TTC’s Five Year Plan Reviewed

TTC CEO Andy Byford was hired by former chief Gary Webster to modernize management practices and provide focus to an organization that had lost its way.  Thanks to Webster’s ousting at the hands of the subway-loving, LRT-hating Mayor Ford, Byford unexpectedly found himself top dog.  After a year in Toronto, Byford released his five year corporate plan on May 29, 2013.

Those of use who follow the TTC closely have heard a lot about this plan as a centrepiece for the future of our transit system.  Byford’s talks at meetings around the city, most recently a Town Hall presented by Councillor Josh Matlow on the eve of the plan’s release, raised expectations for a major document, a fundamental shift in how the TTC would operate.  If this were a summer movie release, Byford’s appearances would be the equivalent of ever more tantalizing trailers and “sneak peeks” at what would come.

The plan’s release was something of an anti-climax — a press release via web and email, no additional information, no political feedback to indicate support.  The TTC board discussed the plan in its private session at their May 24 meeting, but made no public comment.  Internally, the plan was launched at staff meetings that will continue over coming weeks to reach throughout the 12,000-strong company.

Media attention is, to be generous, muted with the story completely submerged under the Ford follies at City Hall and the Metrolinx Investment Strategy.

A Mission for the TTC

Byford’s goal, one he hopes the TTC will take to heart from top to bottom, appears in the TTC’s new “mission statement”:

A transit system that makes Toronto proud

I put quotes around that because far too often corporations and public agencies go to extraordinary lengths to produce a few words about their “mission”, but little or no effort to actually plan for and achieve that goal.  “Missions” and the underlying management tactics can be as much about reinforcing what an organization already does, a self-congratulatory exercise that accomplishes little and demoralizes front-line staff who see only the top brass patting each other on the back.

Making Toronto proud can only be achieved when we, the riders, the funders, the advocates, even the critics see results in our day-to-day travel.  No promotional videos, no slogans, no empty political theatrics can replace actual delivery.

Over a five-year period from 2013-2017, we will renew
our culture, our equipment and our processes. In the end, we will have succeeded when our customers, our staff and TTC stakeholders say their pride in the TTC has been restored. [Forward, page 1]

By choosing a mission statement that is outward looking, that depends on approval from the city they serve, Byford and the TTC have set themselves a real challenge.

This plan forms the basis for all business activity at the TTC. It will inform investment decisions, business planning and performance management. [Page 1]

Service is what the TTC sells.  Pride will not come from the cleanest trains in the world if riders cannot fit onto them and if the only thing predictable about feeder bus routes is that they are unreliable and overcrowded.

More than half a century ago, the deep-seated principles of safety, service and courtesy first appeared in the TTC corporate crest. But with the pressure for modernization and financial efficiency, these core values have not always shone as brightly as they should. [Page 5]

… I want to see an overhaul of TTC equipment, processes and culture.  …  For us to achieve success, customers must notice the difference in the quality and consistency of our service.  Only then will our reputation be transformed in the eyes of our customers, stakeholders and peers.  [Page 1]

The Missing Link

Right up front, I will say where I am disappointed — although there is much good intent here, there is no actual business plan.  In public remarks, Byford has spoken of the need for greater investment in TTC service, of how the system cannot absorb continued growth of demand without providing more capacity and more reliable operations.  This will have a cost, but should also have measurable benefits.

I look forward to details of plans to achieve the quality of transit service including projections of alternate scenarios in which we:

  • “do nothing” (freeze or limit subsidy growth as in 2011 and 2012),
  • moderately improve (stay with current quality levels and tighten up operations only to accommodate modest growth of a few percent annually), or
  • aggressively improve (new services and capacity to lead rather than follow growth in demand).

None of this is mentioned in the Five Year Plan, not even as an “early deliverable”.

An organization cannot have a business plan if it does not know the target it is aiming at.  That is a political decision, but it must be informed by management advice and advocacy.

Those who fund transit should know, up front, the cost of each option.  These would have subsidy implications for capital and operating budgets, not to mention clear, measurable expectations on capacity and quality of service.  Just making do would have a cost too, and this should not be forgotten in sanctimonious debates about precious taxpayer dollars.

I will try to influence City policy, to allow us to progressively reinvest savings into further improvements of the system and the services we offer. [Page 1]

That doesn’t sound like a barn-burning call for better funding, but rather the suggestion that whatever we need can be found with internal savings.

Efficiency exercises can only squeeze the stone a limited number of times.  Some savings are one-time changes such as the deliberate cutting of off-peak services and tightening of loading standards.  After the extra five or ten riders per vehicle have been jammed through the doors, there is no room to repeat the exercise year after year.  The short-term savings of filling vehicles to the brim are offset by the unattractiveness of service and the lack of capacity for growth.

Improvements can arise from better management, organizational efficiency, focus on core business activities — commonly cited ways to get more out of what we already have.  However, riders should not have to wait forever for the benefits of these changes, and their success (or failure) should have specific targets and measures.

What’s In The Plan


2012 was a year for Andy Byford to find his way through the TTC, to learn how it worked (or didn’t), and to create a framework for the 2013-17 plan.  The background section (page 3) acknowledges that the system has lost its way thanks to funding cuts, changes in political direction and a loss of focus on the people it serves.

Ten steps to transformation are listed along with the claim that “work is well advanced or even complete on most of these key elements”.  Some are internal to the organization, and whether they are complete can only be determined by improvements in product (service) delivery.  Some steps, however, are far from completion.

There is no master plan for service, only a desire to make it better.  The one metric that does exist for service reliability is, as discussed here before, deeply flawed.  The KPI for punctuality understates the effect of wide gaps in service on routes with short scheduled headways, especially the subway.

Oddly enough, there is no metric, no “key performance indicator” (KPI) for crowding, no measure of the degree to which the system is unable to accommodate passengers, or is doing so at levels beyond reasonable discomfort.  The average load on a route does not tell us how many riders crammed into the first of three buses running in a pack, or how many empty seats were wasted on short turns.

The plan recognizes the need for better measures of service quality including setting a value on riders’ journey time, a concept borrowed from London, UK. (Page 9).  This would see service through the customer’s eyes including delays, inability to board the first vehicle, short turns and bad connections.  Some of these might be fixed through better service management, but some will require better transit priority on streets and more spending on vehicles and service.

Even with their shortcomings, the existing KPI reveals major problems on many routes and these will not be fixed overnight.  Publishing the metrics is good, but acting on them is even better.

The TTC needs to establish a link between management and political decisions and the quality of service it provides.  Just making do, whether it be with service or maintenance levels, may save money in the short term, but dig the system into a hole from which recovery is difficult.  Politicians love to crow about tax savings, but they are rarely held to account for service cuts or delays in response to growing demand thanks to short-sighted decisions on fleet size.

Byford seeks to “delight the customer”.  Here is how he plans to do that.

Working on Many Fronts

Much of the transit debate in recent months focused on system expansion, a new subway in every back yard, expanded GO service, BRT and LRT corridors, new technologies.  As money is spent on new trains and tunnels, another challenge remains:

It’s not enough to simply upgrade the infrastructure – we need to do something much more complex and difficult. The TTC has to adopt a new culture to become known as a good neighbour and a competent business, one that is trusted to put the customer at the centre of every decision it makes.

At the same time, our culture needs to recognize good performance and positive behaviour among our employees. By emphasizing the value of teamwork we can defeat mediocrity and accomplish our mission. [Page 7]

This challenge has two faces.  One looks outward to the community, to the riders and to the politicians who decide on subsidy policy.  Just to admit that the TTC is not always a good neighbour or that it is not trusted is quite a comedown from the former glory in which the TTC held itself.  Too much time gazing in the mirror breeds complacency.

The other face looks inward and recognizes organizational problems.  If the lack of recognition for good work, not to mention the tolerance, effectively a reward, for bad work are pervasive enough to warrant mention in a corporate plan, this is a very serious issue.  The reference to teamwork implies a silo mentality and its dreaded effect, the “not my job” attitude to unwanted problems.

The Organization Chart (Page 16)

Every new CEO likes to tinker with an organization chart to make things fit his or her model of how things should be done, and Andy Byford is no different.  His view of the world sees front line services — those that are directly experienced by riders — as being separate from “back of house” functions like maintenance and administration.

Two groups — Safety and Audit — report directly to the CEO to ensure they have organization-wide reach and are not compromised as part of the functional groups they monitor.  The rest of the TTC is now subdivided into five major groups:

  • Customer Services (with the unwieldy title of “Strategy and Customer Experience Group”) includes all communications and customer service functions, the fare card project, and planning functions for strategy and service.
  • Corporate Services includes support functions such as finance, human resources, IT, legal and purchasing.
  • Engineering includes all of the capital project support for major works under the TTC’s control such as the Spadina subway extension, ongoing infrastructure capital programs, and support for the Metrolinx projects in Toronto.
  • Operations includes everything to do with the subway, maintenance of the surface network’s infrastructure and vehicles, and revenue handling for the entire system.
  • Service Delivery operates the surface system including Wheel Trans, provides station services for the subway.  This group also includes the Transit Enforcement role which will take on greater importance as the TTC moves to self-service fare collection.

The back/front of house breakdown sounds good in theory, but its limitations can be seen in this structure.  Although there has been an attempt to subdivide the massive Operations group, the break is as much one between surface and subway as it is between customer-facing and internal functions.  Indeed, subway operations, management and maintenance functions have remained as one block precisely because they are closely intertwined.  The number of staff who drive the trains is actually a small proportion of a much large group looking after infrastructure and vehicle maintenance, and with a move to one-man operation, this proportion will decline further.  Surface operations, by contrast, are dominated by the operators who drive the buses and streetcars.

Whether the subdivision of responsibilities — operating the surface system, maintaining its vehicles and infrastructure, and planning its service — under three separate groups will prove workable remains to be seen.  TTC culture is notorious for a silo mentality.

Strategic Objectives and Core Strategies

The plan groups TTC into seven objectives each of which has a “core strategy”.  Structurally, there is overlap between sections and with the “Business Principles” found in Appendix 3.  Some groupings are quite odd, notably the section on “Assets” which also includes components of service.  Some ideas may have been forced into too constrained a framework.

Safety (Pages 20-21)

Safety is an area where management responsibility is directly under the CEO with organization-wide reach.  This scheme can work if there is widespread buy-in, but it is doomed if the “safety” group is seen as meddlers rather than contributors.  “Environment” comes along for a ride in this area, but relates mainly to safety issues, not to advocacy or to design standards.

Although the objective is headed “Safety”, the longer description and the associated strategy are all about “Risk”.  These are not the same thing.  Moreover, risk avoidance can have perverse effects on service delivery if the result is to degrade operations to match prevailing conditions (e.g. slow orders) rather than to address an underlying problem (e.g. track condition).  Those conditions can arise from budget-driven decisions to make do year after year while inferior conditions and practices become the “new normal” — that is what we saw with the Russell Hill crash.  The real risk is complacency and acceptance of just making do as a standard business practice.

Much of this section addresses internal issues of workplace practices and safety, and pushes responsibility for these down to the local management and workers.  The other major topic here is preparation for and management of emergencies to minimize danger to staff and passengers.

Reading between the lines, there is a lot missing from current TTC practices even though the term “Safety” has been almost a TTC mantra for many years eclipsing “courtesy and service” from their equal rank in the TTC’s motto.  The challenge will be to ensure that consistently high safety levels are a valued duty, not a catch-all excuse for inaction.

Customer[s] (Pages 22-24)

This section is all about we folks who ride the TTC.  Our patronage and support must be nurtured with a transformed quality of service.  Responsibility for this achievement rests on both the Chief Customer Officer (customer service, planning) and the Chief Service Officer (surface operations and subway stations).  Many areas are covered:

  • The new Station Managers will be responsible for co-ordinating all aspects of station operations including cleaning, signage, equipment operation (elevators, escalators, fare machines).  The intent is to keep things from looking and feeling as if nobody cares.  Why this has been impossible with existing staff and management is baffling, and a “cultural” challenge for the Station Managers will be to actually get work done.
  • The TTC hopes to have Special Constable status restored to their Transit Enforcement Officers who will take on a role as fare inspectors with the rollout of PRESTO smart cards.  The actual decision on the powers that would be granted is up to the Police Services Board, not the TTC.  A move to self-service fare collection will almost certainly drive up fare evasion, and this will be countered with more fare inspectors and proposed higher fines for evasion.
  • Implementation of PRESTO will allow Station Collectors, according to the Plan, to become roving Station Supervisors.  This is more than a little optimistic.  It will be years before the last ticket and token are eliminated from the TTC, and there will remain the need for customer service for assistance and information.  This cannot be reliably provided by someone who may be in a remote corner of the station when riders need them.
  • Conversion of train operation to one-man crews will free up headcount that can be redeployed to station support.  This transition depends on technical and budgetary factors.  The YUS line will not transition to automatic operation until its resignalling project is completed later this decade.  On the BD line, not only a new signalling system, but new trains will be needed (the T1 trains have at least 15 years left in them).  This is far beyond the scope of a five year plan.
  • Town Halls both in person and online will give riders fora in which they can discuss all aspects of TTC service.  This can be a double-edged sword if improvements are not visible in fairly short order.  Frustration and complaint fatigue undermine and can destroy any attempt at bettering the TTC’s reputation.
  • Customer information (signs, maps, online services) will be improved.  This is an evolving area as cell phones and smart devices become quite common, but a challenge remains that they should not become essential to understanding and navigating TTC services.
  • Fare structure will come up for debate as PRESTO becomes the primary payment scheme for the TTC with options such as fare-by-distance and fare-by-time explicitly mentioned.  Any change to the fare structure is certain to provoke a long and heated debate because no matter which scheme is chosen, some will pay less while others pay more.  This discussion will extend beyond the TTC to the GTA transit systems, and there may be pressure for Toronto to adopt a scheme that fits into a regional model.

What is quite striking about the “Customer” section is that there is no reference to the actual provision of service. Although the Chief Service Officer is jointly responsible for this area, the topics listed are overwhelmingly in the “soft” areas of customer information rather than in the “hard” area of service delivery.

People [Employees] (Pages 26-27)

This section concentrates on employee performance and the way that staff are managed.  It’s no secret that the TTC is a hidebound organization where change happens painfully slowly, where avoiding responsibility and fixing blame take precedence.  Discipline for poor performance, if it happens at all, can be misdirected, while good work may go unseen.

A new labour relations strategy is to be developed, although there are few details of what this might entail.  The day-to-day relationship between management and the the unions (and the non-union staff as well) is at least as important as the formal setting of contract negotiations, a process that is now constrained by the TTC’s status as an “essential service”.  It is the day-to-day stuff that affects morale, that tells people at the front line what really matters.

Management style has a direct influence on staff behaviour so we need to create a culture that encourages staff to excel while actively managing the minority of poor performers.  [Page 27]

This begs the questions of what will be done with “poor performance” among management and whether the TTC even has a mechanism for identifying problems at that level.

Our plans reply on capable and talented managers and supervisory staff to succeed.  We will overhaul existing arrangements to ensure the TTC attracts and retains people of the right calibre to lead our renaissance.  [Page 27]

That’s a tall order especially if such management must be “attracted” rather than developed from within.

Included in this section is the plan to revamp TTC uniforms.  In public statements, Andy Byford touts this as an important fresh start for the TTC.  I cannot help thinking it is more of the window dressing that passed for change over recent years.  It is hard to understand how an employee will feel more valued with a new uniform if nothing is done to improve core aspects of the work environment such as the overcrowded vehicle operators must drive.

Assets (Asset Management and Operational Performance) (Pages 28-29)

This section addresses the need to keep assets — vehicles and infrastructure — in first class condition so that they are available for service, and to manage that service to get the best use out of those assets.

A striking part of this section is that the responsibility to improve service reliability falls mainly on internal practices and fleet renewal, not on funding or policies for better service quality (such as the Ridership Growth Strategy).  This fits into the current administration’s view that an agency must do the best with what it has before it asks for more.

The problem with such an outlook is that it both presumes that significant problems can be addressed simply with better use of existing resources, and condemns riders to wait out the improvements, such as they may be, that the TTC can implement.

Service quality will be measured and this will be done with new metrics based on rider experiences.  This process is still being developed and it is unclear whether the inherent distortions of the existing methodology will be corrected.

We will procure new vehicles to increase capacity on modes and routes where demand currently exceeds supply, and to achieve efficiencies in larger vehicle operations.  [Page 28]

At Councillor Matlow’s Town Hall, the question of route capacity came up.  Byford was explicit in stating that the new larger vehicles (60′ buses and low floor streetcars) will allow capacity to be increased.  Later in June, when the streetcar roll out plan is published, we will learn just how much additional capacity routes will see.  For too long, the TTC has treated larger vehicles and improvements in travel speed (e.g. through transit priority) as an opportunity to cut back rather than reinvesting the savings in better service.  There is an inherent contradiction in talk of greater capacity in the same sentence as “efficiencies” — these are competing goals.

The real “efficiency” will come through better management of service on the street to reduce bunching and short turns.

Service reliability is as important as service punctuality.  We must improve incident management, route management and information distribution during normal, degraded and emergency situations.

Specific activity will include:

  • Review of operational procedures to deliver customer-led rather than production-led decision making.
  • Route management strategy to reduce short-turns and vehicle bunching.
  • Real-time information strategy.
  • Strengthened command and control and incident management arrangements.
  • Introduction of service disruption teams to assist customers during prolonged disruptions.
  • Dedicated incident management training program for Emergency Response Commanders.  [Page 29]

Improvement will require a combination of better vehicle and infrastructure reliability, new approaches to service management, the ability to respond promptly and coherently in emergencies, and an overall sense of how actions affect the riders’ experience.

Growth (Pages 30-31)

The objective of this section is:

An affordable expansion program that matches capacity to demand.  [Page 30]

The projects listed here — Spadina subway extension, Union Station second platform, Downtown Relief Line, station modernization and LRT lines — are all capital projects and most are underway.  There is no mention at all of capacity issues on the larger network nor of the planning needed for growing demand on the surface system.  This is a major omission, and shows how the TTC’s focus still omits a significant part of its operations.

This is a direct result of the organizational structure and the responsibility for this core objective — the Chief Capital Officer.  Growth does not just happen on rapid transit lines, but nothing in the TTC’s five year plan addresses this.

Two odd projects reinforce this focus on a department — new signage and tunnel ventillation.

Signage should be a customer relations issue, and before new signs go out, the real question is of design.  What type of information should be conveyed?  How should it be presented?  The “look” of the London Underground didn’t happen simply by picking a typeface.  Does the TTC care enough about information delivery to make this more than an exercise in replacing an older generation of signs, something on previous efforts they have been almost laughably inefficient.

Tunnel ventillation may be part of the Capital Officer’s mandate, but it is a matter of safety and state of good repair, not system expansion.

This section of the plan is a good example of the viewpoint, the lens, that Byford claims to be trying to avoid — one that sees through the organization’s eyes and convenience, not through the riders’ point of view.

Growth takes many forms and should include plans for how it will be encouraged, how the TTC will respond to current 3% annual growth or to an even higher rate, and how Toronto will afford it.  What decisions must we make today so that the system stays ahead of growth rather than always having to justify a few more buses and streetcars, a few more operators?  This is completely absent from the plan.

Financial Sustainability (Pages 32-33)

The objective here is the most troubling of the entire plan:

A well-run, transparent business that delivers value for money in a financially viable way.  [Page 32]

and the core strategy is “Deliver optimal value for money”.  The key word here is “optimal”.  Unless there is agreement on what an “optimal” transit system does, what its larger goal as a municipal service might be, it is impossible to determine whether spending is “optimal”.  For example, if the goal is to minimize subsidy, then service cuts are the order of the day.  If the goal is to provide mobility, then “optimal” spending would be judged on the extent of transit service, how well it is provided, and the mix of surface and rapid transit lines (including commuter rail) that form the network.

The TTC plans zero-based budgeting, definitely an improvement over the “last year plus” approach, but this requires a much better understanding of major cost components.  This is not just an exercise in defending how much is spent on what, but of identifying spending that contributes to the system’s overall quality.  “Savings” in one area may compromise quality elsewhere, and these relationships must be well understood.

The measures of success include:

  • Subsidy/fare ratio
  • Fare evasion rate
  • Revenue/cost ratio

This is an odd list because two items are different presentations of the same data (subsidies, revenue and costs).  Fare evasion gets a mention (as it does elsewhere in the plan) as much because it is a fetish by budget critics that if only the TTC could stem evasion, it would have all the revenue it needs.  We have yet to see a budget for the enforcement staff.

Another pet peeve of budget critics is overtime.  Staffing a transit system is much different from, say, an office or a factory.  Overtime is an essential part of transit operations because it is cheaper, all in, than having enough staff, including their benefits, to cover for the worst case demands such as special events and bad weather.  There is some irony in the fact that the same critics would rail against a growth in head count if this were used to bring down overtime.

Among other areas for financial improvement include:

  • Joint buying with other municipal agencies and transit systems.  The TTC, as the largest system in the province, already enjoys large volume purchasing power.  Savings could be extended to other agencies, but there is already a Metrolinx initiative to do the same thing.
  • TTC IT systems are old, and there is an opportunity to standardize on systems now in use at the City.  However, recent reports indicate that the City’s own system development projects are not well managed, and the TTC needs to be careful in following that path.
  • Secondary revenue (retailing, station naming rights).  How much more can be squeezed from the subway concession stands and other retail space remains to be seen.  This will be the subject of a major request for proposals leading to a new master contract in 2018.  As for station naming rights, this has a desperate feel to it, not to mention pandering to those who argue that there are vast untapped revenues if only the TTC would seek them.
  • Improvement in the cost effectiveness of Wheel Trans, and, by implication the gradual shift of demand onto a more-accessible conventional system.  Wheel Trans shares with the regular TTC service an absence of clear goals and an understanding of how its client base will evolve.  Toronto spends about $100m each year, quite reluctantly, on Wheel Trans.

Reputation (Page 34)

Responsibility for transforming the TTC’s reputation rests, rather strangely, with the Chief of Staff and the Executive Director of Communications.  Both positions report to the CEO, but have no line responsibility for service delivery, system maintenance or expansion.

“Reputation” seems to mean much more the management of communications and conducting of surveys rather than an active role in transforming what riders see on the streets and politicians read about in newspapers.

This is a task for the entire organization.  The results will show up in surveys, in comments at Town Halls, in complaints and compliments, in political support for better funding built on trust that the money will be well-spent.  “Reputation” comes from delivering good service, in all its forms.  It is not built on Twitter feeds or “Brad & Andy” YouTube appearances, folksy though these may be.

Good working relationships with communities and with the politicians who represent them will be important, but the best intentions can be sabotaged by a failure to deliver visible improvement.

Appendix 1 (Pages 38-39) lists “achievements to date”.  This is a list anyone who attends transit meetings or town halls has heard many times.  Yes, the TTC is trying to change, but the question really must be “what will you do for me now”.  Much of the Plan is rather threadbare on specifics, on new benefits riders can see beyond a list of works in progress, many of which are capital projects with long lead times.

Improving the TTC’s reputation will turn on making the system demonstrably better for riders, not (as has happened before) on just a communications strategy that strains credibility.

Business Principles (Appendix 3, Pages 41-42)

This section sets out principles that span the strategic objectives, although there is some confusion here about where “principles” leave off and specifics of implementation begin.

The principles, and my comments on them, are:

  • The small stuff matters.  Small annoyances and make-do practices combine to give the impression of an organization that does not care about the details.  Cleanliness, poor directions (including a proliferation of hand-written signs), reliable service — all these and more are visible indications of how dedicated the TTC is to its role.  Small visible problems can be only the tip of an iceberg as Toronto learned with the Russell Hill subway crash where an accumulation of maintenance cutbacks and sloppy operating practices led to a fatal accident.
  • Service management must improve.  A management style that places more importance on keeping operators on time than getting riders to their destination gives the impression that service provision is a secondary function of the TTC.  Budget cuts to force “efficiencies” compound the problem when what service remains is not operated to the benefit riders.
  • Focus on the “core business”.  This is management-speak for outsourcing (or simply not taking on) functions that the TTC feels can be done at lower cost or more appropriately by others.  This has been contentious within the TTC already because outsourcing has been used as an alternative to doing work well internally — a failure of both labour and management.  Indeed, the premise could be extended to the entire transit operation if one takes a doctrinaire approach.
  • Reinvest savings in service.  If the TTC finds ways to reduce costs, this should not be scooped up by the City as a subsidy reduction, but the savings should flow to the riders.  This is a dangerous approach in the sense that annual subsidy and fare increases could be moderated or avoided through one-time savings.  We have seen this already in Service Standards, and the benefit of outsourcing vehicle cleaning, for example, cannot be repeated year after year.  There is a danger that City Council will assume the TTC can always find “efficiencies” and, thereby, avoid the larger policy debate about funding an increased role for the transit system.
  • Improve management of employees.  Encourage and reward good performance.  Provide the information and tools staff need to do their jobs.  The TTC is a notoriously top-down organization where doing what you are told, right or wrong, is the rule.  Catch-22s abound where rules should be followed to the letter, except when one should have used “initiative” or “common sense”, especially if embarrassment to the Commission was the result.  Service management requires that supervisors and operators actually know what is happening both in terms of incidents on their route, and basics such as vehicle locations.  Riders with a smartphone can get more info about a route’s status than most employees charged with providing the service.
  • Ensure customers can do as much for themselves as possible through technology and simply by providing better information.
  • Deliver projects on time and on budget.  The way this bullet is titled is unfortunate in that it perpetuates the idea that the TTC does not achieve this for most of its work.  What the TTC does need to do is better track the status of projects, flag problems early and publicly deal with them whether this be unexpected site conditions or scope creep that turns about to have more complex side-effects than thought.
  • Close the gap between expectations and reality.  The common belief that “TTC” means “take the car” shows the wide gap between the first-class transit system the TTC thinks it has been for decades, and the perception on the street where it is a last, not a first resort.  The biggest gap has been the lack of understanding and sensitivity to what the riders and the public in general see every day on their transit system.

Concluding Thoughts

Reading through the Plan, I could not help feeling an inconsistency, a presence of multiple authors and the lack of an editor particularly toward the end.

This is not a five year plan, but rather a set of objectives for which a real business plan, probably multiple plans based on different assumptions, is still required.  Most of the tangible changes listed in the plan are projects that were set in motion some time ago.  They are certainly not part of any new plan or insight, but rather a continuation along existing paths.  The absence of a plan for evolution of the surface network — the buses and streetcars that are vital to most riders’ travel — is particularly troubling.

Committing to generalities can have a warm, comforting feeling, but this won’t mean much if the buses still come in packs with little or no room to spare in the middle of next February.  Andy Byford wants to “delight” riders, and that will best be achieved by making service work well with capacity and reliability to be a valued rather than tolerated mode of transport.

16 thoughts on “TTC’s Five Year Plan Reviewed

  1. Good points. Is the absence of details a way to protect the system from those in authority who are looking for easy cuts? Perhaps providing the information you suggest in one handy document could provide the powers that be a handy guide to truly damage the system.

    Steve: No, I think this is a situation where some of the actions needed to create a real plan require political commitment that simply isn’t there. Much of Byford’s first year was spent on internal changes showing a new management was in charge, but requiring little real support from the Commission or Council. What is needed now is a series of debates on policy — service quality, fares and fare structure, system expansion beyond what’s already on the table — and these will not be as simple as pointing to gleaming new tiles in washrooms. There is too much of “look at what we’ve done” and not enough “look at what we will do” for comfort.


  2. I always question how the TTC approaches the fare evasion issue.

    As we know that proof of payment is coming to the new streetcars, LRT lines and possibly the articulated bus routes, this is going to be a big issue that the TTC has yet to address.

    Hiring a large number of inspection officers would eat away a significant part of the operating budget. Since the fines goes towards the city budget and not the TTC, the TTC is at lost for hiring more officers regardless what the amount is. The TTC must get a portion of that fine in order to pay for their salaries. Without generating money from the tickets they write, the TTC wouldn’t be motivated to enforce such an issue. Even if they issue the ticket, receiving the money is another issue. Maybe they should try to detain people instead but that would require approval from Toronto Police.

    Someone can argue that if everyone paid their fare, the TTC would make its money back for those officers but we know that if fare evasion is impossible on the TTC, those illegal riders wouldn’t even step foot on the TTC. Of course the TTC still wouldn’t make its money back. I suspect that it would cost more to enforce fare evasion at the moment.

    Fare evasion is bound to happen on packed vehicles. We can see that on the 501 Queen today. It would be hard to ticket passengers when there’s no space to move around. I would really like to see what the TTC would do in this situation. Especially the 510 Spadina in the future.

    Keeping passengers unhappy isn’t the way to make people want to pay their fare.


  3. Steve: A Mission Statement is what an organization is about. A Vision Statement is where the organization is supposed to be headed. As such the TTC’s ‘Mission Statement’ is more of a ‘Vision’ as the TTC is not currently a transit group that Toronto can be proud of.

    But I do think the TTC needs to be run more like a ‘for profit’ organization. At least in the sense that the TTC needs to worry about satisfying the needs of their customers, just like any organization trying to make a profit. That means that as demands change, the TTC needs to meet those changes – the prime example is the 501 Queen. The TTC will not fix the route, but rather lets it run as it is. Management refuses to even test out the reasonable request to reinstate the 507 to Dundas West, which also helps the 504 King car as well. Even the splitting up of the route that was attempted a few years ago was not well supported within the TTC.


  4. “Five-year plans” remind of the Soviet Union and their “five-year plans”. Doomed for failure.


  5. 5 year plans in the government funded and operated sector are, by the very nature of their funding and overseers, wish lists.

    Is there any example in North America of a publicly funded transit system putting together a 5 year business plan that involved funding strategies? I can’t see any pol being interested in doing that (unless they are a US Senator with a 6 year term).

    Steve: Actually the City of Los Angeles put together a plan spanning decades and used this to raise support for a regional sales tax. Other schemes have been more restrained raising taxes to fund project-specific bonds.

    My concern with the TTC’s so-called plan is that it is missing a lot of details about what would be undertaken and what alternative futures might be possible depending on policy and funding choices. At the latest, this should appear as part of the 2014 budget.


  6. I believe that the TTC is the only public transit system in the GTA that cannot hire part time operators which leads to large amounts of overtime. It is very difficult to meet customer demand when there is no flexibility in the workforce. If the ttc were able to hire part time operators with flex hours up to 40 hours a week, they would be able to effectively schedule for peak periods (evening rush, special events and festivals like CNE, sporting events, concerts) and for slower periods (Christmas break, summer months) without incurring large labour costs.

    I am disappointed that improving communication is not on the 5 year plan. Frequently riders on BD line have no idea there is a major delay on the YUS line until you show up at Yonge or St George. Bus routes that end or begin at a subway station also have no information when that subway they connect to is delayed or closed temporarily. TTC customer service number is not displayed at any bus stop or station which I think helps TTC understate the number of complaints, most people are not going to call or email and complain when they get to work 30 minutes late.

    Steve: Increasing customer communications is in the plan, but a lot of this shows up as “things we have already done”. Passengers on surface routes who get TTC service alerts may know of problems, but there are technical problems beyond the TTC’s control with delay in emails travelling out from the TTC to someone’s smartphone. (Email can bounce through many intermediate points on its way to you, and it does not necessarily arrive immediately when sent.) Up to the minute info is available by watching for TTC bulletins on Twitter. (I have had the notice announcing a problem arrive after the incident has actually cleared, although this seems to be less common recently.)

    The problem with this is that it requires a user to have the necessary technology, and in the case of Twitter, to monitor the TTC’s feed (not always the easiest feat while standing on a bus). On the subway system, there is not (yet) WiFi capability. Announcements on trains are still spotty, though improving.

    I am what one might describe as “aggressively well informed” because I subscribe to the necessary feeds, and my Blackberry can vibrate up a storm when things are not going well. However, I’m not a typical rider.


  7. I agree with Steven in that fare evasion may become an bigger issue as all-door boarding and proof of payment is rolled out. There is a good reason why York Region’s rapid transit routes are nicknamed “Freeva”.


  8. Steve’s article is well written and insightful. A few comments are in order.

    First, some people talk about “business plan”, and start discussing strategies that are used in the private for-profit sector. They do not apply to a public service. (We can’t boost fares to what the market will allow, cut unprofitable routes and turn away passengers who cost more than average.)

    Second, we need to understand the division between setting policy and implementing policy. Issues such as funding, pricing, accessibility, and long term expansion plans are in the public sector. Politicians are the ultimate rulers in this world, and the CEO can only provide advice, and must not take sides in the frays that arise. Andy Byford seems to have been competent in this regard.

    As CEO, Byford needs to take the operational issues out of the public eye. If he is to implement a business plan, he needs to “be the boss” operationally. All of the 12,000 or so staff need to follow the lead of a management structure, and there needs to be clear consistent direction coming from the top. The politicians need to avoid pretending to be the boss, even if their political instincts tell them to.

    Effectively Andy Byford needs to work with the tools that he can control, which are the people. Most of the real issues will not show up in the business plan that he can set. If he can turn the culture around it will start with changes in the management structure, the management staff itself, and the relationship with the unions. And if it works, the changes will happen behind the scenes, incrementally.

    Lastly, the issues of KPI’s and measurement of real service details will only improve if we get technology to automate actual gathering of data. TTC publishes ridership statistics, but if you take a bus, you will know that currently there is no measure of the number of passengers who got on or got off at any point in time. Until this changes, all statistics are just estimates. The drivers are effectively on their own to decide what to do from moment to moment to deal with their individual passengers and the traffic on their route. All grand plans have to recognize this reality.


  9. There is nothing wrong with five year plans, but what about things that can be done now? Businesses have a multitude of short, medium and long term plans. If something can be done today, why wait?

    Mr. Byford is still too focused on the TTC as a unit by itself. The TTC competes with other modes of transportation. Just because a person does not have the means to purchase a motor vehicle does not mean he will be a captive rider for life. If his brother lends him a motor vehicle for a week, that person may not use the TTC for the whole week.

    What needs to be done is set goals in terms of market share as oppose to metrics like whether a transit vehicle is on time or not. Customers do not need to know whether a bus is 60% or 65% on time. They expect to see a transit vehicle arriving on time, clean and have space to sit. The TTC should define goals like, attaining 50% share on a certain corridor. To achieve that 50%, x, y and z needs to be done.

    I will give one example to illustrate the point. If the TTC wants to achieve 60% of all the travels on the Sheppard Ave East corridor from Yonge to Morningside. They might need to lobby city council to change zoning to allow for high density buildings. They might also need to lobby the province to change the Highway Traffic Act to give trams absolute priority.


  10. W. K. Lis says:
    June 3, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    “Five-year plans” remind of the Soviet Union and their “five-year plans”. Doomed for failure.

    Amen comrade!

    I have been in a number of organizations that have produced “MISSION STATEMENTS”, “VISION STATEMENTS” and other feel good statements but all they did was make the rank and file feel like unwilling participants in a mainly useless activity. If you are a public transit agency you damn well better know what your mission is. The level of government that funds it should set out the mission statement AND provide the funding to carry it out. Ford’s mission statement is probably “Keep those damn streetcars away from my Escalade.”

    The TTC needs to devise a useful set of metrics to determine what level of service they are actually providing and work to improve it. They need a plan about how to improve service reliability and if the problem is the lack enforcement of existing laws or the lack of parking restriction let the city and the riders know about it. Congestion is not a good answer. Congestion because the city won’t enforce parking regulations or tow vehicles blocking routes is better as it puts the onus on the city.

    The past 2 Saturdays I have been in Toronto and on both days the King and Spadina lines were screwed up by the autos on Spadina that would block the intersection of King because the traffic was so bad. On one occasion there were 4 Spadina cars on King and 5 on Charlotte trying to make the turn onto Spadina. There were also 8 westbound King cars trying to get past the loop. Perhaps it is time to look at a loop via Adelaide, Peter and Richmond to stay away from King St. Most of the subway trains and street cars did a crew change with another vehicle/train. The King car was destination roulette because the odds were it would not run the entire length of the line. The line supervisors seemed to be doing their best to keep the line running but when it takes 25 minutes to go 2 blocks wb past Charlotte it is difficult.

    Now for something completely different, since the bridge(s) on Dufferin into the CNE are going to be replaced what are the chances of building it (them) with the ability to add street car track, or to build it with track. I know, slim to none, and slim just left town.


  11. Benny Cheung:

    I will give one example to illustrate the point. If the TTC wants to achieve 60% of all the travels on the Sheppard Ave East corridor from Yonge to Morningside. They might need to lobby city council to change zoning to allow for high density buildings. They might also need to lobby the province to change the Highway Traffic Act to give trams absolute priority.

    Talk about trying to work on things beyond your control, you want the TTC to take on city planning to increase its share of rides? I’m with you on customers expecting a bus to arrive on time, be clean and have a place to sit. Those things can be controlled a lot more than what the City or OMB approves for development. Increasing share is definitely a strategic goal of the City and TTC, but certainly not one that can be managed in the short term and has to be (and I believe generally is) part of the City’s planning regime (redevelopment of “Avenues”, Transit City, etc.). I think TTC patrons would be far happier with improvements in capacity, predictable and timely service and communication as opposed to increasing the TTC’s share of rides.

    Steve: Moreover, there is no guarantee that just because the City changes the zoning that development at the scale Benny would desire will materialize. This is a fundamental problem of transit financing — builders go where there is a market, and if we are to believe the LRT naysayers, these lines won’t generate any demand.


  12. You know, I would feel a lot more confident in terms of Byford’s 5 year plan if he was previously aware that the Waterfront West LRT was dead in the water with no viable alternatives for it under development.

    Steve: Well, let’s not talk about the Waterfront East line where Byford’s own staff have been throwing up roadblocks with continually escalating cost estimates.

    As for Liberty Village, it will in part be served by the WWLRT if that is ever built, but the real problems lie on King and Queen (now the northern edge of development and a long walk from the WWLRT route). The TTC is so set on saying they can’t run any more streetcars on King (that the line is “at capacity”) they forget they are getting new much larger vehicles that could substantially increase route capacity.

    And, yes, it is astounding that Byford has been here for a year and does not know the status of these plans. His own 5 year plan does not include the waterfront as a priority. Ooops!


  13. I hope part of Byford’s 5 year plan includes advocating for retention of any year end ‘surplus’ for the TTC’s direct needs. It would be problematic to use this to cover operations, but I would hope it could be set aside for TTC specific capital and maintenance, as opposed to be used to reduce the City’s subsidy. The eastern waterfront comes to mind.

    Steve: In a roundabout way, this happens now. The TTC “surplus” (which is really a lower draw on subsidy than expected) is retained by the City and forms part of its overall surplus. In 2012, this was about 20% of the “surplus”. This money goes 75% into capital accounts (currently it is paying for the City’s share of the new LFLRVs) and the rest into various reserve accounts.

    This was an unusual year in that ridership was stronger than predicted, hence higher fare revenue, and some costs, notably diesel fuel, were well below budget.


  14. Steve said:

    The TTC is so set on saying they can’t run any more streetcars on King (that the line is “at capacity”) they forget they are getting new much larger vehicles that could substantially increase route capacity.

    Is the TTC saying that the 504 route is at capacity or is King street at capacity? If it’s King street, then it might explain why they are “forgetting” about the new Flexity’s since adding more capacity to the 504 would displace more vehicles along King and make traffic worse. (Not making a “pro-car argument” but pointing out the physical limits of downtown roads and the need to come up with comprehensive solutions.)

    Steve: The TTC uses two minutes as the minimum reasonable headway for mixed traffic operation, and the King car runs that (in the AM peak only) already with a “wave” of trippers that comes east to co-incide with the peak period. Some of those trippers are ALRVs. If the entire service switches to LFLRVs, it will make a big difference, but I doubt the TTC will do a 1:1 replacement. We will see when the streetcar plan comes out in a few weeks for the June Commission meeting.


  15. Nick L said:

    Is the TTC saying that the 504 route is at capacity or is King street at capacity? If it’s King street, then it might explain why they are “forgetting” about the new Flexity’s since adding more capacity to the 504 would displace more vehicles along King and make traffic worse.

    Reminds me of Steve’s proposal to shift ALRVs to King to allow for increased corridor capacity without adding more trips.

    Of course, the TTC didn’t seem to think much of that proposal, nor the proposal for the reinstatement of the 507 with an extension to Dundas West Station.

    I wonder if a hybrid proposal could work … shift some ALRVs to King, but short turn these ALRVs at Roncesvalles/Queen. Reinstate the 507 with the extension to Dundas West … so the 507 and 504 (CLRV) would service Roncesvalles and provide a fast connection between Dundas West station and the King/Queen corridors.

    Adding capacity on the core of King St. would help a great deal. Of course to really make this work, TTC would have to also introduce the King St. Transit Mall.

    Cheers, Moaz


  16. By the way … this is the latest transit-data visualization to come out of Boston … colour-coded for speed.

    Are there any good transit-data visualizations for Toronto or the GTA? They would be very interesting to see.

    Cheers, Moaz


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