The TTC Board met on April 28, 2015, with what looked on the surface like a light agenda. Maybe a 3:00 pm finish after a short two-hour meeting, but in fact the whole thing dragged on to 6:00. Although parts were tedious, there was comic relief (a classic put-down of Denzil Minnan-Wong on funding of Seniors’ Fares), and some actual discussion of policy. Among the items on the agenda covered in this wrap-up are:
- A request to Metrolinx re audit controls on Presto
- A discussion of Mobility Hubs notably at Danforth Station
- A presentation about TTC’s Procurement Process
- Council decisions regarding the TTC’s 2015 Budget
- A presentation about the quarterly Customer Satisfaction Survey
- A presentation about TTC service to the Pan Am Games
- The April 2015 CEO’s Report
- Lease of additional office space for TTC capital program staff
Separate articles posted earlier on this site deal with:
The ability of Presto to provide a complex set of fare options and deal properly with whatever cross-boundary fare sharing might be implemented is in some doubt by TTC board members, given the less than sterling rollout in Ottawa. Of particular concern is the question of how Metrolinx, an opaque provincial agency, will be audited to ensure that Presto fares are correctly calculated and allocated to participating agencies.
On the recommendation of the TTC’s Audit Committee, the board will request that the Metrolinx board provide details on both the collection of and accounting for fares, as well as a governance structure to oversee this process.
This issue started out as a request from Councillors Davis and McMahon whose wards include Main and Danforth stations, respectively, that the TTC support a Mobility Hub study for the Danforth Station area. Metrolinx has undertaken some studies, but it is unclear how these are prioritized or how local municipalities could bump locations up the list. The situation is not helped by the scattershot way in which Metrolinx identified candidate locations placing a dot on the map wherever a GO line wandered near any other transit operation whether this made sense or not.
Councillor/Commissioner Carroll pointed out that she has a potential site in her ward, the long-standing poor link between Oriole GO station and Leslie subway station, and asked whether the city and TTC should be reviewing the list of potential sites for studies to prioritize them for Metrolinx. Initially Chair Colle thought this was really a Metrolinx matter (yes, let’s just cede all planning to an agency that has no public accountability), but the sense of the meeting was that review and prioritization should fall to city agencies. The matter was sent off to staff.
This item had been deferred at previous meetings, and there were signs it might happen again, but the board decided to hear the presentation. The issue arises from concerns about bids the TTC receives on contracts: why are there so few bids at times, are bidders avoiding work on the TTC, is there a problem with the bid process that works against some potential bidder?
The presentation spent much time in a defensive mode telling the board how well organized it is and how the TTC has never lost a legal challenge to its process, in part because the process is defined and followed in all cases. After some time, the nub of the issue really emerged: the TTC is seen by many prospective bidders as having an overly complex bidding process and being a difficult organization to work for. Indeed, TTC management have been meeting with construction industry associations to simplify their processes. There is always a tug-of-war between having a bid process that is simple to work with and fast to process, and very tight controls that can ensure consistency but at the cost of complexity and delay. The TTC (and the City) swung very much to the latter in the wake of the Bellamy Inquiry into the MFP leasing scandal at the City, but this may also have reinforced excessively risk-averse behaviour and procedures.
The procurement process continues to evolve and this will be reported back to the board.
On March 10, 2015, as part of its budget deliberations, Council approved two motions requesting reports from TTC management:
- “An organizational review of the Toronto Transit Commission, including staffing levels, with a focus on a more efficient, streamlined structure”
- “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”
These were not the only motions respecting the TTC budget [the full set of motions is available in the Council records]. Both motions were moved at Executive Committee on March 2 by Councillor Jaye Robinson. In the case of the ATC report, this was amended at Council to specifically include both the YUS and BD subways.
At the TTC board meeting, an incredulous board, management and audience listened while Councillor Robinson harangued the board. Her tone suggested that the end of civilization as we know it would follow were her motions not acted on. With respect to ATC, her big concern was that residents of her ward could not board trains on the YUS to travel downtown. It was an extremely self-centred address unbefitting a member of the City’s Executive Committee, but sadly marking the general lack of civic politeness and poor awareness of issues that infested the Ford administration and continues into the Tory era at City Hall.
Members of the board were clearly astounded not just with the tone from the Chair of the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee, but that she would cherry-pick her own two motions out of the plethora of directions from Council related to the TTC for a special address at the board meeting. In response, Chair Colle and CEO Andy Byford pointed out that a thorough organizational review of the TTC has already been underway, and all growth in headcount is related to improvements in service, maintenance and capital projects. Moreover, extensive reports on project management for the Spadina extension and the resignalling contract (which includes ATC) were before the TTC on February 25, 2015. The requested additional funding for the Spadina project and a review of management issues have already been before Council at its meeting of March 31. The signalling contract changes did not require additional money from the City, and therefore this report has not gone to Council, but it is hardly a secret.
When the TTC does get around to reporting on ATC, they would do well to ensure that claims for added subway capacity reflect what realistically can be achieved, not the blue-sky claims of the early ATC reports when the TTC hoped to stuff every rider from York Region onto one subway line into downtown. Those claims date to a period when the Yonge line carried fewer riders than it does today, and when TTC management’s goal was to downplay any need for “relief” of subway capacity. Moreover, ATC was hyped for its capacity provisions to tap stimulus funding from other governments on what was basically a capital maintenance project – replacing the worn out signal system. Walking back these claims will be an important contribution to well-informed discussion about the needs and options for Toronto’s rapid transit system.
The quarterly customer satisfaction survey report includes data up to the end of 2014 from an ongoing survey process that began in 2012. Each quarter accumulates about 1,000 surveys, and these are conducted on a continuous basis so that they are not skewed by events near the date of a short survey, but rather represent longer-term trends.
Of particular note is that work trips, while substantial, are only 41% of the total. Also, Metropass users represent about one quarter of the surveyed riders, but we know from other stats that they represent far more rides. This has implications for Presto implementation because half of the riders use tickets and tokens, and a further 17% use cash. These will be the primary market for conversion to Presto in the short term so that the overhead of handling fare media and cash can be reduced.
While overall satisfaction remains at a score above 70%, there is considerable displeasure with quality-related issues:
Areas of lowest customer satisfaction include (≤60% for Q4 2014) [p. 8]:
• Frequency, ease of hearing, clarity and helpfulness of announcements about subway delays,
• Availability of subway station staff,
• The level of crowding inside the subway train, bus, and streetcar,
• The length of time a customer waited for the bus/streetcar,
• Maps and information inside the bus/streetcar
Another intriguing measure looks at “Pride in the TTC” which has declined for many groups of riders, regardless of how the population is subdivided, through 2014. This is especially true among riders who are better educated, full time workers with higher incomes. This should not be surprising as this group has more choices available in making travel plans and is less likely to shrug and accept service as a fact of live to be endured. Similarly, riders who use the TTC regularly rate the quality of service lower than those who ride occasionally, and their approval is trending downward. Riders whose trips are confined to the streetcar system rank service quality lower than those who use other modes.
This trend should be a wake-up call to the TTC which has spent too long on superficial improvements, or small scale tweaks of its operations, while (until quite recently) toeing the line of budgetary restraint and limited service improvements. Moreover, when asked about “value for money”:
“Customers tend to be less focused on fare reduction and more on timeliness and schedule frequency as the most effective ways to improve the perception of value for money.” [p. 14]
Wait time is an important issue for riders, and this speaks to problems with service reliability as well as quantity. The TTC knows that the cheapest form of additional capacity comes through regular spacing of vehicles and minimization of short-turns, but attempts to correct operational problems have been slow to appear on the streets.
“Opportunities for improvement” include key service-related issues:
Recent declines in several subway service areas indicate a need to focus efforts on improving all aspects of subway service, including:
• Reducing subway delays and crowding,
• Continuing to focus on quality and ease of hearing the announcements about subway delays.
The gap in satisfaction between frequent and occasional riders is increasing; therefore, providing a reliable service is key. [p. 26]
How many times do Mayoral candidates and Councillors have to be told that service is what the TTC is selling, and that “lower fares” are not a key issue for riders? Too often debates about fares muddle together social goals (cost reduction for the disadvantaged) with a sense that fares are just another form of tax that must be reined in for all riders.
The TTC has now published its overall plan to serve the Pan Am Games sites within Toronto. Much of the service will be provided by bus shuttles from various subway stations given that many venues are not on the rapid transit network.
The service will include two new, temporary routes:
- the 194 Aquatics Centre Rocket from Don Mills Station to UTSC, and
- an accessible 406 Venue Shuttle Downtown between St. George Station and other downtown sites.
For the Parapan Games, there will be two accessible shuttles:
- the 406 downtown shuttle described above, plus
- a 408 Venue Shuttle East linking sites at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus.
Details of the service levels to be operated have not been published, but the general scheme is to use a mix of scheduled service plus extras that can be deployed depending on the locations and times of events on a day-to-day basis.
During the Pan Am Games, the system will operate with Saturday schedules on Sundays to accommodate travel to venues early in the day, as well as higher demand than is usual on Sundays. On the one Panapan Sunday, a special schedule will be operated to provide early service to the venues requiring it.
Additional service will be provided on the 192 Airport Rocket (which will now have the UPX rail service as competition, assuming that wayfinding at the airport directs travellers with equal ease to both services), and on the 172 Cherry Bus serving the Athletes’ Village.
Anyone with an event ticket will be able to use it as a Day Pass. Special Weekly Passes will be available, as well as an electronic version of a Day Pass (details tba).
Some historical context makes interesting reading. Back in 2010, the TTC had great hopes that new transit lines would provide service to Pan Am Games venues:
The 2015 Pan American and Parapan American games will involve competitions in 40-to-50 sports at more than 50 venues throughout Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe from July 10 to July 26, 2015:
• many of the events within the City of Toronto will take place at existing facilities in downtown Toronto and Exhibition Place – locations which are already well-served by transit;
• a new Pan American Aquatics Centre and Canadian Sport Institute of Ontario facility will be constructed at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), and improved transit facilities will be required to effectively serve this new sports complex;
• at this time, the TTC’s priorities remain the State-of-Good-Repair work required to upgrade, modernize, and increase the capacity of the Scarborough RT in advance of the Games, as well as proceeding with the priority Transit City light rail projects – such as the Sheppard East LRT line – which will also provide service to events in Scarborough;
• the planned Scarborough-Malvern LRT line would provide excellent direct service to the venues planned at UTSC, as well as providing excellent service to this expanding major educational institution, but the construction of this line is not included in Metrolinx’s near-term funding priorities;
• a new Athletes’ Village is planned for the West Don Lands area, which will be served by a new streetcar line planned for Cherry Street;
• based on the experience of other cities that have hosted major international sporting events such as the Pan American Games and the Olympics, it will likely be necessary for the TTC to temporarily expand its bus fleet and operator staffing to provide the capacity needed to serve some of the non-central event venues; this could be accomplished through various means such as advancing the timing of a future bus order, and then retiring older buses after the Games. [p. 1]
We all know what happened to the Transit City Network. The Cherry Street line will not, in fact, be open for the Games because, in part, it goes through the secure area of the Village, and because plans now call for it to come into service midway through 2016 when the permanent residents start moving into their condos. As for bus fleet planning, that was scuppered by cutbacks in service standards, purchase plans and garage expansions thanks to the Ford administration. York University was not listed as a venue in the 2010 report, and so the completion status of the Spadina extension was not then an issue, but at the time it was added, there was thought the subway would link to that Games site. Instead, it will be another suburban shuttle location.
The dispersed locations of Games venues will prove a challenge for spectators travelling by transit who will easily face hour-long journeys to some locations.
This CEO’s rport includes data on the first quarter of 2015. The summary “scorecard” at the beginning shows many items with a “red” status including almost all of those related to service quality. After a very cold winter, this is not a surprise except that it shows that the transit system is not prepared for this type of weather. The problem extends well beyond the aging streetcar fleet’s reliability problems with frozen air lines.
Ridership is below budgeted levels, but this will be in part due to the extreme cold and in part to the March fare increase. Until “fair weather” data are available, it is difficult to tell whether this will be a shortfall through 2015, or merely a weather-related effect. On a year-over-year basis, ridership is up relative to 2014, but not as much as predicted in the budget. Fare revenue is down both because there is less riding, and because sales of Metropasses continued to grow diluting the average fare to $1.95 (0.9% lower than budget) through to the end of February. In March, after the fare increase, there has been a shift of more riders to discounted passes (VIP, Monthly Discount and Post-Secondary), and regular Adult pass sales are down about 5% relative to budget. Jacking up the Metropass fare multiple does not appear to have been quite the hoped for cash cow. At this point, CEO Andy Byford expects the budgetary variations to even out over the year.
Service reliability fell on all modes and lines except for the Sheppard Subway which is insulated from bad weather and has relatively new infrastructure. Data are reported only up to the end of February and so they represent the worst of the weather-related problems. How this turns around in future reports will be a key item to watch across all modes.
The report triggered a short discussion about whether the TTC has too many operators on staff with reference to an article in The Sun about surplus operators being sent home without work. The explanation for this is that the TTC had fewer retirements early in 2015 than expected, but due to the lead time for operator training, had staffed up in anticipation. The excess situation no longer applies.
Delivery of the new Toronto Rocket (TR) subway fleet had progressed to completing the replacement for all existing “H” class cars, and the trains now being delivered are the 10 added sets for the Spadina extension. By the end of 2015, a further 10 sets for future growth will arrive, although the TTC will not be able to operate them until the signal system is upgraded to permit closer headways in 2020. Meanwhile the subway will have a very large pool of spare equipment.
The new Flexity Streetcar order continues to be a concern for TTC management, but Bombardier claims that they will ramp up to one delivery every five working days. There was to be a meeting about the contract’s status between TTC and Bombardier on May 1, but nothing has been reported from that event. The TTC still hopes to have 30 new cars in service by yearend 2015. Car 4407 is now enroute to Toronto.
Work at Leslie Barns continues with completion of the connection track and overhead to Queen Street now underway. The TTC expects to begin moving into the new barns in mid 2015.
A report on the lease of office space for 100-120 staff assigned to capital projects triggered a discussion of rented space generally, and a question of whether Build Toronto has anything in the pipeline that would suit the TTC.
CEO Andy Byford replied that issue is not just space for small-scale project offices, but for a consolidation of the many staff scattered through multiple buildings (including the aging TTC headquarers at 1900 Yonge). The next candidate site will be at Yonge & Eglinton over the former bus bays which are now used as a staging area for construction of the Crosstown LRT tunnel.