The TTC Board will hold its final meeting of 2017 on December 11 at the usual time and place, 1:00 pm in City Hall Committee Room 2. The agenda contains a few items of particular interest.
- CEO’s Report December 2017
- Ridership Growth Strategy 2018-2022: Preliminary Report
- U-Pass Solutions for Toronto
- Automated Camera Enforcement for Transit Lanes and Improper Passing of Stopped Streetcars
Updated December 13, 2017 at noon: The section on the Ridership Growth Strategy has been updated with comments about the staff presentation.
The CEO’s Report contains little that is new compared to previous iterations. Preliminary financial results for 2017 have already been reported through the budget process, and all that remains is to close out the year and finalize the wins and losses on various accounts.
Presto usage continues to rise, but the Presto trips per week has only recently reached the daily total of rides due to the continued availability of tokens and the small uptake of Metropass on Presto. For November 2017, there were 5,192 adult and 80 student/senior passes sold on Presto, only a few percent of the total pass market.
There is no report on rides or fares lost to Presto malfunctions or to the free access to many stations through fare gate construction projects.
The Ridership Growth Strategy gets a mention in the CEO’s Report:
At this meeting, staff have presented part one of a new ridership growth strategy, with part two being presented in January. Such strategies are immensely complex and staff believes it’s important for the board – and public – to fully appreciate the context of all that is happening around transportation and public transit use in Toronto, and elsewhere, before presenting a suite of actions for consideration next month – actions that can be accomplished within the existing funding envelope, but actions that will also require additional investment in the TTC. [p. 11]
It is good to see that specifics will emerge in January, although the long gestation period for this report makes me as wary of seeing a full RGS in a month’s time as I am of seeing a 65-car Flexity fleet by the end of 2017.
Streetcar deliveries continue to be lethargic from Thunder Bay, and as widely expected when the last iteration of Bombardier’s delivery “plan” came out, streetcars have not arrived at the promised rate. Bombardier committed to reaching the 65th car by year-end, but as I write this only 53 are in service with two more in acceptance testing.
The TTC remains proud that it has hit (or will meet after relatively short delays) all of the targets in the 2017 Customer Charter. However, one item in that Charter continues to be missed and is never mentioned in the CEO’s report:
We will continue to deliver on the positive initiatives that we started with our first Customer Charter in 2013:
- Posting the performance of all surface routes on our website so you know how your route is performing.
In fact, no information on route performance has been posted since the first quarter of 2015. Long, long overdue at the TTC is the development of meaningful measures of service quality for surface routes. A few years back there was a scheme to develop a “journey time metric” that would track the time required for several representative trips on the TTC. This was abandoned. In any event, performance measures are meaningless when they are averaged across all routes, times and days.
Performance is currently reported on the following bases:
- On time performance, defined as a vehicle leaving its terminus no more than one minute early or up to five minutes late.
- Numbers of short turns.
As I have often written, the “on time” target allows service on frequent routes to depart with built-in bunching and gapping, and still be considered to be “on time”. Moreover, being “on time” is more important on routes with infrequent services whereas having a reliable, regular headway is key for frequent services.
Missing from these averages are several metrics:
- Route-level statistics
- Time of day statistics
- Information about bunching and gapping
- Information about service quality along routes, not just at the terminals
Responsibility for surface operations has rested with Rick Leary, the designated Acting CEO. He still has a great deal of work to do, and this could start with a recognition that service at the detailed level is nowhere near as good as the average values now presented.
Subway car reliability continues to run below target for the T1 trains on 2 Bloor-Danforth, while it runs above target (albeit with some wide fluctuations) for the TR trains on 1 Yonge-University-Spadina. Recent stats for the T1 trains show a downward trend which may be addressed by maintenance programs planned for 2018. A more general question, however, is to what degree the difference between the two fleets is a question of age versus inherently superior design of the more recent TR trains. This has implications for fleet and service reliability as the TRs age and, by implication, the overall quality of service that will be possible in coming decades. A replacement fleet for the T1s will arrive in the mid-2020s, and this will likely see the “new” trains on Bloor-Danforth and the planned carhouse/shops at Kipling will be designed with a new fleet in mind.
Streetcar reliability is running above 2016 levels, but still below target. Although there was a brief spike in ALRV reliability in August, the numbers fell back to typical levels only a month later. Despite an overhaul program for some CLRVs and ALRVs, overall reliability continues to fall, and the number of cars actually available for service declines. Further cutbacks in streetcar operation are anticipated in early 2018 to compensate for the late deliveries of Flexitys.
As for the new cars, their reliability is nowhere near the target level and, except for brief upticks, appears to be mired at about one quarter of the target mean distance between failures. Earlier in the Flexity program, the TTC would argue that it takes time for performance numbers to settle down and see the benefit of cars getting beyond their teething period. Even with more “mature” cars in the fleet, there is no sign the target will be achieved. This begs the question of what will happen when Bombardier reaches the point (car 4060) where failure to attain the target has contractual implications.
Bus reliability continues to improve through a combination of old vehicle retirements, a higher spare ratio for maintenance, and more pro-active maintenance on the fleet.
For clarity in reading the charts, the criteria for a “failure” are different for rail and bus modes. For the rail modes (subway, RT, streetcar), any failure causing a delay of five minutes or more is counted. For buses, events requiring a road call or change-off (the vehicle could be driveable, but a replacement is required) counts as a failure. For all modes, events that are off road, in the garage or carhouse, do not count.
Updated December 13, 2017 at noon: Comments on the staff presentation have been added at the end of this section.
Toronto has been waiting for a new Ridership Growth Strategy for nearly two years, and there has always some reason it is not ready. For an agency where hand-wringing about flat ridership consumes a great deal of debating time, the absence of a strategy to address this problem makes one wonder just how serious the TTC and its political masters have been about long-standing problems with transit capacity and quality. One cannot help noting that the idea of actively improving the TTC rather than just getting by has emerged at the onset of an election campaign.
The report before the Board begins by rehashing information about ridership patterns in other cities and the buoyant customer satisfaction scores enjoyed by the TTC. This is not new information, and some of it reinforces the view that “we’re already doing a good job” prevalent in TTC culture. That phrase may be true as far as it goes, but “good” may not be “good enough” to draw in or even retain ridership. This may also be symptomatic of another TTC aspect of TTC culture, to ascribe problems to external factors.
In summary, my criticisms of the report include:
- The TTC does not address the questions of route level ridership characteristics, service quality and capacity. Indeed, route level reporting has been “missing in action” for over two years, and the statistics that are published are inadequate to a clear understanding of these issues.
- The change in total ridership includes two factors whose influence is poorly understood or ignored:
- The rise in free rides by children has masked a decline in trips by adults.
- The decline in Metropass purchases could trigger a statistical “loss” of ridership larger than the actual change in transit travel.
- The concept of a “trip” itself becomes less definite as more and more riding is done using passes, and in future a single fare will buy, in effect, a limited time pass rather than one “trip” as defined by transfer rules. Transit is not just about the classic commuting journey, but about multi-hop travel and service should reflect this.
The report cites achievements in service quality:
The benefits of the transformation and modernization at the TTC over the last five years are reflected in the daily service, including:
- 21 per cent reduction in delay minutes to subways
- 6.5 per cent reduction in subway delay incidents
- 86 per cent reduction in short turns to buses and streetcars.
In addition, service improvements designed to attract new customer rides were introduced. This includes:
- introducing new periods of operation (all-day, every-day network)
- introducing new express bus services
- improving off-peak crowding standards
- introducing a 10-minute-or-better network. [p. 3]
Some of these have already been reported to increase ridership, notably the express bus routes. For some other changes, the results are less dramatic because, for example, restoring an infrequent evening service does not give much scope for ridership growth. What happens is that the network as a whole may be perceived as more convenient because service is “always there”. However, these improvements can easily be offset by conditions that limit growth on the major services or even drive riders away if alternatives are perceived as “better” whatever that means to each former rider. It is already a matter of record that the Service Standards are met only when fleet, staffing and budgets do not combine to limit growth of service. Moreover there is no sense that latent demand gets much attention, although recent experience on King shows the effect of a major change in perceived and actual service quality.
Although total riding has been static for a few years, the proportion of riders is changing as the chart below shows.
Adult rides have fallen by 15.9 million with a further 4.9m in the “other” category, while the difference has been made up from seniors/students (7.7m) and children (13.4m). Were it not for the free carriage of children, the TTC’s total ridership numbers would show a downward trend.
Among the major changes within Adult fares, pass sales are down by 14%. This has a profound effect on the ridership attributed to passholders which is set at an average level for the “typical” rider. If those who have switched back to single fares (tokens) fall off of the “bottom” of the range of pass usage, then lost trips are attributed to them that they never took in the first place.
For example: If the average passholder takes 70 trips/month, but those who converted back to tokens only averaged 55 (borderline break-even on single fares before the tax credit), then each conversion would represent 15 “lost” trips that in fact these riders never took. To balance this out, we need to know whether the average usage by passholders went up with the loss of riders from the low end of the range, or if even passholders overall are taking fewer trips. The RGS report is silent on this issue.
More generally, the concept of a “trip” as a measure of system success is becoming less relevant as riders purchase transit services in bulk through passes, ride for free (children), or in the future obtain what are now multiple trips for a single, time-based fare. Reporting of actual vehicle and route demand will become more important as a real measure of the system’s success.
From 2014 to 2017, trips on weekdays are up slightly (1.7m on a base of 423.3m) while trips on weekends are down (-1.4m on a base of 111.5m).
Trips on surface modes are up, while on the rapid transit system they are down.
It is not clear whether the drop in “streetcar” ridership applies to streetcar routes, or to vehicles. In other words, are passengers on replacement bus services counting toward the streetcar or the bus network? Moreover, several streetcar routes have undergone considerable disruption and a gradual decline in service quality through diversions, and by “stretched” schedules that widen headways to deal with fleet limitations and to reduce short turns. Again, this is a case where route-by-route stats would be more informative, but total “ridership” numbers come primarily from amalgamated farebox counts, not from on vehicle riding counts which take place infrequently.
The shift to automatic passenger counters may begin to pick up riding details that are more current, but this is far from completely implemented, especially on the streetcar system where the older cars do not have the technology.
Note that these counts represent the location where a fare is paid, and a “ride” can contain two or more links such as bus-subway-streetcar.
Weekend numbers for the streetcar and subway networks are down while buses are up. Again, it is unclear whether this has actually been allocated by vehicle type, or by route. Some of the current softness is attributed to subway shutdowns, but there is much more of a decline, proportionately, for streetcars than for the subway.
The report goes on to talk about factors such as population shifts, congestion, mobility changes (e.g. cycling and walking trips by the increasing near-downtown population), and of course ride-hailing services.
The TTC cites a Pew Research Center report about the use of ride-hailing services among younger travellers. The numbers are up strongly replacing other modes such as transit, walking or cycling (although the split among these is not shown). However, care must be taken in transferring stats from US cities where transit is not as good, generally, as in Toronto and so the attractiveness of an alternative is proportionately higher.
The report includes a diagram showing the breakdown of Uber trips for February 2017.
The key market here is clearly for trips downtown of moderate length (beyond reasonable walking distance) and with a short wait time. It is quite clear that part of the travel market values trip time (including waits) more than price, although the chart above does not indicate how many passengers were carried for the average Uber fare. This underscores the long-known fact about transit riders that they are particularly sensitive to wait and transfer times which contribute disproportionately to the perceived trip length. The TTC already competes on cost, but for some travellers, this is clearly not enough especially for shorter trips.
A further important issue is that ride hailing is simply impractical and unaffordable for longer trips which are commonly cited as the lot of poorer riders in the suburbs. In the list of key items for both existing TTC riders and non users, affordability is a common factor.
Uber and its ilk will nibble around the edges anywhere the tradeoff between transit service, travel time, fare, affordability and perceived benefit work to riders’ advantage. However, thoughts that this type of service will somehow replace transit are misguided, to put it gently.
The report starts to get interesting when it addresses the demographics of TTC riders and of those who use the system only infrequently or not at all.
Missing from the table above is any sense of the relative size of each group, or how many trips they contribute to overall TTC usage.
The geographic distribution of these groups shows very striking differences, although this is not surprising given the maps of relative affluence that have been regularly published, notably Hulchanski’s “Three Cities”. Older, affluent, occasional riders are concentrated in central Toronto and North York, central Etobicoke and southern Scarborough. Note that the map below shows where each group might be found, but not the density of potential riders, and it also appears to show only the dominant group for each location, not overall proportions. (Note how little light blue, Group B, appears.)
For the non-users of TTC, there are various reasons for using some other mode, and this is subdivided among three groups. The size and geographic distribution of these groups are both missing.
When the perspectives of all user types are stirred into the pot, some requirements are unique to each set, while others are common. Of the common factors, four of the five are aspects of service quality, but a great deal of the TTC’s effort over past years has been directed elsewhere.
This brings us to the delicate question of whether the emphasis should be on getting existing customers to use the TTC more, or to go after non-users who typically are more expensive to attract to transit because it must improve quite substantially to change their current behaviour. Equally, there is the question of what will happen with existing riders if their perception of TTC quality falls. Lost riders are harder to get back because they have joined the camp for whom the TTC cannot be “good enough” to win them over.
This is echoed in the report:
In general, current frequent customers are the most likely to increase their use of the TTC. The less frequently someone relies on the TTC, the more difficult it will be to encourage them to use the TTC more often. [p. 16]
The report proposes three foci for the coming Part 2 RGS report in January:
- Move more customers, more reliably
- Make taking public transit seamless
- Innovate for the long term
Nowhere is the meaning of “seamless” explained including how this might be implemented on the TTC network, nor is “innovate” defined. Indeed the third bullet implies that there could be a conflict between short and medium-to-long term views of “ridership growth”. This is reminiscent of the 2003 RGS where subway advocates insisted on insertion of subway projects into what was intended, originally, as a list of short term options for attracting riders.
Finally, the report sets out three tiers of potential improvement:
- A 1% growth rate could be obtained by addressing “current pain points including service reliability on major downtown routes”.
- A 2% rate would require improving service “by adding flexible fare options and transforming surface travel to make it the optimal choice through greater transit priority”.
- A 5% rate would require that the TTC “invest in system expansion and major service upgrades”.
It is not clear that the foci and the strategies for improvement are a good fit to each other. Moreover, there is a specificity to the 1% scheme which flags downtown routes even though there are many major suburban bus routes with capacity issues. It is particularly noteworthy that “major service upgrades” only appear in the most aggressive of the strategies, and there is little acknowledgement that current service may be responsible for lackluster ridership numbers. The situation is further complicated by the vehicle and garage space shortage, a problem that goes back to the era of Mayor Ford. Current plans do not look beyond modest growth in the fleet and the addition of one overdue garage.
Some possible improvements are one time changes that will produce short term benefit, but contribute less to sustained growth unless they are part of perceived, continuous improvement to other parts of the system. The King Street Pilot shows great promise, but it is only a start to the more general problem of rebalancing how road space is allocated right across the city.
New rapid transit lines will come into service over the next five years, but these will benefit specific areas, not the network overall except through their cumulative effect. No one line will be the “magic bullet” to restore long-term growth in transit demand with the possible exception of the DRL and the major change it would make in capacity into the core area, provided it goes far enough north.
Fleet stability is equally important as we have seen with the late deliveries of Flexity cars and the declining availability of the older CLRVs and ALRVs, but this has also been an issue for the bus fleet.
In January, the Part 2 report will include:
- Recommended RGS Action Plan 2018-2022
- Updated ridership measurement approach
- Alignment with Corporate Plan
- Initiatives mapped to Customer Segments
- Recommended RGS 2018 Work Plan
- Detailed schedule of 2018 activities to deliver Action Plan
- RGS Consultation Plan to develop all aspects of the RGS further
- Who, how, when we will engage with key stakeholders [p. 18]
Should we spend more money on transit, or simply tinker around the edges? What would be the effect of a “do nothing” policy, or worse, a subsidy freeze to maintain low tax increases? How much, realistically, can be achieved?
With luck, all of this activity will deliver something concrete for politicians and candidates to discuss in the coming elections. The real shame is that the study was not published at least a year ago when it could have informed debate and influenced the budget outside of the electoral circus.
The staff presentation spent an inordinate amount of time going through the concept of market segmentation (groups A to E described above) which are based on an Environics model “PRIZM5”. This approach is interesting enough in its own right as a market research tactic, but as presented at the TTC, it contains a few gaping holes.
- The five groupings are all based on families, not on individuals. The transit requirements of individuals can vary considerably within a family grouping.
- Seniors and students, who represent a large market for the TTC, are completely missing. This was particularly ironic with the issue of a U-Pass was on the agenda and a group of students made a detailed, well-researched presentation to argue their case.
This outlook looks at potential TTC “customers” completely the wrong way around. Moreover, the map of groups (above in the main section of my comments) shows household types, not riders. This reduce areas of the city to predominant types of groups, not individuals. This problem is further shown by the characterizations below which do not match the profile of some large TTC rider groups.
It is rather amusing to see that three of the five groups are shown as “above average” users of cash fares considering that this represents a small portion of overall TTC ridership that is dominated by various forms of Metropass.
The presentation turns to the distribution of usage patterns.
The TTC conducted a separate survey of non-users to determine why they did not use transit and found that they are concentrated in two of the five groups: “Busy families” and “Young downtowners”.
Both of these segments cite issues with transfers and travel times, plus for the “Busy Families” the desire for parking and for better service outside of the City of Toronto. Transfers as a cost barrier will change in August 2018 assuming that City Council funds the two hour fare.
Parking, on the other hand, is an expensive proposition for a transit system both for capital construction and ongoing operations, not to mention widespread provision within an already built-up city. It is really only practical at major nodes such as stations, not as part of the surface route network. More fundamentally, one must ask whether a transit system should be in the parking business.
Outside Toronto service presents both the political problem that it is not a Toronto/TTC responsibility, and the more general issue that the closer one gets to the 416/905 boundary, the more likely there will be travel needs crossing that line. Much is made of the barrier effect of the fare and service boundary for inward travel by 905ers, but the comparatively low level of transit service in the 905 and the distances of travel involved are barriers to outward travel by 416ers.
The chart of customer needs by group bears repeating as it is the most important slide in the entire presentation.
Everyone wants faster trips with lower wait times and less crowding, at an affordable fare, and with reliable service. This is not rocket science and does not require an extensive survey to discover, although it may be useful to hammer home these transit basics. The needs of existing users, who constitute the majority of the population, are quite different from the non-users, and one must ask about the relative importance of emphasis on each set of needs.
A troubling outlook appears in a chart showing what is needed to achieve various levels of growth.
A 1% growth is thought to be achievable within existing TTC resources simply by improving reliability, and a further 1% with fare/service options and a transformation of surface transit priority.
This analysis makes no reference to problems with overcrowding that now exist in many parts of the TTC’s service. There is no question that better reliability can spread loads somewhat, but this will not fix the system overall, especially on the system’s backbone, the subway. More generally, there is no acknowledgement that the way in which the TTC now measures service quality and demand might not be flagging the degree of problems that actually exist.
The TTC must move away from a culture of self-congratulation and of “metrics” that do not reflect service as actually experienced by riders. Moreover, if there are needs that have budget implications, these must be presented openly whether there is headroom to pay for fixes or not. A long history of pretending that service is good enough while making real improvement “subject to budget” has led to under-reporting of problems.
A notable absence from the market segmentation study was a sense of where people want to travel. This is a complex question depending on a mix of home, work, school, shopping and other destinations.
A further problem is that real growth is not a one-time effort, but an ongoing trend that must be sustained by continuous improvement and expansion of service. More riders need more buses and streetcars, something the TTC is unable to provide in the short term and Council will be reluctant to fund in the longer term. “System expansion and major service upgrades” means more than a subway line every ten years serving one isolated part of the city. A network of improvements will be needed and this means hard choices about just what they will entail.
Decisions about spending on transit lie at the political level, but it is the responsibility of transit staff to provide well-informed options showing what can be done.
The basics of simply providing better service are held ransom to the demand for constrained growth in taxes and subsidies. Were it not for the new subway opening, the TTC would get little if any new funding for 2018, and much of that will go to the subway, not to better bus and streetcar service.
I fear that the “Ridership Growth Strategy” has not just been missing in action for the past two years, but has lost its way. In January 2018, there will be an update as part of a TTC Board strategy session, but there still will not be a detailed list of proposals. How long must Toronto wait?
The idea of a U-Pass has been around for some time, although it never really got off the ground for various reasons. These include pricing and the difficulty of convincing a student body as a whole to sign up for passes as part of their fees, especially for campuses where transit does not link many students to their homes. Cross-border tariffs added to the unattractiveness of a TTC-only pass.
With the TTC wanting the revenue from 100% of the student body to cover the cost of passes, and many students feeling that the passes were not useful or cost effective, it has been a hard sell.
An important change in the current report is that the context is now regional including Brampton and York Region, not just within the City of Toronto. The report observes:
More than 15% of transit trips made by post-secondary students involve another municipal transit operator other than the TTC. This is mostly driven by students attending York University Keele Campus. Of the over 40,000 students that attend York University more than 20,000 use local transit (i.e. TTC, YRT and Brampton Transit) to access the campus, with more than 6,000 students crossing the Toronto/York boundary at Steeles Avenue. This is a significant travel market representing nearly 3 million customer trips annually. [p. 6]
There is a subtle implication that the U-Pass could be the mechanism to resolve the cross-border fare problem, at least for York students, but this should really be considered in the wider context of regional fare integration. For example, if a YRT/TTC co-fare, or recognition of each other’s two-hour transfer privileges, were to be implemented for all riders, the pricing implications for a U-Pass would change quite drastically. There is no proposed price for the pass in the report, nor is there any discussion of how much revenue other agencies such as YRT would expect to receive from a regional pass.
The TTC wants any U-Pass to be revenue neutral so that it is not a draw on existing riders’ fares or the city subsidy. This implies that the price will to some degree depend on the proportion of students who do not actually make use of the pass, or whose transit riding today costs less than they would pay through their fees for a pass. The price would be common for all participating institutions, and at least one of the major institutions (UofT, York or Ryerson) would have to sign on to bring a minimum scale to the project.
Pricing, by comparison with other cities, will prove a challenge for the TTC because its existing student fares and passes are fairly expensive, and discounts elsewhere are quite substantial. Moreover, the cost to students does not only include keeping the TTC “whole” on revenue, but of offsetting the cost of any additional service that higher demand would require. There will be a follow-up report in the first quarter of 2018 with estimates pass costs and TTC revenue effects.
If the TTC Board approves the staff report, consultation with various institutions and agencies will begin in 2018 to determine the market for a regional U-pass.
This report is a status update on requests that staff review the legal options for enforcing transit-related laws using cameras mounted on vehicles.
In October 2017, the TTC asked the Minister of Transportation for amending legislation to permit the TTC to use traffic cameras for enforcement. The Minister has yet to respond.
However, the staff propose a working group from various agencies looking at the broader issue:
To advance the initiative and the request for legislative change, a working group will be established comprising of staff from the TTC, City of Toronto Transportation Department, Ministry of Transportation, Toronto Police Services and Ministry of Attorney General. The specific focus of the working group is to consider the enforcement of unauthorized use of transit lanes, illegal parking and turning manoeuvres that impact transit operations, and the illegal passing of streetcars that are stopped to serve customers. The working group will consider the requirements for a legislative change, capital and operating costs and protocols. [p. 1]
The TTC hopes to have a demonstration project in place while the King Street Pilot is running.