Analysis of 36 Finch West for November 2011 & March 2012 (Part I) (Updated)

Updated May 28 at 17:35:  The graphs showing the “percent ontime” information have been updated to clarify some of the headings, and to add summary pages showing the percentages separate from the other displays.  Commentary about this has been added to the end of the article.

We hear a lot from the TTC about “customer service”.  A fundamental part of the TTC’s “product” is the actual movement of people to and fro in the city.  Clean vehicles, friendly staff, detailed and accurate web information — these are all part of the package.  But without reliable service at the bus and streetcar stops, the rest is window dressing, an elaborate stage set for a theatre without a show, a supermarket with stale food on half-empty shelves.

In many past articles, I have reviewed the operation of various streetcar lines, but it’s worth looking at some of the major bus routes too.  These are routes with extremely frequent service and heavy passenger demands.  Some are candidates for LRT.  How do they operate?  What is their service quality given that they are unconstrained by tracks and overhead?  Over the next few months, I hope to review a number of routes to see their similarities and differences.

This is a long and rather technical article, but I wanted to include a fair amount of detail as an alternative to simply saying “the service is screwed up”.  This affects how the service is operated, how it is perceived by riders, how it might be analyzed by the TTC, and most importantly that a catch-all explanation such as “traffic congestion” is too simplistic a response to complaints.

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TTC Meeting Preview: May 30, 2012

The Toronto Transit Commission will meet on May 30, 2012.

CEO’s Report

The scoreboard which begins the CEO’s Report includes the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) about which I have written elsewhere.  Subway performance continues to be monitored against schedule ±3 minutes 96% of the time.  It remains unclear how a systemic delay — where many trains are one or more headways out of place but service is otherwise well-spaced — affects this metric.  Surface routes aim to be within 3 minutes of the scheduled headway 65% of the time for buses and 70% of the time for streetcars.  Considering the headway on which all major routes operate, 3 minutes represents close to if not more than one headway, and much service will easily hit that target even though the rider sees disorganized bunching service with many short turns.  I will address this problem in separate articles looking in detail at specific routes’ behaviour.

Riding is up relative both to actual results in 2011 and to budget in 2012 (see following section on additional service to handle growth), and the offpeak increase is running ahead of peak as it has for some years.

The top source of complaints continues to be “Other” with “Surface Delays” and “Discourtesy” coming next in that order.  The TTC has initiated a rolling survey of customer satisfaction, but it has not yet accumulated enough data to produce a metric that shows a trend over time.  One big challenge of “customer service” is that some initiatives have an effect at limited points — clean and well-maintained washrooms may be appreciated by those who use them, but they don’t make any difference to overall service for most riders.  Pervasive changes — more frequent and regularly spaced buses, improved station cleaning and escalator/elevator maintenance — require changes in how the system thinks about its operation as a whole, not in discrete chunks that are easily targeted. Continue reading

Streetcars in the Eastern Waterfront (Well, Track Anyhow) (Update 3)

Updated May 25, 2012:

Port Lands

Waterfront Toronto’s public meeting on May 24 drew an audience of about 300.  The presentation droned on for well over its allotted time, and consisted mainly of reading through a Powerpoint deck without benefit of a working laser pointer to highlight items of interest on the screen.  Oh well.  No marks for Management Presentation 101.

The content was more important than the style, and what came through loud and clear was that planning by bean counters has replaced planning with a vision for a great waterfront.

Council may have stopped the Fords in their tracks last fall, but Waterfront Toronto is clearly working to a penny-pinching agenda.  This shows up in two major ways.

First, although the most recent plan (see page 12 of the presentation, right side is the newest) attempts to create more greenspace on the water’s edge, it has lost the magic of the revitalized mouth of the Don.  The drawing still shows a river meander, but you have to read the text to learn that the outermost part of this, west of Cherry Street, would not actually be built until and only if the Lafarge Concrete plant decides to close up shop.  Until then, the mouth of the Don will be the Lafarge slip.  In the original plan, the river mouth was north of the slip and could be built independently of the plant.

Second, transit seems to have fallen off of the map.  Something will be built, maybe, eventually, although for the near term we must make do with buses, possibly on a right-of-way.  Waterfront Toronto is obsessed with the problems of connecting to Union Station (and associated costs as discussed elsewhere on this site), but seems to forget that an alternate option from the east end of the harbour, certainly from the Port Lands, is to go north via Cherry to King.  Some of the staging of upcoming projects could support this, but bits are missing, and there is little sense that anyone really is looking beyond a bus route here and there.

Neither of these situations went down particularly well with the attendees.  Examples of “transformational initiatives” (for which you absolutely positively must not ever dream they might mean “casino”) from other cities are included (Page 18), but as one speaker remarked, it is the river that is the “transformation”, the jewel of the project.  Indeed, Waterfront Toronto can hardly stop themselves from talking about the international recognition the design received, a design which depends on the river mouth, now relegated to a “phase 5, maybe” status.

Many spoke about the need for good transit to the site.  The staging (Page 25) could support a through LRT service, but only partly in the early years.  Stage 1 includes realignment of Cherry and Queen’s Quay, but it does not include a new Cherry Street bridge over the Don (essential for an LRT line running south to the Keating Channel), nor does it include widening of the Cherry underpass at the rail corridor (essential for connecting north to the Cherry Street streetcar tracks to be installed later this year).

Adrian Morrow in the Globe wrote about the Tiny Perfect Streetcar Line in today’s Globe including the general problem that transit to real development in the waterfront is not on most politicians’ agendas while transit to phantom developments in the suburbs gets no end of attention.  One big problem is that Metrolinx wants nothing to do with waterfront transit and regards this as a local initiative to be paid for on the City’s dime.  I cannot help wondering just how Queen’s Park justifies its investment in many proposals for the 905 that will serve far less development than the waterfront LRT network, but leaves Toronto high and dry.

I may seem unduly harsh on Waterfront Toronto given the pressures they are under from the Monorail Mania at City Hall, but there is too much of a sense of making do, of a loss of emphasis on what will make the eastern waterfront a great place, not just an OK suburb of downtown.  Particularly notable in the presentation was the absence of any explanation of how these lands would relate to nearby existing and future developments, a sense of place in the larger city.  A big problem was that the presenter, a senior Waterfront Toronto exec, didn’t seem really thrilled about what he was showing us, but instead focussed on how the plan saved money, how it addressed the Ford’s desire for more and faster development.  He was playing to the wrong crowd.

The new overall plan for the Port Lands is broken into three stages based on gradual expansion of flood protection that would allow a wider set of land uses in various areas.

Phase 1 (Page 20) creates a spillway parallel to the Don Roadway so that a flood from the river would not inundate lands west of Cherry Street.  This frees up the first set of lands for redevelopment.

Phase 2 (Page 21) raises the Don Roadway itself to create a berm that protects the Film Studio district.

Phase 3 (Page 22) builds the new river mouth and associated parkland/spillway so that land between Cherry and the Don Roadway can be developed.

The presentation notes that the amount of land available for development is larger in the revised plan, but a number of speakers pointed out that by Waterfront Toronto’s own admission, the real estate industry cannot absorb all of the available lands for decades.  Whether there is any value from the “new” land is unclear, although if this falls within, say, Phase 1, it would accelerate revenue from the overall project.

The whole issue was to go to Council imminently, but this has been put off until the fall so that details of how the financing might work can be figured out, and the plan can undergo an external review.  The next public session will likely be in August with the, in effect, final version of the proposal that will go to Council.  If Council approves the new scheme, this will trigger a roughly 18-month process to amend the approved Environmental Assessment.

Central Waterfront

The Waterfront Toronto Board has approved a project to rebuild the sidewalk and bike path (Martin Goodman trail) from Bay to Jarvis Street this summer.  The work will also  include reconstruction of the aging Jarvis Slip’s dock wall and revision of its anchoring system to provide clearance for new telecomm and hydro ductwork that will serve the eastern waterfront.  Some road refinishing will be done to tidy up Queen’s Quay if the budget permits.

The intent is to provide a link to the new developments on Queen’s Quay east that have been isolated from the stylistic changes further west and especially the major redesign of the road to begin this summer.


The CEO’s Report includes updates on all major projects at Waterfront Toronto (I tend to focus on transit and related issues).  One of the most important notes in this month’s report is:

The province has indicated that it is tracking for a spring/summer approvals process for Waterfront Toronto’s long-standing request for increased operational governance. A scoped consent package has been negotiated with the three orders of government which would provide Waterfront Toronto the ability to borrow, create subsidiaries, receive revenues and encumber its assets. Once provincial approval has been obtained, the federal government will seek its respective approvals likely in the late summer/fall.  (Page 6)

Several projects, including the transit infrastructure for the eastern waterfront, will require new funding sources among which may be new mechanisms within Waterfront Toronto itself.  At the Board meeting, CEO John Campbell was optimistic that senior governments would agree to proposed changes, although he noted that Queen’s Park was particularly sensitive on the matter of creating subsidiaries in the wake of the ORNGE scandal.

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Looking Back: Moving House on a Grand Scale

March 31, 1972, brought an unusual sight to downtown Toronto.  An 1822 house, originally the home of Sir William Campbell, sixth Chief Justice of Upper Canada, moved from Adelaide and Frederick Streets in the old Town of York to its current site at Queen and University.  It was the Town’s oldest remaining building.  (Although The Grange behind the Art Gallery on Dundas Street dates from 1817, it was built out in the countryside, far from the few blocks of the original town.)  Campbell House sat in an area now booming with condo development and rejuvenated warehouses, but then a run-down district where an old house just got in the way of a parking lot expansion.

As I write this, we are celebrating Victoria Day weekend.  Victoria herself was only 3 when Campbell House was built.

Moving the house was quite a challenge as the following photographs show.

Looking back at these pictures, I was amazed at how close the crowd following the move was to the building. In these days of Health & Safety Officers (with liability lawyers in close pursuit), the crowd would be kept back for blocks.

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The High Cost of Going Underground(?) (Updated)

Updated May 17 at 11:00 pm:  Richard Gilbert has responded to this article.  Rather than leave his remarks and my replies in the comment stream, I have placed them at the end of this article.

Urban consultant and former city Councillor Richard Gilbert has an article on the Globe & Mail’s blog titled “How Toronto’s transit plan takes taxpayers for a ride”.  The article decries the high cost of the Eglinton LRT and in particular the high effective subsidy per rider of the capital cost of burying much of the line.

The basic premise, the questions behind the article are sound, but the methodology is not.  This leads to a substantial overstatement of the per passenger subsidy for the capital construction.

At the outset, I must emphasize that my intent is not to attack Richard Gilbert himself, but rather to comment on the pitfalls involved in making comparisons between different systems, and in the use of generic formulas in planning.  In many of the critiques I have written over the years, the hardest  part has been to delve into the underlying assumptions and methodologies (themselves often hidden away in background papers).  These may “prove” something, if only that an author found the number he wanted to find and looked no further.

Gilbert writes:

According to Metrolinx, the provincial agency charged with implementing the transit improvements, the Eglinton line is to cost $4.9-billion (an amount under review). It is forecast to carry 5,400 passengers per hour in the peak direction in 2031, eleven years after it is scheduled to begin operation.

This peak rate is usually associated with an annual total of some 17 million rides. The annualized capital cost of the line is about $300-million per year ($4.9-billion amortized over 35 years at 5 per cent).

Thus the capital cost per ride will be an extraordinary $17.50 ($300-million divided by 17 million). This will be the effective subsidy per ride if the fares to be paid roughly cover the operating costs.

Central to this calculation is the translation of a peak point/hour demand of 5,400 to an annual ridership of 17-million.  The Eglinton route, like many transit lines in Toronto, is not a commuter line feeding unidirectional demand into one point like a GO train.  It is a route (actually several bus routes) serving an overlapping set of demands.  Many riders on the line do not contribute to the peak point count — a peak measured westbound to Yonge in the AM peak will not include any riders using the west end of the line, nor will it include any counter-peak traffic.  Many riders will not contribute to the peak hour counts — the ratio of off-peak riding on the TTC is much higher than on GO Transit even where all-day service is provided.

Any claim that a single peak point’s ridership can be translated to an annual figure will be inaccurate because it ignores the characteristics of the line as a whole. Continue reading

Good News Far Too Much of the Time

The TTC has now launched a public-facing version of an internal campaign pitching its new organization and attitude to serving riders under the rubric Modernizing the TTC.  The same information appeared in a poster recently issued throughout the organization.

From a service delivery point of view, the key pages are the 25 Key Performance Indicators and the Daily Customer Service Report.

The “KPIs” are intended to give ongoing information about ridership, service quality and station conditions including availability of escalators and elevators.

Strangely enough, the daily report is not available to the public, only a snapshot from March 19 on which — surprise! — everything is just fine, thank you very much.  This is precisely what has been wrong with the TTC for so many years — they are addicted to hearing good news.

Three changes are badly needed.

1.  Put real time data online

It’s all very well to know service ran so well two months ago, but I want to know how these indices are tracking today and over recent weeks.  Riders who waited while full buses zoomed past their stops, or were thrown off of short-turning streetcars, need to see what’s happening now and whether the TTC’s stats reflect their actual experience.

2.  Put more detail online

While the system as a whole may meet its targets, that does not reflect actual rider experience at a route-by-route level or at various times of the day.  The public information should be subdivided by route so that riders (and members of Council) can check against their local services rather than system averages, and the stats should be subdivided by time of day to distinguish busy peak periods from quiet evenings or weekends.

3.  Collect meaningful statistics

The statistics and targets now reported by the TTC have been with us in one form or another in places like the Chief General Manager’s Report (now the CEO’s Report) for some time.  Everything looks rosy until one thinks about what data drives the KPIs and whether it is really meaningful.

Subway and surface operations are measured by the proportion of trips that operate within three minutes of the scheduled headway.  It’s good to see the TTC moving away from “on time” as a measure of service quality because in most cases customers only care that vehicles/trains are regularly and reliably spaced.  They couldn’t care less if they are “on time” except in cases of wide headways.

However, if a service is scheduled to run every 4 minutes, this means that any headway from 1 minute to 7 minutes is acceptable for the statistics.  Even worse, a parade of vehicles each 1 minute apart meets the target except for the first in the queue where, presumably, there is a large gap.  A parade of 10 cars would be 90% “on time” because 9 of the 10 would be within 3 minutes of their scheduled headway.

With uneven headways more passengers accumulate in the wider gaps.  What most riders see is the train, bus or streetcar that arrives with a heavy load after a long wait, and they may not even be able to board.

The KPI needs to be revised so that vehicle bunching cannot produce statistics showing an acceptable quality of service.  As things stand, it would be easy to achieve a target of 2/3 of trips within an acceptable headway and still have quite ragged service especially on “frequent” routes.

Where headways are wider (some off-peak services and especially those with branches), on time performance is much more important.  Riders would like to plan their travel based on when a bus is supposed to appear rather than having to face waits of 20 minutes or more.

At a route level, an index is required to track service quality not  just at the route’s peak point, but at termini and common short-turn points.  Some routes have multiple peak points, and reporting only on one of them can misrepresent what many riders actually experience.

A sad commentary on the reliability of the SRT is that its service target is to operate 80% of scheduled trips.  Whether this will happen in a snowy winter remains to be seen.

Elevators and escalators are supposed to be 97% available.  However, I understand that this status is of about 9am and does not reflect whatever outages may occur through the day.  Moreover, devices that are out of service for maintenance don’t count against the target.  Unfortunately, a rider who cannot use stairs only cares that they cannot use their station.

As of May 16, 2012, there are seven escalators listed as out of service by the TTC not including devices at Union Station affected by the second platform project.  From a rider’s point of view, these are just as unavailable as a bus or streetcar that shows up after a long gap or hopelessly late.  They are a service that is expected but not available.

Outages for planned maintenance should be included in the stats, even if as a separate category.  Availability stats should be based on all-day operations, not once-a-day surveys.  (Note that it is not necessary to physically visit every station, but simply to log trouble calls that come in.)

When I spoke with the TTC about the fundamental problems in their statistics and goals, they freely admit that these just are not good enough.  However, management and Commissioners are now trumpeting a scorecard of success just at a time when they really need to set the standards higher.  All those green checkmarks will change at least to yellow if not red when the bar is raised.  TTC management and staff must be ready to accept the need for improvement against goals and measurements that reflect what passengers actually see day-to-day.

Service Changes Effective June 18, 2012

The TTC will implement many service changes on June 18, 2012 mostly for seasonal changes in demand.  The lion’s share of these are service cuts, with a few increases.  These are detailed on the first six pages of the document linked below.

Construction will continue in many parts of the city notably affecting the streetcar system.

Waterfront / Spadina

The separate operation of 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina will continue into June, but the Spadina streetcar service will be replaced with buses running in mixed traffic to permit construction.  This includes both track repairs and changes to the safety islands in anticipation of the new LFLRVs and the implementation of the Presto fare card.

Service on 511 Bathurst will be increased to absorb some of the traffic that might otherwise attempt to use the 510 Spadina service.

Whether this arrangement, with buses stuck in the often-jammed traffic lanes of Spadina, will work at all remains to be seen.  I cannot help wondering why the work is not staged in such a way that buses could use the right-of-way for at least part of the distance with police assistance at merge points.

Welding of new rail for the reconstruction of track on Queen’s Quay is now in progress in front of the Redpath’s Sugar site.  Tentative plans have streetcar service coming off of the 509 Harbourfront car at the end of July for the beginning of construction.

Queen Street East / McCaul Street

Work will continue on Queen near Russell Carhouse, but the reconstruction of McCaul Street will close McCaul Loop.  During this period, the branch of the 501 operating from Russell to McCaul will be extended to Wolseley Loop at Bathurst Street.  Whether it will actually reach this destination in the time allowed is quite another matter, and I expect to see a lot of cars short-turning.

Dufferin Street

Dufferin Street will be closed to transit between King and Queen for track and water main work.  The branches of 29 Dufferin which normally operate to Dufferin Loop will be short-turned at Queen via Gladstone.  The branches which operate to the Princes’ Gate will divert via Queen, Shaw and King around the construction zone.

2012.06.18 Service Changes

TTC Meeting Wrapup: May 1, 2012

The TTC board met on May 1.  This was a quiet affair without the political drama of the “old” Ford-stacked Commission, and I almost missed the bumbling antics of the old crew.  The agenda was on the thin side, and everything wrapped up in a few hours.

Major items included:

  • a status report on the LRT projects,
  • proposed changes to the Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge Subway,
  • the Framework Agreement with Metrolinx for implementation of the Presto farecard,
  • the Customer Satisfaction Survey, and
  • the CEO’s report.

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