TTC Board Meeting: July 23, 2014 (Updated)

The TTC board met on July 23 with some items of modest interest on the agenda. This is the second last meeting of the current board before the October municipal election sweeps away at least some of the current crew. Nothing of real substance will happen until the new Council takes office, and a new Mayor attempts to forge an agenda for transit that is more than a simplistic, pandering slogan.

Included in the agenda are:

  • The monthly CEO’s report;
  • A purchase amendment regarding the new TR trainsets to retrofit additional handholds and to provide speakers outside of cars so that riders can hear door closing announcements;
  • The Transit Project Assessment (TPA) for McNicoll Garage (a proposal already contested by the neighbourhood where it will be built);
  • The proposed sale of the Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) used for the Spadina Subway Extension;
  • A proposal from Commissioner Heisey that the City of Toronto seek a change in TTC and Metrolinx governance so that one member would be cross-appointed between each board; and
  • A request from newly minted Commissioner Pasternak for a report on his pet project, the Sheppard Subway extension west to Downsview.

Update: An additional item came in via correspondence: a request for an express bus route from Liberty Village to downtown.

Continue reading

An Interview With a New Minister / GO Isn’t a DRL Replacement

Two recent articles on other sites:

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca: It’s Time for Building, Not Planning

Torontoist’s Editor-in-Chief, Hamutal Dotan, and I sat down for an interview with Steven Del Duca, Ontario’s new Minister of Transportation, and found his one-note message wanting.

Toronto transit experts: ‘Surface subways’ only part of the solution

Why GO improvements don’t eliminate the need for a new subway into the core area.

July 19, 1974: The End of the Line on Rogers Road

July 19, 1974 was the last day for streetcar service on Rogers Road, and in honour of the anniversary, this post is a gallery of before and after pictures.

For an historical overview of the line, please see Sean Marshall’s article on

The Rogers Road car, the last remnant of the York Township Railways, was not saved with the rest of the streetcar system in 1972 because York (then a separate municipality) did not want to spend the extra money required to repave their street with streetcar tracks in it. Although service on Rogers once ran every 3 minutes at peak, by 1974 this had fallen to every 5 minutes as demand was siphoned off by north-south service on 29 Dufferin and 41 Keele feeding south to the Bloor subway.

During off-peak hours, the line was a 15-minute long shuttle from Oakwood Loop at St. Clair to Bicknell Loop just east of Weston Road, but during the peak, cars ran east via St. Clair to the Yonge Subway. The combined service of Rogers, Earlscourt and St. Clair cars between Oakwood and Yonge was considerably more frequent in 1974 than it is today.

After a period as a branch of 63 Ossington, the line was eventually converted to diesel operation and now operates as a separate route, 161 Rogers Rd.

Continue reading

The Mythology of “New” Federal Gas Tax Subsidies

Recently, Canada’s new Finance Minister rolled into town and visited TTC’s Hillcrest Yard for a celebration of the “new” gas tax revenue Toronto will see from Ottawa. Even Rob Ford was there, although he studiously avoided being photographed with the much-hated new streetcars his buddies, the feds, are helping to pay for.

TTC CEO Andy Byford gushed about all this new money and what a difference it would make to Toronto.

In a reply to a comment in another thread, I looked under the covers of the announcement and found it wanting. The issue is important enough that it merits a post of its own.

The Announcement

Ottawa has concluded a national agreement to which Ontario, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, and the City of Toronto are partners. This will extend the gas tax regime a further 10 years to 2024, with annual indexation by 2%.

The program is not just a transit subsidy scheme, but an infrastructure support program for a wide variety of projects.

The total pool of federal gas tax dollars is divided by population, and within Ontario there are three blocks of funding: one goes to the AMO for allocation to all municipalities, one goes to Queen’s Park for projects in areas that are not incorporated towns, etc., and one part goes to the City of Toronto.

At the beginning of 2014, Ontario’s population was 13.6-million, while Toronto’s was 2.8m. On a per capita basis (the allocation scheme for the funding) this will bring Toronto just under $800m over the next five years, less than $10m more per year that we have received in recent years.

We often hear about the deficit in funding TTC’s capital plans which stands at $2.7-billion as of the 2014 capital budget report. Turn to the second last page of that document, and you will see that the TTC already provides for $154m/year in federal subsidies out to 2023. In other words, the deficit is only $2.7b because this “new” subsidy was already counted back in November 2013. The hole is only slightly less daunting if we actually get $160m/year, but the extra won’t go very far.

Yes, it’s nice to have continued funding confirmed by Ottawa, but this is not a new spend for them, merely the continuation of an existing program. The TTC’s budget woes are just as bad this week as they were before July 11.

Broadview & Queen Reconstruction (Updated July 17, 2014)

On Monday, June 30, the TTC began the reconstruction of track at Broadview & Queen. This project is expected to last one month, although efforts will be made to reopen for Queen streetcar traffic by July 19.

As of July 4, the excavation work for the Queen Street legs of the intersection was complete and preparations for the foundation concrete layer were in progress. Excavation of the Broadview leg began this morning. Track panels and new tangent rail for the approaches are sit ready for installation just beyond the excavation area on all three legs.

July 17, 2014

The TTC has announced that streetcar service will resume through the intersection at about 3:00 pm on Saturday, July 19. 501 Queen and 504 King services will operate on their normal routes from that hour onward.

On Sunday, July 20, a separate set of diversions begins and the King car will only operate southbound on Broadview from Dundas to Queen. Service to Broadview Station will be provided by a shuttle bus.

On Monday, July 21, streetcar service returns to Kingston Road with the 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road Tripper lines resuming operation over their full routes.

Continue reading

The National Post Discovers “Streetcarnage” (Updated)

The National Post has two articles about the utter frustration of streetcar riders with what passes for service on the TTC:

Readers erupt with tales of anguish about riding TTC streetcars

Overcrowded streetcars, uninterested drivers part of the rolling horror show on Queen

Updated July 17, 2014 12:30 am: The National Post has published two additional articles. My comments are added at the end of this article.

Fare evasion and aging fleet large part of streetcar problem, TTC says

A TTC streetcar driver’s view on the Queen line chaos

These articles focus on the streetcar as a problem, but this is symptomatic of a much deeper malaise at the TTC: the refusal to acknowledge and publicly report on the crisis in the amount and quality of service actually provided on the street. This affects the entire surface system, not just the streetcars, but because there are so many more people trying to ride the streetcar lines, the effect is more concentrated. On top of everything else, the entire city is suffering through a huge number of concurrent construction projects.

For years, no, it’s now decades, the TTC has a stock response to complaints about streetcar service: we have no spare streetcars, and in any event they get stuck in traffic so we can’t do anything. For off-peak service, that excuse is pure crap because the number of vehicles is not the problem, only the will to staff at a sufficient level to actually operate them. Vehicle reliability has been falling over the years, and the ever-receding arrival date for new vehicles leaves Toronto facing two or more winters with most of the service provided by an aging fleet. It is unclear whether the TTC has stopped properly maintaining the fleet it has on the assumption that the worst of the cars will be retired soon, but the non-delivery of new cars will make a hash of any fleet plan now in place. The TTC has still not published an updated rollout plan for new cars (not to mention improved service) that reflects the reality of vehicle deliveries and availability.

On the bus fleet, things are not much better. Thanks to the combined efforts of Queen’s Park, Rob Ford, Karen Stintz and their cohorts, the bus fleet plan is in chaos. The first problem lies at Queen’s Park with the arbitrary changes to implementation dates for the LRT lines that would have replaced busy bus routes and reduced total requirements. Next up are the Ford/Stintz transit gong show with cutbacks to service standards and expansion plans for the fleet and garage space. Current TTC plans indicate there will be no relief for crowded bus passengers until — wait for it — 2019. Heads should roll for such outrageous “planning”, but instead we get platitudes about making more out of limited resources. That line may have played well to the neo-cons (or simply tight-ass tax cutters) now in office, but it was an irresponsible commitment to suggest that efficiencies could make up for inadequate funding especially with riding growth at 2-3% every year.

If there is an “efficiency problem”, it lies with line management and customer service. The problem of maintaining reliable headways (spaces between vehicles) stems from a foul brew of bad scheduling (inadequate time for some vehicles to complete their trips), operators who drive only vaguely on time and often close to the vehicle in front (a minority, but enough to cause problems), a laissez-faire attitude to traffic problems and transit priority by the city’s political elite, and an overriding emphasis on keeping operators close to their schedules to avoid punitive overtime costs.

Customer service falls apart with operators who, frustrated with an intolerable environment, either choose to “see no evil” when passengers misbehave, or to take out their anger on passengers who are just as ticked off with the TTC as the staff are. The TTC’s own performance measures aim for only two-thirds of surface service to be within three minutes of schedule, a target that is routinely broken on many, many routes. For years, the TTC has patted itself on the back for “hitting its target” when that target guarantees riders will encounter problems with their trips on a daily basis. (On the subway, the target is so ludicrously constructed that half of the peak service could be missing, but they would still hit 100%.)

And, as the Post notes, there is the ongoing “left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing” problem of keeping passengers accurately informed about service changes. Multiple notices, confusing notices, contradictory notices, are far too common.

Budget planning has to be mentioned too. On one hand, the service budget (planned number of vehicle/operator hours per year) allowed for modest growth overall. However, the amount of construction and resulting delay/diversion effects has chewed up so much unplanned-for time that service improvements are on hold until, probably, mid-October. When City Council says “you’re only getting X dollars of subsidy, make do”, the real effect on what people experience is neither explained nor understood.

Meanwhile, we have a former TTC Chair, Karen Stintz, more interested in blowing a so-called “surplus” from 2013 on a fare freeze in 2015 rather than addressing the real problem, the amount of service actually on the street. Fortunately, City Council spiked that ridiculous scheme, but the problem of TTC funding remains for the 2015 Council to sort out. Do we have tax revenue to support TTC operations? No, but we can levy a special tax to pay for the Scarborough subway. Such are Toronto’s priorities.

Do we have discussions about strategic planning and options for future budgets at the TTC? No. As we learned recently from a motion by one member, strategy is something the TTC Board doesn’t bother itself with. An attempt by now-Chair Maria Augimeri to bring forward a discussion on service options was spiked by the board’s Stintz faction lest it provide support for Olivia Chow’s campaign to improve bus service. When you freeze in the cold this winter, remember the faded blooms of the Stintz campaign.

Some folks, notably our Mayor, will delight in people slagging the streetcar system when the real problem lies with transit generally, not just the mode serving the densest part of the surface network. Toronto has big problems, but we prefer to talk about wasted spending as an excuse to make cuts to vital services, all in the name of “the taxpayer”. We prefer to use transit as a political soapbox, a way to show we care about people with fare freezes and future subway lines while we refuse to pay enough to operate the system we have today.

Carnage? Yes, but there is far more to this battle than atrocious service on the Queen car.

Update July 17, 2014:

In an astounding admission, the TTC has all but confirmed that although there are supposed to be fare inspectors working the Queen line which runs on a proof-of-payment (POP) basis. in fact these employees are responsible for security system wide and are rarely on Queen.

This is confirmed by comments from an anonymous operator working the route who hasn’t seen a fare inspection in ten years.

From my own experience, I vaguely remember a check well over a decade ago.

How many times has the TTC blamed its frequent riders who use passes for the drop in average fares when they don’t even bother to police their own POP route?

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, July 20, 2014

Most of the changes for the July-August schedule period are triggered by construction projects. The detailed list linked from this report now includes a chart showing the expected duration of all projects in progress.

The 172 Cherry bus is affected both by the seasonal service to Cherry Beach and by an extension to improve the connection with 72 Pape.  The Cherry buses will now operate east on Commissioners to Carlaw looping via north on Logan, east on Lake Shore and south on Carlaw.

The Cherry bus has also been operating over its “standard” route via Mill and Cherry Streets through the Distillery District since June 21, although this route is occasionally blocked by parked cars that still behave as if the roads are closed and have no transit service. Recently, the westbound service changed back to the diversion via Lake Shore and Parliament because Metrolinx construction at the rail corridor makes bi-directional operation through the Cherry Street underpass difficult.

Water main construction was planned for Broadview from Danforth northward, but this project was cancelled after the schedule changes for July-August were already in place. Bus routes operating from Broadview Station will have slightly widened headways to allow for construction delays, and streetcar service will be replaced with buses on Broadview.

  • 504 King cars will loop via Parliament, Dundas, Broadview and Queen.
  • 505 Dundas cars will loop via Parliament, Gerrard, Broadview and Dundas.
  • 504/505 Shuttle buses will loop via Queen, River and Dundas.

A concurrent project at Spadina & Dundas (described in another post) requires all 505 Dundas cars to divert both ways via McCaul, College and Bathurst. No additional running time has been provided in the schedule to accommodate this.

Construction work at Roncesvalles Carhouse requires the reassignment of some peak period runs to Russell Carhouse. On 512 St. Clair, cars will be stored at Exhibition Loop overnight, and service during some periods will be improved so that this storage is only required between 10pm and 10am. A 791 Roncesvalles Operator Shuttle will ferry operators to and from Exhibition Loop.

Articulated buses will be operated on the peak period express services on 53 Steeles East. Currently, one in three express trips operates east to Staines Road, but this will change to one in two trips. The combined service on the express branches will change from 4’45” to 6’00” in the AM peak, and from 5′ to 7′ in the PM peak. The local service to Markham Road does not change.


How Much Will $15-billion Buy Us? (Updated)

Updated July 7, 2014 at 9:10am: The table of project costs has been corrected to place some BRT project costs in the first wave, and to include their “next wave” spending that was omitted in error in the original version. Thanks to Divyesh Mistry for catching these errors.

Ontario’s budget will be re-introduced on July 14, and it is expected to include $15-billion for transit projects in the GTHA over the next ten years. What, exactly can we expect to see from this spending? Is there room for additional projects? Will projects once proposed by Queen’s Park or Metrolinx fall off of the table?

From the budget website’s description of the infrastructure plans:

Proceeds from the dedicated fund for the GTHA would be invested exclusively in public transit priorities that address congestion and improve mobility throughout the region. Proceeds would be used to build priority projects included in Metrolinx’s regional transportation plan, The Big Move, and for other potential projects that support economic development and improve mobility, such as the East Bayfront Light Rail Transit (LRT) project on Toronto’s waterfront. This would build on the first wave of projects, such as the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line and Union Pearson Express, and the Bloor-Danforth subway extension in Scarborough.

The government recognizes continued expansion towards two-way, all-day GO Transit rail service as a priority. GO Transit improvements on all corridors would include additional track, grade separations, improved signalling, station improvements and additional fleet, which are all building blocks towards two-way, all-day service. In addition, analysis is underway on a proposal to electrify the GO rail system to deliver service at intervals as frequent as 15 minutes.

The Big Move identifies additional GO service as critical to developing the regional rapid transit network, and all-day, two-way express rail service as part of the solution.

The Province has asked Metrolinx to begin work immediately to examine opportunities to move GO service towards a regional express rail, providing fast and frequent electrified service on all corridors at intervals as frequent as 15 minutes. This would represent a game-changer in how people move about the region, and enhance ridership and efficiency on GO Transit and other projects that connect to the network as well.

The Province will work with Metrolinx and municipalities on how best to prioritize transit investments through the use of rigorous business-case analyses. These analyses will help prioritize Next Wave projects that could be accommodated within the Province’s dedicated fund for the GTHA and provide the best value for Ontarians.

Beyond the existing GO network, priority projects within the GTHA would be drawn from the Next Wave of Metrolinx projects included in The Big Move.

Cost estimates for every project are not publicly available, but we can get a good sense of the financial situation by looking at the snapshots for major projects listed on the Metrolinx site.


We have heard many times how Ontario has committed $16b to transit for the GTHA, and the “First Wave” contains the projects that money will fund. Published project cost estimates total $15.172b of which $12.766b comes from Queen’s Park.

The most important point about this list is that over half of the money has not yet been spent, and some projects have not even gone beyond the stages of preliminary design and Transit Project Assessment.

That unspent amount represents future spending that must be funded from somewhere, but there has been no discussion of exactly where or how this will be done beyond an assumption that it will come from general revenues.

Notable by its absence from the list is Presto for which a cost estimate has not been published. This project came in for criticism by the Provincial Auditor in 2012.

When we come to the Next Wave, the total estimated cost is $22.6-billion, although two major projects – the Relief Line and the Richmond Hill extension – will at best be started, but certainly not completed during the 10-year window for the next $15b commitment.

The Next Wave includes some electrification projects, but certainly not the complete GO network, nor a system-wide rollout of 15-minute service, a scheme well beyond Metrolinx ambitions when the Next Wave was announced. Note how the budget language refers “expansion towards” and “building blocks” that will lead to service “as frequent as 15 minutes”. This is not the same as quarter-hourly service on all lines, all day.

Regardless of what we actually get, the current “commitment”, one that was discussed quite clearly at the recent Metrolinx Board meeting, was to provide just that: a full buildout of an electrified frequent service network within ten years. This will require substantial additions to spending plans, and will inevitably elbow aside other projects.

Queen’s Park and Metrolinx owe us, the voters and the would-be riders on their network, a clear statement of just what they hope to build with the funds earmarked for the GTHA.

I wrote to Metrolinx seeking clarification on some issues. Here are my questions and their replies:

1. Of the First Wave projects, is the $16b all money that is separate from whatever might come from the IS (or whatever equivalent might be in the budget)?

Yes, the $16 billion worth of current transit projects referenced in our communications is separate and apart from recent provincial announcements.

2. Can you reconcile the $14.7b number with the $16b overall claim for the first wave, notably the missing amount for Presto?

The $16 billion figure refers to an estimated investment in capital projects completed or underway since 2008. Projects included in the $16 billion figure are primarily construction projects with shovels in the ground and as such, PRESTO, Smart Commute and other non-construction programs were not included. While many of the 200 construction projects completed or underway are part of the $16 billion figure, our website only features fact sheets for major projects. The figure also includes many supporting GO Transit projects, such as platform extensions and station upgrades, which play a transformative role in forming a solid foundation upon which to expand GO service across the GTHA.

3. For the Next Wave projects, how much of the total spend is expected to be within the 10-year window of the budget’s $29b?

A significant portion of the anticipated provincial spending will be spent within the next 10 years. Environmental assessments, planning work and an examination of operational needs will more precisely determine the timing of cashflow. We will be reporting our anticipated timelines for new projects at our September board meeting.

4. For financial planning, is there any intent that Metrolinx would produce a project-level projection that will show capital requirements and the degree to which funding has been committed (and from what pool)?

This is part of our 10-year financial planning process, which represents confidential advice to the government and is not available to the public.

This statement confirms that the two pools of funding (first and next waves) are actually separate, and important distinction especially if future budgets attempt to pay for “first wave” work out of revenues nominally earmarked for the “next wave”. That next wave will include some money from the “outside of GTHA” pool of $13.9b (portions of the GO network beyond the Metrolinx planning area), but the lion’s share of that funding should go to other parts of Ontario.

In general, the budget page slips back and forth between projects that are in the first and next wave pools, and projects that have been independently funded such as the Waterloo and Ottawa LRTs and the provincial share of the Toronto streetcar project. Figuring out just how much is to be spent on transit, when and from which funding pool, can be quite a challenge.

The absence of a consolidated list even for Metrolinx – something they consider as confidential information for the government – is troubling. By contrast, the 10-year capital project list including annual cash flows and funding sources is part of the public record for the TTC and informs much debate about the budget shortfall and the growing backlog of work.

Missing from the proposed budget is any mention of the 25% municipal share in the “Investment Strategy” proposed by Metrolinx. Queen’s Park seems content to repeat over and over the support via gas tax revenue:

Ontario provides significant ongoing funding for municipal transit systems across the province by sharing two cents per litre of provincial gas tax revenues. Since 2004, the Province has committed more than $2.7 billion in gas tax funding. This program is now a guaranteed source of funding for eligible municipalities to improve and expand their transit services.

It is now 2014, and that $2.7b doesn’t amount to much on an annual basis spread over the entire province for a decade. Moreover, the revenue stream is not indexed, and that two cents is worth less and less each year with growth, if any, coming from increased consumption that is no longer a sure thing.

Transit infrastructure will be a centrepiece in the coming budget, one that will almost certainly pass the now-majority Liberal legislature. The level of support is worth celebrating, but the party should be restrained, not wild jubilation that Santa Claus has arrived with an overflowing bag of goodies.

$15-billion sounds like a big number, but it is only $1.5b per year over 10 years, still less than the $2b/year spend proposed in the original 2008 Big Move. Metrolinx always quotes projects for a base year with inflation to come, but it is not clear whether the budget will do the same. That $15b could be a hard number that will buy considerably less than the uninflated prices in the Metrolinx catalog.

Queen’s Park owes us many answers on transit funding and financing, not least of which is transparency in their plans rather than assertions of confidentiality.

Metrolinx Board Meeting June 26, 2014 (Corrected)

Correction July 1, 2014: In the original version of this article, I attributed a comment to Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard regarding the sharing of information between bidders on rapid transit projects, and expresssed my surprise that this did not match the process I was familiar with from my own public sector experience. In fact, the remark was with regard to sharing information about questions to Metrolinx from candidates in the municipal election.

The procurement process does include sharing of information via addenda to Requests for Information issued to all bidders as mentioned in the Rapid Transit Quarterly Report. I regret this error and frankly cannot understand how I scrambled two very different topics together.

However, the process for dealing with candidate questions at Metrolinx is completely different from that followed by the City of Toronto. Where Metrolinx preserves confidentiality about questions a campaign might ask, the City posts responses to any query online so that no candidate has the advantage of professional advice not available to others. The basic premise is that the staff works for Council, not for an individual member or candidate.

As a public agency, Metrolinx should be providing information to everyone. The discussion (which starts at about 21:10 of the meeting video) emphasizes that Metrolinx has no part in the election, and yet the confidentiality of information exchanges could offer an advantage to a campaign that is unknown to other candidates.

Original Article  from June 29, 2014:

The Metrolinx Board met on Thursday, June 26 in a quite celebratory air. With the provincial election out of the way and the return of a pro-transit Liberal majority to Queen’s Park, Metrolinx sees a rosy future for transit expansion. They wasted no time telling anyone who would listen about the great work now at hand.

Among the items of interest were reports on:

Another burning question about the recently announced funding is just how much money is on the table, especially how much is new money as opposed to funds earmarked for specific projects like RER or previously announced/expected for projects in the “Next Wave” of Metrolinx undertakings. It didn’t take the assembled media long to notice that the GO RER scheme would gobble up much of the $15b earmarked for transit in the GTHA. I will return to this in a separate article.

Continue reading