Calculating the Effect of Uneven Headways

Regular readers will be familiar with many analyses published here that review the behaviour of transit service on streetcar and bus routes. One of the more galling parts of a transit rider’s life is the uneven headways (the times between vehicles) for almost all services that make the anticipated wait longer than the advertised average in the schedule.

This article is an attempt to devise a measure of this problem that can be used to show the degree to which actual service deviates from the scheduled value in a way directly related to rider experience. Some of the material is a tad technical, but not overly so. Also, readers should note that this is a first cut, and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

Wait Times Versus Headways

In theory, service is scheduled to arrive at a stop every “N” minutes, like clockwork. Therefore, the average rider will wait half of this time for a vehicle to show up. If buses are supposed to arrive every 5 minutes, then the average wait is 2.5 minutes. But the situation is more subtle than this.

If riders arrive at the stop at a uniform rate, say one each minute, they will not all wait the same length of time. Someone who arrives in the first minute will wait almost the entire headway, 4.5 minutes on average, while someone who arrives within a minute of the bus will wait on average only 0.5 minutes. The five riders who arrived in the five minute headway will have varying wait times, but on average the value will be 2.5 minutes per rider, and a total of 12.5 for the group overall.

    Rider  Wait Time
      1       4.5
      2       3.5
      3       2.5
      4       1.5
      5       0.5
    Total    12.5

The total above is the sum of a simple arithmetic series, and because of the values chosen here, the formula for calculating the total is quite simple. It is the square of the headway in minutes divided by two.

    Total = (N * N) / 2

If the service is “well behaved” with consistent headways, this is just a complicated way of getting to the same result with the average wait being half a headway (5 minutes divided by 2 giving 2.5 minutes). However, when headways are not consistent, the square factor in that formula shows its effect.

Suppose that vehicles are supposed to arrive every 5 minutes, but in fact two vehicles arrive sometime within a 10 minute window on varying headways. These might both be 5 minutes, but they could also be 6 and 4, 7 and 3, etc. In this case, the wait times behave differently. The table below shows how the average wait time for the ten riders accumulating at a stop during a 10 minute period vary depending on the regularity, or not, of the headways.

    First     Wait    Second    Wait    Total    Average
    Headway   Time    Headway   Time     Time     Wait
      5'      12.5'     5'      12.5'    25.0'     2.5'
      6'      18.0'     4'       8.0'    26.0'     2.6'
      7'      24.5'     3'       4.5'    29.0'     2.9' 
      8'      32.0'     2'       2.0'    34.0'     3.4'
      9'      40.5'     1'       0.5'    41.0'     4.1'
     10'      50.0'     0'       0.0'    50.0'     5.0'

It is self-evident that if two buses arrive every 10 minutes, the average wait time is 5 minutes, but this table shows how the values rise for different levels of headway inconsistency in between.

The TTC considers that vehicles that are only slightly off schedule (one minute early or up to five minutes late) are “on time” for purposes of reporting service reliability. The problem with this scheme is that the leeway it allows is very broad for routes that operate frequent service. Indeed, if a bus is planned to come every 5 minutes, two could come every 10 and the service would still be “on time”.

There is also the problem that riders on such routes don’t care about the schedule because it really is meaningless. They only care about reliable service, and a six-minute swing of “on time” values is often wider than the scheduled headway. The result is a meaningless metric of “on time performance”.

For wider scheduled headways, that six minute swing does not represent, proportionately, as much of a potential change in average wait times. Consider pairs of buses on a 20 minute headway:

    First     Wait    Second    Wait    Total    Average
    Headway   Time    Headway   Time     Time     Wait
      20'     200.0'    20'     200.0'   400.0    10.00'
      21'     220.5'    19'     180.5'   401.0'   10.03'
      22'     242.0'    18'     162.0'   404.0'   10.10' 
      23'     264.5'    17'     144.5'   409.0'   10.25'
      24'     288.0'    16'     128.0'   416.0'   10.40'
      25'     312.5'    15'     112.5'   425.0'   10.63'

Although the headways are wider, the percentage in change relative to the scheduled value is smaller, and so both the total rider-wait time and the average wait time don’t shift as much as they do for more frequent service for the same latitude in headway adherence. To get the same effect, proportionately, as in the first example, the two buses would have to arrive together in a 40 minute gap.

Note that these values behave the same way regardless of the assumed arrival rate of passengers provided that this rate does not change. The total rider-wait times would be higher for an arrival rate above one per minute, but the average values would remain the same.

There is also a presumption here that for infrequent services, riders will arrive uniformly over the headway. Where the route is the origin for a trip, riders might be expected to time their trips to minimize waits, although this behaviour can be thrown off if service is not reliable, especially if it is often early. For riders arriving at a bus-to-bus connection or at a subway-to-bus transfer, they are unlikely to be able to fine-tune their trips to just catch a bus. (The exception would be a network with protected, timed transfers, but the TTC does not have any of these.)

Crowding Effects

These values also affect on-board crowding because a vehicle carrying a wider than scheduled headway will accumulate more passengers and will have longer stop service times. It will become later and later, and the vehicle behind will eventually catch up. As with “average” wait times, the “average” crowding level will not represent the actual situation experienced by the “average” rider. Just as more riders wait longer than the planned average when buses do not arrive regularly, more riders are on the more crowded vehicles.

The problem is further compounded because most riders try to get on the first vehicle that arrives lest the second one be short-turned and they are left in a big gap waiting to continue their journeys.

If one were to poll 100 riders distributed between two streetcars, they would not complain about crowding if they were equally distributed and all had a seat. However, if 80 of them were on the first car and only 20 on the second, the average perception of crowding would be that the service was overloaded and that it did not show up reliably.

This is a fundamental split between service as the TTC sees it (on average) and as riders see it (as an individual experience).

Measuring the Difference Between Actual and Scheduled Wait Times

In preparing this article, I have been wrestling with various ways to calculate and display these values in a useful way. There are pitfalls both in the methodology and in the charting of information. The examples below are only one way to present this information, and should not be read as definitive.

Here is the basic premise:

  • Within each hour of the day, vehicles pass by a location on a route, each of them on its own headway.
  • From the headway values, one can calculate the wait time for riders assuming an arrival rate of one/minute. The total of these times divided by 60 gives the average wait per rider over the hour period.
  • The count of vehicles within each hour is easily converted to an average scheduled wait time of one half the average headway.

These values are graphed for the 504 King route for Tuesday, November 1, 2016. A sample page is shown below and the full sets are linked as PDFs.




In these charts the solid lines represent the rider wait time in minutes/passenger while the dotted lines are the average that would have applied if all of the service had been evenly spaced over an hour. Each colour shows data for a different hour through the day, and the horizontal positions show various locations along the route. Note that the rider wait times are generally higher than the average times implied by the vehicles/hour.

There are several caveats about this presentation:

  • For the 6:00 am line (red on page 1 of each set), the first headway is assumed to occur from 6:00 am until the arrival of the first vehicle. This will generally understate the headway on which that vehicle is operating.
  • Depending on how badly disrupted the service is, the wait time contributed by the first vehicle passing in any hour may include time accumulated during the previous hour. This causes wait time to be mis-attributed, and it is possible for the rider wait time in the previous hour to be understated. For example, if one car passes a stop at 7:56 and the next one at 8:04, all of the rider wait time associated with the second vehicle will be included in the 8:00 data as will the vehicle in the total count. This effect is generally small enough that it balances out, but it can be more pronounced on wider headways where there are fewer vehicles to smooth out the data.
  • In some cases, a gradual increase in rider wait times is visible along the length of the route showing how service becomes progressively more bunched into pairs.
  • Major delays can result in a large increase in rider wait time because the long gap dominates the calculation, and following cars contribute almost nothing to this value. However, the number of cars/hour could still be at the scheduled level and the “average” wait times are not affected.

For reference, I have also included here the chart of overall service for the day.


There is a disruption of service westbound at Dufferin between 10:00 and 10:30 am. This causes headways west of this point to be bunched, and that bunching is reflected back on the eastward trip from Dundas West as a parade of cars makes its way across the city. Note that nothing was short-turned into the gap eastbound, and it was not until the next westbound trips after 11:00 that service began to be sorted out.

A delay eastbound at Queen & Roncesvalles just after 15:30 shows up as a spike in “3 pm” rider wait times at that location, but most of the gap passes points further east during the “4 pm” interval. This explains the behaviour of the plots for these two time periods.

As I wrote above, this is a first cut at attempting to measure what riders experience versus what the TTC will typically state as its quality of service.

A useful corollary to this would be to examine data from automatic passenger counters on the vehicles, but these have not yet been rolled out fleet wide. This would allow us to tie the service reliability values to crowding conditions on vehicles.

What will not show up, of course, is the number of passengers who simply never get on because they tire of waiting for a vehicle with room on it. At least with detailed counts, we would know how often “full vehicles” actually occur, and especially cases of lightly-loaded ones that are not pulling their weight because they are part of a parade. That is a task for a future round.

If I get any other ideas about how to present this information, I will update this article with additional examples.

TTC Presto Update December 2016 (Updated)

Updated January 5, 2017 at 7:00 pm: Information has been added about Presto sales within TTC subway stations. See the end of the article.

With a modest fanfare, both the TTC and Metrolinx celebrated the completion, if that’s the right word, of their planned 2016 roll out of the Presto fare card system. The work is not yet finished, and the full conversion away from existing “legacy” media is a year off. According to the TTC:

“Tickets, Tokens and passes will be available for sale and use throughout 2017. We will stop accepting these in 2018.” [Presentation, p 8]

Still to be worked out is the actual final date beyond which any tokens or tickets bought in 2017 can be used or redeemed. With the TTC Board committed to a fare freeze in 2018 (election year) the old media won’t expire on their own, and of course tokens are always good for “one fare”, whatever it may be.

At some point in 2017, the TTC will begin to offer Metropasses on Presto. This will include regular and monthly discount plan versions, but the fate of the bulk purchase “VIP” program is still uncertain. According to the TTC, the roll out of passes by Presto had been delayed awaiting capacity upgrades in the central system to handle the volume of transactions passes will bring. This was confirmed by Metrolinx who said:

“As with any major system expansion, related upgrades are scheduled to roll out gradually as we test and optimize our system for anticipated increases in future use. These upgrades are deliberate and measured, and they include improvements such as the migrating to our new data centre. The system has been built with enhanced scalability features that will accommodate Metropasses.” [email of Dec. 21, 2016]

For now, Metropass users should remain on the “legacy” cards until the same functions and pricing are available through Presto.

Riders wishing to purchase Presto cards have faced a challenge thanks to the limited number of TTC outlets selling them. This is about to change. Already Presto cards can be bought at many Gateway News outlets, and Metrolinx expects this to expand in 2017:

“We are pursuing plans to expand the PRESTO card distribution footprint through a partnership with a third-party retail network. This network would also enable us to increase our ability to set special concessions, such as student and senior discounts. We expect to have more information to share in the new year.”

An important part of the sales process is that riders who are entitled to concession fares will be able to buy cards with that option pre-loaded. However, there is a potential conflict with the TTC’s intended implementation of discount fares that could complicate this type of purchase and account setup.

For a few classes of rider, the TTC proposes that a “Photo ID” be available. This would not be a separate card as in the early days of the Metropass, but a photo integrated into the user’s Presto card and account. The exact mechanism for loading this photo have yet to be determined. Also, it is not yet certain that photos will be required for seniors because, unlike children and students, their eligibility never expires, and linking the card to the rider for fraud prevention is less of an issue. One side effect the TTC did not mention is that a return to photo ID makes the card non-transferable, and this would produce limitations on its use that do not exist with current media.

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Mayor Tory Discovers We Don’t Have Enough Transit Service

Budget season brings some of the more extreme and ill-informed statements from the Poo-Bahs who govern our fair city. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the Gilbert & Sullivan operatta “The Mikado”, the Oxford Dictionary defines the name/term thus:

A person having much influence or holding many offices at the same time, especially one perceived as pompously self-important.

Throughout the development of the TTC Operating Budget, a central question has been that of projected ridership and the service it will require. The accept wisdom goes roughly like this:

  • We expected lots and lots of new riders in 2016, but we aimed rather high, a “stretch target” as CEO Andy Byford described it.
  • They didn’t all show up. This led to a shortfall both in ridership and in revenue compared to the original 2016 budget.
  • Service improvements were planned for fall 2016 based on the target numbers, but as there are fewer riders, the improvements were not required.
  • Ridership for 2017 is projected to be only barely above 2016 levels, and the service operating in fall 2016 is adequate to handle the demand.
  • There is no provision in the 2017 budget for service increases beyond the full-year effect of changes made partway through 2016.

All of this is quite plausible, but it runs headlong into conflicts with other factors. The most recent of these is a letter from Mayor Tory and TTC Chair Josh Colle to Bombardier complaining about the late delivery of streetcars.

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The Evolution of the TTC 2017 Budget (Updated)

Updated December 16, 2016:  A reconciliation of the City and TTC versions of the budget has been added at the end of the article.

Following numbers in the development of budgets can be like a game of Three Card Monte on a grand scale. Information is presented in various ways, at times in ways that obscure understanding, and at others where the path from “version a” to “b” is missing a crucial step. This article is an attempt to reconcile what has been presented to date. As and when further revisions occur, I will add updates here.

The Process

TTC management begin work on the following year’s operating budget midway through the calendar year. At that point, the actual results that will come out by year-end are unknown, and only some trends may be apparent. The starting point is the current budget which may or may not reflect the actuals by year end, but they have to start somewhere.

Budgets in Toronto are typically presented in terms of year-over-year “pressures” so that, for example, if there is a known increase in costs such as fuel or electricity, this translates to an amount by which this budget line will increase. Basic cost changes can be compounded if there is a substantial change in TTC operations such as the expansion of bus service or the opening of a new subway line. This is a fundamental issue in transit budgets – they must absorb not only changes in costs related to inflation, market rates, and labour contracts, but also the change in scale of operations. Typically the gross cost of the system goes up greater than the rate of inflation, although this can be offset by cost reductions and that favourite target of budget hawks, “efficiencies”.

The TTC’s Budget Committee was supposed to meet in June, but this was cancelled and a chance to get an early look at the 2017 situation was, therefore, lost by the Board (at least to the extent of any public discussion). In September, there were two separate meetings for the Capital and Operating budgets respectively. Finally in late November, the Board approved its Preliminary Budget for 2017. This went into the City’s budget process, and further refinements proposed by the City Manager await actions by the City Budget Committee on December 19, followed by Council in the new year. The TTC Board will then have to deal with the difference, if any, between the requested subsidy and what they actually will receive from Council.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, January 8, 2017 (Updated)

Updated December 12, 2016 at 3:00 pm and at 4:25 pm: Details of the works planned for the west end of the Queen line during 2017 have been added to this article.

The planned service changes for January 2017 bring major restructuring of two routes, and a troubling indicator about the general availability of vehicles for TTC service.

Bus Availability

Several routes will have AM peak service cuts because there are not enough buses to operate the service. None of these will push the service over the loading standards, and these could be thought of of “trimming” excessive service. However, the explicit reason given is the lack of buses.

This is partly due to the slow delivery of new streetcars and to the operation of buses on many streetcar routes either to make up for missing fleet, or to cover for construction projects, but also because of additional demands for spare buses for maintenance.

Streetcar Availability

At the time of writing this article, car 4429 is about to leave Thunder Bay. This leaves Bombardier on track if they push out one more car to hit their much-revised delivery target for 2016. However, the rate of deliveries is not expected to speed up until the second quarter of 2017 and so it will be some time before we see streetcars return across the system.The shortage is partly due to late deliveries and partly to the increased need for cars in maintenance for rehabilitation pending receipt of more Flexitys.

As of January, the following routes or portions of routes are operating with buses:

  • 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road
  • 501 Queen (bus operation west of Sunnyside Loop to Long Branch)
  • 504 King (bus trippers)
  • 511 Bathurst

Effective January 8, 2017, the 501 Queen service will operate with streetcars only between Sunnyside Loop and Neville Loop. A bus service will run from Long Branch Loop via Lake Shore, Windermere, The Queensway, Queen and Dufferin to Dufferin Loop. The same arrangement will be in place for night service, and so riders bound west of Roncesvalles will have to transfer to the night bus.

Beginning in the spring, The Queensway right-of-way will be rebuilt over its entire length including the bridge at the Humber River, the “Long Branch” side of Humber Loop will be rebuilt, as will the track from Humber Loop west to Dwight and Lake Shore (just at the point where Lake Shore straightens out). Streetcar service is not expected to resume until late in 2017 January 2018.

Update: The timing for various components of this project, tentatively, is:

  • Queensway track from Claude to Humber Loop will be rebuilt in concrete rather than with open ballast as at present. This work will occur over much of the construction season.
  • City work on the Humber River bridge will also run through the construction season.
  • Track on Lake Shore from Humber Loop to Dwight will be replaced in the spring.
  • A new substation will be installed at Humber Loop in the summer.
  • Track at Humber Loop and through the tunnel to Lake Shore will be replaced in the late summer and fall.
  • There are no plans at this point to change the stop at Parkside Drive which is not accessible.

Further to the above, the TTC advises that “most of the track work west of Humber Loop is the replacement of the rail and top layer of concrete only, and so the alignment does not change.”

[Thanks to Scott Haskill at the TTC for these details.]

A separate project to rebuild and reconfigure The Queensway east of Parkside to Roncesvalles, including replacement of the intersection and the junctions with the carhouse, is planned for 2019.

Concurrent with this change, some of the bus trippers on 504 King will revert to streetcar operation. Also, the 80A Queensway service to Keele Station will operate at all hours rather than cutting back to Humber Loop to preserve a connection with the 501 Queen bus service.

Metrolinx Construction on the Eglinton LRT

This project continues to affect more routes whose schedules have been adjusted mainly by giving more running time and stretching headways.

The major change in this regard is that the 25 Don Mills route will be split on weekdays at Don Mills Station into two separate routes so that construction delays on the south end of the line do not affect service north of Sheppard. The service levels on the 25 Don Mills local buses and 185 Don Mills Rockets have been slightly adjusted to reflect greater demand on the locals.


TTC 2017 Capital Budget Update

Update: This article has been updated with the TTC’s 2017 bus fleet plan and related comments.

Update 2 December 6, 2016: The TTC’s rationale for the choice of which Hybrid Buses are to be replaced first has been added.

A few weeks ago, the big TTC story was the Operating Budget and fare increase approved on November 21. However, the same agenda included the $9 billion 2017-26 Capital Budget as well as an update on proposed spending from Ottawa’s new Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF).

The major changes between the preliminary version discussed at TTC Budget Committee in September and the version presented to the Board for approval are:

  • Incorporation of additional PTIF funded projects raising their total value from $506 million in the preliminary budget to $1,160 million in the approved version.
  • Replacement of the “City debt target” values carried forward from the 2016 budget with a “funding request” including the City’s 50% PTIF share.
  • Reduction of the savings attributed to “Capacity to Spend” limitations.

Whether the TTC’s plans fit in with the City’s financing capability and debt target will be better known once the City Budget launches on December 6, and the question of new “revenue tools” is settled. Although there is some appetite, finally, to raise new revenues in support of capital projects, the amounts likely to flow remain well below the level needed to fund all of the City’s wish list.

PTIF Projects

Phase 1 of PTIF focuses on “state of good repair” projects that renew infrastructure and keep the system from falling apart. There are several reports including PTIF details, and the amounts vary between them:

  • The PTIF report from September 2016 contains $720m of TTC projects (gross) with assumed PTIF funding of $360m (50%).
  • The preliminary version of the 2017-2026 Capital Budget contains only $506m (gross) because some of the PTIF money will go toward the 2016 budget.
  • The final version of the 2017-2026 Capital Budget contains $1.160b (gross) for funding in 2017-2019.
  • The PTIF report from November 2016 includes $1.363b (gross) for the entire phase.

The list of TTC PTIF projects is shown below. Details for each of these are in the PTIF report.


Note that the table above is organized in groups based on current funding status:

  • Unfunded projects have no prior Council approval, and so will require that Toronto fund 50% of their cost as “new money”. ($367m gross)
  • New projects added in 2017 were not previously in the capital plans, and so have no approved funding. They too will require new money from Council. ($166m gross)
  • Partly funded items in the 2016-2025 budget are ongoing maintenance projects such as the annual replacement of track on the streetcar and subway systems. These projects are not completely funded either because spending in the “out years” is not yet approved, or because there have been cuts to the “in years” to keep TTC spending within the City’s budget. PTIF money could top up budgets in the years 2016-19, or it could allow the city to repurpose some planned funding to other projects. ($237m gross)
  • Fully funded projects have been approved by Council in the 2016 round including all of their planned spending through the coming decade. PTIF money for these projects allows the city to redirect part of the 100% funding it had planned to other unfunded projects. ($594m gross)

Bus Fleet Plans

A major change in the final version of the list is the scope of the planned order for diesel buses.

  • The previous budget approval included two orders for 108 and 272 buses respectively, of which 173 vehicles would fall within the window of PTIF funding. If PTIF phase 1 is extended to allow projects running for three years, a further 85 buses would fall within its envelope.
  • The “unfunded” list above includes part of a proposed order for 99 “service improvement” buses, as well as over half of a planned 805 bus order that would accelerate the retirement of existing vehicles.

Updated: The TTC has provided its 2017 bus fleet plan which is included below for comparison with the 2016 version.

The last time a plan was published was in the 2016 budget.


The service improvement buses show up as a line item here with a total of 141 vehicles, 99 of them in 2017-19. How exactly the TTC plans to operate these considering that there is no budget to speak of for more service is another mystery of TTC planning. Of course, these vehicles were ordered when Mayor Tory was still in an expansive mood about transit service.

On November 30, the TTC Board approved the purchase of 285 buses to be delivered in 2017-18. This is the final exercise of an option on the Nova Bus contract under which new vehicles are now being delivered. In the plan above, the original level of procurement for 2017-18 was 221, and so this represents an increase in the 2017 plans.

For PTIF eligibility, the TTC wants to bring forward bus purchases originally planned beyond the scope of PTIF phase 1 so that part of this order will receive federal funding. Originally, planned bus purchases would have been 115 in 2019 and 120 annually thereafter.

Updated: Here is the 2017 plan. Note that planned purchases in 2022-26 have been reduced and shifted to 2017-19.


To put the accelerated order for new buses in context, here is the TTC’s fleet list (taken from the current Scheduled Service Summary).


The hybrid bus fleet has been no end of trouble for the TTC, and these vehicles date from 2006-2009. They were intended to last into the 2020s with some receiving overhauls in 2022-23 in the 2016 plan.


  • The 2017 plan shows the retirement of some but not all of the Hybrid fleet, but makes no provision for overhauls of the remaining buses in the next decade. The majority of hybrid retirements are for the original Orion VII buses (1000-1149), and for the second batch of Orion VII “Next Gen” buses (1500-1689). A portion of third batch (1700-1829) would retire in 2019.
  • The other major retirement triggered by the additional buses are the 482 Orion VIIs (7400-7882).
  • Retirement of the 180 Orion VIIs (7900-7979, 8000-8099) has been moved forward to 2021-23.

Updated Dec. 6, 2016:

  • The TTC has clarified why the 223 Orion VIIs Next Gen Hybrids (1200-1423) have not been included in retirement plans. This set of buses is in the midst of an overhaul program and early replacement makes less sense that targeting the slightly newer vehicles that have not been overhauled.

These bus purchases are described in the PTIF project list as:

Buses to reduce passenger wait times and crowding and to provide more reliable and expanded services.

This is something of an exaggeration if the vehicles are intended only as replacements, not as net additions to the fleet. Allowing for better reliability of new buses versus the existing hybrids, this will make more vehicles available and reduce the in service failure rate. However, reduced crowding and wait times, not to mention expanded services only come with better operating funding that puts more vehicles on the road.

Among the new bus maintenance policies the TTC has considered would be the increase of the spare factor in the fleet to 18%. This means that for every 100 buses scheduled in peak service, there would be 18 buses in maintenance. That number does not include the “capital spares” required for warranty work and major overhauls. In the 2016 fleet plan, the scheduled requirement was for about 1,600 buses, but the total fleet was 27% higher.

TTC management, in presenting their budget, stated that if the large bus order goes through, they will be able to defer a move to a higher spare ratio.

Updated: In the fleet plan shown above, the move to an 18% maintenance spare ratio remains in the plan, implemented over two years.

In the short to medium term, a large order of new vehicles should increase overall reliability and availability, but there is a catch involved in this type of planning. All of the new vehicles will age at the same rate, and less than a decade out, the bus fleet will on average be “older” than is ideal driving up failure rates and lowering fleet reliability. Moreover, the fleet replacement will have a sharp peak much as TTC streetcar and subway orders now do, and this will be a strain on future budgets. Indeed, the City has repeatedly asked the TTC to flatten out its vehicle procurement cycle to reduce the effect on budget planning, but with the lure of a potload of PTIF money, the TTC and City appear to be headed in the opposite direction.

Finally, the ten-year budget contains only design funding for a new bus garage to follow after McNicoll Garage, but no money for construction. If the TTC plans to increase its fleet, even allowing for offsets from the opening of new rapid transit lines (Spadina, Eglinton, Scarborough), they need somewhere to put the vehicles.


PTIF Phase 2

Separately from the TTC’s “state of good repair” budget, there are many large infrastructure projects of which only some are for transit. These are in the City of Toronto’s list for the second phase of PTIF funding. The costs shown below are gross values, and the federal share of this would come to $12 billion on a 50% basis. In turn, that would require that Toronto commit an equal amount to most of these unless Queen’s Park feels the urge to contribute as well.


A notable change here is that the Eglinton East LRT is included as a PTIF project, not as part of the “bundle” of Scarborough projects used to make the subway extension palatable to a majority of Council. The next cost estimate for the extension is likely to be even higher than the current one.

Decisions to move forward with these projects are separate from the TTC budget, but influence it because there is only so much money to go around.

The Scarborough Subway Extension

Moreover, some of the new projects, notably the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) trigger the need to move projects on the TTC’s list from unfunded to funded status.

There are several projects related to the Scarborough Subway, but not included (or at least not fully) in its budget.

  • Replacement of the existing T1 subway car fleet with 372 new cars (62 new trainsets). The existing T1 fleet cannot be economically equipped for Automatic Train Control (ATC) which will be the signalling technology on the extension, and a new fleet must be in place before this opens.
  • 62 trainsets will be sufficient to operate the BD + SSE line with every other train running beyond Kennedy to STC, but not with full peak service. Moreover, there would be no spare trains to increase service on BD beyond its current level. The original version of the SSE budget included money for additional trains to bring the line up to full service, but whether this has been traded away to pay for increasing costs on the construction project remains to be seen.
  • A new fleet of subway cars in the style of the TRs now on Line 1 YUS will require a maintenance facility designed for this equipment, and the system will have to deal with an overlap when the new fleet is arriving before the old one is retired. Greenwood Shops was not designed for TR-style trains operated as a single unit. The TTC is contemplating a new subway yard near Kipling Station. Work is now underway to increase system storage capacity, but this will only allow for all of the existing T1 fleet to be stored along the Bloor-Danforth line, not for additional storage for co-existence with a new fleet. The 2017-26 budget contains money for design of a new facility (p 26), but not for its construction.
  • Conversion of the existing Line 2 Bloor Danforth subway to ATC. This work is not specific to the SSE, and it does not have to complete before the SSE opens (just as the Line 1 YUS conversion will not finish before the Spadina extension opens). This project is included in the 2017-26 Capital Budget (p 21), but the timeframe has been pushed back to end beyond 2026 when the SSE opens.

Commitment to the Scarborough extension with a 2026 opening date will require that the unfunded projects associated with a new BD fleet be brought forward. This has not been mentioned in financial plans for the SSE presented at the TTC or at Council.

“Capacity to Spend”

The preliminary version of the Capital Budget included a piece of creative accounting intended to make the TTC’s funding needs look a bit less severe than they might be. In the preliminary version, the TTC assumed that close to 10% ($858m out of $9.4b) of its planned spending would not actually occur. This was based on the premise that each year’s budget is underspent, and therefore they really didn’t need the entire $9.4b. That schemes falls apart because the overwhelming reason for underspending is not that the work is not done, merely that it occurs in a later year than originally planned.

In the final version of the budget, this adjustment is still present, but it has been reduced to $482m over 10 years, notably by excluding it from all of the PTIF projects. It really would not do to ask Ottawa for billions, only to turn around and say “we’re not really going to spend it all”. Moreover, treating deferred spending as if it were a permanent cost reduction creates a situation where the city understates its future capital needs. This may look good in the short term, but it catches up with us in the long term. By such devices are “cost overruns” created.

Comparing the Preliminary and Final Funding Plans

With the arrival of PTIF and other adjustments, there is considerable difference between the budgets presented in September and in late November. These changes are summarized in the attached table. My apologies for its size, but the two originals on which this is based are themselves densely packed with numbers.


The chart is organized with three pages on which the years from 2017-26 run across the pages, and the sources of funding run down. The change for each item is shown to highlight what has shifted between the two budgets.

Note that some rows and columns do not add up due to rounding in the source documents from the TTC. Also note that this chart is for the “base” capital budget and does not include special projects such as the TYSSE or SSE for which funding comes from other governments, nor does it include any of the Metrolinx projects.

Items of interest include:

  • There is no change in anticipated provincial funding and this remains at a fixed level from the gas tax over the decade. Queen’s Park gives more to Toronto than is shown here, but the remainder is used as an Operating subsidy.
  • Similarly, the federal gas tax is assumed to remain unchanged over the decade.
  • The PTIF funding extends only to 2019 because this is Phase 1 money. Phase 2 projects will show up separately as and when they proceed just as the TYSSE is split out now.
  • CSIF (Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund) has now run dry and is replaced by PTIF. It had some funding in past years, but not for 2017 and beyond.
  • The treatment of the City’s contribution has changed from the preliminary to the final version. In the preliminary version, the full headroom from the 2016 debt target was included even though the TTC did not actually require all of this funding. That treatment produced a “surplus” in years where TTC spending would have been lower than the City’s headroom. In the final version, only the actual requirement for City funding is included.
  • In 2017-18, the amounts expected from the City’s “Asset Monetization” have been replaced by the more generic “Capital Financing Strategy”. With the decision not to sell Toronto Hydro or the Toronto Parking Authority, funds available from “monetization” are lower than before. They have been offset by PTIF.
  • There remains a $275m shortfall in 2017 as I described early in this article. This is related to the proposed order for 60 more Flexitys whose future is uncertain. Whether this order will be placed, or placed in 2017 (and hence a matter for this year’s budget) remains to be seen.

Over the ten year plan, there is little change in proposed total spending, and not much increase in funding (note that about 40% of PTIF Phase 1 money was already included in the preliminary budget). Most PTIF money will go to new projects, and after the burst of support for state of good repair over the next few years, the City will be back to wrestling with shortfalls in available capital funding. This buys time for a few budget cycles, but does not address the structural problem in funding for the base budget.

Who Deserves a Fare Subsidy?

Updated: Further information on the history of seniors’ fares has been added at the end of this article.

With the never ending problems of balancing the TTC’s budget, the question of trimming or eliminating various forms of fare subsidy are back on the table. This shows up as a quick fix to revenue problems with the assumption that “if only riders paid more, there wouldn’t be a problem”. The target group varies from time to time, but the premise is the same – somebody is freeloading and “my tax dollars/fares” should not be paying their freight.

A basic problem with this argument is that it will not fix the revenue shortfall permanently, only increase the cost of using transit by whichever group is targeted. If, for example, all discount fares were eliminated in 2017, we would be right back at the same position in 2018 wondering how to deal with increased costs, but without that convenient list of scapegoats.

A quick review of the “concession fares” is in order to put the question in context.

  • Adults who are willing to purchase tokens up front (or preload their Presto cards) get a discount relative to riders who pay cash.
  • Adults who want to prepay even more can purchase daily, weekly or monthly passes which cap their costs within a time period.
  • Special passes and validation stickers are available to extend the range of services covered by adult passes to premium fare routes and to other transit systems.
  • Daily pass holders get a special “family” deal on weekends and holidays when up to six people, maximum two adults, can travel on the pass.
  • Monthly pass holders can obtain various extra discounts based on a commitment to buying 12 months’ worth of transit (the Metropass Discount Plan or MDP), and bulk-buy discounts are available to organizations that resell passes (the Volume Incentive Program or VIP).
  • A Convention Pass is available to allow for bulk purchase of transit service for large groups at a price considerably below the cost of a day pass.
  • Students and seniors have passes priced at a 20% discount from adult passes, and MDP pricing provides for a further discount. Cash and ticket fares are discounted about 33% from adult rates.
  • Children ride free.
  • A limited number of designated groups (the blind and war amputees) travel free.
  • WheelTrans users are entitled to be accompanied by a Support Person at no extra charge.

Some of the concession fares have been around for a very long time:

  • Children’s fares predate the TTC’s formation in 1921 and until recently floated between 1/3 and 1/2 of an adult fare. A “child” was defined by height with rings embossed on the stanchions at vehicle entrances to give operators an unambiguous measure. Older vehicles (PCCs and the Peter Witt) bear witness to how the standard was changed over years as the average height of children rose.
  • Scholars’ fares date from the 1950s, and they lie partway between the fare for children and adults.
  • Seniors’ fares came along by the 1970s in recognition of the then-new issue of a growing aged population and their relative poverty. The CPP was less than a decade old, and “house rich” oldsters benefiting from the real estate market were unknown.
  • The Metropass dates from May 1980, and its cost has fluctuated between 52 and 47 “token” fares depending on the prevailing political and fiscal mood.
  • Post-secondary student passes were added to the mix in 2010 after several years of lobbying by student groups.
  • Free rides for children were granted in early 2015 as a political move by then-new Mayor Tory to “do something” quickly on the transit and poverty files.

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