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.
With both Metrolinx and City Council approvals in hand for the four previously-approved LRT projects, work on the network is ramping up again although formally this still awaits Cabinet approval at Queen’s Park. For reasons best known to the provincial government, this is unlikely to appear on their agenda until the summer, possibly July.
Construction continues at the tunnel launch site at Black Creek. The tunnel boring machines will be delivered and begin work in fall 2012. Early thoughts on tunneling strategy presumed concurrent work east from Black Creek and west from Brentcliffe to a common extraction point at Chaplin Station. This appears to have changed due to issues with tunneling under Eglinton West and Eglinton stations.
It is not safe to tunnel close to an existing structure because there must be enough headroom between the tunneling equipment and any structure above for the earth to provide support. However, the Eglinton line’s stations must be close to the subway structure for easy of pedestrian connections between the two. At Eglinton West station, the TBMs will be extracted west of the station, a new launch site will be built to the east, and tunneling to Yonge will resume from that point.
This will require an extended shutdown of the south end of the Allen Road, a prospect that I am sure will cause much anti-LRT sentiment even though the same process would have been required for a subway line.
The tunnel east of Yonge will be built under a separate contract.
For a short time after the meeting, there was some confusion about the effect of station construction on local neighbourhoods. Erroneously, Karen Stintz remarked at one point that there would be no concern as the TBMs would just dig through the station area. Of course this is not true because the station structures require cut-and-cover construction. Some, but not all, of this can take placed under a decked road. Stintz corrected herself, but the remark set off a media discussion about the effect of construction at station sites.
Although Oakwood station still appears on TTC maps of the Eglinton line, and Metrolinx (according to the TTC report) awarded a design contract for it in February, there have been no public meetings for this site. TTC staff advised the Commission that Metrolinx may drop this station from the plan due to low projected use. Commissioner Josh Colle commented that he has received inquiries from developers about the station, and there is some confusion about who, if anyone, is co-ordinating the LRT project and potential development activity.
Metrolinx purchased the Kodak lands near Eglinton and Weston Road in February 2012 for the Eglinton line’s Maintenance and Storage Facility (MSF). Preliminary work for an EA for this site is underway, and public consultation should occur in fall 2012.
Recently Metrolinx confirmed that the scheme to through-route Scarborough and Eglinton trains had been dropped from their plans due to an inbalance in projected demand for the two lines and concerns about service reliability. Aside from what this may say about the TTC’s hopes for operating surface LRT in street medians, this also triggers a change in the operation of the revised Kennedy Station.
A new design will be presented for public comment in fall 2012.
Although the Scarborough line will use the new yard at Conlins Road as its primary carhouse, the TTC and Metrolinx are still reviewing the land at the existing McCowan carhouse and yard. This might be recycled as a storage yard to increase east-end capacity for the fleet and better balance the process of loading service onto the Eglinton line from both ends of the route.
TTC staff advised the Commission that Metrolinx may drop the lightly-used Ellesmere Station from the route.
Although the Finch route will not begin construction for several years, a section of the underground station at Keele (Finch West Station on the Spadina subway extension) will be pre-built as part of the subway work to reduce costs and avoid the need to tear up the intersection again for the LRT line.
The underground segment is short, just long enough to contain the station platforms. Its design is a good example of the minimum requirements for the space needed to dip under an intersection, a scheme often proposed as a way of reducing traffic effects at major intersections. Although the station box structure shown here is only 60m long, the gradient of the line is kept at 0.3% for a longer stretch in case an expansion to handle 90m trains were necessary.
The turnback tracks for Finch West will be located on the surface east of Keele. The TTC has not yet decided whether to include the stop east of Keele in the project, or simply to end the line with the turnback tracks east of the station portal.
Land for a Finch MSF west of Jane Street was purchase by Metrolinx in 2011.
A mock-up of the Metrolinx LRV may be available according to the TTC report this summer.
The Effect of Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP)
Metrolinx’ desire (and provincial policy) to route all major projects through Infrastructure Ontario and an AFP process has triggered a debate about unnecessary delay to the affected projects. TTC staff advised that under AFP, the entire process of taking a project to completed design and construction is bundled as one piece of work for a private sector consortium. This means that preliminary design (typically to 30%) must be complete for an entire project before it can be farmed out via AFP, and work that might otherwise have taken place in parallel with construction must happen up front. This will typically add one to two years to the projects.
TTC staff will report back further on questions relating to AFP and overall project management at the May 30, 2012 meeting.
At the Metrolinx meeting last week, there were veiled references to potential problems with AFP and project delivery, and I had the sense of an “AFP if necessary, but not necessarily AFP” sentiment among some present. The question, of course, is whether the up-front delay will be offset by a robust, cheaper and possibly faster design and construction process.
Originally, AFP was to be used only for the Conlins Road MSF and for the Scarborough project, but now all parts of the LRT plan are subject to this methodology and this has contributed to the extended project timelines.
The TTC will launch an amendment to the Transit Project Assessment for the Richmond Hill subway extension for the following changes:
- modifying Cummer station to add a substation, and to eliminate a conflict between a ventillation shaft and an existing sewer;
- reducing the size of the underground bus loop at Steeles station and eliminating one of its access ramps;
- adding a bus loop at Clark station to remove some traffic from Steeles;
- removing Royal Orchard station from the project as there is minimal development potential at this site;
- adding a storage and maintenance area for 14 trainsets north of Richmond Hill station and adjacent to the CN rail corridor.
The proposed storage and light maintenance area will be three tracks wide and over 800m long. An earlier scheme that had been mentioned at TTC meetings involving a new carhouse on property to be acquired in York Region appears to have been dropped.
The report includes a history of this proposed extension and the text of City Council’s conditional approval in January 2009. The “Downtown Relief Line” figures prominently in this approval, but the TTC has so far been silent on options for this project.
The primary function of this report is to recommend that the Commission delegate authority to CEO Andy Byford to negotiate and execute agreements with Metrolinx for the implementation of Presto according to a previously approved framework. The report includes a recitation of the history of this project and a description of the division of responsibility for various aspects of the design, implementation and operation of the system.
Although there is a reference to functional requirements including the “fare policies and products” to be supported, we have still not seen any public discussion of what these might be. We do not know what fare models the TTC is contemplating, or if any options have been “designed out” of the system. I have sent a query to the TTC for further information about this.
In its negotiations with Metrolinx, the TTC has been quite firm about capping its portion of the system implementation costs at $47-million. This is based on an original estimate of $140m total for a new fare collection system, an amount that is at least a decade out of date. Metrolinx will finance anything beyond the level of available funding and will, in theory, recoup the investment out of efficiencies in their part of the operation and fees (at a rate of 5.25% of Presto revenues). To what degree this actually happens will almost certainly be buried in Metrolinx general financial statements.
Customer Satisfaction Survey
The presentation made by Chris Upfold at the meeting is not available online. The information in it is guardedly optimistic about customer attitudes, although there are some noticeable areas such as service quality where riders are less than pleased.
The survey is conducted on a rolling basis so that it is not subject to the distortion of a large point-in-time sample that might be skewed by a single major event, and to allow for tracking of evolving attitudes. As the collection of data expands, the information will also give reliable indications of differences between various populations such as suburban/downtown residents, time-of-day effects, and the sex and age of riders.
I hope to get more information about this survey in the near future, and will publish a separate article when this is available.
The new format of the CEO’s Report (formerly the Chief General Manager’s Report) was introduced at the March TTC meeting. This is the second report in this format, and the first covering operations for 2012.
When I first learned that the new CEO, Andy Byford, planned to introduce KPIs (“Key Performance Indicators) as a reporting tool, I cringed. In my previous professional life at another large public sector agency, this type of reporting occurred at so consolidated and averaged a level that meaningful information was hidden within broad averages. Indeed, management reporting tools can turn into an exercise in “gaming the system” to produce results that reflect well in the metrics.
The current set of KPIs and the information in the CEO’s report is intended as a work in progress to evolve with more detail and a better understanding of the system’s operation. That, in turn, will bring the ability to track performance at a detailed level. We shall see.
Ridership for 2012 is running ahead of 2011 by 4% and above budget by 2.3%. This, coupled with changes to the loading standards that eliminated some of the spare capacity used to absorb growth, creates a need for more service beyond what was originally planned. The projected ridership for 2012 is now 512-million up from the budgeted 503-million, a number that was not credible when the budget was passed as it was only marginally higher than the 2011 actual.
A report detailing these requirements was intended to be presented as a companion to the CEO’s report, but it was not completed in time. This report is expected to be on the May 30th meeting’s agenda.
Thanks to the machinations of the Ford-dominated Commission and actions taken by Council, we have been through two budgets where sacrifice took precedence over service. Any report on expanding system capacity must not simply address the effect of ridership growth, but also the question of whether a return to the Miller-era standards should be considered to give better resiliency to the service. Crowded buses and streetcars load more slowly, and passengers are not happy being left at stops. Among the topics I hope to see in a report on future service requirements are:
- A realistic review and projection of riding growth showing where (routes, network segments) and when (peak, offpeak, weekend) this is expected, and the effects this will have on service requirements. Too many TTC budgets have low-balled riding projections resulting in budgeted service levels that cannot address actual demand. Past efforts to improve service have been hamstrung by constraints on fleet size, garage space and operator workforce. All of these need to be addressed in any co-ordinated program of service expansion.
- Codification of the ad hoc Service Standards that were implemented as part of the 2011 and 2012 budget processes, and a discussion of the effect of rolling back to the 2010 standard on service quality, attractiveness and budgets.
- Review of services actually operated to ensure that they meet whatever standards are in place, especially as this relates to maximum headways and walking distances.
- Review of the process for adding or reintroducing services. Under the Ridership Growth Strategy, the need to consider extending services to additional periods (e.g. providing evening or weekend service on a route) was not an issue because the standard called for full service. In an era of budget cuts, the thought of actually adding back some service has not been on the table.
- Review of the proposed Transit City Bus Plan and other schemes for an enhanced network of major surface routes.
Once again, Toronto has a political environment ripe for a discussion of service quality, and the TTC should provide a detailed menu of options, benefits and costs for Council’s consideration in budget for 2013 and future years.
In this area, the KPIs are very much a reflection of what the TTC has managed to achieve historically rather than a demonstration of ongoing improvement. I understand from TTC staff that the intent is to refine the measures and revise the targets upward so that merely doing as well as could be hoped is no longer the standard of service quality.
Subway reliability is defined relative to schedule, not to headway, but despite this measure, the reliability numbers are in the mid to high 90 percent range. Yonge underperforms Bloor, and this is put down to problems with the new TR trains including a misuse/misunderstanding by passengers of the appropriate use of the new assistance alarms. However, the data for 2011 shows that the YUS has consistently underperformed the BD and Sheppard subways (albeit by a few percent), and this explanation does not really hold water.
The TTC has a long history of blaming its problems on external factors, and while there may be some problem with passenger alarms and door delays (no doubt caused by overcrowding), the TTC’s tendency to blame the customer runs counter to a supposedly new, friendlier approach to service.
On the SRT, reliability is measured as percentage pf scheduled trips operated, with a target of 80%. This is an astonishing situation and speaks to the unreliability of the fleet and control system on the line. How it will survive until late 2015 when rebuilding will finally start is a mystery. It is worth noting that the past winter was quite mild, and the SRT was generally not affected by snow-related problems that have plagued its operation in other years.
The measure of bus and streetcar reliability is stated in two different ways depending on which chart one reads. In the summary on page 2, the measure is “headway ±3 minutes” while in the detail charts on page 8, the measure is “on time”. These are two quite different values, and this discrepancy should be resolved.
Although the details are not published in this report, this type of measure is provided internally at the division and route level so that problem areas can be identified. Commissioner Cho asked whether local breakdowns are available for review, and he was told that these are available online. Presumably this is only within the TTC’s Intranet, although this sort of information would be useful if published externally as well. (Council members, City staff and members of the public do not have access to the internal network and websites at the TTC.)
Elevators and Escalators
The target availability for both elevators and escalators is 97%. Although numbers are up from 2011 very slightly, the goal is not quite met for escalators.
However, the larger problem is with the metric itself. I have been told that the numbers represent the status of the devices at 9:00 am each day, and breakdowns over the course of a day do not show up in the stats. Unfortunately, riders use these machines at all hours, and a common problem is that they go out of service and await repair (or simply an inspection and manual restart).
This is an example of how a “KPI” can look good because it reports on a snapshot that may not be representative of the day’s operation as a whole.
Discourtesy is the largest single category of complaints, and it is one area that shows a marked improvement (a reduction of about 20%) over 2011. However, there is a category of “other complaints” responsible for over one third of the total even though each of the constituent categories (over 70) represents a small number. This begs the question of whether there are too many categories and if there are collections of those “small” ones that should be addressed and reported on as a group.
Major Planned Closures
This is a useful report, although it is incomplete. Moreover, this sort of information belongs on the public website as a summary of upcoming disruptions.
The BD line will be closed between Warden and Kennedy on May 12/13 for trackwork, and the third stage of the King Crossover installation will occur on the weekend of May 26/27.
Track replacement on the streetcar system is scheduled for:
- Queen from Greenwood to Coxwell: May 7 to October 8
- Dufferin from Queen to Dufferin Loop: May 14 to Nov 17
- Queen & Spadina intersection: June 23 to 30
- Adelaide & Spadina intersection: July 1 to 7
Platform upgrades are planned at various locations on Spadina from June 17 to Nov 17. What is not mentioned here is that the Spadina streetcar will be replaced by buses running in mixed traffic for at least part of this time.
There is no mention of track replacement on Queen’s Quay nor on Spadina, both of which have been in the long-term plans for some years, nor is pending work on McCaul and on York streets listed.
This section of the report will be more useful if it includes track and road construction projects affecting transit service, and if the list is complete.
Fare revenue is up for 2012 relative to budget due to strong ridership numbers, although the percentage increase for revenue is lower than the absolute number of rides. The reason for this is a continuing trend of passengers shifting to Metropasses and pass holders increasing their monthly trip count. Sadly, the TTC does not publish detailed information about this, nor about the breakdown in time of day or type of fare used.
Expenses for 2012 are running below budget because of lower than expected fuel costs and the warm winter.
In the short term, the subsidy requirements are running well below budget, but the TTC plans to increase service in response to ridership growth. The projected year-end expenses are $5.5-million above the budgeted level. Oddly enough, this is roughly the amount of extra subsidy Council tried to give the TTC, but the funds were diverted to Wheel Trans. Unbudgeted service improvements will come from the farebox and will be less than might have been possible had Council’s funding been used for regular operations as intended.
There is a broader issue of Wheel Trans funding to address because its farebox recovery rate is so low. Council and the Commission must decide what its goal for Wheel Trans actually is, and provide funding appropriate to that goal. If there is a funding problem for this service, we should know what the pressures and options are, not hide the problem by raiding the regular operating budget for a cross-subsidy.