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.