Among the reports to be considered by the TTC Board at its May 18, 2017 meeting is one titled Update to TTC Service Standards.
[Note: Page numbers cited in this article refer to the PDF containing the report as a whole. Individual sections have their own pagination which does not necessarily correspond to the page numbers of the overall document.]
This is something of a misnomer because the report does not actually propose many new standards, but merely consolidates in one place practices that have evolved over past years. Some of those standards are are self-serving in that they codify “business as usual” practices including some “targets” that produce laughably inferior, but “acceptable” service.The report contains no discussion of the potential shortfalls in the standards it asks the Board to endorse. Absent is any sense that things should be better, and that actively understanding and managing how routes operate is required. Better service quality is what riders demand, and a laissez faire approach is the last thing the TTC needs.
The current standards arise from an extended period dating back to the Ford era in which pro-active service improvements based on better standards simply stopped, a sacrifice to the gods of “efficiency” and “saving taxpayer dollars”. The standards have been fiddled with to minimize the worst of Ford’s cutbacks, and more recently to implement revised performance standards intended to lead to better service. The constrained environment in which the TTC still operates is clear:
This update to the TTC service standards took a no cost approach. The updated service standards reflect existing conditions with the goal of continuous improvement over time. [p. 1]
Although leaving standards as they are might be a “no cost approach”, what is missing from this 100-page document is any review of the degree to which the system actually achieves the standards it claims to follow. Recently, the TTC has acknowledged that both the King and St. Clair routes are running 25% above standard thanks to the streetcar shortage and resultant crowding, and of course the large number of buses diverted to streetcar routes could be used to improve conditions on the bus network. However, absent a system-wide view of the shortfall, the TTC Board, City Council and the general public have no idea of just how bad the situation is except, of course, for those riders jammed into vehicles or who give up on the TTC. As to route performance data, the TTC has not published any for two years even though this item is part of their Customer Charter.
Running more service costs money, and yet with fleet constraints, the TTC has been able to keep its demands for added subsidy lower than they might have been otherwise. Only about half of the “investment” in better service announced with great fanfare by Mayor Tory early in his term actually appeared in the TTC budget.
The last system-wide review dates back to April 2008 near the end of Mayor Miller’s term.
The context for “standards” is quite clear in the following statement:
The TTC currently makes use of a number of standards to plan new service and monitor and adjust existing service. These standards have been in place for a number of years and some are updated frequently. For example the TTC applies vehicle crowding standards to define the upper limit of what is an acceptable level of crowding for each type of vehicle at both peak and offpeak times. This standard is often updated based on fiscal realities. [p. 5]
Fiscal realtities may affect what the TTC can afford, but they should not alter what the TTC aspires to be. If there is a shortfall, then the effect of that shortfall should be known. This informs both the decision to make budget cuts (what are the effects) and lays out for future planning where and how much the system should be improved. We have rapid transit plans stretching decades into the future, but don’t know how short Toronto falls in providing day-to-day service on its bus and streetcar network. We have endless touch-feely “customer service initiatives”, but the most important of all – service – falls by the wayside. This is not to downplay good customer service, but riders might be forgiven for taking little comfort in spiffy new maps when the services they illustrate are overcrowded and unreliable.
The report claims that the TTC conducted a peer review of standards in other major cities. None of the information from such a review appears in the report.
Internal discussions among various TTC departments yielded the following observation:
All stakeholders noted that the most important improvement the TTC could make is improving service reliability on all modes. [p. 8]
This leads to revised metrics for productivity and reliability, but it is unclear whether these will actually improve service on the street.
Although the lion’s share of the report deals with a rider survey of attitudes to service quality, I will leave that topic until later in this article so that the nominal purpose of the report, Service Standards, is more than the afterthought it appears to occupy in the TTC’s report.