TTC Meeting Preview for October 2011

The Toronto Transit Commission’s monthly meeting will be on Wednesday, October 19.  There are a few items of interest, most importantly the financial and riding information that has not been formally reported since April.

Chief General Manager’s Report

This report gives the TTC’s operating results to the end of August 2011.  Ridership is 2.2% above budget and 5.2% over actual riding for the first eight months of 2010.  My feelings about service cuts are well-known, and the idea of trimming service, forcing more crowding and longer waits is madness in the face of growing demand.  We are no longer talking about cuts to the least-used services, but to major routes during some of their busiest periods.

Better riding brings more fare revenue to the tune of $9.2-million, a number that would be even higher were it not for a slightly lower than projected average fare (the proportion of trips taken by various lower-priced fares was slightly higher than expected).  Among the factors credited for the strong riding is the growth in downtown condos and, by implication, the higher transit usage of people living close to the core area job market.

The projected “surplus” for 2011 is $2.4m.  This is properly described as a reduction in the amount of subsidy needed to balance the TTC’s books.  Although the TTC would love to carry forward such a surplus to future years, the City always claws it back arguing that in years where the TTC fell short, the City was on the hook for the difference as the ultimate funder.

A variety of revenue and expense items, some one-time, some ongoing, bring the 2011 books more or less to the projected subsidy level despite the stronger ridership and fare revenue.  The TTC will expense about $10m in “corporate restructuring” related to downsizing its total workforce in the 2011 budget year.  A further $7.2m will show up as a book loss when the TTC transfers the parking lot at York Mills and Yonge to Build Toronto for nominal sum rather than its TTC book value.

On the Capital Budget, there will be considerable underspending because of project delays.  These include rescheduling of some major track projects to 2012, delays in the Vaughan subway extension, the subway resignalling and the new LRV carhouse at Ashbridges Bay.

Some of this is detailed in a report on Technical Amendments to the Capital Budget in which funds are shuffled between projects and years to reflect actual project timings and spending.

Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited

This is a subsidiary company of the TTC formerly known as Toronto Transit Consultants Ltd. (TTCL).  The now-TTIL has been used as a vehicle for consulting work on the proposed Sheppard Subway project, and its funding came from $162k in equity sitting in the TTCL accounts.  (See TTC financial statements for 2010 at page 27 of the pdf).  This amount includes $62k in retained earnings from work actually done through TTCL and $100k of the original capital investment by the TTC in TTCL as seed money.

At this point, TTIL has burned through almost all of its capital and has an equity value of only $2.8k.  This decline will show up as a cost to the TTC on a consolidated basis, albeit a small one.  Spending the money did not require an authorization by the TTC or Council because it was already in TTIL’s hands.  However, the TTC’s shares in TTIL are now worth, effectively, nothing and they will have to book this as a capital loss.

A parallel situation exists with Toronto Coach Terminal Limited which has a $1m capital investment by TTC and a $15.6m receivable from its parent (the TTC).  The company, the remains of Gray Coach Lines Limited, has a negative net worth, but this will, in theory, be offset as and when the bus terminal property is sold for redevelopment.  TTIL does not have a comparable offsetting asset.

Wheel Trans 2012 Budget Update

This report responds to a request by the Commission for additional information on the cost and composition of the Wheel Trans passengers.

The 2012 Wheel Trans budget includes a proposal that trips for kidney dialysis patients who do not otherwise meet the eligibility criteria for WT service be discontinued unless alternate funding is made available.  TTC staff continues to investigate funding sources, but plans to issue notices at the end of November that service will be terminated at yearend in the absence of new money.  This policy change reduces, but does not eliminate the shortfall in WT funding for 2012, and severe cuts to WT service levels remain a possibility.

Next Vehicle Arrival System

The 2012 budget included a proposal to begin charging for text messages giving projected vehicle arrival times.  This scheme has been put on hold for various reasons:

  • Most bus stops don’t have next vehicle info stickers giving the code number for the stop, and as a result, usage of the system for bus routes is still quite small and within available budget.
  • As part of the overall Customer Service initiative, the TTC may wish to make other changes to information posted at bus stops.  If there is to be a project requiring staff to visit every stop, then this opportunity should be used to make any other changes at the same time.
  • The cost of text message services to the TTC may decline in 2012 due both to the beginning of a new service provider contract, and because of potential revenue from ads bundled with the transit info.

Meanwhile, the TTC will also encourage use of free services such as those provided by Nextbus and various other web applications by those riders who have devices capable of accessing them.

Easier Access Update

TTC staff recommend that the proposed rollout plan for accessible stations remain unchanged despite a request that Keele Station be moved up from the currently scheduled 2018.

The overall schedule includes four stations on the SRT which, by the time accessibility is scheduled to occur, should have been rebuilt as part of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT line.

9 thoughts on “TTC Meeting Preview for October 2011

  1. I guess discussions of Enhanced Bus Service for Finch West would be deferred indefinitely, since it had been scheduled to appear in the September meeting.

    Steve: There has been no mention of this since the original Memorandum of Understanding between Ford and McGuinty. Considering that it would be entirely a City project, and would require capital that Ford doesn’t have, I suspect this is a slumbering, if not dead issue for the near future.

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  2. “Among the factors credited for the strong riding is the growth in downtown condos and, by implication, the higher transit usage of people living close to the core area job market.”

    I thought the downtown condos one of the factors for falling ridership during the 1990s because people who worked downtown now walked to work instead of taking the TTC.

    Steve: The TTC has always been good at bending arguments to suit the moment. The most outrageous example is that for a long time they clung to the employment graph for the GTA even when TTC riding growth diverged from the employment trend.

    From the Next Vehicle Arrival System report:

    “Since the expansion to NVAS to bus services the TTC has made a concerted effort to inform our customers about the variety of ways to access next vehicle information.”

    Ha! I don’t recall a single mention of the system in the many posters the TTC has in the system and I had to use the search feature to find a mention on it in the website. The TTC website still shows the scheduled arrivals for each stop instead of using the predictions. It should only take an hour or two of work to add the predictions.

    Steve: Well, there have been the posters and the tearoff pamphlets in vehicles, but the TTC has done a lousy job of pointing people at alternate delivery mechanisms like Nextbus. Also, the complete lack of integration between Nextbus and the TTC’s own schedule pages, something that could have been in planning for a year, shows just how well integrated and dedicated to “customer service” their website planning actually is.

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  3. Random questions and observation related to the next meeting and/or its reports:

    On Accessibility: There are now a very large number of station due to have elevators in-service by 2015, is it clear if these projects will actually be moving ahead in 2012 in order to meet that date?

    Steve: I find that a bit hard to believe given that these projects are often undertaken concurrently with other station reconstruction such as at Pape and Dufferin. I’m waiting for the detailed budget books to come out so that I can see how the various project timings play out. It’s worth noting that a common practice for the TTC is to “park” some work beyond the five year detailed planning window, and the list of station elevators is probably old enough that it’s based on 2010 info. Those may not be real dates.

    On Station Cleanliness: Did I miss the last report, shouldn’t there be or have been one this fall?

    Steve: We have not had one for quite a while. Maybe the Customer Service folks can track it down so that we can appreciate the beautiful stations while waiting for service.

    I believe the CGM’s report mentions a ‘customer service report’ for this agenda, where is that hidden exactly?

    Steve: I suspect it will be in the Supplementary Agenda when that comes out probably on Monday.

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  4. There is also a report on the TTC site that says that they want to get rid of free parking at the commuter lots on weekdays after 3 p.m. They say that the move will generate 400,000 dollars next year – it is suppose to go into effect on Jan 1, 2012.

    When the TTC first got rid of free parking for Metropass holders they partly justified it by saying that the money generated by the fees will be used to maintain the lots. I don’t know about the rest of the lots, but the Finch West lot still looks like a warzone despite 2.5 years of paid parking.

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  5. The reason downtown condos are causing ridership now, is because all the condos are on the outskirts of downtown like King East and King West. Those areas require people to take the streetcar to work in the CBD. It is no secret the east west streetcar lines are at capacity because of this.

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  6. Paid parking during off peak times makes no sense and will just encourage people to drive downtown. A number of American subway systems charge parking at all times, like Washington D.C., and I think the ridership numbers show how that does not work.

    I remember when I was in Washington D.C. we took the subway only because we really wanted to. Otherwise with the parking charges, it was actually cheaper to drive downtown and pay for parking.

    Steve: Assuming that you can actually find parking downtown.

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  7. Darwin said:
    Ha! I don’t recall a single mention of the system in the many posters the TTC has in the system and I had to use the search feature to find a mention on it in the website. The TTC website still shows the scheduled arrivals for each stop instead of using the predictions. It should only take an hour or two of work to add the predictions.

    I prefer to look at NextBus to see how the whole line is ‘behaving’ rather than relying totally on the actual schedules (or even the predictions, which I thought until now were based on NextBus) but there are no obvious links to Nextbus from the TTC website. I know there is a ‘deep page’ on it but the obvious place to for a link to NextBus is on the front page where the schedule information is.

    I actually suggested this to Brad Ross, who appeared to agree with me and said he would pass it on but, of course, nothing has changed.

    Steve: Yes, the absence of an easy reference to Nextbus is annoying. The link to the general page about schedule info has been pushed off of the main page by other “news” items, and it’s not obviously linked elsewhere. Another example of the fine “award winning” web design.

    The navigation now is

    Home Page > About the TTC > Projects and Initiatives > Customer Information Initiatives > Connect With The TTC And Stay Informed

    and then scroll down to “Next Vehicle Arrival System” where you will find a link to Nextbus, or …

    Home Page > About the TTC > Projects and Initiatives > Customer Information Initiatives > Next Vehicle Arrival System

    Nextbus is also linked from the “Related Links” page which is available from the footer at the bottom of all pages. On that page, it is listed by name, not by function, and so you have to know that you’re looking for it, by which time you have already navigated directly to Nextbus on your own.

    There is no reference to NVAS or Nextbus at all in the schedule pages, and don’t get me started on the mobile site which doesn’t display vital information such as route diversions or subway shutdowns in many cases.

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  8. What ever became of those Station Managers? Still around? More to come? How about a report on their effectiveness?

    Steve: I understand that more are coming in 2012, although that means extra head count at the expense of some other part of the organization. There has been no report yet on their effectiveness, and I rarely see them.

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  9. Station Managers: A few weeks ago I was waiting for an out-of-town friend at the Dundas Station. (As he had gone to Dundas West in error I had a long wait!). The Station Manager was much in evidence and quite obvious in a rather natty cap and jacket. He dealt with a few troublesome customers, supported a collector who was being screamed at by a possibly deranged passenger (who he calmed down), directed many people to places outside the station and generally seemed to be busy and useful — to both customers and other station staff. I did not check to see if the usual obsolete notices had all been removed in Dundas Station but from an hour’s observation the Station manager seemed a useful idea.

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