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.
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.
The Toronto Transit Commission meeting on December 14 promises to be a lively one including debates on a fare increase and on the possibility of rolling back the proposed service cuts for January 2012.
I have already commented on a pair of items, the Chief General Manager’s Report and the final version of the budget in a previous article. There are two related events since that was written:
- As reported by the Star, TTC Vice-Chair Peter Milczyn requested a report on the option of a 15-cent fare increase to generate more revenue covering the cost of retaining existing (2011) service standards.
- A notice has appeared at TTC division offices advising operators that if a fare increase to retain service is passed, the sign-up for January work will be redone.
It is clear that the way is open for the service cuts to be cancelled, but the political situation requires that this decision be taken by the Ford-dominated Commission on December 14. Council does not have a chance to amend the 2012 City budget until mid-January.
Such a decision also has implications for the Capital Budget because a bus order, cancelled in light of the planned reduction in service standards, must be reinstated along with provision for space to store the vehicles. This would be a temporary bulge in the fleet size pending opening of new rapid transit lines, although the bulge will last longer than originally planned. Thanks to the deferral and cancellation of Transit City projects, the bus fleet must continue to provide service and deal with growth on many routes that were expected to convert to rail service over the coming decade.
TTC staff recommend that the Humber Bay bus be discontinued because, even as a premium fare service, it is not meeting the performance criteria expected of routes. Will this route be saved again by friends at court, Commissioners who apply different standards to the service most of us use? Will it be saved by arguments that growing development in the area will improve riding on the 145? Will anyone talk about the erratic and unattractive service on the 501 that created the demand for a separate express bus in the first place?
In the wider context of a possible rollback of the planned January cuts, the 145 may also be reprieved. This will keep the Humber Bay folks happy, but will avoid a larger issue.
When will we have riding and financial information on all of these premium routes just as we now see the operating results on regular bus services? If they are pulling their weight financially or if they are a drain on the system, we need to know this as part of the wider debate on service quality.
There is a place for express runs as part of the regular fare network on the TTC, although a network of such routes, the Transit City Bus Plan, was shot down in budget discussions a few years ago. Should resources be broadly focussed on improving the bus network as a whole rather than dealing with the squeaky wheels in the few Toronto locations where a premium fare service might be viable?
Staff recommend that the Commission approve proceeding with Request for Proposals (RFPs) from three potential providers of wireless service in the subway network. This will lead, eventually, to the provision of service at no cost to the TTC.
No date is mentioned for eventual activation of a service.
During its review of city agencies, Council adopted a proposal that the composition of various boards be changed to provide, among other things, a broader background in business and industry practices. The TTC board concurred (unsurprising given that it is controlled by the same politicians who, in early 2011, held sway at Council), and TTC staff are now reporting with proposed requirements for “citizen” members of the board.
Among the talents sought are backgrounds in law, finance, corporate governance, customer service, engineering, industrial safety and public transit. Experience on other boards of directors and certification from the Institute of Corporate Directors are also preferred.
If the makeup of the TTC board is to change, any new appointments must go through City Council, although the debate will occur in private session. It is unclear when or if the general public will have a chance to comment on the specifics or on any recruitment and short-listing of candidates. None of them will run for office as would a Councillor.
The premise of having members with an outside business background is that Councillors don’t know how to make decisions, and that somehow the organization will run better, more efficiently, with apolitical eyes minding the store. The problem, of course, is that appointment to an important board like the TTC is a very political process. It will be amusing to see how far the qualifications of proposed directors will be stretched to match their actual background with the lofty goals in the selection criteria.
Council needs to ask a basic question: if all of the really important decisions are made at Council, why do we need an “independent” board? We need only look at current debates about budgets, service levels, fares and capital project planning to see that the real decisions are made at Council or, in some cases, at Queen’s Park.
The TTC is a committee of Council in everything but name, although it has in theory the power to operate independently. However, a 2010 bylaw requires that the TTC observe rules for its budget process, and this reined in the TTC chair’s ability to freelance with projects that had not been vetted at Council.
With the shifting balance of power at Council, any new appointments or replacements on the TTC’s board may be less of a “done deal” for the Ford administration than might have been thought when the change in policy was proposed. We shall see.
[As an aside: I am regularly asked whether, if there were “citizen” members of the TTC board, I would be willing to take on such a role. My answer was and is “no” for two reasons. First, I believe that the TTC should be fully publicly accountable through politician members whose constituents will hold their feet to the fire. No such mechanism exists for citizen members. Second, I believe that my advocacy and advice can do more good outside of the formal constraints of a TTC board where I would be bound by rules of confidentiality and could not engage, as an individual, in the detailed public discussions of policy we see here on this blog.
[I have no problem with the concept of an advisory body, a set of people with diverse experiences providing commentary on the transit system. To the degree that such advice does not bear on truly confidential matters, this body should operate and report in public. What good is “informed debate” if the information is secret? However, the decisions must rest with Council together with the political responsibility for whatever is done, or not done.]
The Supplementary Agenda for December 14 has not yet been posted.
One highly-anticipated report will address the question of the TTC’s relationship with Metrolinx and the matter of project delivery. Chair Karen Stintz will speak at the Board of Trade on Monday, December 12 on “The TTC, Metrolinx and GTA Transit: Moving From Symbiotic Relationships to True Integration”.