Updated August 8, 2014 at 6:40 am: According to an article in today’s Toronto Star, TTC CEO Andy Byford is advocating a move to Proof-of-Payment (POP) fare collection on all streetcar routes effective January 1, 2015. He will also seek funding for service improvements including a return to the 2012 crowding standards, although this will only be applicable for off-peak service thanks to the shortage of vehicles.
Updated August 7, 2014 at 4:20 pm: The City’s Planning & Growth Management Committee has voted to defer the McNicoll Garage issue until 2015. More political point scoring by the Ford/Stintz faction in their waning hours.
Updated August 7, 2014 at 7:50 am: Information has been added about the bus and streetcar fleet sizes in 1990 before the recession that led to widespread service cuts. Service in 1990 was better on the streetcar network than it is today, and the bus fleet is barely back to 1990 levels in terms of scheduled capacity across the system.
Comments about system capacity that were originally in the post about service changes for August 31, 2014 will be moved to this thread.
Transit is “The Better Way”, or so we have been told by the politicians responsible for managing our transportation system. Road building simply won’t work — there is no room for more cars in many locations even if we could build more expressways — and transit is the answer.
Sounds great! Transit advocates like me should be cheering. With the election of those champions of infrastructure spending, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, to Queen’s Park and the imminent demise of the Escalade-loving Brothers Ford at City Hall, transit’s future should be assured.
If only it were that simple.
Toronto has not opened a new rapid transit line since the Sheppard shuttle from Yonge to Don Mills in 2002, and even that did little for the network as a whole, especially for the critical links into the core area where capacity is at a premium.
Our next line, the Spadina Extension to Vaughan, will open in late 2016 if you believe the TTC’s website, or more likely early 2017. “At this time, the in-service date remains the fall of 2016 although the project is facing a serious scheduling challenge,” according to the July 2014 CEO’s Report.
The subway has a reasonably new fleet with brand new Toronto Rocket (“TR”) trains plying the Yonge line, and on Bloor a fleet of “T-1” trains built between 1995 and 2001.
Fleet size isn’t an issue. The TTC will have a surplus of TRs for the foreseeable future because they have ordered 10 extra trains for the Spadina extension, and a further 10 trains for service improvements. Meanwhile, the T-1 fleet is larger than the Bloor and Sheppard subways need between them because original fleet plans assumed that some of these trains would stay on the Yonge line. Now the TTC is scrambling to find locations to store all of the T-1 trains.
The problem for both subway routes is that there is only room for so many trains on the track thanks to a combination of the signal system and the terminal geometry. Headways (the space between trains) lower than the now-scheduled 140 seconds are possible, but challenging.
The signals keep trains from coming too close together. At busy stations like Bloor-Yonge with long stops for boarding, the next train can be kept waiting some distance from the station until its leader not only departs but runs far enough down the track for a clear signal to be given to occupy the platform.
At terminals, there are basic operating limits — how fast a train can move through switches without throwing passengers onto the floor, how long it takes a 6-car train to drive through and completely clear the crossover so that another movement can occur, how quickly the next train can be ready to move off. A 120 second headway is theoretically possible, but difficult to achieve, and even at 130 seconds there can be congestion with the slightest delay.
(A separate problem familiar to many riders is the long queues of trains stretching back from terminals especially at the end of peak periods. This is caused by trains arriving at the terminal faster than they leave, a side effect of the scheduled transition to off-peak service and an indication that, for that time period at least, there are too many trains trying to use a limited amount of track time.)
The TTC’s solution, touted for years, has been to convert to Automatic Train Control with a computer-based signal system that will allow trains to safely operate closer together on the mainline, and which could reduce terminal times. This system will not be in use on the Yonge line until 2019, and it is unclear when it might appear on Bloor-Danforth because this will also involve the purchase of a completely new fleet. (The T-1 trains are not ATC-capable at reasonable cost, and the older they get, the lest cost-effective an upgrade program becomes for their remaining lives.)
Until ATC is switched on, the TTC’s ability to run trains closer together will be limited, and with this, their ability to add capacity to the subway system where it is really needed.
This capacity problem was recognized in the late 1980s when TTC ridership was booming and the Yonge line was packed to the doors. Variations on what we now call the “Downtown Relief Line” were proposed to increase capacity into the core area, but this line was traded away in a political deal for the Sheppard Subway. The capacity crunch was effectively wiped away by the recession of the 1990s when the TTC system lost 20% of its ridership falling from 450m to 360m annual rides. Toronto passed the 450m mark long ago and the TTC projects 537m rides for 2014.
Without question, some additional capacity is possible on the proposed GO Transit “RER” network provided that GO becomes truly an urban operator with convenient stations well connected to feeder transit routes and with attractive fares for urban travel. If they persist with a model focussed on 905-based commuters, GO’s contribution to “relief” will at best be a lessening of demand that might otherwise feed into outer parts of the subway network.
Meanwhile, Councillors argue about more suburban subway lines and decry the need for additional capacity in the core area.
The Streetcar Network
For many years, the streetcar network languished both because it was seen as something for “downtown”, and because the population of areas it served was stagnant. The last new streetcar to roll onto Toronto streets dates from 1989, and the first of the “CLRVs” (Canadian Light Rail Vehicles) will hit its 40th birthday in 2017. New Flexities will replace the aging fleet, but not immediately as production deliveries only just began (this for an order placed before Rob Ford was Mayor) and they are temporarily halted by a strike at Bombardier.
Toronto last added a new streetcar route to its network in 1997, the 510 Spadina line (although there was a small connection on Queens Quay from Spadina to Bathurst that brought 509 Harbourfront CNE extension into existence in 2000). These additions were possible only because service cuts earlier in the decade had freed up cars from other lines.
In 1990, total peak streetcar service required 222 vehicles including some PCCs that were still in use. This did not include the Spadina route which was still operated with buses. No streetcar route has as many peak vehicles assigned today as in 1990, nearly a quarter-century ago.
By November 1997, the AM peak scheduled service required 178 cars (plus spares) out of a fleet of 252. In January 2014, the peak requirement had grown to 202 cars (out of 251) from an aging and less-reliable fleet. This number will rise slightly when track on Spadina south of King and on Queens Quay comes back into operation this fall, the first time in some years that the entire streetcar system will be served, on paper at least, with streetcars.
To the degree that service was added between 1997 and 2014, many of the peak scheduled cars are “trippers” that go out for a specific journey, possibly not even a round trip, to cover demand on the busiest part of various routes. Such runs may use the less-reliable members of the fleet (or not go out at all) so that some work can be had from cars that might not be trusted for a full day’s operation.
Demand has grown on the streetcar system over two decades, especially on routes like King where there are whole new neighbourhoods that did not exist in 1997 with riders eager to travel by TTC to downtown, if only they could board the service.
Current plans call for the replacement of the CLRV/ALRV fleet with the new Flexities, but the TTC wishes to dispose of its least reliable cars (the ALRVs) as quickly as possible. This will require some juggling of the remaining CLRV fleet to replace lost ALRV capacity on 501 Queen and 504 King. The big problem, however, is that it will be several years before the growing Flexity fleet actually provides more capacity than the cars it replaces, and some routes will not see meaningful improvement until at least 2017.
The TTC has proposed a 60-car add-on to the current 204 Flexity order, but this is a “below the line” capital project with no funding. In a Rob Ford world, we will be lucky to see even the first 204, never mind a supplementary order.
Some streetcar capacity improvement will be possible through a combination of better line management especially avoidance of bunching which wastes time at stops and operates many cars well below capacity. More and better transit signal priority is also needed. A big improvement can come with all-door loading on the new streetcars, but this will benefit only the routes where they operate, and much will depend on the capacity and reliability of service provided.
“It will all be better with the new cars” is absolutely no excuse for failure to improve what we have today.
The Bus Network
The TTC faces a major problem with its bus network. Thanks to service cuts implemented by the Ford/Stintz regime, plus the cancellation of plans for more buses and a new garage, and compounded by reliability problems with the Hybrid bus fleet, the TTC has hit a wall on improving bus service.
First, it is important to understand the size and makeup of the fleet, and the capacity of service it can provide. Here is a table and a chart showing the makeup of the AM peak scheduled service from 2005 to 2014, and the relative capacity of those fleets.
The table shows the makeup of the scheduled bus service primarily from 2005-2014 with 1990 and 19977 as references back to the pre-accessible fleet.
In 1990, the fleet included 90 Orion III articulated buses, a number that had dwindled by 1997 thanks to poor manufacturing quality. I have not broken them out in the table because the TTC service summaries do not give a specific number in service on routes with mixed artic and standard bus operations. The striking comparison is that the peak scheduled vehicle count in 1990 was not reached again until 2014. Only the Wilson-to-Downsview and Sheppard subway extensions did not exist in 1990, and the Spadina bus had not yet been converted to streetcars.
The scheduled requirement has grown from 1216 buses in November 1997 to 1563 in March 2014, but this growth in vehicle count masks a change in vehicle capacity. Even without the more generous provisions of the Ridership Growth Strategy, the capacity of a bus for planning purposes is 10% lower with low-floor vehicles than with high-floor buses.
This is reflected in the lower half of the table where the raw vehicle counts are restated as “equivalent to 12m low floor buses”. The 1216 high-floors of 1997 equate to 1338 low floor buses, and so about one third of the growth in scheduled requirements comes from the reduced capacity of the low floor buses. The remainder is real growth. (For the purpose of this table, the articulated buses are counted as 1.5 standard low floor buses.)
Since 2005, the number of vehicles on the road during the peak period has grown by almost 20%, but their capacity is up only about 13%. The chart shows this in graphic format. Note the drops in 2011 and 2012 corresponding to the Ford-Stintz cutbacks.
Improvements in 2013 and 2014 came from a few sources:
- The budget process was less draconian and effectively gave the TTC a boost in subsidies. The amount was “flat lined” to previous years, but because the TTC had a “surplus” in 2012 and in 2013, getting the same subsidy (including the unspent surpluses) made for a real increase in funding relative to spending.
- Buses that had been ordered before Rob Ford became mayor continued to be delivered through 2012. A future order was a victim of the service cuts along with the McNicoll Garage that would have housed the vehicles. All orders now in the pipeline are simply to replace vehicles that will retire soon.
- The older Orion V and Nova buses have remained in service longer than planned to keep the total fleet numbers up. This has been a particular challenge in 2014 when the amount of City and Metrolinx construction work has required about double the number of “construction extras” on various routes. Contrary to popular belief, this is not all on the streetcar system.
The TTC has already stated that its spare ratio — the proportion of the fleet in excess of scheduled requirements — is lower than it should be, and they plan to reduce service requirements just to add to their maintenance pool. Some services that would normally be restored with the fall schedules — standby relief buses and school trippers — have been omitted because of a bus shortage. Other peak service improvements are on hold for the same reason.
McNicoll Garage was originally planned almost a decade ago, but it was removed from the TTC’s capital planning when Transit City was announced. The network of suburban LRT lines would so reduce the bus requirements that another garage was not needed. Rob Ford (aided and abetted by Dalton McGuinty and an unduly pliant City Council) cancelled Transit City, but also slashed fleet requirements through changes to the Service Standards. His hand-picked TTC Chair, Karen Stintz, went along with this “for the greater good” of the transit system.
We now see where that “greater good” has brought us.
The TTC has no net-new buses in the pipeline, nor any garage to store and maintain them even if they were ordered yesterday. Reliability of the current fleet is challenging, and yet the TTC’s focus has been on “good news” stories about cleaner subway stations, not about problems with the bus fleet.
The short-term bridge provided by a subsidy flat-line-that-wasn’t depends on a constant surplus, and the TTC is unlikely to show one for 2014. Older vehicles have been kept in service, but there is a limitation to how much of this is possible.
The hybrids are a special problem because their power systems have not performed as well or as reliably as originally hoped. In its original 2014 capital budget, TTC management proposed changing the target life of a bus to 12 from 18 years. This would have both accelerated the retirement of the hybrids, but also produced a bulge in capital spending that the city did not want to fund. The target life remains 18 years, but this issue does not go away just because the bean counters don’t like the look of the numbers.
Reporting on System Capacity and Reliability
Once upon a time, and a very long time ago it was, the TTC actually published information about the reliability of its fleet. This disappeared in a simplification of what we now call the CEO’s report during an era when the Commissioners did not want to trouble their little heads with a lot of operating details, and the reports have never returned.
Even worse, there is no regular report showing the degree to which the published service actually operates, the latent demand for service that may go unmet, or a measure of service quality that does not perpetuate the TTC’s long-standing mythology that being within 3 minutes of schedule, 2/3 of the time, is good enough. What is reported is done at far too summary a level, too many averages over time and space with no sense of what service is really like on the street for a would-be rider.
The emerging problem with capacity on all of Toronto’s transit modes, and hence on all of its network, is not a state secret, and it is the sort of information that a Commission, not to mention its management, who were doing their job should routinely have available for debate and for policy direction.
For much of the current Council term, however, we have a Commission that wants to make the mayor’s threadbare tax-cutting policies look good, a Commission that cares about style — how clean are the buses — but not whether there are enough of them on the street or whether the service is well managed. The TTC is a stepping stone to higher office, as well as a place where Rob Ford could try to get even with the lefty, pro-transit policies of his predecessor. If the riders were screwed in the process, that really didn’t matter.
The problem here is a simple one: we claim that we must make transit better because it is the only viable alternative to increased use of private automobiles. However, the in-the-trenches policy is to squeeze transit as hard as possible because there must be “waste” and “gravy” just sitting there for the taking.
Buy more buses? Hell no! Be more “productive” with the ones we already own. Build more subway capacity downtown? Why would we do such a thing when there are suburbs waiting to be filled with half-empty subway lines? And streetcars? Let’s not even go there.
We have a Commission that does not want to know how bad its own system is or what the options might be to improve it, and a management that seems unwilling to tell them just how deep is the hole in which the transit system now finds itself. If there is a plan for how Toronto will get from 2014 to the balmy days of 2019 when finally we might see greater capacity on the system, it hasn’t been published or even hinted at by anyone at the TTC.
As for Queen’s Park, they have grand dreams of regional transit, but no money for local system improvements. That’s the city’s job, they say, and after all we give you all that gas tax revenue. The fact that this is a pittance compared with former provincial subsidies is lost on those who only want to tell us how much they will spend on new transit construction.
At Council, the word has been cut, cut, cut. The TTC has a huge unmet need for capital funding, and a definite need for better operating subsidies. The idea that somehow the system can be so efficient that every new rider travels without a net loss is a pipedream, especially when so many new riders are sought in areas where short, inexpensive trips are far from the norm. To get the excellent transit we claim we want to have in our world-class city, we need to pay for it.
What does Council have money for? Over $1-billion for a subway line in Scarborough to be raised through a new tax. Meanwhile, Toronto saves tens of millions by cutting service, and a few hundred millions by putting off vehicle purchases.
We bought the myth that transit spending could be cut, and we weren’t watching when critical decisions traded away the capacity for future growth.
Any new mayor, any new TTC Commissioner, should demand full information from TTC management about the state of the system and the options for making improvements now. The request should be without condition, no “can you get by with $100m”, but an open ended request for honest, forthright advice and policies that can rebuild the transit system.
Any new mayor, any new Council, should be prepared to dig deep to properly fund the restoration and improvement of the TTC network — all of it, not just a handful of pet subway lines whose primary function is to get votes, not to carry riders.
Get ready for lots of crowded riding because there is little Toronto can do to avoid it.