TTC Meeting Preview March 30, 2012

The newly reconstituted Toronto Transit Commission will meet on Friday, March 30.  This article reviews major items on the agenda.

CEO’s Report

The TTC’s new CEO, Andy Byford, has revamped the old Chief General Manager’s Report with the intent of making it more informative and timely.  The old version had gradually been stripped of most meaningful data, and generally reported on activities several months after they occurred.  The new version attempts to report on more recent events and plans, but achieves mixed results.

Those of us who have spent any time in management usually cringe when the term “KPI” makes an appearance.  It stands for “Key Performance Indicator”, and it usually means a number that looks good on paper, but does not  necessarily drill down to the level needed to understand what’s really going on.  Even worse, a standard way of “gaming” KPIs is to set targets for them that are trivially easy to hit.

(If your job is to make the sun come up every day, you’ve got it pretty easy; making it come up in a clear blue sky with birds singing in the trees and a moderate temperature just right for coffee and croissants on the patio, now that’s a bit more of a challenge.  If the TTC were responsible for this, we would hear a lot about how traffic congestion held up the fresh croissants, and how cutbacks limited blue sky painting to alternate Thursdays.  Birds were cut from the budget so long ago nobody can remember what they sound like, let alone why we might want them.)

The first and most obvious KPI is “Customer Linked Trips” — that’s “Ridership” for the rest of us, and it’s a shame we start off with a needless renaming of a long-used and clearly understood term.  This is not a good omen.  In any event, riding for Period 2 (the TTC divides the calendar into equal blocks to avoid problems with month lengths and the shifting location of weekends) is up slightly over “target”.  One hopes that this target is the budgeted ridership, and that is in fact the case as described later in the report (in section 2.3).  Two charts track ridership for 2011 versus 2010, and for 2012 actual versus 2012 budget.  However, what is not immediately obvious is how 2012 actuals compare to previous years.

A problem that can arise with this measure is that the ridership targets are sometimes changed midyear in order to bump the projected revenue and create headroom for more service or some other spending requirement.  Which “target” should the ridership be measured against — the original budget, or the updated one

Performance of the rapid transit lines is tracked relative to on-time values with a 3 minute leeway either way.  The reported values are quite high, and I really have to question the validity of these numbers.  Regular riders know that there are many routine subway delays, and the TTC frequently uses mid-trip crew changes to get crews back on time, if not the trains.  In any event, subway riders don’t care if the train is on time, but if it is reasonably loaded and not carrying a gap.  Relative to the scheduled headways, a window of six minutes can lead to some very overcrowded trains.

On the surface lines, the target is a headway within three minutes of schedule.  That’s an interesting idea, but it begs the question of, if headway, not schedule, determines the KPI, what is the purpose of short turns?

In either case, the problem with these metrics is that they lump all service, all day long (and for surface routes for all routes of one mode) into a huge pot.  Much more fine-grained reporting is needed, and this should done on an exception basis to flag routes and periods when the TTC does not  meet its targets.

A truly astounding metric is the number of scheduled trips operated on the RT.  The target value is only 80%, and the TTC manages to hit this, but only barely.

Both lost time injuries and employee absences are on the rise, although it is unclear what relationship may exist between the two  measures.

The “Financials” section reports on the year ended December 2011, and a fast reader might erroneously miss the distinction.  Revenue for the year was $19m above target (good, a “green” indicator) while expenses were $4m over (bad, a “red” indicator).  Oddly enough, the really important number — how much subsidy was required, a value that tracked “good” because the extra revenue was higher than the extra expense — isn’t mentioned.

Capital expenditures are very much below the budgeted level, but this is not explained in detail.  Some of this is a true “saving” — projects that came in under budget.  Some of it is through cancellations (although one must always be careful that projects do not reappear a year or two later), and some if it may simply be deferrals.  The meaning of the underspending is different for each case, and lumping everything together eliminates any relevance from the metric.

Having said all of this, I find that some statements in the detailed explanations offer hope for improvement down the line.  For example:

Clearly, some of the current targets will need to be stretched over time. For example, a bus reliability target of 65% is not nearly satisfactory in the long run. While buses in mixed traffic are always subject to the vagaries of busy streets, the TTC needs to have a much higher target than 65% of the time meeting scheduled headway within 3 minutes.

[…] Staff will also be reviewing performance in this area with other major North America transit systems to ensure best practices are applied and to have a measure that is similar to others. The threshold for this measure will also be looked at.

For measures where the current target is viewed as satisfactory, those targets will be tightened over time to work towards continuous incremental improvement. For those that are not challenging enough in the long run, the Commission will examine all contributing elements to that performance to establish short, medium and long term improvement plans.

In the details, we learn that performance of the Yonge-University line has been affected both by the supposed misuse of Passenger Assistance Alarms, and by reliability problems with the new TR trains.  This is a rather odd claim considering that the same alarm strips exist on BD trains, and there is no reason to think that passengers on the YUS need special education.  Is the real reason that irregular and overcrowded service leads to more cases of fainting on YUS trains?  Similarly are “passenger incurred door delays” a function of crowding, not of passenger error?  The TTC really has to get away from the idea that if only those pesky passengers would just behave, things would run so much better.

For some  unknown reason, Customer Injuries are reported relative to unlinked trips (each transfer generates a new “trip”), while Offences Against Customer are reported relative to “journeys” (yet another name for “ridership”).  If there is a reason for this type of inconsistency (e.g. compatibility of statistics with other transit systems), then this should be explained.

Elevator and escalator availability are both reported to be running close to high target levels.  However, it is unclear whether planned outages are counted in this metric.  As a customer, I don’t want to be told my elevator was available 100% of the time when, in fact, it was lying in pieces undergoing planned maintenance.  The TTC needs to build metrics that see the system from a customer’s point of view.  A stopped escalator is stopped, no matter if an army of mechanics is working on it or not.

Station Cleanliness managed to creep over a target index of “70”, whatever that means, in late 2011.  However, we have no sense of the scatter of the data between truly appalling conditions and pristine, almost-good-as-new.  The average is meaningless without data showing the distribution of the components and identification of the worst of the worst.

Customer Complaints are broken down into the Top Ten reasons, but oddly enough “Other” outranks them all at about 1/3 of the total.  This sounds as if somebody isn’t making a careful choice of complaint categories.

Next we come to a list of planned route closures and diversions (see section 3.5).  These include the two remaining weekends for completion of King crossover, major work around Russell Carhouse, and reconstruction of major parts of the Spadina route.  Oddly enough, there is no mention of planned work on Queen’s Quay.

Part 5 of the report gives details of various “critical projects” including:

  • increased capacity for train storage on the BD line including at Kipling, Keele and Greenwood;
  • ongoing delivery of the TR fleet which is now at 13 trainsets and growing at 2 per week;
  • new LFLRV prototype deliveries (1 in September, 2 more by yearend, production cars in fall 2013)
  • Ashbridges Bay LFLRV maintenance facility and connection track to Queen (running behind schedule for various design and approval issues);
  • the Spadina extension is on budget but is seriously behind schedule.

My overall reaction?  A tolerably good first try, probably limited in places by available data. The TTC has far more information available internally judging by other reports, and this needs to be published for easy online access.

The challenge will be to report useful information that politicians and riders alike can interpret in the context of their own routes and travel experiences.

Finch Avenue Bus Service Improvements

This report discusses possibly physical changes to Finch Avenue West and bus operations on that street to speed up service.  The major proposals are:

  • queue jump lanes for buses where there is a large volume of right-turning trafic
  • shifting major stops from nearside to farside
  • implementing more transit priority signalling.

All of these are expected to benefit both transit and road operations, but there is a significant caveat.  The work would cost $25-30m, and would, given a likely start date for the Finch LRT project of 2016, be a throwaway project.  TTC staff recommend that the work be done only east of Keele Street albeit with no cost estimate attached.  The report notes that Metrolinx plans see an LRT from Keele to Yonge at least 15 years in the future and there would be ample time to reap the benefit of the changes.

Also noted is the fact that the TTC will being operating articulated buses on Finch West in 2013.  This will permit an increase in capacity (presuming that the TTC adjusts its Service Standards to actually leave space for riders) and may reduce loading times at major stops (with the assistance of ground crews to permit all-door loading).

Signal System for the Yonge-University-Subway and Extension

The TTC will award a contract to Ansaldo for phases 2-4 of the Yonge Subway resignalling project and for the signal system on the Spadina Extension.  The automatic train control portion of the Spadina work will not be completed in time for the line to open with ATO.  (A related question will be the service design for the extended line and whether the TR fleet is actually large enough to serve it.)

The system will remain with two sets of signals — conventional block signals for trains that do not have ATO gear, notably work trains, but also the T1 fleet — and automatic, moving block signalling for the TR fleet.

Service to George Brown College’s Campus on Queen’s Quay East

George Brown’s Queen’s Quay campus will open in the fall of 2012, and there is no LRT service east of Bay yet.  When this project will be funded, let alone built, is a matter for conjecture given the focus on rapid transit to suburbs far from this location.

Effective at the end of July, the TTC proposes to revise 6 Bay services as follows:

  • The route will be extended to loop at GBC and this will end operation around the loop via Freeland, Lake Shore and Jarvis.
  • The short-turn operation at Dundas will be discontinued, and all Bay buses will run to the south end of the route.
  • A new branch of the route will be created to run between Union Station and GBC.  The loop will be via Yonge, Front and Bay.

Effective September 4, service on 75 Sherbourne will be modified as follows:

  • Service will operate every 7 to 12 minutes during the daytime weekdays, and every 11 to 30 minutes at other times.  For reference, the current service is every 9-10 minutes peak, and every 12 minute midday.  Headways at other times range from 15-30 minutes.  At this point, it is not clear which periods are receiving no additional service.

There is no planned increase on 65 Parliament at this time, but the TTC will review this as construction builds out on Queen’s Quay and as the state of the road network in the area evolves (major reconstruction is now underway for the Pan Am Games and for new housing in the area).

46 thoughts on “TTC Meeting Preview March 30, 2012

  1. So between the LFS test in 1998, and now, all I can think of changing in terms of why the TTC would even slightly change its view towards the LFS is Brampton Transit running 40fts, and viva running 60fts. Looking through the comments here, it appears 2 years less a week ago, I commented about the same thing, but the reason then was that it was too new and untested. I’m guessing that doesn’t hold water anymore.

    Are there any underlying reasons why the TTC might favour Daimler (Orion), besides some sort of “buy Ontario” mentality? Have past issues with rust on New Flyers been resolved?

    Also, I’m guessing that with the current tenders, a new garage would be in order, as these seem to all be for service expansion (barring an early retirement for the Nova RTS — they’re barred from the highway, the signs don’t work on all vehicles, they appear to break down more often than D40LFs & Orion Vs, and I haven’t seen one on a weekend in years)? Would the current garages be able to handle these vehicles before an additional garage is constructed? Which of the existing garages can handle artics?

    Steve: What was quite odd about any “buy Ontario” mentality is that it seemed to be confined to the TTC because of its long relationship with OBI/Orion/Daimler. Metrolinx has been quite happy to buy from New Flyer as part of its Transit Procurement Initiative on behalf of smaller Ontario transit systems.

    As for rust on the Flyers, we know that New Flyer was considered an acceptable bidder on the last bus contract awarded in February 2005, and only lost out because they could not meet the TTC’s delivery requirements. The TTC has been buying from Daimler/Orion under various extensions of this contract, but now has issued a new tender whose results we should see in coming months.

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  2. You mentioned that work on Queen’s Quay wasn’t on the list. Did you ever hear why? The design competition was way back in 2006, I thought the detailed design was finally complete, and it even seemed like the funding issues got resolved over the winter. Surely it’s not going to miss another construction season!

    Steve: I have sent yet another request to Waterfront Toronto for an explanation of the delay in construction startup, and will report when I have more info. Meanwhile, as you will see when I report on the May service changes, the Spadina car is being split off of the Harbourfront line.

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  3. I have now received a reply from Metrolinx about Kipling Station. It’s a bit wooly, but the short answer is “not now”.

    In 2008, Metrolinx developed a master plan for a mobility hub at Kipling station and the surrounding areas as part of The Big Move – Metrolinx’s Regional Transportation Plan – and the City of Toronto’s urban design objectives.

    Since then, Metrolinx has had to reassess the mobility hub concept for Kipling station and the surrounding areas due to design and development challenges within the hydro corridor.

    Metrolinx is now undertaking a technical review of alternate concepts that could sustain the seamless transportation connectivity in and around the Kipling station area. However, Metrolinx will continue to examine the design and development challenges that have been identified. We will also continue to work toward improving the public space in and around the Kipling station area.

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  4. I guess the response Metrolinx gave to Steve can also be interpreted in the form of “we will not develop any kind of transportation hub at Kipling station until all the surrounding land near the station is taken over by condo developments and by that time it will be too late to develop anything”.

    I really don’t know what they’re waiting for to be honest after that response. The demand is there and land is still available (for now). Yet another project that will be on the back-burner for years to come. This is quite sad.

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  5. Based on Metrolinx’s reference to “design and development challenges within the hydro corridor,” I suspect that Hydro One is balking at having new buildings under the transmission lines. If so, that places a pretty heavy constraint on improvements at that station.

    Steve: This seems to be a general requirement of Hydro these days. It would be interesting to know whether some of the existing surface routes along hydro corridors could even have been built under the “new” rules.

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  6. Do you think with the new streetcars coming next year that TTC will look to make the Spadina streetcar line more rapid? For example, they can take out the stations at:

    – Sussex Ave: really just a short walk from Spadina station. People can get off at Harbord St.
    – Sullivan Street: really just a short walk from the Dundas stop. Primarily used to service Dragon Center.
    – Lower Simcoe Street: passengers can just load at Queens Quay

    Steve: Those stops were included to reduce walking distances. Lower Simcoe Street is the main stop for Harbourfront Centre. By the way, the stops on Queen’s Quay will be rearranged as part of the reconstruction. Don’t use the current layout as a reference point.

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