The TTC Board met a light agenda and little inclination to debate. As events at City Hall wind down toward the October election, there are no major decisions, and Commissioners in the Karen Stintz camp have succeeded in blocking any significant policy discussions until 2015. This leaves the Commission and Council going into the election and next year’s budget process without background information that could be useful in quick implementation of a policy shift in the post-Ford era at City Hall.
If it is any consolation, Stintz currently is polling at 3%, below the “don’t know” category.
Items of interest on the agenda include:
- The CEO’s report for June 2014
- How would the TTC use $100 million?
- Service adjustments for the Eglinton-Crosstown construction project
- Would early closing of the subway on summer weekends aid with scheduling of maintenance work?
- Free Wi-Fi on surface vehicles
- Scarborough Subway Extension update
Details on the debate and actions taken, if any, follow the break.
Although there has been talk of new measures of TTC system and route performance, the same tired and rather meaningless numbers continue to appear. These claim to give us the percentage of trips by each mode and each rapid transit line that operate within 3 minutes of the scheduled headway. As I have written before, on the subway it is close to mathematically impossible for these scores to fall below 90%, and even if half the peak service were missing, headways would still be within an acceptable range. Despite the generous treatment of “on time” performance, the surface modes continue to achieve about 2/3 of their trips in the target range, and this translates to a typical rider encountering off-target services many times each month.
Continuing to publish meaningless statistics about something as public and easy to challenge as service quality makes one ponder the quality of other performance measures. The TTC needs to look at the system at a level of detail where truly appalling conditions for one area, route or time are not masked by better than average numbers elsewhere. This information must be published both as an acknowledgement of just how bad some parts of the system can be, and to give political and senior managerial impetus to improvements.
The new streetcars are one of TTC’s current “megaprojects” and a handful of new cars are to enter service on 510 Spadina on August 31. The very long development time has been frustrating for the TTC not to mention for advocates like me, and the lack of detailed information on aspects of the delay — redesign for accessibility, teething problems with technology, whatever else might have happened — should be published so that the public, media and politicians can understand how much work went into the new cars. Looking at the ongoing problems with the TR subway trains — supposedly a state of the art product — leave one fearing for the success of the new streetcar’s launch.
Meanwhile, the TTC still does not publish reliability statistics for its various fleets, a practice that was dropped years ago as part of the slimmed down reports from senior management for a Commission that preferred not to bother itself with details. We know what the cleanliness index is for stations and what riders think of the TTC, but don’t publicly track vehicle reliability.
Ridership and The Budget
Ridership continues to run below projected levels due to the extremely cold winter, and the 2014 projection is now 537 million, down 3m from the budget level. Expenses are essentially on budget, but there is an $8.1m hole in the projected subsidy even without allowing for added costs of the recent labour negotiations. This puts a recent scheme to use a $47m “surplus” from 2013 for a 2015 fare freeze even more laughable, not to mention fiscally irresponsible.
Already thanks to budget constraints, service improvements planned for early fall have been pushed back a few months and without a fiscal rescue package from City Council, they may vanish completely. This situation is not mentioned in the CEO’s report even though it will become even more pressing right at election time.
Once again, TTC management blames those pesky Metropass users for diluting the revenue stream rather than acknowledging that as more travellers shift to transit, they are more likely to purchase the more cost-effective fare.
Capital spending has run at a lower rate than budgeted thanks to slippage of various projects from their original schedule. Notably, the Spadina extension is still allegedly opening in 2016, but this is going to be a challenge given problems with some station construction contracts. Privately, the more common date TTC talks about is 2017.
Subway Signal and Track Upgrades
The resignalling project for 1 Yonge-University-Spadina is another whose schedule has been stretched out. The TTC expects to cut over the lower part of the “U” (Bloor to St. George Station) at the end of July to a new system (there are two shutdowns for testing already scheduled in July), but this only replaces the existing, antique relay-based block signal system with a modern equivalent.
With this new system in place, the three crossovers added to the system (where they had previously existed on the original Yonge line) can be activated with signal control. The tentative plan for this work is:
- King crossover at some time after the July 26-27 cutover to the new system
- College crossover in spring 2015
- St. Clair / Rosehill crossover in fall 2015
Activating these crossovers is not simply a matter of adding signals, but also of restructuring the power feeds nearby so that, for example, a power cut at Dundas does not prevent use of the crossover at College.
Automatic Train Control (ATC) will come much later and will be phased in over the YUS:
- Phase 1 Wilson to Dupont – Oct 2018
- Phase 2 Dupont to Eglinton – Jan 2019
- Phase 3 Eglinton to York Mills Mar 2019
- Phase 4 York Mills to Finch May 2019
- Phase 5 Wilson Yard Mainline July 2019
- Phase 6 TYSSE including Downsview (Sheppard West) Dec 2019
Thanks to the TTC’s Brad Ross for this info.
Another major project that has been set back a few years is the track reconstruction between Muir and Berwick portals on the Yonge line (aka the Davisville Area Rehabilitation Project or DARP). The final design of what might be done here has not been settled, and the project has been pushed out to 2016 to avoid conflict with the Pan Am Games next year.
Presto Fare Card
The Presto fare card project will come into limited operation on the TTC this fall with the rollout of new streetcars. A schedule for the full implementation including the bus network is still being negotiated with Metrolinx.
The Metrolinx Board received its own report on the TTC Presto rollout on June 26. One new item this report shows is a plan to migrate to new fare gates in selected locations beginning with Spadina Station.
The “wave 1” rollout will include only the first four streetcar lines to receive new cars (Spadina, Bathurst, Harbourfront and Dundas) as well as a total of 26 subway stations (see map in the Metrolinx report).
The rollout will not begin until November 2014, and so Spadina’s new streetcars will operate with an interim form of fare collection yet to be announced by the TTC.
How Would the TTC Use $100 million?
At the March 2014 meeting, Commissioner Alan Heisey noted that the Toronto Port Authority had asked the federal government to provide $100m to fund access improvements to the Island Airport to support jet operation. By way of comparison, he asked (and moved a motion to this effect) what the TTC would do if it received $100m in new capital funding.
The staff report reviews the list of unfunded capital projects and flags the completion of McNicoll Garage as the top priority. This project was cut a few years ago when the TTC rolled back its Service Standards and, for a time, the total requirement for buses and the need for a new garage receded. Now, however, continued ridership growth and the absence of new rail lines to which load can be shifted brings Toronto to a position where expanding the bus fleet to support better service is difficult.
In a recent City TV news item featuring both Brad Ross and me, Ross is quite clear that the TTC service will get worse, that “we’re not delivering on what we have promised on service levels, and we have failed”.
This is only one example of the effect of the focus on the superficial, “good news” issues at the TTC and the absence of medium to long term strategic planning by the Commission and, through them, by City Council. While it is valid to challenge Queen’s Park to return to a level of funding commonly seen in the past and particularly to reinstate programs such as subsidies for bus purchases that were cancelled, the city needs to address two basic questions:
- What will we do with the transit system if there is little or no new money from Queen’s Park, and
- Is the ongoing dedication of funding both from the city and province to large-scale subway projects the best use of what monies are available?
Service Adjustments for the Eglinton Crosstown Project
This report lists a number of changes on various routes using the Eglinton corridor to compensate for construction delays with the Crosstown LRT work. This began with the tunnel boring machine (TBM) launch shaft construction east of Black Creek and the headwall construction work at various future stations, but now will expand to include the launch shaft east of Brentcliffe and the shafts needed for the TBMs to “hop over” the Spadina Subway at Eglinton West Station.
Although the cost of the extra service is absorbed as part of the capital budget for the LRT project, this still is a call on available buses for the TTC and is one more drain on the system’s ability to provide more service on other routes.
Early Subway Closing on Weekends For Maintenance?
In May, the TTC’s Audit Committee asked staff to report on the possibility of closing the subway early on summer weekends to provide an additional maintenance window. As the report back from staff points out, even though the rush hour tends to be early, especially on holiday weekends, there is very strong demand on the subway system on Friday evenings to the point that a bus shuttle replacing the subway would be impractical.
Mercifully, the identity of the originator of this request does not appear (yet) in Audit Committee minutes, but one must really ask who on the TTC Board is so out of touch with actual system use to be unaware of the very strong offpeak demand downtown.
Fortunately, feedback from businesses show that this scheme is impractical and it is unlikely to be implemented. The TTC will do riding counts to verify this.
Of course, this weekend is World Pride and the system may be rather busy — just one of the many demands for transit service that have nothing to do with conventional peak period commuting.
Free Wi-Fi on Surface Vehicles
In yet another example of misdirected focus, the Commission on a motion by Glenn De Baeremaeker, asked for a report on providing free Wi-Fi on all surface vehicles. Staff’s response is that this will not be practical until the rollout of a new automatic vehicle location system (AVL) to replace the existing “CIS” (the antique communication system now used).
The reason for this is that any new AVL will use wireless communication, and Wi-Fi service for riders would piggyback on this.
While this could make TTC service somewhat more attractive to riders with limited data plans for their devices, one wonders whether this is really a high priority for the TTC. It is one of those “the private sector will pay” schemes even though most instances of “free” Wi-Fi are usually considered as a cost of doing business where this is offered.
The Scarborough Subway: Status Update
The subway extension is a matter of debate in the mayoral election campaign and both the City and the TTC are hedging their bets on irrevocably committing to the subway, or the earlier LRT proposal in Scarborough. Preliminary work on staffing and some background engineering will occur in 2014, but public consultation will not get underway until 2015.
If the project does launch, this would not occur until 2016 for property acquisition and design, with actual construction running from 2018 through 2023. The TTC will review the condition of the Tunnel Boring Machines from the Spadina extension project to determine if they are suitable and can be refurbished for a Scarborough line.
The public consultation and overall project planning will be run through the City’s Planning Division so that it reflects not just the technical issues of subway design and construction, but also the planning requirements to ensure economic success of any new line.
One wild card here will be the Metrolinx review of “regional relief” strategies and Ontario’s commitment to a “Regional Express Rail” service on all GO corridors within 10 years. A related proposal is John Tory’s “Smart Track” scheme that would see frequent service on the Stouffville GO corridor which, if operated as part of the TTC network, would drain many of the potential riders of a new subway line who originate in northern Scarborough and Markham.
It is unclear whether these factors will be included in the public participation meetings in 2015, or if in the best TTC/Toronto tradition, we will conduct the whole exercise as if GO Transit does not exist. Much will depend on the political balance at Council after the fall elections, and on the continued support by Queen’s Park of both a Scarborough subway and their own “RER” system.
There is great irony in the competition between the RER plans and supporters of the Downtown Relief Line as to the need for both services and their high capital costs. Meanwhile, a comparable situation in Scarborough goes without mention.
Further information about the study of regional relief will appear in my next article covering the June 26 Metrolinx Board meeting.