At its meeting of March 11 and 12, 2015, City Council passed a few budget amendments affecting the Toronto Transit Commission. Some of these reflect a sense that the TTC has not been “minding the store” quite as well as it claims, and a little belt tightening is good for any organization. Others address specific concerns that, quite frankly, should have been on the TTC’s agenda before now, but were buried under the rapid transit debates.
The motions address the following topics:
- Additional Streetcars
- Automatic Train Control
- Waterfront West Transit
- TTC Staffing and Project Management
Updated March 13, 2015 at 1:50 pm with further information about proposed staffing reductions.
Moved by Gord Perks:
Toronto Transit Commission – Capital Budget
That City Council direct the City Manager and the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Transit Commission to report to Council prior to the 2016 budget process on a strategy for increasing the streetcar purchase from 204 streetcars to 264 streetcars.
The TTC has an option for 60 more Flexities that must be exercised before the 60th vehicle of the 204-car base order is delivered. This will likely occur late in 2016, and exercise of the option triggers a down payment of $52.755-million. This was originally budgeted for 2015, but with the manufacturing delays at Bombardier, can be shifted to 2016. Delivery would occur following the base order, likely in 2020-21. These cars would address the anticipated growth in demand on the streetcar network as the population living close to downtown continues to grow.
Regardless of which year the payment falls in, there is a larger problem with the city’s overall capital spending plans. Council maintains a guideline that debt service costs should not exceed 15% of tax revenue. This ratio forces planning of future spending to fit within a debt management envelope. A few recent changes have, however, placed Toronto in a position that it has no headroom for new spending:
- Advancing work on the Gardiner Expressway reconstruction will finish the project sooner, but also add to its cost and compress the period in which the spending occurs.
- The Scarborough Subway project includes about $1-billion of City funding that will, in the main, be paid with borrowed money. Although the new transit tax will pay off this debt over almost 30 years, the debt itself accumulates early in the project and pushes up total borrowing costs.
The add-on streetcar order is only the first of many projects that will crash headlong into this problem. Leaving aside any debate on the merits of projects, both the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) and SmartTrack could be limited:
- The SSE’s scope is not yet known, and already there are proposals for a new, longer route and for additional stations. Both of these would increase the project’s cost, and this would all be on the City’s dime because subsidies from Queen’s Park and Ottawa are capped.
- Although it is claimed that SmartTrack will be self-financing through the miracle of Tax Increment Financing (TIF), this scheme requires the City to front capital at the beginning of a project in the hopes of future recovery through increased taxes. In the interim, the investment adds to the debt load crowding out other projects.
Other future capital spending gaps include the huge backlog of repairs for the City’s public housing stock, and for its road network.
The entire problem is compounded by the ongoing refusal to increase property taxes, the revenue source against which debt charges are measured. Only the transit tax has been explicitly levied, but in the medium term this does not give the needed headroom to spend at the rate needed by the City’s many capital projects.
Automatic Train Control
Moved by Mary Fragedakis:
Toronto Transit Commission – Operating Budget
That Executive Committee Recommendation 298 be amended by adding the words “on both the Yonge-University-Spadina and Bloor-Danforth lines” so that Recommendation 298 now reads:
298. City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission Board of Directors to direct the Chief Executive Officer of the Toronto Transit Commission to report to the Toronto Transit Commission Board of Directors in the third quarter of 2015 with a detailed analysis of the reasons for the delay of the Automatic Train Control and options to accelerate the implementation of Automatic Train Control on both the Yonge-University-Spadina and Bloor-Danforth lines.
The Automatic Train Control project (ATC) on the Yonge-University subway is running well behind schedule, and has now joined the list that appears on the TTC Board’s confidential agenda for updates on problem contracts. Work has proven more difficult than originally thought, but there has been no public indication of whether this is a question of scope creep, of poor original specification by the TTC, or of incompetence by the signalling contractor.
Implementation of ATC is central to the TTC’s plans to increase capacity on the YUS, and the longer this project is delayed, the longer riders will wait for better service. A few “oops” we already know about are:
- The fleet of T-1 trains, now largely shifted to the BD subway, is not capable of conversion to ATC economically. It is possible, but as these cars come closer to retirement in the 2020s, a major investment in new control equipment becomes dubious. The TTC actually owns more T-1 trains than it can use on BD because the fleet was originally sized for the Spadina extension before the decision to implement ATC on that line. The extra trains will be used initially for the SSE, but would be replaced by new equipment in the mid-2020s.
- The Spadina extension’s signalling contract did not initially include ATC. This was a late add-on, but it cannot be completed before the line opens. The extension will operate with conventional signals until the ATC retrofit can be installed.
Plans for ATC on the Bloor-Danforth line are further in the future because they trigger several other projects (and spending):
- The original BD line is almost 50 years old, and its signal system needs to be replaced. An ATC project for this line is in the budget with design work and then procurement to occur in the next few years. Installation would take place in stages from 2018-24 with the contract timed to mostly avoid overlap with the YUS project.
- New subway cars will be required for BD that have ATC built in, and the changeover would be timed with the planned retirement of the T-1 fleet in the mid 2020s. A possible option for the TTC would be to shift the existing TR trainsets from YUS to BD, and to assign new, longer trainsets to YUS. Exactly how this would balance out for fleet planning (the YUS now requires more trains than BD) depends on the future scope and service levels on both lines.
- The TTC has no yard space for more equipment on the BD line (or any other project such as a downtown relief subway). The SSE budget includes money for a yard, but there is no sense of where this might be. (It does not have to be physically in Scarborough, only somewhere on the BD line to increase total storage capacity for the route.)
Any increase in line capacity will affect the interchanges at Bloor-Yonge and St. George, but there is no commitment nor firm sense of the scope of work for improvements to platforms and station circulation.
A decision to advance work on the BD line and to acquire a new fleet will accelerate spending and bring many of these projects into a timeframe when the City has no headroom for borrowing, not to mention the strain that concurrent project management will trigger.
The BD line is not in as dire condition as the YUS for peak period capacity, but it is far from empty. Councillor Fragedakis’ motion speaks to difficulties have today in boarding trains on the Danforth Subway which is in her ward.
Waterfront West Transit
Moved by Mark Grimes:
Toronto Transit Commission – Capital Budget
That City Council request the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Transit Commission to report, prior to the 2016 Budget process, to the Toronto Transit Commission on the possibility of including the following in the 2016 Toronto Transit Commission Capital Budget:
a. relocating the current TTC Humber Loop to Park Lawn Road and Lake Shore Boulevard West, such report to contain cost projections and timelines for relocation; and
b. “Closing the Gap” on a dedicated right-of-way from St. Joseph Hospital to Exhibition Place and connection options.
A Waterfront West LRT project has been on the books since 1990, although it has been amended so many times, the route is almost completely changed from the original proposal. This motion addresses three separate problems:
- A plan several years ago to shift the western terminus of the 501 Queen-Humber cars west to Park Lawn was deleted from the capital budget as a cost saving measure. The intent was to extend the more-frequent service scheduled to Humber west to serve the growing condo community along the old “motel strip” and former industrial lands on Lake Shore Boulevard.
- TTC service on the 501 Queen car is irregular, to put things kindly. Scheduled service beyond Humber Loop is only 50% of that to the east. Many cars short turn (some Humber cars don’t even make it that far west) and headways are unreliable. Travel times to and from downtown would be long given traffic conditions, but are worsened by the poor service.
- Southern Parkdale requires additional capacity into the core, and one proposal to address this has been a westward extension of the 509 Harbourfront service. The degree to which this could serve Parkdale depends a lot on the route such an extension would take.
The Park Lawn Loop scheme is a shortened version of an original proposal to take the streetcar track west to Legion Road which itself was to be extended north. This would put the improved streetcar service close to more of the Lake Shore high rises, but it would trigger construction of a new bridge over Mimico Creek. Beyond Legion Road, the street right-of-way is too narrow to fit a full right-of-way treatment. An obvious first question in any review would be to ask just where the loop should be.
TTC service on the 501 has, for as long as I can remember, treated anything west of Sunnyside as an area not deserving of reliable service. Short turns at Roncesvalles regularly leave gaps in service to what used to be mainly parkland along the south edge of High Park, but which is increasingly a residential neighbourhood between Grenadier Pond and the Humber River. Beyond Humber Loop, a sleepy Lake Shore Boulevard is now filled with new high rises. Nothing in the TTC’s service plans or operations has addressed this major shift in land use. Regardless of any other changes, the TTC needs to address the fact that service actually provided west of Roncesvalles is considerably less than advertised, particularly on the matter of reliability.
Many routes have been proposed for a new link between Exhibition Loop and the western waterfront including:
- north via Dufferin to King and then west to The Queensway;
- west parallel to the rail corridor to Sunnyside and then merging into either King Street or The Queensway;
- west parallel to the rail corridor to Sunnyside, then swinging south into a reconfigured Lake Shore Boulevard west to Colborne Lodge Drive (the middle of High Park), and then north to The Queensway.
Each of these routes has its benefits and issues. The Dufferin scheme would leave the streetcars still in mixed traffic through a particularly congested part of King Street West and, critically, the intersection at Roncesvalles where there are already problems with streetcar and traffic congestion. The Sunnyside connection would likewise add to the complexity of that intersection. The Colborne Lodge connection (the one in favour while Transit City was still under active discussion) would be part of a larger project to improve the western beaches and roads in the area from Sunnyside west.
A common issue in all of this is the role of GO Transit, and the degree to which some demand from southern Etobicoke could or would use the rail corridor if the fares and connections to it were more attractive. It is important to note that the two GO stations, Long Branch and Mimico, are not in convenient walking distance of much of the Queen car’s territory. GO is an option, but it should not be assumed to be an alternative to improvements on the streetcar network.
Finally, there is the question of service and capacity between Exhibition Loop and Union Station including a scheme for a “Bremner Streetcar” and the need to expand Union Loop for any new service, not to mention the related issue of a route to the eastern waterfront.
This entire area has been ignored for far too long and deserves a thorough review. How we will pay for and prioritize all of the needed improvements is a question for future debate.
Cutbacks in TTC Staffing
Moved by Mayor Tory That:
1. and 2. Increase the budget and staffing for the Office of Integrity Commissioner and for the Office of Ombudsman by 1 position each.
3. City Council offset the above increases totalling $0.174 million gross and net in 2015 with savings arising from the reduction of 25 operating positions proposed for the Toronto Transit Commission.
Moved by Josh Colle That:
1. City Council amend the Toronto Transit Commission 2015 Operating Budget to reflect a decrease of 25 operating positions and initial savings of $0.200 million gross and net in 2015 and a further reduction of $2.300 million gross and net in 2016.
2. City Council direct the Toronto Transit Commission to report back to Budget Committee on the specific 25.0 operating positions to be eliminated and confirm the expenditure savings following the Toronto Transit Commission management and administrative review.
3. City Council amend the Toronto Transit Commission 2015 Operating Budget to reflect a decrease of 43 capital positions resulting in the following amendments to the 2015 – 2024 Capital Budget and Plan for the Toronto Transit Commission:
a. the elimination of 16.0 capital positions resulting in a reduction in the 2015 – 2024 Capital Budget and Plan of $15.268 million gross and debt funding over the 10 year period as reflected in Table 1 attached to this motion;
b. the deferral of 13.0 capital positions resulting in a reduction in the 2015 – 2024 Capital Budget and Plan of $2.495 million gross and debt funding in the years 2015 and 2016; as reflected in Table 1 attached to this motion, and City Council request that the Toronto Transit Commission report to the Budget Committee as part of the 2017 Budget process on the reinstatement of these deferred capital positions, if necessary;
c. the elimination of 6.0 Metrolinx funded capital positions resulting in no adjustment to the Capital Program; and
d. the elimination of 8.0 capital positions supporting the capital delivery of the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) and that TYSSE capital savings of $1.112 million in 2015 and $1.187 million in 2016 be reflected in future reporting on the capital project.
The motions by Mayor Tory and TTC Chair Josh Colle are interesting on a few counts. First, the 25 positions to be eliminated from the operating budget do not produce much saving in 2015 implying that they would not have been filled until late in the year. We will not know, probably, until the March 26 TTC board meeting exactly what functions these positions were intended to provide. What is critical is that these not be front line operator jobs without which service expansion might be limited, or maintenance jobs that would compromise system reliability.
Second, there is clearly a distrust of the TTC’s ability to manage capital projects reflected in recent reports of budget and progress issues for the Spadina subway extension and other projects. The cuts listed in Table 1 affect several budget lines, and it is unclear what the effect of the staffing reductions will be.
Updated March 13, 2015 at 1:50 pm: The 43 staff reductions listed in clauses 3.a to 3d above are detailed in Appendix A to a report at the recent TTC Board. The TTC has advised me that:
“… we do not expect there to be a detrimental impact on our capital projects because of these reductions.” [Email from Vince Rodo via Brad Ross, March 13, 2015]
TTC Project Management
Moved by Josh Colle:
Toronto Transit Commission – Capital Budget
1. City Council direct the City Manager to issue a Request For Proposal to expedite a review of Toronto Transit Commission Capital program service delivery including:
a. a review of project management of Toronto Transit Commission Major Capital Projects in the past five years to determine actual project costs and completion dates relative to original schedules and estimated costs;
b. a review of staff reporting mechanisms to the Toronto Transit Commission and City Council related to capital project budget and completion date status; and
c. future organizational options for Transit project management and delivery of Major Capital projects related to Transit expansion and major State of Good Repair projects.
2. City Council direct the City Manager to co-ordinate the review in Part 1 above with the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Transit Commission and to report to the Toronto Transit Commission no later than the November 23, 2015 meeting.
This motion is self-explanatory.
In a separate article now in preparation, I will review the Spadina Subway extension’s history of project estimates, contract costs and changes.