TTC capital spending plans suffer from a basic problem: political support for funding of routine maintenance that doesn’t have ribbon-cutting, photo-ops and election prospects has been falling for years. During the same period, demand for transit service, not just for shiny new lines, but for seats on buses, streetcars and subways, has been climbing fast. Two to three percent a year might not seem like much, but when many services see no improvement, or even deliberate cutbacks, things get tight.
This is not news. The shortfall in funding the TTC’s ten-year capital plan was foreseen some years ago, and it appears regularly as part of the City of Toronto’s budgetary handwringing about the growing backlog of work. There is always hope that a new formula, a more enlightened attitude at Queen’s Park or Ottawa, will bring new money to transit and solve this problem once and for all. Meanwhile, the shortfall is, to the degree possible, pushed off into later years of the plan so that the TTC can do the maintenance and rebuilding it needs.
That, at least, was the idea a few years ago, but those “tomorrows” are now “todays” and things have not changed much.
The first problem is that the only consistent revenue stream Toronto now receives from other governments is a share of gas tax, and this is a fixed amount, one that could decline due to population shifts and reduced use of fuel. Over the ten years 2015-2024, no increase in this tax stream is included in the TTC’s budget with the obvious result that gas tax as a portion of transit spending will continue to fall in purchasing power.
The second problem is an ideological standoff over revenue tools. “Give us more money” says Toronto, while Queen’s Park replies “We gave you revenue tools, use them”. This is the same Queen’s Park that is scared to death of using its own taxing powers to fund better regional transportation systems. All governments tell fairy tales about the magic of Public-Private-Partnerships and Tax Increment Financing, schemes designed to hide the fact that costs we should pay today would be financed by borrowing against the future, but in a way that doesn’t use that dirty word “debt”.
This is not a happy situation, but the debate becomes more complex when we actually look at those unmet financing needs of the next decade and beyond. Are all of the projects now on the books reasonable? What is missing? Would additional funding, if it were available, be spent wisely?
The “Below The Line” Projects
About $2.3-billion worth of capital spending has been excluded from the current capital plan because there is no funding identified that would pay for these projects. The “line” is the cutoff point where the City’s capital planning has nothing left to pay for the TTC’s capital plan.
[Source: City Budget Analyst Notes for the TTC Capital Budget and Plan 2015-2024, p. 26]
The majority of items deferred in this manner are vehicle purchases:
- 372 subway cars to replace the fleets now used on the Bloor-Danforth and Sheppard subways. These are the T1 cars that were delivered between 1995 and 2001, a fleet that is actually larger than needed today for those two routes because, originally, some of the T1s were to remain on the Yonge line. The plan to replace them prematurely relates to conversion of the BD subway to automated operation, a feature that would be prohibitively expense to retrofit on the T1 fleet late in its life. A related question is the fleet plan for the Scarborough Subway and the number of cars it will actually require, net above the current fleet.
- 201 Wheel-Trans Buses were scheduled for replacement in the next few years, but instead they will have a major overhaul and be kept in service with replacement coming later in the plan. The short term funding “above the line” that was to fund the new buses has been transferred to the accessibility program for station reconstruction projects.
- 99 buses for “Customer Service Initiatives” were scheduled for delivery beginning in 2019. Until the 50 vehicles announced for purchase in 2015 came along, these were the only net net buses the TTC planned to acquire with all other purchases going to replace vehicles due for retirement. Yes, you read that correctly, the TTC had no plans to expand its bus fleet for another four years in the face of ongoing growth in demand. A related problem is the construction of a new garage (or two) to hold the buses Toronto actually needs. All of this has been put in limbo because the Ford administration did not want to spend money on transit expansion, at least for surface routes.
- 60 new LRVs for growth would be an add-on the the current 204-car order which is itself badly overdue from Bombardier. Between the rising demand and population density on streetcar routes, and the possibility of new streetcar services in the waterfront, the fleet must grow. Leslie Barns is already designed with enough storage so that it plus the two existing carhouses can handle a fleet of 264 vehicles. A decision on actually ordering the 60 cars is needed fairly soon, and the $52.7-million shown in 2015 for this project would be the down payment if it were approved this year to lock in production capacity at Bombardier.
- The Bus Heavy Rebuild Program overhauls buses part way through their 18-year lives so that they will actually stay on the road that long. Timing and spending are affected by the fleet demographics and the condition of each generation of buses as it comes due for rebuilding. Without this work, buses now in the fleet will not last their planned lives.
- The Easier Access Program installs elevators in subway stations. As noted above, it has been funded in the short term by transferring money from the Wheel-Trans bus purchase, but the latter part of the project is still unfunded.
- The Train Door Monitoring System will provide subway drivers with a better view of the train exterior at platforms. This is part of the ongoing plan to move to one person crews.
- The Fire Ventilation Upgrade rebuilds and installs equipment at stations that will allow better control of smoke in the event of a fire. The project has been on the books for years after the existing systems were found to be inadequate, but the work tends to be deferred because it is complex and expensive. In some cases, stations undergoing major retrofits for other reasons such as second exits and elevators receive their fire upgrade at the same time to consolidate the work.
- Capacity to Spend Opportunities is a catch-all that is as much about accounting sleight-of-hand as it is a real saving in the budget. The TTC tends to underspend its capital program either because projects take longer than expected, or because some parts are deferred. One example is that some streetcar track replacement projects usually are rescheduled because of conflicts with other activities. The City arbitrarily lops off money in several years of the plan, but this tactic only works if, in fact, the projects would never actually be undertaken. What results is an accumulating backlog in the State of Good Repair (SOGR) reported elsewhere in the budget. The work and the funding is needed eventually, but through this trickery, the funding needed for it vanishes from the books.
As if the “official” shortfall and SOGR backlog were not bad enough, there is another class of projects that don’t even get into the below-the-line list. This has the convenient effect of keeping them off the books so that the shortfall looks smaller than it really is, but it also hides some projects from view that deserve full discussion.
[Source: City Budget Analyst Notes for the TTC Capital Budget and Plan 2015-2024, p. 31]
This list raises serious questions about priorities for future capital spending and whether, in fact, these projects are appropriate as the next calls on available funding should it become available.
- Fire Ventillation Upgrades were described above. This line covers work that is beyond the current budget window.
- Yonge-Bloor Capacity Improvements is a project dating from an era when the TTC planned to handle all growth in travel to downtown through its major interchange with extremely frequent subway service, and no relief capacity via another subway route or GO Transit.
- Platform Edge Doors are related to the scheme for much increased line capacity on BD and YUS. This is a further $1.163-billion related substantially to a capacity provision that these lines may never require.
- Plans for handling regional demand growth have been changing, and yet these projects stay on the books. This shows the kind of expense Toronto will face (not to mention the upheaval of adding to a complex station while it remains in operation) if relief capacity is not provided. Equally, these are potentially avoidable costs — the business as usual option — that could be offset in a financial comparison of relief options.
- Notable by their absence from plans for much-increased subway service is any provision for the extra trains this would require or the storage yard(s) needed to hold them.
- The Bremner Streetcar is a portion of the proposed Western Waterfront LRT which would branch off from an expanded Union Station Loop through the basement of the Air Canada Centre and emerge onto Bremner itself west of York Street. The whole scheme is rather dubious considering other uses now being made of Bremner Blvd. and questions about how the line would thread its way past the Exhibition Grounds, through South Parkdale and eventually to The Queensway. The money could not possibly pay for this route. It is worth noting that the Waterfront East route is not even listed here even though the need for it is more pressing.
- The Station Modernization Program for University Station Renaissance is related to the beautification of the remaining stations on the University Line (Museum was the only one actually done, and even its design was not fully implemented). Other target stations include St. Patrick (Art Gallery) and Osgoode (Opera). It is unclear just how this would be funded, or why, among many competing demands for station renewal, these should still be tagged as an individual project.
- Redundant Elevators is a recent addition to this list, but it is unclear what, exactly, is intended given the limited spaces available to add elevators to stations like Bloor-Yonge, St. George and Union.
There are no doubt additional projects (a second new bus garage comes to mind) that should be in a list somewhere, but are nowhere to be found. Coupled with the lack of planning for an increased bus fleet, this can leave Toronto unprepared for future growth in transit demand.
While the politicians and the planners have busied themselves with drawing fantasy transit maps and holding photo-ops at every opportunity, the capital plans just to keep the TTC running have languished. In the short term, the new Mayor Tory at least understands that transit systems don’t work if they have inadequate service, but this philosophy is yet to be manifest in the capital plans.
For 2015, that won’t matter much because short term funding is covered. However, a failure to address medium term problems and gaps in the capital plan will further strangle the growth of transit service. A thorough review of TTC capital planning with realistic goals and a full accounting of financial needs is essential before Toronto faces its 2016 budget and beyond.
I think this is part of the issue. We are allowing a debate to swirl around a particular capital cost, not the overall per-capita infrastructure investments. If you look at the cost of provincial highways to serve lower density areas, and the cost of provision for other infrastructure in terms of hospitals etc, they also have to be factored in. There is a reason that Mike Harris was so anxious to download the cost of highways to the counties. These represented very substantial capital investments and maintenance items. They are not concentrated where the population is but rather heavily in the rural areas of the northwest and northeast of the province. Part of the entire issue in the debate as far as I am concerned is that we are allowing the capital dollars and “fairness” both inside and beyond Toronto to become focused only on transit infrastructure.
The costs of operations for bus is quite high and based on largely on running hours and miles; the cost of a roadway is based on the number of lane miles built and maintained. The cost of water delivery and sewage is also based heavily on line lengths. Higher density, and lower availability of roadway per capita all mean that these costs are lower for Toronto, and especially for the downtown. If we want to talk about fairness we need to include the cost of roads and waterworks being built and maintained in the lower density areas of Toronto, and around the province. Transit is one portion of making an area liveable, not required (or feasible) in rural Lambton or Frontenac counties, but there are 4 lane expressways in both that have marvelous availability compared to the 401 in Toronto.
We also need to discuss these issues over time. Clearly Toronto received little in the way of per capita infrastructure highway dollars for the last 50 years (hence the Don Valley and Gardiner being city projects). When was the last highway actually built primarily for the downtown? Truly major road expansion project? Who paid for the existing subway in the downtown? Where is it that people work and live (you need to pay taxes for your entire journey, not just the part at the origin end). Does your building in the core require services?
PS: FYI for your information: An older report for provincial highways
I don’t think that anyone in Scarborough would have the least problem with a Downtown Relief Line, even though it is not necessary, if Downtown were paying the extra cost.
Steve: How many times do we have say this: the “downtown relief” is intended to make more room on the subway so that suburbanites will have capacity to ride into downtown.
But the problem is that is the Scarborough subway were cancelled, is anybody foolish enough to believe that Scarborogh would get 3 billion dollars of LRT? Let’s begin construction on all of those LRT lines (except the replacement for RT) NOW and only after construction on all those LRT lines have begun should we talk about abandoning the Scarborough subway. Of course, Downtown wants to promise us a network of LRT lines in Scarborough but begin with the Scarborough RT replacement with LRT and once that is done forget about all of the other lines and it is for this reason that construction on ALL of those other Scarborough LRT lines must begin before anybody eenthinks of cancelling the Scarborough subway. What’s important here is that all of those $3 billion are spent in Scarborough whether on subway or LRT is not that important but Oivia Chow in one of the debates asked John Tory the following question: [Tell me Mr Tory, why would you not cancel the Scarborough subway and put that money in the Downtown Relief Line?] That is when Olivia Chow (still the frontrunner) lost the election and went from first place to third place.
I would put to you, it is quite possible that the subway itself could be cancelled. The real question is for best service for Scarborough and the entire east end of the city what lines will be most critical and effective. If you are concerned with access (not everyone is) to the core, then quite shortly the Downtown Relief Line will be (more aptly named in a previous comment by I do not recall who the “Getting to Downtown Relief Line”). As Steve and others have noted many times, the vast majority of the ridership for this line will come from riders transferring from the BDL and Crosstown headed to core. The ridership will be only slightly affected by adding stops elsewhere. The need to access locations east of the core, will be largely to support the expansion of the core, and keep Toronto growing.
I personally, as I have stated before, believe money for Scarborough Transit should be put in a trust in order to address very real and understandable concerns that projects will be half built, or only a partial set of projects built. I understand the fears surrounding only 1/2 the money being spent. However, I would also note that a single LRT would actually address the load present on the subway route as well as subway. I do not believe that just a single LRT should be built, as the wider trips in Scarborough should be served, and the ridiculous degree of distortion in the bus lines ended to provide more destination neutral service.
The fear of partial constructions is understandable especially based on the proposals now for Etobicoke. A terribly shortened Crosstown, and a Finch West LRT that does not even get all the way to the Airport employment areas, or reach east of the Spadina subway line. This massive reduction of proposed service for Rexdale is ridiculous. This especially so, when the construction funding appears available for poorly conceived extensions to Vaughan are underway, and we are adding massively expensive service in Scarborough that will serve many fewer rides than the alternatives.
However, the pushing of subway over LRT does not address these issues. Also the pushing of SmartTrack so close to the proposed Scarborough subway begs significant questions. Transit planning should be a question of smart planning, not smart politics. During the last 30 years Toronto has gone from transit leader to basket case, almost entirely because politics have ruled over planning. We cannot accept the idea that funding does not work that way (putting aside in segregated funds) as we cannot afford the constant changing of plans, and replacing more appropriate modes with subway, because that is where the votes are. Ford did Toronto a remarkable damage with his approach to transit. He was right to push for more money, just not for subway. The real impact of cutting service quality and availability on bus will start to be seen only in the next few years. Not pushing for transit priority and service quality across the city will end by hurting the very drivers he claimed to be protecting, as it will push many thousands more drivers onto roads that cannot accommodate them. Giving up 2 lanes for a moderately used LRT would likely have taken 4 lanes of drivers off the road (or kept them from getting on it). It would also leave much room for future growth on the LRT with ample capacity unused.
In the Analyst’s Notes to the Waterfront Toronto budget (pp 23-24) there is some interesting information on the TTC’s “below the line” item for the Waterfront East LRT. It implies that it may not be below the line for much longer. The section reads:
Steve: Thanks for picking up on this. A new points worth noting here:
First, the statement about the extra cost re utilities is somewhat misleading (the reference is to Leslie Street). The jump in estimated project cost comes from a combination of additional cost at Union Loop, and a more complex situation under Queens Quay at Yonge Street than was originally foreseen (that part is a utility issue).
Second, the whole question of mode and scope are bound up with the work WFT has been doing looking at short term alternatives other than LRT. That process more or less ran aground, and I think that they are now back to a focus on LRT especially as it could relate to the Lever/Great Gulf site and a potential extension east to connect with a Broadview streetcar.
A fundamental problem with the eastern waterfront transit project is that it has been chopped up and is rarely presented as a unified design. This reminds me of the way the western line grew a bit at a time rather than as a consolidated plan.
Not mentioned here is that some money is to come to this project from Development Charges.
I daresay that if we had actually had a different Mayor for the past four years, this project would be under construction already.
Steve: I could take your argument and turn it around to ask why Toronto taxpayers are going to subsidize 905 riders through the Spadina Subway extension (we’re on the hook for net operating costs and all future capital repairs)
That was not my comment but I would address your response anyway. How exactly is it the fault of York Region that Toronto had such an incompetent mayor that negotiated and accepted such a losing deal for Toronto? What was the name of that mayor? I forget but the guy predecessor of Mayor Ford (Ford’s name I will never forget as he is world famous now for better or for worse).
Steve: David Miller was the mayor at the time work finally started on the Spadina extension, although the project dates back into Lastman’s era and beyond. There was strong pressure from Queen’s Park because of Greg Sorbara’s role in pushing subway expansion into the northwest, and Toronto was talked into the losing deal you refer to. It was a tradeoff that the project (which Toronto wanted within its borders to serve Downsview and York University) was not going ahead without Toronto accepting the cost for the Vaughan portion’s operation. The only operating cost Vaughan will cover is the maintenance of the “kiss and ride” facilities.
TTC gets all of the fare revenue, but there could be a problem here. Originally, they expected to see net new fares from people bound for York U who now ride there on a York Region fare, but who would now use the subway to get from Vaughan Centre bus terminal down to the campus. This has produced a lot of pushback from York Students who live in York Region, and I would not be surprised to see some “deal” cut for them. This would cut even further into the revenue stream the TTC hoped to obtain.
The issues with 905-based riders coming into the 416 are quite similar to those the TTC and Metro Council faced over 40 years ago when suburban Toronto was a separate fare zone, a remnant of the time when places like Scarborough were separate municipalities. Toronto opted to go with a single fare as a matter of policy and to subsidize the TTC through property taxes. The challenge for the GTA is that if there is any kind of fare integration across the boundary to the 905, and riders get cheaper trips than they do today, the lost revenue must come from somewhere. Queen’s Park doesn’t want to get embroiled in higher operating subsidies than it already pays, and the 905 regions don’t want to pay up either.
A related problem lies in GO Transit fares which are higher than local fares and which discriminate against relatively short trips from near the 905/416 border as compared to trips originating further out. This won’t be fixed as long as GO regards it as a badge of honour that they recover so much of their operating cost from the farebox.
In all of the regional planning, operating costs and fare subsidies rarely are mentioned, or are something for “future discussion”. Instead we get ribbon-cutting photo ops every time someone digs a hole in the ground.
Why do you stop short of naming the people these photo-ops are for? Former Liberal Premier Dalton McGunity, Current Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, and a host of other Liberal ministers (both current and former).
Steve: It’s whatever stripe of politician is in office at the time. Federal Tories and municipal pols of every stripe love the photo ops. As for the provincial Liberals, you seem to have missed my ongoing comments on Twitter where Metrolinx and Del Duca’s office re-re-re-re-announce stuff as often as possible.
Yes, and the more visible the announcement the more likely they are to want their name associated with it. This is part of the reason we end up getting subway, it will be in the news and present in construction and not fade into the background for a long time, enabling the same politicians to get many appearances and associations with the same money. LRTs or especially BRTs will simply be up running, and doing their job far too quickly with too little attention (even if they have the same transit impact) too quickly to get anywhere near the campaign mileage out of. Just imagine, the public meetings around the EA, the announcements around the tunneling, the awarding of station contracts, are all high profile political events. The other thing especially for a provincial or local pols is that a subway is guaranteed to run through a couple of election cycles, and if timed properly can reasonably be used to good effect in 3 provincial elections (I suspect that Scarborough will be a part of 4).
The best way to improve transit is a long series of barely noticed improvements, that have a cumulative effect of improving capacity and reliability. The best way of using transit in politics, is to have very high profile announcements, that appear to solve the universe’s problems in a single pass, and have huge emotional appeal, and then hit them again and again.
Steve: I have lost track of how many times Metrolinx and Minister Del Duca (or an aide) announced the one more train/day each way from Milton.
One more train to Milton is great transit, but announcing that repeatedly does not help his credibility or his ability to gather media when he wants to. This will make all assume his news is a non event.
Steve, are LRV really that expensive? Price per vehicles from the list: $1.66M for replacement subway cars, $0.50M for replacement Wheel-Trans buses, $0.90M for CSI buses, and $6.11M for new LRV.
Steve: Your prices are out of whack. The TTC’s last order for subway cars (10 more TR trainsets) issued in March 2014 totals $217m including provision for inflation and other items. This works out to $21.7m/train, or $3.62m/car. That’s also a lower price than they would pay for a smaller order that didn’t take advantage of an existing production line and already-paid common costs such as training (for maintenance staff) and spare parts.
The LRV contract is about $6m/car but this includes inflation to the expected completion date in 2019. Like the subway car contract, the price includes spare parts, training and warranties. An important difference for streetcars (or for any car capable of running on it own as opposed to in a train) is that each car has a complete set of propulsion and control equipment, while a train of TRs shares this among the six-car set. Not all trucks under the TR have motors, and there are operator’s cabs (and associated controls) in only two of six cars.
Buses are expected to have a working life of 15-18 years, and with current industry trends it will be closer to 15. They have a lower capacity than an LFLRV and do not perform as well under heavy load. Wheel-Trans vans are even simpler. Streetcars will last at least 30 years, and can run longer, albeit subject to reliability issues related to their design. The CLRVs were delivered in 1977-81.
Basically, you pay more for a larger, more robust vehicle.
As for the Platform Edge Doors, which came up in Council again this week, assuming 34 track-level events per year (equal to last year reported, and higher than previous years) over 50 years, it comes out to $685K per event. The debate should now be about how much the interference with normal operation costs, both in direct costs to the TTC and theoretical time-and-suffering costs to customers. Obviously, ATC and similar improvements need to be completed first, but beyond the horror of witnessing such an event, we need to know if passenger safety is better served by spending on fire ventilation upgrades at the least. However, this boils down to photo-ops once again. “Suicide Barriers” are sexy, and “Improved Ventilation” is not.
What I would like to see are dedicated fare increases that Council or the Commission can vote on. For example, using debt financing to build Platform Edge Doors would take a dedicated fare increase between $0.11 and $0.15 over 20 years or a dedicated property tax increase between 1.5% and 2.0%. Even better would be if a full list of these type of options were given to the people in either a referendum or the next municipal election cycle. When put into those type of numbers, Platform Edge Doors are less appealing, but other needed projects might make it above the line.
Steve: And don’t forget the accessibility upgrades which cost only a fraction of PEDs, but which remain unfunded.
Tell that to people living on Sheppard. If this perception is much of a game changer, then people need to be reminded of that fact.
As a side note, Toronto’s population is slightly over 20% of Ontario’s from the 2011 Census.
I just wanted to share this interesting article (with many interesting links inside) about the founding challenges of Boston’s MBTA and how expansion of the system starved operations.
Steve: Another point about Boston is that service on the MBTA is not as well regarded by its users as on the TTC, and so the political climate for transit is weaker there. It shows the danger Toronto faces by spending too much on expansion and letting the basic system, on which transit as a mode depends for political support, fall apart.