A Look Back: July 1967


Danforth and Woodbine looking west.

No, it’s not an experimental train of air-electric multiple unit cars, and these are certainly not Bloor streetcars given that the subway had been open for over a year when this was taken.

Russell Carhouse had a pool of old PCCs it used, but there were more in the pool than would fit at Russell and the extras were stored at Danforth Carhouse.  From time to time, cars would be swapped from one location to another, and in this view the front car, 4270, is pulling a stored car along the Danforth enroute to Russell.  (The shorter connection via Coxwell was no longer available.  Cars took the long way around via Danforth, Main, Gerrard and Coxwell to get down to Queen.)

Note the old yellow and blue “Night” stop.

This corner and the vista to the west make an interesting comparison to the present day view on Google Street View.  Even today, the buildings are low rise all the way west, an excellent example of how a subway does not necessarily trigger or require high rise development.

The Royal Bank is still on the northwest corner, but Scotiabank has moved across the street to a new building where National Trust and Kresge’s used to be.  Everything else has changed hands, although the buildings are mostly the same.  Bowling alleys were common in the 60s, but they gradually disappeared.  Billiard halls were not the sort of place respectable teens could hang out.

A Look Back: February 1966


Bloor and Bathurst looking east.

The brand new subway will open in about one week, and the Bloor streetcar is about to vanish into history.  Much else in this photo would disappear as well.  The buildings are still there, but their use has completely changed.  The TD bank is now a coffee shop, Danforth Radio is no more, and the Midtown cinema is now the Bloor.

Street signs have changed a lot since the 60s.  Toronto outlawed the overhanging signs decades ago, and the few that remain are grandfathered.  Traffic regulations are spelled out rather than shown as graphics.  A demure “TTC Subway” sign with a small arrow directs passengers who might be looking for the Bloor car to the subway station just up Bathurst Street.

The hydro wiring is still in overhead box structures, and the classic Toronto acorn luminaires had yet to be replaced by sodium vapour lighting on higher poles.  There’s a phone booth on the sidewalk and a pre-Astral garbage bin.

How Many Buses Does Toronto Need?

Toronto’s budget debate for 2012 brought many issues of transit financing into the open thanks to an ill-considered proposal by Mayor Ford to cut transit operating subsidies by 10%.  Recently the TTC put off implementing service cuts originally planned for January 8, 2012, pending a decision by Council on the final version of the budget and the level of TTC subsidy.

However, the TTC’s Operating Budget is not the only one that is constrained by City spending policies.  On the Capital Budget, the total projected City borrowing required to pay for all of the projects the TTC would like to undertake exceeds a self-imposed target on total City debt.  To bring the 10-year debt projection within that target, the TTC restructured its capital plans.

Some projects were postponed beyond the 10-year window so that some or all of the spending (and associated debt) did not count, or might be offset by future improvements in subsidy programs from other levels of government.  Other projects were modified in scope or cancelled.

I discussed the amended Capital Budget in a previous article, but the current debate about Service Standards also has a capital component.  Among the cutbacks on the capital side were a purchase of new buses and the provision of storage space to hold these vehicles.

An order for 134 new buses (of which 26 were for “contingency” to handle unexpected growth in demand) has been cancelled along with the provision of temporary yard space.  Before Transit City was proposed, the TTC had planned to build another bus garage to accommodate its growing fleet.  However, Transit City (plus the opening of the Spadina subway extension) would replace some existing bus service with rail, and reduce the total bus fleet requirement.

Even with a short-term pre-Transit City bulge, only temporary storage would have been needed.  However, now that much of Transit City has been either cancelled or pushed off into the next decade, there will be continued pressure on the bus fleet and on the need for storage space.

  • The Spadina extension will not open until late 2015.
  • The Sheppard subway, if it is actually built, will cover only the portion of the Sheppard East bus services west of Kennedy.  Service east to Meadowvale will still be provided by buses.  The original opening date for the Sheppard LRT was 2013.
  • Finch West will continue to be served by buses, not an LRT line that originally would have opened in 2013.
  • The proposed extension of the SRT to Malvern was originally planned to open in 2015.  In the revised plan, this extension has been dropped.

In a briefing note, TTC’s Chief General Manager Gary Webster states that the capital cost of restoring the bus order and storage for the vehicles could be up to $93-million.  However, in the TTC’s budget presentation, this number is stated as $73m (see Shortfall Reduction Plan on page 52).  If the order is reinstated, the quantity of buses will be smaller by at least the contingency of 26 according to staff comments at the TTC’s last meeting.

The challenge in this whole process is to understand just how big the bus fleet should be given the robust state of TTC ridership.  For this we must first go back to the bus fleet plan as it existed in 2006.

There were two competing views of the future for ridership.  In one version, growth would continue at just over 1% per year following a long trend of the past decade.  In another version, growth would be more robust at 3% per year.  The bus fleet plan had been based on the lower rate, but if the stronger trend prevailed, the TTC would need more buses sooner.  A new garage would be needed by 2012/13 even at the low growth rate, possibly by 2010 if the fleet grew faster than expected.

Indeed, stronger growth is exactly what arrived.  On the original projection, ridership was expected to grow from 436m to 469m between 2006 and 2011.  At the higher rate, it would reach 505m.  The actual number we now know will be about 499m.  The accelerated growth began just after the Ridership Growth Strategy (RGS) rolled out, a policy the current crop at the TTC would undo in the name of “efficiency”.

By 2010, the fleet planning had to take into account new factors including the proposed Transit City LRT lines and the Spadina extension.  Transit City was expected to displace 168 buses between 2014 and 2019, and a further 30 would be replaced by the Spadina extension in 2016.  This led to a plan in which there would be no bus purchases for several years, and the total fleet would actually shrink through attrition back to 2008 levels, well within the capacity of existing garages.

By early December 2011, the active bus fleet stands at 1,820 vehicles for a scheduled peak service of 1,520.  Requirements for 2012 and beyond will be very different depending on the service quality and ridership we assume in making fleet plans.

  • Service actually operated in 2011 was based on a budgeted ridership of only 487m, not the 499m Toronto actually achieved.  This is one reason why there are some routes already over the supposed loading “standards” — there is no budget to operate all of the service the standards would dictate.  Conversely, the planned cuts on some routes are impractical and this situation is tacitly admitted by the proposal to retain service on “busy” routes.
  • If the RGS service standards are retained, then the planned peak cutbacks on major bus routes cannot go forward.  In the short term, this can be handled with the existing fleet, but more buses will be needed (by the TTC’s projection) in fall 2013.
  • Multi-year projections in the TTC budget (see TTC Final Budget report for 2012 at Page 7) start from a base of 503m in 2012 and rise to 523m by 2015.  The base itself is less than 1% above 2011’s projected 499m, and the cumulative growth rate is about 1%.  By contrast, ridership is running over 4% above last year, and an ongoing rate of 3% should be easily attained provided that there is sufficient capacity and no economic catastrophe to drive down demand overall.

If we take 499m for 2011 and increase at 3% per annum, this would give a cumulative increase of about 12.5% to 2015.  In turn, the bus fleet would have to grow from 1820 to 2045.

The TTC has not published a detailed fleet plan including such an analysis, but this is as important to the future of Toronto’s transit as the fantasy subway plans.  The capital budget does not include any projection of funding needed to sustain strong transit growth, and the operating budget assumes a much lower rate of growth than we actually see.  The situation is very much like the one back in 2006.

Delaying or cancelling the implementation of Transit City created a crisis in the bus system’s ability to serve growing demand.  The Commission’s response is merely to cut service and ignore future problems with meaningless, low-balled projections of ridership, fleet requirements and operating costs.

Most of the transit Commissioners don’t want to entertain these debates because to do so counters the received wisdom that transit funding must be cut no matter what.  They might even have to admit that the course they advocate — of limiting the growth of service and capacity — is truly a “service cut”, certainly a reduction in the attractiveness and quality, such as it is, of the system, not merely an “efficiency”.

This type of “planning” badly serves Council and the citizens of Toronto because we don’t know what the alternatives are and the implications of various future paths.  Indeed, we risk hobbling the TTC with reduced service, fleet and staff, and creating a hole out of which a more-enlightened administration must first dig just to undo past errors.


In a Briefing Note to the City’s Budget Committee, the TTC advises that it is contemplating the purchase of 150 articulated buses in 2014-16.  If Council decides to retain higher service quality in 2012, the need for these buses could be accelerated.

Seven routes (not named) would convert to artic operation.  The fleet replacement ratio the TTC would use is 1.35:1.

The anticipated annual saving would be $60k/bus mainly in the labour cost of drivers.  The annualized saving with the 150-bus fleet fully in operation would be $9m.  Savings from this scheme have already been built into the multi-year budget projections.

Holiday Service for 2011/12

As usual during the holiday period, service will operate at a reduced level because schools are closed and many people are on vacation.

On New Year’s Eve, most services will operate until about 4:00 am, and rides will be free after midnight until 4:00 am.  The last train meet at Bloor-Yonge will be at about 3:37 am (northbound, westbound and eastbound).  (The usual time for last trains is 1:54 am.)

The late night closing time for the Yonge subway north of Eglinton varies from day to day because of holiday schedules for the crews working there on tunnel repairs.

The hours of service through the holidays are summarized below.

Date      Service    Start End   YSNE
          Type                   Closes

Dec 19-23 Reduced    6:00  2:00  12:30
Dec 24    Saturday   6:00  2:00  2:00
Dec 25    Sunday     9:00  2:00  2:00
Dec 26    Holiday    6:00  2:00  2:00
Dec 27    Saturday   6:00  2:00  12:30
Dec 28-30 Reduced    6:00  2:00  12:30
Dec 31    Saturday   6:00  4:00  4:00
Jan 1     Sunday     9:00  2:00  2:00
Jan 2     Holiday    6:00  2:00  12:30
Jan 3-6   Reduced    6:00  2:00  12:30

Service Changes for January 2012 (Update 6)

Updated December 22, 2011 at 7:00 am:

The service changes originally planned for January 2012 have been deferred until at least mid-February.  The schedules operated in November 2011 will be used for January 2012 with one exception.

511 Bathurst

A service increase to accommodate demand was planned in the original January schedules, and this will be retained.  One car will be added during various periods with headways improving as below:

PM peak:  From 5’30” to 5’00”
Weekday late evening:  From 10′ to 8′
Saturday afternoon:  From 6’15” to 5’40”
Sunday afternoon:  From 8’20” to 7’00”

Many other planned improvements to reduce crowding will not be implemented at this time.

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TTC Meeting December 14, 2011 (Updated)

This TTC meeting proved something of a surprise considering what was on the table:  a fare hike of at least a dime, maybe more, as well as widespread cuts to service on the network.  What actually happened was that Chair Karen Stintz proposed an alternative position based on the discovery of some wiggle room in the 2011 and 2012 budgets.

  • The rise in diesel fuel costs was originally projected at a higher level, $5-million worth, than what the TTC actually expects to pay based on current market trends.  Part of this money will be used to put off any service cuts to the schedule period that begins in mid-February, and the rest will be used to preserve existing service on a few “busy” routes through 2012.
  • The projected “surplus” of $12-million on the 2011 operating budget may be directed to pay, in part, for an order of new buses so that service can be maintained.  About $45m is needed both for the bus order and for yard space in which to store the vehicles.
  • Cancellation of Wheel-Trans service for dialysis patients has been put off to June 30, 2012 to give more time for development of an alternative service and/or funding sources.

The Commission also approved a 10-cent fare increase for January 1, 2012 and, in principle, similar increases at the beginning of years 2013 through 2015.

TTC Announcement

The deferral of service cuts to February will allow the whole matter to be debated at Council (where it should have been in the first place) so that a decision can be made there on any possible increase to the TTC’s operating subsidy and the broader questions of future service quality.  Meanwhile, TTC staff will put together a proposal for which routes are busy enough to warrant continuing service at 2011 levels through 2012.

This is a strange turn of events.  Quite recently, staff proposed cuts based on loading standards that, if they were already being observed, would mean that buses had room for more riders.  In practice, service on the street is not as good as staff claims, especially when allowance is made for the gap between the advertised frequency and reliability on the schedule and real life operation.  Between the riding counts used to justify cuts in May 2011 and the tacit admission that plans for 2012 service cuts were ill-considered, the credibility of TTC Service Planning in reporting actual conditions leaves much to be desired.

If we cannot count on staff information to be accurate, how can anyone make intelligent policy decisions?  This is a problem throughout the City’s 2012 budget process where information comes out only because Councillors who are not in the Ford camp pursue the details.

Commissioner Maria Augimeri screened a video of conditions on the Finch West bus.  The first bus coming by does not even stop because the operator doesn’t think he can fit any more people on.  If you pause the video, you will see that there appears to be space on board, but the bus is crowded at the front, and that’s what the operator bases his opinion on.  So much for “room at the back”.  This type of pass-up is reportedly quite common.  The next bus is very crowded, and we view the ride from the front vestibule where, strictly speaking, there should be no passengers.

Many people representing a wide variety of communities and backgrounds urged that the TTC not raise fares and cut service.

One speaker challenged the TTC and members of Council to “walk in their shoes” and take the TTC for a week.  Several Commissioners declined, while a few noted that they are already on the TTC.  Oddly enough, Commissioner Crisanti, a Ford loyalist from Rexdale who is normally rather out of touch on TTC matters, took an interest in this deputation, probably because the group behind the video is from his ward.

There was a bit, but not much, open harrassment of public speakers by members of the Commission unlike the way the Budget Committee treated the hundreds who spoke there over two days.  That’s just as well.  Insulting the public would only further undermine the dwindling credibility of the commissioners.

Transit City came up frequently in the deputations.  Unlike previous occasions, speakers were not stopped from addressing this topic because the Chair cannot claim that cancellation of the LRT network and the overall quality of the TTC are not linked.  We have billions for Eglinton and Sheppard tunneling, little of which will co me from the private sector, but we don’t have money to operate the basic transit services.  Hoped-for improvements, notably on Finch West, won’t happen because the LRT line was cancelled, and the TTC has no buses or budget headroom for service improvements, let along the capital cost of any transit priority scheme.

Councillor Joe Mihevc, former Vice-Chair of the TTC in the Miller administration, proposed that Council should vote for the original Transit City plan with Eglinton underground only from Black Creek to Brentcliffe, and that all work on the Sheppard subway scheme should stop.  This was, of course, ignored by the Commission, but the idea shows where Council’s left is headed going into 2012.

Word on the street has Queen’s Park just waiting for Council to actually take a position on Toronto’s transit plans, a vote that has never been held even though the Mayor committed to getting Council approval for his agreement with Premier McGuinty.  The open statement from Ford’s consultant, Gordon Chong, that the Sheppard line will attract at best 30% private sector financing, leaves the Sheppard proposal in ruins.  If such a vote reaches the floor of Council, will enough of the “mushy middle” tell Rob Ford to take his plans and get lost, and affirm Council’s commitment to proposals much closer to Transit City?

In other news, the Humber Bay bus issue was put over to February’s meeting so that consultations with the neighbourhood can take place.

There was no supplementary agenda, and the issue of TTC relations with Metrolinx and the status of the Eglinton-Crosstown line was put off to January’s meeting.

The original post previewing the meeting from December 11 follows below.

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Whither the Port Lands? Waterfront Toronto Public Meeting

With all the brouhaha over the Port Lands, and the Fords’ failed coup d’état on the Waterfront, attention now shifts to actually “getting something done”.

The Port Lands cover a large area south and east of the mouth of the Don River that is comparable in size to downtown Toronto.  This is a huge opportunity for redevelopment, but also a huge chance to screw things up pretty much forever.

Do we want a boring, car-oriented suburb complete with megamall, or do we want a new neighbourhood that brings a 21st century twist on downtown living?

Will we redevelop the river mouth as a striking park, a signature piece for Toronto’s waterfront, or will it simply become Exhibition Place East complete with Ferris Wheel and monorail?

How will we move people to and from this area?  Will transit be an afterthought or, for once, will we actually invest in capacity and service before the new buildings go up?

Waterfront Toronto begins its public consultations on the future of the Port Lands on Monday December 12 between 6:30 and 9:00pm at the Toronto Central Library (Yonge north of Bloor) in the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon on the second floor.

TTC Ridership and “Surplus” Continue to Rise

Ridership projections for the TTC continue to climb with the year-end total now projected at 499-million, up 2-million from an estimate only one month ago.  The TTC’s “surplus” (actually a decrease in the projected subsidy level from the original budget) is also growing thanks to higher fare revenue and cuts in projected spending for the remainder of 2011.

The details are included in the Chief General Manager’s report covering the system’s operation up to the end of October 2011, but with year-end projections based on more recent experience.

With discussions of the TTC’s 2012 budget still swirling at City Hall, the update to projected 2011 figures raises questions about just how much money the TTC actually needs to balance its books and how much service will actually be required in the new year.

Comparing 2011 projections as they appear in the current report and in the November 23 version, we can see where the year-end estimates have changed.

2011.12.08 CGM Comparison

Revenue from fares is projected at $3.4m more than in the November estimate.  Although there will be 2m more rides, some of the increase reflects travel by passholders that contributes no marginal revenue.

Overall ridership is running at 4.9% over 2010, almost 2% higher than the commonly used 3% rate in many projections.

On the expense side of the ledger, some projected costs have fallen.  The saving from “gapping” (leaving vacant positions open longer than planned in the budget) is up by $0.7m, and other reductions will save $1.8m.  The one-time cost of Corporate Restructuring (downsizing ) is now estimated at $3.0m less than expected.  This gives a total reduction in expenses of $5.5m compared to the November estimate.

The combined effect is that the projected “surplus” is now about $9m greater than the November estimate.  Whether this has been included in the City’s budget projection of the overall corporate surplus is unclear given that these number have only just been published.  (Of course, this is not a true “surplus”, but an underspending against the original budget.  However, some of the budgeted “revenue” comes from reserves, and underspending reduces the draw from that source leaving more money in the pot for future years.)

Looking at any financial statements, it is important to distinguish between one-time costs and the ongoing expenses of an organization.  Because only the variations to budget are reported, we can only see the budget lines where these occur, but it’s worth noting that if the net effect of one-time items is eliminated, the surplus would be about $7m higher.  Some of these items are non-cash bookkeeping entries that cancel each other out, but the cost of downsizing TTC staff is a real cost that applies only to 2011.

The proposed 2012 budget includes a 10-cent fare increase to adult tokens and to senior/student tickets with roughly proportional changes to other types of fare (see page 11 of the linked report).  TTC staff have been asked by the City’s Budget Committee to report on an option for a 15-cent fare increase that would generate enough additional revenue to reverse the proposed January 2012 service cuts.  This analysis will likely appear before the TTC Commission meets on December 14, and I will update this post when the report is available.

Based on recent strength in ridership, the TTC now projects that 2012 riding may reach 507-million rather than the originally estimated 503m.  This pushes the revenue estimate for 2012 by $5m.  However, if the actual 2012 results come in at 499m, even at 507m the 2012 ridership would only be up by 1.6% showing the combined effect of demand growth and riding lost to the fare increase and service cuts.  If service is retained at the current loading standards and if the fare increase has no effect on riding (as happened when the TTC raised fares by 25-cents in 2010), then ridership could grow by 3% or more taking us to at least 514m in 2012.

This has major implications for service planning next year and beyond.  TTC staff project that at the 507m level, $1-2m worth of additional service will be required in September 2012.

Multi-year projections in the budget report are already falling behind likely ridership levels.  Without a fare increase (or equivalently with no drop-off in demand caused by higher fares), the TTC projects 2013 ridership at 515m or only 3.2% above the projected 2011 total.  To 2015, the projection is 536m or 7.4% above 2011.  If the presumed effect of higher fares is included, the 2015 figure is even lower at 523m.  These are very conservative estimates, and all of them include the effect of service standards cuts that may not actually take effect.

If ridership were to grow at 3% compounded from 2012 through 2015, the TTC would reach about 562m rides in four years’ time.  That’s a lot of additional riding and service, and it would be borne by the existing system as no rapid transit expansion is planned until mid 2015 at the earliest (the Spadina extension).

Although the TTC does provide pro-forma budget estimates for 2013-15, these are based on conservative assumptions and do not provide a broader view of the decisions and options facing the transit system in coming years.  Whether such a discussion would be welcomed at City Hall is anybody’s guess — more spending on transit is probably the last thing the right wing of Council and the Mayor want to hear about.  However, this puts calls for much improved subsidies both from the City and Queen’s Park in the spotlight.

Anyone who may call for higher subsidies really needs to understand where transit in Toronto could be headed.  If we ask for more money based on too-conservative estimates, we will be right back at a point where funding seems inadequate, never catching up to actual demand.  Even worse, if that funding is used primarily to flat-line fares, the crunch on service will tighten and transit will be even more inconvenient relative to driving.

Debates about the future of transit cannot be put off indefinitely with the claim that we can’t afford to improve the system (except for the odd multi-billion dollar subway scheme).  The pressure for more capacity in our transportation network won’t vanish simply through political rhetoric.

TTC budget debates continue to focus on one-year views, on shuffling a few millions here and there on a table where billions are at stake, on scoring political points against competing views of what transit should be.  That’s no way to serve the riders, the citizens of Toronto.

Can the TTC Survive Budget 2012?

Over at Torontoist, I have posted an article about the TTC’s budget presentation of December 6.  Among the issues discussed are:

  • What are the implications if Council were to move to roll back the TTC service cuts planned for January 2012?
  • What will the new loading standards, if they are retained, mean for transit riders?
  • Why is the proposed fare increase disproportionately high for seniors and students, and why is at least 20% of the additional revenue going to subsidize Wheel-Trans rather than maintaining the quality of regular service?
  • When will the SRT conversion to LRT actually happen, and when will the line re-open?  Confusion at the TTC had everyone thinking a seven-year shutdown was in the works.

I plan to add to this post with additional information about the TTC’s budget presentation, but have other things on my plate at the moment including a talk tonight (December 7) at Metro Hall, Room 310, 7 pm for Post Carbon Toronto.

Union Station & Rail Corridor Capacity

At the recent Metrolinx Board meeting, staff presented an overview of planning now underway for the future of Union Station.  One background report addressed the future levels of GO, VIA and other services at Union and the surrounding rail corridors.  This report makes interesting, if unsurprising, reading because it confirms what anyone with even a modest understanding of railway operations already knows:  there are severe capacity constraints at Union as it is now configured and operated.  Too much discussion focuses on a bright future of frequent service without considering how we will fit all the trains and passengers through the hub of the network.

The full report is not online at Metrolinx, but I have obtained a copy.  Due to its size, I will not link the entire document here.  If you just want the highlights, read the Executive Summary.  For more details including a description of the evolving simulations of various levels of service, read the main report.

USRC Track Study Executive Summary

USRC Track Study Main Report

The study considered various scenarios corresponding to stages in the growth of GO and other services over coming decades:

  • Base Case:  The existing service at Union, including a reservation of two tracks out of service for the reconstruction project.  This was used to calibrate the model.
  • 2015:  Construction at the train shed is completed giving two more tracks for service.  The only new peak hour service beyond the base case would be a few VIA trains and the Air Rail Link.
  • Electrification study base case:  This configuration was used as a starting point for the recent electrification study, and it assumes two-way service on all corridors.  Three variants of this were tested to refine operations and remove constraints triggered by service at a much higher level than today.
  • Maximum capacity:  This configuration attempted to maximise service on all corridors.

The study concludes that significant changes will be required both in the physical plant (track, signals) and in train operations which will have to be managed considerably more tightly than today.

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