TTC Meeting of July 6, 2011 (Updated)

Updated July 8, 2011 at 10:20 am:

Updates on the disposition of various items previewed in the original version of this item have been added through the post under each topic.

Many items are on the agenda for July’s meeting, the last one scheduled before the summer recess.  Previous articles covered the Ashbridge Carhouse routing issue and the Presto implementation scheme in detail.

Chief General Manager’s Report

This report covers the period up to April 30, 2011.  Riding for the first third of the year was 5.5% over 2010.  This is better than the budgeted projection by 0.8%.  Coupled with a slightly than higher average fare than projected (the mix of fares actually paid), farebox revenue is running $2.2-million ahead of the budget.  It is projected to be $7.35m above budget for the year as a whole.

This added revenue will be completely offset by higher diesel fuel prices.  Additional unbudgeted costs arise from higher than expected bus maintenance expense and the need to operate more service to compensate for various construction projects around the city.

Although ridership may reach 493-million in 2011, the service to be operated will be at the budgeted level of 483-million.  Those extra riders will just have to be a bit friendlier.

Meanwhile, the TTC will turn its attention to customer satisfaction and reliability.  In a telling statement, the report observes:

“If a customer’s journey takes 30 minutes 90% of the time but 45 minutes 10% of the time, the customer must allow 45 minutes all of the time.”

A fundamental problem with past reviews of service quality is an acceptance of that 10% as a normal condition, an inevitable effect in real-world transit operations.  From a customer’s perspective, 90% isn’t good enough because a 10% failure rate guarantees a bad experience at least once a week for someone who only takes the 10 regular commuting trips.  Those who ride more frequently will encounter problems every few days, and this does not endear transit to would-be users as a choice for travel.

Although the TTC has attempted to construct measures of its performance, the focus of this process will now turn to satisfaction, to service as seen from the customer’s point of view.  How this will be achieved with the coming budget constraints of 2012 remains to be seen.  Some changes cost nothing, but running enough service to actually handle the projected demand won’t come free of charge.

Advertising on the TTC (Updated)

The advertising contract at the TTC, currently held by CBS Outdoor Canada, will expire at the end of 2011.  Pattison Outdoor Advertising is the successful bidder for a new 12-year contract with a minimum guaranteed return of $324-million ($27m/year on average).  This represents roughly a 25% increase in advertising revenue relative to the 2011 budget.

While $5m in new revenue is not to be sneezed at, this is 0.3% of the total operating budget, and the value shows the limitation of this revenue stream in the overall scheme of TTC financing.  Some new approaches and technologies may lift the revenue higher than the base guarantee in the contract, but these will not be without controversy.  They include:

  • new forms of advertising display
  • video screens in subway cars
  • subway line and station naming rights
  • station improvements funded by advertising

Advertising is already pervasive on the TTC, but in the current climate, we can expect to see even more as a cash-strapped Toronto sells every available space and surface.  Naming rights will be challenging, especially if this takes us to a level beyond what we already see with “station domination” advertising campaigns.  There has been no debate on what, exactly, would be involved in buying a line or a station.  Would “Steve Munro’s Broadview Station” appear on all TTC literature, in all announcements of service delays, in schedules and trip planning?  Will we have competing Coke and Pepsi subway lines?  Will Sheppard become the Ford line?

Station renovations and upgrades can cost upwards of $20-million.  How much of this will an advertiser be expected to contribute to get their name on the station?  At what point does the public funding of the TTC take a back seat?  Will the escalators and elevators run reliably in sponsored stations?  Will the walls be cleaned more often?  Will repairs be completed on time?

Far too many questions about this scheme remain unanswered, and the report gives no indication of contractual obligations the TTC may have to grant naming rights to whatever sponsors Pattison may dig up.  No estimate of the value of these rights either to a potential advertiser nor to the TTC appears in the report.  We don’t know what, exactly, we are selling or whether we will receive a worthwhile benefit.

A side-note:  OneStop Media Group now holds the contract for advertising on a variety of screens on TTC property (e.g. station platforms and vehicle arrival displays).  OneStop was recently acquired by Pattison, and the two contracts may be rolled together.

Updated July 8: I presented a deputation on this matter along with others concerned about the lack of detail and consultation by the TTC.  Councillor Davis, who is not on the TTC, asked for several changes to the proposal, but only a few of these were accepted, both having to do with the effect of advertising on accessibility.

The Commission tried to spin the discussion of naming rights, and there was even an attempt to claim that this was not before the meeting for debate, even though it is mentioned in the staff report.  What is clearly missing is a policy framework within which new advertising and sponsorship proposals could be reviewed, and a public mechanism for community input on iconic changes to stations which are, after all, public property.  The Commission cares more about a few million dollars in extra revenue than the imposition new forms of advertising will make on their customers.

Additional details of the advertising contract were provided to me by Councillor Davis, and I will write about this matter in a separate post.

Vaughan Corporate Centre Station Construction

The TTC has awarded a contract to Carillon Construction Inc. for the Vaughan Corporate Centre Station (the final name of this station has not yet been decided) at a price of $197.8-million.  It should be noted that this is only the construction cost — design engineering and of fitting out the station are separate.  To be fair, this contract includes the tail track structure north of VCC station.

Building subway stations is an expensive business.

Queen’s Quay Streetcar Track Reconstruction (Updated)

The staff report recommending that the TTC proceed with rebuilding tracks on Queen’s Quay independently of any plans for the street’s reconfiguration is back on the July agenda.  I understand that Waterfront Toronto has sorted out its budgeting problems and the full Queen’s Quay project should proceed this fall, but nothing official has come out yet to confirm this.

Updated July 8: There was no discussion of this item because an agreement has been reached between the TTC and Waterfront Toronto that will allow the Queen’s Quay project to go forward.  I await details of the new arrangements from Waterfront Toronto.

Next Vehicle Arrival System (Updated)

With the rollout of vehicle arrival and tracking information for the bus network (now planned for September 2011), the cost of providing SMS service (text messaging to cell phones) will rise substantially.  The TTC plans to recoup this cost by charging 15¢ for every message beyond a base of two free requests per day.

As anyone who uses this type of service knows, two requests can be a bare start in a day’s travel.  What has been disappointing in the rollout of this service is that the TTC has not advertised the availability of web-based access to their system.

This is available both through various third-party applications and from the NextBus website.  Web access is generally much cheaper than text messaging, and some of the communications industry’s battles turn on the distinction between data and voice traffic.

The TTC would do well to advertise the availability of the NextBus website as well as the third party sites (on a “no guarantee” basis) so that customers can take advantage of the superior services available on them.

Updated July 8: The Commission decided to continue with the rollout of the Next Vehicle Arrival System, but to hold off on charging for text messages until a further report comes forward in the fall.  I and others urged that the TTC should tell people that there are alternative ways to obtain this information, and at less cost both to customers and to the TTC (web based versus text message based access).  The TTC will look into making the existence of NextBus known as an alternative to the SMS scheme advertised on transit stops.

In other news, the NVAS information and data feeds will be expanded to include the bus network starting on Monday, July 11.

Heritage Streetcar Charter Rates (Added from the Supplementary Agenda)

The Commission confirmed that charter rates for PCC cars will be increased to obtain full cost recovery from their operation to eliminate an annual loss of about $16,500.  Sunday operation of the cars by the TTC (the primary driver of PCC-related costs) will continue.

The charter rates will change as below:

  • Old:  $975 for a three-hour minimum, and $230 for each additional hour
  • New: $1,892 for a three-hour minimum, and $446 for each additional hour

It is self-evident that if the Commission is going to continue operating the PCCs for tourist and special event purposes, they will also continue to incur the cost of maintaining the cars.  Charters should be billed at the marginal rate, not full recovery.

The almost inevitable next step will be a decision that even the good will from running and maintaining the cars cannot be justified.  Obviously, they need a sponsor, but one who is sensitive to the historical nature of the vehicles.  The City of Toronto and the TTC should be that sponsor as, in effect, they have been all along, but that’s not the way we do things in our fiscally responsible city.

21 thoughts on “TTC Meeting of July 6, 2011 (Updated)

  1. This on the work on QQ West is from end-June WT CEO’s Report to their Board:

    “The 90% Detailed Designs were presented to the Design Review Panel on June 8, 2011 and the project received unanimous approval. The design team is planning to finalize the Detailed Design package and submit it to the City in July. Assuming the Contribution Agreement is signed in the near future, our design schedule will keep pace with the TTC schedule to rebuild the Queens Quay Light Rail Transit.”


  2. Are we becoming poorer or something? I ask, because while I am happy that ridership is growing; I would like to know where all these riders are coming from. I can not believe that many people are deciding to not drive anymore and hop on transit, considering we have not expanded the system to provide faster rides, etc. Adding bus service can only do so much without other improvements to bring rapid transit to more residents.
    So who are these riders?


  3. The authorized expenditure summary that’s linked to from the agenda contains some interesting items too.

    First would be the design services ($2.00 million) for the capacity improvement plans for the Keele and Vincent yards. There are two justifications given: one to accommodate the T1s that will be displaced from the Yonge line by the Toronto Rocket cars, and the other being that there will be a need for more train storage when ATO is implemented on the Bloor line because it’ll enable them to run a greater number of trains on the line, which have to be stored somewhere, to increase service. I don’t think Bloor-Danforth service has been restored to the level it peaked at before the big service cuts so I’m not sure why there’s an implication made that service increases have to wait for yard enlargements and new signalling to happen first.

    Another interesting item is the contract with V. Silva Global Consulting Group S.A. de C.V. ($1.19 million) who will be providing quality control oversight down in Mexico where the frames for the new streetcars are being made. The frames apparently will be shipped to Thunder Bay for final assembly. Are the Toronto Rocket frames being made there or has Thunder Bay gotten out of the railcar frame making business entirely?

    There’s also a contract with Bombardier Transportation ($1.48 million) pertaining to the T1 cars. The description’s awkwardly written but it looks like the TTC is having Bombardier design a new three phase inverter to power the traction motors (using IGBTs as the switching elements, possibly a different choice of active component from the existing design – I don’t know what’s used in the original equipment). The contract calls for enough prototype units to outfit one married pair plus all the supporting documentation. This caught me totally by surprise because I hadn’t heard of any issues or plans to replace the T1 propulsion inverters. But what is the purpose in doing so? What need is there or what benefit does the TTC expect from replacing the existing inverters? Given the age of the T1 cars, I don’t think the “complicated electronics that are obsolete and can’t be maintained because no spares or substitutes can be found…” song and dance can be applied with much credibility here.

    Steve: It’s no secret that the new streetcars are not fully manufactured in Thunder Bay. As for the T1 inverters, I will have to inquire. Thanks for flagging this.

    On the subject of the BD subway capacity, I have discussed many aspects of the signalling system and fleet planning problems in previous posts, and don’t want to rehash that again until there’s something really new. This will come up in the budget discussions as part of long range planning.


  4. There’s a few more issues on the supplementary agenda.

    Nothing too exciting – though some might be distressed that the price to charge a PCC vehicle will increase from $975 for the first 3 hours and $230 for each additional hour to $1,892 for the first 3 hours and $446 for each additional hour.

    Steve: Typical TTC penny wise, pound foolish. The less the cars are used for charters, the less they can apportion the cost of maintenance and operation to charters and the more the cost of revenue service goes up. Sadly, with no heritage advocates and a prevailing attitude of cutting costs no matter what, I fear the PCCs may be mothballed before we see a change in the Commission’s makeup and attitude.


  5. It’s gratifying to see the recognition of reliability as a key driver of customer satisfaction (in contrast to the Customer Service Advisory Panel’s report, where it got little attention). My only hope is that the attention won’t all be given to the subway, the squeaky wheel (squeaky brakes?) with easily measured statistics. Delays on the subway tend to be higher-profile and higher-impact, but delays and bunching on the surface network are more widespread and frequent. They’re especially impactful given the TTC’s reliance on a grid network with transfers; if Bus A is three minutes late (or bus B is three minutes early), and Bus B only runs every 15 or 20 minutes, a barely-missed transfer instantly increases your travel time by 15 to 20 minutes.


  6. On the subject of advertising/naming stations etc, for several years now, in Bonn Germany, Deutsche Telekom has been applying overall advertising of many varieties to a large part of the fleet of Stadtbahn B cars used on one of the routes (66 from Bad Honnef to Siegburg if anyone cares). When these particular trains roll into stations, there is an announcement of the imminent arrival of the “Telekom Express”. It also appears on the route signs! When we were photographing the line several years ago it became quite annoying after a very small amount of time. I suppose we can expect no less!


  7. When I saw a news article on their plans to charge for the text messaging version of the NextBus service, I nearly fell over. We’ll have to PAY for it?! Are they insane?! First off, if they are actually paying 15 cents a text, they are getting ripped off. Secondly, seriously?! SERIOUSLY?! Yes, it’s more convenient than breaking out the mobile browser but honestly, what kind of comparable service CHARGES for that kind of information via text message? I know they don’t in Vancouver (where the service has been in place system-wide for three years now), although I believe you are limited to 12 requests PER HOUR. Why on EARTH would they expect anyone to adopt this system if they have to pay this exorbitant cost? Couldn’t they have just made a deal with cell providers to cover the costs?

    The backwardness of the TTC is simply incomprehensible. 1 step forward, 5 steps back. All. the. time.


  8. I missed the supplementary agenda completely so the news about the proposed PCC charter rate increase sort of surprised me but sort of didn’t. I’d heard from several sources over the last couple of years that the TTC claimed, internally, that the full cost of operating a PCC charter was north of $1,600 per hour. The report that nfitz provided the link to explains why the TTC wants to increase rates to avoid taking a bath on the difference between what they are currently charging and the actual amount they claim it costs, but does not provide a breakdown of the actual hourly cost of operation.

    I was also told on those occasions that the justification for the huge hourly cost of operation was (keep in mind, we know what the operator’s time and a half costs and what electricity costs and that the PCC cars receive fewer maintenance hours than the active fleet) to account for the depreciation of the tracks. Apparently, from what I’ve been told, the TTC performed a calculation to determine what the total cost of renewing the streetcar system’s track is divided by the number of streetcar hours over the track’s life cycle to arrive at this portion of the PCC’s cost per hour to operate.

    In other words, from what I’ve been told, what the TTC is charging you for in the price increase is the cost of replacing the tracks sooner than necessary because in theory, you caused them to wear out faster than they would have if you hadn’t chartered the PCC.

    Since the TTC opted not to provide a cost breakdown in that report to support their argument to nearly double charter costs, the commission should ask one question to determine whether or not such a drastic increase is reasonable: How were these figures arrived at? Unfortunately, given Rob Ford’s political agenda and the fact that the commission was hand picked, I suspect the commission will be happy to approve just about any price or fare increases the TTC proposes from here on in without asking any difficult questions.


  9. Not sure I see the big deal about charging 15¢ a text after the first 2 free in a day.

    Personally my cell phone provider (Rogers) already charges me 20¢ for every text I send, and another 20¢ for every text I receive. So that’s already 40¢ per request.

    Needless to say, I don’t text often enough to get a plan.

    The data remains free (and I imagine always will be) using the Internet. If there’s a small charge to encourage people to switch to more economical software and hardware, I don’t really see the issue. This is similar to being concerned that the cost to send a Telex is going up … in the long run, it just doesn’t matter.


  10. The 10% worst-case journeys has long been a metric in the UK for the MoT, and would be very illuminating for the TTC. They go a step further with a system of penalties and bonuses for consultants/contractors that those worst journey’s have no more than a 10% deterioration from worst-year levels during construction or maintenance.

    We might not have hope of solving all of Toronto’s transit issues, but we can at least make sure they don’t get worse.

    Steve: This is a good point. The TTC looks at things from the point of view of the 90% of trips that work, but it’s the 10% that don’t that passengers remember and dread. When they are good, they may be very, very good, but when they are bad they are horrid.


  11. So who are these riders?

    From Steve’s helpful link, 55% of Toronto’s population rides the TTC at least once a week. The difference between the frequency of differing levels of ridership has a drastic impact on the total ridership numbers. Once someone starts using the TTC more than a dozen times a month, they are much more likely to make subsequent trips (on a weekly or monthly pass).

    For example, 350k twice-daily users represents 255.5m TTC rides. If 2% of the 980k once-per-week users were to become two-way daily users, they would represent a 11m ‘new’ riders per year. Add on top of that the 100,000 new Canadians to the GTA every year, and it’s easy enough to see where the increase is coming from.


  12. Is the TYSSE update presentation available online anywhere?

    Steve: No. I will be scanning in selected pages from my hard copy when I post a consolidated report on the Commission meeting.


  13. RE: Streetcar charters: Since I’m not in T.O. much these days, what’s up with Witt 2766?

    Steve: It is used only for ceremonial occasions. Given that this car does not have track brakes, it only goes out under controlled circumstances.


  14. So just to confirm, Steve, the NVAS will launch on July 11th, not in September as previously mentioned? The wording’s a little weird.

    Steve: Yes, the first announcement was September, but now it’s July. I will clarify the post.


  15. Why is it that we seem to be the only place on earth that can’t run a historic car as-is? (I realise insurance is an issue, at least in part.) Frankly I would trust the Witt more than those rotten ALRVs I’ve witnessed sliding along in full emergency on a number of occasions.

    By the way, in the late 90’s New Orleans re-gauged it’s Waterfront line to conform to the rest of the existing system. For what reason? Simply to allow common storage and maintenance, not interoperability between lines. (Then they scratch-built a new fleet of accessible heritage cars, but that’s another story. If you want to nit-pick, yes, they do have track brakes.)


  16. Basic economics suggests there is a price for the PCC rentals that would maximize revenue. I think they’ve gone past it by an order of magnitude. Haven’t these right-wing commissioners heard of the Laffer curve?

    Steve: TTC staff has been trying to jack up the price of PCCs for years, and finally have a receptive audience. These are the same people who fought passes for so long because we “lose money” on them.


  17. Kristian says:

    July 9, 2011 at 11:38 am

    “By the way, in the late 90′s New Orleans re-gauged it’s Waterfront line to conform to the rest of the existing system. For what reason? Simply to allow common storage and maintenance, not interoperability between lines. (Then they scratch-built a new fleet of accessible heritage cars, but that’s another story. If you want to nit-pick, yes, they do have track brakes.)”

    New Orleans actually operates a branch of the Canal Line up river on the waterfront line. They also propose to run a branch of the new French Quarter Line down to the river front and then along it into the downtown. They did build it for interoperability. They had to sell off the heritage cars they bought for the line. The North Rampart Street Line (how is that for a name?) will have a branch that runs Down Elysian Fields Avenue to connect with the Waterfront line, which the rebuilt this past spring.

    Check out their plans.

    New Orleans is still down about 200,000 people from pre Katrina and they are hoping that the street car lines will help bring people back.


  18. Thanks, Robert! I hadn’t seen any of those additional plans yet. They are certainly guaranteeing my return trip to their city. (I did get to ride the Waterfront line in its original incarnation.)

    I think my implied point still stands that they are taking the exact opposite approach to Toronto on heritage and tourism as a core part of a functional transit system. Even Philadelphia of all places (?!?!?) has PCCs with wheelchair lifts!


  19. A few comments / questions on the roll out of the Next Vehicle Arrival Systems (NVAS).

    First let me say how wonderful this is – a real revolution for transit users. Also I want to say how much I hope the txt msg limit before being charged is 6 or 8 per day not two. I don’t have a smart phone (data service is still too expensive) and 2 txts per day is far to low for a frequent transit user.

    One comment / question: Until the stop numbers are posted on all the bus stops, a job I imagine will take some time, I know you’re supposed to be able to use the stop numbers from the TTC site to send text messages.

    But a couple of problems for those stop numbers, at least on 92 (Woodbine South) . don’t work. No idea if / how common this problem is.

    Many of the numbers are only shown on the TTC site as 4 digits; sending a txt using a four digit number to 898882 gets you a “stop number doesn’t exist”.

    For some stops adding a leading zero to a number shown on the TTC website does work. For example the Northbound stop at Woodbine and Gerrard is shown on the TTC website as 8198, but this gets the “stop number doesn’t exist” error. Sending 08198 works fine!

    Other problems include the 4 digit stop number shown for Woodbine Station itself – 3194. Neither this number nor 03194 works – both give “stop number doesn’t exist”.

    Finally I note that on the whereismystreetcar site and the transee site looking at the HTML would lead one to believe the stop number for Woodbine Subway southbound is actually 14322 (this number is embedded in the code on both websites). Sending a text to this number gets a different error “no predictions available” – so the stop exists in the database!

    No idea who to report these type of problems too… any thoughts?

    Steve: If you look at the Open Data feed for the NextBus system, you will find that the numbering of the stops there is completely different from the numbering used by the txt msg subsystem. That’s why the HTML calls out different numbers — it is using the NextBus numbering natively.

    Having said that, I believe that there was a major restructuring of the NextBus database when the bus routes were added to the system, and even their numbering probably didn’t stay fixed.

    Stops where the txt msg does not work? Yes, I have run into some of those while testing the system to see how it behaved. I suspect that the quality control across this whole implementation was rather slipshod.


  20. Just called 393-Info and they told me the problems with the txtmsg system are “known to head office” and “have been broken for some time” and “will be fixed real soon”. Hmmm.


  21. I’ve have just updated TransSee so it will show the stop id for SMS messages on the predictions page. It only appears if you enable it in the settings. I have taken the liberty of added the leading 0 if the number is only for digits.

    It won’t help you with the numbers that don’t work, as it appears they are the same as what’s on the TTC website.

    Maybe it’s time for a new post on the prediction system. It works pretty well, but sometime it says a vehicle is going to arrive at a stop in a few minutes when it already passed it (I added a feature to TransSee to detect this). Also, there are times when the predictions are about double what they should be. I’ve only seen this happen during the evening and weekends. There are times I’ve been tempted to start calculating my own predictions because of these problems.


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