The TTC Board met on February 25, 2016. This article is a review of some of the reports and discussions at that meeting. For the full list, please refer to the agenda.
In this article:
- CEO’s Report – February 2016 Update
- Emerging Transit Plans – A Presentation by Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat
- 2015 Customer Satisfaction Survey
- Wheel-Trans 10 Year Strategy Update
- Changes to Bus Routes in the Eglinton Corridor for Line 5 Crosstown
As part of an update on cycling initiatives, the Board passed a motion asking staff to work together with the City on improved parking facilities for bicycles at subway stations. An article on this appeared on Torontoist’s website.
The CEO’s Report gained a new look in January, and this will evolve over coming months as sections are added and some of the metrics reported are clarified. One obvious change is that the TTC has reverted to reporting numbers by month rather than by four week period to align with the periods familiar to readers. Period-based reports had been intended to correct for fluctuations in month length, and the mix of types of days (weekdays, weekends) included in each period, but even then this could be thrown off by variations in the timing of statutory holidays. Any subdivision requires a bit of intelligence in the reader to recognize that small fluctuations between data points are normal, and that the trend is more important.
Ridership for 2015 ran consistently behind the budgeted level and, for the latter half of the year, behind 2014 results. This is a troubling long-term issue, and it suggests that the system has “maxed out” on its attractiveness to new riders. There have been some improvements thanks to a reversal of Ford-era cuts, but these are comparatively small particularly in the peak period. Capacity constraints on the subway will not be relieved soon.
Although ridership and revenue were below budget, expenses were also lower, and by a greater amount with the result that the TTC showed a “surplus” for 2015 in the sense that it did not require as much subsidy as originally planned. This saving was achieved even though the scheduled service was generally greater than the budget both for regular and construction-related operations.
[Source: Board Period Memo for November 22, 2015. Not available online.]
A central factor in the attractiveness of transit service is quality, although that term takes many definitions. What a rider sees and what a digested, condensed metric presents may be quite different especially because the rider experiences the daily ups and downs (particularly the downs) of service whereas an averaged metric can hide these swings.
The charts above compare the performance of the two major subway lines, 1 Yonge-University-Spadina and 2 Bloor-Danforth, for the number and length of delays in 2014 and 2015. Line 1 has lower numbers for 2015 showing a definite improvement associated with better reliability on the new TR fleet. By contrast, line 2 has many more delay incidents, but generally of a shorter duration. It is important to note that if the average length of a delay remains constant, then the delay minutes will track the number of incidents. Understanding just what is going on in these numbers requires more detail than the TTC publishes. For example, has there been a change in the relative proportion of incident types, or in the average time to resolve certain types of delays.
The scales of these charts do not start at zero, nor are they the same for the two lines in “delay minutes”. There is also no indication of the relative levels of service measured in, say, train hours, to establish whether one line is performing better on a normalized basis than another.
Based on the values shown, the average delay consumes 2-3 minutes, and many of these are likely short enough and localized to the point they do not affect many riders. Other major delays take a long time to clear, and they affect many riders, but they are likely submerged in the averaging process. For example, if there are 2,000 delays a quarter, a few 30 minute delays will not contribute much to the totals. The real question is the prevalence of delays that are disruptive enough to affect the perception of service reliability by many riders.
(Stats for lines 3 and 4 are in the report for interested readers.)
Another factor of interest is the throughput of trains at the peak point versus the scheduled values.
The actual service provided on both lines at the peak point falls below the scheduled level quite consistently, especially on the Yonge line where long dwell times at Bloor can prevent trains from flowing through the station at scheduled rates. The effect also appears to be seasonal. Note that there is no cutback in service on line 1 for summer schedules, and with the ligher summer demand, this might indicate that the line can physically operate at close to target service levels if only there are fewer passengers. The shortfall in capacity, at its worst, is over 10%, and that is an average value over the month of February 2015 indicating that some days were even worse.
Subway vehicle reliability is quite different on the two major routes, and this reflects the two separate fleets in use: the newer TR trains on line 1, and the T1 trains on line 2.
The TR trains have shown a very large improvement in failure rates through 2015 indicating that the TTC and Bombardier have gotten past the teething problems for this fleet. Even during 2014, the TRs achieved almost double the rate of the T1 fleet. Those T1 numbers, especially the two spikes, seem rather odd. The July 2015 value could be high because there was a special effort to keep all equipment in top condition for the Pan Am Games, but the spike in October by a factor of over 4x is quite unusual. Can something approaching this be achieved on an ongoing basis, or was this just a particularly lucky month?
On the surface network, the TTC has shifted to new measures of service quality. “On Time Performance” measures departures from terminals within a range of +1 to -5 minutes. That is a rather generous definition especially for routes with frequent scheduled service. Vehicles can leave in pairs or even triplets, but be counted as “on time”. Short turn counts indicate the degree to which service actually arrives at its scheduled destination.
There is a marked improvement on the streetcar system where both operating strategies and schedules have been adjusted on most routes. The situation for buses is not so good because only a few routes have been addressed to date.
Vehicle reliability is improving across the system thanks to improved maintenance and, for the streetcars, the retirement of the least reliable vehicles in the fleet. Both fleets show the effect of winter conditions at the start of 2014 and 2015. The early months of 2016 have been milder and this, coupled with more aggressive maintenance, should show benefits as the stats for the new year appear in future reports. (Figures for the new low floor fleet will be added later in 2016 when they have accumulated more mileage.)
Bus reliability is also rising, and this has been sustained through 2015 over 2014. (The upward bounce in December 2015 is attributed in the report to milder weather and to a focus on vehicles with repeated failures.)
Presentation by Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat
For the benefit of the TTC Board, the Chief Planner went through the presentation she has already given at various open houses and at the Executive Committee.
What was quite striking in this is the degree to which several Board members were unaware of her report or of the scope of work that is already underway between the City, TTC and Metrolinx to understand how many transit proposals will fit together. Remember, these are not just ordinary Councillors or passing pedestrians in Nathan Phillips Square, but people who are supposed to have an abiding interest in transit matters and might be expected to follow developments.
That said, it is good that the Board is better informing itself about this and other major aspects of the transit system for which, nominally, they hold responsibility. Although some degree of parochialism remains, if only because people talk about the part of the city they know, the idea of a network is gaining ground as the basis for discussions. The sticking points will be cost and the sequencing of projects.
Even now we have Councillor Joe Mihevc wondering whether the Relief Line is worth its cost while the Chief Planner reiterates that the combined effect of both the RL and SmartTrack will be required to handle future demand into the core area. Unfortunately, this debate is still hamstrung by the scope of work to date, and by the need for planners sustain the mythology behind some elements of their plans:
- The study area for the RL was set to end at Danforth, and so the “little” RL was the topic of work to date. Demand projections from Metrolinx have already shown that a “big” RL running north to Eglinton or Sheppard will have a much greater benefit, but the numbers presented by City Planning to date do not get into that territory. The potential benefit of the RL is, therefore, understated leaving people like Mihevc in a position to ask why it is needed at all.
- Aspects of the plan continue to presume that a frequent service at TTC fares can and will be provided on SmartTrack. This assumption underpins the Scarborough transit plan, as well as the claim that a Relief Line is not required in the immediate future. However, we have yet to hear from Metrolinx whether they consider this level of SmartTrack service feasible, and the City has yet to learn how much this would cost in capital and operating dollars.
From the Provincial Budget announcement, we know that there is no additional money on the table for transit, and indeed, the need for municipal participation is quite evident. Toronto will not get its rainbow network without having several billion dollars of its own on the table. How this will be funded remains a mystery in our land of “no new taxes”. Federal participation may help, and with a budget announcement in March, we will find out just what contribution they might be making. However, many of the transit schemes for Toronto are not “shovel ready” and they will not have any effect as an economic stimulus until, at least, after the current government’s mandate is finished. The best we can hope for is that spending on some projects (not necessarily transit) in the short to medium term will free up capital for other work.
Board members love simplistic measures of a project’s worth, and the cost per ride often turns up as a way to evaluate proposals. This is very short-sighted because new routes have benefits beyond the immediate issue of the rides they carry, notably the release of capacity elsewhere by “relief” effects. The same riders may be on the RL tomorrow who are on the Yonge line today, but that shift creates capacity that improves service and enables new riding on the network as a whole, not just on the most recently-built part. Oddly enough, the highest possible cost for a relief line is often cited if only to scare people away from the plan, but the benefits that could flow from this spending are not mentioned. The “relief” in the “relief line” somehow doesn’t make it to the financial bottom line.
The discussion turned to a debate on “who does what” in the planning arena, and the apparent takeover of primary responsibility by City Planning. A chart presented by Keesmaat gave a breakdown, but TTC Vice-Chair Alan Heisey wondered where this chart originated, and on which approvals by the TTC or Council it rested. My own recollection of this was an evolution during the Ford/Stintz era where the heavy lifting for Planning shifted away from the TTC. At the time, CEO Andy Byford seemed quite content with this arrangement so that the TTC could concentrate on its “core business” of running the railway.
One can argue this point either way, and over the years neither City Planning nor the TTC have been ideal places to get “expert”, unbiased advice on transit plans. In the days when the TTC was dominant, the focus was on subways including the Richmond Hill extension and claims that there was plenty of reserve capacity on the Yonge line. LRT only forced its way onto the table through Transit City, after being downplayed and discouraged by TTC management for years. As for the City, the current plans keep hope for some pet schemes alive including SmartTrack and the emergence of Scarborough Town Centre as a major development node even if its only rapid transit link will be a subway that does not serve much of Scarborough.
The elephants in the room are ignored – pet projects and godfathers at all levels of government. The Scarboro subway and SmartTrack are untouchable, and other decisions must fit around these. That is not planning expertise at work, but political clout.
The Quarterly Customer Satisfaction Survey was trotted out to show what a great job the TTC is doing in making its riders happier and inspiring confidence in the system. After watching these numbers dance around for a few years, I am not convinced that we are seeing much more than seasonal variations.
2015 includes a spike in Q3 which was attributed to the Pan Am Games and the high level of customer assistance (not to mention extra service) present around the TTC system. This produces an “improvement”, but it is one that will not be sustained without a comparable effort in the future. The drop back to a 72% rating in Q4’15 brings the value back to the same level reported in that quarter from 2012 through 2014. Until we see numbers for 2016, we will not know whether the comparatively mild winter gives the TTC a better satisfaction score early in this year.
An obvious question is what causes the rise and fall of the overall score, and this is addressed by the “key drivers” chart.
When the score rose through 2015, the perception was that trips were more attractive, but this improvement vanished with the fall survey, and it was the frequent users who know that problems are persistent, not simply a matter of one day’s bad luck, who drove this.
Riders continue to have a sense that the TTC gives good value for money, and they are proud of the system, although the latter metric tends to follow the overall satisfaction line begging the question of whether these are really separate indices.
Wait time remains a key issue for riders on all modes. This is no surprise as transit planners for decades have known that waits, including transfers, for a vehicle whose arrival is uncertain, produce unease among riders, and wait time “feels” longer both because it does not contribute to productive movement on a trip, and may be of unknown duration.
Two key points follow from this in the presentation:
- Improving service reliability continues to be our primary focus as it is likely to increase levels of customer satisfaction in key areas, such as wait time, trip duration and crowding inside vehicles.
- Consistency is key to customer perceptions of the service we provide and of the TTC as an organization
A deputant at the meeting, who turned out to be a TTC operator, raised the long-standing problem that issues spotted and reported at the front line of the organization rarely make it through the chain of command. As an example, he cited a case where on a night car, he had given incorrect information to a passenger because the Blue Night map in the transit shelter was out of date. Andy Byford’s response was less than helpful when he talked about his program of setting up local managers with responsibility to fix things. The problem, as in any large organization, is that the issue of up-to-date customer information and signage is a systemic one, and local managers have no control over this. It should not be a Route Supervisor or Division Super’s job to ensure that route maps and other info are up to date in “their” corner of the world.
There is a sense bordering on complacency that the Customer Satisfaction numbers look good overall, and this can lead quickly to that classic TTC stance that any problems are not of their making. It is tempting to say that CS numbers indicate that things are “good enough” rather than constantly trying to improve. If the big swings are seasonal, the TTC cannot do much about the weather. How the system performs under all conditions is key.
The TTC’s Wheel Trans service will see very substantial growth in demand over the coming decade for several reasons:
- Demographic changes will shift more of the population into an age bracket where the proportion of riders who cannot use the “conventional” system is higher.
- Provincial legislation will change the eligibility criteria for service so that more would-be users qualify for the service.
- The completion of accessibility throughout the TTC network will make use of conventional services, notably the subway, more attractive with Wheel-Trans providing the “last mile” service for access to trunk routes.
The shift in demand is unavoidable, regardless of the budget initiatives any Mayor or Councillor might have in mind. The question is how will the transit system adapt to this future. (One might well argue that the TTC could have done better even with its current mandate, but that is relevant only in the sense that past restraint in the growth of Wheel-Trans service simply makes the hill to be climbed now steeper than it might have been.)
The customer base for Wheel-Trans has shifted over the years from a roughly equal mix of ambulatory and non-ambulatory riders, to a 2:1 mix with ambulatory riders in the majority. This change implies that the proportion of riders who can use taxis rather than vans, and who might navigate part of the transit system on their own, is going up.
The 2012 drop in registrants corresponds to an era when the TTC was actively paring its roster of eligible riders. This was also the era in which trips for dialysis patients were discontinued as a cost saving measure.
The ratio between the two groups of riders is even more striking when expressed as trips rather than as registrants. It is no surprise that ambulatory customers would take more trips, on average, and by 2015 this accounted for almost 4/5 of the total demand. That proportion is expected to grow as non-ambulatory trip growth is projected to be relatively flat.
The TTC and the City of Toronto face substantial pressure for increased WT subsidies thanks to growing demand and eligibility. To the extent that this growth can be handled in less expensive modes/vehicles, the rate of cost growth can be held below the increasing demand.
In 2015, the forecast growth rate for trips was 7%, but the actual growth was 12%. Beginning in 2017, three types of mobility impairment will be added to the eligibility criteria:
- Cognitive impairment
- Sensory impairment
- Life sustaining treatment such as chemotherapy and dialysis
This and other changes are expected to boost the rate of growth for WT service, and the TTC is looking at projected rates from 15% to 25%. Compound growth at these rates will quickly increase the number of trips WT must serve. The 2016 budget was struck on the basis of a 15% increase in demand over 2015, and the subsidy at this level will be $124 million. If the rate of increase were 25%, this would add $10 million to the subsidy call against the City’s budget.
This type of increase faces Toronto’s budget for each coming year, not as a one-time event.
The TTC faces several challenges in shifting to a different model of service provision for WT riders. First off, there is the basic issue that a shared service involves longer rides for passengers than the distance they actually need to travel.
If the intent is to use WT as a “last mile” service to take riders to a trunk route such as the subway, then wandering through multiple pickups enroute simply will not work, and this type of service will have to be much more point-to-point and “on time” to the rider’s needs. There is no point in breaking up a rider’s trip claiming they can use the subway as a bridge if the result is an unpredictable wait for the connection on the last leg.
The distribution of trip lengths is interesting because it is similar to the general transit population where the average trip is in the 8-9km range. The TTC acknowledges that the short trips really cannot be offloaded onto the conventional system, especially as a three-part bridged journey, and it is simpler (and a lot faster) to simply take a rider from “A” to “B” in a single vehicle.
Finally, management recommended five objectives to the Board for approval, and buried within them (particularly in the detailed discussion in Appendix I) are references to the need for organizational change. If the full system is really to be available to all riders, and the service model will see as much travel as possible on the “conventional” system, then serving those riders is not something that can be done on sufferance, or when it suits staff to “accommodate” travellers.
In order to achieve this objective there are several areas to address. Firstly it must be recognized that the entire TTC plays an equal role in delivering accessible transit. All of Service Delivery Group and supporting areas need to be involved. Customer and stakeholder education will play a larger role going forward. The human factors side requires the development of a travel training program for both customers and a training module for TTC employees to ensure they are familiar with supporting customers with additional accessibility needs as well as a more general effort to educate stakeholders on the Family of Services provided by the TTC. [p. 12]
Changing the culture and engaging staff is critically important to deliver lasting transformation. This is especially true as the number of customers using the accessible system expands dramatically – it is not only Wheel-Trans employees who need to be considered but all TTC employees on the fixed route system and those of our contracted service providers. In addition, in support of the overall TTC People objective, the strategy focuses on the skills, ability and attitude needed to live up to the spirit of our vision in everything we say and do. [p. 13]
This is a noble goal, but the real question will be how the need for “financial responsibility” will line up with actual service delivery. There are big commitments to announcement and photo-ops, but much less to actual spending. The TTC may or may not be able to keep rising costs under control by shifting demand away from the most expensive of its Wheel-Trans offerings, and in the short term this will be difficult because full system accessibility is still years away. However, if Council adopts the attitude that there is always an “efficiency” to be found, then service delivery will consist of making do with inadequate resources, a recipe for bad service, rushed and unhappy staff, and poor service to the riders. In particular, the conventional system riders should not be made to feel that they are being put out by accommodation of WT customers who can travel on regular services.
When the Crosstown LRT opens, there will be substantial changes to the bus network with many new stations to which bus routes can connect. The question of what the “new map” would look like has come up before, and the map attached to this report illustrates the current thinking.
Depending on the fate of the Crosstown East and West extensions, and whether they open concurrently with the central part of the line, route designs for what are now Crosstown terminals would have to be updated.
Major planned changes include (it is possible some of these changes will predate the Crosstown’s opening):
- Existing “Eglinton” routes would be modified. 32 Eglinton West would serve the area west of Mt. Dennis station. 34 Eglinton would serve the area where the Crosstown is underground from Mt. Dennis to Don Mills. The route name “Eglinton East” disappears.
- The Emmett and Trethewey branches of 32 Eglinton West would be broken off as separate routes 150 and 58 respectively.
- Service on Jane would be broken at Eglinton with all routes heading east to Mt. Dennis Station.
- A new 189 Rocket is proposed for Weston north from Eglinton to Steeles.
- Route 7 Bathurst is renumbered 19, and 5 Avenue Road becomes 13.
- Routes 51 Leslie and 56 Leaside will be through-routed as 51 Leslie to Donlands Station. They will no longer serve Eglinton west of Laird.
- Route 100 Flemingdon Park loses its Eglinton branch and ends at Don Mills Station.
- Route 54 Lawrence East is rerouted to Don Mills Station via Don Mills. It is unclear what will provide service west of Don Mills beyond the existing 162 Lawrence-Donway bus, if anything.
- A new 184 Rocket is proposed for Lawrence East from Don Mills Station.