Three Platforms, Little Promise (Update 4)

Updated September 30, 2011 at 5:40pm:  Urban Toronto’s interview with Conservative transportation critic Frank Klees has now been posted.

Updated September 29, 2011 at 2:35pm:  Urban Toronto’s interview with NDP transportation critic Cheri DiNovo has now been posted.

Updated September 28, 2011 at 12:00nn: Urban Toronto will be posting interviews with the three parties about their transportation platforms.  The interview with Liberal Kathleen Wynne is now online.  I will link to the others as they appear.

The NDP has announced that they would commit to electrifying the Air Rail Link from opening day rather than implementing it as a diesel operation and converting later.  This is an ambitious plan, but it has the advantage of forcing GO Transit’s hand.  We hear a lot from Metrolinx about “if” they will electrify, but “when” is a target somewhere in the mists of the future.

Updated September 20, 2011 at 10:45pm:  The calculation of the effect of the NDP proposal has been revised to take into account additional revenue from new transit riding, presuming that this actually materializes in the face of constraints on service.

The original post from September 11 follows below.

Election time in Ontario brings out a fresh batch of promises from political parties, promises they hope will lure our support on voting day, promises that will inevitably be broken no matter who is elected.

Transportation is not at the top of anyone’s priority list in an era of bad economies.  The big ticket items (both for votes and for dollars) are health care, education and jobs.  Transit gets the leftovers if it is mentioned at all.  For many ridings, transit isn’t even an issue, if transit has any presence.

What would the three major parties bring us after October 6?

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Creeping Toward Earlier Subway Closing?

The TTC is increasingly fond of shutting down parts of its subway system for maintenance late at night.  The practice began with the project to repair the tunnel liners on the North Yonge subway (Eglinton to Sheppard) that, through a design flaw, were causing the tunnel to gradually go out of round.  Rather than work for only a few hours each night, the repair window was opened by ending subway service on the affected part of the line at 12:30 am.  This will continue until sometime late in 2012.

The Bloor-Danforth line is now shutting down at midnight for rail grinding with a rolling schedule working across the entire route:

  • September 19 to 23:  Kipling to Islington
  • September 25 to 30:  Kipling to Jane
  • October 2 to 7:  Ossington to Broadview
  • October 9 to 14:  St. George to Broadview
  • October 16 to 19:  St. George to Woodbine
  • October 20 & 21, 23 to 28, 30 to November 2:  Woodbine to Kennedy
  • November 3 & 4, 6 to 11:  Warden to Kennedy

Replacement bus service will operate overlapping the section of the route that is shut down.

This project begs the question of why there is a need to do rail grinding on a scale and with a level of service disruption we have not seen since the subway opened.  Once upon a time, there was a two-car train of PCCs used for grinding, but these are long-retired.  A problem arose many years ago on the high-speed section of the subway north of Eglinton where lateral sway of trains (a particular problem with the H1 series of cars) generated long-period horizontal equivalents of “corrugations” that reinforced the unwanted car movements.

I have asked the TTC for an explanation for this project, and also about any plans they might have for similar work on the Yonge-University-Spadina line.

It will be intriguing to see how the replacement bus service fares especially in the heavily-travelled central section of the line, and whether the crowd control and passenger information provided by the TTC at closed stations will amount to more than a few hand-written signs.

With late night services under attack in some quarters, I can’t help wondering when some bright spark on City Council will conclude that we really don’t need the subway open so late, and with it the many bus services operating to 2:00am and beyond.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, the Nuit Blanche celebrations will see limited overnight subway service on October 1-2 finishing at 7:00am Sunday.  There will be a brief interval where the subway is closed before the start of regular Sunday service at 9:00am (trains are actually out on the line building up service somewhat earlier).

  • BD line: Keele to Woodbine every 12-15 minutes
  • YUS line: St. Clair West to Eglinton every 10-12 minutes

The 300 BD Night Bus will only operate on the outer parts of the route not covered by the subway.  The 320 Yonge Night bus will have frequent service north of Eglinton, and a Spadina shuttle bus will operate north of St. Clair West.

Whether the TTC will put signs on the night bus stops advising that travellers should use the subway remains to be seen.  Even more challenging will be whether people will read them.

A 15-minute headway will operate on the following surface routes overnight transitioning to the start of Sunday daytime service:

  • 301 Queen
  • 305 Eglinton East
  • 306 Carlton
  • 307 Eglinton West
  • 504 King

The question of an earlier closing time for the subway is related to service expansion plans.  As the YUS gets longer and longer, and as the headways are shortened with automatic train control, the number of trains on the line rises considerably.  Most of these trains will originate at Wilson Yard, and there is a physical limit to the number of trains/hour that can enter service for the morning peak.  This will require the loading of service, if not revenue operations, to start earlier than it does now and will limit the time when the line is available for maintenance work.

Available alternatives include earlier shutdowns, extended weekend outages on affected sections of a route or the construction of additional storage capacity elsewhere on the line, preferably on the Yonge side to balance out service loading requirements.

TTC 2012: Cuts, Cuts and More Cuts (Updated)

Updated Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 12:00 noon:

Toronto’s Executive Committee at its marathon meeting of September 19-20, moved that “City Council receive the following Recommendations”:

2m. TTC: Consider rolling back some of the service improvements implemented under the Ridership Growth Strategy, including changes to the crowding standard. Also consider reducing/eliminating the Blue Night Network or making it a premium service by raising fares.

2n. TTC: Review service levels of support activities to conventional transit.

2o. TTC – Wheel Trans: With conventional transit becoming significantly more accessible, the role and service levels should be continuously reviewed. Consider potentially developing individual plans for riders to use conventional services for their needs, relying less on Wheel-Trans.

While this motion indicates that Executive may want to save the all-night services, an action already taken by the TTC itself, this motion also removes the idea of rolling back service standards to pre-RGS levels.  Given that the TTC has just approved such an action, and has the right to do so independently of Council, it is unclear just what the policy of the two bodies would be.

The original article from September 14 follows the break below.

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Did Wheel Trans Botch A New System Implementation?

Recently, I received an email from a reader reporting a major problem in the implementation by Wheel Trans of a new booking system.  Here is the relevant part of the note:

On August 6th, Wheel-Trans took down its online booking system to install a “New and Improved’ reservation system. Two days later the new page was up and running — sort of. Wheel-Trans had cleansed half of our list of “preregistered addresses” and, in so doing, had forced us back upon the hugely overloaded and barely functional phone reservation system.

The consequences were devastating. Bus operators, contract minivan owners, taxi drivers, reservationists and customer service agents, and the customers, all felt the effects; customers arriving late to appointments or not able to book rides or make cancellations, drivers attempting to meet an impossible schedule while driving to cancelled or abandoned calls, and agents and reservationists facing a never-ending flood of calls from frustrated, desperate, and, in some cases, irate customers. Like a locomotive shunting cars, each missed or late call rippled down the whole system; drivers run further and further behind in their schedule, customers wait longer and longer for their ride which, increasingly, as the day wears on. are abandoned or never arrive at all. And the traffic on the phone system grows and grows.

Even those not directly involved with the system— customers’ employers, physicians and therapists, hospitals and labs, friends and families—are all dealing with missed or late appointments.

Everyone I’ve talked with over the past few weeks, customers, Wheel-Trans drivers and phone staff, and health care professionals has a story to tell. And not one has a happy ending. Although everyone has different tale to tell, they all want a return to the old setup. But no one knows how to make this happen.

This has all the earmarks of a botched IT project although the exact reason has not come out yet.  In my own IT experience, this could be a question of bad specifications, of the official client not understanding how their own system works, or a badly executed data/functional migration that wasn’t properly tested before the system went live.

I am not a Wheel Trans user, although I have heard enough horror stories about the service it provides.  It’s a vital service for users, and yet the TTC and City are entertaining a cutback to the amount of service or the eligibility of riders, not further enhancements as part of the 2012 budget.

This article is intended as a repository for comments about that service, and in particular about the effects of the recent changes to the trip booking system.

No, We’re Not There Yet

Many recent reports and proposals talk about the problems of long commuting trips, of the futility of attempting to move quickly around our increasingly congested city.

Back on August 24, Statistics Canada published their commuting study based on 2010 data.  The study reviews not only comparative commuting times by mode, but also the attitudes of motorists to the transit alternative.

The average commuting time for all of Canada was 26 minutes, but this rises to 30 minutes for CMAs (“Census Metropolitan Areas” which are generally larger than actual municipalities) of 1-million or more population.  Toronto and Montreal average 33 and 31 minutes, but this doesn’t tell the entire story as any Toronto commuter will tell.  27% of Toronto commutes take over 45 minutes, and 29% are caught in traffic jams.

When the data are subdivided by car and transit, the transit trips take longer, and this difference is heightened in lower density areas.  That’s no surprise because low density areas tend to have poor transit service as a direct result of lower demand.  Waiting times are an important part of transit trips when service is poor, and this is compounded by any need to change between routes that may not directly serve all travel patterns.  The average transit commute in large CMAs is 44 minutes while the average car trip is 27 minutes.  The figures are even worse for Toronto.  Missing from this is any discussion of the length of the trip or the differences caused by trip location and density of demand.

Neither transit nor car users like traffic congestion, but the presence of rapid transit  networks means that some trips are congestion-free (even though they may be subject to transit delays that were not part of this study).  The proportion of commuters who were satisfied with their commute times is understandably high where these times are short and congestion is comparatively rare.  Transit riders put up with longer commute times better than car drivers, but those with short trips tended to be less happy with transit than motorists were with their cars.  This is easy to understand when one considers that a short transit trip is more likely to have a relatively large proportion of wait time, while at least some of the longer trips (notably commuter rail) allow the commuter to relax enroute.

The vast majority of motorists view public transit unfavourably, but this statistic is not broken down by region, let alone by sub-region where variations might be seen due to the availability and quality of the public transit option.

Media reaction to this report was quite predictable with stories about how bad Toronto’s commuting times are.  Less clear is the question of what, if anything, can be done about the situation.  Indeed, the most simplistic analysis might suggest that car trips are inherently faster and “better” than transit trips based on their average length.  This would completely mask the effect of averaging together trips over a wide variety of roads and transit lines and the cost, broadly speaking, of increasing capacity for either mode.

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TTC at 90

September 1, 2011 sees the TTC celebrate its 90th birthday, although “celebrate” may be an overstatement.

Politically, Toronto is so ashamed of public services, of which the TTC is the single largest example, and so afraid to appear to waste “taxpayer dollars” on frivolity, that we’re going to have a birthday, but no cake.  September’s Metropass marks the occasion with a less-than-inspired design, but that’s about it.

I checked with the TTC’s Communications Director, Brad Ross, about this so-low-key-it’s-inaudible celebration, and he confirmed that cost was a concern.  Apparently, the TTC can run posters telling us about the new, but almost invisible, Toronto Rocket trains, but cannot celebrate a milestone in Toronto’s history.

It’s worth remembering that the TTC came to exist because the privately owned Toronto Railway Company refused to invest in system expansion, and let their plant run down for years in advance of a municipal takeover assured by their games.  The depression and WW2 halted municipal expansion plans, but as the suburbs of Toronto exploded, it was the public sector that financed service expansion.  Sadly, this didn’t keep pace, and all those brave words about “transit oriented development” in the 60s gave way to a city where the car is the primary, and often the only choice for travel.

Will the TTC will reach 100 as a reborn, reinvigorated transit system, or as a doddering elder starved and stripped of its best assets?  Will Toronto Council fight to preserve and improve the TTC, or cede control to those who care only for private sector subways and a monorail to the waterfront?  Will Queen’s Park take a real interest in local transit as an essential part of the GTA, or concentrate funding on marquee projects, or simply walk away from transit?

Happy Birthday, TTC, and may you see better days.