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.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.