A Frustrating Update on Transit Expansion Plans

The TTC Board received an update from City and TTC staff on the status of major transit expansion plans in Toronto at its meeting of September 28. The presentation was largely delivered by Deputy City Manager John Livey with backup from Mitch Stambler, TTC’s Head of Service Planning. Also at the table, but notable for her silence, was the Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat. A contingent from Metrolinx, another agency studying transit expansion, was in the public gallery, but they did not participate in the presentation or discussion.

This session was a prologue for a report coming to Toronto’s Executive Committee on October 20, 2015, but a great deal of detail remains to be fleshed out. This proved frustrating for the Board members on two counts. First, the lack of detail prevented the TTC from making informed comment on the plans, and second, the process itself has largely bypassed the TTC Board and concentrated work at the City and Metrolinx.

To some extent, the TTC has itself to blame for this situation. During the Ford/Stintz era, meaningful policy debates at the TTC were rare, and the TTC ceded responsibility for large scale planning to the City of Toronto under Keesmaat’s department. At the political level, staying informed about issues is a comparatively new desire by Board members (not to mention some members of City Council) when the issues are more complex than a dumbed-down subways-subways-subways mantra. They have a lot of catching up to do.

Detailed reports on four major projects will come before the TTC and Council over coming months, and these will inundate members with not only a great deal of information but force some hard decisions about just which projects, and at what scale, the City should pursue. These are:

  • The Relief Line
  • The Scarborough Subway Extension
  • Waterfront transit
  • GO/RER, SmartTrack and TTC service integration


The situation is complicated by parallel work at Metrolinx, an agency with very different goals from the TTC and the City, and by the inevitable political wrangling over the relative importance of projects. Whether any reports coming forward from staff will be trusted, especially in an environment where Councillors and the Mayor routinely dismiss “expert” advice that does not suit their biases, remains to be seen. Equally difficult will be the question of whether the reports are spun, in advance, to suit specific outcomes rather than presenting “just the facts”.

One difficulty already lurking in the wings is the question of demand modelling. The University of Toronto together with City Planning is developing a new model for GTHA travel. This is much more ambitious than current models in that it covers the entire region and models travel over the entire day, rather than focussing on AM peak flows. The model also allows for route and mode choice by incorporating considerations of fares and line capacity (crowding). At this point, the model is still being calibrated and validated, a process that uses known historical data (from the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow Survey) to confirm whether the model generates flows that accurately mimic what actually happened. (The TTS is conducted every five years by UofT on behalf of municipal and provincial agencies, and the next set of data will reflect demands in 2016.)

Draft results for the new projects and network will not be available until October 2015, and a report on details will not come to Council until the first quarter of 2016. One suspicion is inevitable given this delay: is the “calibration” intended to produce a desired outcome? That’s a tricky question both because it speaks to the independence of the process and also to the way in which the model is used. For example, a model may well reproduce past behaviour perfectly, but that’s a known target and the context for it (then-existing transit, road and land use configurations) are a matter of record.

Future modelling depends not only on the nuts and bolts of the model itself, but of the assumptions put into its configuration. A well-known example of flawed modelling was for the Sheppard Subway in which unduly rosy assumptions about job numbers and locations gave the subway a projected demand well above what it actually achieved. The further one goes into the future, the cloudier the view becomes, and the presumed distribution of population and employment can involve political as well as basic economic dimensions. If, for example, the concentration of jobs in the core area and the polarization of high and low income housing concentrations continues, this has profound effects on future demand. Moreover, such concentration may not suit politicians who view their own turf as the rightful place for future growth.

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Effective October 11, 2015

The October 2015 schedule changes continue the implementation of new Service Standards on many routes.

New or revised Blue Night Services will operate on:

  • 300 Bloor-Danforth (extended to Kennedy Station)
  • 335 Jane to Jane Station (revised south end destination)
  • 302 Kingston Road – McCowan to Bingham Loop (Victoria Park & Kingston Road)
  • 352 Lawrence West from Pearson Airport to Sunnybrook Hospital
  • 312 St. Clair – Junction (extended to Dundas West Station)
  • 353 Steeles (extended to Staines Road)

One major change is related to construction activity: Coxwell Station bus loop will close to allow construction of the new elevators making this site accessible. While the work is in progress, the 70 O’Connor and 22 Coxwell routes will be joined into one service.

2015.10.11 Service Changes

TTC Contemplates Fare Option Principles

Updated on September 24, 2015 at 1:45 pm: The TTC has clarified a few points about its table of fare policies. The text of this article was updated to reflect this.

At its meeting on September 28, 2015, the TTC Board will receive a staff presentation on the principles to be used for evaluation of possible fare systems. At this point, specific changes to fares are not up for debate, but staff seek direction from the Board on where to focus their analytical efforts.

An important table comparing fare options across the GTHA is included in the report. Pass-based fares including the monthly discount program fall into a separate category of “loyalty programs”.

GTHAPolicies1 GTHAPolicies2

This chart drives home the fact that 2 hour time-based transfers are common in the GTHA while distance-based or zone-based fares are comparatively rare. Such a chart should have been part of the recent Metrolinx Fare Integration report, but it was not, potentially misleading the Metrolinx Board about the relative prevalence of GO’s world-view on fare structures.

Within Toronto, the TTC flags three challenges for any fare system:

  • Demand exceeds peak period capacity on some routes. By implication any fare structure that drives up demand will only worsen this situation.
  • Revenue control. The TTC does not entirely trust that any new fare system will yield the same revenue.
  • Complex fare and transfer rules. Within Toronto, the transfer rules make integration with other fare systems difficult if not impossible.

However, these may be offset somewhat through other improvements such as system-wide proof-of-payment and Presto rollout.

A timeline shows how various features of a new fare system would be implemented.


Note that a move to support a wider range of cards beyond Presto is timed for 2017. This date is part of the Presto plans, as reported at the recent Metrolinx Board meeting. An essential change in the Presto model is that all of the fare handling logic moves to the “back end” of the system and the card (or some equivalent such as a SmartPhone app) merely provides a rider’s “credential” saying “this is me” to the system. Such a change makes possible a much richer set of fare integration and loyalty programs because a rider’s travel can be accumulated over time (much as a phone bill is) and the appropriate rates and discounts applied after the fact based on usage.

Underlying the analysis will be the assumption that new fare policies would not be implemented until 2018 when the technology underpinning would be in place. There is an expectation that the price gap between cash fares and Presto would widen relative to current practice as this is already the case in other parts of the GTHA.

There are seven principles proposed for the analysis:

  1. Improve the customer experience
  2. Meet the needs of our different customer groups
  3. Increase ridership
  4. Optimize TTC fare revenue
  5. Optimize TTC operations
  6. Embrace new technology to modernize our fare offering
  7. Support fare integration initiatives across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area

The analysis will review:

  1. Cash fares and single ride options
  2. Loyalty programs
  3. Peak and off-peak fares
  4. 2hr time-based transfers
  5. Fare by distance/zone
  6. All-door boarding on buses
  7. Proof-of-Payment (POP) system wide including buses and subway
  8. “Tap on” to all buses and streetcars
  9. “Tap on and off” at all subway stations

Notable by their absence in this list is a discussion of service classes such as premium express fares and any scheme in which the “rapid transit” network would be a separate fare tier.

Also included on a regional basis will be considerations of low income discounts and fare equity as well as co-fares.

The analysis will come back for debate and endorsement by the TTC Board at its December meeting.

The Evolution of Demand on the Union Pearson Express

Updated September 24, 2015 at 11:30 am:

Metrolinx has released details of its daily ridership counts.

Ridership Summary 20150921

Although they claim via Twitter that ridership is going up, when the numbers are actually graphed, this is not true.

The chart below shows:

  • The projected ridership rising from 3,000 per average weekday to 5,000 over the first year of operation (blue).
  • The actual ridership from the Metrolinx stats (green).
  • The moving average weekly ridership (red). For the first six days, these are the values for the operation to date.

It is quite clear that the ridership has settled into a regular pattern after a dip in early July. There is little evidence of a Pan Am Games effect on the numbers. As and when Metrolinx releases additional ridership data, I will extend this chart.

What is missing from the Metrolinx data is a statement of the average fare paid and a breakdown by fare type. This would reveal both the nature of ridership and the effect, if any, of promotional fares on demand.


The original article follows below.

Continue reading

Metrolinx Fare Integration Study: Heading to a Foregone Conclusion?

Updated September 22, 2015 at 8:00 pm:

A few issues raised in this article were addressed during the presentation and debate on the Metrolinx report.

  • The dismissal of “time based fares” refers only to fares that are calculated by the length of a journey measured in hours rather than kilometres or zones. Times based transfer privileges (in effect, limited time passes) are still part of the mix of fares under discussion.
  • Although the initial goal of the study is to produce a revenue-neutral model, Metrolinx will also expand the scope to look at adjustments to reduce the effect of bringing about that “neutrality”, in effect to offset unwanted side-effects of balancing who pays for what. This is an important consideration so that all interested parties can debate whether we want more subsidy, or higher fares, or some combination of these in aid of the greater good of an integrated and “fair” regional system. Just telling everyone “this is how it will be” is a recipe for political disaster, especially considering any reorganization of regional fares is likely to occur just in time for the next round of elections.
  • Integration is a big issue for Metrolinx because the distinction between “local” and “regional” travel is vanishing. This is actually more important than the off-cited cross-border double fare, and the RER service concept cannot operate without close integration of local fares and service to whatever Metrolinx runs.
  • Still unanswered is the question of just what service classes Metrolinx will propose, and the effect of making rail services like subway and LRT lines a separate fare class when they were designed, for the most part, to be integrated with local systems as replacements for existing bus routes.
  • Metrolinx plans to publish the background papers for this study including a review of the fare structures now in use by the GTHA’s transit systems.

The original article follows below:

The Metrolinx Board will receive an update on the status of its regional fare integration study at its meeting of September 22, 2015. To no great surprise, the study is pointing strongly toward fare by distance as the preferred scheme, no matter how much the entire exercise wants to give the impression of an unbiased approach and of “consultation” with municipal transit operators and the public. For some time, the Metrolinx review has the air of “any colour you like as long as it’s black”, and this update does little to change the impression.

The fundamental problem is that Metrolinx is a regional commuter system where any kind of flat fare simply won’t work, although their pretensions to being truly fare-by-distance fall apart the longer a trip gets. As the role of Metrolinx changes, both with the construction by Ontario of urban lines, and with the evolution of its market beyond the hinterland-to-downtown model, a one-size-fits-all fare system simply won’t work. Things get even more complicated where there is a mix of GO and local services serving the same territory whether these be rail or bus operations.

An “integrated fare system” has long been the goal for regional planners, although just what this means has varied over the years. For a long time, “integration” meant little more than having one farecard (Presto, of course) that would work everywhere while the actual fare structures were unchanged. The farecard would simply eliminate the pesky business of having different fare media – tickets, tokens, passes, cash, transfers – for different systems. Now that completion of Presto’s rollout is within sight, the question turns to the matter of fare boundaries and “fairness” in fare structures.

Continue reading

TTC Budget 2016: Confused Priorities Make For A Confusing Budget (Part II)

In my first article reviewing the TTC’s budget updates of September 15, 2015, I looked at the Capital Budget for 2016 and the ten-year plan out to 2025. This installment looks at the Operating Budget including proposals for fare increases and service improvements.

The reports discussed here are:

Updated September 21, 2015 at 10:05 pm:

The TTC has responded to questions I posed to clarify some issues raised by this article regarding: ridership, revenues and costs for Pan Am Games operation; treatment of capital-from-current related to bus purchases in 2015 and 2016; contract service changes for York Region; and diesel fuel hedging savings. See the end of the article for details.

Continue reading

TTC Budget 2016: Confused Priorities Make For A Confusing Budget (Part I)

Updated Sept. 17, 2015 at 12:35 am: The official text of motions made at the Committee Meeting came in by email just after I posted the original article. They have been appended with comments.

The TTC’s Budget Committee met on September 15, 2015, to consider the ongoing state of the 2016 Operating and 2016-25 Capital Budgets. The reports included:

Rob Ford may not be Mayor of Toronto, but his era left a hangover from which transit (and much else in the city) has yet to recover in the attitude that almost any spending is an affront to taxpayers, and that the first goal of any budget should be to spend as little as possible. That makes for good political showmanship and sound bites, but it is not a truly businesslike managerial approach we should expect from Mayor Tory. What is missing, of course, is any sense of what transit, what Toronto should be, or of the investments the city needs.

The TTC wrestles with a regime that rewards frugality with the possible exception of proposals that provide photo ops for otherwise miserly politicians.

  • The proposed operating subsidy for the TTC in 2016 is flat-lined at its 2015 level of $474-million even though inflation, population growth and full-year operation of 2015 service improvements will add to ongoing costs.
  • Tax-averse politicians love to freeze fares, and even run on this in election campaigns, but are slow to pay the bills when fares don’t make up the needed revenue.
  • The City’s headroom for borrowing will max out against its own debt target that no more than 15% of tax revenue should go to debt costs. This will choke off a significant source of capital funding for routine TTC maintenance which already suffers from low support at the provincial and federal levels.
  • TTC budgets underplay the true need for capital funding by placing projects “below the line” (for which there are now at least three sub-classes of project) in an attempt to make the City’s future borrowing exposure look healthier.

This article discusses the Capital Budget for 2016-25. I will turn to the Operating Budget and related reports in a separate post.

Continue reading