Analysis of 501 Queen for Saturday, May 25, 2013

Normally, I would save detailed reviews like this to a general article looking at the Queen route over several months and configurations.  However, a deputation at the June 24, 2013 TTC Board meeting is worth comment now while the issue is fresh in Commissioners’ and management’s mind.

A regular attendee of these meetings complained that he had been severely hampered in attempting to use the Queen car late in the afternoon of May 25 to travel westbound to Long Branch.  As I have recently received the vehicle monitoring data for several routes for Mar 2013 from the TTC, getting an overview of what was happening was quite straightforward.  It is not a pretty picture.

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TTC Meeting Wrapup for June 24, 2013

Aside from the King Street transit lanes and the new streetcar rollout plans (covered elsewhere), there wasn’t much else on the agenda for the TTC Board (as it now styles itself).

One procedural change was that there are no longer any printed agendas for the meeting — reports are available only online.  If you’re not carrying a device that can display them easily, you’re flying blind making sense of the meeting.

CEO’s Report

Ridership for reporting period 4 (mainly the month of April) was 1.1% below budget, but 2.2% above the corresponding period in 2012.  Poor April weather (an unusually cold early spring) was blamed for the shortfall.  For the last twelve months (May 2012 to April 2013), ridership is up 2.4%.

For the year 2013, ridership is expected to be at the budgeted level of 528-million.  However, the average fare is lower than projected because of higher pass usage, and the revenue projections are down by $2.0m.  This is offset net savings in expense lines.  On the entire budget, this is a variation of less than 1.5%.

Yonge subway reliability has fallen due to ongoing issues with TR train reliability, “workforce availability”, passenger-related delays and fires at track level.

There has been no update on problems with the TRs beyond “we’re working on it”, and the time is overdue to ask whether the goals for reliability have been set too high.  Without a detailed report on the situation, there is no way to know whether the trains have chronic, difficult-to-solve problems, or if we can expect some resolution.  (According to minutes of an Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit meeting (ACAT), TTC staff have no prognosis for correction of the TR platform leveling problem that makes trains inaccessible.)

36 of the 70 TR trainsets on order have been accepted for service.  This leaves 34 trains still in the pipeline to hit early 2014, although the last 10 of the trains are intended for the Spadina extension that will not open until 2016.

“Workforce availability” is an odd term to use considering that overall attendance rates at the TTC are supposed to be improving.  Punctuality is affected by a number of factors including the effect of many small delays, but also by extended times required for some crew changeovers.  The TTC needs to sort out which effects are strictly due to staff and which to other factors.

The reliability index for Bloor-Danforth is also dropping, but still runs at a higher level than the Yonge-University-Spadina line.  The TTC does not break out the various sources of delay by line to report which problems exist system wide and which are more prevalent in certain locations.

SRT performance has been quite good since October 2012 when schedules were changed to reflect the actual capabilities of the aging technology.

Surface route performance for both modes is above the rather generous target levels, but we know from the Quarterly Report published earlier in 2013 that overall headway adherence is quite bad on some routes.  This is no surprise to anyone who looks at vehicle monitoring data.

Elevator and escalator availability continues to get a high rating, although, as I understand things, this is based on a once-a-day report of status.  There is no report of the prevalence of outages or their duration.  This is rather like looking out the window, seeing one bus, and deciding that all is well with the transit system.

A few new Sunday shutdowns of the subway have been announced in this report:

  • June 29 from Wilson to Downsview for track installation.
  • July 7, 14 and 28 for beam installation on the Prince Edward Viaduct.  This work is normally done during the night-time shutdown, but a provision for opening the subway later than normal gives more time to complete planned work.

Details will be announced for each planned shutdown.

Change Orders for Design Costs on the Spadina Extension

Four reports requested substantial changes in the contracts for design work at Steeles West, Vaughan Corporate Centre, Highway 407 and York University stations.  The magnitude of the changes attracted questions from the Board.

According to staff, TTC practice is to award design contracts based on interim amounts with change orders issued along the way as required.  A contingency budget line provides funding for these changes.  Some of the costs will be recovered from third parties such as York Region and GO Transit/Metrolinx who asked for design changes in the originally completed plans.  Other costs were incurred to reduce construction expenses and keep stations within the project’s budget.  The degree to which this may have compromised the original designs is unknown.

Oddly, some of the extra costs cited by staff were for activities at Finch West and the new Downsview/Sheppard West stations (changes to suit GO and the Finch West LRT project).  Neither of these was the subject of the four reports on the agenda.

CEO Andy Byford wants to improve the reporting of large project budgets and costs, but does not expect to have a proposed scheme for doing so until fall 2013.

Steeles East Night Bus

The Board approved the proposed extension of the 353 Steeles East route from Middlefield Road to Markham Road effective August 4, 2013.  This extension uses up excess running time in the current schedule and requires no extra buses.

Ossington Bus / Hellenic Home for the Aged

The TTC has been requested to divert the 63 Ossington bus to a home for the aged which is north of Davenport up a steep hill on which seniors have difficulty walking to service on the main street (see map in report).  A decision on the matter has been put off to July 24 to allow for meetings between staff and those requesting the change.

The staff report recommends against this diversion which was requested through Councillors Mihevc and Fragedakis.  Mihevc should know better as a former member of the TTC Board.  Off-route diversions are the bane of transit operations and compromise the benefit of straight routes for passengers.

It is worth mention that this home was built off of the Ossington route some decades ago, but long after the route was established.  The policy decision is whether transit routes should be tweaked to serve such sites, and whether the Board has the political backbone to say “no” when the greater good of the route and the precedent for future requests are at stake.

Bicknell Loop

The property at which the Rogers Road car, originally part of York Township Railways, ended has been declared surplus to TTC requirements.  Buses on this route use the nearby Avon Loop on Weston Road.

TTC Low Floor LRV Roll Out Plan Released (Update 3)

Updated June 25, 2013:  At the June 24 Commission meeting, CEO Andy Byford presented further details of the roll out plan.  This information is added to the end of the article along with additional information I received from TTC staff.

Updated June 23, 2013:  A section has been added at the end of the article discussing service levels and fleet planning during the transition from CLRV to LFLRV operation on routes.

The TTC has released its roll out plan for the new fleet of low floor light rail vehicles.

The TTC proposes to increase capacity on all routes during peak periods, although by varying amounts.  Off peak headways will be almost unchanged with an effective doubling of capacity on all routes using the 50-foot CLRVs, and a 1/3 improvement on routes with the 75-foot ALRVs.  As a general policy, this is a very good start because it avoids replacing capacity-for-capacity with concurrent widening of headways and degradation of service.

The new service levels are shown on the presentation at pages 7-8, and the changes in peak period capacity are summarized in the following table.


The amount of added capacity varies by route and between the AM and PM peak periods.  This is supposed to represent the TTC’s estimate of provision for unmet demand although some numbers are a bit hard to believe.

Oddly enough, by the time the new fleet is in place, all of it has been used up serving existing routes (with a 20% allowance for spares).

Off peak services are almost unchanged with the odd effect that there is better planned midday and evening service on some routes than in the peak periods.  The TTC claims that the off-peak levels are set based on a minimum headway policy.  However, it does not make sense to cut service during the peak period.  This seems more the product of two separate plans drawn up without cross-reference to each other than the outcome of careful planning.

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