TTC Board May Try To Fire Chief General Manager

The Toronto Star reports that a special meeting of the TTC Board has been called for February 21 to consider the firing of Chief General Manager Gary Webster.

In a clear retaliation against the block of Council who endorsed an LRT plan for Toronto, the block of Commissioners dominated by Mayor Ford have called for this special meeting using a procedure similar to the one used by Karen Stintz and her allies to call a special Council meeting on the LRT plans.

If correct, this will be a clear retaliation against TTC’s Chief General Manager Gary Webster who has spoken against proposals for expansion of the subway network, and by extension against Stintz who has defended Webster from previous attacks by the Ford administration.

From the viewpoint of political strategy, now is the time for Council to hold yet another special meeting to seize control of the Transit Commission.  This could be done either by prematurely ending the terms of sitting members, or by increasing the size of the Commission and diluting Ford’s influence with enough extra members to ensure a majority that represented the broader view of Council rather than of the Mayor.

Will Council make such a move, or will they sit on their hands?  This is the first challenge, but certainly not the last, in taming Mayor Ford’s control of the City’s agencies.

Metrolinx Meeting for February 2012 (Updated)

Updated February 17, 2012 at noon:  The original article from February 13 has been updated to include additional information and comment at the Board Meeting.

The Metrolinx Board will meet on Thursday, February 16.  Among items on the agenda is a “Toronto Update”, but there is no published report.  Given recent events, I suspect this report won’t get beyond the draft stage much before the meeting.

Updated:  The Toronto report and discussion on it are covered in a separate article.

Other items include:

GO Transit Update

This report begins with a review of 2011 operations and updates on ridership to the end of November.

  • On the rail system, weekday riding is up by almost 6%.
  • On the bus system, weekday riding is up by over 6%, and weekend riding is up by 18%.
  • Total weekday ridership is now 243,600, up 13,600 from November 2010.

Looking ahead, GO expects rail ridership to grow by 22% over the next five years while bus riding will go up by 30%.

Although the presentation does not say this explicitly, one constraint on rail growth is the limit on peak capacity GO can provide.  This shows up in GO’s continuing inability to meet its target for passenger comfort with 80% or more of rush hour passengers getting seats on trains.  The number today is 64%, and there is little hope of this improving with demand growing faster than GO can provide capacity.

Updated:  Director Lee Parsons asked where there were capacity constraints in the network.  GO President Gary McNeil replied that demand was high on all corridors, but that Barrie has the strongest growth.  Milton is running at 110-120% of capacity.  GO will put additional trains wherever there is an opening in network schedules because there is strong demand everywhere.

Director Richard Koroscil asked what problems are at the top of GO’s “worry list”.  McNeil replied that the greatest need is for Federal and Provincial support for infrastructure.  Demand for GO service is there whether governments provide funding or not.  Planning where to spend is complicated by the need to keep activity going in many areas at the same time lest riders feel that their part of the network is being ignored.

Director Rahul Bhardwaj worried that people might feel that transit growth has stalled, and asked how GO could get more positive stories out.  McNeil replied that the magnitude of the Toronto debate has overshadowed GO even though they have good news in the 905.  Chair Rob Prichard noted that Metrolinx has to make the same progress in Toronto as they do elsewhere in the GTHA.

I could not help thinking back to the departing remarks of just-retired Director Paul Bedford who, among other parting comments, noted the relative size of the TTC and GO’s operations.  What is big news in the 905 and for GO itself would be small change on the scale of the TTC because GO is, comparatively, such a small operation.  Simply publishing sunny press releases (something GO is very good at) will not make up for the lower presence and mode share that transit generally has in the 905 compared to the 416.

Changes to Ticket Cancelling on the GO System

The title of this report is somewhat misleading as this is actually a report on the phase-out of paper 10-ride and 2-ride tickets and completion of the system’s conversion to Presto.

After May 31, 2012, the 10-ride and 2-ride tickets will no longer be sold.  Those remaining in circulation will be valid up to July 31, 2012 after which they will be refunded or converted to Presto.

Monthly, daily and group passes are not affected by this change.

Presto Update

Presto continues to gain users with a 22% growth in the number of cards issued over the November-December 2011 period.  About $14.4-million in fares were paid using the fare cards during the same period.  What has not been reported is how this lines up against overall fare revenue on GO and on participating regional transit systems.

A major new market for Presto will arrive in June 2012 with the rollout in Ottawa with the “Presto Next Generation” (or “PNG”) card.  PNG will become available in the GTHA in late fall 2012.

Concurrent with the rollout of PNG, the Presto website will be revised with added functionality and an improved layout, according to the report.

Meanwhile on the TTC, Metrolinx expects the Commission to grant authority for a contract with Presto at its March meeting.  Notable among the features to be included will be “Open Payments” allowing cards other than Presto and mobile devices to be used.  However, the exact details are not explained and it is unclear whether this will simply provide the ability to pay a fare with a credit card, or whether that card can be used as an alternative to Presto and receive discounts such as multi-trip incentives or equivalent-to-pass functionality.

A long section originally this article related to questions about Presto arising from the January Board Meeting.  This has been moved to a separate article.

Updated:  Director Rahul Bhardwaj asked how many “free rides” are taken thanks to the discounting system of Presto.  Staff pointed out that there are “free” rides on passes by design, but they are not counted or reported as there is no mechanism to capture pass use comparable to the Presto readers.

Director Lee Parsons noted that a commuter line in New York City saw a jump in counterpeak and weekend demand when it moved to all day service, and a fare tariff that allows for extra trips at little or no cost helps drive this demand. 

A view of transit riding as “free” and somehow undesirable is troubling because it implies that encouraging use through lower “frequent flyer” fares may not be a good idea.  This is the basic philosophical problem of fare structures:  do we purport to charge people for what they use, or do we encourage higher utilization through fares that reward frequent travel.  Is transit a service we wish to make as attractive as possible through the perception that it has a low marginal cost just as autos are thought to be “cheap” until one pulls into a gas station or receives an insurance bill.

After the meeting, I sent questions to Metrolinx asking how the two generations of Presto cards and supporting systems will interoperate.  For example, what will happen if an Ottawa user with a “PNG” card comes to Toronto and attempts to ride GO Transit?  I await answers to my questions.

A Few Questions About Presto

This article has been broken off from the February 2012 Metrolinx Meeting report given its size and the fact that much information here does not actually come from that meeting.  Comments related to Presto have been shifted to this thread.

In the original article, I reported a series of questions posed to Metrolinx about its Presto card and fare structure.  I have now received responses, and these have been interpolated into the text.

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