Maybe Yes, Maybe No, SmartTrack Stations

After a recent Metrolinx Board Meeting (about which more in a separate article), reporters the Star and the Globe peppered Chair Robert Prichard about decisions to approve two future GO stations against original staff recommendations.

Ben Spurr wrote in the Star about the Kirby station in Vaughan that leapt from an initial review to part of GO’s plans thanks to political intervention at Queen’s Park. In between the detailed station reviews and the final recommendations to the Metrolinx Board, a summary report consolidated the detailed reviews. This report, which has not been published by Metrolinx, has different recommendations that those presented to the Board, according to Spurr’s article.

I wrote extensively about the reviews of proposed stations within the City of Toronto in these articles:

Another station that found its way onto the approved list in spite of a negative review was Lawrence East. This station is critical to plans for the Scarborough Subway providing a replacement for service in an area the subway will bypass.

The future of stations that would be added through the SmartTrack scheme is rather cloudy. Even though Lawrence East, for example, is “approved”, this is subject to operational reviews and intensification of land use by the City of Toronto to build demand. Talking of the Kirby station, Spurr reported:

Prichard said the board’s decision was “conditional” and that Metrolinx will continue to update its analysis based on development in Vaughan. If the greater density doesn’t materialize “we can back off,” he said.

For the stations in the City of Toronto, the situation begs more questions. First, Metrolinx required Council to sign on guaranteeing that they would fund added stations for SmartTrack in November 2016. Council was told that Metrolinx was going into design and construction, and that a commitment was needed “now” for this work to stay on schedule. Second, the total cost of the six proposed stations approved by Council was more than twice the cost estimates in the Metrolinx station reviews.

Metrolinx station review cost estimates:

  • Lawrence East: $22.7 million
  • Finch East: $108.9 million
  • Liberty Village: $30.8 million
  • St. Clair: $27.4 million
  • East Harbour (Unilever): $118.9 million
  • Gerrard: $251.7 million
  • Total: $560.4 million

City Council estimate: $1,251.8 million

With total costs much higher than in the original evaluations, the business cases for these stations are even weaker than have been stated. The City is not strictly on the hook for these costs yet, whatever they might be, because there will be a final approval point when more detailed estimates are available prior to tendering the construction work. This point is unlikely to be reached before the municipal election in fall 2018.

Several of the proposed stations pose construction challenges, and it is not clear how well all of them can be fitted into the corridor. Liberty Village station is particularly tight for space.

Lawrence East poses a delicate political problem because it cannot be built while the SRT remains in operation. However, the Scarborough Subway will not open until late 2026 leaving the possibility of an early shutdown of the SRT, or a delay in the provision of a SmartTrack station. Intensification at Lawrence East could be a hard sell given Toronto’s intention to focus substantial development on the Scarborough Town Centre and uncertainty about the type and cost of transit service that would be available.

A related issue came up in discussion of the fall 2017 GO Transit fare increase. This will see fares rise by 3% except those for short-distance trips that will be frozen at $5.65. Metrolinx has recently discovered the importance of short-distance travel on its network as an untapped market after years of deliberately overpricing these trips to discourage demand. Keeping inside-Toronto trips at a fixed cost would allow GO fares to gradually become more attractive to TTC riders, although that would take many, many years. Clearly Metrolinx is rethinking the role of its network both for in-Toronto trips and for shorter trips in the 905 that could become more attractive as service improves.

All of this leaves the question of which stations might be built up in the air subject to future considerations in spite of Toronto Council’s support in 2016.

514 Cherry Update re King & Sumach Noise

At a community meeting on June 27, 2017, the TTC presented updated information about their work on reducing the noise level from streetcars at King & Sumach. In response to complaints after the 514 Cherry route began operating in 2016, the TTC changed the 514 so that late evenings and early mornings it operates to Broadview & Queen (looping back via Dundas and Parliament just like a short turning 504 King car). During these periods, a Wheel Trans bus provided a shuttle service on Sumach and Cherry to Distillery Loop.

The TTC presented updated noise readings for this location showing the combined improvement of the full changeover to Flexity cars from CLRVs and of changes to the rail profile that were made to complement slower operation around the curves.

The chart above shows results for the tightest curve at King & Sumach, the east to south. The data plotted here summarize readings taken over a four-hour period, and so they reflect the contribution of whatever type of vehicles showed up. For the most recent reading on May 4, 2017, when the service should have been largely or completely run with Flexitys, the levels from the middle to the high end of the spectrum are markedly lower than they were in the fall.

From the vehicle tracking data for 514 Cherry, I can confirm that the vehicles in service on that date were:

  • CLRV 4071 from 8:28 to 9:55 am
  • CLRV 4049 from 2:56 to 5:45 pm
  • Flexitys 4402, 4404, 4406, 4409, 4412, 4414, 4423, 4425, 4428 and 4432

Depending on when the measurements were taken, there was at most one CLRV in service on the route, and none for most of the day.

By contrast, on Aug. 10, 2016, all but one car on the route was a CLRV with only a single Flexity in service, 4418, between 5:30 am and 2:07 am the following day.

For the north to west turn, the data show less of an improvement. Oddly, the readings for the gentler left turn curve are higher than for the eastbound right turn, but this could be a factor of the measurement location which is closer to the westbound turn.

As a matter of comparison, the TTC also presented readings from two intersections with comparable curve radii, Queen & Broadview and Bathurst & Fleet.

Note that this chart presents maximum values rather than a four hour average. The higher values for the comparator intersections are almost certainly due to the noise caused by CLRVs or ALRVs which have (a) inherently more squeal and (b) less car design factors to limit noise transmission.

Bathurst & Fleet would have had service only on 509 Harbourfront on May 4 as this predates the return of streetcars to 511 Bathurst. I do not have the tracking data for the 509 on that date, and so cannot comment on the proportion of service provided by each vehicle type. Harbourfront is supposed to be all Flexity, but routinely has a few CLRVs on it. It would take only one noisy CLRV to set the maximum values shown above.

The chart is also unclear about which turn was measured at each location, only that this was done from 8 metres away.

Future work of this type should be more careful in identification of the vehicle type and location specifics for any readings and charts. If nothing else, this will improve credibility with members of the public by showing the improvements new cars bring.

Based on the improvements recorded at King & Sumach, the TTC plans to return full streetcar service to Distillery Loop on a date to be announced in July.

This decision provoked something of a pitched battle between residents at various locations on the route. The high points (if they can be called that) included:

  • Wheel squeal at King and Sumach prevented some nearby residents from getting a full night’s sleep, and the respite with no cars making turns was 3 to 3.5 hours. (It was unclear whether the residents have ever had a Flexity-only late night or early morning service as a reference point because service was cut last November before the route conversion was completed.)
  • Squeal is worst after rain because the normal film of grease on the track (both from natural causes and from wheel greasers) washes away. Wet track actually is very quiet because the water acts as a lubricant, but track that is drying out can be extremely noisy. This also happens during periods of high humidity. The TTC was criticized for taking noise measurements only under ideal conditions.
  • Residents at King/Sumach who predate the installation of the intersection were used to quieter streetcar operation, and enjoyed a long period of no streetcars at all while the King leg of the Don Bridge was closed.
  • The Wheel Trans shuttle bus is utterly unreliable running on a schedule unknown to riders and with unpredictable headways that can be considerably longer than the round trip route would imply. Operators often bypass waiting passengers. There are safety issues for the large number of disabled transit users living in this neighbourhood if they are forced to make a transfer to an unreliable, infrequent service.
  • Residents along the Cherry Street portion of the route complained that they effectively lost service because the bus was so unreliable, and in any event, its wide headways and forced transfer at King Street added to travel times. They also noted that the change was implemented without notice to the wider community. (There were also complaints about poor publicity for the June 27 meeting.)
  • Aggrieved King/Sumach residents proposed that the 514 Cherry route be completely converted to bus operation during the hours when the shuttle runs now to eliminate the transfer connection and improve service to the Distillery. This option was rejected by the TTC and by some users of the 514 who noted that streetcars can be very crowded at late evenings downtown where the route is supposed to provide supplementary service on King.
  • Early morning trips from Leslie Barns to Distillery Loop make the west to south turn for which no automatic greasing is provided.
  • Not all who attended from King/Sumach objected to the streetcars, but as this was a small meeting, it is not clear what the balance of opinion in the neighbourhood might be.
  • Notable by its absence from any comments were complaints about noise from eastbound streetcars clattering through the trailing switch of the north to east curve. The slow order at this location appears to have dealt with this issue.

In addition to operating the 514 Cherry route with only Flexitys, the TTC is working on a design of a noise absorbing ring that will damp the high frequency vibrations. Wheel sets for two cars are now being manufactured, and they will be installed on test cars in the fall.

Further noise readings will be taken through the summer and fall to track conditions as they evolve, and the level of grease application will be increased. (There is a trackside greaser southbound at Distillery Loop, and the Flexitys have on board greasers that are triggered by GPS information to activate where lubrication is required.)

In a separate article, I will turn to the general unreliability of service at Distillery Loop on the 514 streetcars. The TTC puts this down to the usual problems of mixed traffic operation on King, but there are also issues with uneven headways departing from both the Distillery and Dufferin terminals following layovers that can be fairly long. Line management, as elsewhere on the system, is a problem for this service.

See the TTC’s King-Sumach page for complete information.

 

Is the TTC Really Number One?

Monday, June 26 saw Toronto’s media all cluster at Union Station for “a matter of importance to the TTC”. What, the assembled scribes wondered, could this be? The TTC brass on hand were an unusual group to see behind the podium with reps from all areas of the organization.

The news turned out to be [pause here for trumpet fanfare] that the American Public Transit Association (APTA) had given the TTC its 2017 award as “Outstanding Public Transportation System”. There is actually a separate category for large transit systems, and this means the TTC is competing against the likes of Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta (who won in 2016), but not New York City because they are not APTA members.

Not that the New York transit systems are in shape to compete for awards except, possibly, the greatest frustration for riders. If anything, New York is a cautionary tale for Toronto about what can happen when you just make do and cut back on funding for maintenance and operations.

TTC CEO Andy Byford made a point of giving credit to his management team and the TTC staff for making this award possible. Yes, a little credit where credit is due is definitely in order even if none of the front line folks were actually there to share in the photo op. That oversight has been corrected on the award’s web page which notes that:

None of this could have been done without the passion, professionalism and commitment of the 14,000 employees of the TTC

Byford reiterated this sentiment both in his public remarks and in private comments to individual reporters afterward. The award is important to the people who actually move the TTC every day under sometimes trying circumstances and less than complimentary dealings with riders.

APTA’s Acting President and CEO Richart A. White is quoted in the press release:

The TTC’s successful implementation of a five-year modernization program demonstrates that it is a leader in the public transportation industry and a role model for other public transit systems.

Byford made a big point of the transformation his five-year plan brought, and looks forward to the next such plan now in the works. That plan will take the TTC through its centennial year in 2021, provided that Queen’s Park isn’t bone-headed enough to legislate the organization out of existence.

This was very much a self-congratulatory event, and riders might be forgiven for asking “Number One … really?”

The problem here is that APTA is rewarding the TTC for achieving (or at least being well on the way to) a plan that does not reflect a lot of day-to-day experience on the system. Things may be improving, but horror stories come often enough to undermine the award’s credibility.

Byford wisely guarded against the TTC becoming an awards junkie, a fate that befell it in the 1980s when the TTC actively sought out every award it could get as a way to prove management’s worth to the Board. The last thing Toronto needs is to aspire to win more awards per year than any other city.

The accomplishments cited by the TTC are a mixed bag, and include items Byford acknowledged were started during his predecessor’s term such as the soon-to-open Spadina subway extension to Vaughan and the orders for new streetcars and subway trains. These were not really part of a five-year plan, but rather works-in-progress that were rolled into Byford’s list of goals. His achievements lie in getting these projects on track, wrangling with dysfunctional project design and management, and going head-to-head various suppliers and contractors.

Included in the list are service increases implemented, grudgingly, by Mayor Tory once he discovered just how bare the transit cupboard was after Rob Ford’s cutbacks:

  • Increased service on more than 40 routes, operating all day, every day and 52 routes now operate every 10 minutes or better
  • Increased service on the Blue Night Network so that 99 per cent of Toronto residents now live within a 15-minute walk of overnight bus and streetcar service

Certainly, getting many of the Miller-era improvements restored after Tory had run on a platform claiming they were not necessary was a worthwhile feat, but it reminds us that some of the “achievements” consist simply of getting Toronto back to where we were. Issues still remain with service capacity across the network, and that comes directly from making do with subsidies that do not keep up with the combined effects of inflation and hoped-for ridership growth. Indeed, the TTC goes into plans for its 2018 budget year facing yet another demand to reduce subsidies from a Council that cares only about keeping down taxes, not providing better service.

In the same vein, another achievement claimed is:

  • A more accessible TTC with the addition of external announcements on buses, subways and streetcars and more fully-accessible subway stations

Again, the question comes down to whether the service provided for accessibility actually meets the need. In that regard, legislation forces specifics on the TTC both in terms of passenger movement, information and availability of service, a situation not shared by the general riding public. Many accessibility features exist not because the TTC chose to implement them, but because they were forced on it by devoted advocates.

And please can we be spared the marketing:

  • Underwent a brand revitalization moving the brand from one of a utility to what it really is: a critical part of Torontonians’ everyday lives

Lines like this really undermine the TTC’s credibility. I cannot help remembering how often style ruled over substance in Byford’s early days under the Stintz/Ford administration. The TTC’s “brand” is defined by what it does, not by what it claims to be.

The most important line in the press release is that “there is still much to do”. The TTC is making changes internally that should bear fruit in better management, but the central issue of service quality requires strong leadership on two counts: one to gain political support not just for a few big-ticket extensions, but for better-funded service overall; the other to continue the fight to make “TTC culture” truly responsive to service and rider needs. This includes avoidance of success metrics that validate the status quo, that measure service via a standard so lax that merely showing up with a bus now and then is likely to win a gold star.

Advocacy is a difficult role for a CEO in a politically charged environment. Speaking his mind cost Byford’s predecessor, Gary Webster, his job. Going into an election year, the TTC needs to advance a strong plan for improvement, one that may challenge the “fiscal realities” politicians speak about except when their pet projects are on the line. The TTC cannot become the Nirvanna of transit systems overnight, but it must try harder.

An award for best sustained commitment to and delivery of excellent transit would be worth winning.

Kitchener Trolleybus Gallery

Many readers of this site have been posting photos of the ION LRT construction in Kitchener-Waterloo over the past years. Normally, I stick to Toronto news, but as a gift back to readers in K-W, here is a set of photos of the Kitchener trolleybus system just before it was converted to lovely, clean (ho ho ho) diesel buses.

Much of the city, at least along King Street,  is unrecognizable today from the early 1970s.

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A Slow Trip to Express Buses (Updated)

Updated June 19, 2017 at 3:30 pm: The TTC has clarified that the hourly costs shown for various routes are net costs, not gross costs, and this addresses my concern that some of these values were understated. The text of this article has been updated where appropriate.

Updated June 20, 2017 at 10:30 am: A section has been added on gross operating costs (the TTC study includes only net costs) to illustrate how these vary from route to route.

The TTC Board recently approved an Express Bus Network Study that proposes several new and enhanced express routes in Toronto. The premise of the study – improving the bus network’s attractiveness and convenience to riders – is a good one addressing the basic function of any transit system. However, thanks to the TTC’s severe constraints on capital and operating funding, the actual implementation of these proposals drags out for the better part of a decade. Bus planning in Toronto is converging with new subways for a lengthy gestation period.

There are three types of “express” route in Toronto:

  • The (mainly) peak period services usually signified by an “E” suffix on the route number. Typically, buses will run express over part of a route stopping only at major transfer points or destinations, and will continue as local service on the outer part of the route. These services are useful for riders who would otherwise face a long stop-and-go trip on a local bus for their entire journey. By carrying the long-distance riders express for part of the trip, the cost of route operations is reduced from that of an all-local service and provides a more attractive service overall.
  • The Rocket services (route numbers in the 18x-19x series) operate for most of the day on weekdays and weekends, and provide a more limited stop service, end-to-end, than the “E” branches. Some are designed around major endpoints such as the 192 Airport Rocket from Kipling Station to Pearson Airport, while others more closely resemble the stopping pattern of “E” services. Unlike the “E” branches, the Rockets do not necessarily duplicate the route of a local service.
  • The five Downtown Premium Express services (route numbers 14x) charge an extra fare for the privilege of avoiding the crowded Yonge subway and the 501 Queen car.

The TTC proposes an interim classification of the first two of these as Tier 1 (Rockets) and Tier 2 (“E” branches) with the intent of coming up with some sort of branding that could be used to market them. Some cities have special bus services with their own names such as Hamilton’s B Line Express and Vancouver’s 99 B-Line. Given that there already is an established name for Tier 1 with a strong Toronto reference, it is hard to understand why a new brand is required. As for the Tier 2 services, riders are well acquainted with the “E” convention (broken in rare cases such as 60F Steeles West).

The first recommendation of this study is that a marketing effort is required to brand these services. That says a lot about where the TTC’s focus has been in recent years – selling the “pizzazz”, to quote a former TTC Chair, while the system gradually declines thanks to penny-pinching by two successive City administrations.

Summary

This is a long article. Here are the highlights:

  • Growth of express services is limited as much by the political question of transit funding as it is by planning and resource constraints within the TTC.
  • The TTC’s bus fleet plan should be thoroughly reviewed to determine how more buses can be made available for service sooner than 2019/20 when McNicoll Garage opens.
  • TTC budgets should reflect a return to full streetcar service on the streetcar lines in 2018 and the redeployment of replacement buses back to the bus network.
  • Express bus routes that were added in 2016 have performed better than expected showing that these are popular services and should be expanded as soon as possible.
  • New Rocket and express routes are proposed in two waves, one for 2019-21 and the second with a tentative date of 2026.
  • Costs and revenues allocated to existing and proposed routes should be verified.
    • Update (text deleted): The costs shown for some routes appear to be in error if the methodology for costing used by the TTC is to be believed. (This issue has been referred to the TTC for comment.)
    • Revenue allocation in a flat fare system can distort the benefit of a route, and the measure of value should be based on usage not on a misleading allocation of fare revenue.
  • Express buses provide a means of carrying riders on a route with a mix of short and long haul demand more efficiently and attractively than an all-local service.
    • Riders on express services travel further than on local services taking advantage of the faster trip between major points on the route. There are fewer riders per bus kilometre because there is less turnover of the passenger load on express services.
    • Express buses cost more per ride than local buses because of their lower turnover (i.e. more riders), but the overall route cost is lower with a mix of services.
    • A proposal by one member of the TTC Board to charge extra for express routes would be counterproductive.
  • The Premium Express buses to downtown operate at a very high cost per passenger, although this needs to be verified in light of the issue with cost calculations. Demand on these routes is relatively light, and they contribute only trivially to reducing demand on parallel services. The TTC proposes to leave them in place at least until 2021, but this should be reviewed even though removing the services will be politically challenging.
  • Transit Signal Priority is not just an issue for an Express network, but for transit in general. It should be pursued on major routes whether or not they include express operations.
  • Route supervision will be essential to maintaining reliable service not just on express routes, but on the transit system overall.
  • The staff proposal to “brand” services continues the TTC’s focus on marketing when what is needed is service. The “Rocket” name is already well-established as a service type in Toronto, as are the “E” express branches of various routes. In a few cases, the “wrong” name is associated with a service (some “rockets” are really just “E” services in terms of their service patterns), but this does not justify a complete rebranding exercise.

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What Is The Scheduled Service Capacity on Queen Street?

This article is a follow-up to my previous piece on 501 Queen Capacity and the staff response to a query at the TTC Board Meeting of June 15, 2017.

At that meeting, Commissioner Joe Mihevc asked whether the capacity operated by buses on Queen Street was the same at all hours as the streetcars that had been replaced. Staff, after a bit of hesitation, replied that it was. The exchange is available on YouTube.

My reaction to this gets into the territory of “unparliamentary language”, but at the time I tweeted:

The term “porkies” will be familiar to Andy Byford and any of his team from across the pond. I moderated this later on to suggest that staff were “badly advised”, the standard political excuse when a Minister is attempting to extricate him/herself from accusations of misleading the House.

Unfortunately, the actual schedule data do not back up staff claims. In the table below, note that the vehicle capacities are taken from the TTC’s Crowding Standards.

In graphic form, the scheduled capacities are:

In almost all cases, and certainly during all periods when the route is busiest, the scheduled capacity of bus service is less than that of the streetcar service.

An explanation of the February to March change in streetcar capacity is in order here. For the March schedules, the TTC planned on a service diversion that did not actually take place. Because they have no spare cars, they make up the extra running time by stretching the headway between vehicles thereby reducing the line’s scheduled capacity. In some off=peak periods, spare vehicles are added to compensate, but not during the peaks.

On a vehicles/hour basis, the buses come much more often than the streetcars because more of them are needed to provide the same service. If the buses can maintain an even spacing (which they don’t as demonstrated in my previous analyses), the shorter wait time contributes to riders’ impressions of better service when in fact there is less capacity on the route.

The one caveat I will make with respect to scheduled capacity is that the TTC is chronically unable to run ALRVs where they are scheduled. This has been a long-standing problem going back to well before any issues with vehicle shortages. Service Planning schedules a capacity based on larger cars, while Operations sends out shorter ones that are overloaded. This is no excuse for perpetuating the under-capacity situation with the replacement bus service.

In coming weeks, some of the currently surplus running time in the bus schedules will be eaten up by construction on Queen west of Spadina, and on Lake Shore west of Humber Loop. The surfeit of vehicles we now see on Queen at its terminals and salted away in places like Wolseley Loop will likely vanish.

As for TTC Staff, I asked for an on the record comment from Brad Ross, Executive Director of Corporate Communications. His responses were:

Thanks for your comments.

followed by

We will review, we just don’t have time today.

The charts above are intended to detail my claim that the scheduled service has declined based on the TTC’s own schedules to save TTC staff the difficult work of looking this up themselves.

As for the actual capacity provided on the street, there are charts covering the peak periods in my earlier article. These are based on TTC vehicle tracking data and reflect the actual mix of vehicles and headways on a day-to-day basis.

When a reply arrives from the TTC, I will update this article.

The Evolution of Streetcar Service from 1980 to 2016

Transit service on many of Toronto’s streetcar lines has declined over past decades and, with it, riders’ faith in and love for this mode. Unreliable, crowded service is considered the norm for streetcar routes, and this leads to calls to “improve” service with buses.

The historical context for this decline is worth repeating in the context of current debates over how Toronto should provide transit service to the growing population in its dense “old” city where most of the streetcar lines run.

When the TTC decided in late 1972, at the urging of City Council, to reverse its long-standing plans to eliminate streetcars by 1980 (when the Queen Subway would take over as the trunk route through the core), the level of service on streetcar lines was substantially better than it is on most routes today. Any comparison of streetcars versus buses faced the prospect of a very large fleet of buses on very frequent headways roaring back and forth on all major streets.

Service in 1980 (when the system was originally planned for conversion) was substantially the same as in 1972, and for the purpose of this article, that date is our starting point.

Ten years later, in 1990, little had changed, but the City’s transit demand was about to fall off a cliff thanks to a recession. During this period, TTC lost much riding on its network including the subway with annual travel dropping by 20% overall. It would take a decade to climb back from that, but various factors permanently “reset” the quality of service on streetcar routes:

  • During the recession, service was cut across the board, and this led to a reduction in the size of fleet required to serve the network.
  • In anticipation of the 510 Spadina line opening, the TTC had rebuilt a group of PCC streetcars, but these were not actually needed for the 509/510 Harbourfront/Spadina services by the time Spadina opened. “Surplus” cars thanks to the recession-era service cuts were available to operate the new routes.
  • Since 1996, any service changes have been  made within the available fleet, a situation compounded by declining reliability of the old cars and the anticipation of a new fleet “soon”.
  • By 2016, the fleet was not large enough to serve all routes, and bus substitutions became common.

Some of the decline in demand on streetcar routes came from changing demographics and shifting job locations. Old industrial areas transformed into residential clusters, and the traffic formerly attracted to them by jobs disappeared. Meanwhile, the city’s population density fell in areas where gentrification brought smaller families to the houses.

The city’s population is now growing again, although the rate is not equal for all areas. Liberty Village and the St. Lawrence neighbourhood are well known, visible growth areas, but growth is now spreading out from both the King Street corridor and moving further away from the subway lines. This creates pressure on the surface routes in what the City’s Planners call the “shoulders” of downtown.

As the population and transit demand have rebounded, the TTC has not kept pace.

The changes in service levels are summarized in the following spreadsheet:

Streetcar_Services_1980_To_2016 [pdf]

510 Bathurst: In 1980, this route had 24 cars/hour during the AM peak period, but by 2006 this had dropped by 50% to 12. In November 2016, with buses on the route, there were 20 vehicles per hour, and with the recent reintroduction of streetcars, the peak service was 10.6 ALRVs/hour, equivalent to about 16 CLRVs. Current service is about 1/3 less than it was in 1980.

506 Carlton: In 1980, this route  had 20 streetcars/hour at peak, but by 2016 this was down to 13.8.

505 Dundas: In 1980, service on this route had two branches, one of which terminated at Church after City Hall Loop was replaced by the Eaton Centre. On the western portion of the route, there were 27 cars per hour, while to the east there were 15 (services on the two branches were not at the same level). By 2016, this was down to 10.3. [Corrected]

504 King: This route, thanks to the developments along its length, has managed to retain its service over the years at the expense of other routes. In 1980, there were 25.2 cars per hour over the full route between Broadview and Dundas West Stations with a few trippers that came east only to Church Street. Despite budget cuts in 1996 that reduced service to 16.4 cars/hour at peak, the route came back to 30 cars/hour by 2006. Service is now provided by a mixture of King cars on the full route (15/hour), 514 Cherry cars between Sumach and Dufferin (7.5/hour), and some trippers between Roncesvalles and Broadview. Some 504 King runs operate with ALRVs and most 514 Cherry cars are Flexitys.

501 Queen/507 Long Branch: In 1980, the Queen and Long Branch services operated separately with 24.5 cars/hour on Queen and 8.9 cars/hour on Long Branch at peak. By 1990, the Queen service had been converted to operate with ALRVs and a peak service of 16.1 cars/hour, roughly an equivalent scheduled capacity to the CLRV service in 1980. By 1996, Queen service was down to 12 ALRVs/hour of which 6/hour ran through to Long Branch. Headways have stayed roughly at that level ever since. The Long Branch route was split off from Queen to save on ALRVs, and as of November 2016 6.3 CLRVs/hour ran on this part of the route. Bus replacement services are operating in 2017 due to many construction projects conflicting with streetcar operation.

502 Downtowner/503 Kingston Road Tripper: In 1980, these routes provided 15.6 cars/hour, but by 2016 this had declined to 10/hour.

512 St. Clair: In 1980, the St. Clair car operated with a scheduled short turn at Earlscourt Loop. East of Lansdowne, there were 33.3 cars/hour on St. Clair. By 1996 this was down to 20.6 cars/hour. The next decade saw an extended period of reconstruction for the streetcar right-of-way, and service during this period was irregular, to be generous. By 2016, the service has improved to 21.2 cars/hour, but this is still well below the level of 1980.

What is quite clear here is that the budget and service cuts of the early 1990s substantially reduced the level of service on streetcar routes, and even as the city recovered, the TTC was slow to restore service, if at all. The unknown question with current service levels is the degree to which demand was lost to demographic changes and to what extent the poor service fundamentally weakened the attractiveness of transit on these routes. The TTC has stated that some routes today are operating over capacity, but even those numbers are limited by the difference between crowding standards (which dictate design capacity) and the actual number of riders who can fit on the available service. It is much harder to count those who never board.

In a fiscal environment where any service improvement is viewed negatively because it will increase operating costs, the challenge is to turn around Council’s attitude to transit service. This is an issue across the city and many suburban bus routes suffer from capacity challenge and vehicle shortages just like the streetcar routes downtown.

The bus fleet remains constrained by actions of Mayor Ford in delaying construction of the McNicoll Garage with the result that that the TTC has no place to store and maintain a larger fleet even if they were given the money to buy and operate it. Years of making do with what we have and concentrating expansion funding on a few rapid transit projects has boxed in the TTC throughout its network.

Transit will not be “the better way” again until there are substantial investments in surface fleets and much-improved service.

514 Cherry: Update on Noise & Vibration at King & Sumach Streets

Since late 2016, the TTC has suspended streetcar service on Sumach and Cherry Streets south to Distillery Loop during late evenings and early mornings. The reason for this was that some residents near the junction at King & Sumach complained about noise and vibration from turning streetcars. In a related change, the TTC also imposed a 10km/h speed restriction on the intersection.

During the periods when the 514 Cherry cars divert east to Broadview, a Wheel Trans shuttle bus operates over this route segment on a somewhat unpredictable schedule, and many would-be riders simply walk rather than wait for it.

At the community meeting of November 16, 2016, the TTC advised that additional noise and vibration readings would be taken after the 514 Cherry route was converted to operation with Flexity cars which are quieter than the CLRVs, a change that has now more or less completed. (The occasional CLRV can be found on the route, but officially it is all Flexity.)

On Tuesday, June 27, 2017, there will be a public meeting to provide an update on the situation.

Time: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Location: Toronto Cooper Koo Family Cherry Street YMCA Centre – 2nd floor, 461 Cherry Street, Toronto

I will update this post following the meeting.

A related issue is the service reliability to Distillery Loop which can be very spotty at times. This will be the subject of a separate article coming soon.

TTC Capital Budget 2017-2026: Streetcar Infrastructure

As the final installment in my review of streetcar operations and costs, this article catalogues the items in the TTC’s Capital Budget that are explicitly part of the streetcar system’s operation. It is not intended to provide a comparative view of the costs that would apply to a replacement bus-based network as that would require major new facilities and fleet whose costs I will not attempt to project.

This does not include costs for components that are common to all modes and which would exist regardless of the type of vehicle in use. For example, building repairs such as masonry and roofing will be required whether a building is a streetcar barn or a bus garage.

The full list of projects can be found in the TTC’s Capital Budget Report from November 2016 in Appendix E (begins on p. 17 of the pdf). A short guide to reading this report is in order. Here is a sample from the first set of streetcar projects. (Click to expand.)

The columns of figures reading across give:

  • Spending to the end of 2015
  • Probable spending in 2016
  • Annual planned spending in 2017-2026
  • Spending beyond 2026 (if any) for projects that will not yet be completed
  • The ten-year total for 2016-25 (the value in the previous budget)
  • The ten-year total for 2017-26
  • The estimated final cost (EFC)

The rows reading down give:

  • “B”: The value in the previous budget
  • “P”: The proposed value in the current budget
  • “C”: The change between these values

As an aside, it is worth scrolling through this list to see the large proportion of projects that relate in one way or another to the subway system, and its needs for ongoing infrastructure maintenance and renewal.

The streetcar-related items are summarized in a spreadsheet linked below. They are broken into two groups: projects that are ongoing (recurring capital maintenance) and projects that have a finite lifespan (purchase of vehicles, construction of new facilities, generational renewal of infrastructure).

CapitalBudget2017_StreetcarInfrastructure

Continue reading

The Cost of Running the Queen Car

Update: Minor changes were made to add some details to the costings presented here at about 10:10 am on June 14.]

The debate over which type of transit vehicle should operate on Queen Street, and by implication on the wider streetcar network, will inevitably get into the question of the cost of streetcar operations. The TTC has cited large ongoing costs of the bus operation:

This summer, the TTC is spending an extra $1 million per month to run buses on the route, according to TTC spokesperson Brad Ross. It also takes 60 buses to provide similar service to the 501 Queen’s usual 45 streetcars.

“Queen is a good example of a route where streetcars make good sense because of the capacity that they offer you in the downtown to reduce congestion,” Ross said, adding that Toronto’s streetcars produce lower emissions than buses.

[From CBC News Toronto]

The ratio of buses to streetcars in this quotation is somewhat misleading for a few reasons:

  • The bus service is scheduled with extra running time in anticipation of construction delays, although the actual construction has not yet begun. This is responsible both for the accumulation of large numbers of buses at terminals.
  • The replacement ratio of 1.3:1 is well below values the TTC normally uses in comparing transit modes, and in their own crowding standards. The design capacities of vehicles for service planning is 51 for a standard bus, 74 for a standard-length streetcar (CLRV), 108 for a two-section articulated streetcar (ALRV) and 130 for the new low floor Flexitys. This implies a replacement ratio of 1.45:1 for CLRVs, 2.12 for ALRVs and 2.55 for Flexitys. These numbers would be adjusted downward to compensate for faster operating speeds with buses, if any, although that adjustment would vary by time of day and route segment as shown in my analyses of operations on the route.
  • The capacity of scheduled bus service is less than the scheduled capacity of streetcars at the beginning of 2017. Service for 501 Queen is based on the capacity of ALRVs.
  • The actual streetcar service on Queen before buses began taking over was scheduled to use 33 ALRVs and 7 CLRVs (November 2016 service). The CLRVs were dedicated to the service between Humber and Long Branch Loops.

The TTC’s methodology for allocating operating costs to routes is based on three variables:

  • Vehicle hours (primarily the cost of drivers and related management and overhead costs)
  • Vehicle kilometres (part of the day-to-day cost of running and maintaining buses including fuel)
  • Vehicles (part of day-to-day costs for work such as dispatching, routine inspections and maintenance, cleaning)

The cost of routine streetcar track maintenance is included in the vehicle kilometre cost. This does not include major projects such as the replacement of track which are funded from the Capital Budget.

The factors for the two modes as of 2015 were:

                   Per Hour      Per Km        Per Vehicle
                                                 per Day
     Buses         $ 92.30       $  1.88       $  150
     Streetcars    $ 95.40       $  3.42       $  515

     [Source: TTC Service Planning via Stuart Green in TTC Media Relations]

As 2015 costs, these numbers contain almost no contribution from the new Flexity fleet, but they will be influenced by the cost of maintaining decades old CLRVs and ALRVs. The hourly component of streetcar costs is probably influenced by the relatively higher level of route supervision on that network than on the suburban bus routes.

The TTC’s most recently published detailed statistics for their network date from 2014. (The lack of timely data on route performance is an ongoing issue, but one that is separate from this article.) For 501 Queen, the daily factors for 2014 operation were:

     Vehicle Hours    595
     Vehicle Km     9,100
     Vehicles          36

The number of vehicles listed is lower than the peak requirement, and this will affect the calculated cost as discussed below.

When the streetcar costs are applied to these factors, the daily cost of the Queen car comes out to just over $100k (2015).

     Hourly costs     $ 56,763  53.3%
     Kilometre costs    31,122  29.2%
     Vehicle costs      18,540  17.4%
     Total            $106,425

Adjusting this for the higher number of streetcars actually shown in the schedules would add 4 vehicles (40 vs 36) at a daily cost of $2,060.

On an annual basis (taking one year as equivalent to 305 weekdays, the factor used by the TTC to account for lower demand on weekends and holidays), the Queen car costs about $32.5 million (2015) to operate.

Update: This does not include the cost of the 502 Downtowner nor the 503 Kingston Road Tripper cars. Annualizing the premium for bus service quoted by the TTC to $12m/year puts the relative cost by their estimation in context.

The important point here is that the hourly costs account for about half of the total, and so any calculation is most sensitive to the number of operators required to provide service. Larger vehicles have a strong advantage over smaller ones. Also, larger vehicles mean lower costs for vehicle distance travelled and per vehicle costs, but it is not certain that for a large-scale change in fleet composition that these cost factors would remain stable depending on just which cost components are allocated to each category. For example, a carhouse costs the same amount to operate whether it has 200 small cars or 100 large ones in it. Extrapolation to an all-Flexity environment should be done with care.

In the case of a bus operation, provided that the average speed could be increased during peak periods, this would reduce the total vehicle requirement and bus hours, but it would not change the bus kilometres in comparison to buses scheduled at the same speed as streetcars. (Fewer vehicles travelling at a higher speed run up the same mileage.) The big difference would come in vehicle (operator) hours because of the lower capacity of buses.

The problem of projecting a replacement cost then becomes one of “twirling the dials” of various factors to determine what the replacement service might look like. One obvious starting point is that this must be based on normal route conditions, not on the non-standard schedules now in use for the construction period. Possibilities include:

  • Using an ALRV:Bus replacement ratio of 2:1
  • Using a lower replacement ratio such as 1.5:1 (a sensitivity test to determine how costs would change with larger buses)
  • Using the 2:1 capacity ratio, but assuming a higher average speed for buses
  • Using the higher capacity of Flexitys

The results from these assumptions should be taken with considerable caution because it is far from certain that the cost factors can actually be relied upon across the different vehicle types and usage patterns.

  • On a 2:1 replacement ratio, the cost of bus operation is about 50% higher than for ALRVs. Costs allocated per vehicle are lower, even though there are more buses, but this is more than offset by higher costs for the hourly and mileage components.
  • On a 1.5:1 replacement ratio, the cost of buses is about 10% higher than for ALRVs.
  • On a 2:1 replacement ratio, but with a 10% increase in average speed, bus costs go down about 8%, but are still about 1/3 higher than the cost for ALRVs.
  • For Flexity operations, assuming cost factors are unchanged (valid for hourly costs, but mileage and vehicle costs are another matter), the replacement bus service would cost about 75% more than the streetcar service.
  • Flexity costs fall by 1/6 relative to ALRVs because of the larger Flexity design capacity. This is a comparatively small saving on Queen because the route is already scheduled (if not actually operated) as if it had the larger ALRVs on it. If we were looking at 504 King, for example, the schedule is based on CLRVs and so the replacement by buses would require many more vehicles proportionately than for the Queen route, and replacement by Flexitys would require many fewer vehicles to provide the same scheduled capacity.

[Note: I have deliberately not published exact numbers here because this is only a rough estimate subject to alteration as and when the TTC refines its cost base and the assumptions behind a comparative service design. Also, it is based on 2015 cost data and 2014 schedules.]

These costs do no include major capital projects including ongoing renovation of streetcar track, and one-time costs to bring infrastructure (notably the overhead power distribution system) up to modern standards.

The annual cost of surface track and special work (intersections) varies from year to year based on the scheduled work plans. The average for tangent track over 2017-26 is about $21 million/year although the amounts for 2017 and 2018 are particularly high due to the extent of planned work in those years. From the point where the TTC decided to retain streetcars in late 1972 until 1993, their track construction was not of a standard required for the long life expected of rail assets. Track was not welded, untreated wooden ties were used, and there was no mechanical isolation for vibration between the track and the concrete slab in which it was  laid. The result was that roadbeds fell apart quickly and the lifespan of the infrastructure was about 15 years.

Beginning in 1993, the TTC changed to a much more robust track structure using a new concrete base slab, steel ties, welded rail and rubber sleeves to isolate the track from the concrete around it. The structure is designed so that when track does need to be replaced, only the top layer, the depth of the track itself, needs to be removed. New track can be attached to the steel ties that are already in place. Conversion to this standard across the entire system is almost completed, and track reconstruction costs will drop due both to longer lifespan and simplified renewal work.

The average for special work over 2017-26 is about $14 million/year. Starting in 2003, the complex castings were set in a vibration-absorbent coating. Construction techniques have also advanced so that intersections are pre-assembled and welded off-site and then trucked to street locations for installation in large panels. The most recent intersection, Dundas and Parliament, went from initial demolition of the existing track to full assembly of the new intersection in one week. (Further work was required to complete other road upgrades, and new intersections are typically allowed to cure for a few weeks so that the concrete does not suffer vibration before it has properly set.) With a roughly 30-year cycle for special work replacement, the TTC is only about half way through rebuilding all of its intersections to the new standard.

Update: The Queen route represents about 28% of the track in the streetcar system, and so is responsible for about $10m of the annual capital work averaged over its lifetime. This is a relatively high proportion for one route, especially in relation to the amount of service operated there. 504 King, for example, is much shorter and has considerably more service than 501 Queen.

The cost of track replacement is essentially a fixed value that varies little with the level of transit service, although some of the lighter routes could turn out to have greater lifespans. This capital cost, therefore, represents an investment in the future of the streetcar system and the ridership growth that it could accommodate if only the TTC ran enough service. (The frequency of many routes is very much lower today than it was a few decades ago, and there is a lot of room for growth as residential density builds up along these routes.)

I will review the TTC’s Capital Budget for streetcar infrastructure in the next article in this series.

Any examination of streetcar replacement with buses must consider a variety of factors, but most importantly must look not at the streetcar system as it is today with service levels essentially frozen at or below the levels of two decades ago, but at what it can become as the backbone of travel in the growing “old” City.