A Little Rant About Transit Fares

A recent article, The Flirtation With Fare By Distance, has sparked a debate in the comment thread about the relative merits of flat vs distance-based fares, and the whole issue of how we choose to subsidize some groups of riders versus others. In a recent reply, I took strong issue with some of the concepts advanced by writers, and the thread of my argument is strong enough that it deserves to be seen in an article of its own.

There are two related comments, and I will reproduce them here to set the stage:

Rishi (@PlanGinerd) wrote:

Fare-by-distance is a tricky one that I’m not yet firmly decided on. It clearly works on many large systems worldwide, and I have tons of friends and family who live in Zone 4 or Zone 6 in London who while they do complain the Tube is expensive, they still take it daily and never ever drive or take a cab or a regional train into the core. Perhaps it can only be coupled by changing the economics/costs of driving?

I am 100% sympathetic that FBD benefits those who can afford to live closer to the core, whilst disadvantaging those who live within the borders of Toronto but farther out. I haven’t done enough research yet, but I always think about why someone who lives so far from the City of TO core, would still choose to live within our borders vs. in Peel, York, or Durham regions. Is it really the cheap access to the TTC or is it other services? In other words, what incentives are there to convince them to live in “expensive” Toronto in the first place?

My friends deep within Metrolinx and TTC are also torn. They feel that it is not the role of the operator to handle the social equity, but the role of the province through transfers and tax breaks. I ask Steve and the community, if the province was to pair FBD for all GTA transit agencies and truly integrated fares, with a tax break to help those disadvantaged, would that change your mind?

It reminds me of a conversation I had last week on Twitter with Moaz RE how social programs that give out free TTC fares would cope without tokens. I see Presto tech. as enabling if done right, and it would be easy to give out cards with balances on them, or a periodic reload to help with fares, whilst also giving valuable O-D and usage data.

Maybe I’m too much of an optimist but things like this, and exiting fare gates are commonplace and the norm in cities everywhere. Yes local context is critically important, but I think we have to get away from the nay-saying that Toronto is always different and every other best practice could never work here.

Jonathan C wrote:

Flat fares are a very ineffective way to reduce inequality as the benefit is not well-targeted to those who need the help. There are plenty of people making long trips who could afford a higher distance based fare, and plenty who struggle to pay the flat fare for short trips or end up walking long distances because they can’t justify the cost. In most cases everyone would prefer better service. If you want to help those in need then push for an increase in the low income tax credits, don’t try to use the transit system as it is a very blunt instrument.

In a way the flat fare leads the poor to live further from the core as only those who are better off can afford higher housing costs plus the flat fare. The poor service to far-flung locales also pushes commuters into cars, while those who can’t afford to drive end up trading their time for a lower fare.

My replies:

This discussion seems to be taking place as if we were proposing to introduce flat fares as a net new subsidy that would benefit people who don’t need it. If that were the case, I could certainly understand arguments for targeted rather than broad-brush subsidies.

We are not. The discussion is of the potential effect on a wide range of transit users who now have a common fare no matter how far they travel compared to what they pay today. If you want to talk about actual need, then let’s expand the debate to free fares for all children, or reduced fares for all students and seniors. During the whole debate over cheaper fares for university students, I was struck by the absence of advocates for the truly poor saying “hey, what about us”, and the hand-wringing extended to a group that on the whole comes from relatively affluent backgrounds.

I have yet to hear a cogent argument for distance-based fares beyond “other people are doing it”. Well, no, throughout much of the GTHA, “local” fares are flat. Even London UK, that oft-cited bastion of fare-by-distance, uses flat fares for its surface system with time-based transfer privileges.

Correction: London does not have time-based transfers on its surface routes, with very limited exceptions. [July 2, 2015]

The question of flat fares vs fare by distance has nothing to do with “nay-saying” or “best practices”, it is a political and social choice the city has made. If we want to talk about fare collection technology, or the best way to operate a transit system, those are fair game for criticisms of the “not invented here” syndrome so common in Toronto.

“Equity” as Toronto defines it may well mean a flat fare. Don’t forget that the pesky border with the 905 is a comparatively recent phenomenon, and problems of low market share for transit within 905 systems (i.e. for local travel in York Region, or Durham, or Mississauga) have nothing to do with fare by distance, but with built form and the relative lack of competitive transit services. Fare by distance will only “solve” the problem for trips that are now cross-border by giving them a (presumed) discount. It won’t add better bus service unless there is a substantial jump in revenue to offset costs, net costs that are higher in the 905 because of the much richer per rider subsidies.

Where people choose to live is a product of many factors including income and service (broadly defined) availability. Try living without a car out in the 905 — the TTC for all its problems is a damn sight better, and it can certainly be argued that there is a stronger, longer history of community support services within Toronto than elsewhere even if these are stronger in the “old city” than in Toronto’s suburbs. Some of this is also historical — the 905 suburbs simply didn’t exist when many families moved to the outer 416, or they were aimed at a very different demographic. Markham is not noted for its large pool of social housing.

When we speak of transit discounts as a “social service”, this is usually in the context of truly disadvantaged groups who for mainly economic reasons are deemed worthy of additional social supports. There is a big problem with arguments that they should be funded through alternative means to transit fares such as tax rebates. Social subsidy programs are chronically underfunded and have exclusionary eligibility tests. Tax credits are a wonderful thing, but they are almost always structured to benefit those who have a taxable income in the first place, and can even disproportionately benefit the well off.

If we start talking of flat transit fares generally as a “social service”, we miss the whole point that encouraging people to use transit has an economic benefit for the city by avoiding pressure for more road construction, and a general benefit to all residents by reducing the need for one or more cars in their families. This is the sort of thing that would show up in any full accounting of costs and benefits. The hidden subsidies to motorists are not subject to the same scrutiny, nor are they regarded as some sort of social service. We also build roads for the economic benefit of the trucking industry and all of its clients. Maybe we should start thinking of that as a “social service” too because it is a form of job creation.

It is very easy to characterize things we don’t want to spend money on as “social service” or even worse “welfare”, while the things we prefer (often for political and ideological reasons) as “investments”.

Any scheme that discourages transit use relative to what is and has been in place for decades is the equivalent of a “disinvestment”, almost like asset stripping where dividends are more important than the health of a company.

If you want to call me a “nay-sayer” for that attitude, you have that right, but it’s a pejorative term, an artificial, ad hominem argument that does not engage in debate of the basic principles.

I would remind you that the “nay-sayer” epithet was used by John Tory during his campaign against those who criticized SmartTrack, and we now know what a bag of crap that proposal was.

The availability of vast amounts of travel data is routinely cited by those who would move us to fare by distance. Dare I remind readers that distance-based fares have existed for much, much longer than the ability to collect this data, and they are a product of political and business decisions about pricing service, not a means to collect O-D info.

The next time you go shopping and someone makes it harder for you to get through the store because they want detailed data about your buying habits, be sure to co-operate fully.

The TTC does not, repeat, not need a mountain of O-D data to provide better service. You can find out where the riders are simply by looking at the buses and streetcars, and broad network demands can come from O-D data in the TTS survey.

They already have a mountain of data documenting the behaviour of their vehicles, and after many decades are finally starting to analyze it in ways similar to the work I have published. Problems with vehicle bunching and poor headway management contribute a great deal to crowding on the TTC. Even with this documented in excruciating detail, little is done to fix problems of “TTC culture”. This is even a double-edged sword in that with all this data, some claim that all we need to do for more capacity is to improve management and schedules, not to actually operate more service. This is a variation on the “efficiency” argument that neatly avoids an actual commitment to better service.

Let us have a debate on fare structure by all means, but let it be a real debate, not simply a fait accompli that shows up because Andy Byford and Bruce McCuaig decide to impose fare-by-distance on us all as a matter of simplicity for Presto’s implementation. The technology should serve what we, collectively as cities and a region, want to help transit achieve, not get in the way or penalize riders who happen to live in the wrong place. Let’s talk about GO Transit’s uneven handling of short trip fares and the discount structure that makes travel from Kitchener to Union Station far cheaper, by distance, than travel from Rexdale. Let’s talk about what is needed to make transit service in the 905 truly attractive so that more people will want to use it, and transit will have political support for spending on more than a few subway extensions and GO improvements.

That would be a real debate. What we have today is an utter sham.

TTC 2016 Budget Intro: Part 2 – Capital Budget

The TTC Budget Committee will meet on June 29, 2015 to consider a preview of the 2016-2025 ten year Capital Budget. This gives a sense of where the TTC is headed in its search for funding at the City of Toronto, Queen’s Park and Ottawa, as well as its priorities for future spending.

The Capital Budget often can be daunting both from its size (the detailed project description material fills two large binders), the complexity of its funding (many sources of money, one-time or ongoing schemes, and the fact that huge projects like subway extensions are mixed together with the more mundane work of routine repairs to refresh aging infrastructure.

This mix also shows the ongoing competition for attention between the megaprojects and the equally important job of keeping the TTC rolling.

The budget spans ten years, and each year brings updates to reflect planned work that now falls within the ten-year window, new projects that have not been included before, and changes to existing projects either in their scope or timing. For many years, the total budget has exceeded projected funding for the next decade, and many projects sit in limbo awaiting their own dedicated financing scheme, or the arrival of more money through increased subsidies. The balancing act the TTC faces is to keep the vital projects going in the short term while beating the drum for for better transit support in future budgets.

Funding from “senior” governments – Ontario and Canada – has declined considerably over the years. Although specific projects have large investments – notably the Spadina extension (TYSSE) and the Eglinton-Crosstown (which is now a Metrolinx project) – funding for basic capital maintenance is a hard sell. Toronto receives gas tax revenue from both governments, and in the case of the provincial stream, a bit over half is dedicated to operating subsidy, not to capital. The total gas tax capital flow each year from both Queen’s Park and Ottawa is about $220-million, less than one quarter of the typical annual spending. Almost all of the remainder comes from the City of Toronto.

This, together with other City financial pressures, has created a very tight squeeze in coming years which is shown in a chart from a recent budget presentation.


Recent decisions by Council have eaten up all of the headroom that formerly existed in the City’s capital debt plan. In order to keep spending on debt service under control, the City sets a ceiling of 15% of property tax revenues for this expenditure. This is actually much less than 15% of the overall City budget because property tax covers only about 1/3 of the total (for example, transit fares are roughly 10% of total City revenues). However, the other revenue streams are spoken for because they are dedicated to specific purposes, not to general operations. Also, some of these are non-recurring such as special grants, “surpluses” (actually underspending from previous years), or proceeds from asset sales. Such revenue cannot be counted on in future years as a source for debt payments. In simple terms, you can only spend an inheritance, or lottery winnings, or money from selling your antique furniture, once.

By 2020, the anticipated debt payments bump into that 15% line and there is no headroom. Any new capital project, especially one that starts in the next five years, and which is financed by debt, would push the debt service cost beyond that 15% by 2020. For example, you may have spare cash today to cover a car purchase loan, but if you are facing another loan for a planned home renovation project in a few years, you won’t be able to carry both when the crunch comes. That is the situation the City finds itself in, and current budget guidelines call for no new debt-funded projects to be added for the next nine years until there is headroom once again for borrowing. (Note that the City’s projections allow for anticipated future changes in interest rates, although these take time to build into the debt service base because of long-term fixed interest rates on City debt.)

One obvious solution is to either raise the amount of tax revenue so that the 15% is measured against a higher income stream, or to get a new source of revenue to pay for capital costs without borrowing. Neither of these is palatable to City Council, and they look to other governments to increase funding.

Project-based grants can shift individual items off of the books (for example a new rapid transit line might be “free” because someone else pays for it), but these projects are not necessarily our top priority (we might value better accessibility in existing stations over a new subway through vote-rich ridings). Moreover, the completed projects could bring additional operating costs (the TYSSE will certainly do this) for which money must be found in the Operating budget.

The presentation includes a long list of funding programs created by various governments that have run their course (end dates in parentheses) [see pp. 41-45]:

  • Canada Ontario Infrastructure Program (2003)
  • Ontario Bus Replacement Program (2010)
  • Golden Horseshoe Transit Improvement Fund (2012)
  • Ontario Rolling Stock Infrastructure Fund (2012)
  • Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund (near complete)
  • Metrolinx Quick Wins (near complete)
  • Transit Secure (2009)
  • Infrastructure Stimulus Fund (2011)

A few remain in place:

  • Light Rail Vehicle Procurement (to 2019)
  • TYSSE (to 2018)
  • Provincial Gas Tax (ongoing)
  • Federal Gas Tax (ongoing)

Promised funding for future projects such as the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) are not included in this list because they are not yet approved beyond preliminary planning and engineering. Metrolinx projects do not appear in this list because they are entirely handled at the provincial level and do not affect City capital requirements.

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The Flirtation with Fare by Distance

Recent presentations by TTC CEO Andy Byford both to his own Board and at a recent Metrolinx Board meeting included an undercurrent of references to charging fares based on distance travelled or some form of zone system. This shows up in the description of new fare gates for subway stations that would be provisioned at the TTC’s expense as part of the Presto farecard rollout.

What, you ask, is this all about? Don’t we already have Presto readers on existing turnstiles? Well, yes, but they have two problems according to Byford:

  • The reader is not ideally located (“it is too low”) for customers, and
  • New fare gates can be designed with provision for future “tap out” capability that would be needed for a distance or zone based fare structure.

The cost of this change is projected to be $38.1-million, and this is a net addition to the TTC’s already bulging 10-year capital project list.

Oddly enough, the new fare equipment arises from a joint effort with Metrolinx/Presto and it would be no surprise if the same gates show up at stations on the Eglinton Crosstown line.

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TTC 2016 Budget Intro: Part 1 – Ridership Forecasts & Service Planning

Recently, the TTC Board, a largely dormant entity during the era of Rob Ford and Karen Stintz, decided to take a more active role in oversight of the organization by striking new subcommittees. In addition to the already existing Audit Committee, there is now a Budget Committee with members Rick Byers, Councillor Shelley Carroll, Councillor John Campbell, Councillor/Chair Josh Colle, and Councillor Joe Mihevc.

Agenda materials for this Committee are available on the TTC’s website, but on a different location from the those for full Board meetings. The Budget Committee met on June 17, 2015, and its agenda included two reports related to ridership and service levels:

These are intended as introductory overviews for Commissioners who are not steeped in the details of TTC planning or policy, and they give a general sense of management’s focus as the TTC enters the 2016 round of budgets.

Note: The Service Standards document has most of its content in portrait format even though the pages are primarily in landscape. Save the document, open it with Adobe Reader, and then rotate the displayed images.

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Toronto Polls Residents on Transportation Issues

The City of Toronto recently polled residents on a variety of issues related to transportation, notably the effect of and attitudes toward construction activities, as well as the top issues facing the city. A summary of the results appeared in a press release on June 26, 2015. Although the survey focuses on road work, it also picks up an interesting view of transit users and of travel choices.

As the Globe’s Oliver Moore first pointed out on Twitter, the headline on the release misleadingly states:

Congestion and gridlock remain top concern for Toronto residents, according to City of Toronto survey

There is a fundamental problem with this claim.

Better transit actually appears under three separate responses: Poor transportation/transit (22%), Poor TTC (4%) and Building subway transit network (3%). This is not to dispute that congestion and gridlock are important, but that this response ranks well behind, collectively, transit-related responses.


In the detailed breakdown, only the top three responses remain, and there is some disparity between the rankings. What is unfortunate, quite obviously, is that the category “poor transportation/transit” does not distinguish between modes. We do not know what type of “transportation” most concerns each type of respondent.


When the survey turns to the question of where Toronto should focus its efforts, transit comes out quite clearly on top as the number one pick of 27%, and in the top three for 61%.


The breakdown is revealing because it shows that there is much stronger support for better transit among those living in more central areas, and this support falls off  notably in Scarborough, especially north of Highway 401. This begs a “chicken and egg” question: does improved transit get more support in areas where service is already relatively good and transit usage is higher, and can transit spending be politically competitive further from the core where it does not have as strong a presence?



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The Vanishing Relevance of SmartTrack

The Metrolinx Board received a presentation today from their Chief Planning Officer, Leslie Woo, about the Yonge Relief Network Study. One item in this report raised eyebrows – the projection that GO RER and SmartTrack services would divert only 4,200 passengers during the peak AM hour from the Yonge corridor.

In the discussion, it was clear that service in the SmartTrack corridor would be every 15 minutes. Four trains per hour is hardly an inducement to change routes although at least if SmartTrack operates with TTC fares, it could still be atttractive.

However, I wondered just what that 15 minute headway meant, and so I wrote to Leslie Woo for clarification:

When you talk about 15 minute headways, does this mean an RER train every 15′ and an ST train every 15′ for a combined 7’30” headway, or is this 15′ for the combined service with a wider (e.g. 30′) headway on each one?

Her reply:

15 mins – combined.

Keep in mind that where Kitchener/Milton/and Barrie corridors converge we are already at less than 15 min headway in the peak.

This is a fascinating statement. SmartTrack is, among other things, intended to add stations along the GO corridors so that a more finely-grain service can be provided in Scarborough and at some locations along the Weston corridor such as Liberty Village. However, if the combined express GO and local ST services will only run every 15′, this implies a wider headway on ST, possibly every over train or 30′. With only a pair of tracks on the Stouffville corridor, and likely only a pair dedicated to GO+ST on the Kitchener corridor, it is impossible for express GO trains to pass local ST trains, and this limits how many trains per hour, in total, can possibly operate there.

During the press scrum, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig was asked about the equipment to be used, and he said that both GO and ST services would run with GO trains. It would appear that the only difference will be where they stop. Of course we already have this type of arrangement on the Lake Shore corridor, and didn’t need an election campaign to get it.

When candidate John Tory pitched SmartTrack, it was to be a “surface subway” using, mainly, existing GO rights-of-way but operating with quasi-subway service level, speed and station spacing. There were claims made for 200k/day in ridership, and the whole project was pitched as if it was the one line to solve every problem. Ask about the weather? SmartTrack will fix it. Out of a job? SmartTrack will speed you more quickly to job locations you never dreamed of. Why don’t we have more buses? Buses are a waste of money and what you really need is a shiny new fast train.

The problem with these claims is that they depended on SmartTrack actually being “like a subway” with frequent service, something it is quite clear that it will not be, at least not as Metrolinx sees things. The challenge here is that unless there is a very substantial investment in infrastructure by Metrolinx beyond what is planned for GO/RER, the network cannot handle the very frequent service contemplated for SmartTrack and this limits the effect it will have region-wide.

Even if SmartTrack did operate more frequently (a situation that was modelled by Metrolinx), it doesn’t attract much more ridership away from the critical Yonge corridor. The basic fact is that the west end of SmartTrack (wherever it might actually go) is so far from Yonge Street that it addresses a completely different market. Even the eastern branch on the Stouffville corridor is a fair distance from Yonge and, if anything, would bleed demand from the Scarborough Subway rather than the Yonge line.

A vital but missing piece of information in the presentation is the count of likely riders on various routes in the modelled networks. This report tells us how many riders are diverted from Yonge, but not how many riders would be on the other corridors and, therefore, the value of and need for more service in them. This information should come out in a technical background paper expected in July 2015.

Although the Metrolinx discussion did not get into SmartTrack costs, there are fundamental questions to be answered:

  • What are the comparative costs and benefits of serving the Eglinton West corridor with the proposed SmartTrack tunnel or with the planned westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT? (This should be answered later in the SmartTrack study of that corridor.)
  • Will SmartTrack share GO’s corridor through Union Station, or will it split off into its own tunnel downtown? Would the more frequent service a tunnel implies actually be able to co-exist with GO operations when the line rejoined the GO corridors?
  • What is the actual, likely cost of SmartTrack? For election purposes, this was estimated simply by taking the average costs of a few European “surface subways” or “overground” lines as London calls them, and scaling this to the length of the SmartTrack route. Originally, it was claimed that there would be no tunnels, but the campaign quickly learned that their research was faulty on that score. The cost is important because Toronto has volunteered to pay 1/3 of the total, whatever that might be.
  • Why should Toronto taxes be used to pay for a service which had among its objectives improvement of access to commercial properties in Markham and Mississauga?
  • Can a local service that operates considerably less frequently than a subway route be expected to generate much development as associated tax revenue?

As things now stand, SmartTrack has all the appearance of a line on the map that fades gradually under the harsh light of actual planning, operational constraints, and the degree to which Ontario is prepared to build infrastructure to enable it.

The State of TTC Streetcar Track Switches (Updated)

Updated June 28, 2015: Additional historical information from TTC Budgets has been added to the end of this article.

Ever since the introduction of the articulated streetcars back when the earth was still cooling, automatic track switches have been plagued with less-than-ideal reliability of the new system that was installed to operate them. This was triggered by the different lengths of ALRVs and, hence, the different distance from the front of the car to the point where the trolley pole sits on the overhead. A system based on a contactor on the overhead simply would not work with the ALRVs. The new system uses antennae at the front and rear of each car together with antennae in the pavement. This system allows the “front” of the car (rather than the rear) to signal the direction it wants to turn, and also provides a lock-unlock logic based on the rear end antenna passing the switch.

A project to replace this system has been on the books for years, but with little progress. Meanwhile, many switches that should be automatic (and through that automation interface with traffic signals) are manual. At the newly opened Queens Quay and Spadina, a pointman operates the switches.

I wrote to the TTC about this situation. Here are my questions and their replies.

Q: With the Queens Quay project finishing, an issue has shown up (again) that the switches at Queens Quay and Spadina are still being manually operated usually by a point duty operator, sometimes by the streetcar ops themself.

A: We are in the process of prioritizing restoration of a number of out-of-service switches in the network. Resources will be made available to restore the four (4) switches on Spadina and Queens Quay as a top priority.

Q: This delays service and also means that the transit priority signals cannot work as intended because they don’t “know” where a car intends to go.  Two points:

For years there has been a budgeted project to update the switch electronics because the old equipment has never been reliable.

A: We would not characterize the equipment in those terms. We are short of replacement parts due to the OEM changing ownership, losing interest in supplying parts, and that the original design files were lost in a major fire.

Q: If I remember correctly, this was one of the projects sloughed off to 2016 due to budget cuts. Is this correct?

A: We are still working on a new equivalent design and taking steps to secure its safety certification. Our objective is to create a controller with identical functionalities and a design that we own and take control.

Q: A commenter on my blog claims that there are long delays because Hydro must to an inspection when a switch is activated. Switches that are ready to be energized sit for months in manual mode. Is this correct?

A: New installation of wiring and controller must be performed in accordance with Hydro’s electrical safety code. Safety inspection by Hydro can indeed be a lengthy process. We would normally submit our application for inspection partway through the Work to reduce wait time gap.

There really is only one obvious question left here: if this were a subway signal system, would the problem have been left outstanding this long?

Updated June 28, 2015:

On the afternoon of June 27, an eastbound streetcar on Queens Quay at the entrance to Queens Quay Loop took an open switch and turned into the side of a westbound car. As luck would have it, this was one of the new LRVs, 4404. The story was covered in brief by CBC and several photos appeared on Twitter including this overhead view. The Star also has an article.

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TTC Struggles to Handle Bus Demands (Updated)

Updated June 27, 2015: The TTC’s 2016-2025 Bus Fleet Plan has been added to the end of this article.

At its June 21, 2015, meeting, the TTC Board approved leasing the former York Region Transit Concord garage at 8301 Keele Street (between Highway 7 and Langstaff Road). With 50 new buses to be delivered at the end of 2015 and no place to put them, the TTC desperately needs more garage space. The planned McNicoll Garage will not come on stream until 2020 and this leaves Toronto with a shortfall to handle both ridership growth and restoration of better crowding standards for peak service just as political support for improved transit has returned to City Hall.

The capacity of existing garages in May 2015 shows how close to the line the TTC already is. The numbers below are stated in 12m bus equivalents counting each artic as 1.5 vehicles. Maintenance spares are additional to the scheduled service, and this ratio is planned to rise from 16.8% to 18% in 2016. Capital spares are vehicles that are either in warranty/retrofit programs, or are going through mid-life cycle rebuilds.

Garage               Capacity   Scheduled

Arrow Road              235         227
Birchmount              202         195
Eglinton                252         246
Malvern                 244         245
Mount Dennis            235         230
Queensway               147         144
Wilson                  252         244

Total                 1,567       1,531
Maintenance Spares      263
Capital Spares           77
Grand Total           1,907
[Source: Service Changes for the May 2015 Board Period]

The capacity of the garages including room for maintenance is only 1,630 [per TTC Board report], but the rest of the fleet is not sitting at Hillcrest for overhaul. In fact, the garages are overcrowded because more space is needed for routine maintenance than is actually available.

If the loading standards for peak service are improved by 10%, this will not affect every route in the system because some of the minor ones operate with elbow room to spare. This typically occrs on routes with few vehicles where adding or removing one bus has a very large effect on the average load and service cannot be scheduled exactly to the current standard. However, if more buses are needed on, say, routes using 2/3 of the fleet, this would represent an increase of about 100 buses for service plus at least 120 spares. Ridership growth at 3% per year over the next five years would add at least another 250 buses to fleet requirements absent any offsets for expansion of the rail network.

The TTC’s 2015 Fleet Plan was based on a lower growth rate, and had no provision for improvement in the crowding standard.


Some buses will be released by the opening of the TYSSE at the end of 2017, and there is another drop in 2021 after the Eglinton Crosstown line replaces busy routes in that corridor. Only at that point does the number of scheduled buses drop back to current levels, and so extra space is needed in the interim just to maintain loading standards, never mind to improve them.

Concord Garage can handle up to 90 12m buses, but planned service improvements to 2020 will push the fleet to almost 500 buses beyond existing garage capacity. McNicoll Garage will be completely consumed the day it opens, and the TTC will still require another new garage subject to whatever savings new rail lines might bring.

An updated fleet and garage plan will appear as part of the 2016 budget process. The challenge will then be for Council to continue its pro-transit stance with funding for better bus service, not just for construction projects.

Updated June 27, 2015: 2016-2025 Bus Fleet Plan added

As part of the Preliminary 2016 Capital Budget background material, the updated fleet plan is now available.


This shows the evolution of fleet requirements relative to garage capacity. The planned increase in the total fleet shows that the TTC is making provision for service increases in coming years, despite original indications that the 50 buses coming late in 2015 were a “one shot” improvement. What exactly will be proposed is not yet clear because the details of future operating budgets are not yet public.

There is a drop in the rate of increase in 2017 likely due to the net effect of the TYSSE opening late that year, and future drops the correspond to the opening of the Eglinton Crosstown and the GO/RER/SmartTrack service and Scarborough Subway a few years later.

This shows how an additional garage beyond even McNicoll is required well into the next decade. Indeed, even with some additional rapid transit capacity, the bus fleet is hardly going to vanish. A 2% annual fleet growth would be equivalent to about 40 buses, or a full garage worth in about 6 years. The intriguing part about this plan is that a new garage of the same size as McNicoll is needed by 2017. We could have McNicoll by then if the project had not been sidelined thanks to the service and funding cuts of the Ford/Stintz era. “Saving money” does not always save money.

(Note that the capacities shown are in 12m buses or equivalent for planning purposes.)

Yonge Relief Network Study: June 2015 Update

At its board meeting on June 25, 2015, Metrolinx will consider an update on the study of capacity relief for the Yonge Street Corridor in Toronto.

The report states that projected demand on the Yonge line can be handled for the next 15 years:

1.a. Significant relief to the Yonge Subway will be achieved with currently committed transit improvements underway including:

i. TTC’s automatic train control and new subway trains;

ii. The Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension; and

iii. GO Regional Express Rail

1.b. Based on [the] above, more rapid transit service and capacity that is currently funded and being implemented will meet the future 15 year demand, assuming current forecasts on the growth rate of downtown employment and the implementation of TTC automatic train control on the Yonge Subway.

Continued work is recommended:

2. Direct the Metrolinx CEO to work with the City of Toronto City Manager and the TTC CEO to develop an integrated approach to advance the Relief Line project planning and development, incorporating further business case analysis and the findings of the Yonge Relief Network Study to:

  • further assess the extension north to Sheppard Avenue East to identify a preferred project concept,
  • inform the planning underway by the City of Toronto and TTC to identify stations and an alignment for the Relief Line from Danforth to the Downtown area
  • continue to engage the public in this work as it develops

3. Direct staff to work in consultation with York Region, City of Toronto and the TTC to advance the project development of the Yonge North Subway Extension to 15% preliminary design and engineering.

The emergence of a variation on the Relief Line that would operate north to Sheppard is quite a change from days when even getting discussion of a line north of Eglinton was a challenge. The context for this emerges by looking at the alternatives for “relief” that were considered and how they performed.

The next report to the Metrolinx Board will be in Spring 2016. The challenge will be to keep planning for a Relief Line “on track” in the face of the excitement and political pressures for GO RER, SmartTrack and a Richmond Hill Subway.

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TTC Announces The End for Tokens, Tickets, Transfers

The TTC has announced that the use of traditional fare media will be phased out starting in 2017 with the goal of complete conversion to smart card technology by the middle of that year.

A presentation by Deputy CEO Chris Upfold at the June 22, 2015 TTC Board meeting outlined the project.

Current plans for migration to Presto will see all streetcars and subway stations equipped with readers by the end of 2015, and the bus fleet by the end of 2016. This will lead to all-door loading and proof-of-payment operation on the entire streetcar system by the end of 2015.

Presto (part of Metrolinx) is responsible for the entire fare collection system with only a few exceptions, notably the gates in subway stations. In return, they will receive 5.25% of fares collected through their system, a lower cost to the TTC than its estimated 7% on the existing system.

As riders on the new streetcars already know, the procedure for obtaining a paper “transfer” or fare receipt is cumbersome for Presto users as this is handled by a completely separate device which is not beside the Presto reader. This will be a major disincentive for riders who must transfer to a route where Presto is not in use. (Moreover, given the TTC’s chronic inability to reliably schedule its fleet, I fully expect non-Presto buses to show up on “Presto” routes.)

Riders who now use tokens would still require them up to the point where their travel is all in “Presto” territory. A pass user whose travel involves non-Presto routes has no incentive to change to Presto because they would have to revert to the standard fares rather than the pass-based discounts. The transitional year, 2016, will be a challenge.

TTC management will propose, in November 2015, a scheme for the new fare structure. Among major decisions the TTC and City Council (because of subsidy implications) must consider will be:

  • How much transit usage will one “fare” purchase? There has been talk of a time-based fare (two hours, say), but this has been opposed in some quarters, including the Mayor’s office. With luck, he will reconsider.
  • If the TTC moves to a zonal system, this will require “tap off” at vehicle and station exits to ensure that the appropriate fare is paid. This would be a major change for the TTC, and could produce severe congestion for passenger handling on surface vehicles.
  • The handling of transfers between surface and subway is now designed in most locations to be barrier-free. Riders do not necessarily “leave” the system on the route where they started.
  • Through services into other jurisdictions (e.g. Toronto to York Region by bus or subway) raise the questions of zones and revenue sharing. Does York Region collect a YRT/VIVA fare for the inbound trip and TTC a fare for outbound? At stations like Vaughan Centre, the process is simple – set up a fare barrier – but for routes crossing the boundary, the situation is not as straightforward. Gone are the days when an operator could walk through a bus with a hand-held farebox at the zone boundary.

These are just some of the issues facing the TTC for its own system, and another whole layer is added for “integration” with other transit networks, notably GO and the future SmartTrack which will share GO facilities, but operate with TTC fares and transfer privileges. Metrolinx plans to produce its own study on fare integration in September 2015, and this will probably set the stage for the options available to the TTC.

Although initially the system will accept only Presto cards, support for credit/debit cards and smart phones will follow in 2018. This entails a major change in the Presto architecture, work that is now underway for an implementation in Washington DC. Instead of storing your account balance on the card, this information will be kept by the “back end” systems and your card (or smart phone app) will only be used as an identifier. (A good analogy is a phone bill where the record of calls and billing are handled by the carrier, not by equipment where the phone is used nor by the phone itself.)

In subway stations, new fare gates will be installed at both the primary and “secondary” entrances which are now only available for token and pass users. These gates will initially be set up with readers only on the “entry” side, but will have the capability of “exit” readers if a fare scheme requiring “tap out” functionality is implemented. The need for new gates, and to move away from some existing equipment such as “high gate” turnstiles, comes from limitations of the current setup, especially at “automatic” entrances which cannot  be used by many people. With Presto and the move away from fare inspection by a collector at entry, the distinction of an “automatic” entrance disappears.

It may be possible to wean everyone onto new fare media fairly quickly once the bus system is converted, but there are many issues related to casual users and a variety of concession fares notably free rides for children, family/group passes, and the distribution of fares for low income riders by social agencies.

The TTC seems very “gung ho” to get on with this migration, but in the absence of details, people will inevitably pepper them with “how will you do this” questions. Waiting for the November report is, I believe, a poor strategy and at least a preliminary discussion of options and implications should be published now if only to frame the debate.