More Riders, Less Service (Update 2)

Updated November 27, 2011 at 7:00 am:  The section describing the variations from budget for 2011 has been updated.

Updated November 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm:  I have written an article for Torontoist on the pending service cuts.

Updated November 22, 2011 at 11:10 am:  TTC staff propose that the 145 Humber Bay Express bus be discontinued after February 10, 2012.  This route has never met the financial or performance criteria used to evaluate other services.  After two years of a charmed life as a local Councillor’s pet project, the route is finally being held to the same standards as the rest of the transit system.  When we are cutting services across Toronto, spending $150k/year to provide 70 people (140 trips) with their own bus service cannot be justified.

The original post follows below:

TTC ridership numbers for September 2011 are up 5.1% over 2010, a level 2.4% above the budget projection.  Under normal circumstances, this would be cause for celebration, but not in Rob Ford’s Toronto.  Here we cut service even when riding goes up, all in the name of wrestling with a fictitiously inflated City deficit.

The Chief General Manager’s Report tells us that riding will come in just a hair under half a billion at 497m for the year 2011, fully 10m more than the budget estimate.  Those riders generate more revenue for the TTC, but don’t expect to see this in service improvements.

Back in early 2011, TTC Chair Karen Stintz told riders who would be affected by this year’s service cuts that they were “for the greater good”, and offsetting improvements would come in the fall.  Come they did, although about one quarter of the fall improvements fall victim to the 2012 budget cuts.  The full list of 2012 cuts is far longer than the surviving 2011 additions.

2012.01.08 Lost Improvements

This table lists all of the improvements made from September through November (most in September) 2011.  Headways are shown for spring and fall 2011, as well as for January 2012.  The changes in vehicle counts show the fall adds and, where applicable, the 2012 cuts.

The extra fare revenue will be largely consumed not by service, but by other costs related to staff downsizing and other one-time effects.  It all nets out to under $4m in “surplus”, or as the City prefers to think of it, a reduced subsidy.

Revenue Changes from Budget:
Fares                      $14.7m
Advertising                ( 2.8)
Other Income                 1.3

Expense Changes from Budget:
Corporate Restructuring:   $10.0m
Build Toronto Transfer       7.2
Depreciation               ( 6.9)
Accident Claims              5.0
Workforce Gapping          ( 5.6)

Some of these amounts are one-time costs (restructuring, the accounting effect of a property transfer, the effect of a change in capital spending and accounting).  By including them in the total expenses for 2011, the TTC looks less “flush” than it might be otherwise.

Updated November 27, 2011:

A more detailed list of variations from budget appears in Appendix A of the CGM’s report linked above.  In this list, expenses are organized by department rather than by function.  Savings that cross departments (such as gapping) are spread through many lines.

The Build Toronto transfer listed above (and in the body of the report) is not an “expense” in the accounting sense and it does not appear in the Income/Expense statement.  This is a transfer of equity from the TTC to Build Toronto, and it will eventually show up as an adjustment to Retained Earnings on the Financial Statement.  If it had been treated as an expense, then the TTC would have been reimbursed (through the subsidy and/or fares) for the surplus property at York Mills and Yonge.  This land was originally purchased as part of the North Yonge subway project and would have been paid for with City or Provincial capital subsidy.

The important distinction, one the TTC does not make in its report, lies in the difference between one-time costs and the ongoing expenses of running the system.

[End of update]

For 2012, the TTC will achieve savings in operating costs through service cuts, and their budget includes a 10¢ adult fare increase (if this is not implemented, further service cuts will be necessary to pay for another year of frozen fares).  Whether ridership will grow, plateau at its current level or fall thanks to the changes in loading standards and the resulting cuts remains to be seen.

What is quite certain is that the “saving” through revised loading standards cannot be repeated in 2013 because there is a point at which there is no more room on the vehicles.  This is a one-time saving, and both the TTC and the City must address funding and service provision in a mature way rather than blathering on about “respect for taxpayers”.  The equal if not more important “respect for riders” is lost in the bombast.

Meanwhile, in a longer report that I will address in a separate article, we have Accenture Consulting’s review of TTC operations with recommendations for possible savings.  Buried within this are statements about the level of subsidy of routes, and these depend on the same bankrupt methodology for allocating costs and revenues to individual routes we have seen from the TTC in years past.

The analysis is faulty because it is impossible to allocate fare revenue in a consistent manner in a flat fare, free transfer system.  Cost allocations are subject to distortions introduced by variations in route characteristics.  For example, a fast route costs less per kilometre to operate than a slow one because operators are paid by the hour, not by the distance driven.  Long routes tend to have longer trips, and passengers consume more resources getting from one point to another even though they pay a fixed fare.  Some passengers transfer multiple times, some not at all.

In a political atmosphere where service matters more than accounting, the gaping holes in the TTC’s analysis are ignored.  However, when the bean counters get control, they love to measure things whether their scales are accurate or not.  Once again we risk having service policy dictated by deeply flawed financial analysis and by the idea that we can calculate the actual subsidy each rider receives.  What this misses is that riders are collections of trips.  Some of these trips are expensive to serve, some are quite cheap.  If we drive away usage for the expensive ones, we risk losing the cheap ones too.

24 thoughts on “More Riders, Less Service (Update 2)

  1. Am I reading this correct. Rail operators (subway and streetcar?) average 10% abseentism – or 26 days a year … or one day a fortnight?

    This seems hugely excessive. Generally I’ve been accepting of the union and against tendering out operation to private companies. But numbers like that make me wonder.

    Though seeing some breakdown of how much of this is long-term disability, etc., might put it in perspective.

    Steve: It’s important to remember that a front-line operator is in a very different situation from someone working in an office. If an office worker feels a bit off, they may drag themself in to work, although in the process infect half of their co-workers, but they muddle through. If your job is to stay alert and drive for at least 8 hours, probably more, with a bus load of passengers, you may think twice about reporting while under the weather. Yes, some workers may tend to be “sicker” just before or after weekends, but we have to be careful not to appear to make showing up for work more important than providing safe, reliable service for riders.


  2. I am happy ridership is going up and would like to see transit continue to be an attractive way to travel for even more people.

    However I can’t help but be slightly confused by the continued and popular ridership growth on the TTC.

    I would like to know how a system that has not done anything to improve transit travel times(It still takes forever to get many places on the TTC, compared to driving), and that is crowding more people on lesser buses, etc; is still seeing ridership increases??

    In fact while the Ridership Growth Strategy improvements were great, I still fail to see how even those improvements generated such high ridership growth. Does it really matter for example if the 38 bus runs until 1:30 am seven days a week now, when it still takes an hour and a half to get most places? Are people really leaving their cars at home for that?

    So overall what I don’t understand, is where this ridership is coming from, regardless of service improvements. Is Toronto getting poorer and therefore more people are forced onto the TTC?
    Because I can’t see choice riders hoping on buses with riders packed in like sardines.

    Montreal has seen record ridership growth just like the TTC. But the difference in Montreal is that they not only have been improving schedules, but they have also been introducing express bus services, bus only lanes, and other improvements to speed up bus travel, compared to driving. But TTC has done none of this.

    Steve: TTC’s additional riding comes disproportionately during the off peak when there is more spare capacity and where the RGS improvements in loading standards have made travel somewhat better. Also, there are economic pressures that trigger more riding despite inconveniences. Whether this will be enough to shield the TTC from losses after the January cuts remains to be seen. Ideally, the TTC should report on riding on routes most affected by the cuts, but I doubt they will even get around to detailed riding counts there very quickly. The problem with such stats, of course, is that they do not report how many people gave up on transit.


  3. As a bus operator, let me address a question to Nfitz: Would you feel safe riding on any vehicle where the operator is feeling so ill that they cannot concentrate on the safe operation of the vehicle? This is an integral part of the “Fit for Duty” policy. In our job, safety is the overriding concern — if I feel that I cannot focus on the operation of the vehicle, I will “book off”. Is Nfitz suggesting that I should come to work and ignore the fact that I cannot give 100% to the safe operation of the vehicle? This is an example of how statistics do not tell the whole story. I would just like to say that one should get all of the facts before jumping to conclusions based on one figure.


  4. During the election, I saw Rob Ford as an anti-transit mayor. This proves it, in my books. He uses “saving money” as an excuse to cut transit service because he does not regularly use transit unless he has to.


  5. Gord says the statistics are not telling all of the facts, but I don’t see any mitigating facts presented. Steve is right that as an office worker, I will come in to work sick and muddle through. But that happens 2 to 3 days a year, not 20 to 30. I don’t want operators to try to work when they are impaired by an illness, but even allowing for that, the absenteeism rate still seems astoundingly high to me.

    But perhaps this average is not normally distributed? I could accept it if these figures include a small number of operators who take very long periods off for serious or chronic illnesses that are skewing the average.


  6. Gord’s comments are relevant to the ongoing YRT situation. There seems to be a magical belief that outsourcing somehow automatically saves money. Of course that is not the case. As I have indicated before, You can’t do “More with Less” – in fact you get “Less with Less”. For privatization to save money, there has to be “less” somewhere – and in YRT that “less” is reflected in a lack of sick days and vastly reduced wages (in comparison to other operators). I concur with Gord that I do not want to ride on a bus that is operated by a person who is ill – and yet that is a near necessity in York where operators are paid less than an adequate wage and lose even more income if they fail to work. I would rather pay my taxes and ride in safety. (Thank fully, there have not been major accidents in York Region. I hope that continues. You can take a lot of risk for a long time before the consequences strike. However, for sad and graphic examples see the US intercity bus business – highly competitive and low wages – where there have been several unnecessary accidents.)


  7. In an attempt to respond to Michael’s earlier comment, I’d like to ask if it’s becoming increasingly important to view transit growth not as a matter of people ‘leaving the car at home’, but as truly the only available, sensible option for many if not most transit users. With downtown densities increasing, and the effectiveness of existing auto infrastructure decreasing, transit use will grow no matter how it’s provided, in what condition, level of cost of convenience.

    I think evidence of this is the continued appetite for transit irrespective of fare increases or service denigration. It’s no longer about the TTC being the better way – socially, environmentally, etc. – but about being the only way to actually move significant numbers of people in an increasingly built up downtown core, a big-city reality if you’d ask me.

    As a downtown transit user myself I’m of the opinion that there is huge ridership growth potential in simply satisfying existing transit demand (only increasing with transit-oriented downtown and infill development), let alone trying to appeal to current non-users who’d prefer to not use transit. Trying to get people out of their cars is only part of the equation of ridership growth, and I think it’s a diminishing part at that.


  8. The reason for the failure of the #145 bus route is twofold:

    – It charged a premium fare
    – Traffic congestion on Lake Shore

    But I think that there ought to be plenty of demand, if the service were done right. The new condo developments near Park Lawn/Lake Shore are horribly underserved by transit. It takes 45 minutes or so to take the 501 streetcar downtown, which is ridiculous for such a short distance, and it takes forever to drive downtown as well during rush hour due to traffic congestion. A permanent solution is needed, and the obvious solution is to build a new GO station at the Humber Loops on the Lakeshore line. Mimico station is very inconveniently located relative to where most of the new condo developments are.

    Steve: At the Commission meeting, the report was initially approved (meaning the route would cease to operate in February,) but then the issue was reopened to be discussed again at the December meeting at the request of Councillor Mark Grimes whose ward includes Humber Bay.


  9. This will definitely lead the riders travelling inside downtown area to walk or ride a bicycle even during the winter, especially #501. Or get YUS line more packed up even when it needs some relief.

    As usual, this is true respect for taxpayers.


  10. Good grief … I’m not suggesting someone who isn’t fit to drive should drive.

    But an average of a sick day every 2 weeks? Surely that’s well above any generally accepted norm.


  11. There is no doubt that the TTC did not and is not operating the Humber Bay Express in a way to make it a success.

    The truth is that in countless other North American cities with high density housing so close to downtown and near freeways, express buses like the Humber Bay Express are some of the most popular routes.

    Chicago has an entire express bus network which carries over 50,000 or 60,000 riders a day in an area similar to the condo district along Lake Ontario, west of downtown.

    As was mentioned the double fare is an issue with this bus route being a success. As is the schedule.

    To fully be of use, the 501 streetcar west of Humber Loop, needs to be replaced with a full service Humber Bay Express bus, which operates every 10 or 15 minutes, seven days a week.
    It would for sure be a success. However as is widely known, the TTC hates anything with the word express in it, even though time and time again, riders have shown their love for them (all the Rocket routes, etc). So this hatred makes the TTC not want services like the Humber Bay Express to work.

    Steve: Actually there is more to the story than this. A great deal of the demand on Lake Shore is local, not destined for downtown, and an express bus designed to serve the core is not what is needed by those riders (who are in a majority during the off peak). Attempts to get the TTC to split the “Long Branch” car off of Queen and run it to Dundas West have fallen on deaf ears. A big problem on Lake Shore is irregular service thanks to the integration with the crosstown 501 line.


  12. I rode the 145 when I worked in the financial core and did see increased ridership, but the sad truth is the 145 took over an hour to get me home many days and it wasn’t uncommon to be on that blasted bus for 90 minutes.

    The real crunch has come at Mimico GO station. Arrival after 7:15 means risking a parking ticket, because the lot is full. There’s a plan to build condos (joy!) on top of the station and increase parking, but nothing has broken ground. Increased parking could do a lot to get South Etobickans out of their cars.

    I don’t buy that Mimico station is ‘too far’ for those condo-dwellers to drive. It’s 5 minutes. Maximum. If there were enough trains and parking I think a decent number of drivers could be siphoned.

    By my count there are at least 10 new condo developments within a mile of Park Lawn /Lake Shore and even more are in planning. The rush hour commute is going to be absolute chaos in a few years, which is why we’re moving next month….


  13. Steve said ” Attempts to get the TTC to split the “Long Branch” car off of Queen and run it to Dundas West have fallen on deaf ears. A big problem on Lake Shore is irregular service thanks to the integration with the crosstown 501 line.”

    One more example of how hide bound the TTC is. They did not think of it therefore it could not possibly work.

    Recall how they were dragged kicking and screaming over the proposal to split the Queen car in to two segments. They made sure it did not work by screwing things up as per usual. Then, they came back and in effect said “See, we told you it would not work.”


  14. Angel: it seems from your comment that the way you conceive getting to Mimico Station is by driving. That alone is proof that the station is poorly located.


  15. Make service essential. Continue to cut service.

    Remove bike lanes from streets because they were slowing driver’s by a couple of minutes. Then cut service and increase wait times for buses & streetcars.

    The mind boggles…


  16. I have to disagree with both Michael and Steve on the 145 and/or Lake Shore streetcar.

    I have been on many 501 cars which came from Long Branch which have standees by the time it rolled through Humber loop around 7:30 AM. Those single cars carry as many people as the 145 manages in all its morning runs.

    At the same time, as Steve says, a lot of those 501 riders don’t want to go downtown. There are people getting off at Roncesvalles, at Dufferin, and at Bathurst. The express bus doesn’t help these riders. And comparing the popularity of the 501 with the 508, riders’ preference is definitely for the 501.

    I am also amused by the concept of more GO station parking getting people “out of their cars”. For Mimico station, improving pedestrian access from the east and the south would make walking a fairly convenient means of access. Right now, the entrance is really only optimized for access to the parking lots. Long Branch, likewise, suffers from lousy pedestrian access from the south.

    I find Angel’s comments interesting. Except on its worst days (rain, traffic syphoning off the Gardiner through Parkdale) the 501 will go from Queen and Yonge to Royal York and Lake Shore in about 45 minutes in the evenings. In the mornings, I have often been on a 501 whose running time was just about 60 minutes from Long Branch loop to Yonge. I really wonder what sort of useful alternative a slow “express” bus might be. (Well, you get a seat, and miss out on the socio-economic and psychological variety of riders on the 501.)


  17. Mimico GO station should really be moved to the Parklawn – Humber loop area to serve the condos there and provide a better connection to the Queen streetcar. The only reason Mimico station is there is because the Great Western Railway decided to put it there in 1855. There is nothing that justifies keeping it at that spot now.

    Expecting them to drive there is not reasonable, especially since if they could walk to the station it could potentially reduce the number of cars their household has to own.

    I’m surprise they are planning to redevelop the station. I though there was a preliminary plan to move the station to Parklawn.


  18. I just discovered that the TTC is doing a form of “extra billing.” On the one hand it is planning to cut bus routes but on the other hand it is running a series of routes where they charge extra. This is wrong because it is taking drivers and buses off normal fare routes and using them to garner extra fares. I have no idea how many of these routes exist (I realize for years there was an extra fee when crossing out of Toronto but these don’t leave Toronto). The ones I found operate around Bay street and go to places all over Toronto: Beaches, etc. As I said this amounts to hurting regular service in order to provide premium service for those willing to pay more. While they travel in less crowded buses we are squeezed in like sardines on the normal routes often having to miss one or two vehicles because they are too full.

    Steve: What’s more, these routes have never been subjected to reporting on ridership or cost recovery (although they are supposed to make back their costs through the fare surcharge). A few of them have good political connections including the Humber Bay bus which TTC management proposed to cut effective in February 2012. At the recent Commission meeting, the report was held down until December at the request of the local Councillor, Mark Grimes.


  19. With all honesty, I live in Humber Bay Shores and the 145 Express bus has a useless routing/schedule.

    I work in the financial district, so I would be very tempted to use it (the 501 is a combination of all my commuting nightmares packed into a streetcar). If the 145 had better connections, I would definitely pay the extra $30 for the express sticker on my metropass.

    As things stand now, the only thing that could provide a decent commuting alternative for the residents of HBS would be a GO station at Park Lawn and more frequent service on the Lakeshore line. 1 hour intervals simply don’t cut it when one train gets you to work 45 minutes early, and the other one 15 minutes late. It’s discouraging that such a dense community, with thousands of units under construction is so underserved. It’s also eyebrow raising, that a community a mere 7km from the downtown core is served by transit that takes nearly an hour during peak times to get you there. With no traffic I can be out my door and at King/Bay in just under 10 minutes. Best case scenario with the 501 is about 30 minutes. Unacceptable if you’re trying to entice people to give up their cars!

    Steve: Although this would not do much for the travel time issue, it would be interesting to see the effect of the proposed, but indefinitely deferred, extension of the 501 to Park Lawn. This would at least bring somewhat more service to the east end of the Lake Shore condo strip and reduce wait times. We would probably have to tear out the switch at Humber to prevent short turns there, although the likely effect would be more short turns at Sunnyside. (I am being sarcastic here for anyone who doesn’t understand the local details.)

    I agree that GO does a lousy job of serving the inside-416 travellers.


  20. I agree completely.

    Last I heard, the TTC was musing the possibility of putting the new loop at Superior Avenue in Mimico proper. Do you have any more info on this? This would also make sense as there are planned and under construction developments west of Park Lawn and a fairly dense strip of apartment buildings along the lake.

    Frankly, I could handle the 501 if it wasn’t for the fact that every second streetcar can take me home. Then there’s the bunching and <40min waits for the streetcar to downtown, but the lovely iPhone app takes care of that, so I can at least wait in the comfort of my own home. Can anyone else think of such a dense community, so close to the core, that is so embarrassingly underserved? I can't.

    Steve: Superior certainly makes much more sense than some of the previous schemes including Park Lawn or Legion Road. However, I’m not sure there is much property nearby for a loop except possibly the parking lot behind the supermarket on the SW corner.


  21. The Park Lawn GO station with direct connections with the Humber loop TTC sounds great to me ! It serves TTC streetcars, Humber River walkers and is closer to the lake, if they routed track so island platforms used track 1 -2, 3 – 4, then the morning off bound go trains could use track 1. Stopping service could use track 2 and GO trains could be less in each others way at Mimico (a cause of delays).

    But better of course with faster accelerating local GO trains and we could keep Mimico station, add Park Lawn and bring back Sunnyside Station! If we can’t afford electrification light short 4 car trains (like the early GO trains) but could run every 20 mins or less as far as Port Credit or Clarkson only.


  22. “But an average of a sick day every 2 weeks? Surely that’s well above any generally accepted norm.”

    Think of it as a solid month of illness every year. That does seem a little high for an average… but an aggressive flu season could do that all by itself.

    The sick day patterns might be more worthy of monitoring, to see what is actually going on.


  23. Patterns, huh? It became expected by regular riders on the 47B to have at least one driver not show up for work only on Sundays in the summer. This resulted in chronic delays mid-route when the early shift was due for change-off.


Comments are closed.