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.

Customer Satisfaction Survey

In his presentation of the survey for the 4th quarter of 2013, TTC’s Chief Customer Officer (and Acting Chief Service Officer) Chris Upfold explained that the polling is done over the entire period with about 80 interviews conducted each week.  Therefore, most of the responses predate the severe weather of December.  Although there is a marked drop in satisfaction by streetcar users, there is a general concern with service quality and crowding.

The TTC wants to better understand whether other components contribute to this such as the possibility that bad news about “old streetcars” colours the responses.  This is an attractive theory if one ignores the decline in service reliability that began in the third quarter.  Blaming problems on external causes, in this case the media, has a long tradition at the TTC.  Old streetcars will be with us for many years, and both the quality and quantity of service must be addressed.

Commissioner Alan Heisey asked about the status of the review of transit priority on King Street and of the existing Bay Street “clearway”.  Upfold replied that a report on King Street would come to the Commission in July, and that it will deal with all day issues, not just the AM peak as originally proposed.

Commissioner Josh Colle asked whether being a peak period rider had the greatest effect on the satisfaction of riders.  Upfold replied that this was true both because peak riders tend to value their time more highly, and because they see the system at its most crowded.  Colle asked whether there should be “two TTCs”, one designed for the peak and one for off-peak.  Upfold responded that satisfaction (or lack of it) feeds into a business case for improvements.  Colle, presuming that those who think very highly of the TTC and are considered champions of the system live downtown, asked whether the TTC should be reaching out to the suburbs.  Upfold replied that, in fact, these “champions” are all over the city as shown by the postal codes collected as part of the survey.

Commissioner Nick Di Donato asked whether there is a breakdown of reliability by line.   Upfold noted that performance is best on the routes with reserved lanes (St. Clair, Spadina and Harbourfront) and that these routes buoy up the average for the streetcar network in general.  [This information is published quarterly on the TTC’s website and summarized in my article.  For the 4th quarter, the St. Clair and Spadina lines came in at over 80% on the TTC’s reliability metric.]

Commissioner Raymond Cho asked about the low rating for the availability of help from staff in stations.  Upfold replied that despite some increases, the TTC remains a lightly-staffed organization in stations compared with some other systems.  This is an amusing observation in the context of the hoped-for “savings” from elimination of station collectors.  CEO Andy Byford noted that through both the complaints database and from feedback at “Meet the Manager” sessions in subway stations, senior management knows about issues riders have.  This is not the same, however, as having someone who can assist riders on a day-to-day basis.

Commissioner Anju Virmani asked how often services are tweaked to improve them.  Upfold’s answer was not entirely on the money here when he said that this happens quarterly based on the survey.  In fact, service is adjusted every 5-6 weeks with each new “board period” based on riding counts and evolving needs of routes, all of course subject to budgetary constraints.  Upfold noted that if the perceived value of transit service goes up, then the elasticity of riding versus fares goes down because a fare increase is not perceived as making a bad service worse.

In some of these responses, we may see hints of how a future budget advocating service improvements might be pitched to the Commission and to Council.

CEO’s Report

The CEO’s report provoked little debate.

On the subject of ongoing delays in restoring streetcar service to Queens Quay, CEO Andy Byford stated that the TTC is very focussed on installing the new rail as quickly as possible and is working with Waterfront Toronto to get this work underway.  (Waterfront Toronto hopes to begin construction of the new roadbed for the streetcar right-of-way and the north roadway in late March with all trackwork completed by the end of June.)

Byford talked about the importance of tapping into the latent pride and capability of front line staff to improve the organization.  This is a fine goal, and I hope we can see some specific examples of this cited in future reports.

Changes to station signage at Bloor-Yonge will be installed on the weekend of March 1-2, 2014.  This is a trial, and to the degree possible, the new signs will simply use stickers over top of existing ones to minimize cost and to simplify any future changes.

The matter of route management came up because of comments in a public deputation that some route supervisors can’t do their jobs.  Byford replied that good supervision is a vital part of customer service.  Twenty new supervisors will be deployed, but these have to be “the right people”.

Commissioner Heisey asked about the possibility that the Spadina subway extension might not hit its late 2016 opening target because of serious problems with Steeles West Station’s construction.  Because this involves a dispute with the contractor, the matter was left for discussion in a private briefing.

The Cost of Hybrid Buses

As I mentioned in the preview, the biggest issue to surface from an audit of bus maintenance was the looming crisis in bus maintenance costs. Media reports and all of the debate focussed on whether the TTC was getting the full possible return from warranty claims, and whether other maintenance practices either (a) were performed more often than required for safety or (b) were not performed well to the point that vehicles broke down in service. The big issue lies in hybrid bus costs that dwarf, by an order of magnitude, the other issues raised by the audit.

The cost of maintaining the fleet of 691 hybrid buses is expected to double as these vehicles, purchased in 2006-09, come off warranty from 2014-17. I followed up on the comparative costs of diesel and hybrid buses with the TTC’s Brad Ross to put the anticipated rise in costs in context.

The increase in costs is primarily due to the hybrid components coming out of warranty and the high replacement costs associated to each item.

The major components of the hybrid buses include the Power Control System (PCS), AC Traction Motor and Generators, and the Energy Storage System (ESS).

Based on historical data, at year 5 the average operating costs for a typical diesel bus is in the order of $30K-$40K per bus (depending upon fleet model). As noted by the audit report, the average operating costs for the hybrid bus at year 5 was $45K.

That audit report noted that the annual cost of maintaining hybrids is expected to rise to over $90k. What the TTC did not state in their response was whether the diesel bus costs would also go up as they aged, but there is clearly a large premium to be paid to keep the hybrids in service, possibly over $30m/year, compared with their current cost. This premium will build into the operating budget over four years as each year’s buses comes off warranty.

To put this in context, $30m would represent approximately a 3% fare increase or about 8 cents.  As a tax increase to fund added subsidy, this would be slightly more than 1%.  Needless to say, we are unlikely to see either of these approaches, and service will almost certainly suffer if only through constraints in the rate of growth that might otherwise be possible.

Other Bus Maintenance Issues

TTC management agrees with the Auditor’s estimate of the potential savings from better pursuit of warranty claims and steps are already underway to improve this process.

On the subject of intervals between vehicle checks, Andy Byford noted that New York City is a good comparator for Toronto given the type of service they operate.  A revised schedule for inspections will be tested at one garage to determine whether changes would be appropriate system-wide.

Commissioner Peter Milczyn asked whether issues with warranty claims extend to other parts of the TTC’s operations such as the new TR subway trains now being delivered.  Byford replied that he has asked teams in each department to look into their practices to identify problems that might exist.  He noted that auditors will always find something in a review, but potential losses are worth going after.  A complete review of processes is required because they are now “archaic” and “prehistoric”.

Gary Shortt, Acting Chief Operating Officer, presented management’s detailed response to the audit.  The highest priority will be in parts warranty management and in the evaluation of the 5,000km safety check.

The root causes of many problems lie in a labour-intensive, paper based system:

  • incomplete or illegible information on repair tags
  • defective parts failing to match up with documentation, or disposed of rather than claimed
  • problems with correlating information to the divisional stores system which was itself paper-based
  • bus maintenance staff are responsible for all claims rather than using expertise of the claims and purchasing departments
  • the scope of the problem was not recognized until the audit
  • the increased volume of claims due to hybrid buses overwhelmed the manual systems

A pilot of new processes is underway at Eglinton Garage to produce a “lessons learned” report by September 2014.  An improved warranty management process will be completed by December 2014, and the new system will roll out one garage at a time starting in January 2015.

The 5,000km safety check differs from most transit agencies which operate on a 10,000km cycle.  The need for this will be compared with vehicle repair data and practices from other systems.  In New York City, vehicles that run in high traffic get a 5,000km checkup, but the frequency is lower for buses in outlying areas and on express routes.  TTC operations should be compared with similar services elsewhere.  Management will perform a risk analysis of extending the safety check cycle to 10,000km and will make a recommendation by June 2014 on changes, if any, to TTC practices.

Vice-Chair Maureen Adamson asked whether the failure to identify this problem earlier was related to staffing levels.  Shortt’s reply suggested that this was partly due to the management which preceded his role as acting COO.  Andy Byford jumped in to observe that there was a problem with a silo mentality at the TTC, a lack of recognition of the knowledge and expertise in other parts of the organization.

Commissioner John Parker wanted a sense of how many parts were involved, how big was the defective parts bin used at garages.  Gary Shortt replied that the focus was on “late defects” (those that showed up well after a vehicle was in service) that were still under contract.  Smaller parts did not get priority.  Major parts such as engines were not ignored.

Josh Colle noted that the Commission often hears about its antiquated systems and asked whether replacements were provided for in the capital budget.  Andy Byford replied that new CIS (the vehicle monitoring system), payroll, and human resources systems were already in the approved budget (as is a move to consolidate the financial systems on the same platform, SAP, used by the City of Toronto for ease of data exchange).

Alan Heisey asked what would prevent the Commission waiting 20 years for another review of its practices.  Gary Shortt replied that with the rolling five-year plan including reviews of staff and assets this should not occur.  Andy Byford observed that over the years the TTC has lost the art of asking front line staff who know what can be changed.

Procurement Processes

From time to time, questions arise at TTC meetings about why project costs escalate and, on occasion, why contracts are awarded as they are.  Three of these came up at the February meeting, and this did not go unnoticed by the Board.

The first dealt with the Leslie Barns where consulting engineers, AECOM Canada Limited,  will be receive $9m additional to cover extra work on the design and supervision of construction for this project.

The second was for the Wilson Yard expansion project where Buttconn Limited will act as “constructor” for various projects now in progress that require overall co-ordination.  This contract amendment has an upset limit of just over $2m.

The third was a dispute raised by a bidder, Ansaldo STS USA, Inc., about the award of contracts for signalling at Wilson Yard to Thales Canada, Transportation Solutions.

The circumstances for each report are different, but there are overlapping issues.  The first is scope creep.

In some cases, the amount of work involved in a project grows because of decisions made after the project is underway, or because of situations that were not taken into account when it launched.  Wilson Yard is an example of the former, and Leslie Barns the latter.

At Wilson, various sub-projects were originally expected to occur with separation in time and space so that each contractor would have sole posession of “their” section of the site for their work.  In practice, this has not proven to be possible, notably for the signalling contract also awarded at this meeting.  For safety and accountability reasons, including requirements by the Ministry of Labour, a single entity must have overall control of the site to ensure that works are co-ordinated and do not endanger workers who are unaware of the activities under other contracts.  This created a new requirement for co-ordination that was awarded to Buttconn.

Leslie Barns has a long and checkered history of site selection and planning.  From the outset, it was clear that this was the only site under serious consideration and that it would be chosen no matter what the objections.  Three major problems have developed over the life of the project.

First off, some site conditions were not adequately understood during the evaluation stage including the remediation required to make it fit for use, the rerouting of a major Ontario Hydro cable running through the site, and the complexity of utility work required on Leslie Street in advance of track construction.  Whether this was a case of willful ignorance or a political mandate to make the site work no matter what would make an interesting investigation, something possibly more interesting than bus repair cycles.

Second, the original plans for the reconstruction of Leslie Street deeply and needlessly annoyed the businesses and residents of the area by including a streetcar right-of-way for track that would only be used to access the carhouse.  This was quickly dropped, but people were already sensitized to the effect of the connection track.  Attempts to study alternate routes were met with hostility from the TTC including misrepresentation of the effects one alternative would have on Canada Post operations on their site nearby.  The fallout from this experience was that additional work was added to the project to make improvements to nearby streets as payback for the upheaval of the construction period.

Third, the project is running well behind schedule, and alternative plans were drawn up to deal with different ways of completing the work.  This is the lion’s share of the additional money going to AECOM.

In the case of the Wilson Yard signalling contracts, the bids were called for a base contract plus various options.  Which bid “wins” depends on which options are included in the award.  Ansaldo objected on the basis that they were the lower bid if all options were included.  Detailed discussion of this award took place in camera, and in the end the Commission approved management’s recommendation making the award to Thales.  Afterwards, Andy Byford agreed that the public report did not properly explain the rationale for asking for the various options in the first place, nor why the specific subset was chosen.  He committed to making future bids and reports more transparent in that regard.

In some cases, a project will have an overall approval amount with a provision for future costs on a contingency basis.  One example of this is the provision in the new streetcar contract for possible change orders.  When the project was approved, staff did not know which specific changes might be made or how much they would cost, but for financing purposes (subsidy allocations and planning by the City and other government) they needed to include a provision for them.  It is possible that this provision will not all be spent, and we would then be treated to criticism from the City that the TTC asks for more money than they need.  Sometimes you can’t win either way.

As a long-time TTC watcher, what is fascinating here is the ebb and flow, almost like the tide, of requests for detailed financial and project management information from the Commissioners.  At times, faced with a lot of detail, they cry off saying that it is far too complex for them to understand.  At others, worrying that they might appear to be shirking their responsibility the taxpayers, they want to know all of the details.  Whether they will like what they hear depends on whether the explanation is a reasonable one.

There is a fundamental need for Commissioners to understand the basics, and for management to provide reliable and complete information especially when project scopes change.  One cannot be politically deaf when the aim is to downplay extra costs, only to rail against them when the bills come due.

30 thoughts on “TTC Board Meeting Followup: February 24, 2014

  1. We don’t need on-street “Route supervisors”. We have NextBus. Every other transit agency I know has radios to communicate with bus drivers. We need people in a control room monitoring where buses/streetcars are in real-time (using existing software), and then radio-ing drivers with details of short-turns etc.

    Steve: The TTC is a tad slow on the uptake, and even though there are NextBus displays in the control rooms, they still depend on an antique system that cannot even properly keep track of vehicle locations.


  2. “This was the first meeting under new Chair Maria Augimeri” This was also one of her last ones as upon re-election, Mayor Ford will quickly appoint Councillor Doug Ford as the new chair of the TTC who will straighten things out at this highly incompetent agency in no time. The TTC CEO needs also to be replaced who will stop playing politics like dropping meaningful line names to replace them with meaningless line numbers and wasting millions of tax dollars in the process just so that he can avoid calling the Downtown Relief Line (DRL) by it’s real well-descriptive name. The DRL is also Andy Byford’s TOP priority as he has repeatedly said even though the existing stations are crumbling down as Andy (a Downtowner) likes playing politics with our money. Let us fix existing stations first before wasting millions of dollars on this unnecessary and unwarranted line numbering.

    Steve: Upon election of either Mayor Chow or Mayor Tory, the name “Ford” should become only a bad memory at City Hall, although it will take years (and a lot of chalk on Nathan Phillips Square) to erase the stain that the Fords leave behind.

    Councillor Doug Ford couldn’t “straighten out” anything. He is a blowhard who invents stories to suit a narrow, highly biased view of the world in which he and Rob are always right and are the aggrieved victims of a massive plot to deny their greatness. His performance last night on TVO (not yet available online) was breathtaking for the degree to which he is living in an alternate universe.


  3. I’m not sure this is the right post to comment on so apologize if this needs to be moved.

    Steve, we constantly discuss new lines on a map, and as we all know, that is a solution to address transit 5-10 years (and beyond). You and many other advocate for increased operating funds and operating subsidy to improve service today/short term.

    With that in mind, as we have a fixed number of vehicle in the fleet, and assuming a fixed percentage of the total fleet is under repair and not-in-service at any given time, if the operating subsidy went up to 50% tomorrow, what could we actually do to improve peak service? (I think off-peak is the easy one, so I’m omitting it. I assume that off-peak we have many vehicles to spare so it’s a matter of funding to get more of them on the road.)

    I guess I want to challenge the idea that more money = better, and learn what specifically we’d be able to do within 3 months of increased op funding for peak travel. Are ALL available vehicles on the road during the peak today? What would change?

    I hope what I’m asking is clear. My *gut* tells me “not much,” and the increased funding would help repair a lot of the infrastructure and state of good-repair over-time and upgrades to systems, signalling, line mgmt, etc etc.

    Steve: Peak service improvements require a bigger fleet and, to a lesser extent, some real dedication to transit priority. I don’t think that priority is going to come on a wide basis soon, and its benefits would be to shave a bit off of travel times, but not enough to translate into major improvements in headways.

    Some who advocate for higher subsidy are also hoping to see fares lowered or frozen. This is a false economy. First off, if the fares go down, that would redirect any added subsidy to the fares, not to service. Moreover, it’s a one-time benefit to, say, get the cost recovery ratio down to a new target. Once you’re there, then all expense including fares go up at a rate compounded of inflation and system growth net of new fare revenue. The main beneficiary of better provincial operating subsidy would be the city budget, but this still won’t get rid of future inflation. Moreover, it could chain the transit system to artificial caps on growth based on the amount of subsidy Queen’s Park feels like handing out. This has happened before.

    More operating funding will not necessarily bring more maintenance. If the new provincial money were offset by a cut in city funding, the TTC is no better off. A lot of the big ticket maintenance items come from the capital budget where there is a huge backlog of work. The city has money (through taxes) to build itself a new subway line, but not to pay for necessary maintenance.

    Service will only really improve with a consistent, multi-year approach that combines fleet expansion, better service management, and more generous loading standards. This requires a combination of operating and capital spending, but nobody seems prepared to discuss these as linked budgets.


  4. “Upon election of either Mayor Chow or Mayor Tory” But Mayor Ford is leading the polls and has very high approval ratings according to the latest polls. I wish him all the best.

    Steve: He may have high approval ratings, but he’s not going to win. In a recent poll, Tory is leading. Moreover, I doubt that Stintz’ or Socknacki’s support is going to fall into Ford’s lap. Then there is Olivia Chow.


  5. Tom West makes an interesting comment about the need for on-street Route Supervisors. Do you think it would be a better use of funds to use this money to get NextBus used properly and pretty much rely on staff in “Central Control” to look after route management in conjunction with the operators (who would be able to report whether a vehicle about to be short-turned was filled to overflowing?)

    Steve: I continue to be amazed that NextBus isn’t better used. It’s not possible to have enough on-street supervisors to manage the system, although they can be handy in specific locations to micromanage very busy parts of routes. The real challenge is to have the right tools and the attitude that it is actually possible to manage service. It will never be perfect, but they should try a lot harder.


  6. I wouldn’t normally respond to people like ‘Scientist’, but the kind of disconnection displayed in their post from reality deserves a retort.

    Ford is extremely unlikely to be re-elected. He has his base of around 20-25% of voters, and that’s it. Everyone else wants him gone.

    Doug Ford will not be a member of council next term. You need to be a sitting member to be considered for the position of TTC Chair. Any attempt to put Doug on the board as a civilian appointee will be shot down in flames by council.

    Finally, Doug Ford could start an argument in a empty room.

    I suspect that even if their hero was led out of City Hall in handcuffs, Ford Nation would sincerely believe that it was all a grand conspiracy to get rid of the last honest person in City Hall. If Rob and Doug are living in an alternate universe, they’ve got company.

    By the by, it’s fascinating to see that Andy Byford is characterized as a ‘downtowner’ when he isn’t even a Canadian citizen. Does the ‘insult’ now extend to Permanent Residents or people on work visas (as Mr. Byford is)?

    Steve: Andy Byford lives near Summerhill and regardless of his citizenship, that qualifies him as a downtowner.


  7. Scientist says:
    February 28, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    “This was the first meeting under new Chair Maria Augimeri” This was also one of her last ones as upon re-election, Mayor Ford will quickly appoint Councillor Doug Ford as the new chair of the TTC who will straighten things out at this highly incompetent agency in no time. [remainder of quotation snipped]

    I don’t know where you and others, or are you posting under multiple names, get the cost of calling the subways line 1 or line 2 instead of Yonge-University-Spadina-York or Bloor-Danforth-McCowan-Scarborough up into the millions of dollars. It is immaterial what they call them, even if it is Fred and Ethel Mertz or Ricky and Lucy Ricardo as long as they run good, reliable service. If you are truly a “Scientist” then you should look at everything with an open unbiased viewpoint; that is why we wrote up experiments in the third person past passive instead of first person active or second person imperative. I too prefer names to numbers but it is a lot easier to put 1 or 2 onto a map than the lengthy names that are coming into being. If you can’t make a rational argument then please don’t.

    I am glad to see that Augimeri is allowing for a more open meeting and that the citizen appointees are getting involved more. Stintz’s meetings where, as you say, turning into a recitation of feel good articles and “All in favour, opposed, Passed!” meetings where nothing was ever discussed.

    Steve: Whatever this person’s real name, there are regular comments from someone with this particular hobby horse to ride about Byford wasting money on line numbering. I don’t agree with it either, and suspect it’s an idea that will never make it beyond the testing stage, but it is certainly not a multi-million dollar boondoggle. Thousands maybe, millions, no.


  8. With regards to DavidC’s comment, the TTC should try the real time map from YRT. GIS systems have revolutionized how geographic data can be represented. It seems a shame that since the TTC considered using GIS in 2007, we don’t have anything to show for it. Even the simple YRT real time map could help supervisors understand where bunching occurs and act appropriately.

    Steve: With GPS on all of the vehicles, supervisors should be able to see bunching easily today. Whether they use the information properly is another matter, especially considering that the old, original CIS system may give conflicting information.


  9. Reopening Wychwood instead of building Leslie Barns would have been too simple.

    Steve: Wychwood would probably not have been big enough for the number of cars involved, especially with provision for 60 more to follow on the initial order. Also, it would have to be decommissioned from its current use as a park and art centre and completely refitted for the new low floor cars. I suspect that the neighbourhood around Wychwood, which has not been an operating location for the TTC for decades, would be just as incensed as the folks around Leslie were.


  10. I used to think that Rob Ford was just a Buffoon whose evil was merely a result of his stupidity until the Daniel Dale affair. Then it became evident that he was as evil as his malevolent brother. To attack a man’s character with no evidence at all – not even evidence that could be misunderstood in some way – is the lowest of the low.

    Doug Ford is obviously evil every time he opens his mouth. The idea that he could “straighten out” anything is not so much laughable, but sad. The fact that there are people – who have to hide behind a pseudonym – who actually think these evil brothers are good is very disappointing.

    There is room (not me however) for different ideologies to differ with you Steve (and me) about transit and its importance. There is no room for any of the contributions of the Fords. They are evil.

    I heard Naheed Nenshi on CBC today. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a well spoken, high spirited Mayor like him. (Funny too.) He avoided discussing the Buffoon directly, but did say that the waste of money subway in Scarborough must have been approved by people with a wiser approach and greater comprehension than him. Very diplomatic, but he is obviously smarter than anyone who supported the Scarborough Subway.


  11. On the topic of LRV storage, the Leslie delays and possible LFLRV fleet contract expansion, has anything finally had to be cobbled together to plan for extra storage space? Are they intentionally junking the poor hobbling ALRVs early to make room as much as for their condition? Will there be surplus storage space after retirement of the UTDC fleet if all LFLRVs in the contract plus options are ordered?

    Steve: Yes, there is enough room for a 264 car fleet of LFLRVs between Russell, Ronces and Leslie.


  12. Was the tender for new 40ft Diesel buses discussed at all or is the Commission still receiving bids?

    Steve: This was not on the agenda.


  13. I am somewhat shocked that any councillor sitting as a TTC commissioner would think that champions of the TTC are only going to come from within a few hundred metres of a streetcar or subway line. For those who believed Colle’s speech warranted him being Chair, please mark this down as a learning point. Augimieri has her faults, but she at least understands the role the TTC as a system plays in the lives of Torontonians.

    By a few accounts, Colle has done some good work in his ward. But, if he wants to have the city wide presence that comes with being the TTC chair (only really seen also in the budget chief or the speaker positions), he needs to get beyond Stintzian platitudes.


  14. I still don’t think we’ve seen any reports on what could be done with regards to on-bus/automatic route supervision systems … obviously there are a number of systems available. It’d be nice to get an idea of what the benefit of such a system would be:

    1) Look at other systems – how much where they able to improve on-time performance with these in-bus systems – if it goes from 60% – 80%, or 60%-65% etc.

    2) Less supervisors needed? More computer nerds? Is there a benefit or extra cost here?

    3) Less overtime with potentially better system wide handling of where and when drivers should trade buses?

    4) What is the expected cost and benefits for such a system (if we have 80% instead of 60% on-time % we would need less busses potentially, or increased ridership)

    Clearly there needs to be some improvements on the maintenance side of things … is there any indication of what % of the 40% of busses off schedule that are caused by maintenance or side-effects of maintenance (busses breaking down and causing backups etc.)

    I’m not necessarily sure that we need these studies, as I think it’s pretty clear that anything would be better than what we had now … but the cost of implementing seems to be a problem for the pols to get their heads around … and the relatively quick win it would be for the entire city.


  15. Hi Steve, Speaking about the elephant in the room with the upcoming election, have you thought of organizing or helping to organize a Transit Smackdown, WWE style, where the mayoralty candidates get cross-examined by experts on their transit plans? I thought yourself, the CodeRed group, and TTC Riders might be interested. You could also have it televised or posted to You Tube. I remember Josh Matlow questioning Rob Ford about LRT during a council meeting and it could be similar to that. The Smackdown format would appeal to those voters who wouldn’t read through long newspapers articles plus it would get a lot more media attention than the regular campaign events. Maybe someone like Jon Stewart could be asked to be the moderator.

    I’m sick and tired of truthiness-based transit plans that unfortunately are good optics for the voters who don’t have time to research these things and think politicians have done their due diligence when in fact the politicans are impulse shopping with taxpayers’ money. Hopefully a smackdown will put an end to this.

    Steve: The fundamental problem will be that the candidates who lie and tell people what they think they want to hear either wouldn’t participate, or could even derail an event. Those whose platforms are reasonable in some sense deserve a better treatment.

    I expect to be involved in some election events, but have no idea of which ones yet.


  16. On the Rob Ford For Mayor website, there is a list of “alleged” accomplishments. One item sticks out for me, the “Improving TTC Service”. Boy is that the exact opposite of what the TTC did under the direction of Rob Ford. We’re still haven’t been able to fully repair that damage. Those “accomplishments” are just wrong.

    Under his direction, he wanted 10% cuts across almost all departments, including the TTC. KPMG even wanted to cut the Blue Night Network, as well. Luckily, some on the board prevented that from happening. However, there is still that direction happening at the TTC board.

    I am still waiting for improvements to be made at the TTC. That will not happen fully with the current board. It should be remembered that those service cuts at the TTC was made with Karen Stintz as chair, and she is still on the board.


  17. Steve said: In a recent poll, Tory is leading.

    That was without Olivia Chow. With Olivia in the race, that same article showed cliff-hanger results with a statistical tie of Chow or Tory with Rob Ford. However, another article said that downtown residents vote are more inclined to vote (49%) than those in the inner suburbs 43%. This could work against Ford. But the results would still be uncomfortably close.


  18. What, delays on the Sorbara subway extension? I’d appreciate a reminder on the ‘original’ projected opening date of the line …

    Regarding proper line maintenance, it’s an ongoing wonder how this cannot be addressed better, or at least described in an objective manner in a TTC report. From the perspective of an ‘outsider’, I tend to ascribe this inability to change as simple human nature, along with the difficulty in seeing the issue plainly.


  19. Edmund O’Connor says

    “Ford is extremely unlikely to be re-elected. He has his base of around 20-25% of voters, and that’s it. Everyone else wants him gone.”

    The problem with this theory is that, if there is not a run-off system in place, and there are a large number (say 7 or 8 let alone 36) of candidates splitting this anti-Ford vote he would still get the most votes. If only 7 take a note worthy number of votes and 3 share the lions share, you still could Mayor Ford back in office. This would be bad for the city and province. I hope that they bring in a run-off system, or actually bring in ranked balloting.

    Steve: Legislation for ranked ballots in Toronto is before the Ontario Legislature on Thursday for second reading. Let’s hope it actually gets passed, not lost in the dustbin of en election.


  20. In the above meeting the issue of Light priority was brought up. Does the TTC have any control over the lights? What would be required to at least make it a share responsibility? While I do not ride the streetcar very often, when I see one sitting at a light clearly ready to go, and I find it odd that it is waiting for cross traffic, especially when it is jammed.

    Also have they seriously discussed an update on a fleet tracking system that would bring them into an automated indication of when (redlight greenlight) they are too close to the vehicle ahead or not that would go directly to the driver. Could be when the previous vehicle crossed their current stop.

    Such a system could also be used to interact with lights in order to help a marginal located vehicle cross a light by holding the light an extra few seconds. However, I am under the impression this would require some changes in current city organization along with new software and hardware. Have any candidates promised to seriously bang heads on this issue?

    I certainly feel coordinating lights and transit vehicles (especially streetcars) would help both transit and vehicle traffic on major routes. It is very frustrating for both drivers (transit and other) to have a streetcar block a greenlight due to loading, and then have to wait through a red. If streetcars arrived at say every 2nd light and controlled it drivers would not see this condition. Would likely reduce complaints to both departments.

    Steve: Both the TTC and City staff are talking about better co-ordination of “transit priority” so that it is given when it is really needed, but there are some hurdles to get past.

    First is the TTC’s antique vehicle tracking system and the fact that the new GPS information is, putting it mildly, not integrated into service management. Next is the problem of what the goal should be — keeping vehicles “on time” or “on headway”. Then there is the question of actually knowing that a streetcar or bus is “ready to leave” a stop. This might be indicated by the fact that the doors are closed, or by a signal from the operator, but in either case, additional data are needed to convey this status to the traffic signal system. An additional consideration lies in design of the communications — should there be a “local” conversation between vehicles and traffic controllers to avoid the delay in data transfer through a central monitoring system? Finally, there are basic differences in the goals of a traffic-oriented organization looking at overall flow and a transit organization concerned mainly with transit vehicles.

    These are complex issues that, unfortunately, tend to be discussed privately with little policy input to resolve the differences in world views (assuming Council even has a consistent policy on such things).


  21. Steve said:

    “These are complex issues that, unfortunately, tend to be discussed privately with little policy input to resolve the differences in world views (assuming Council even has a consistent policy on such things).”

    Unfortunately, I suspect that they also likely have a larger impact on service quality, and nearly as substantial an effect on the practical capacity as the very publicly debated issues of subway extensions and fleet sizes.


  22. Michael Greason said:

    I heard Naheed Nenshi on CBC today. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a well spoken, high spirited Mayor like him. (Funny too.) He avoided discussing the Buffoon directly, but did say that the waste of money subway in Scarborough must have been approved by people with a wiser approach and greater comprehension than him. Very diplomatic, but he is obviously smarter than anyone who supported the Scarborough Subway.

    Having said this, it needs to be understood that Calgary seems to have both a more city wide view of itself (not recently merged) and a generally positive experience with LRTs. Calgary is now looking at having to make the LRT trains 4 cars long, and perhaps a downtown tunnel. They managed to make the choice in terms of closing 7th Ave SW(which would have been hard at the time as it was the main drag east west at the time) but appears natural now. Having said that the choice was made when Calgary was still much smaller, and this allowed a series of other choices (restricted downtown parking etc) that have really helped the LRT system to succeed. I think if Torontonians would think of themselves more as living in a single city, that divisive politics would be less prevalent, and might help make some hard, data driven choices, and perhaps even elect a Neenshi in Toronto.

    I believe we need a realistic view as voters to get there, and we need to be ready to hear the bad news, not just the blaming of others (including Ford). Toronto’s basic transit problems date back to when Calgary started building the C-Train, and Toronto has done little substantive since. I suspect Calgary will create an entire new line before Toronto builds a DRL. However being a “downtowner” is not an insult in Calgary.


  23. Steve said:

    “First is the TTC’s antique vehicle tracking system and the fact that the new GPS information is, putting it mildly, not integrated into service management.”

    A TTC video showed that Transit Control use a display showing the location of trams on a map. Does this not use GPS? The display does not look antique. The video link positions the video to show the display.

    Steve: My understanding from comments left here by operators is that the old non-GPS, text graphic display is used at least as much as the one driven by GPS info. The older system cannot track vehicles that go off route, and it can become confused about a vehicle’s location for various reasons.

    NextBus has a flaw in that short-turns disappear off the screen as soon as the vehicle deviates from the regular route. Would the Transit Control system have the same flaw?

    Steve: I’m not sure, but you can see the off route vehicles with other apps that do not suppress this info such as Whereismystreetcar. At the moment I write this, its display for 504 King includes two cars whose faulty GPS readings place them in (or depending on how frozen it still is, on) Lake Ontario.

    What I do know is that until quite recently, the TTC did not perform the kind of detailed analysis of the data they have to see how well routes were operating and to identify chronic problems with either delay locations or line management tactics. This sort of work is now supposed to be informing future changes to schedules (in cases where running time are inadequate), and I can only hope that better management will also follow.


  24. Looks like the city has approved the extension of peak hour parking and left turn restrictions on King St.

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: The changes, extending the am and pm peaks to 10am and 7pm respectively, were announced by the City on March 3. They apply to Queen and King Streets from Jarvis to Bathurst, and to Adelaide Street from University to Yonge.


  25. Richard L says:
    March 5, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    “NextBus has a flaw in that short-turns disappear off the screen as soon as the vehicle deviates from the regular route. Would the Transit Control system have the same flaw?”

    When I watch the street car lines on NextBus they show up wherever they are. Even the buses that replace street cars during construction show up all the way back to their garage even if it is Wilson or Malvern.

    Steve: I don’t think so. NextBus filters out a lot that is available in the data stream, and is very annoying for diversions because you cannot see where the service is. This also ties in with its desire to map vehicles to arrival times at stops, but they have to be defined stops on the route.


  26. Steve:

    The changes, extending the am and pm peaks to 10am and 7pm respectively, were announced by the City on March 3. They apply to Queen and King Streets from Jarvis to Bathurst, and to Adelaide Street from University to Yonge.

    I should have said ‘implemented’ rather than ‘approved’. Thanks for the details. I’m looking forward to the time when the city understands that the restrictions need to be in place for the peak and ‘daytime’ periods … at least on King and Queen to start.


  27. Steve: I don’t think so. NextBus filters out a lot that is available in the data stream, and is very annoying for diversions because you cannot see where the service is. This also ties in with its desire to map vehicles to arrival times at stops, but they have to be defined stops on the route.

    The version that I load will show the buses running in and out of service and unscheduled diversions. Perhaps I am using an older or different version.

    Steve: URL please?


  28. I suspect the NextBus problem with scheduled or common short-turns is that they are not set up and are thus being “filtered out”.

    For example, NextBus shows both the 54 short-turn at Orton Park as well as the longer Starspray route. If you hover the cursor over the box for an eastbound bus, NextBus will display either “Orton Park” or “Starspray”, a feature not in Whereismystreetcar.

    I suspect the TTC could have regular streetcar short turns set up in NextBus such as 506-Coxwell, 505/506-Lansdowne, 504/505-Church, 504/505-Parliament, etc, etc. Then we wouldn’t see, for example, a 506-“Main Street Station” car suddenly disappear from NextBus at Coxwell.


  29. The GPS data doesn’t know the route sign, it just knows the location. This must be combined with the run number to know where it’s supposed to go. Both 54 and 54A runs are scheduled, so a 54 run is assumed to be Orton Park. Likewise, 501 Humber runs are per schedule, as are 501 Long Branch.

    But when an unscheduled short-turn happens, yes the vehicle either disappears or hangs around its short-turn point, apparently not making progress. Sometimes it even travels backwards for a couple of stops, then the system realizes and reverses the direction. I have seen this behaviour on Transsee quite often when a nominally Long Branch bound car is short turned at Kipling. The run info says it’s going to Long Branch, so when it enters Kipling loop the system thinks, “gee, run XX is still hanging around Kipling”. Presumably it could be made more sensitive to detect unscheduled short-turns and deal with them appropriately.

    Steve: The behaviour you describe may be more a factor of how Transee handles the data stream. Cars only reverse direction oddly in the GPS info when the GPS itself misreports locations, typically in the canyons downtown, but also more typically showing cars in the lake, or out in Mississauga.


  30. From the stop consolidation report:

    TTC staff will present to the Board, at the February 24, 2014 meeting, a follow-up report to document the implications for streetcar routes of the updated stop-location standards described in the current report. That report will also present staff’s plan for consulting with affected Councillors prior to changing the location of stops.

    Did this follow-up and consultation happen? Because I was out on Broadview today and noticed the installation of the new curb cuts from Danforth to Queen and the Simpson Avenue (southbound), Mt. Stephen Street, and Bain Avenue (Sunday) stops were the only ones that didn’t get them. It seems safe to assume that those stops have already been axed.

    Steve: The report is supposed to come to the May meeting now. TTC is supposed to be consulting with the ward Councillors on these changes, but I am going to check to see if they have actually done so on changes already implemented.


Comments are closed.