TTC Meeting Wrapup: April 24, 2013 (Updated)

The TTC met on April 24 to discuss a rather thin agenda, and the meeting was over in a not-quite-record 90 minutes.  Discussed here:

  • May meeting preview
  • CEO’s Report
  • Customer Satisfaction Survey
  • Property Acquisition Management Plan
  • Pape Station reconstruction
  • A deputation about the 507/501 streetcar service

Updated May 6, 2013 at 5:20pm:  In the original version of these notes, Commissioner Heisey’s concern about unreliable service on Dundas Street was reported.  The Commissioner has written to me to note that the service was actually worse than how I quoted his remarks.  His correction is included near the end of the “Customer Satisfaction Survey” section below.

May 24th Will Be A Busy Meeting

Reports and discussions in the pipeline for May include:

  • An update on the Leslie Barns project and on the many sub-projects concerning the reconstruction of the streetcar system to accommodate the Low Floor LRVs.
  • A report on the Gateway News Stand lease issue.
  • A five-year plan for the TTC including an overview of the future of streetcar service.
  • A discussion of the City Manager’s report on the Metrolinx Investment Strategy (this may be pre-empted by actions at the City Council meeting of May 7/8).
  • A report on the problem of automobiles blocking intersections on red lights.
  • A discussion of the proposed amalgamation of the TTC’s Pension Fund Society with OMERS.  (This item was held down from the April agenda because confidential information on the subject cannot be released to the non-Councillor commissioners until after Council approves this action at its next meeting.)

CEO’s Report

Results are now in for early 2013, and the TTC’s ridership and revenue are down from budget projections, mainly due to the poorer-than-expected weather.  However, riding is still running above 2012 levels, and the TTC expects to make up the loss over the year.

The moving annual average of ridership is 2% over the comparable period a year ago, and ridership in the second reporting period (mainly the month of February) was 4% above last year.

Subway punctuality continues to be lower on the Yonge-University-Spadina line than on other routes through a combination of passenger assistance incidents, fire/smoke delays and continuing problems with the new TR subway trains.

SRT punctuality improved substantially in fall 2012 when the schedules were adjusted to reflect operations that this aging technology can actually achieve.  Severe weather in February caused problems with snow and ice accumulation, an ongoing issue with the SRT power pickup, motor/track design and vehicle doors.

Surface route punctuality fell in February due to bad weather, but the bus system was more severely affected.  The TTC is reviewing operating strategies to plan for future major winter weather disruptions.

Route by route statistics on reliability were published on the TTC’s website, and I commented on them in a recent article.  Problems with the methodology to create these stats remain, but I won’t belabour the point by repeating previous criticism here.  TTC management are aware of the issues and working on improvements both to the quality of service and the way in which this is measured.

Planned major service disruptions include:

  • Spadina from Queens Quay Loop to King.  This is shown in the CEO report as completing by June 23.  Until I hear details of construction plans at the coming Waterfront Toronto public meeting, I remain skeptical of this date.  However, for scheduling purposes, this may be the target.
  • Harbourfront route.  The CEO’s report shows that streetcar operation will resume around the Labour Day weekend.  Again, I await Waterfront Toronto’s construction update for definitive information.
  • Planned shutdowns of the YUS for rail grinding have been deferred because the equipment leased to perform this work is not in working order.
  • Streetcar service on Kingston Road will be suspended from June 23 to November 24 for track and road reconstruction.
  • Track replacement on York Street will involve the shutdown of the Queen/York intersection from June 29 to July 10.  During this period, service on Queen will divert via Victoria, Dundas and McCaul.  There is no indication yet whether a special schedule with extra running time will be operated.

TTC Chief Customer Officer Chris Upfold, sitting in for CEO Andy Byford, advised the Commission that with the subway’s aging infrastructure, the scope of repair work will become more significant, and disruptive shutdowns will become more common.

Customer Satisfaction Survey

(The presentation for this report is not yet online on the TTC’s site, only a one-page covering report.  When and if this is available, I will add a link to it here.)

The TTC conducted four surveys through 2012 to assess customer attitudes to a variety of issues with transit service, the physical environment of the transit system and perceptions of the TTC as an agency.  These were carried out in April, July, September and December with sample sizes of 551, 1100, 1000 and 1000 respectively.  The small sample in the first survey reflects a late start on the overall project.

City of Toronto residents aged 13 to 70 who used the TTC at least once every few weeks were included in the survey which lasted about 10 minutes by phone.  The respondent breakdown was:

  • 47% use the TTC once a day or more often
  • 31% use the TTC several times a week
  • 12% use the TTC once a week
  • 10% use the TTC once every few weeks

The mode of transportation for respondents’ most recent trip were:

  • 75% by subway
  • 65% by bus
  • 22% by streetcar

The numbers add to more than 100% because trips involve multiple modes.  As with a previous city survey of transit mode, the streetcar system percentage is disproportionately high relative to its size in the network showing its relative importance in passenger numbers.

The purpose of the most recent trip was:

  • 47% to work
  • 17% for personal business
  • 14% for pleasure/recreation
  • 13% for school
  • 8% for grocery shopping

The method of fare purchase was:

  • 53% by ticket/token split 41% by token, 12% by ticket
  • 33% by monthly pass split 26% by adult, 7% by other
  • 11% by cash
  • 3% other

(Note: No confidence levels were included with any of the published statistics.)

Customer satisfaction declined overall through 2012 with a good-excellent rating falling Customers are pleased with “soft” aspects of the system, but they are unhappy with subway and surface vehicle crowding.  Wait times and the lack of helpful information about delays were also flagged.

Good-excellent ratings for wait times were reported consistently through the year by about 70% of subway riders, but the numbers fell to the low 50%s on the bus system, and similar numbers for streetcars with a noticeable dip below 50% in the third quarter (when the effect of major construction projects probably affected many riders).

By contrast, journey times were ranked good-excellent fairly consistently for all modes at 60-70%, again with a third quarter dip for the streetcars.

Crowding is a big problem and ranked slightly worse on the subway than on the surface modes.  Only slightly more than 50% rated crowding for any more as good-excellent.

Vehicle cleanliness was rated good-excellent by about 60% of respondents across all modes with buses running slightly behind the rail modes.

Maps and information predictably did poorly for surface modes where there is less access to this information (unless one is using a smartphone application), while the ratings were higher for the subway (where the system is simpler, and status displays are available in most stations).

The Q&A with Commissioners following the report’s presentation brought out intriguing concerns:

  • Commissioner Alan Heisey asked about the effect of wider headways on wait time, specifically as this would affect routes where longer vehicles will be operated.  Given that wait times are a major source of dissatisfaction, will the wider headways only make the problem worse?
  • Heisey observed that he had recently tried to use the Dundas car, but had walked from Yonge to University without being overtaken by any service.  (As he was saying this, I looked at Nextbus and found that there was no Dundas car in either direction between Dufferin and Yonge Street.)

Correction:  Commissioner Heisey wrote:

Steve, you misquoted me.
The walk I did with my kids was way worse than Yonge to University.  We started walking west [east?] on Dundas West from Kensington Market, west of Spadina and Augusta, and walked all the way to University without a street car passing us.

This is at the walking speed of a 9 year old, my daughter, who was with me.

The Star reports that Chris Upfold is well aware of the issues with service quality:

First, says Chris Upfold, the crowding is real. “The biggest damage we did was the reduction of our loading standards 18 months ago. Our service is the biggest driver of our overall customer service satisfaction,” he said.

“Although many of our other scores have gone up — and reliability is up 3 to 5 per cent above what it was a year ago — people feel more crowded on buses and streetcars,” said Upfold.

I must say that it’s good to see someone at the TTC acknowledging that the Ford era penny-pinching service cuts, a tactic still not repudiated by Chair Karen Stintz, are having an effect on the attractiveness of transit service.

  • Commissioner Raymond Cho, who represents a ward in eastern Scarborough, asked about a geographic breakdown of the survey.  He regular receives complaints from riders who wait endlessly for buses that don’t show up or are full.  Chris Upfold replied that the survey looked at all Toronto customers, but he missed the point that issues may differ from one part of the transit network to another.  (Some of this showed up in the regional breakdowns of the City’s recent review of transportation concerns.)  The TTC, however, will try to drill into survey results to identify subgroups where the dissatisfaction is highest to understand their concerns.
  • Commissioner Anju Virmani asked about systems the TTC would like to emulate.  What system do we want to be when we grow up?  Upfold replied that the TTC, like any transit system, had to be the best for the city it was in.  There are things to emulate from a 150-year-old system (London UK) or from new systems in the Far East, but one can’t simply take a system from one city and plunk it down in another.
  • Commissioner Virmani also asked about having the customer survey tracked against the goal of the customer charter.  Staff agreed that this should be done.

The quarterly surveys will continue through 2014 and results will be included in future CEO reports.

Property Acquisition Management Plan

This report addresses recommendation from the City’s Ombudsman regarding the process for handling public consultation on construction projects, especially as this relates to proposed acquisition of property.  The TTC will mend its ways and engage communities and affected property owners much sooner in the process.

The report would have been adopted but for a concern that the language did not commit the TTC to sufficient advance notice.  It would still be possible for affected parties to learn of a project the day before a public meeting or announcement.  The report was sent back to staff to examine longer notice periods and the effect this might have on project proposals.

Pape Station Reconstruction

Recently, TTC staff surveyed users of Pape Station to determine preferences between two schemes that would speed completion of the reconstruction project at that site.  Although it was supposed to finish in early 2012, the project has dragged on at least in part due to unexpected site conditions.  Regular travellers through the station see progress from time to time, but periods of inactivity don’t give the best impression.

The TTC proposed that completely closing the station for 12 days would allow work to be accelerated because full access to the worksite would be possible without having to protect for passengers.  This would bring substantial completion of the station forward to September from late December.

The survey gave three options:  close for 12 days in a row, close for 6 2-day weekends in a row, or keep with the original plan.  The first option, a complete shutdown, won by 52.3% of the votes.  The weekend-only option received 33.2% and the “no change” option 14.1%.  Further details of the survey are in the linked report.

The TTC will announce the dates of the shutdown together with information on route changes and alternate service provisions in a few weeks.

A Deputation About the 507/501 Service

Normally, I would not critique deputations at the Commission as these are expressions of public interest just like my own.  As a very long-time occupant of the deputant’s chair, I respect the right of anyone to have their five minutes presenting ideas to the Commission.

A regular feature of meetings these days is Alan Yule who gives entertaining illustrated talks on a variety of subjects and does a good job of integrating threads from various aspects of TTC policy and operations into one presentation.

This time out, Yule spoke about the proposed restoration of a separate 507 Long Branch service split from the 501 Queen car.  This is a scheme I proposed many years ago, but which TTC staff fought against.  It is poorly understood by the area Councillors, and is for all purposes a dead issue.

  • 501 Queen cars would operate between Neville and Humber as they did before the routes were integrated.
  • 507 Long Branch cars would operate from Long Branch Loop to Dundas West Station providing overlap with the 501 and 504 routes.  This would ensure that even if the latter were short-turned, riders would be able to continue through without being marooned at a transfer point.
  • 508 Lake Shore through service from Long Branch to downtown would be maintained and improved during the peak period.

What was disappointing was that Yule’s presentation dwelt on the minutiae of how the revised service could be configured at no extra cost to the TTC rather than on the benefits of this service relative to what’s there now.  The whole point is that outside the peak period, demand for local service on Lake Shore is stronger than demand to ride through into downtown, and the erratic service provided by the 501 Queen car works against provision of reliable service on the western end of the route.  (The demand figures were cited in a TTC report some years ago, and they come from the Transportation Tomorrow Survey conducted by the UofT on behalf of planning agencies in the Toronto area.)

Councillor Peter Milczyn dismissed the scheme saying that riders on Lake Shore want to get downtown, and the integrated service was specifically to get rid of the unreliable connection at Humber Loop.  This misses the point about the route overlaps, but at this point I give up.  Southern Etobicoke will continue to get unpredictable service unless the TTC makes a major effort to clean up operation of the 501 Queen car.  A flotilla of Swan Boats at Humber Bay is more likely.

42 thoughts on “TTC Meeting Wrapup: April 24, 2013 (Updated)

  1. Wellesley station at the south end of the southbound platform also tapers away for the curve, and I seem to recall that there was another location not on Steve’s list. At any rate, as the television ads from the early ’90’s kids programming recited “Stay Alert, Stay Safe”.

    Steve: Ah yes, Wellesley too. I suspect also that when the line was designed, there was some idea that trains would not pull right to the end of the platform and thereby avoid stopping on the part with less clearance (at Union, there is no choice because of the curve’s location). If anything like this ever was in the early plans, it is long forgotten.


  2. Oh and southbound Museum to accomodate the east to south curve from lower Bay. In this instance, the trains would need to stop towards the end of the platform to avoid it. I can’t think of any curves where the track curves away from the platform before the end of the station box, but this scenerio would lead to a wider gap without a platform taper.


Comments are closed.