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.