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.
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.
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.
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.