Updated August 19, 2014 at 10:50 pm: The TTC board unanimously adopted the proposals in this report with amendments. Some of these were intended to ensure clear understanding that approval was only in principle and subject to the review process in the 2015 budget.
In what proved quite a surprise to me, Chair Maria Augimeri moved a request for a set of reports related to service and fleet plans. The text of this came directly from a deputation on the CEO’s report which, at that point in the meeting, I had not actually presented because the Board took the agenda items out of sequence.
Here are my deputation texts, one on the “Opportunities” report itself, and one on the CEO’s report. The motion I proposed and which the Board adopted is in the second item below.
Although there were questions about details and about the manner in such a far-reaching set of proposals appeared on the Supplementary Agenda of the last Board Meeting before the election, there was broad support for the content.
Of the Mayoral candidates, even Mayor Ford has spoken favourably about many of the proposals with the exception of the widespread rollout of PoP (self service) fare collection and the move to time-based transfers/fare receipts.
Only John Tory has been strongly opposed choosing to take a hard-line tax-fighter stance that is hard to swallow in light of his own multi-billion dollar transit plans. Tory also does not understand that a staff report at the TTC only makes proposals for what should or might be done — it is up to Council to decide on priorities and funding mechanisms. Tory continues to disappoint as a candidate who has more bluster than substance, a trait he shares with the current Mayor.
Updated August 15, 2014 at 8:00 pm: Detailed comments about the proposal have been added.
The Supplementary Agenda for the TTC Board Meeting of August 19, 2014, contains a report that is breathtaking in its scope:
The report recommends a program to include the following initiatives:
a) implement all door boarding and proof-of-payment on all streetcar routes;
b) reduce wait times and crowding on bus and streetcar routes;
c) establish a city-wide network of Ten-Minute-or-Better bus and streetcar services;
d) expand the Express Route Network with new and improved express bus routes;
e) implement more transit priority measures;
f) add resources to improve service reliability and route performance;
g) operate all routes all day, every day across the city;
h) change the one-trip-per-fare to a two-hour-travel-privilege-per-fare;
i) expand the overnight bus and streetcar network.
[The agenda will also include presentations on the new streetcar implementation, and on “Customer Journey Times”, a new way to measure the usefulness of transit service to riders. These presentations are not yet online.]
At the heart of this report is a recognition that Toronto’s transit needs to improve not just with the construction of a few rapid transit lines serving limited parts of the city in the mid-to-distant future. What riders need and will use is a service overall that is more convenient and less crowded. This requires improvements to the bus and streetcar system that have been ignored for too long.
Many of the proposals here will be familiar from the Ridership Growth Strategy (RGS) and the Transit City Bus Plan (TCBP) of the Miller/Giambrone years, and it is no surprise that TTC management wants to return to an operating environment that welcomes passengers rather than treating them like so much baggage to be jammed in wherever it will fit.
This improvement takes several forms:
Scheduling service for lower crowding
This was a feature of RGS although it had a notable exception when it came to peak streetcar service because already the standard line was “we have no more streetcars”.
Reduced crowding isn’t simply a matter of giving folks more elbow room, but of reducing the situations where passengers cannot move around especially at stops where it may take ages to get one or two riders out the door, and one or two in to replace them. Statistics that measure “efficiency” by packing density, but don’t consider the wasted time of the operator or the vehicle, are self-defeating.
All-door-loading and Proof of Payment (POP) fare collection will also improve space usage in vehicles, at least on those routes where the practice is not already common. Many operators already load through the rear doors during peak periods if only to get people into their buses and streetcars.
Service scheduling and management are also important. If buses and streetcars cannot achieve their scheduled trip times, they will always need to be short-turned. However, even worse are the convoys of vehicles that form either because short-turns are not managed properly to fill gaps, or because vehicles travel across the city in packs (some originating at terminals) with little evident attempt to space out service and even the load among vehicles. A low “average” load can represent simply a pack of buses with a few stuffed full and the rest over half-empty because everyone tries to get on the first vehicle.
Evening out the service will no only make better use of its capacity, it will reduce the frustration riders feel when they peer into the mist (or into a NextBus display) and find there is no bus or streetcar nearby.
Improving service frequency and reducing trip times
Aside from the changes that more generous loading standards will bring, the TTC would establish a core network with various classes of improved service.
At its most basic, this network would operate at least every 10 minutes, all day. Riders would know that certain routes could always be guaranteed to show up fairly soon, even if they have just missed their bus or streetcar. Actually implementing this is less costly than it may seem because many routes already fit the pattern during most or all of their operating periods.
The proposed map has changed somewhat from the TCBP in that it includes some routes whose branches might operate on headways wider than 10 minutes, but the trunk of the route has 10-or-better. Also, the streetcar service on Lake Shore Blvd in Etobicoke, omitted because it was not a bus route, is on the map.
(“All Day”, by the way, means from roughly the start of subway service in the morning until at least 1:00 am the following day.)
For the network as a whole, all-day service would be provided to many locations where it now disappears during some off-peak periods. This recognizes that “access to transit” requires that it be available for both the “to” and “from” trips, and that a superficially dense transit network is meaningless if half of the service vanishes at off-hours.
Two changes are proposed for the express bus network.
First, there would be more routes with express operations, and more routes that already have peak express service would see off-peak express buses as well.
Second, the 14x Downtown Express routes would have improved service and would convert to a regular fare rather than the supplement they now charge.
Finally, the Blue Night network would be expanded to reflect the growing demand for late night service and to fill in some gaps in the current network.
The TTC makes limited use of time-based fares, in effect making a transfer a pass good for two hours, but they now propose making this the standard system-wide. This will accomplish several things in one move:
- All fares, be they monthly passes or single cash payments, will buy unlimited travel for some period of time without regard for the niceties of rules about transfers, stopovers, and riders who give up and walk only to be overtaken by a vehicle.
- Riders whose travel requires multiple short trips will no longer be penalized compared with long-haul commuters who get the same amount of travel for one fare.
- There will be no question of whether a “transfer” is valid as this will depend only on the time “stamped” on it either in ink (for a hard copy fare receipt) or in their fare card.
- The Presto system will not have to “learn” about transfer rules and its implementation as a time-based scheme will be greatly simplified.
- When integrated regional fares arrive, the “two hour fare” can be valid across boundaries.
Improved Operations in Traffic
Two changes are proposed to improve transit vehicle flow:
- Additional Transit Signal Priority (TSP) with the rate of installation being doubled from the present 40 sites per year to 80.
- Provision of “queue jump lanes” at busy intersections where right turning traffic can interfere with bus movements.
TSP has been around on some routes, notably the streetcars, for many years, although the degree to which is kept in working order is open to question. Two important questions need to be asked about “priority”.
- Should transit get priority even at intersections where there is a strong demand in the cross-direction and every available second of green time needs to be available to any traffic that can use it? Nearside stops can actually waste green time by holding traffic while a transit vehicle serves the stop.
- Should TSP be designed not just for “standard” operations, but have support for unusual conditions such as giving left turn priority to diversions and short-turns, not just at a few locations where left turn movements are scheduled?
Queue jump lanes have been on the TTC’s wish list for years. They are specific to bus routes, and can only be implemented where there is space to widen the approach to an intersection. This layout may not fit well with others who design for cars, cyclists or pedestrians. A related issue is that these lanes require dedicated space 7×24 even though the problem they address may only exist for a few peak hours.
The Need for More Vehicles
Some of the proposed changes do not require any additional peak vehicles, but a few do, and this brings us to a debate about how the TTC should address growing peak demand in the short term, even without any new service policies.
On the bus fleet, the report notes that not only are more buses required, but also the new McNicoll Garage where they can be stored and serviced. To its credit, the report does acknowledge that a short-term alternative might be possible:
“Many of the initiatives could not be implemented until the TTC buys more buses and streetcars, and has the facilities to house and maintain them. Alternatively, shorter term and off-peak improvements could be made through leased maintenance and storage facilities. Immediate approval of these initiatives by Council would allow the TTC to proceed to procure and construct these prerequisites on a fast-track basis.” [Page 3]
It is unclear what the need for more storage has to do with off-peak service, but there is certainly the question of leasing space for some short-term overflow pending the availability of McNicoll Garage. However, the TTC seems to be double-counting that garage here both for policy-based service improvements and for McNicoll’s original intent, the ability to expand the fleet for additional demand.
What is missing from the proposal is an integrated view of requirements both due to “normal” transit growth, and the additional needs brought on by the new policies (including any induced peak ridership). In other words, is McNicoll Garage enough, or should the TTC be planning for a second new garage? How do future rapid transit lines (whatever their technology) affect long-term planning?
Similarly, some peak period streetcar improvements are said to require some of the 60 new streetcars proposed, but not yet funded in the “below the line” Capital Budget. The real issue for the TTC, short term, should be how long it will keep its CLRV fleet in operation in parallel with the Flexities to supplement service while the Flexity Fleet builds up and represents a real net addition to fleet capacity, not simply a trade-in of old vehicles for new.
There is no mention of the additional vehicles that will be required for the Waterfront services should construction of the eastern line be advanced.
The Continuing Need for Standards
The report proposes that bus routes be scheduled to be less crowded and presumes that they will continue to have some level of productivity. What is missing is any cutoff line by which new services such as express buses would be compared to the regular service. Does The Beach, for example, get a regular fare express bus just because the route is already in place? How many parts of the city should get parallel express services while others must make do with their “ordinary” bus routes?
If new buses are to be ordered and garages built to house them, should this capital cost go toward more “regular” service, or should it be concentrated on express routes to downtown? How will the TTC decide to allocate new vehicles and operators?
This report is a long-overdue overview of what Toronto’s transit system could be, advocacy for the riders who are here today and may be attracted in the near future rather than being driven away with indifferent service and calls for lower costs and “efficiency”. There are details to be debated and priorities to be set, but the basic idea is sound:
Treat the transit network as something that needs system-wide improvements, not a quick fix here and there where residents can get politicians to take an interest.
Toronto is in the midst of an election campaign where candidates are preoccupied by drawing rapid transit lines on maps. For most candidates, the surface system simply does not exist even though without it, most riders would never reach the subway lines some are so eager to build. Surface transit has been strangled by an administration that values tax cuts over the quality of service and clearly feels that transit users are a coddled, oversubsidized bunch.
When this report comes to the TTC Board for debate, there will inevitably be claims that this is a policy for candidate X or a repudiation of candidate Y. There may even be some factional jousting to defer this report so that it does not officially become part of the record with a TTC recommendation attached.
That would show just how little some politicians care about transit riders.
This proposal is a plan to improve transit for everyone, and it should not be claimed as any candidate’s exclusive property even though aspects certainly overlap elements of some platforms. Transit is too important an issue for good ideas to be held hostage to party colours, for a “red” idea to be dismissed out of hand by “blue” supporters.
Toronto deserves a Council debate that will address head on the basic question “Where is my bus” with an answer that does not involve yet more doodling on the rapid transit map of decades to come.