The agenda for the TTC meeting on May 24 contains a few items of interest, but also a troubling sign that matters of public interest are being debated behind closed doors.
Items included in this preview:
- New Streetcar Implementation Plan
- Five Year Plan
- CEO’s Report (Updated)
- Financial Statements for 2012
- Traffic Violations and Mitigation for Transit
- Gateway News Stand Lease (New)
- The Big Move and Funding Tools (New)
Updated May 23 at 12:10 am:
Links to the TTC construction pages for the York Street, Ossington Avenue and Kingston Road reconstruction projects have been added.
A reference to a statement about the New Streetcar Implementation Plan attributed to Andy Byford at the April Commission meeting has been corrected to reflect that it was made by Chris Upfold, Chief Customer Officer, who was standing in for Byford at that meeting. TTC’s Brad Ross has confirmed that this plan will be presented in the public session of the June Commission meeting.
Updated May 23 at 9:15 pm:
The Kingston Road construction project info has been updated to reflect the early replacement of streetcars by buses effective June 3.
Updated May 25 at 1:30 pm:
This article has been updated to reflect events at the Commission meeting.
New Streetcar Implementation Plan
At the April Commission meeting,
CEO Andy Byford Chief Customer Officer Chris Upfold stated that a report on the new fleet’s implementation (including a consolidated report on various projects related to updating the system’s infrastructure) would come forward to the May meeting. This report is on the agenda, but in the private session under the guise of an “education session” for the Commission.
Questions about the service levels that will be triggered by the rollout and more generally of the total implementation cost have been a matter of concern for members of Council and transit riders. The TTC’s own fleet plans, which I reviewed as part of the 2013 Capital Budget, imply varying degrees of service improvement on the streetcar lines, but there has been no public commitment to this plan.
For over a decade, the TTC has responded to requests for improved streetcar service by saying that they have no spare cars, but that this would be fixed with the rollout of a new fleet. By contrast, some TTC statements have implied that putting more cars on the street is a waste of money because they will just become mired in traffic and/or that there is no room left for additional service.
Both explanations are hogwash, especially the latter, which in any event would only apply to King and to Spadina where very frequent service already operates. As to traffic, there are fundamental problems both with TTC line management, and with City traffic bylaws and enforcement that constrain road capacity. The latter is the subject of a report elsewhere on the agenda.
The TTC needs to be open with its riders about the future of service and capacity on the streetcar lines. Hiding the report in the private session does not fit with the new transparency we are supposed to have in TTC affairs, and suggests that whatever policy might be in the pipeline, it might not survive critical public debate.
The report should be moved to the public session.
Update: TTC’s Brad Ross has confirmed that this report will be on the June meeting’s public agenda.
Five Year Plan
Like the streetcar plan, the five year corporate plan appears on the private session’s agenda. CEO Andy Byford has already spoken in general about this plan at public meetings, and the document is supposed to go public on the TTC’s website on May 29.
It may be useful for Byford to brief the Commission on an “educational” basis, but the report should be on the public agenda. An item of this importance deserves more than a press release announcing the availability of a new web page.
If the plan does not include something beyond the “business as usual” projections seen in past TTC management responses for “long range plans”, it will be a failure. A five year plan must show how the TTC can grow and improve, and must present policy options for the manner and speed with which this can occur. Options for future year budgets — both capital and operating — are essential even if the most aggressive are too rich for today’s political climate.
The worst possible outcome would be for a tepid plan to receive the Commission’s blessing and then be used to forestall any future debate because “we already have a plan”.
Riding for period 3 (roughly the month of March 2013), was up 1.6m or 3% over the comparable period in 2012. For reasons not explained in the report, the TTC expects demand to soften in period 4 (for which they should already have preliminary data). For the full year, the TTC feels it will be at or close to the budget target of 528m rides.
On a moving annual average basis, ridership is up 2% over the previous year. This compares April-March 2011/12 with the corresponding period in 2012/13. Although riding was below budget in the first part of 2013 due to winter weather, this will be compensated for with growth later in the year.
(Although it is not included in the CEO’s report, the budgeted vehicle mileage for fall 2013 schedule periods is approximately 3% higher than in fall 2012 in anticipation of the higher ridership expected this year.)
Sales of monthly passes continue to grow, and this is reducing the average fare paid per trip. The result could be a slight reduction from projected revenue unless ridership overshoots the target to make up the difference. This has been a common effect in past years.
Reliability on the Yonge-University-Spadina line remains below target, and the report notes that off-peak and weekend periods are dragging down the average. The method used by the TTC to calculate reliability has an inherent flaw for routes that run frequent service, and especially for the subway where it is physically impossible for trains to bunch to the degree seen on surface routes.
These combine to make it very difficult for a large proportion of service to be reported as “unreliable” with headways varying by more than 3 minutes from schedule. Overall, an index of less than 90% is extremely difficult to achieve on the subway routes, but this may not reflect passenger experiences.
On surface routes, headways are generally wider than on the subway, and bunching can occur to the level of multiple vehicles within one minute. This is reflected in lower reliability numbers for surface routes.
Major shutdowns/diversions planned:
- Streetcar service to Spadina and Queens Quay will continue to be operated with buses until mid-December 2013.
- Streetcar service to Union Station will not resume until early 2014. The issue (not mentioned in the report) is with the completion of TTC work on the Union Station second platform that conflicts with reopening the Union Station Loop.
- Kingston Road will see extensive road, water and track repair starting in late June and running to December 2013. Streetcar service will be replaced by buses east of Woodbine Loop effective June 3 to permit welding and storage of strings of track for this project. See also the City of Toronto notice.
- York Street trackage will be replaced starting in late June (with the intersection at Queen causing a 501 diversion from June 29 to July 10). Work is being co-ordinated with other projects on this street, and it will not be completed until November.
- The intersection of King & Spadina will be replaced during August 2013. There is no date yet announced for Dundas & Spadina which was also included in the 2013 capital budget.
- Track over the Sterling Road bridge will be rebuilt in September with all streetcar service ending at Lansdowne and a shuttle bus to Dundas West and High Park.
- Track on Ossington from College to Dundas will be rebuilt in September-October with the Ossington bus diverting via Bathurst.
Problems with noise and vibration in the vicinity of Jane and Old Mill Stations have been addressed by various repairs over several months, and most of these have been completed according to the report. However, there is no information about the perceived or measured improvement in affected homes to indicate whether this work was successful in resolving complaints.
Delivery of the production run of new streetcars is still planned for fall 2013. Without the streetcar rollout plan (see above), it is unclear when the TTC expects to convert its first route to LFLRV operation. One major shutdown of the Spadina route remains for 2014 (the intersection at College), and my guess is that we will not see full LFLRV operation on this route until the fall at best.
Updated: Andy Byford noted that the Customer Satisfaction index had risen in 1Q13 to 75% from the 72% shown in the CEO’s report for 4Q12.
The financial statements for 2012 have been issued. They are sleep-inducing for all but the most diehard among us who follow TTC affairs.
One item of note is the depletion of reserves created by past government programs to subsidize capital projects. Capital subsidies are discussed in footnote 12 beginning on page 31 of the report. The corresponding reserves are discussed in footnote 15 beginning on page 36. Block payments were made to Toronto in 2007 by Queen’s Park when times were good, and burning up “surplus” provincial money by shifting it to reserves was the order of the day.
- CSIF (Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund): Originally $275.6m, all but $18m of this has been spent, and the remainder will likely disappear in the next two years.
- ORSIF (Ontario Rolling Stock Infrastructure Fund): Originally $150m, this fund was exhausted in 2012.
- TTIP (Transit Technology Infrastructure Program): Originally $31.1m, this fund was exhausted in 2012.
The largest remaining reserve is the Move Ontario 2020 fund at $191m to fund Metrolinx Quick Win projects that the TTC is implementing.
With the move of the Transit City LRT projects to Metrolinx, no funding or assets for them appear in the TTC’s accounts.
The Spadina subway extension is funded jointly by four governments through a trust administered by the City of Toronto. Ontario’s share was paid up front and is drawn on as needed. Ottawa pays on an ongoing basis as expenses are incurred and approved.
This illustrates the nature of past subsidy programs that are time and value limited, and earmarked for specific projects or types of work. As the reserves wind down, responsibility for continuing programs (e.g. vehicle purchases) shifts to the City of Toronto unless there are new special subsidies (as in the case of the 1/3 share paid by Queen’s Park for the new streetcars).
Once again the TTC launches into the debate about traffic congestion, enforcement activities and potential changes to the use of space on transit streets. This runs in parallel with the City’s Downtown Traffic Operations Study, but the scope of the TTC’s concern is much wider than that of the DTOS.
The most common problems include:
- Vehicles blocking intersections.
- Illegal parking and stopping.
- Legal parking or standing (e.g. taxis and tour buses).
In the first two instances, the real issue is the enforcement of city bylaws including towing powers and much higher fines as deterents.
In the case of legal parking, the problem rests with City Council where anguished cries from residents and businesses take precedence over street capacity. One of the most flagrant of these is the presence of taxis massed on King Street from Bay to York where, in theory, there is a reserved transit lane for the streetcars. How other traffic is supposed to use the curb lane is a mystery.
Many locations have peak-only restrictions although it may difficult to discern which direction that actually might be.
The peak period itself is too short, and should be extended by at least an hour, possibly more, to reflect actual traffic conditions. Looking again at King Street downtown, the traffic seizes up at 6:00pm when parking becomes legal.
This will be a political battle for Council and we are sure to hear lots about the “war on the car”. I doubt we will see any resolution with the current administration.
The supplementary agenda included three reports about the Gateway News Stand issue. This has been discussed on previous occasions, and the debate turns on a staff proposal to give a considerable extension of the current least to the incumbent, Gateway, rather than tendering anew.
Two of the reports listed are from previous meetings, but there was one new report with a compromise proposal. Current leases will be extended to April 30, 2018, and a new Request for Proposals (RFP) will be issued in 2016. This will allow other prospective operators to bid against Gateway, but will leave the current arrangements intact through the Pan Am Games in 2015.
(As an aside, I must say that Toronto will be better off when the Games are no longer part of the planning calendar around which so much has been gerrymandered.)
The recommendations in the report were adopted with one amendment. Clause 4(g) requires that Gateway issue a separate RFP for the distribution of free newspapers. This was amended to require that this occur no later than January 2015.
In the grand scheme of transit affairs, the operation of the news stands is small potatoes, but this issue became controversial because of the appearance that there was a sweetheart deal between TTC management and the incumbent operator locking out competitors for an extended period.
The Big Move and Funding Tools
At the April Commission meeting, in anticipation that the City Manager’s funding tools report might be sandbagged at the Ford-dominated Executive Committee, the Commission decided that this report should be placed on its May agenda to ensure some debate would occur.
In the interim, Mayor Ford did attempt to block the report at Exec, but this was overruled by Council. A long and extremely badly-managed debate ensued with the result that Council endorsed no tools, nor any of the City Manager’s report, but added various pet projects to the mix.
At its May meeting, some Commissioners were not willing to just let things lie. Commissioner Colle moved that the Commission (1) support The Big Move and the provision of dedicated revenue streams to fund it, and (2) support the recommendations in the City Manager’s report.
As written, this motion would have resulted in the Commission contradicting the Council vote (which completely discarded the City Manager’s position). Commissioner De Baeremaeker, in his continuing fight to save the Scarborough Subway, wanted to amend the motion to include specific reference to that project. What eventually happened was that the Commission voted to support both the City Manager’s report and the Council motion. This puts the Commission simultaneously in the position of:
- Supporting The Big Move
- Supporting specific revenue tools recommended by the City Manager
- Supporting the Council motion which:
- Explicitly rejects almost all revenue tools and endorses none of them.
- Supports various subway expansion programs that conflict with or are in addition to The Big Move. These have been referred to the Chief Planner for reports as part of the Official Plan Review now in progress.
In effect, the TTC has gone on the record as favouring several subway lines without any substantive analysis of their merit or how they might be paid for.
Three Commissioners had the good sense to see this for what it is — a meaningless and contradictory motion that Queen’s Park can and will ignore, and that shows no sense of responsible transit planning by the Commission. They were out-voted by six others (two were absent).