The TTC Board Contemplates Policy

A rather unusual meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission’s board took place on April 15, 2015 with an agenda devoted entirely to policy discussions and some navel gazing on just what the board is supposed to be doing. There were four presentations, of which two are available online:

  • Matt Fullbrook from the UofT’s Rotman School of Management spoke on Board Governance
  • Beverly Romeo-Beehler, the City of Toronto’s Auditor General, spoke on Key Aspects of Board Governance with strong emphasis on risk management
  • Robert Wong of Toronto Hydro spoke on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Andy Byford, TTC CEO, spoke about his Five-Year Plan

Matt Fullbrook on Governance

Fullbrook had come to the TTC with a canned presentation he uses in other settings, and he admitted up front that he would be lucky to get through half of it. This was further confirmed as it became painfully aware that as a speaker he knew very little about his topic as it pertained to the TTC.

What we did get was fragments of “How to be a Director 100” beginning with that most basic question — where does the board’s responsibility lie? To the shareholders? To the customers? To the employees? Well, no, students, their primary responsibility is to the corporation itself.

That’s all very nice in theory, but it completely ignores the basic question of “what is in the best interest of the corporation”, and even “how do we define best interest”. Some points are fairly obvious — if the assets of a corporation are allowed to decay, this might save money in the short term and allow for higher dividends, but in the end that is called “asset stripping” and there are plenty of North American examples of where that leads. In the context of a public agency, “higher dividends” translates to “lower calls on taxpayer dollars”. This may be “good” from the point of view of taxpayers and politicians who survive by pandering to them, but it’s not so good for the transit system nor for the city’s future.

Commissioner Nick Di Donato observed that the TTC was the most challenging board he has sat on because of the political layer and direction of its decisions. Commissioner/Councillor John Campbell cited Mayor Tory’s decision to tie free children’s fares to the 2015 budget as a case where politics trumped the business of running the TTC. Di Donato also observed that a change in the Wheel Trans taxi contract was obtained after strong presentations from taxi drivers even though they were not direct parties to the agreement with Wheel Trans itself. That was a political decision to placate the drivers who operate in a gray world where they are not quite employees, but are far from independent contractors.

TTC Chair/Councillor Josh Colle opined that Council motions should not be necessary to set TTC direction. I most definitely agree, but the last four years at the TTC have seen a hands-off Commission (in which Colle participated) that did as little as possible to launch new policy. Their job was to make Rob Ford’s budget cuts work regardless of the harm it might do to the quality of transit service in the short or long term. Even CEO Andy Byford played to the gallery with comments (at the time) of how the TTC had to do better with what it had before it asked for more money. Advocacy for what the TTC might do with additional funding, what projects or policies might be worthwhile at least as budgetary options, these were simply not on the table.

Not until Karen Stintz departed the Chair for a run at the Mayor’s Office did the TTC produce policy options, and a lot of that was cobbled together from older documents, not built as a coherent package. For their troubles, TTC management were told off by candidate, and later Mayor Tory for meddling in the campaign with proposals that sounded too much like the Olivia Chow platform for comfort.

Fullbrook described three types of boards: those who take a “hands off” attitude to their corporation leaving everything to management, those who actively manage their corporations, and those provide an oversight role. Think of this as the “Goldilocks” model of corporate governance.

Josh Colle remarked that the TTC board has something of each type, but needs to determine how to have a “nose in, fingers out” approach. How can the board contribute good ideas without getting in the way of management. Vice Chair Maureen Adamson observed that at times the board micromanages, at others stays completely out of issues, but doesn’t land in the middle.

Commissioner/Councillor Joe Mihevc noted that the strategic abilities of “citizen” board members are not used. On the children’s fare issue, he felt that the Commission should have been involved in forming policy, and wondered how Commissioners can (or should) “wear” decisions brought on the TTC by others.

Mihevc claimed he didn’t know about and has not signed off on a TTC multi year plan. Andy Byford jumped into the conversation and noted that for three years there has been no target set for a performance review of his own position. The TTC executive group has gotten on with what needed to be done, but the five year plan had to be developed without board input.

Commission Alan Heisey noted that in the previous term, the Commission acted effectively as a committee of Council, and the citizen members had a hard time integrating with members who were involved day-to-day in City decisions. Heisey has not been able to work out the role of the citizen members, and how the TTC would function as a true board.

There is an information gap inevitably between a board and a CEO who has access to far more details and day-to-day involvement with the corporation’s operations. The problem lies in finding tools to bring enough information to the board that it can make informed decisions and carry out its oversight role.

Joe Mihevc asked whether the board should remain a mix of Councillors and “citizens”, or should be all one type either way. Orientation for new members, regardless of the type, is important, and this was missing in the past term.

Heisey felt that the board should determine strategic priorities, not simply approve management’s version without comment, and he noted that there are customer priorities that might not align with management or councillor views. Management should bring ideas to the board for review and comments, followed by management revision and eventual board approval. The problem here, needless to say, is that important policy decisions are taken by Council and the Mayor completely without input by the TTC board or management.

Mihevc observed that there needs to be a partnership between senior management, the board, Council and the Mayor’s Office with the “elephant in the room” being Council. He spoke of how former Chief General Manager David Gunn masterminded the TTC’s focus on “state of good repair” and got both TTC board and Council buy-in. Now the demand is for additional service. Should the board be shifting back to a more active role such as deciding on which expansions are appropriate or not.

This led to comments about allocating the board’s time effectively. Although the board cannot control its own composition (board members are appointed by Council), it should make the best of what it has. There will always be information gaps and external pressures. “Good governance”, whatever that means, will not necessarily lead to good performance absent good people in both board and management roles.

Chair Colle wants to beef up the TTC’s committee structure so that board members can have more detailed knowledge about specific topics and more input into policy discussions. Tools are required so that board members can drill down into management information.

Fullbrook’s entire presentation ignored the most basic fact: TTC budgets and major policy decisions are not made by its board, but by City staff (through the Budget Analysis process) and eventually by Council. If the Mayor has the votes, he can impose whatever conditions he wants on both the operating and capital budgets because they won’t be funded without Council approval. Councillors are on the hook to voters for direct accountability in a way quite different from a shareholder-director relationship, and TTC board members cannot insulate themselves from questions or criticism in the manner of a private company or even Crown agencies such as Metrolinx.

However, the Commission can and should ensure that any debate takes place in an informed context where off-the-cuff proposals must at least address the supporting arguments behind whatever schemes the TTC itself might advance, if only for purposes of discussion. It is hardly worthwhile for the board to wring its hands about the loss of a meaningful role when it has abdicated this responsibility.

If there is an activist Mayor and Council who want the TTC to “do things now”, this is a very different environment from one where the TTC’s “job” is to take orders and make the Mayor (or the Chair) look good. Inconsistencies in the context for a TTC board from administration to administration are inevitable.

Beverly Romeo-Beehler on Risk Management

Toronto’s Auditor General, Beverly Romeo-Beehler, addressed the question of risk management from an auditor’s viewpoint and with a strong emphasis on the board’s oversight role. Her first slide shows a pyramid of responsibility with City Council at the top, the TTC board in the middle, and the TTC CEO at the bottom. The board’s duties are to hire a CEO to carry out the management of the corporation, and to provide three key functions: “foresight, oversight and insight”. That phrase can sound a tad cute, but it touches on the major roles a board should play.

Under “foresight”, there is the obvious issue of setting overall goals and policy. Having done that, it’s not enough for a board to sit back for a round of brandy and cigars, but they must ensure that the goals are actually being achieved in measurable ways. A goal of “better service” is meaningless if one does not define what “good” service would look like or measure existing service against that target. Even worse, if “measurements” produce meaningless tracking numbers, there is the perception of monitoring and achievement without demonstrable improvement. TTC riders are very familiar with this problem.

Some goals are not easy to achieve either because external factors impose limitations, or because they depend on multiple factors where success is essential to an overall package. For example, it is not enough to say “we need more buses” without addressing the need for garage space, mechanics and operators. If the goal of increasing the fleet is to provide for more maintenance spares, this may improve general reliability, but it will change the apparent productivity of the fleet. Indeed current TTC fleet plans will use about half of the planned increase from 2015-2019 not to provide more service, but to provide more spare vehicles. This may or may not translate to a perceived improvement in service and/or a shift in whatever metrics are used to track service quality.

The TTC’s stated goal to “Excel at asset management and operational performance” is inward-looking in that its focus is on keeping the lights on and the wheels turning, but with no reference to what might constitute “good” service.

An important function for the board is to determine what they, and by extension, Toronto wants its transit system to achieve. If we begin with a goal of “the lowest possible cost”, then it is clear that transit is not to be measured against a service quality goal, but against how little it requires in subsidy. “Service” becomes a matter of what we can afford. By contrast, if the goal is to provide reliable and uncrowded service at frequencies that do not discourage riders, then the primary measurement is the quantity and quality, with cost becoming a secondary factor. That is not to say we would spend just for the sake of it, but at least the TTC would say “we really want to be this good, and here’s how we could achieve it”. When such debates are precluded because “it will cost too much” without even an attempt to understand what might be done, then the goal is not to spend wisely, only to avoid spending whenever possible.

A problem with any management exercise is that there is vastly more data about an organization than someone at a board level can absorb. “Dashboards” are a favourite management tool, and organizations can turn themselves into pretzels trying to convey huge complexity on a few pages in simplistic terms such as “stoplight” representations. This can be extremely misleading because summary information inevitably hides many types of variation, some of which represent unacceptable performance and risk, but which can be hidden (or not even acknowledged) thanks to superficial reporting.

When the Auditor-General reviews an agency, she looks for a variety of factors such as whether there are clear strategic goals, whether management actually exists and is effective for capital projects, and the nature of controls on procurement and spending.  Of particular importance is the degree to which a board is informed on risks to the organization that threaten its ability to function, to meet its goals, and possibly even to exist. Boards should not just sit back content that they have status reports, especially if these are light on detail. It is the board’s job to ask questions even though this could prove troubling at an organizational or political level.

This does not mean that a board should adopt a prosecutorial style, or look for “gotcha!” opportunities to embarrass either the management or each other. Indeed, that type of behaviour is counterproductive (albeit good political theatre for some) because it implies a board’s job is to “catch out” management rather than to work with them to ensure that the organization thrives. Of particular importance is a “risk register” that a board can use to track goals and projects. At the high level, this would not go into excruciating detail, but the detail should exist, and a mechanism to flag underlying problems must be available so the rolled-up reporting does not obscure them. This is quite basic stuff, but many organizations fail to provide it because looking good, presenting the all smiles “we’re on time and on budget” mantra takes priority.

Romeo-Beehler makes a telling point that a risk register must be dynamic — it is worthless to be tracking an organization against risks that were catalogued a decade ago, but which may no longer apply to the organization or its goals. Moreover, if a risk becomes evident, a valid question is “why wasn’t this being tracked”.

A related requirement is for continuity on the board so that there is an institutional memory, and yet the political cycle almost guarantees that there will be frequent turnover of TTC board members. This has been compounded by many changes in senior TTC management. (It is not uncommon for me to find that I am the only person in the room at a meeting with knowledge of events less than a decade old.)

Romeo-Beehler advocates independent expertise for the board itself so that it can answer basic questions about status and policy outside of the context of management reporting, or at least have enough sense to know when the information they receive is of dubious quality. She concluded with a list of the board’s key duties:

1. Foresight – Leverage your expertise. Ask probing questions about the strategy.

• What is the transit of the future?
• What is City Council’s expectation of TTC?
• Strategic goals – Are they aligned to outcomes? Are the outcomes and outputs measurable?

2. Oversight

• Monitor risk, finance and performance and project management

3. Insight

• probe issues
• support management

These should not be particularly surprising except to observe the degree to which the TTC board abandoned this role for much of the Ford administration. An activist board, one that pursues policy issues independently of Council, can be a pain in the butt for the Mayor and his supporters. Howard Moscoe did this under Mel Lastman, and Adam Giambrone was noted for stealing the limelight from David Miller on occasion. A middle ground is essential, however, if the TTC board is to have any relevance.

Commissioner/Councillor Shelley Carroll observed that dashboards and key performance indicators (KPIs) can be very superficial. Romeo-Beehler replied The problem lies in knowing what must happen to achieve a goal or project, what are the risks, how severe would be their effect and what is their importance. This implies that granularity exists at lower levels so that a board can take a “deep dive” when needed into specific areas of concern. Many organizations don’t have a risk register, and this can drive the focus of audits to identify the gaps in monitoring and oversight.

Andy Byford reported that TTC management has fast-tracked the creation of a risk register and a complementary management structure, and that the auditor is generally happy with what has been done. This begs the obvious question of how the TTC managed for so many decades without this basic tool.

Alan Heisey noted that the board has a list of many projects, but this lacks ranking of potential problems or quantification of the effects a risk might bring. The Auditor General replied that by keeping information confidential, problems don’t surface. There should be a portal into enterprise risk management data so that someone can dig more deeply into projects where there is a red flag at the summary level. A related problem is “materiality” — if board members or Councillors knew “x”, this might change their perception of a project and decisions they make about it.

Joe Mihevc worried that if the audit culture is too strong, the organization might no take any risks. He asked how to balance the need for controls with giving the ability and incentive to staff for embracing opportunities. This brought up the term “thoughtful risk” and the need to acknowledge that some risks are worth taking, and failure has a low enough effect to be acceptable.

In the TTC, this is a particularly delicate issue because it has always been a very siloed, blame-oriented organization seeking, if possible, to externalize responsibility for any problems, and when that doesn’t work turning inward to find a culprit rather than fixing a problem. This leads to a culture of avoiding risk or at least concocting plausible reasons for inaction.

Chair Colle echoed the need for tools to track projects and issues as they evolve so that the Commission is not surprised by events. The obvious reference is to the recent issues with the TYSSE and YUS signalling projects. That, however, begs a few questions. First, the board has received in camera briefings on both of these projects for several months. Were these briefings too superficial to raise the true extent of the problems, or were the risks downplayed? How were these issues not part of the City’s 2015 budget background information? Second, if the briefings were inadequate, why should we expect that any risk register will do a better job? The fundamental problem is the need for management to openly and accurately report to the board, and for the board to escalate major problems to the public and political realms if necessary.

Commissioner/Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong observed that the board has round number estimates for big projects like the Scarborough Subway Extension, but with a huge potential variance. Chair Colle worried about the lack of hard information for decisions, and Minnan-Wong wondered what should be done if staff don’t inform the board. Auditor General Romeo-Beehler replied that the board should not approve projects until they have the necessary information.

Here the TTC runs into a “catch 22” because current practice does not take design work to a level where estimates can be more precise. This is an attempt to save money and keep options open in the early stages of project evaluation, but it leads directly to problems where details are missing at the critical moment when alternatives might be considered. Crucial details do not become available until after a decision to proceed has been taken.

Robert Wong on Key Performance Indicators

Robert Wong is Executive Vice-President and Chief Information and Risk Officer at Toronto Hydro. This is a municipal corporation, like the TTC, but with a notably different governance structure. Most of Hydro’s business is subject to provincial regulation, and only three of its eleven-member board are Councillors, one as the Mayor’s representative. Hydro operates very much like a private company although its only shareholder is the City of Toronto to which it pays an annual dividend.

Wong’s presentation was somewhat time constrained because the meeting did not get underway promptly after the lunch break. He focused on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as a toll to track corporate operations and performance at the management and board level.

At this point I must inject a personal observation that in my own professional experience with KPIs, I found that they could be quite dangerous. If one is dealing with management who (a) want to concentrate on good news and (b) don’t want to bother with pesky details, KPIs can reduce the operation of a complex organization to a few lines on a “dashboard” where the indicators are always green. This arises both through averages reported over a week, month or longer that obscure problems, and through selection of measurements that emphasize the “good things” an organization is doing. “On average” the sun rises every day, but this tells us nothing about the weather.

Clients, on the other hand, remember the not-so-good things, the inconveniences, the cock-ups, and more importantly how well (or not) the organization dealt with these problems. In a transit context, “there are always delays” in riders’ minds although many trips will occur without incident. A ride on the subway may be punctuated with an announcement of a problem that does not affect “my” trip, but there is the anguish as the message begins of “am I going to be late, again”. Good communication can be a double-edged sword.

It is essential, therefore, that KPIs can be trusted, that they are constructed and reported in a manner that conveys real information.

At Toronto Hydro, there are many levels of KPIs with increasing levels of detail. One function they have is to govern performance reviews of managers and this leads to an important issue in the construction of the indices: KPIs are not simply invented by a manager who then has an easy task of hitting his own targets, but they are approved at senior levels of the organization. Moreover, the underlying formula for each index is understood, and this cannot be modified without organizational approval. Provided that the corporate culture is not thoroughly self-serving and the approvals really include careful scrutiny and oversight, this type of mechanism can work.

By contrast, the TTC for decades set goals for itself that were barely better than whatever their most recent performance stats actually showed. In some cases (notably measures of service quality which have been discussed at length in other articles on this site), the numbers are both meaningless and they do not produce consistent, comparable results on a route-to-route basis. A low target for service quality was accepted as normal for surface routes, while the formula for subway quality made it almost impossible to score less than 90% in the absence of a major disaster. Vehicle reliability standards have not been publicly reported for years. Recently, we learned from a TTC presentation that bus reliability measures are well below industry standards, and that maintenance cycles are too infrequent to keep up with routine failures. Every new vehicle purchase is lauded as bringing greater reliability to the fleet, but performance stats are never disaggregated by vehicle type to show how or if this is actually happening.

As with the discussion of risk management by the Auditor General, Robert Wong’s talk on Hydro’s practices noted a level of detail, an ability to drill into the organization to see where problems might exist. This might exist at the TTC, but we don’t know because the information is never included in public reports and meetings. Moreover, from some of the stats that we do see, there is good reason to suspect that the indices are self-serving.

Another important aspect of any reporting tool is that the linkage between organizational units be understood. If, for example, “weather” will play havoc with an operation, then measurements should not reward the “manager of weather” for behaviour that is detrimental to other parts of the organization. Avoiding head count, a favourite target for politicians, can look good on paper if the corporate goal is to “do more with less”. If fewer maintenance workers leads to a backlog of unrepaired buses, then that “saving” was counterproductive to corporate goals even though the manager who implemented it may get a gold star.

In an agency such as the TTC, the idea of performance goals and rewards is totally foreign and, frankly, could be perverted by the classic problem of “managing to the metrics”. A good example currently is the goal to reduce short turns. This is a noble idea, but the question remains of how it should be accomplished, and whether there can be unintended side-effects.

If service is badly disrupted, the recovery time (such as it is) built into schedules might not be enough to allow normal service to resume. Even worse, if the “recovery” is treated as a right, a break to be taken no matter what, then it will not serve its purpose. If there is a workplace safety issue with the need for regular breaks, then schedules should acknowledge this formally as a separate issue from recovery time to deal with variations in day-to-day operating conditions.

A desire to minimize short-turns could lead to convoys after a delay that are not broken up with gap filling short-turns – the goal is a low short-turn count rather than the restoration of reliable service. Similarly, assuming that padding schedules will correct all problems while avoiding actual management of vehicle spacing is a recipe for perpetuation of ragged service from the rider’s point of view.

A fundamental problem with any measurement tool is that it can pervert management so that the numbers come out right. The challenge for a board like the TTC and its CEO is to ensure that metrics and the pursuit of higher scores actually correspond to behaviour that supports the organizational goals.

Andy Byford on the Five Year Plan

The TTC’s Five-Year Corporate Plan covers the period from 2013-2017, and nearing the half-way mark, it is certainly time for a review. (I wrote in detail about the plan in June 2013.)

When the plan was launched, the prevailing ethos in the TTC board was “good news” and “don’t bother us with the details”. The focus for achievements was on low hanging fruit such as cleaner washrooms and better signage, while the hard work of actually providing better service received scant attention.

Nowhere is this better seen than on the Customer page within the plan. This begins with:

Objective: A transit system that values customers and provides services that meet or exceed customer expectations.

The page is long on improving information for customers, but with only one mention of actual service quality:

Ensuring that customers have the information they need, when they need it, is second only in importance to the reliability of the service. Customers rightly expect to be able to easily navigate the TTC system and to have timely information to make their travel choices.

Strangely, a section of fraud prevention appears within this page witn a warning that the opportunity for losses will rise with the implementation of Proof-of-Payment and all-door boarding. As is all to common at the TTC, customer convenience can be seen as a nuisance.

The central theme is that if only customers could find out when buses will arrive, their problems would be solved. Alas, that’s not what was actually happening in 2013 when this plan came out. As Andy Byford now acknowledges, the cuts to TTC funding and service reductions to pack more riders into the vehicles were counterproductive. Oddly enough, this is not mentioned. Service management shows up in another part of the plan under Assets , but there is no sense that policies then in place could damage service, only that things must be better.

Earlier in the meeting Commissioner Mihevc noted that he was unaware of the corporate plan. He might be forgiven for this considering that a search on the TTC website produces the following result:


The plan actually hides under Customer Service, rather than a CEO’s page or even on the general “About” page.

Among the CEO’s top 10 priorities are:

5. Delight the customer with quick wins

9. Rebuild stakeholder confidence

The “quick wins” focused on communications and marketing, on cleanliness, tidiness and the manner in which the TTC presents itself to the world. Notable by its absence in those days was the actual question of service, a “quick win” riders would have valued. Over the first two years of the plan, there was little perceptible improvement in service. Breakdowns continued to plague the TTC, and service management, when it existed at all, concentrated on operator schedules, not regularity or usefulness of service. This is starting to change, but it is a long uphill battle.

“Stakeholder confidence” has been badly undermined by recent project management issues. This is not just a question of cost overruns on the TYSSE, but of a pervasive “we know what’s best” attitude and a lack of responsiveness as seen in the Second Exit program and Leslie Barns project.

Among the TTC’s core values is:

We value both the quantity and quality of time customers spend on the TTC. The TTC should represent the simplest, fastest and most cost efficient way to move around Toronto.

This is a customer-focused value, but when it comes to “cost efficiency”, the audience has too often been “the taxpayer”, or at least the blowhard populists claiming to represent their views at City Hall. Reducing the time riders spend on (and, more importantly, waiting for) TTC vehicles requires that they arrive frequently and reliably with room to spare for those who would board. Frequency and capacity are budget issues, and there has been little value placed on them in recent years. Reliability is a management issue requiring a fundamental change in the TTC’s operating ethos. Even the ballyhooded improvements are a drop in the bucket, a small increase in transit service within a long drought while ridership grows in spite of rather than because of service quality.

Byford’s report goes into some depth on the “Focus on People” [pp. 9-13], a number of initiatives aimed at improving working conditions, employee relations and organizational management. This is laudable, but it begs the question of how factors such as constraints on service growth and maintenance resources might affect employee attitudes. “Working conditions” include the context in which employees must attempt to do their jobs. Attitudes will be coloured by the split between the fine words management might say and the actual resources they provide and the day-to-day conditions employees must deal with.

This is echoed in the April CEO’s report:

In previous commentaries, I have pointed out that to foster the required culture change at the TTC, we must create a work environment that is supportive, fair, and in which good people feel engaged and able to achieve their full potential. To facilitate this, we conducted the inaugural TTC Employment Engagement Survey in October 2014. The results of this survey are now available and while the overall satisfaction rating of the TTC as an employer is high, a number of areas for improvement across the organization were identified. I promised our employees that we would act on the results. To this end, my entire Leadership Group has been tasked with exploring the underlying reasons for the issues that have been
highlighted in the results and developing action plans to address them. [p. 5]

Picking up on earlier discussions of risk management, Byford reports that there were gaping holes in the TTC’s practices:

TTC researched best practices and benchmarked against leading transit agencies in the world. The gaps found were as follows:
• No centralized system for the management of enterprise risks;
• No consistent methodology for risk informed decision making;
• No ability to ensure resources were directed to control highest risk; and
• Limited oversight of risk [p. 17]

His recommendations:

• Identify both downside and upside risks to the achievement of our strategic objectives;
• Conduct assessments and develop risk treatment plans that balance risk reduction against the cost of controls;
• Monitor and diligently maintain the integrity and effectiveness of risk controls;
• Integrate risk management into the TTC`s culture and business processes (e.g. capital project prioritization); and
• Communicate and provide visibility to risk. [p. 18]

This is a rather sad commentary on the TTC and the supposed expertise with which it has been managed. Some progress has been made to date, but there is much more to do as shown by the extensive plan for risk management work through to the end of 2017 [p. 21].

The KPIs come in for a mention including the oft-reported improvement in operations on the 512 St. Clair line. The numbers look good in Byford’s report [p. 23], but as I showed in a recent analysis of actual data from the route, all is not as rosy as it seems. As I noted above, if the goal is “no short turns”, this might be achieved as might “on time departures”. However, it is unclear whether this only actually works when sufficient supervisory resources are in place implying an underlying issue with the “ethos” of service provision by operating staff.

What is notable throughout the report is that there are “objectives”, but these tend to be “yes/no” achievements – did the TTC do something and on time, or not? How do these contribute in measurable ways to the system?

Byford uses as a prop a copy of the old Chief General Manager’s Report from the days when acres of trees gave their lives every time one came out. I remember those reports well, and still have a few excerpts in my archives. The problem with that report was that much of it was a compendium of status information with little interpretive detail that would point a reader to the problem areas, or ongoing analysis of the evolution of projects and operations. It was the classic case of management giving the Commission “what it wants” – lots of detail, while leaving the hapless readers to dig through mountains of detail each month. In time, the board grew tired of this and asked for something simpler. What they got was simple to the point of superficiality, and the problem today is to get back to some middle ground.

Chair Josh Colle wants to see more of these policy discussions among board members and management, especially when the newest “citizen” members join the board in May. There is some debate over whether the discussions should be in private to avoid posturing by board members more interested in scoring media victories than in advancing policy. At the very least, the TTC should publish discussion papers on major issues so that there can be a public debate on the options our transit system might pursue.

The TTC is too important to exist only as a platform for simplistic slogans or a delivery mechanism for pandering by mayoral candidates.

10 thoughts on “The TTC Board Contemplates Policy

  1. Since this post is about policy, I will say this: let us keep the politics out of transit planning. There is too much political pressure to cancel the subway to Scarborough and use the money to build the Downtown Relief Line but let us keep the politics out of it and build the only option agreed to by all levels of government which is the subway extension to Scarborough.


  2. “In the TTC, this is a particularly delicate issue because it has always been a very siloed, blame-oriented organization seeking, if possible, to externalize responsibility for any problems, and when that doesn’t work turning inward to find a culprit rather than fixing a problem. This leads to a culture of avoiding risk or at least concocting plausible reasons for inaction.”

    I’ve seen organisations described in these terms before. It’s been in the aftermaths of serious accidents that left multiple people dead.

    Now, I think that’s less likely with TTC (given the nature of its business), but it’s an extremely bad situation for any organisation. The blame culture will never change unless all the people at the top admit to it, and commit to changing it.


  3. Since the Vaughan and Scarborough subway extensions are all about the politics and not at all about the policy, if we kept the politics out of it, neither would get built.


  4. Phil said:

    There is too much political pressure to cancel the subway to Scarborough and use the money to build the Downtown Relief Line but let us keep the politics out of it and build the only option agreed to by all levels of government which is the subway extension to Scarborough.

    So politics in transit is good to get the LRT plan defunded to fund Mayor Ford’s subway, but bad if it might consider thinks like ridership and network relief?


  5. We can do better. We need to give 110%. We can get out in front of this. Risk management is important to us. Customer service is our number one priority. blah blah blah.

    It’s a good song and dance, but they aren’t going to change the nature of the beast, so at the end of the day, it’s just another cycle of “improvements” without a strategic understanding of the issues and goals.


  6. The subway extension to Scarborough is an excellent poster boy for the disastrous effect political meddling and pandering have had on transit planning, and delivery of badly-needed service improvements. The mayor could demonstrate a capacity to make tough decisions that will benefit all transit users and taxpayers, including (especially) those of us who live in Scarborough, by reverting to the original LRT. I don’t expect he will, though.


  7. Uhmmm……Phil, what the hell are you talking about? The Scarborough Subway extension is, by definition, politics, and only politics in transit planning. The Downtown Relief Line is far higher on the priority list if you remove politics from transit planning. Do you know what the Scarborough Subway is, in technical terms? A grade separated electric rail line. Do you know what it replaced? A grade separated electric rail line.

    I could go on, but the fact is that will only play into the confirmation bias of every supporter of the Scarborough Subway and entrench the righteousness of your cause further in your minds.


  8. Phil, there’s definitely room for disagreement on whether the Scarborough Subway Extension should be subway or LRT. MY preference is that the money being spent to replace the present Scarborough line should be invested in getting the “most bang for the buck” return on the investment of those dollars. If the greatest return on investment means we should build LRT from Kennedy to Scarborough Town Centre, then we should build the LRT. If the subway gives us the best “bang for the buck,” then it’s the subway which should be built! The decision should be based on the relative merits/disadvantages of each choice, NOT on granting political favours.

    All bets are still on the table regarding which of these two options – the subway or the LRT – will be the one that in the end comes out on top and becomes the one that ACTUALLY gets built.

    Seems to me just about ANYTHING – short of totally abandoning the present service and replacing it with nothing – would be an improvement over today’s obsolete and rapidly-deteriorating linear-induction system.


  9. I”m glad others are swiping at the politricks of the Suspect Subway Extension; it’s another shytstem-blighter for sure.

    More seriously, it’d be really great if we actually had transit advocates on the TTC – the real blind spot being how well cars are subsidized with the varied “helps” buried in multiple budgets vs. the tempting target commission. In Vancouver, nearly 20 years ago, analysis there figured every car had $2700 per year of avoided cost or about 7x what transit got. A key area for us is the parking/asphalt drainage subsidy in storm events.


Comments are closed.