Updated December 3, 2015 at 4:30 pm:
This article has been updated to reflect actions at the meeting.
The meeting began with farewells to two senior members of the Metrolinx team.
Jack Collins, the Chief Capital Officer, is retiring to return to live with his family in northern California. He is one of the “straight shooters” at Metrolinx from whom I never had any sense of “spin” in his presentation of information about his projects. His knowledge of actually building transit projects, and LRT in particular, has been a valuable part of Metrolinx work.
Stephen Smith, a Board Member and Vice-Chair, leaves after spending 10 years at GO Transit and then Metrolinx.
GO Transit Fare Increase
The Board spent only a short time in debate on this matter, and never really addressed the fact that the tariff does not line up with the claimed formula for calculation of fares (see Sean Marshall’s article on this linked below).
A rather tortured explanation (which we have heard before) told the Board that past inequities are being corrected through the application of a tiered fare increase with higher bumps for higher fares and, in 2016, no increase at all for the lowest tier. The actual breakdown is:
For the second and third tier of fares, the increase ranges from about 6% to 7.5%. For the top tier, the increase is about 7.3% for the low end of the range. However, riders on the outer ends of lines fare considerably better. The Kitchener single fare is now $16.60, and it will rise to $17.20, a bump of only 3.6%.
The problem with GO’s formula is that fares go up the most for medium distance travellers, while those riding furthest have the smallest percentage increase.
GO claims that its formula is a base amount plus a distance charge, as in:
Fare = Base + (Distance * Rate)
It should be trivial to adjust the two factors (Base and Rate) and recalculate the entire fare table. However as Sean Marshall has demonstrated, the existing fares don’t actually work that way. The tiered increases GO actually uses are a rough attempt at this, but they are biased in favour of long-haul riders.
If the Metrolinx Board were doing its job, it would spot this problem and demand a program to move to a justifiable, formula based tariff possibly over a multi-year implementation to smooth out the effects.
Union Pearson Express Update
The discussion at the Board was quiet upbeat and straightforward, and it repeated the type of statements we have already seen about a general contentment with ridership growth. Things got more combative in the media scrum after the meeting when Oliver Moore from the Globe & Mail pressed Chair Rob Prichard and CEO Bruce McCuaig on the numbers noting that the “increase” between September and October can entirely be explained by the relative length of the months, not from actual growth.
After the meeting was over, Metrolinx updated its detailed breakdown of daily ridership. A few things show up when looking at this in detail.
The “Actual” line is charted directly from the Metrolinx data. The “Weekly Average” is calculated from the previous seven days on a rolling basis. Although October’s total ridership was 79,010 as compared to September’s 76,438, this is entirely explained by the fact that October contains one more day. The daily averages over each month are almost identical. Moreover, October saw a spike in usage over Thanksgiving weekend which pulled up the monthly numbers, but there has been a steady downward trend since.
A further problem showed up in comparing the new report with previous data in that figures for September are now higher than originally reported.
This was explained by Metrolinx as follows:
The numbers we provided in September were based on an automatic passenger counter system at Pearson station. This methodology provides more timely information but is based on raw counts that are discounted to exclude non-revenue movements (e.g. train staff, cleaners, etc.).
As part of our monthly accounting process, this ridership data is now being reconciled with more accurate and reliable information on paying customers—through PRESTO, ticket sales, group pkgs, etc. Reconciliation of the monthly accounting system takes 6 weeks or longer to assimilate the accurate data from the various sources. This is the same method we use for GO—those numbers are always 6 weeks or so behind before we can provide the ridership data. November and December data for UP will be ready for the next Board meeting in February, 2016. [email from Anne Marie Aikens at Metrolinx]
We can therefore expect some adjustment in the recent numbers when an updated report appears in a few months. I will leave it to readers to ponder why there is a six week delay in reconciliation of these data.
Note that the first chart above uses the revised data as its source for September.
Why was this information not before the Board? Why was detailed data that would have clearly shown a ridership decline in late October not reported, but an “increase” that is entirely the effect of the calendar touted as an example of UPX growth? This borders on misrepresentation, and Metrolinx management would do well to have accurate, up-to-date information in place before Board meetings rather than releasing the data afterwards.
Again, I must ask, what is the Board doing about this?
Eglinton-Crosstown Station Names
The Metrolinx board is not noted for long, let alone contentious, debates; even moreso, the idea that the Board would reject a management recommendation is unheard of. Today was different.
There was a long discussion of the proposed station names including some very basic points:
- Who, outside of the station neighbourhood, actually knows where some of these locations are?
- What are the “policies” about naming and have they been followed consistently?
- Why are some stations named for locations that are actually some distance away?
- Should the primary function of a station name be to tell an unfamiliar rider where it is located, not to placate each neighbourhood with their own “local” name that is meaningless to the wider travelling public?
During the debate (in which, for the first time, every Board member spoke), we learned, among other things:
- Nobody on the Board knows where “Fairbank” is.
- Most of the Board appears to know that “Forest Hill” is actually closer to Chaplin than to Bathurst.
- A Board member well known for supporting many good causes in Toronto did not know that the TTC already has a “Bathurst” station on the Bloor-Danforth subway line.
- Nobody, in discussing station naming elsewhere, picked up on the fact that many cities name major intersections as “squares” or “places” with a completely different name from any of the intersecting streets. Everyone knows these locations by name, and stations are named accordingly. In other cases, major local features supply the identity.
- In relation to New York City, many stops have duplicate names, and they are distinguished by which line they serve, or sometimes with a qualifier such as “42 St/Port Authority Bus Terminal”, “Times Sq-42 St”, “42 St Bryant Park” and “Grand Central 42 St”. This does not appear to be a sufficient precedent for Metrolinx staff who insist on uniqueness and an absence of compound names.
- There is a “policy” for station naming that has been agreed to by all of the GTHA transit agencies, but (a) this does not appear to have been approved by the Board and (b) Metrolinx staff feel free to change it as needed on the fly.
There was a lot of talk about why some names were changed, notably the Eglinton West / Allen / Cedarvale transition. Who, after all, knows where “Cedarvale” is, especially in relationship to Eglinton when the ravine is somewhat to the south. This entire debate arose because Metrolinx decided that the compound “Eglinton West” did not fit their new design. Had they left well enough alone, this discussion would not be necessary.
Similarly, compound names such as Dufferin/Eglinton would have avoided the need for delving into local geographies, or pulling names from nearby streets to do extended duty (for example with “O’Connor” standing in for Victoria Park/Eglinton).
Lebovic Station had its own small debate because the TTC proposed (actually one Commissioner pushed through a motion) that this be renamed Hakimi Station. Both names honour local industrialists with Lebovic referring to the original builder of the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, Centennial College has proposed “Ashtonbee” after their campus name, although the actual street does not cross Eglinton. Metrolinx staff rejected this idea.
What was quite clear was that Metrolinx staff came up with a naming scheme that sounds good on paper, but does not work in practice. One might almost suggest that it could have been designed by someone who never used transit.
Several Board members noted that the function of transit is to get people to places around the city, and that to do this, stations should have recognizable names. Adherence to the proposed “policies” works against good customer service, a topic on which Metrolinx prides itself.
The matter has been sent back to staff, although there is an urgency because Metrolinx claims it must nail down the names as part of its contract with the Crosstown’s builder. Yes, children, the line won’t open for at least six years, but we have no time to reconsider a bad staff recommendation.
This was not Metrolinx’ finest hour by a long shot, not least because the Board expended considerable time on a relatively minor issue while letting major policy and oversight matters drift through almost without debate. During the press scrum, Chair Rob Prichard said that there had been meetings of Metrolinx committees yesterday at which all the details of things like fares and UPX had been dealt with. Sadly those meetings are not open to the public, and in any event, based on what was presented to the Board, the Committees left management’s proposals unchanged despite their flaws. This is what passes for governance and public transparency at Metrolinx.
What remains to be seen is whether the Board recognizes the degree to which it has abdicated responsibility for policy, for actual debate and decisions, not the rubber-stamping of staff proposals.
The original article follows below.
The Metrolinx Board will meet on December 3, but this will likely be the usual tame affair with polite conversation, management reports accepted unquestioningly, and profound self-satisfaction at a job well done. Were there actually scope for controversy, let along for presentations by non-members of the Board, there are interesting topics on the agenda.
I have already discussed the update on UPX operations and the manner in which ridership growth is presented to look better than it actually is. This is a service badly in need of a rethink of its entire business model not to mention the bloated staffing compared with ridership counts. That won’t happen, and I expect Metrolinx will forge ever onward trying to find new riders for the service.
In the interest of transparency, especially with the promotions now underway to bump riding, it’s time that Metrolinx reported not just the raw ridership numbers, but the node-to-node breakdowns and the average fare paid per trip. There is no point in having a target ridership at which operations will “break even” if this goal was based on a higher average fare than the one they are now collecting.
Once again, GO Transit is increasing its fares, and doing this under the pretense that this is actually a “tiered” increase. GO’s big problem is that its long trips are underpriced, and although the absolute increase in fares is higher for these, the increase per kilometre is not.
Sean Marshall has written about the inequities in GO fares in detail on his blog, and he reviews the proposed 2016 increase showing that it is really more of the same. GO claims that it is fare by distance, but that is only true in a very coarse sense. Marshall proposes a new formula for GO fares with a standard, fixed base fare plus a per-kilometre increment (discussed in detail in his article). Metrolinx really owes everyone in the GTHA an explanation about their fare structure while they are busy telling anyone who will listen about “regional fare integration” with the Presto card. GO is the worse offender.
The PRESTO rollout on TTC continues through the streetcar and subway systems:
- All streetcars will be PRESTO-equipped by the end of 2015.
- Self-service machines allowing riders to reload their PRESTO cards are now appearing at various subway stations of which 23 (1/3 of the system) will be equipped by year end.
- New TTC fare gates are planned for both the primary and secondary (automatic) entrances of subway stations. Testing will begin at Main Street Station in 1Q16.
- By the end of 2016, all TTC station entrances will be able to accept PRESTO.
- Test PRESTO installations on buses will include readers on each type of bus before the end of 2015, and the rollout through 2016 will be on a garage-by-garage basis.
- Preloaded PRESTO cards are now sold at five subway stations, and the TTC will add these to the mix of media available from pass vending machines.
In a related announcement, the TTC will switch to Proof-of-Payment fare collection with all-door boarding on all streetcar routes effective Monday, December 14, 2015.
There is no update yet on the implementation of “transfer” logic in the PRESTO implementation on TTC, and each “tap” charges a separate fare. Riders needing to transfer must obtain a paper transfer. This is likely to be very confusing for people transferring between streetcar routes and subway stations.
Publication of instructions for PRESTO usage during the transition period until complete conversion by the end of 2016 is long overdue. Its absence is a major shortcoming in “customer information” by both TTC and Metrolinx.
An underlying problem is the long wait for a TTC approved fare structure taking into account PRESTO’s existence, although a report on this subject might be on the December 16, 2015 TTC Board agenda. This gets into both TTC internal budgetary and operational issues such as the effect of a move to a time-based transfer, and PRESTO issues about system capabilities and configuration, and should have been a matter of public discussion months ago.
The naming for stations on the Crosstown LRT line have evolved from their original versions dating back to the Transit City studies, interim proposed names from Metrolinx, and the now-recommended names based on public feedback.
Lebovic Station was the subject of a request by the TTC Board to change its name to “Hakimi”, effectively picking up the north leg of the street rather than the south leg. This was an odd motion, and its approval was more a matter of placating Commissioner Glenn De Baeremaeker after a long debate on the TTC’s budget rather than a deeply considered idea of substance.
Update: Centennial College has written to Metrolinx asking that the stop at Lebovic/Hakimi be named after their Ashtonbee campus which is nearby. They do not propose a specific name, but given that Ashtonbee runs parallel to Eglinton, a compound name such as “Centennial College / Ashtonbee” might be better. This actually begs the more general question of how stations that are or will be beside campuses of various institutions might be named for uniqueness.
Metrolinx appears to have abandoned part of its original scheme for stop naming which would use the format “A & B” for surface stops at intersections where there was no nearby landmark. Thus, the Wynford stop went through an interim period of “Wynford & Eglinton” and is now back to “Wynford” again, while “Leslie” wound up as “Sunnybrook Park”.
Some proposed changes did not “stick”, and the recommended names are the originals, notably at “Avenue” (Avenue Road).
[See also my previous article on this subject.]
|Mt Dennis||Mt Dennis||Mount Dennis|
|Bathurst||Forest Hill||Forest Hill|
|Mt Pleasant||Mt Pleasant||Mount Pleasant|
|Leslie||Leslie & Eglinton||Sunnybrook Park|
|Don Mills||Science Centre||Science Centre|
|Ferrand||Aga Khan & Eglinton||Aga Khan Park & Museum|
|Wynford||Wynford & Eglinton||Wynford|
|Bermondsey||Bermondsey & Eglinton||Sloane|
|Victoria Park||Victoria Park & Eglinton||O’Connor|
|Pharmacy||Pharmacy & Eglinton||Pharmacy|
|Lebovic||Lebovic & Eglinton||Lebovic|
|Warden||Warden & Eglinton||Golden Mile|
|Birchmount||Birchmount & Eglinton||Birchmount|
|Ionview||Ionview & Eglinton||Ionview|
Much research work is underway, but there is little to report for this quarter, notably any update on the parallel studies of GO/RER, SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension.
Fare structure and integration:
- Development of a preferred regional fare structure continues with the refinement and analysis of the Fare Structures reviewed by the Board in September. The Technical Advisory Committee of municipal representatives continues meeting regularly to provide in put to the work.
- Working together with York Region Transit, Brampton Transit, TTC, and GO Transit, plans are being completed for collecting transfer fares for trips using the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension to travel to/from York University and York Region BRT stations. These business requirements will be used by PRESTO to advance the required enhancements to the PRESTO system for the 2017 subway opening.
- Further discussions will address revenue allocation and any fiscal impacts. [p 2]
This is an odd statement considering that there is an existing agreement between Toronto and York Region for fare revenue and cost sharing on the Spadina extension. If there is a change in fare structure, such as the provision of an overlap common fare zone between the two regional systems, then the original model for the TYSSE’s revenue may no longer hold. For many years the TTC expected to operate this line at a substantial loss, and any move to “integrate” fares by reducing the cross-boundary burden is likely to further deepen the hole the TYSSE will represent for Toronto’s transit budget.