spadina Additional Service South of King Street
  • Additional Commissioners


In the Private Session, there was an “overview” of Open Standards and PRESTO.  What we do know already from public comments is that Chair Karen Stintz is not happy about the cost of implementing PRESTO, but we have yet to see a clear description of either that system or competing proposals.  Unfortunately, Metrolinx operates as if PRESTO is a done deal in Toronto, and TTC talks about the subject in private.  Metrolinx will smile and say “our system is wonderful” and the TTC will grumble, but the public (for which read “taxpayers” and “riders”) will be kept in the dark.

Now that Metrolinx is formally absorbing PRESTO into its organization, and implementation of the Provincial system is part of the Memorandum of Understanding between Mayor Ford and Queen’s Park, I suspect that money will be found somewhere to cover the implementation cost.  How much this might detract from funding of other projects remains to be seen.

Adam Giambrone’s Office Expenses

In its continuing desire to show respect for taxpayers, the Commission discussed the matter of Commissioner expenses and the attempt to recover a few thousand dollars in alleged excess spending by former Chair Giambrone.  Some Commissioners, notably Denzil Minnan-Wong, have a dogged determination to settle old political scores by wasting Commission and staff time.  Others realize that the TTC has more important problems on its plate, and would prefer to put this behind them.

Commissioner Parker noted he was not interested in a witch hunt or retribution, and that making a paper doll of Adam Giambrone and sticking pins in it might be an appropriate tactic.

In the end, the Commission voted to ask Giambrone to pay up by December 31, 2011.  If he fails to do so, they will pull his TTC pass (a lifetime perk to all Commissioners) for 2012-2014 thereby “retrieving” a roughly equivalent amount on the assumption that Giambrone will be buying Metropasses on his own.  This is a diplomatic, face-saving way of ending a discussion which has shown the new Ford-era Commission in an extremely unfavourable light.

The amount, about $3,300, is about 10 minutes’ worth of interest at 5% on the $4b+ cost of the Sheppard subway extensions.  Such are the debating priorities of some, but thankfully a dwindling band of Commissioners.

Station Ambassadors Debut at Downtown Stations

Lost tourists now have an added option for getting directions at Bloor-Yonge, St. George, Queen’s Park, Dundas, Queen, Union and St. Patrick Stations.  Summer students, who would otherwise be used to fill in for vacations in clerical positions, will be deployed at these stations from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm every day.  They will also assist at stations where there are special events.

A banner signals the location of the station ambassadors, and it contains both an area map and a route map.  Yes, it’s that time again, and the TTC seems unable to produce accurate maps.  The route map, covering an area from just north of Bloor to the lake, and from east of Yonge to about Ossington, does not include routes 6 Bay, 5 Avenue Road or 26 Dupont.  I asked about this and was told it may have something to do with service frequency.  That does not explain why 127 Davenport and 126 Christie are on the map.

A magic marker may be a suitable piece of supplementary equipment for the Ambassadors.

I hope that this part-time initiative evolves into better customer service generally.  Right now it’s a temporary summer program, but it deserves to be expanded to other tourist-heavy stations.

On a related note, Chair Karen Stintz will sit as the Chair of a new Customer Service Advisory Group.  Initially, she will seek input from other Commissioners on the membership of such a group.  Whether it will actually reflect customers, or be top-heavy with Commissioners and staff remains to be seen.  The group would report monthly to the Commission although it is not yet clear whether these reports would be public or would reflect minority opinions that could be drowned out by the interests of “official” members.

The Advisory Committee of Accessible Transportation (ACAT) now publishes its minutes to the Commission as correspondence so that the Commission sees what it is doing.  The agendas and minutes back to May 2008 are available online to anyone who wishes to follow their activities.

Chief General Manager’s Report for January-February 2011

For the first two months of 2011, TTC ridership was up 3.4% from 2010, although this was 2.3% lower than budget (in effect, the TTC planned on stronger ridership growth than it actually received).  By mid-April, the numbers evened out, and the TTC expects to meet its projection of 487-million rides in 2011.

On the financial side, revenues are on target, but expenses are rising on two counts:

  • Fuel prices have been higher than expected.  If April pricing continues for the rest of 2011, the TTC will be over budget on this item by $4.2m.  If prices continue to rise, the shortfall could be in the $16m range.
  • Construction plans by the City and various utilities will require more than anticipated cost for additional service adding about $800k to this budget line.

These two changes easily will consume the savings from the May service “reallocation”.  We will see quite soon what future cuts or fare increases might be on the table when the proposed 2012 Operating and Capital budgets appear on the June 8 TTC agenda.

The Capital projects include three substantial changes from the budget.

  • The new Toronto Rocket subway car project is running late and payments expected to be made in 2010 have slipped to 2011 ($11.4m).
  • The new streetcar project was delayed six months to incorporate accessibility changes requested by ACAT (the accessibility advisory committee).  This pushes $18.6m from 2010 into 2011.  It is unclear how much of this is simply slippage and how much is an additional cost from the proposed contract amendment which has not yet come to the Commission for approval.
  • The Spadina subway extension project is expected to run $26.7m under budget in 2011 due to construction delays.  All reports now speak of a “2016” opening date for this line, well after the Pan Am Games of 2015 which it would have served at York University.

Future CGM reports will include details of the Spadina extension project as well as the activities of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited, the subsidiary charged with sorting out funding for the Sheppard Subway projects.

Long term capital funding is still a problem for the TTC with a shortfall between funded and proposed spending of $1.5-$2.3b.  Projects in this list will compete with new schemes such as the Finch BRT.

510 Spadina Additional Service South of King Street

On two previous occasions, Councillor Adam Vaughan has appeared at the TTC on the matter of service south of King on Spadina which is part of his ward.  TTC staff consistently held that the riding on this segment does not justify running more service south of the short turn loop (Adelaide, Charlotte, King).

In a previous article, I discussed the service provided on lower Spadina and showed, using the TTC’s own vehicle tracking data, that headways on this part of the route are chaotic.  This produces service where the “average” rider experiences longer headways and greater crowding than “average” riding counts would suggest.

Two problems afflict service at the south end of Spadina.  At King, congestion for streetcars turning via Charlotte Street delays both the 510 Spadina and 504 King services because it is impossible for traffic to get through the King/Spadina intersection quickly.  The east-west green time is fairly short, and there is no transit-only phase for Spadina cars turning north.  Further south, the traffic signal at Lake Shore has a long east-west phase intended to clear traffic from the Gardiner Expressway off-ramp.  This phase is particularly long in the morning rush hour to the point where it would interfere with frequent streetcar service.

As a trial, starting on June 20 and running until September 2, the King short turns will be extended south to Queen’s Quay.  This requires the addition of one car in the AM peak and a slightly wider scheduled headway (2’50” versus 2’30”) on Spadina.  The City’s Transportation Services section will reprogram the Lake Shore traffic signal to improve the time available for transit across this intersection.  This is one of the long-standing problems with “transit priority” as it was implemented on 510 Spadina 14 years ago when the line opened.

The trial ends in September because the south end of the Spadina line will close for track replacement as part of Waterfront Toronto’s Queen’s Quay reconfiguration project.

Additional Commissioners

At its last meeting, City Council approved a motion that all of its agencies, boards, commissions and corporations have at least 11 members on their boards of whom at least three would be appointed by Council and one by the Mayor.  The nine-member TTC has previously considered a move to include “citizen” members, and this motion provides the opportunity for such appointments without threatening any of the sitting members.

The staff report lists many potential qualifications for new members.  It will be intriguing to see whether these actually play a role in selection of Commissioners and how much of a contribution the new members bring to the table.

I have often been asked whether I would stand for such an appointment were it offered (highly unlikely in the current political climate).  Aside from the fact that I do have professional experience in IT management (one of the potential qualifications listed in the report), my role has long been to foster and inform debate by those outside of transit agencies.  I could hardly maintain this website or routinely launch broadsides in other media if I were a member of the TTC board.

My position has always been that “citizen” boards are convenient ways for Council to evade responsibility.  The TTC is one of the largest items in the City’s budget, and at least some Councillors should understand what transit is all about even though some debates can be painful as newcomers find their way.  The real decisions about transit funding and policy will continue to be made at Council and at Queen’s Park through budget allocations.  A TTC Board dominated (as it might be eventually) by non-Councillors could be a useful smokescreen for decisions on service levels, fares and regional transportation planning, and a mechanism to further isolate riders from influence on transit matters.

9 thoughts on “TTC Meeting Wrapup May 2011

  1. ” The new Toronto Rocket subway car is running late….”
    So the first train should be in service June 1? They have had 6 minths for de-bugging.

    ” The new streetcar project was delayed six months…”
    So the new streetcar mockup should appear in June?

    ” The Spadina subway ext. to open in 2016″
    Not a surprise .


  2. 510 Spadina Additional Service South of King Street – In this report they say the light at Spadina and Lakeshore is a problem for additional streetcars as they only have a 16 second window to get through the intersection. This intersection is a mess, the timing of the lights really don’t favor anyone. Because when the light is green for east to north traffic, 99% of the time the light at Bremner is red and the traffic has no where to go.

    One thing could be done to help streetcars at the intersection, is place a number of traffic loops in the south to east left turn lane. So that when there are no cars turning the left signal is cut short and time is added to streetcar and northbound traffic window. The maximum time wouldn’t be extended by the loops only shorten when possible.

    There are times all the day where a streetcar will sit at this light and there are no cars turning any more. The green arrow is there even when there are no cars at all. The lights at Bremner also need loops to have them shorten when possible as there are times it can be done. But most of all Bremner needs to be tied into Lakeshore more, so the back log doesn’t block the tracks at Lakeshore.


  3. Being appointed to the Commission as a citizen right now would be like the NDP as the new official opposition federally – you can make all the noise you want but get absolutely nowhere (and probably just get constantly mocked).


  4. Steve,

    How can you excuse Admiral Adam’s $3,344 theft? He was authorized certain amount, he went above that. That is theft of taxpayers’ money.

    Steve: “Theft” is a strong word, and implies that the money wound up in his personal bank account. All of the money was spent on transit-related matters and Adam is on record (on Facebook) as saying that the expenditures were all approved. The problem as I understand it is that when all the bills came in, the total ran over the expense account cap, but the spending was approved in advance. One may argue that some of what was produced was self-promotion, or payments for trips to conferences when the TTC itself was unlikely to benefit, but someone other than Adam approved those expenses in the first place.

    On a related note, it came out at the Commission meeting that he underspent his Council expense account, and that this almost completely offset the overage at the TTC. If you want to sound like an apologist for Rod Ford and the vindictive nature of his hunts for “gravy”, that’s your business, but don’t expect me to agree with you, or give you a platform.


  5. How can anyone characterize going over-budget as a theft?

    If so, then our Prime Minister owes us some $15 billion for going over budget on the new jet fighters! Cheque please!

    The bias and desire of revenge by certain people is disgusting!


  6. I’ve been following service issues on Spadina for a while, mostly because the TTC’s most embarassingly overdue reports (perhaps Steve knows the one…) is supposed to address the shortage of transit signal priority at key intersections south of College.

    It’s a worry that it took two pushes to get staff to admit — in their third response to the extra service request — that there were major unresolved operation problems on lower Spadina. The last report appeared to chiefly blame reliability problems on the Lakeshore intersection, and not on a lack of scheduled running time — a cause that both operators and route supervisor have complained to me about.

    Let’s keep following this and perhaps see if that age-old report on proper transit priority along Spadina ever gets filed.

    Steve: That age-old report was written off during the final days of the Giambrone era with the claim that the issue had already been addressed in a memo to the Commissioners. That memo said bugger all, of course.

    As for running time, that’s a hard call. Everybody wants more running time, but they don’t explain why cars manage long layovers at every opportunity. On the tight headways on Spadina, layovers quickly cause queuing problems, especially at the north end where cars are held in the tunnel while their leader takes a relaxed break on the platform. This will only get worse with the new longer cars. The problem is as much crew and service management as it is running time.


  7. “the south end of the Spadina line will close for track replacement”

    Can you elaborate on these plans, or just point me in the right direction for more details (how long it will last, what replacement service will look like while it’s going on, etc)? Many thanks!

    Steve: The details of the replacement service are not out yet. Current plans call for the replacement of track on Spadina south from King (this is part of the original Harbourfront line opened in 1990), and the reconstruction of Queen’s Quay from Spadina to the portal east of York Street. I don’t know the elapsed time, but suspect that the line will be shut down on Spadina itself through the fall, and for longer on Queen’s Quay. When the schedule details for the fall come out (probably in mid-July), I will know what the service arrangements are supposed to be and for how long.


  8. Steve, Some people deserve the benefit of the doubt and some people don’t (and responding on Facebook? Really? From a former “Chair”?)

    Steve: There was a discussion in the issue there, and I used it as a source because it’s in the public domain. Otherwise, I become part of the story by asking Adam Giambrone for his position in private correspondence.


  9. Steve,

    You state that you can’t be critical of the TTC were you to become a member of the board. Obviously, you wouldn’t be able to disclose matters that are discussed in camera, but I don’t see how your independence and your current reporting need be compromised were you to accept such a position.


    The problem is in disentangling information I would know that was not public from that which was, and having to explain my positions on items that could be based on private info. If, for example, I were a member of an advisory body, then I would have far more freedom and would only have to distinguish my own opinions from that of the body as a whole. It gets much trickier when one is actually on the board, and the complications a vocal member would create for fellow Commissioners.


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