TTC Meeting Preview: February 25, 2013 (Update 2)

Update 2 on Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:00 am:

Additional information from presentations and debates at the Commission meeting has be added to this article.

The Toronto Transit Commission will meet on Monday February 25, 2013.  This month’s agenda is a tad on the thin side, but there are some reports of interest.

    • CEO’s Report (updated)
    • Status Report on TTC Accessible Services
    • Second exit planning & consultation / Response to Ombusman’s report
    • Leslie Barns connection to Queen Street
    • Accommodating strollers
    • Purchase of 126 articulated buses (updated)
    • Amending the Automatic Train Control System contract to include Spadina/Vaughan extension (updated)
    • Update on Bus Servicing and Cleaning Contract (new)
    • Deputation by Merit OpenShop Contractors Association of Ontario (new)

There was also a presentation on new shelter maps and stop poles.  This item is likely to generate a strong response in the comment thread, and I will create a separate article for it.

CEO’s Report

The February 2013 CEO’s report contains little 2013 data because the TTC is still closing out 2012.  Of particular note there is no reference to problems with winter operations, although this has severely affected TTC service reliability.

Subway service reliability on the Yonge-University-Spadina line has been affected both by reliability problems with TR train doors (expected to be corrected by the end of February 2013) and by the number of maintenance crews working at track level (probably due to work on the new signal system).

SRT “reliability” ratings have improved because the schedule in operation now matches the actual capabilities of the trains and crews.

Reliability on the streetcar system suffered in December 2012, and was noted in a comment (page 9):

Streetcar Transportation is pursuing additional strategies on under-performing streetcar routes.

Ongoing analysis/identification of times and locations where running time and crewing issues are driving up the number of short turns is being conducted to identify potential areas for improvement.

The last two weeks of Period 12 (December Board) saw high levels of insufficient workforce due to vacation, resulting in numerous cancellations due to no Operator. The resulting cancelled service contributed to delays, longer trip times, and ragged headways. In addition, customer levels were higher in midday and lower in peak periods, so we experienced a mismatch in service levels vs. customer loading. This is completely unacceptable and will not happen again next year.

I reported on problems with running times for the 501 Queen car in a recent series of articles.  The 506 Carlton route already has new schedules with longer running times that are reported by some riders (in comments on this site) to have improved service reliability.

A related issue shows up in the attendance chart (page 13) where the absence rate spiked upward in December 2013 by over 1%.

The comments about the mismatch between demand, service and manpower planning are intriguing because they beg the issue of how something completely within the TTC’s control could have happened in the first place.  The service budget for December 2013 includes considerable drop (3.5%) in daily service hours, and it will be interesting to see whether this is amended as the year goes on.

Updated Feb. 26: Andy Byford noted that the TTC has been reviewing its snow procedures in the wake of a recent storm including protocols for towing of parked cars that block transit operations and preferential clearing of streets where snow accumulation can impede or block transit service (major hills such as the one at Hogg’s Hollow).  The TTC expects to put its improved responses to the test for a storm expected overnight February 26-27.

Status Report on TTC Accessible Services

This report gives the 2012 year-end status of accessibility initiatives and a view forward for the system.  A notable failing is that past achievements are mixed together with current activities so that the actual pace of recent progress is masked.  “[T]he development and expansion of extensive door-to-door service operated by TTC’s Wheel-Trans division” is listed as an “achievement” even though Wheel-Trans has been in place for many years, and the TTC’s avowed intent is to reduce, not expand, the level of service it provides.

A major issue for the TTC and other transit operations lies in provincial regulations that will impose accessibility rules on transit systems and public spaces generally without providing any funding to support this work.  Moreover, Toronto gets no operating funds from Queen’s Park to support whatever services Wheel-Trans might provide.  This is an area completely missed by recent announcements of “local” funding from the “Next Wave” of Metrolinx funding.

The report (at page 11) contains a chart of planned station retrofits for accessibility.  For reasons best known to the TTC, this includes stations on the SRT that will be completely rebuilt as part of the Metrolinx LRT conversion project (Lawrence East in 2016, McCowan in 2019, Midland and Ellesmere in 2021).  Possibly someone at the TTC has not been reading the papers much lately.  Removing the SRT stations from the plan will free up planned capital spending and allow advancement of some work to earlier years, notably two major bus terminals at Islington and Warden where accessibility depends on reconstruction of the bus bays to common island platforms.

These projects would likely be coordinated with second exit work where needed (see below).

Second Exit Planning & Consultation / Response to the Ombudsman’s Report

Following on to previous reports and debates about public consultation and the design of subway station second exit facilities, the TTC proposes a new three-phase process.

In Phase 1, an external expert panel will be convened to develop evaluation criteria and weighting for possible designs.  This panel will be chosen to bring expertise in “community safety, urban design, architecture, urban affairs and transit station design”.  A publicity campaign will explain the need for the additional exits and seek public input on the panel’s work.

At this point (fall 2013), the Commission will be asked to endorse the Phase 1 results.

In Phase 2, work will begin on the designs for eight stations that require second exits and which are not part of construction already planned or in progress:  Donlands, Greenwood, Chester, College, Museum, Summerhill, Dundas and Dundas West.  Community groups will be struck for each location, and they will develop the options for second exits with expert assistance from the TTC.  The recommendations will be reviewed by the external panel (from Phase 1) to check that their framework for evaluation has been followed.

At this point, the Commission will be asked to approve design and property acquisition for the new exits.  The design work will proceed in Phase 3 with continued community consultation.

This involves a change in procedure because design work and property acquisition will occur much earlier in the process than for past projects:

This new approach involves planning the location of the second exits for all the stations in the next 2 years, acquiring the necessary properties at the end of the process accompanied by broad communication about the plans at each station. The actual construction of the second exits is dependent on the TTC Capital budget and funding availability. In some cases the planning for the second exit and acquisition of property may occur several years in advance of the actual construction start. However, the locations will be known, lifting the shadow from other properties near the station.

Throughout the process, the local Councillors will be involved so that there are no surprises from projects sprung on a community as part of an overall project or budget approval (as happened with Donlands/Greenwood).

The response to the Ombudsman contains a compendium of previous documents, but no information beyond what has already been reported.  (The file is quite large because much of it comes from scanned pages, not from original text converted to pdf format.)

Leslie Barns Connection to Queen Street

In the continuing saga of the Leslie Barns project, the bid for construction of the connecting track to Queen Street and associated utility work under Leslie Street has come in well over budget.  The TTC is attempting to negotiate this downward, but may be forced to retender the work.

One cannot help wondering how work that should be the bread-and-butter of many Toronto contractors found only one “qualified” bidder and now faces significant delay because of a high bid.

Accommodating Strollers on TTC Vehicles

In January, the Commission asked staff to report on the question of whether strollers should be limited in some way on TTC vehicles.  Staff replied that a review of other systems, including an industry paper, showed that there is no consistent way this is dealt with or a “best practice”.  The report then turns to the more general issue of large objects brought on board by passengers, and the human rights issues of children.

Although some congestion issues do arise on some routes during particular times due to strollers, the impact of their use does not appear to have an effect that is any greater than that of other items that customers carry. Since, in practice, it would be impossible, if not counterproductive, to more closely regulate and restrict items that our customers already carry, the same logic must hold true for strollers.

Indeed, given that strollers are occupied by children (ie people) who have either paid a fare (over the age of two) or are exempt from paying a fare under TTC fare policy (under the age of two) it would seem that the case for carrying strollers, and their occupants, unfettered is even stronger than for general items such as luggage or backpacks.

Furthermore, quite separate from the capacity and congestion debate, there is a strong societal imperative in not further restricting access to public transit to customers accompanied by young children. Quite simply, public transit must widen its reach to the broadest range of society to ensure that it fulfils its fundamental purpose – to move people. Staff, as well, reject any notion of charging a premium for using strollers – or any other item not restricted by current policy.

Additionally, the new vehicles being introduced to the TTC, including articulated buses and new streetcars, will all provide increased, and improved, space for customers using strollers. Improvements such as more dedicated multi-purpose areas and flip-down seats (as opposed to flip-up) will all help to improve capacity for customers using strollers and thus other customers as well.

The opening paragraph suggests that strollers are no greater problem than other objects brought on board by passengers, but this ignores the very real problem that arises when multiple strollers converge on one vehicle.  That said, the approach of making vehicles more accommodating of what passengers actually have through the use of open vestibules (e.g. new streetcars) and flip-down seats is more productive than creating yet another “policy” where “operator discretion” dictates who and what can board TTC vehicles.

The report is silent on the question of retrofitting flip-down seats in the area reserved for scooters and similar devices.  We cannot wait a few decades for the bus fleet to cycle through to a new design, and the TTC should address internal layouts for its fleet to relieve the problems posed by strollers now.  A related question is whether the new articulated buses now on order (see below) provide for better circulation through flip-down seats and rear doors that will easily accommodate all-door loading into vestibule space.

As an historical footnote, this is not a new problem for the TTC.  In his book The Toronto Trolley Car Story, Lou Pursley tells of the transition from the Toronto Railway Company fleet to the new Peter Witt streetcars on the TTC:

During the TRC franchise baby carriages had been carried free on a hook on the rear of the car.  With the adoption of Witt cars no provision was made for the carrying of baby carriages.  During periods of light traffic baby carriages were permitted inside of the cars which resulted in a number of accidents when passengers tripped over the carriages.  On July 10th, 1923, it was announced that in future collapsible carriages only would be permitted in the newer type cars, while the larger carriages would be carried outside on cars not yet converted to TTC standards.  [Page 26]

There is no word on whether children, dressed in Snoopy’s finest “Red Baron” scarf and goggles, will fly down the streets of Toronto hanging from the bike racks.

Purchase of 126 Articulated Buses

In August 2012, the TTC awarded a contract to Nova Bus for 27 sixty-foot articulated buses with an option for a follow-on order.  Now that Toronto Council has approved the TTC’s 2013 Capital Budget, this option will be exercised to order an additional 126 buses.  The first group of buses will be delivered in 2013 with the remainder to follow into 2014 (no end date is given in the report).

The total cost of the order for 153 buses is $144.5-million.

The TTC plans to use the larger buses on routes such as 29 Dufferin, 36 Finch West and 25 Don Mills where it is hoped the larger vehicles (and associated headways) will reduce bunching.  I am not convinced of this premise, but we will have to wait for actual operations to verify this.

Another problem not addressed in the plans is the additional stop service time required to load larger vehicles through one door.  There has not yet been any discussion of a shift to all-door loading and proof-of-payment (or smartcard) operations on the affected routes.

Finally, as riders of the Queen car know all too well, there is no guarantee that a run that is scheduled to run with a larger vehicle will actually have one assigned to it.  The capacity actually operated can be less than advertised.

After the TTC cuts over to schedules based on articulated bus operation, I will publish before-and-after analyses of route operations to see the actual effect of the new buses on service reliability.

Updated Feb. 26:

As the report explains, this purchase was contemplated when the original order for 27 buses was approved in 2012, and the additional purchase was approved as part of the 2013 capital budget.  Exercise of the purchase option had to wait until City Council had completed its budgetary debates.

A few Commissioners raised a question about how a $120-million purchase could come before them “at the last minute” on the supplementary agenda with no explanation or warning.  One Commissioner, who was Vice-Chair when the 2013 budget was drafted and approved by the Commission, claimed ignorance of this impending purchase.  This shows either ingenuous indignation or a failure to understand a major component of the budget which he approved.  As for the recently-added “public” Commissioners, their lack of depth on current TTC affairs is starting to show, and this begs the question of how well-briefed they are for their roles.

That said, there is a refreshing evolution of the Commission to a body that asks more questions about the details, especially financial, of material put before it.  Over past years, a “dumbing down” of Commission reports prevailed so that long explanations were removed to background papers, if they existed at all.

This change will bring two challenges.

First, management will have to write clear reports that provide the essential information in a clear, well-structured manner, so that a “first read” will convey the main issues separately from detailed background.  Second, Commissioners will have to actually read their agendas and make themselves more knowledgeable about TTC affairs.

Automatic Train Control for the Spadina/Vaughan Extension

When the original Spadina Extension project (TYSSE) was approved, the budget did not include funding for automatic train control (ATC) and the line was designed with a convention block signal system.  The TTC now proposes to expand the scope of the ATC contract to include the extension so that the entire line will be ATC-capable.

Two scheduling options for this work were proposed:

  • Implement and commission ATC as part of the current construction plan.
    • Supplier (Alsthom) quotation $14.3-million
    • TTC costs $36.0m
    • Total $50.3m
    • Major cost and schedule impacts on the project (which is already delayed to late 2016 due to other circumstances)
  • Implement ATC during construction, but perform commissioning after the line is in revenue service.
    • Supplier quotation $18.4m
    • TTC costs $29.8
    • Total $48.2m
    • Negligible effect on the TYSSE project schedule
    • Will affect TYSSE operations due to commissioning under active revenue service

The second option was selected by project’s Executive Task Force which includes representatives from affected agencies and municipalities.  Funding must now be sought from the various partners (Toronto, York Region, Queen’s Park, Ottawa) who are paying for the base project.

One issue which the TTC has still failed to address is fleet planning for the extension and for the shorter headways that ATC will allow.  There will be a fleet of 70 “Toronto Rocket” trains by the time the order is completed in 2014.  The current peak requirement is 49 trains (PM peak) which includes 2 standby/gap trains on a scheduled headway of 2’31” with no short turns.  (The St. Clair West short turn operates only in the AM peak when the 2’21” with a fleet requiredment of 28 trains including 4 gap trains.)

The TYSSE adds 8.6km to the one-way trip of 30.2km from Finch to Downsview, or about 25% to the length of the line.  If all of the PM peak service runs through to Vaughan (as it does now to Downsview) this will add about 12 trains to the peak requirement at the current headway bringing the peak fleet needs to 61 not including maintenance spares.  This number may be lowered if:

  • A short turn operation is implemented (as proposed in the Environmental Assessment report) so that not all service runs through to Vaughan.  Depending on the location of the turnback, this could save up to 6 trains.
  • The average speed over the extension is higher than the speed over the existing YUS (just under 31km/h) to the degree that one or more headways worth of running time can be saved.
  • The YUS using TR trains converts to “high rate” operation to provide faster acceleration and shorter running times on the line overall.

Without some or all of the tactics listed here, the TTC will not be able to reduce headways on the YUS once the Spadina extension opens using the planned TR fleet.  Supplementing the fleet with T-1 trains (which are not ATC-capable) would limit any headway reductions to those allowed by the conventional signal system.

Moreover, the TTC has not addressed the issue of the minimum feasible headway that can be operated through the crossovers at terminal stations, notably Finch to which all trains will operate under any scenario, even with ATC in place.

We have not seen the last of additional costs that will be incurred to achieve all of the claims made for the TYSSE and the new signal system.

Updated Feb. 26:

The debate on this issue revealed another example of misunderstood cost comparisons.

One Commissioners asked about the justification for choosing an option that was $4-million higher ($18m vs 14m) for the signals contract.  The answer lies in the report itself, but it appears separately in the text, not in the tabular presentation of cost changes.  The Alsthom contract represents only about one third of the total costs to TTC of the two options, and the one chosen has both the lower overall price and avoids further delay to opening of the subway extension.

The extra cost to the signal contractor is more than offset by avoidance of extra cost to the rest of the project through delays needed to give the signals sub-project clear access to the line for installation and commissioning.  A simplified, consolidated comparison of the options appears above in this article.

Gateway News Stands

Updated February 25, 2013 at 7:30 am: 

At previous meetings, the question of a contract extension for the Gateway Newsstands has been a matter of some concern.  On Sunday evening, local media reported that, based on an external review, TTC Chair Karen Stintz will recommend that the Commission rescind its approval of this extension in favour of a tender call.

Of particular interest in the coverage is the revelation that contrary to the original report from TTC staff, the proposal by Tobmar Investments International was solicited by the TTC rather than arriving out of the blue.  This puts the previous attempt to keep the process as a sole source deal in a very different light.

Toronto Star Tess Kalinowski

Stintz has called the Tobmar agreement an “unsolicited proposal.” But on Sunday she said the TTC actually approached the company first to ask it to upgrade its stores before the Pan Am Games in 2015.

(My presence in the photo accompanying this article has nothing to do with the subject.  The photo was taken at a dinner hosted by food writer Corey Mintz.)

The Globe and Mail Kirk Makin

The National Post Natalie Alcoba & Armina Ligaya

The TTC meets on Monday, but Ms. Stintz said it’s too late to add the item to the agenda. So, she will bring forward a motion at next month’s meeting “to stop negotiations with Gateway and prepare an RFP for the operations of the newsstands.”

Updated Feb. 26:

Chair Karen Stintz gave notice of a motion to reopen the matter of the Gateway News Stand concession contract with Tobmar Investments International.  The procedures in TTC bylaws (which mirror those of Council) are designed to prevent “surprise” changes to decisions that are already in place by ensuring that only in true emergencies can matters be placed on the agenda for debate with little notice.  The current contracts do not begin to expire until mid-2014, and this certainly does not present an emergency situation.

Notice of Motion simply places the proposed motion on the March agenda.  Because this reopens a previous decision, the Commission must vote to do this by a 2/3 majority, and even then the matter would not actually be debated until the April meeting.  That extra month’s delay can be waived by a 2/3 vote of the Commission, the likely outcome given the general desire to settle the matter.  This will allow the Commission to formally rescind its earlier decision in March and launch a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP).

Bus Servicing and Cleaning (Added Feb. 26)

In September 2012, the TTC awarded a contract for bus servicing and cleaning at Mount Dennis and Malvern garages to two private companies.  The total value of the contracts was expected to be $7.25-million for a two year period plus a three month “ramp up” time.

The savings over doing all bus cleaning, not just at these two garages, were projected to be $4.29m annually.  However, TTC management have discovered that they made an error in calculating the effect of HST, and the saving will only be $2.93m.

It is important to note that the contract costs at only two of the TTC’s seven garages over two years are being compared to projected savings over the entire system for one year.  This distorts the relative costs and savings.

Contract cost for two garages :  $7.250m / two years
                                  3.625m / one year (pro-rata)

Annual savings projeced:          2.930m / seven garages
                                   .837m / two garages (pro-rata)

Discussion of this report revealed that the TTC had been negotiating with its in-house staff to reduce costs and improve quality of bus cleaning, but that this process failed as staff could not come up with sufficient savings to be competitive with contract cleaners.

Andy Byford reported that the average amount of time spent per bus has gone from 12 to 25 minutes, but with no underlying explanation of whether this figure represents one worker’s time, or a crew.  He also noted that the quality of the cleaning has been much improved over in house performance.  The contract cleaners are, according to statements at the meeting, paid at a rate about two-thirds that of the in house staff, and there is likely a further spread due to differences in benefits.

Leaving aside the whole debate about contracting out, this report raises a number of questions:

  • Why was inaccurate information about the relative cost of contracted work used in the evaluation process?
  • What labour and management practices caused in house cleaning to provide so much lower a quality of work?
  • Why are financial comparisons reported to the Commission on an apples-and-oranges basis with costs and savings cited for different scopes and time periods?

Contracting out will continue to be an issue at the TTC and elsewhere in the public service.  Accurate comparisons are essential so that Commissioners, politicians and the public can evaluate the options fairly without over or understatement of the benefits and implications.

Poor work practices and management should be corrected in house, and if this is not possible, the TTC needs to explain why rather than simply pushing work out the door as a cost-cutting measure.

Deputation:  Merit OpenShop Contractors of Ontario

Representatives of an industry group representing the non-union and open shop companies in the construction industry gave a presentation advocating that their members be allowed to bid for TTC contracts.  In brief, they claim that if the TTC abandons its union shop policy for construction contracts, large savings in major capital projects would be possible.  The current TTC policy matches the one used by the City of Toronto.

The deputation and its supporting report are not available on the group’s website as I write this, and I cannot comment on the merits of their claims.  However, among them was a statement that Metrolinx allows for “open shop” contractors to bid on work, and that they have already achieved a saving of $60m on a $360m tunnelling contract.  The details of this claim were not given.

The Commission referred the presentation to staff for a report at the March meeting.

During the debate, Commissioner Milczyn, with the apparently tacit support of Chair Karen Stintz, proposed a motion that staff report on implementation of this policy change.  From a procedural point of view, this violated the basic premise that proper notice be given, and would have left the Commission making a major policy decision on the basis of an uncontested deputation.

Regardless of one’s position on this matter generally, this was an attempt to slide through a decision at a meeting when almost everyone else in City Hall was pre-occupied with the Mayor’s campaign audit.  At best, this was ill-considered.  At worst, this was subterfuge that throws the motives of some Commissioners into question.

20 thoughts on “TTC Meeting Preview: February 25, 2013 (Update 2)

  1. Are there pictures/diagrams/crayon drawings of the new stop poles and shelter maps? Apparently, they are to appear on the 94 Wellesley bus this month. Haven’t seen a rendering. There is supposed to be a presentation, but haven’t seen a PDF of it, yet.

    Steve: The presentation will probably show up at the TTC meeting on Monday. If it doesn’t go up online, I will post it here; otherwise I will link to it wherever it might be found on the TTC’s site.


  2. Was any provision for a second exit from Dundas platforms made at the new Ryerson building? If not, can there be one across the street at the Empress Hotel site?

    Steve: I am not sure what provision has been made for a connection, but there have been mutterings about a lack of funding. From a structural point of view, if you look at Google Street View you will see that the vent shafts for the north end of Dundas Station lie on the south side of the intersection at Gould. This means that the north end of the platform is just to the south. It should be possible to “pop up” to the surface anywhere on that corner subject to there being space or a building connection, although the Ryerson building is a bit “up the street” from the station. The west side would not work unless it were redeveloped, and the east side is the obvious choice for a better connection for traffic to/from Ryerson.

    There is a development proposal for this site although it has not yet become a formal application to the city. The preliminary floor plans and exterior renderings do not show any subway connection although the building would be immediately adjacent to the north end of the station. The question, as always, is who will pay for such a structure and how will the costs be shared?

    See also this article about the site.


  3. We already have a test bed to determine whether larger vehicles (and associated headways) will reduce bunching. It’s the 501 streetcar! As we know, the Queen car is a shining example of evenly-spaced service and happy passengers, so I am feeling pretty confident about the powers of the articulated buses.

    (OK, the 501 has two distinct features not applicable to the articulated bus routes: it’s not a bus, and it’s a longer route with more potential to encounter delays en route.)

    Steve, were you doing this type of headway/bunching analysis back when the TTC was operating the Ikarus artics? Presumably they operated on some of the same routes (I only recall Islington, but the 1991 Service Summary on Transit Toronto lists others — Brimley North, Finch East, Steeles West, Thorncliffe Park and Van Horne). Presumably that experience would indicate the extent to which the new ones will reduce bunching (if at all).

    Steve: My analyses started with late 2006 data on a few streetcar routes. Yes, I agree that the claims about bunching and vehicle size are perfectly disproved by the Queen car which, if the TTC is to be believed, should be a model of regularity. Instead, the larger vehicles and longer headways simply magnify the problems of indifferent line management.

    More generally, even for routes like King with a scheduled 2 minute headway, this is only during a peak period, not all day, and there are plenty of examples of routes on 4 or 5 minute headways that have erratic service.

    That said, there is an argument to be made for a route like King which has both very frequent service and many closely-spaced traffic signals. The signal timing is such that cars on a 2 minute headway will inevitably be marshalled into groups that are a multiple of the fairly standard 80 second signal cycles. A location like Queen & Ronces with a long cycle and one-way greens for each direction will always be a limitation. The problem, however, is that the very frequent service operates for only a short period in the day, and using longer vehicles to “fix” it dooms riders during other service periods to longer headways.

    However, on King as on Queen, the plus-or-minus three minutes rule will give far more leeway to simply leave whatever headways may occur in place rather than trying to better space out the service. With wider headways, keeping an even vehicle spacing is essential, but the TTC only cares about keeping cars on time.


  4. Steve said: and by the number of maintenance crews working at track level (probably due to work on the new signal system).

    Union Station construction is definitely playing a role. I use the station daily, trains are crawling through the King Curve far more slowly than usual, as well as along the Union platform. This is certainly due to construction given that this below the dug-up Front St segment immediately east of Bay St. (above the single cross-over). Dwells also vary wildly at Union, not sure if that’s due to construction or headway management, but sometimes the dwells are very long.


  5. Speed control section from King to Union of 15 km/hr. If operator goes above, train stops and has to be reset. I don’t know the reason, but I believe it’s due to curve track and wheel wear, also a blind curve (workers) and that it’s permanent.


  6. This is the first I have heard of new stop poles. Is there something wrong with the present ones? One thing that certainly needs attention is the temporary cardboard signs indicating the stop is out of use. They are a poor design in that they are the same colour as the normal stop. People often do not notice the sign. It needs to be a bright lime green or some such colour to make it stand out.

    Steve: This is part of the new Customer Service focus at the TTC. Until we see what they are actually up to, I can’t comment on colours or other design aspects. However, given TTC history with such things, there is a high probability that it will not be well-executed. I stand ready to be pleasantly surprised.


  7. Strollers. From the staff report:

    Indeed, given that strollers are occupied by children (ie people) who have either paid a fare (over the age of two) or are exempt from paying a fare under TTC fare policy (under the age of two) it would seem that the case for carrying strollers, and their occupants, unfettered is even stronger than for general items such as luggage or backpacks.

    This shows how out of touch the TTC management is with reality. There is no way in Hell an operator is going to challenge an adult over the age of their “baby/child” and insist on a fare. Does NOT happen!


  8. Karl, having read your observations of what is going on at Union Station, I’d say subway schedules are going to dwell – for the present, at least!


  9. Raymond Kennedy writes

    “This is the first I have heard of new stop poles. Is there something wrong with the present ones?”

    How about the basics, that are shown on stop signs across the world. Like route numbers and destinations. I can’t think of a major city on the planet that doesn’t at least put route numbers on the stops!

    Or the lack of the numbers on bus stops to indicate the number to text to get the NextBus information, which is on all the TTC streetcar stops.

    Steve: Although the NextBus bus stop info is supposed to be coming, this has been an outstanding issue for over two years. It is a simple example of how the TTC half-delivers a service to customers. Shall we start taking bets on how long it will take to roll out the new stop design, whatever it may be, and how long we will be told that the lack of info on existing stops will be remedied by the “new stop pole program”?


  10. Steve wrote of streetcar operational problems:

    “… they beg the issue of how something completely within the TTC’s control could have happened in the first place.”

    Over the last decade I’ve often wondered about high turnover and/or staffing gaps in senior management for surface/streetcar operations. Anyone know if this has been the case?

    Streetcar wrote:

    “Speed control section from King to Union of 15 km/h … I believe it’s due to curve track and wheel wear, also a blind curve (workers) and that it’s permanent.”

    Permanent? Has the curve geometry been changed?

    BTW: “… the absence rate spiked upward in December 2013 by over 1%.” You likely mean one percentage point. That is what I meant: from X% to (X+1)%.


  11. According to a couple of streetcar operators I have talked to the TTC is enforcing a policy that streetcars shall not operate through intersections with special work in both directions at the same time. Supposedly this latest crackdown came after the derailment at Queen and Broadview. This will improve on time performance.

    Steve: It’s so nice to know that the TTC has so much faith in its track, especially considering that intersections are supposed to last for 20+ years and are now built to high standards. I will check into this. By the way, I have been on cars that passed in intersections, and so I suspect either ops are ignoring or don’t know about this rule, or that it is at selective locations.


  12. On the business of strollers, I seem to recall that in the past, the policy for children riding free was that they were “babes in arms”. Which would imply no big strollers….

    For stops, and the general convenience for customers, it’s irksome that on farside platform stops (Spadina and Queensway have these), the stop is at the very far end. In theory, I guess one of the new streetcars would take up the entire stop. However, the stop placement is very inconvenient at present when CLRVs run a full two car lengths down the platform from the designated access point at the intersection. Since there may currently be a policy of only one streetcar at a stop at the time (I have been on Spadina cars which waited at the near side of the intersection, even though there was plenty of room behind the car stopped at the farside), this makes riders walk a long way (or try to take a shortcut along the tracks). It doesn’t even make sense in terms of “preparing for the Flexitys” since those will be all-door boarding.

    It’s pretty clear with policies like this that whoever lays out the platforms hasn’t had to run after a streetcar that’s halfway down the block at the “official” stop. And in my experience, operators on Spadina will stop at the official location. I guess that word came down from above.


  13. Steve I took the subway from King to Union earlier heading south at 9:40 am. The fact is service is so slow on the approach into Union trains are partially stopped in King station with their trailing car in the station. That and the dwell time at Union was lengthy. Something has to be done otherwise the new signal upgrades will do more harm than good. The fact is backups on the approach to Union and tighter headways will cause a problem.

    Steve: One big problem is that they use Union for crew changeovers and trains wait on the platform while meetings trains swap.


  14. Is it really that hard to send a couple of drivers out of each division with Nextbus stickers, and get all the stops covered in a week?

    By the way, does anyone know exactly how Nextbus generated the next vehicle times? I know it uses GPS on each vehicle, but how does it decide that bus X, doing route Y, will be at stop Z in n minutes? It seems like recently, the times I’m seeing don’t seem to align with actual travel times on the street (or even headways), but follow more a “1 stop = 1 minute” pattern, showing a bus coming in 30 minutes, when it only takes 15 minutes to travel on that section. Anyone have any idea about this?

    Steve: The way it is supposed to work is that Nextbus accumulates actual running time info on routes from “observing” them over a period of a few weeks. This gives the actual (as opposed to scheduled) travel times for various times of day, days of the week, that drive the predictions. If anything, I have found it to be a bit generous (e.g. late) with predictions especially when the speed of vehicles is high enough that the difference between actual location and the time-delayed GPS info makes a difference. Another problem is that Nextbus can be fooled by short-turns with vehicles leaving or entering a route at unexpected locations. It can also be fouled up if a vehicle “disappears” for a time due to technical problems, or because an operator is not correctly logged on. This can cause a gap to appear where none actually exists.

    (As a side note, that’s a problem I have to take into account in my route analyses by interpolating vehicle positions between points where the car goes “offline”.)


  15. Purchase of 126 Articulated Buses

    Here is another brilliant move by the TTC. They don’t have the first order of 27 articulated buses in operation but, they buy more! Anyone with a brain would wait to see if these things actually work the way they are supposed to and THEN buy more. It would be different if they already had the identical older model vehicle in use. Kind of like the hybrid diesel buses they thought were going to be a great thing. Didn’t work out that way. Now they don’t want to buy any more due to much higher cost and very little fuel savings (10% instead of 30% expected) in the sales pitch.

    Same stupid move was made with the new streetcars. None on the street yet they buy more!

    Does anyone else think there ought to be a house cleaning at TTC management?

    Steve: Actually, they would have ordered the whole batch at once, but were waiting for 2013 capital budget approval for the 126 additional buses. It was always planned as a single order, but broken up because of uncertainty about funding from the city. That said, yes, it would be nice to have some experience with them before ordering the equivalent of over 200 regular buses, but we’ll just have to see.


  16. The new buses are not some unproven technology like the Lockheed Martin F35 JSF. These are proven technologies so that there is no risk of placing a follow on order. Other operators have already worked out the bugs. Just for reference, Lufthansa placed an additional 30 orders for the Bombardier CS100 jet before even the first flight. This is in addition to their first order.

    Since Transit City and the Spadina Line have been delayed, I suspect that the TTC will need what ever delivery slots they can get. My concern is that where will they get the buses to run shuttle buses for the ICTS line when it is being converted. So, I hope they will order some more buses since these 126 units will probably be used just to absorb ridership growth.

    The hybrid buses do conserve fuel. Putting them on routes like the 199 and 190 is not the smartest thing to do. Look at a Toyota Prius, it gets better consumption in the city than the highway. If I am in charge of fleet planning, I would deploy the hybrids on local routes like 39 while using the new articulated buses on 199 and 190. This is the way to optimize rider comfort and fuel burn.


  17. To me, the big question about the artic buses is more about “how” they are used. Although “where” and “when” they are used are important, it is the “how” that will make the most difference for riders.

    Right now (iirc) in the GTHA the only services with Artics are HSR, MiWay (both MiLocal & MiExpress), BT (Zum only) and YRT (Viva only).

    MiWay would be the service with the most continuous experience with Artic buses and they appear to have shifted away from Artics on some corridors in favour of a higher frequency of 12m buses. Dundas was once “all Artic, all the time” but has lost some artic local service in favour of artic on express services, while the only artic bus on Hurontario is a BT Zum service.

    So I’m curious as to how TTC will operate the artics… will they end up mostly as express buses or service all stops? will some end up on new or existing “rocket” routes or in places (like Jane or Eglinton west of Weston, or Sheppard East) where LRT is warranted but not affordable?

    Cheers, Moaz


  18. It never made sense to me why the hybrids were dropped into Arrow and Malvern instead of Wilson, Eglinton, and Birchmount. Management can’t even allocate resources to take advantage of their strengths.


  19. The last two weeks of Period 12 (December Board) saw high levels of insufficient workforce due to vacation, resulting in numerous cancellations due to no Operator.

    Thank you for reporting this – it was not reported by the major media outlets as far as I know.

    I am aware that there are some TTC employees who work insane amounts of overtime in the summer due to staff vacations – if there are any caps on the number of employees within a workgroup permitted to take vacations simultaneously, it is clear that these caps are too high to have any effect.

    Can there be any doubt that the TTC is grossly mismanaged?

    Steve: I would not agree with “grossly”, but it must be disheartening to Andy Byford how often something like this turns up under a rock. I do know that when reporting it, he stated that he will assure it’s not repeated. A considerable drop in service levels is normally planned for the December holiday period, and one would hope that even at this level the TTC will have enough operators to field all of the service.

    The whole question of staffing level is a catch-22. Some members of Council and the Commission have a fetish about headcounts, and all they see is that the number of TTC employees (part of the City’s total) grows. Then they kvetch about the amount of overtime despite repeated explanations that it is generally cheaper to pay overtime than to hire extra staff. Oddly enough, there have been times when as year-end approached, the TTC cut back on overtime to balance the budget, and the service suffered as a result.

    It is a fact of life in the transit industry that buses don’t drive themselves, and there must be enough operators to cover for the combined vacation entitlements of all of them. It’s a tricky balancing act having enough ops on “regular” time with those who want overtime to pick up the extra work. The availability of overtime workers varies with the weather, the season and the day of the week for the obvious reason that people prefer to get the extra pay when it least inconveniences them.


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