TTC Board Meeting: April 30, 2014

The TTC Board met on April 30, 2014.  Items of interest on the agenda included:

  • The CEO’s Report
  • Purchase of Buses
  • McNicoll Garage
  • ATC for the Yonge University Spadina Subway
  • Accessibility Plans
  • Express Buses to GO Stations
  • Service Increases and Improvements

CEO’s Report

TTC ridership continued to grow in early 2014 with annualized riding up 2.4% relative to the end of February 2013. For the first reporting period of 2014 (most of the month of January), ridership was below budget, but ran slightly ahead of budget in the second period (February). The harsh winter weather was the main culprit here, and the projected 2014 total ridership is now 538-million, down from 540m in the budget, but up from 525m in 2013.

In a long-continuing trend, the TTC’s revenue projection falls slightly short, even allowing for the lower ridership numbers, because more people are buying passes than anticipated in the budget. Expenses are under budget by a wider margin than revenue with the result that the TTC’s subsidy requirement is actually in better shape than planned. However, on the expense side, this is “largely due to the timing of certain non-labour and accident claims expenses” [page 5] and does not reflect the full-year’s results which are expected to be on budget.

Service punctuality numbers continue to be poor, although this was compounded by bad weather. As I have discussed here before, there are reasons to challenge even the reported numbers. The TTC is working on a new “Journey Time Metric” to better reflect actual rider conditions, but the details of its calculation and the results it produces have not yet been made public. (This is expected in the near future now that first quarter results are due to be released.)

Two streetcar services are specifically mentioned for poor performance. 511 Bathurst has suffered through a major water main replacement project that was suspended for the winter, but left parts of Bathurst Street with only a single useable lane. This work resumed in 2014 and is nearing completion.  512 St. Clair, a route that is almost entirely on its own right-of-way, suffered from “traffic congestion”. I inquired about this, and the problem lies in the narrow section from Old Weston to Keele Street. A study of widening the railway underpass here is now in progress by the City of Toronto.

51 of the 60 TR (Toronto Rocket) subway trainsets to replace the “H” series cars have been received from Bombardier. The TTC expects to retire the last of the H6 cars in June or July (details to be announced). A futher 20 trainsets are on order for the Spadina extension (10) and future service improvements (10).

The target arrival date for the first production car in the new streetcar order was today (May 2), but it’s not yet here. When asked, the TTC did not have a new target.

Although PRESTO will be rolled out on the new cars starting with the Spadina route, this will not occur until November 2014, and interim measures will be used for fare collection on this route. It is important to remember that hardly anyone will actually be using PRESTO on the TTC surface because it does not (yet) offer equivalent functionality to a Metropass, and it cannot be used on routes whose vehicles do not have PRESTO readers.

Meanwhile on the Leslie Barns project, the special work at Queen & Leslie that will lead to the new carhouse will be installed starting in late May. The actual date depends on completion of work on utilities that must be done before the track is installed. The full connection to the carhouse is expected to be in place by the end of 2014, with all works including the carhouse finishing in early 2015.

Purchase of Buses

The TTC will purchase 55 new 40-foot low floor clean diesel buses for delivery in 2015 at a cost of $32.6-million. Original plans called for 12 buses for service improvements and 43 to operate the Scarborough RT replacement shuttle service. Current plans would see the RT stay open until the Scarborough Subway is completed, an uncertain matter pending the elections now in progress. Instead, the TTC plans to retire 52 old Nova high floor buses a year earlier than their planned 2016 date, and this order allows this to be brought forward into 2015.

These buses are at the end of their life, are becoming unreliable and are difficult to maintain, hence the preference for an early replacement.

What this illustrates is that the TTC will barely keep up with its aging fleet, never mind improve service, thanks to capital budget caps at the city and the end of the provincial bus purchase subsidy program.

McNicoll Garage

This status report includes a presentation about the new garage proposed for northern Scarborough and accommodation of a growing bus fleet. Although the project budget is $181-million, only $80m is actually in the City of Toronto capital budget for this item. The remainder is part of the$2.7-billion backlog of unfunded projects.

The garage has been in the works for many years. When Transit City was announced, the garage project was put on hold because the opening of many new LRT lines would allow the bus fleet to be reduced in size even allowing for system growth. However, the combined effect of the LRT deferrals and continued ridership growth put the system already over capacity at its garages. The situation would have been even worse if not for the service cuts implemented by the Ford/Stintz team at the TTC that allowed a major bus purchase to be dropped from capital plans.

The TTC now faces the compound problem of needed more buses just to handle growth, plus a further need if crowding standards are to be improved back to the pre-Ford levels. Under current plans and funding, this is unlikely to be addressed for five years.

ATC for the Yonge-University-Spadina Subway

This report makes interesting reading because it sets out the long history of the Automatic Train Control (ATC) project for the Yonge subway (aka Line 1). An initial contract for $52-million has now doubled to over $128m. About $5m of the increase provides equipment for 20 TR trainsets that were not in the original order, but the majority comes from major changes in the scope and length of work for the project.

The situation is complicated by the presence of a parallel contract with a separate provider for the replacement of the original, 60-year old YUS signal system with new computer-based technology (referred to as CBI in the report). Installing two signal systems at the same time would be, putting it mildly, challenging because of the critical function signalling provides, let alone with two separate suppliers. Two systems (conventional signalling plus ATC) are being installed as a transitional measure, and so that trains and work cars that do not have ATC equipment can safely operate on the line (see page 2 of March 2012 report linked below).

The report sets out the project history, summarized below:

  • September 2008: Contract awarded to Ansaldo (then Union Switch & Signal) for the replacement of the signalling on the oldest parts of the subway from Eglinton to Union including Davisville Yard ($14m).  This work was expected to complete in June 2013, but due to “numerous technical problems and contractor performance issues”, this is now projected for October 2015.
  • April 2009: Contract awarded to Alstom for ATC over the entire YUS and supply of ATC equipment for 60 TR trains ($58m). This contract did not include the Spadina extension to Vaughan.
  • March 2012: Contract awarded to Ansaldo for the replacement of the existing signal system on the remainder of the YUS ($30m), provision of signalling for a test track at Wilson Yard ($3.2m), and the design and provision of a signal system for the Spadina extension ($27m).
  • January 2013: Alstom contract amended to supply ATC for an extra 10 TR trainsets for the Spadina extension. (Approximately $2.5m)
  • February 2013: Alstom contract amended for ATC over the Spadina extension. ($19m) The report notes that previous contract changes totalled $13m including the amount for the 10 trainsets’ ATC equipment. These changes are not detailed in the report. The contract was expected to complete at the end of 2016 with the opening of the extension.
  • April 2014: Alsthom contract amended to provide ATC equipment for 10 TR trainsets recently approved for future service expansion, and for a major change of scope due to extension of the contract completion to 2020 (net increase $33m).

The major change in the 2014 report is that the complexity of installing, testing and converting to two new signal systems is greater than originally expected. The Spadina extension will open with a conventional system (the Ansaldo contract) and ATC will then be installed on top of this as is to be done on the existing line. The combination of delays in the Ansaldo project, delays in the completion of the extension, conflicting work needed on the existing subway (notably repairs to other aging infrastructure) and a more complex staging of testing and commissioning all adds substantially to the cost of the ATC contract (Alstom).

The April 2014 report notes:

Signal systems generally have an expected life of 25 to 30 years. [Page 2]

This is fascinating both because it is one more counterexample to the myth that subways last 100 years, and because the existing signal systems on the original Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth lines are decades beyond the criterion stated here. One possible reason for their longevity is that the mechanical relay-based systems of the 1950s and 1960s did not become technologically obsolescent as quickly as “modern” computer-based gear. In any event, it is clear that new signalling is overdue on both lines.

The report also notes:

The minimum headway between subway trains operating under the existing signal system is 140 seconds. The ATC system will permit the headway to be safely reduced to at least 110 seconds. [Page 2]

That is a 27% increase in train throughput, somewhat less than figures claimed elsewhere for the future capacity improvement ATC will bring. As discussed in previous articles, very short headways are subject not just to the ability to run closely-spaced trains, but to move these trains through terminals and through busy stations quickly.

The new implementation schedule for ATC allows for various project delays, but pushes out the completion date to 2020. The TTC will have new TR trains on the property for improved service well before they can actually reduce headways and improve capacity.

Accessibility Plans

This report sets out the TTC’s current plans for completion of system accessibility, but warns that this cannot be achieved without additional funding in the Capital Budget.  (This is one of many “below the line” projects in the $2.7-billion unfunded capital backlog.)

Although the TTC sought reinstatement of provincial funding for accessibility, this was denied by the Minister of Economic Trade, Development and Employment, Eric Hoskins in a letter of April 7 in which he states:

“… the Government of Ontario does not provide funding to implement accessibility standards under the AODA. Flexibility is built into the requirements to give all public transportation service providers across the province the ability to come up with solutions that best meet their needs and those of their customers.”

He goes on to, in effect, tell the TTC that the regulations allow for a phased implementation and that they should simply build this into their financial plans. Of course, the TTC is the only system in Ontario with a subway and the need for complex retrofits into existing stations. The government’s position is rather odd considering the recent budget which proposed to shower money on the province.

Commissioner Heisey asked about the problems experienced at major stations with only one accessible path when an elevator is out of service (as it was recently at St. George for an extended overhaul), and whether the TTC would be better off to concentrate available funds on providing a second elevator at such locations rather than at stations with light usage. This matter has been referred to management and to the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT) for comment.

An obvious complexity is that at complex stations, this is not a matter of “one more” elevator, but of several to cover off various legs of the vertical journey. Bloor-Yonge has five, while St. George has two because it is a structurally simpler site.

Express Buses to GO Stations

This report responds to a Board request that staff review existing TTC express bus services for the possibility of adding stops where they could serve GO Transit stations. The stations involved are: Milliken, Eglinton, Guildwood, Agincourt and Old Cummer.

The report concludes that this would not be worthwhile because there is little market for transfer passengers due to the lack of fare integration and the limited service offered at some locations. Demand at GO stations from local routes is lower than demand at express stops, and this implies there is only a small market for access between TTC and GO services. The extra stops would be an “inconvenience” to more riders than they would benefit based on low projected demand, although the magnitude of the added travel time is not cited.

The real challenge for the TTC and for Metrolinx will be to make integrated trips more attractive both through frequent all-day services and integrated fares that do not discriminate against inside-416 riders.

Service Increases and Improvements

Chair Maria Augimeri proposed that staff report in June on the implications for capital and operating budgets of improving service levels on the bus and streetcar networks. The intent was to inform the 2015 budget process that will be underway through the fall and the debate that will inevitably follow about TTC funding by the new Council in 2015.

Staff were concerned about the date, and an alternative of August (the last month with a Board meeting before the municipal election) was proposed. However, former Chair and now Mayoral-candidate Karen Stintz objected that this was all a decision for the new Council and Board, and that the report should come forward in January 2015. It was clear that she resented a request for a report on a proposal that has been embraced by at least one of her competitors. The Stintz position passed 5-4 with the support of Commissioners Milczyn, Colle, Parker and Di Donato.

Chair Augimeri also asked for a report on the availability of buses during 2015 when there will be a construction moratorium and, hence, a lower need for supplemental bus services.

Commissioner Heisey proposed that staff work to reduce illegal parking in conjunction with the City and the Police citing a company, Shred-It, that routinely parks its trucks in the business district on main streets throughout the day and ignores parking tickets as a cost of doing business. This request in part duplicates work now underway by the City regarding improvements of downtown street operations.

I prefer a scorched-earth policy for these situations, and a fleet of heavy duty TTC tow trucks is just what Toronto needs. Businesses will only take this problem seriously when their equipment (and contents) are physically removed and the cost of flaunting parking regulations is prohibitive. Other cities don’t allow this sort of behaviour, while Toronto tinkers with changes in traffic regulations and ignores scofflaws.

43 thoughts on “TTC Board Meeting: April 30, 2014

  1. You are right west of Birchmount it would have to run on street. If you did get a streetcar as far as Birchcliff and Kingston road, it would be a short hop to an area where it would be viable to do a restricted ROW. I do not believe it is the end of the world to have it go through some areas on street.

    First of all, streetcars on Victoria Park south of Gerrard is basically a non starter due to having to ban on street parking and/or eliminating the front lawns of homeowners. As a result, that rules out going all along Kingston Road to reach Victoria Park. The problem with street running along Danforth Ave. is the junction of the two Danforths in addition to the normal problems with street running.

    So, there are only two real options for streetcars on Kingston road beyond Cliffside. The first is to do the proposed conversion of the 22 Coxwell route to streetcar service before pushing it east. Alternatively, the city can use some combination of tunnelling and surface running along Danforth. The amount of surface running will depend on whether the city wants to expand Clonmore drive to four lanes between Gerrard and Warden and if a transit corridor can be incorporated as part of the Birchcliff Quarry Lands redevelopment.

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  2. Re – 512 St. Clair, a route that is almost entirely on its own right-of-way, suffered from “traffic congestion”. I inquired about this, and the problem lies in the narrow section from Old Weston to Keele Street. A study of widening the railway underpass here is now in progress by the City of Toronto.

    The curbs between the streetcar lane and traffic lane under the bridge are non existent, about 70m. Does this mean traffic is using this short stretch of streetcar lane?

    Steve: The problems lie with vehicles making turns at Keele and at Old Weston and fouling the tracks in the process.

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  3. Am I the only one who has noticed the “feature” of the TR trains where the air conditioning and heating runs simultaneously?

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