TTC Commission Meeting Wrapup for October 2011

The Toronto Transit Commission met on October 19, 2011.  With the exception of one item, it was an uneventful agenda.  This article deals only with matters where significant new information came to light beyond that reported in my initial review of the agenda.

28 Billionth Rider

In case you were wondering, the “official” 28-billionth rider chosen to mark the TTC’s 90th anniversary on September 1, 2011, was not chosen with a countdown clock, but from the pool of the TTC’s Metropass Discount Plan subscribers.  The lucky rider gets a free Metropass subscription for one year.

I did not win, although I have been using the Metropass since its inception in 1980, and became a subscriber as soon as this was possible.  By the 100th anniversary (if the TTC still exists by then), we will all be using Presto.  Sigh.

Budget and Efficiency Reviews

The Operating Budget was mentioned only in passing in the context of planned public consultation on “Customer Service”, and the service cuts for January were treated as a done deal that is not subject to discussion.  This is rather odd considering that Council has yet to finalize its budget, and “what if” questions about various funding scenarios will be an obvious part of the debate.

For example, the current TTC budget requires a 10-cent fare increase to balance the books.  What further cuts will be needed if this is not implemented?  We don’t know.  Indeed, we didn’t even know what cuts the present budget would bring until the detailed list found its way to me earlier this week.  Officially, the TTC was still working on the cuts (probably true in the strictest interpretation), but a detailed proposal had already been posted for staff information.

If a higher fare increase were implemented, what could be done with the added revenue?  This type of question, of planning, was at the heart of the Ridership Growth Strategy which, thanks to Mayor Ford, was jettisoned as an unwanted leftover of the Miller era.  With the fundamental assumption that any improvements cannot be afforded, or worse, might be “gravy” undeserved by the beneficiaries, Toronto finds itself cut off from the basic debate of the worth and quality of its services.  The present crew of TTC Commissioners colludes in this by avoiding discussion on alternative budget strategies.  “What if” is a question nobody wants to hear answered.

Meanwhile, Chair Karen Stintz focuses on “good news” stories about things the TTC did, or appeared to do, well.  She is dancing on the deck of the Titanic.

Several issues raised in the KPMG “Efficiency Reviews” are now under study by TTC management.  While many of the areas addressed here are worth studying, they represent comparatively small efficiencies and, moreover, they are one-time savings.  Improvements in the affected cost areas may be found, although some may not bear fruit until 2013.  However, an “efficiency” cannot be repeatedly applied to yield new savings year after year, and the TTC will have do deal with ridership and inflationary pressures in 2013 and beyond without the one-time reductions applied in 2012.

One large “saving” comes from the designation of the TTC’s Pension Fund Society as a “jointly sponsored” plan which does not require full solvency of future liabilities.  If the TTC had been required to fully fund the plan, this would have added $40 to $45-million annually to the Operating Budget through about 2022.  This is really only an avoided cost, not a saving against current spending.

In a separate study, the City is reviewing the consolidation of various pension plans, including the TTC’s.  The possibility of such a move and its financial implications have not yet been reported out to Council.

Wheel-Trans Operating Budget

Commissioner Cesar Palacio tabled a request that staff consider moving from the current 60/40 ratio of contracted versus TTC-provided service to a new target of 80/20.  The question of using private operators to carry more of the WT customers has come before the Commission many times before, although in this case it crept into the agenda unexpectedly with Palacio’s motion.

The fundamental problems with previous attempts at private operation of WT vans/buses has been with the quality of staff, vehicle maintenance and passenger treatment.  How this will be address in the 2013 budget cycle remains to be seen.

One point TTC management has not yet addressed is the degree to which high in-house costs are a function of poor dispatching that affects vehicle utilization and trip lengths.  A new booking system is supposed to reduce these problems, but we have yet to hear any reports on actual operational or financial benefits.

Fitness for Duty

By far the biggest issue for debate was the question of mandatory testing for drug and alcohol use by TTC staff.  The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 strongly opposes this scheme, and the matter is already in grievance proceedings and likely to wind up in the courts.  The ATU’s position is that random testing is an invasion of privacy, and that it does not fully address the problem of a driver’s ability to perform their job.

The ATU supports the implementation of non-invasive technologies to assess driver alertness that check for response times using video displays, a system already deployed in parts of the USA.  The ATU’s position is that this would monitor for all forms of fatigue including those due to tiredness or illness, not just test for the presence of drugs or alcohol.

This is not as straightforward a situation as it may appear.  For one thing, privacy and especially health privacy laws in Ontario are much more strict than south of the border.  The TTC also claims that it is interested in whether someone is impaired at the time a test is taken, not whether there is evidence of past use.

TTC Management and the Commission appear to be exploiting a recent collision between a bus and truck which caused a passenger’s death to push through the new policy.  The driver was charged with “criminal negligence causing death” and it is unclear whether a separate charge for marijuana possession has any bearing on this case.  I will not comment further on this matter, and will edit out any comments that speculate on this subject because it is before the courts.

What is clear is that until various legal and labour proceedings work themselves out, the new policy will be in limbo.

Subway Station and Vehicle Cleanliness

The TTC received a presentation on the cleanliness of its stations and vehicles.  In case you have been wondering why TTC vehicles might be a tad grubby, we now know that the only daily cleaning they get is a “dust and sweep” except for the bus fleet which gets an exterior wash as part of the daily fuelling cycle.  Streetcars don’t need to be fuelled, and they go straight to the yard.

Now that the wash tracks at Wilson and Greenwood are back in operation, subway trains do look a lot better, although some cars remain grungy, notably on the BD line, possibly because the long period without cleaning has left dirt and grease more or less permanently part of the cars.

Audit results for the condition of stations and vehicles show that there has been some improvement, but the TTC is still not at its hoped-for targets.  The streetcar fleet, in particular, is well below the hoped-for level of litter although this is probably due to the relatively large number of vehicles staying in service all day and evening without a mid-day break where basic housekeeping might be possible.

The TTC plans to transfer some subway cleaners from carhouse duties to subway terminals where they can clean out trains at the end of each trip.  It is unclear whether there are enough cleaners for this during all service hours.

Some tile and grout work now underway at a half-dozen locations should be finished by year-end.  However, there was no comment on the many locations where portions of station walls were removed for inspection, and the due date for replacement recedes into the future.  Similarly, there was no comment on locations like St. George where the trackside walls remain filthy even while work continues on the platforms and stairwells.

10 thoughts on “TTC Commission Meeting Wrapup for October 2011

  1. Can’t the driver upon his way to the other end of the subway train pick up all the 24hrs/metro/gridto/etc….?

    What about the middle guy does front he middle to the new front and becomes the new direction’s driver. The original driver that drove the train into the end station picks up from the original front to the middle and becomes the middle person?

    Steve: Many important points here. First of all, drivers don’t pick up garbage. For safety reasons, they would need to put on gloves, and they would need something to put the garbage in. All this while carrying whatever other stuff they have with them. Also, they wouldn’t cover the whole train anyhow as they typically move only two carlengths. They are supposed to be having a short break at this point, not working. It’s a long drive from Finch to Downsview, and will be even longer when it’s to Vaughan. By the time they are driving TRs, they won’t move when reversing trains at all because the guard will be at the back of the train, not at the back of car 4.


  2. I wonder how many passengers and trains crews would really be “against” picking up litter if they had the time to do it.

    I’ve seen many passengers picking up newspapers and pieces of litter (often not their own) and taking it off the train. I’ve done it myself as well.

    And I’d like to believe that there are some crews who quietly try to clean up their trains, even if the driver and guard can only cover 2 cars each.

    In theory, if cleaners are moved to the terminal stations they could cover the other 2 cars (which are probably more heavily used) – meaning that the whole train could get a once-over if there was some cooperation … well, at least for the Bloor-Danforth Line, and at least for as long as Bloor-Danforth is running T & H trains.

    Clive Beddoe can go down and clean the occasional WestJet plane. Is it unfair to want to see Karen Stintz and Gary Webster do the same … maybe 1 hour each per week?

    As for the 100th anniversary, let’s hope that the TTC lasts that long as an independent agency. Leave the takeover by Metrolinx for the TTC’s “2nd century”

    Cheers, Moaz


  3. We have to be careful about what happens when we allow people who don’t do the job to create efficiencies sketched out on the whiteboard in the boardroom and then those “solutions” are imposed on the real world. In reality, most people aren reasonably efficient in the way that they do their job and the “improvements” mess up the system. The job of train crews is to safely and efficiently operate the trains – not provide the cleaning. As Steve has pointed out, equipment is required to do the job properly and the negative effect on morale is almost certain. In addition, bathroom breaks are essential and the end result is likely to be more inefficiency in maintaining schedules and providing the required service reliability. In addition, many or most Operators would neglect the cleaning duties and we would have dirty trains. The negative morale effect would still be felt – even with respect to those who don’t do the cleaning. In the end, the resulting effects would cost more than the cleaners required to do the job properly in the first place. How, for example, can a uniformed train crew be expected to clean up spilled coffee or pop?

    The bottom line, is that despite all the keeners with whiteboards, you cannot do “more with less”. The reality is that you do “less with less” In the scheme of things – cleaners, even those paid a proper wage – do not cost all that much in relation to the total budget of the TTC. If I was given a preference, I would gladly pay the price to have a higher quality of life for both passengers and staff – and the price paid would be essentially a rounding error.

    The final point above has been the whole problem with the nonsense perpetrated by the Mayor and his supporters. They seem to think that you can cancel the Vehicle Tax for example, and balance the loss by canceling sandwiches at council meetings. The two are not even close to the same magnitude.


  4. Why doesn’t the TTC get the same or close to the highest farebox recovery ratio in North America? Oh wait, the TTC DOES get the HIGHEST farebox recovery than any other urban transit agency in North America. In other words, the LOWEST subsidy per passenger than any other urban transit agency. Why can’t the commissioners on the TTC, and the Ford regime get that?

    Steve: Toronto also has a very high proportion of choice riders and off-peak riders. The people on our buses, streetcars and trains are not there out of some form of municipal good will, but because, for the most part, they choose that way to travel. However, the Fords seem to treat transit riders as if they are coddled charges on the public purse whose condition is not yet sufficiently Dickensian for their taste.


  5. BD trains are being cleaned? Really? All last week, I happened to board the same train every morning, “fresh” out of Greenwood yard. I sat in the same seat of the same car and saw the same sticky pop that had been spilled on the floor under the seat in front of me, not to mention other obvious signs of grime and goo. I guess they must have missed that train. Today, I got a different train, but it was only marginally better on the inside. The exterior, as you mentioned, was caked with grime. It really is quite depressing that cities with far more extensive subway networks (and much higher ridership) such as the MTA and Metro Madrid manage to keep their cars much, much cleaner than ours.

    Steve: Yes, I have noticed that “cleaning” means different things on BD and YUS trains, and it appears that Greenwood isn’t as dedicated to their work as Wilson.


  6. Re. Miroslav’s comment:

    I do think it is unrealistic to expect the subway drivers to do the work, and it makes much more sense for a special team to clean out the trains at the end of each run. I am glad to see this happening and I believe it is quite common practice in other transit systems with subways (e.g. Berlin). At the same time, I have seen bus drivers donning gloves in San Diego and doing a quick once-over of their vehicles upon arriving at the termini of their routes. It may be comparing apples and oranges in terms of vehicle turnaround times, etc. (the San Diego system is much less heavily used than the Toronto system), but perhaps the union could engender more public goodwill if they were to suggest that their members were willing to do this task.


  7. As I and others have at least alluded to if not explicitly stated before, the “silo effect” causes all kinds of problems in the greater scheme of transportation planning – all modes suffer from this to varying degrees. If x is done to mode a, what is y and its associated cost for mode b? This kind of exercise, analysis, evaluation, or whatever one wishes to call it, is essential if one has any real interest in understanding what the real impacts on finances and network performance (road and rail alike – both form parts of the same transportation system) will be as a result from x.

    You can’t rob Peter and expect Paul will never notice.


  8. Just once I’d like to go into the men’s room at Kipling Station and NOT be greeted by the overwhelming stench of urine and see most of the toilets clogged with sh!t and paper. Subway washrooms can be fairly “nice”, just look at the ones at Downsview, it’s a night-and-day difference. I also insist that Islington’s platform tiles are almost as dirty as St. George’s are. Now that Kipling’s new East entrance is done, which btw the salmon-coloured tiles look REALLY nice, hopefully Issy won’t have to wait too much longer for some much needed TLC.


  9. Moaz Yusuf Ahmad:

    “Clive Beddoe can go down and clean the occasional WestJet plane. Is it unfair to want to see Karen Stintz and Gary Webster do the same … maybe 1 hour each per week?”

    It’s funny you mention that. On the day that the first TR train was launched into service Karen Stintz rode it all the way around from Downsview to Finch. Upon arriving at Finch, she switched to the T1 on the other side of the platform. When she got on that T1 I spotted her picking up every newspaper in the first car and disposing of them using the recycling containers located on the platform before she took a seat. This could have been looked at as a publicity stunt though since there were still some media aboard the TR across the platform.

    Steve: Where does it end? Do they post notices of service cuts? Clean the gum off of station floors? Manage service on routes? It’s all a publicity stunt when, at the same time, the Commission complains about escalators out of service but won’t hire enough mechanics to maintain what is the largest fleet of escalators in Canada. Maybe we could get them cleaning washrooms while they’re at it.


Comments are closed.