TTC Board Meeting Followup: February 24, 2014

The TTC Board met on Monday, February 24.  In an earlier article, I gave a preview of issues from the agenda.  This post reports on some of the debate and follow-up information from the meeting.

This was the first meeting under new Chair Maria Augimeri, and it was noteworth for the amount of actual discussion that took place.  The four citizen members, who at one point were a majority of Commissioners actually present, participated at some length with pointed questions.  One can only guess the degree to with former Chair, now mayoral hopeful Karen Stintz, ran tightly scripted meetings that were all about good news with little or no dissent or disruption.

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Metrolinx Contemplates Relief (3) (Meetings Postponed)

The meetings originally announced for the week of March 1st in Toronto and Richmond Hill have been postponed by joint agreement of the parties involved.  New dates later in March will be announced.

Metrolinx will hold three public meetings to discuss the Regional Relief Strategy on March 1st and 3rd in Toronto, and on March 5th in Richmond Hill.

Better TTC Service Is More Than a Caretaker’s Job

With the recent election for a new TTC Chair, both candidates, Maria Augimeri and Josh Colle, spoke of the need to focus on better service for day-to-day riders rather than the endless debates about where a new subway (or, perish the thought, LRT) might go.

The vote was close, 23-21, and with both would-be Chairs advocating for the same issue, this is certainly the moment for the Board of the TTC to concentrate on service quality.  This should not be a time to split into competing factions, nor to wait out the term content to polish the floors and clean the windows until a new Council and Commissioners sweep into office.

A month ago, I wrote about the major policy areas where the TTC needs to take a hard look at its future.  There is no need to rehash all of that article here.  The important point is one of timing.

The 2015 budget process begins mid-year, well before the sitting Commissioners retire.  Whatever budget is produced will inform the debates by the new Council and Mayor, whoever they may be.  We could be facing a reprise of Rob Ford, although his merry band of followers shrinks by the day; we might have a centre-right Mayor with a coalition willing to support that agenda, or we could have a Mayor from the left.

Whoever wins the election, they should not have to wait until 2016 for analyses of budget and policy options to be on the table, and voters need to know what is possible in various scenarios.

A new fare policy is already under study as part of the 2015 cycle, but service quality deserves a thorough review too.

Major improvements to the amount of service in 2014 are unlikely without supplementary budget authority from Council (some improvements, mainly in the fall, are already in the budget), but nothing prevents the TTC from looking at what might be done in 2015.

  • What are the costs and operational implications of returning to the loading standards of the “Ridership Growth Strategy” that were dismanted by Ford/Stintz with the assistance of Josh Colle?
  • How much latent demand is there for service that is not being met because of budget constraints even at the current standards?
  • What role is there for express bus services and for dedication of a “core network” with 10 minute or better service at all hours?

One area that is entirely within the TTC’s control is service management.  Riders know that bunching, gaps and short turns are commonplace.  Some of this is down to inadequate schedules, but a lot is simply due to inattention to the basics of spacing service and ensuring that riders get something vaguely like the advertised frequency on their routes.

When will service quality be managed in a way that riders can see real improvement, not an average on time measure that lumps all time periods and service together in one less-than-impressive value?  The long-standing bus service target of 2/3 on time, on average, implies that some services are truly atrocious.

These are issues that do not need lengthy negotiations with Queen’s Park or Ottawa, but simply the will to provide better service by Toronto Council and the TTC Board.

Those who still defend the “cut cut cut” mentality of the Ford era will say we cannot afford better service, and some will be covering their butts from actions of the past three years. Some will argue that if only we magically improved line management, we would not have to add any service at all.

What we can “afford” is a matter for Council’s decision, and Council needs to know how much money is needed, however it might be obtained, to make real improvements, and the implications of simply continuing along the Ford path.

The Board should direct CEO Andy Byford to report quickly, preferably with an overview in one month’s time and more details to follow, on options for better service in 2015.  Without this, all the fine speeches about improving the lot of riders mean nothing.


Queens Quay Update: February 2014

The completion date for restoration of streetcar service on southern Spadina and Queens Quay has been pushed back due to winter weather delays to, probably, the end of August 2014.  Today, I spoke with Waterfront Toronto to find out how various parts of the project fit together.

Work at Spadina Loop cannot proceed into the intersection (the south half of the loop) until traffic can shift to the south side of the street, but that is currently prevented by utility work still in progress on that side from Rees Street west.  Pole installation at Spadina for the new overhead is also a limiting factor and this has to work around the traffic moves.

Waterfront Toronto now expects that Spadina Loop will be completed, except for the overhead, by late May.

Meanwhile, on the portion of Queens Quay east of Rees, work will begin on the streetcar right-of-way and the new north side roadway in March (depending on weather) with the westbound auto traffic shifted to the south side of the street.  The tangent track is expected to be completed by late June.

This opens up the possibility that if the TTC could get the overhead done quickly enough, the 509 Harbourfront car could return for August, but that is far from certain.

Meanwhile on Spadina, although the loop trackage be finished by mid May, service will not be extended south from King to Queens Quay until the overhead is in place.  The work schedule may be too tight for a having the loop available for July, and in any event streetcars will not operate on Spadina during August while the intersection at Dundas is replaced and modifications are underway at Spadina Loop.

I checked with the TTC to find out their position on the situation because it was the February 2014 CEO’s report that alerted me to the change.  Brad Ross replied:

To be clear, and I/we have been consistently clear on this with you and anyone who asks, the schedule is entirely Waterfront Toronto’s. We publish dates based on their schedule. No one wants to resume streetcar service on QQ more than us. To add further clarity, as you requested, criticism of the TTC on the delays on QQ would be wholly unjustified and unfounded. As I have said before, you need to speak with WT for an answer as to why the delays and shifting schedule.

Union Station, the portal and loop down there are not affected and are not delaying work. We need to install the overhead along QQ and at the loop at QQ and Spadina, but require the track to be in first. WT have committed to a schedule to ensure this work is finished on time for the new streetcar to at least operate on Spadina to QQ. WT are well aware of this need and we have been quite clear with them on it.

Meanwhile, the Spadina and Dundas intersection is being redone this summer … and work … is happening on the platform at Spadina station simultaneously to better accommodate the new cars.

I will continue to monitor the TTC and Waterfront Toronto for updates to the project plans.

Toronto Council Elects Maria Augimeri as New TTC Chair (Updated)

Toronto Council has elected Maria Augimeri as the new Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission to replace Karen Stintz who resigned the post (but not her seat on the Board) to run for Mayor.

During the nomination process, Mayor Ford attempted to nominate his brother Doug for the position, but he is ineligible as he is not on the Board and there is no vacancy to which he could be appointed.  The Mayor attempted to move that his brother replace Commissioner Glen DeBaeremaeker on the Commission, but this was ruled out of order by the Speaker.  A notice of motion (or a special meeting of Council) to change the composition of the TTC would be required for future debate.

The result of the vote was:

  • Maria Augimeri: 23
  • Josh Colle: 21
  • Spoiled: 0
  • Absent: 1

In speeches before the vote, Augimeri talked of her role as a “caretaker” for the remainder of the term, whereas Colle emphasized that there were many important issues facing the TTC, including labour negotiations.  He also mentioned that his constituents are more concerned about being able to get on the Bathurst and Dufferin buses than with new lines on maps.

Colle’s speech was the more forward-looking, but his candidacy may have suffered by association with outgoing Chair Stintz and Mayor Ford.  In any event, I hope that both Commissioners will work together and do more than simply minding the store for the coming months.  There are important policy discussions that can, at least, be set in motion even if they are not decided until the next Council and Commission.  We have had three years of inaction and cutbacks, and now is not the time to sit back and just wait for the election.

Updated February 20, 2014 at 1:00 am:

By contrast with her speech at Council, Maria Augimeri spoke about the importance of service improvements in a press scrum following her election.

In the Globe, Oliver Moore quoted Augimeri:

“I’m very concerned about crowding,” she told reporters shortly after the 23-21 vote at Toronto council, in which the brothers Ford both supported her opponent.

“People feel like sardines and, hopefully, if we can get the buses running better, that’s a one-up on what we’ve done for decades, and that is centre on subways versus LRT and the sexier forms of transit. People ignore the buses and the streetcars, so we want to put more emphasis on those.”

I look forward to Chair Augimeri’s inaugural comments at the TTC Board meeting on February 24.

Metrolinx Contemplates Relief (2)

This article is a continuation of a previous commentary on the Metrolinx Yonge Network Relief Strategy.

On February 14, 2014, the Metrolinx Board considered the presentation on the Yonge Network Relief Study, but little information was added in the debate.  One question, from Chair Robert Prichard, went roughly “shouldn’t this have been started two years ago”, but it was left hanging in the air without a response.  Two years, of course, has brought us a new Provincial Premier and a recognition that her predecessor’s timidity on the transit file wasted a great deal of time.

Moreover, there is a long overdue acknowledgement that Metrolinx cannot simply plan one line at a time without understanding network effects including those beyond its own services.

Originally, I planned to leave the next installment in this discussion until public consultation sessions began, but I have now decided to make some brief comments on the various options that will be on the table.  (See Yonge Network Relief Study, page 11.)

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Metrolinx Contemplates Relief

At its meeting on February 14, 2014, the Metrolinx Board will receive a presentation on the Yonge Network Relief Study. Despite the need for better regional transit links (and by that I mean links that do not take people to downtown Toronto), the elephant in the room has always been the unstoppable demand for more capacity into the core area. Planning for and debates about catching up with the backlog of transit infrastructure cannot avoid this issue, and it skews the entire discussion because the scale and cost of serving downtown is greater than any other single location in the GTHA.

Conflicting political and professional attitudes across the region colour the view of downtown.  Toronto suburbs, never mind the regions beyond the city boundary, are jealous of downtown’s growth, and for decades have wanted some of the shiny new buildings and jobs for themselves. But the development, such as it was, skipped over the “old” suburbs to new areas in the 905 that could offer lower taxes possible through booming development and the low short-term cost of “new” cities.

Strangling downtown is not a new idea, and politicians decades ago foretold of gleaming suburban centres to redirect growth together with its travel demand. The transit network would force-feed the new centres, and downtown would magically be constrained by not building any new transit capacity to the core.

Someone forgot to tell GO Transit where service and ridership grew over the decades. Downtown Toronto continued to build, and that is now compounded by the shift of residential construction into the older central city.

Thanks to the early 1990s recession, the subway capacity crisis that had built through the 1980s evaporated, and the TTC could talk as if more downtown capacity was unneeded. To the degree it might be required, the marvels of new technology would allow them to stuff more riders on existing lines. A less obvious motive was that this would avoid competition for funding and political support between new downtown capacity with a much-favoured suburban extension into York Region. Whenever they did talk about “downtown relief”, the TTC did so with disdain.

Times have changed. Long commutes are now a burden, not a fast escape to suburban paradise. Every debate starts with “congestion” and the vain hope that there is a simple, take-two-pills-and-call-me-in-the-morning solution. Top that off with an aversion for any taxes that might actually pay for improvements, or sacrifices in convenience until that blissful day when transit arrives at everyone’s doorstep.

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Streetcar System News – February 2014 (Updated)

Updated February 11, 2014 at 10:00 am:  Questions & answers related to trackwork plans and new streetcars have been added.

Spadina / Queens Quay Update

To nobody’s great surprise, the restoration of streetcar service south of King Street on Spadina will not occur until June 21 rather than with the schedule change in late May as originally hoped. This is a direct result of the bad weather and poor construction conditions. The TTC’s position is:

Due to the delays in Waterfront Toronto’s work and the need for TTC work to follow in series (i.e. overhead), it is not anticipated that the loop will be available for service for the May Board Period. Once we have greater clarity, we will reflect that online.

Some preliminary work on suspension for the new overhead has already been done, but this cannot be completed until the track is in and overhead vans can drive on the new pavement at the loop.

As plans now stand, service will resume on both the 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront routes with the re-opening of new streetcar track on Queens Quay rather than in two stages as originally hoped.

I await detailed info from Waterfront Toronto on updates to their construction plans. Much of the utility work on the south side of Queens Quay is now completed, and traffic is shifting to that side of the road at least as far west as Rees Street. This move will allow work to begin on the new streetcar right-of-way in the middle of Queens Quay and the construction of the new permanent roadway on the north side.

Detailed construction news updated weekly is available on Waterfront Toronto’s Queens Quay project page.

No sooner will streetcar service resume on southern Spadina, but the route will convert to bus operation for two track projects likely in August. The intersection at Dundas will be rebuilt this year (the one at College has been deferred because of scheduling conflicts), and there will also be work at Spadina Station.

When the line reopens on August 31, service will be provided, at least in part, by the new low-floor streetcars.

Updated February 11, 2014:

Q: What work is planned at Spadina Station? Track? Platform – especially provision so that two new cars can be on the platform at once – one loading, one unloading. Only 3 CLRVs fit there today.

A: The TTC has placed two low floor streetcars at Spadina already. They can physically fit inside the station, although the lead module of the lead car would have to be positioned opposite the five pillars with glass curtains, and that the lead door would be on curved track with a wider gap between the vehicle and the platform. We are reviewing operating procedures and possible alterations that are necessary to allow two new cars to be on the platform at the same time if necessary.

This implies that the work to be done in August will be trackwork, not platform changes.

New Streetcars

Recently, I sent questions to the TTC about the status of new car production and the implementation of these vehicles. Here are the replies:

Q: What is the status of the order and when will production deliveries begin?

A: Production deliveries will begin in March.

Q: What will be the rate of deliveries?

A: As always planned, there will be a ramp up to the production rate of 3 per month (36 per year). Once stabilized at this rate there are opportunities to transition to a higher rate and this is currently under investigation.

Q: What effect will this have on planned retirement of the problem ALRVs before the next winter season?

A: ALRVs will begin retirement at the end of this year and throughout 2015 as more new streetcars enter service.

What is still unclear is how the TTC will adjust service on 504 King and 501 Queen as the ALRVs [the existing two-section streetcars] disappear from the fleet and these routes continue operation with the remaining CLRVs [the shorter, single-section cars].

Updated February 11, 2014:

Q: Are there outstanding issues still to be dealt with on the ramps in the new streetcars, or have whatever design tweaks were necessary been incorporated in the production versions we will receive?

A: There are still a number of outstanding issues to be resolved. The production vehicle will have the necessary structural changes made to receive the new ramps. However, there is a transition phase between cars going into revenue service and when the final version of the ramp is delivered. For a number of vehicles that will go into service, an interim ramp will be incorporated to improve on accessibility – with improved transition between the ramp, the door threshold and the interior car floor. The final production version will be lighter in weight, less demanding on the drive mechanism (hence more reliable), and will have faster deployment and retrieval times. Initial production cars that do not have the latest ramp configuration will be retrofitted with the final version as part of the configuration control process.

Capital Budget Cuts

Among the City-imposed cuts in the Capital Budget was a $10-million/year cut in surface track maintenance for 2014 to 2018 with an equal cut to subway track in 2019 to 2023. I asked about the effect of these cuts.

State of good repair, which track replacement is clearly part of, will not be affected. If we need to further cut the capital budget to do track work, we’ll find that money elsewhere.

Queen East Major Track Projects

Two major projects will affect streetcar service on Queen Street East this spring.

At Queen and Leslie, the new sewer line must be tied into existing infrastructure under Queen Street, and then the new special work for the track leading to Leslie Barns must be installed.   Tentative plans are for this work to begin in mid-May and run to the end of June.

While Queen Street is closed, service will operate with bus replacements and streetcar diversions:

  • A 501 Queen bus will run from McCaul Loop to Woodbine Loop (at Kingston Road) diverting around construction via Jones, Dundas and Greenwood.
  • 501 Queen, 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road Tripper streetcars will divert via Broadview, Gerrard and Coxwell.
  • Carhouse trips for 504 King and 505 Dundas that now operate west from Russell Carhouse via Queen will use Coxwell and Gerrard.

Beginning at the end of June and running through July, the special work at Broadview and Queen will be replaced. This intersection is in poor condition with long-standing slow orders and one switch (west to north) permanently out of service due to a danger of derailments.

During this work, service will operate as below:

  • The 501 Queen bus will divert via River, Dundas and Carlaw.
  • 501 Queen, 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road Tripper streetcars will divert via Parliament, Gerrard and Coxwell.
  • 504 King cars will divert via Parliament and Dundas.
  • Carhouse trips to Russell will continue to operate via Coxwell.

Normal service on all routes resumes in August.

King Street Diversion

New February 11, 2013:

Q:  The 504 King diversion around construction at the Don Bridge is now listed as running to August due to additional work in the area.  I understand that the track connection at Sumach to the new Cherry Street line is to go in this year.  Will this be done while the 504 is on diversion (ie before August), or will there be yet another shutdown for this trackwork too?

A:  The Sumach/King connection work is scheduled for March 30.

Transit Priority for Diversions:

Q:  With the extended period of various diversions, why has there been no change to implement transit priority or at least advance greens for left turns at various locations?

A: We continue to work with the City on transit priority signalling. There are no new installations to date; where there, they are in use. Advance greens and the like is a question better put to the City.

I am meeting with Stephen Buckley, Toronto’s General Manager of Transportation Services, on February 12 and will discuss this issue with him.

[TTC comments provided by Brad Ross via email on February 7, 2014.  Updates by email on February 11, 2014.]

TTC Service Changes Effective February 16, 2014

The February 2014 schedules bring only minor changes on the system.

Exhibition Place

A new “walking transfer” will be added between services in the south end of Liberty Village and Exhibition Loop. This will link 63 Ossington at Atlantic and Liberty Streets to the 511 Bathurst, 509 Harbourfront and 29 Dufferin routes at Exhibition Loop.

Walking transfers are a quaint part of the TTC’s fare system where connections are permitted between routes that do not actually meet, but which operate nearby. This practice (and the rules governing where it is allowed) will not be needed as an exception within the overall system if the TTC moves to time-based fares.

A temporary Dufferin Street bridge will allow 29 Dufferin service to resume its operation into the park.  Service will be the same as in March 2013.

York Region Contracted Services

These changes are at York Region’s request.

The last afternoon peak trip of the 17A Birchmount route north of Steeles will be eliminated.  This trip now leaves Steeles northbound at 6:53, and returns from Royal Crest southbound at 7:06.

The last late Sunday evening trip of the 102 Markham Road route north of McNicoll will be eliminated.  This trip now leaves Nashdene & Markham at 11:14 pm and returns from Mount Joy GO Station at 11:42 pm.

An earlier trip will be added to 105B Dufferin North from Major Mackenzie on weekday mornings.  This trip will depart southbound at 6:29 am.

Pearson Airport Night Services

300 Bloor Danforth and 307 Eglinton West will change to use the same sequence of serving terminals as the daytime 192 Airport Rocket and 58 Malton routes. There will be no change in service levels, but scheduled times at stops will be altered by the new routing.

Other Service and Route Changes

142 Downtown Avenue Road Express was changed in late December by the elimination of a trial extension of its downtown loop west to Peter Street. This is now formally implemented in the scheduled route.

Service on 509 Harbourfront will be reduced in response to lower riding, and schedules will be changed to “improve reliability” with additional recovery time.

Service on some routes will be modified by adjustment of running and recovery times to improve reliability. Service levels are not affected, but some trip times will change.

  • 41 Keele will be modified in the evening on weekdays.
  • 30 Lambton will be modified during many periods, and recovery time will be shifted to Kipling Station to reduce bus idling at High Park Station.
  • 73 Royal York will be modified during peak periods.

Service to the Zoo on 86 Scarborough and 85 Sheppard East will be modified to reflect the change in closing time to 6:00 pm effective March 1, 2014.  Last trips will leave the Zoo at about 7:00 pm.

Service on 91 Woodbine will be changed on weekends to improve reliability with headways on both the 91C York Mills and 91A Parkview Hills branches changing from 20 to 24 minutes to provide extra running time.