The TTC Board will meet on January 21, 2016. Unlike most meetings, the public session will begin at 10:00 am, although they may go into camera to discuss details of item 3 on the agenda, the cost overrun on the Spadina subway extension.
Items of note include:
- The CEO’s Report which has a new format and additional info starting this month.
- The report on the cost overrun for the Spadina subway extension which now requires an additional $400m in funding.
- The procurement of a new Computer Aided Dispatch / Automatic Vehicle Location system.
- The introduction of new express bus routes.
This article has been updated with details on these subjects.
Updated January 27, 2016
The CEO’s Report was revised and expanded to include information on a number of areas where the Board had regularly questioned staff at past meetings, and in an attempt to clarify some of the information already included. It remains a work in progress, but gives a better view into some key areas. Some members joked that they have a lot more to read now, but none of them date from an era when this report was a few inches thick and impenetrable but to a handful of readers who had followed TTC affairs in detail for years.
The Scorecard (pp 3-6) is intended as an overview where readers can pick out areas of interest and spot issues that deserve a deeper look. At the right end of each line, there is a squiggly trend line, and this was not considered very useful because it has no scale, no sense of how serious a rise or fall might be. In future reports this will be replaced with a page reference to the detailed information.
Some values are reported on a current month basis (usually two months back from the date of the report), but without the corresponding annual values although these appear in the detailed sections. This too will be changed to give a better sense of context.
Service quality is now reported against new metrics that have shown up in other reports on this subject.
- AM peak trains/hour (presumably at a peak point) are now reported so that this can be compared with target (presumably scheduled) values. However, monthly averages can hide daily fluctuations, and information about consistency such as proportion of days within a close range of the target would be useful.
- Delays are reported with quarterly counts of incidents and minutes. These make interesting reading because for the principal routes, YUS and BD, the ratios are low indicating that the average delay was very short. By contrast, the ratio is higher on the SRT and particularly on Sheppard. This is a metric whose actual meaning is unclear, and which needs further refinement.
- Surface route service quality is reported both as a measure of on-time departure from terminals and a count of short turns. Although many streetcar routes now have updated schedules with more running time, the on-time departure (which itself has a window that can be wider than one headway) remains poor. Short Turn counts could usefully be expressed relative to total trips, as well as some indication of the difference between routes with new schedules and/or management strategies and “old style” operations. In both cases, time of day and day of week variations vanish into the averages. However, the TTC does plan to make route-by-route information available through a web interface in the future so that the detailed data can be reviewed. (Details are reported on pp 25-26.)
- Vehicle reliability is reported as a mean time between failures in kilometres. Although subway data are not included in the report, CEO Andy Byford, stated that the TR trains (YUS) are now very reliable with failure rates about one third of the older T1 fleet (BD).
- As for surface vehicles, bus failures are now up to one per 9532 km from a low of one per 6000 km due to improved maintenance, and the TTC is heading for a target of one failure per 12,000 km in line with industry standards (see p34). Streetcar failures are one per 8314 km for the single-section CLRVs and one per 4437 km for the two-section ALRVs, although monthly values bounce around a lot showing the effect of bad winter weather on these cars (see p33). These numbers should improve as less reliable cars are retired and as the ALRV fleet goes through a rebuild program.
- Byford reported that the 14 new Flexity cars now in service are much more reliable than the older fleet, and he looks forward to seeing deliveries rise to 1 car every 4 days in March as claimed by Bombardier.
Ridership and revenues fell below target for 2015 by about 2% although the total is still slightly better than in previous years. An ongoing concern is that month-to-month numbers were lower in November 2015 than in 2014. It is not clear whether TTC ridership is levelling off, and if so, what lies behind this change. The lower revenue was offset by lower than budgeted expenses, and the TTC actually has a “surplus” (excess subsidy) despite lower than expected ridership (see p38).
Each year brings a balancing act in budget projections where a small difference in actual results translates to a large dollar value by Council standards (either as a “surplus” or a need for a year-end “top up” of subsidy) simply because the TTC is such a large organization. The 2016 Operating Budget was “aggressive” in its ridership target, and this depends on continued growth in demand.
Presto still represents a small portion of total fares paid on the system because there are so few places it can be used. As of November 2015 this was only available at some subway stations. Of the total 44m trips taken that month, only 1.3m used Presto. This number will remain low until Presto is widely available and supports fare types other than the single “token” rate. The 321,000 riders who buy Metropasses are unlikely to shift to Presto until it provides the same fare offerings and widespread convenience.
Capital spending varies considerably from budget for a number of reasons:
- Some major projects are running behind schedule such as the TYSSE construction (Spadina extension), delivery of new streetcars and work on the new signal system for the YUS.
- Timing of some projects has changed both to reflect actual conditions and to suit other projects (some of which are external to the TTC).
The result is that the budgeted cash flow for capital is higher than actual spending.
A major new section of the CEO’s report includes a review of critical projects. This arises from work on risk management at the committee level of the board, and a desire for a summary where issues related to each project can be consolidated in a standard format. The section begins with a summary (pp 52-53) followed by details for each item.
A key factor in future reports will be to see ongoing updates to all of the text and charts rather than reproduction of commentary that grows stale, a common problem in previous versions, and especially troubling for projects that are known to be in trouble despite rosy month-by-month reports.
Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE)
The Spadina Extension project has had many problems over its lifespan, and some of these were detailed both in the report and in Andy Byford’s presentation. Major issues included:
- Delays between the time of original project scope and budget, and actual approval, funding and construction.
- A desire by political leaders and project advocates for “world class” architectural design.
- Ongoing use of “project contingency” funds intended for unexpected circumstances to make up for funding delays and scope creep.
- Fragmentation of the project among many projects with interlocking dependencies and delays.
To this I must add that the political imperative for many years was to report the TYSSE project as “on time, on budget”, an endless string of good news stories, even while problems with actual project delivery and cost overruns were known.
The chart below tracks the changes between the original schedule and the “real world” version of the project.
Among the most flagrant problems with this project were the increases in complexity and cost for the stations. The table below shows the evolution from the original 2006 estimate for each station and the running structure. Note that this table does not include any recent changes as these have not been reported publicly.
Two of the station contracts, Sheppard West and Highway 407, were awarded jointly with station contracts, and the station-specific costs have not appeared publicly. However, the actual cost for “running structures” which includes these stations is over $800m on an original estimate of $484m.
In all cases, the design costs rose from initial estimates by $10 million to $30m each. Construction costs (and this without the effect of still outstanding claims) were very substantially above original estimates even at the tender stage, let alone for change orders along the way. The worst case was Vaughan Centre Station which more than doubled in cost from an original 2006 estimate of $79m to $200m by 2010. Cost premiums over the original estimate of 50% were typical at other sites.
It should be no surprise that with the contingency eaten up at the beginning of the project, nothing was left to pay for the inevitable problems arising during construction and for claims against the TTC by its contractors.
Byford said that had he been in office at the time, this type of accounting would not have been allowed, but he neglects the political situation of the day where “of course we can build it within the budget” was the message expected from every good bureaucrat.
With the more complex designs and a project split among several contractors, inevitably delays by one affected work by another leading to schedule foul-ups and claims. In hindsight, some have wondered about a sole-contractor approach such as the consortia used by Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario on the Eglinton Crosstown project. However, at the time, IO had no experience with projects on this scale, and moreover, the general contractors made it known they did not want to take on risk by moving to a contract where they were responsible for final design and delivery.
Toronto and York Region Councils are on the hook for the overruns. They have already approved an extra $150m, and the TTC now seeks an additional $400m although this might not all actually be expended. That amount, $550m, is roughly 20% of the original project estimate, and probably represents the contingency that should never have been wasted in an attempt to avoid asking for more money in the early days.
The TTC claims that the TYSSE will open at the end of 2017, although settlement of outstanding issues will drag on for years afterward.
It is worth noting that various expenses associated with the TYSSE were not included in the original project budget or scope, but were carried as separate TTC budget lines:
- 10 new trains to provide service
- Storage for the new trains
- Automatic train control from Wilson to Vaughan
These items are properly part of the overall project, but they are not subject to the same cost sharing formula. A much higher proportion of the cost is carried by Toronto alone with limited support from Queen’s Park and Ottawa, and none from York Region.
The “lessons learned” report that will inevitably flow from this project will make interesting reading, and I hope that it will thoroughly cover the factors both technical, managerial and political that resulted in an out-of-control budget. Some TTC senior managers were fired as this scandal unfolded, but many of the politicians remain in office.
Computer Aided Dispatch / Automated Vehicle Location System
The TTC has awarded a $77 million contract to Clever Devices Canada ULC for a system to replace and substantial enhance the functionality of the existing “CIS” (Communications and Information System) that has tracked TTC vehicles for three decades. The acronym “CAD/AVL” which was used to describe this system has been replaced by “VISION” (Vehicle Information System and Integrated Operations Network).
The limitations of CIS have been a drag on the TTC’s desire to improve its service management and to integrate other subsystems within vehicles into a common package. Previous attempts to secure approval for a new system have met both with political opposition (“why are we spending all this money”) and management indifference (“why do we need a new system”). Both of these factors have changed, and there is now a better appreciation at both levels of the importance of good system management tools.
In addition, the functional requirements for the new system go well beyond the basics of tracking service on the road to a variety of subsystems such as vehicle status and maintenance, operator sign-ins, passenger information and back-end data consolidation and reporting. This is a big jump from the simple “where is my bus” functionality of the early CIS.
As this project gets underway, I will report in more detail on the capabilities and functions in Clever Devices’ system and its use at the TTC. Readers can browse the vendor’s site to learn about their products.
New Express Bus Routes
On March 27, 2016, the TTC will begin operation of five new or modified express bus routes.
- 185 Don Mills Rocket will supplement the existing 25 Don Mills.
- 199 Finch Rocket will be modified with two new branches.
- The 199A between Scarborough Town Centre and Finch Station will continue.
- A new 199B branch will operate between STC and York University.
- A new 199C branch will operate between Finch Station and Morningside Heights.
- 188 Kipling South Rocket will operate from Kipling Station to Humber College’s Lake Shore campus.
- 24E Victoria Park Express will supplement the existing 24 Victoria Park route.
- 186 Wilson Rocket will replace the existing 96E Wilson Express which currently operates in peak periods only. The new route extends express service to York Mills Station.
The degree to which new services will trigger offsetting reductions in the underlying local routes has not yet been announced, nor have details of stopping patterns. Vehicles for these services will come from the 2015 bus order funded partly from added City subsidy and partly from the operating “surplus” thanks to lower than budgeted expenses.
This is the first stage in a new express network on which staff will report in June 2016. The original scheme (below) was proposed in August 2014 as part of a package of service improvements initially dismissed by John Tory’s mayoral campaign, but later embraced by him in an about-face on the need to improve the surface network.