The TTC Board will hold its regular meeting at 1:00 pm on May 31, 2016 in Committee Room 1 at City Hall.
Items of note on the agenda include:
- The monthly CEO’s Report
- Purchase of 97 diesel buses
- Metrolinx response to a request for additional parking in the Kipling Terminal project
The agenda also includes the draft financial statements which I covered in a separate article.
Recent media coverage of the TTC focuses on the ongoing fall in ridership numbers, but there is more amiss at TTC than just ridership. The “dashboard” beginning on page 3 gives an overview of various indices and targets for TTC operations, and the proliferation of red “X”es should be a warning that fixing our transit problems needs more than a campaign of smiling faces. Almost 2/3 of the indicators are in the negative. This is not the image of a system that is rebuilding, that is reclaiming its place as a first rate operation, wants to see. Customer satisfaction scores might be up in 1Q16 from 4Q15, but basic problems with service quality continue to plague the system.
Oddly enough, one of those smiling faces belongs to Justin Trudeau whose recent visit to Greenwood Shops brought a re-announcement of $840 million in “state of good repair” funding. That in itself is a challenge because Toronto Council has a long, bad habit of using new money from other levels of government to replace spending on its own account. The net impact is considerably lower than the big dollar announcements might imply. We have yet to see just how Toronto and the TTC plan to use their windfall, and how much of the new money will actually go to improving service quality.
Ridership & Financials
Ridership for March 2016 was very slightly ahead of 2015 by 0.2%, but by other measures it is down (year-to-date, actual vs budget). The TTC happily reported continued ridership growth over several years, even during the dark days of Rob Ford’s budget cuts, but rate of increase has been declining since mid-2013 turning negative late in 2015.
On the financial side, the TTC now predicts a $25m shortfall in revenue compared with budget projections, although in 1Q16 they have already burned through $13m of this and are clearly expecting an improvement as the year goes on. This loss is attributed to 9m fewer riders than predicted, or an average fare per lost rider of $1.44. On a percentage basis, revenue is predicted to be 2.01% below budget while ridership is 1.63% below budget. This indicates that riders who pay more have been disproportionately discouraged in their use of the system.
Predicted Budgeted Change Revenue ($m) $1217.1 $1242.1 -2.01% Riders (m) 544 553 -1.63%
On the expense side, various accounts are expected to come in about $10m below budget overall, and this will partly offset the lost revenue. No provision for service cutbacks in response to lower ridership has been factored into the projections yet.
Eagle-eyed readers will spot that the values for the “previous” year (in green above) do not line up exactly with the “current” values 12 months earlier (in blue). The reason for this is that the “previous” figures are adjusted to take account of calendar differences between years so that comparisons are on an equal footing. For example:
- January 2015 had one more weekday and one less Sunday than 2016, although that extra day was the Friday after New Years which has much lighter ridership than a normal workday.
- February 2016 had one extra weekday because of the leap year.
- March 2016 had the Easter weekend which fell in April in 2015.
The total ridership for 1Q16 is reported as 134.7 million against an adjusted 1Q15 value of 136.1m. The unadjusted number for 1Q15 is 137.7m.
Month 2016 2015 Reported Reported Adjusted January 43.5m 45.0m 43.6m February 40.4m 41.7m 41.7m March 50.9m 51.0m 50.8m Total YTD * 134.7m 137.7m 136.1m Reported: Values shown in the CEO's reports for the respective periods. Adjusted: Values shown in 2016 reports as 2015 comparables. * : Some values do not sum due to rounding.
Of the adjusted values, the one for February is particularly odd considering that the 2015 values should be increased to compensate for the longer month in 2016.
Meanwhile, the moving annual average for the year ending March 2015 is reported now as 537.4m, while the actual number reported a year ago was 535.3m, a difference of 2.1%.
The machinery of adjusting previous year numbers is hidden, but should be better explained because debates on ridership and budget strategy turn on understanding just what is happening.
Despite all of the hype from Metrolinx, usage of the Presto fare card on TTC is only up to to 2.1m trips for March 2016 out of total riding of 50.9m. Although this is almost double the rate of a year ago, it is still a small fraction of total ridership.
The TTC has still not produced a report on implementation of the full range of fare options on Presto including monthly and weekly passes. The day pass equivalent – capping the number of fares charged per day – is already in the Presto system but has not been turned on.
Meanwhile, any hopes for time-based transfer rules to replace the existing TTC scheme are mired in the Metrolinx fare integration strategy discussions and the cold feet in both the Mayor’s and TTC Chair’s office about the potential for lost revenue and higher city subsidies.
On Line 1 YUS, there were fewer delays in 1Q16 than in 2015, but the length of delays has shown an upward trend since 3Q15. Trains/hour through the peak point at Bloor-Yonge continues to be below the scheduled value, and for March 2016 fell below 2015 due to major events “including a hydro chamber fire, a power failure at Wilson Yard, and a lengthy track fire” according to the report.
On Line 2 BD, the number of delays for 1Q16 was the same as in 1Q15, but the count is still well above the target level. The length of delays in 1Q16 is down sharply from 1Q15 due mainly to the mild weather. As on the Yonge line, the peak trains/hour value continues to run below the scheduled level.
In both cases, the inability to achieve scheduled service levels begs the question of just how many trains can be operated through the peak congestion points on the system. We are spending hundreds of millions on new signal systems with the hope of shorter headways, but we do not even achieve the scheduled headways the system should provide today. Understanding the dynamics of station operations is essential to any debate about future subway capacity and “relief” from peak point demand.
On Line 3 SRT, the delay count and length have improved compared to a year ago. How much of this is weather related remains to be seen whenever Toronto again has severe winter conditions.
Surface route performance brings us to metrics that may be of dubious value:
- On time performance is measured at terminals on a basis that a vehicle should be no more than 1 minute early or up to 5 minutes late. The problem with this metric is that for headways commonly found on TTC routes, this allows bunching right from the terminal to be considered “on time”. Even with this generous measure, the streetcar system achieves less than 60% while the bus system is around 80%.
- Short turn performance is reported as a raw count of vehicles turned back before reaching their scheduled destination. The most obvious problem with this is that the number of scheduled trips will vary from month to month, and the number of trips varies by route and by mode. Streetcar short turns are down substantially in 1Q16 compared to 2015, although the number has levelled off suggesting that further improvement is unlikely now that all routes have schedules designed around actual road conditions. The bus network is also improved over 2015, but the data are not reported in a way that distinguishes between routes with “improved” schedules, those still remaining to be changed, and those where schedules match actual conditions.
There is no measure of service quality along a route, notably the degree to which vehicles bunch producing headways considerably wider than advertised values.
For the T1 trains (BD and Sheppard lines), mean distance between failure (MDBF) remains above the target of 300k km.
For the TR trainsets (YUS line), reliability is falling after a very high peak late in 2015. For March, the MDBF was down to 614k km, well below the target of almost 800k.
In both cases, the major problem is reported with the door systems, and work is underway to improve this. The variation between the numbers (and the targets) for the two types of equipment is not simply a matter of design, but of the fact that new equipment, once it gets past the debugging stage, tends to be very reliable with a long decline over its lifespan. This can lead to budget decisions that fail to account for the effect of an aging fleet (and other types of infrastructure), a common problem in the transit industry.
For the streetcar fleets, the CLRVs and ALRVs saw a substantial gains in reliability through 2015 only for this to disappear again in 1Q16. The only good thing that can be said here is that the MDBFs fell back to early 2015 levels, but no further. However, if this is a seasonal effect, then the cars are sensitive to more than the worst of cold winters (2015) if they also had problems in 2016. As the year wears on, and particularly into 2017, we should see the effect of the retirement of the oldest, least reliable CLRVs, and the rebuild of 30 of the ALRVs.
Meawhile, the MDBF for the new Flexitys is up to 17.7k km, far above the rate achieved by the older cars, although there is still a long way to go to reach the target of 35k km specified in the Bombardier contract.
As with the streetcars, bus MDBF numbers fell in 1Q16 compared with fall 2015 values. The March 2016 value is above a new, reduced MDBF target of 8,100km. How it will evolve over the year remains to be seen. TTC had been shooting for a 9,000 km value with a new, more pro-active maintenance plan for 2016, but this was not approved by Council in the budget process.
The TTC will exercise an option for additional vehicles in its contract with Nova Bus for 97 standard sized clean diesel buses to be delivered in 2017. Of these buses, 60 are to replace old vehicles that are retiring, and the remainder are net additions.
It is worth noting that the total fleet projected for the end of 2017 is 2,079, but only 1,688 would be for peak service with the remainder for various spare pools:
- 44: Growth or construction mitigation
- 304: Operating spares at 18%
- 87: Capital spares (warranty work, retrofits, implementation of new vehicle monitoring system)
The report notes that even if ridership growth does not materialize, more buses may be needed to offset Metrolinx construction project effects. Moreover, if a short term surplus does develop, this could be addressed by early retirement of some of the least reliable old vehicles and adjustment of the 2018 bus order.
An issue still not addressed, at least publicly, is the question of garage space and where the TTC will physically put all of the buses it will own. McNicoll Garage is not scheduled to come on stream until 2020, and there is no word on temporary space elsewhere. (Negotiations for the old YRT garage in Concord ended last year. It is unclear just why the TTC decided not to pursue that option.)
At its March 2016 meeting, the TTC Board passed a motion asking that Metrolinx provide additional parking at Kipling station as part of the regional terminal project now underway there. The TTC is addicted to parking as a feeder mechanism for the subway even though only a minority of subway riders actually use the facilities.
- Request that Metrolinx report to the TTC on possible revisions to the design concept for the Metrolinx Terminal at the TTC Kipling Station that would increase commuter parking
spaces from 1467 to 2,500-3,000 spaces; and
- That the report includes the feasibility of adding a parking deck at the south parking lot.
Yes, that was passed by a so-called transit commission.
The reply from Metrolinx to this request makes amusing reading especially considering that Metrolinx is the largest operator of parking lots in Canada with over 60,000 spaces. Based on this letter, they seem to be changing their position, although I won’t believe that for sure until the Minister of Transportation stops holding media events to announce yet more parking somewhere on the network.
Basically, Metrolinx says “we designed the terminal with less parking because that’s what you agreed to”, although they have relented somewhat on the issue.
Of particular interest are the priorities set during the design stage for the new terminal, in order:
- Bus terminal
- Pedestrian access
- Bus access
- Cyclist access
- Pick up and drop off areas including space for taxis
- Commuter parking
- Development potential
- Subway extension
Parking ranks below all other methods of access to the terminal other than new riders from on site development, or from a subway extension.
To replace existing TTC parking on a 1:1 basis, some new parking will be provided within the Hydro corridor adjacent to the station.
Metrolinx notes, wryly, that:
Increasing parking within the station area beyond replacement parking for the TTC does not align with Metrolinx and City of Toronto objectives of encouraging other travel modes, such as local transit, walking and cycling, and pickup and drop-off in this mobility hub.
As for a parking structure, Metrolinx advises that the only space available for one would accommodate only 250 spaces, and this would be a five-storey structure costing $20-40 million.
The TTC is welcome to pursue building a parking structure at their cost, however Metrolinx is only committed to replacing existing TTC surface parking.
This scheme deserves a very quick death, presuming that members of the commission can remember the priorities of the system they govern.