This month’s TTC board meeting has a rather thin agenda. Whether that will lead to a short meeting is another matter.
Updated January 22, 2013 at 8:30 am: Results of the meeting have been added to this article.
Strollers on the TTC (Added Jan. 22)
We get lots of deputations at TTC meetings by interested or aggrieved members of the public, and many of these presentations vanish without a trace. One, however, triggered a short debate at the meeting and a much more vigourous one in the press: should there be restrictions on baby strollers (and by extension shopping buggies and other similar objects) on the TTC given the limited space available and the effect multiple carriages have on service.
This problem has been brewing for years thanks to a combination of factors. With the arrival of a (mostly) low floor bus fleet, the difficulty of physically getting a stroller on buses has fallen, and larger models are now quite common on the TTC. The effect of this was quite evident when the St. Clair car reverted from bus to streetcar operation. Parents who had become used to getting on buses with strollers suddenly were confronted with high-floor vehicles.
The deputant asked that the TTC consider limiting the number of strollers that could be on a vehicle and/or charge an extra fare to account for the space that they take up. The Commission referred the matter off to staff for a report, but it is unlikely we will see any change in current policies.
In the Twitter and Facebook debates that exploded on this issue, many have noted that much more fundamental issues exist with the quality of TTC service and overcrowding. This begs the question of the degree to which service should be improved generally, not just to ensure that there is room for carriages.
The issue is not just the accommodation of the youngest TTC customers, but of the problems faced by any rider with special needs. This includes not only people with mobility devices, but those with difficulties that prevent them from using packed transit vehicles as standees.
Probably the deepest irony is that one rider’s presentation about the problems of baby carriages can trigger a debate with the sense of a problem that must be fixed “today”. Meanwhile the disabled community must wait until 2025 for legally mandated access to kick in. Even then, they will have to put up with escalators that run only one direction, when they run at all, single elevators that can make a whole station inaccessible when closed for maintenance, and paths through stations limited by the arrangement of elevating machines. Toronto Council caps Wheel Trans funding hoping that more riders will shift to the “conventional” system, and Queen’s Park contributes nothing to the expensive capital refit needed throughout the subway system.
Baby carriages are a symptom, not the problem.
Technology Choice for Sheppard East and Scarborough LRT Projects
(Updated Jan. 22)
In response to a request from the Commission, TTC staff prepared a report on the options and implications of subway technology replacing the LRT lines planned on Sheppard East and as a replacement/extension of the SRT.
This issue is moot, at the TTC level, because the question has been debated at length and decided at Council, and agreed to with Metrolinx who have no intention of changing the technology choice again. (See my article on the Torontoist website for comments about the SRT technology issue.) What we are seeing is an attempt by some Scarborough Councillors to give the impression of “sticking up for Scarborough” on an issue that is now completely out of their hands.
This could be the long debate in an otherwise quiet TTC meeting, or the Commission may decide that the matter is closed. Will the Commission as a whole actually confirm and support the plans already underway, or continue to send mixed signals about their commitment to the LRT network? The report is an “information item” meaning that, procedurally, no actual decision can be taken unless the matter comes back at the meeting in late February.
Update: What could have been a long, contentious debate vanished in a puff of smoke. Clearly, the Commission did not want to discuss this matter, and Commissioner De Baeremaeker didn’t even attend the meeting (although he was reported to be nearby in City Hall). Chair Karen Stintz moved that this report be deferred until the City of Toronto staff has completed its consultation on new revenue tools and reported to Council, and Council makes a decision on “appropriate ways” to finance transit expansion.
In effect, the whole matter has been punted to beyond the next municipal and provincial elections when the transit landscape may be very different. However, it leaves us in the quandary of whether Metrolinx will lock down the technology choice by signing a contract for rebuilding the SRT as an LRT line in the interim. Given the extended period for contract development, tendering and evaluation, this is unlikely.
If Ontario winds up with a Tory government, Toronto will almost certainly see cutbacks in transit funding and possibly a provincial takeover of transit operations and planning.
Gateway News Stand Lease Extension (Added Jan. 22)
In October 2012, the Commission received an unsolicited offer to renew and consolidate leases from Gateway that would see the term extended 10 years from its current 2014 expiry. At that time, the Commissioners believed that there were no counter-offers, and they approved the renewal. Subsequently, another vendor cried foul and asked why they had not been given an opportunity to bid. In December, the Commission decided to reopen the matter for discussion at the January meeting.
Although staff recommended that a Request for Proposals process be undertaken, the Commission decided to accept Gateway’s offer. The whole discussion was a bit murky, with hints that there is more to the matter than the Commissioners wish to debate in public.
See also: The Globe & Mail
Although this is the January 2013 update, it is effectively the report closing out activities for 2012. The usual Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are here, but I have already discussed their limitations in previous articles and won’t belabour the point. New or more detailed reporting on service quality may be coming in 2013, but until we see what it is, there’s nothing to report.
Riding for 2012 hit an all-time record of 512-million trips, and is running about 3% above the 2011 rate. Service is not increasing at a comparable pace, and crowding is more and more a factor on the TTC. Plans for the 2014 budget and for the promised 5-year plan must address this problem, but that’s a matter for later this spring.
By year-end, the TTC’s “surplus” (actually the amount of subsidy included in the budget, but not required) was running at $41-million. About 1/3 of this was due to higher fare revenue than projected, and the remainder comes from cost savings.
Coming in 2013 are two new initiatives:
First, we will be releasing the first-ever TTC Customer Charter, which will commit us to specific, time-bound improvements to be delivered each quarter. We will ensure accountability by publicly reporting against these commitments.
Second, we will be rolling out a new way of managing our subway service. As mentioned above, Group Station Managers will be accountable for groups of stations and adjacent bus and streetcar interchanges, with a mandate to improve customer service and safety, to motivate and manage groups of staff, and to be highly visible members of the local community. [page 5]
The Customer Charter will prove interesting reading. Either it will commit the TTC to real improvements that riders will see, including more reliable service, or it will take aim at a basket of low-hanging fruit that can be “picked” with comparatively little effort or real organizational change. There is always a temptation to aim low, to set goals that can be easily achieved as a morale building exercise. This would be counterproductive, rather like letting a child graduate from grade to grade while turning out indifferent work. The TTC needs to decide what it is aiming at, even if they may not reach the target for several years. Stay tuned.
The second point is about managing stations, not about managing subway service per se, but it will be useful to have staff whose job is to care about the stations rather than accepting them as they are. Why is that escalator still broken? Why are two-month old diversion notices still on the walls? Will that ceiling ever be repainted after repairs? Are stations with major projects set up the best way possible for passengers to navigate through construction?
The TTC continues to report service reliability by mode against a ±3 minute goal as I discussed at some length in a recent article. Unlike many transit systems, the TTC does not publish vehicle reliability stats showing mean times to failure for its various classes of equipment. With recent concerns about the brand-new TR trains and their teething problems, a more detailed public report would show whether and how things are improving.
The index of vehicle cleanliness continues to rise, but the effect, if any, of shifting to outside contracted staff won’t show up until reports later in 2013 when third party companies begin to take over this work.
The TTC will continue with Town Halls in 2013 and seeks “local advocacy groups” as partners for this. With complaints about the system, notably about service, on the rise, Town Halls will have to listen and eventually include reports of improvement. One big problem with customer outreach is that at some point, those pesky riders expect their experience on the TTC will actually improve.
Planned major subway shutdowns include continued work at Union Station for the second platform project, and on the west end of the Bloor line for completion of the Jane Crossover project. Work continues on attempts to reduce noise and vibration in houses near the subway, but the CEO’s report contains no information on the degree of success to date.
On the streetcar system, service to Spadina south of King is expected to resume in mid-May. Reconstruction of Queen’s Quay loop is planned for the fall, probably after Labour Day, at which point the streetcars will disappear again for a month or so.
On Queen’s Quay, current plans call for streetcars to resume on July 5, although it is possible this date could be moved up depending on construction progress. Because of the lead times for new schedule implementation, the TTC will make a judgement call in March on whether streetcars will be able to return sooner than July.
Having buses still in operation for the busy Canada Day weekend does not appear to be the best in planning. However, construction delays on Queen’s Quay are not the TTC’s doing as the main work through the fall and early winter was for utility relocation and expansion. Detailed information about the work underway on Queen’s Quay can be found on that project’s page at Waterfront Toronto.
The new streetcar project is running behind schedule, with only car 4400 on the property. However, I have been advised by the TTC that 4401 is undergoing dynamic tests at Bombardier in Thunder Bay. Car 4402 is expected in Toronto in early March, with 4401 to follow later in the month. On-street testing will begin in the spring. The TTC has not released an updated delivery and implementation schedule for the new fleet.
The CEO’s report contains information on other projects such as Presto, but little has changed since the previous report and I leave it to interested readers to read the full document.