This article looks at the fleet plans for the conventional bus fleet and for Wheel Trans over the 10-year period 2013-2022.
The lead time to procure new buses is considerably shorter than for rail vehicles (18-24 months vs several years), and this provides more flexibility in responding to changes in circumstances and/or policy regarding bus services. What is striking in both of these plans is the slow rate of growth for the conventional bus fleet and the total absence of planned growth for Wheel Trans.
The fleet plan is stated in terms of 40′ bus equivalents because, starting in 2013, there will be a mixture of artics and standard sized vehicles in the fleet. This allows the 40′ “fleet” size to stand in for the available service capacity. For this purpose, artics are treated as having 1/3 more capacity than a standard bus. Once they are in service, and with possible changes in fare collection leading to all door loading, we will see what the actual replacement ratio might be.
The peak service requirement for 2012 is 1,522 vehicles. Provision for growth is modest at roughly 1.5% annually for 2013 and 2014, but zero in 2015. This plan was drawn up when the opening date for the Spadina extension was still in 2015, and so the timing of the bus fleet savings is still shown in that year. Much larger effects show up beginning in 2019 with the presumed opening of new LRT lines.
If the replacement of bus routes is further delayed, , the expected reduction in the bus fleet will not occur as planned. This could be caused by
- another schedule extension by Queen’s Park,
- deletion of rail lines from the plans, or
- technology changes that stretch out implementation.
In the short term, 2013-15, the fleet is somewhat larger than what is required to operate the planned service. This provides some headroom for growth beyond the planned level should the TTC and Council fund it.
Garage space is constrained as a direct result of the delays in LRT line construction. TTC garages can now hold 1,630 vehicles and earlier plans had expected that between the Spadina extension and the new LRT lines coming into service, there was no need for another garage. “Tapscott” garage was taken out of the capital plans a few years ago.
The deficit in capacity grows as the “contingency” (the buses in the fleet surplus to daily requirements) falls, and this peaks at the equivalent of 123 40′ buses in 2018. The TTC is looking at schemes to store and operate buses in non-garage locations to get over the high point in bus usage before the LRT lines open as assumed late this decade. A combination of ridership growth and indefinite delay in rail transit construction could push the TTC into needing another garage.
There is no provision in the plan for a return to the Ridership Growth Strategy’s more generous Service Standards for peak vehicle occupancy. That change is the reason there are “surplus” buses today. Any decision to improve service by reducing the crowding standard would drive an increase in fleet requirements in future years by roughly 100 buses with associated capital costs and pressure on garage space until the early 2020s.
Such are the far-reaching effects of political decisions on service planning. Even if Toronto wanted to improve service, the capital cost and lead time for another garage and vehicles, not to mention the buildup in operating and maintenance staff, could weigh against such a policy.
Wheel Trans Fleet
From 2013 onward, the peak fleet requirement holds unchanged for the next decade. Notes to the plan indicate that increases in the number of trips served would be accommodated through a combination of:
- improved dispatching
- widening of the pickup window for trips
- migration of clients to the conventional network
The pickup window is an issue for Wheel Trans users because, if it widens, this increases the period during which they must wait and be available to leave for their trip.
Migration to the conventional network depends on the accessibility of that network. The streetcar network will gradually become more accessible over the coming six years as the new low floor cars replace the CLRV/ALRV fleet. However, this will only address travellers who are mobile enough to get to the conventional network but are now blocked from using it by the current high-floor streetcar design.
Looking at the fleet plan, I cannot help thinking that the TTC has no intention, or at least no real plan, to boost system capacity and handle more trips on Wheel Trans buses beyond whatever can be achieved with fleet productivity and shedding ridership to the conventional system. Moreover, there is an unfunded budget line of $1-billion for changes to the TTC’s built environment to reach compliance with provincial disability/accessibility legislation. The degree to which any of these changes would allow trips to shift off of Wheel Trans (as opposed to easing trips it does not now serve) is unclear.
The TTC and Toronto Council, which funds all of Wheel Trans, need to see a detailed study of the options for future accessible transit service and build funding into the capital and operating budgets rather than simply flat-lining the system indefinitely.