In recent days, Mayor Tory has announced, twice, a ten point program to address crowding on the TTC. The effectiveness of this program is limited by years of bad political decisions, and the hole Toronto has dug itself into is not one from which it will quickly escape.
This article is a compendium of information about the three major portions of the “conventional” (non-Wheel-Trans) system: subway, bus and streetcar. Some of this material has appeared in other articles, but the intent here is to pull current information for the entire system together.
Amendment February 15, 2018 at 5:30 pm: This article has been modified in respect to SmartTrack costs to reflect the fact that over half of the cost shown as “SmartTrack” in the City Manager’s budget presentation is actually due to the Eglinton West LRT extension which replaced the proposed ST service to the commercial district south of the airport. A report on SmartTrack station costs will come to City Council in April 2018. Eglinton LRT costs will take a bit longer because Council has asked staff to look at other options for this route, notably undergrounding some or all of it.
The capacity of a subway is dictated by a few basic factors:
- The number of trains per hour that can be operated through the peak point on a line.
- The capacity of a train.
- The ability of stations to accommodate passengers to and from trains, and to provide buffer space for extra passengers when service is delayed.
- Geometric and other constraints at pinch points, notably terminals, that could limit the trains/hour throughput.
The peak point trains/hour is constrained both by the signal system (which sets a lower bound on train spacing) and by passenger handling at stations (dwell time for passengers to leave and board the trains). Dwell times can rise substantially under crowded conditions when there are many passengers to handle and little space for them to move around. A subway could have a theoretical capacity, including “crush” rather than “service design” loading, but this works against dwell time by adding to congestion on board trains.
It is possible for a line’s capacity to go down when crowding goes up because the reduced throughput of trains at stations more than offsets the added number of riders per train. This affects not just a peak point station like Bloor-Yonge, but many adjacent stations where crowding on trains slows the exchange of passengers between trains and platforms.
This problem also applies to surface routes. Those who argue that there’s “room for a few more” can do more harm than good in their penny-pinching pursuits. “Efficiency” is a combination of several factors, and jammed full vehicles are counterproductive.
The Yonge-University-Spadina subway, Line 1, is scheduled to have a train every 2’21”, or 25.5 trains/hour. At a service design capacity of 1,100/train, this translates to about 28,000/hour of line capacity in theory. However, the actual service operated hovers in the 90% range of the schedule, and can fall lower when delays cause gaps in service. This shaves off about 2,800/hour reducing the line’s effective capacity to about 25k/hour. It actually carries more because more riders are packed into trains than the service design level. There is a similar problem on the Bloor-Danforth subway, Line 2, but its overcrowding is less severe looked at over the entire peak period.
The most important change in line capacity will be the introduction of Automatic Train Control (ATC) and an increase in the scheduled service to at least 30 trains/hour. This would take the design capacity up to 33k/hour. A further increase to 33 trains/hour would get the line up to about 36k. This is the TTC’s current target. In the past, claims were made for a possible 40 trains/hour service with a capacity in the 45k/hour range, but this is not physically possible on the Toronto system.
Fleet and Carhouse Capacity
The TTC now operates 63 trains in the AM peak period on Line 1 YUS, of which 2 are the recently restored “gap” trains. Half of the service runs from Finch to Glencairn and half runs through from Finch to Vaughan. The scheduled headway on each branch is 4’42” combining to provide a 2’21” service south from Glencairn (25.6 trains/hour). The PM peak uses 63 trains with all service running from Finch to Vaughan on a 2’36” headway (23 trains/hour).
Moving to a schedule of 30 trains/hour would require about 71 trains based simply on scaling existing service up proportionate to the higher frequency of service. With the benefit of ATC and higher possible speed on Line 1, this can be reduced to 68 according to the TTC [email from Brad Ross, February 14, 2018]. It is unclear whether this would include gap trains. The Toronto Rocket (TR) fleet serving Line 1 includes only 76 trains, and so a 68-train peak service would require a low spare ratio of only 11.7%, well below the TTC’s accustomed level. (Originally there were to be 80 TR trains, but 4 trains’ worth of cars were repurposed to become six 4-car sets on Line 4 Sheppard.)
Beyond the 76-train fleet, an additional 10 are required to get to 33 trains/hour, and there is no provision for these in the capital plans. Management will bring a proposal to the Board for procurement of these trains once they are sure how many are needed and when. [email from Brad Ross]
A related issue will be the storage needed for even more trains.
Line and Station Capacity
Various schemes have been proposed to deal with Line 1 crowding. In addition to ATC and more trains/hour, these include diversion of traffic to the TYSSE (Vaughan extension) and to GO/RER/SmartTrack. Demand will rise from population and employment growth, from new LRT service feeding in on Eglinton, and further if the subway is extended north to Richmond Hill. The net effect of all this is to take the projected demand to only slightly below the design capacity with ATC and 33 trains/hour. However, we know that the TTC does not actually operate all of its scheduled service and that missing ten percent is equivalent to 3 trains/hour.
A further problem with the projections (contained in a 2015 report on the effect of a Richmond Hill extension) is that any additional capacity provided on the subway will immediately be swamped by latent demand that is constrained only by the existing level of service. It is far from clear that the anticipated relief (more YUS service, demand diversion to the Vaughan extension, GO or SmartTrack) pending the construction of a parallel Relief Line will be adequate to reduce crowding below current levels especially when the growing population is factored in.
In order for dwell times at Bloor-Yonge to be reduced to a level that would permit much more frequent service, passengers must be able to move freely both between trains and platform, and within the station itself. A full train meeting a full platform leads to gridlock. To avoid this there must be both room on the trains and in the station to avoid dwell times that are so long that the planned train frequency cannot be operated. ATC will help somewhat by allowing trains to bunch closer together, and less time will be wasted between trains “A” departing from the platform and train “B” arriving, but the problem of station capacity remains especially when there is a delay.
In a report on the TTC’s supplementary board agenda for February 15, 2018, management examines the many issues raised by the overcrowding at St. George and Bloor-Yonge on January 30, 2018. They note that a gap of seven minutes in service at Bloor-Yonge “creates crowding and difficult passenger circulation conditions”. The situation at St. George is only slightly better with a nine minute gap having the same result. To address this, at least for Bloor-Yonge, the TTC has reintroduced “gap trains” which are dispatched from Davisville southbound to fill wide gaps from Finch and clear the platform at Bloor before the next packed train from Finch arrives. This applies only to the AM peak southbound on Yonge. There is no provision for gap trains elsewhere nor anywhere in the PM peak.
As service builds up in the future with more frequent Line 1 YUS trains, this will also affect crowding on the Line 2 BD platforms where the same service operated today will be fed by more frequent connecting demand from Line 1. This is of particular concern during the PM peak when the primary flow is outbound from Yonge-University to Bloor-Danforth, not the other way around. Eventually, in the mid-2020s, the BD line itself will have more frequent service and this will in turn affect the rate of transfer traffic onto the YUS in the AM peak.
These concerns have spawned plans to expand platform capacity at Bloor-Yonge, but this is extremely difficult with much of the station structure hemmed in by (and occasionally inside of) buildings. A further challenge is that any construction could reduce capacity while it is underway.
The ability to construct any modifications is severely constrained as the station lies largely under buildings at Yonge and Bloor Streets. Specifically, these building foundations limit the space available to enlarge the station. Inside the station, current customer congestion also constrains construction. Careful staging of any improvement would be required to ensure that impact to station performance is minimized, but this would increase the duration of the construction activity.
The preferred option will be developed to 10% design to address the requirements to the year 2041. Included in this analysis is the impact of all the expansion projects, sequencing and other endeavours that effect Line 1 and Line 2 performance (ATC signalling, new subway trains, etc.). Fire ventilation, emergency egress and other impacted infrastructure associated with Line 1 and Line 2 capacity improvements will be considered in the design development for the station.
The early identification of potential concepts is expected to be available for TTC staff review by mid-year 2018 with final feasibility reporting in early 2019. [p 8]
Station capacity is not only an issue for Bloor-Yonge, but it also affects other major stations downtown. If trains are going to arrive more frequently, they will deliver passengers to platforms at a higher rate and the crowd from one train must be able to clear before the crowd from the next train arrives. Stations from College to King pose problems, especially if some of the exit capacity is blocked for maintenance (e.g. an out of service escalator).
Platform Edge Doors (PEDs)
Platform doors have been proposed as a way to improve safety at crowded stations, and this became a talking point after the crush on January 30 at Bloor-Yonge. The current cost estimate for this type of installation is about $24 million/station. [Globe & Mail, February 12, 2018]
Automatic Train Control is considered to be essential for the operation of PEDs through precise stopping of trains. This limits the applicability to Line 1 YUS and Line 4 Sheppard in the immediate future.
An important question is the actual purpose of the project. If it is intended as a suicide barrier or to limit garbage blowing onto the tracks, then the scope reaches across the system even to lightly used stations. If the goal is crowd control and safety, then only the busiest stations need to have doors fitted.
Platform doors will not add to station capacity, but will only provide a barrier and safety measure between riders on the platform and the trains. The goal for such a project must be clearly understood up front so that costs and expectations are scaled accordingly.
Terminals present a special challenge for operating short headways.
- The physical length of a crossover combined with the radius of the turnouts at switches sets a lower bound on the time a train requires to move from being stationary (either departing or on approach) to being clear of the shared trackage.
- There are constraints on the entry speed to stations when there is a train stored on the tail track beyond the platform.
- The nature of break times for train crews, the need for operators to walk the train length (an issue for one person operation), and the punctuality of crews being ready to depart as soon as their route is cleared all affect the ability operate a service at a terminal’s maximum capacity.
The TTC has yet to attempt a trial to determine whether they can actually operate at a rate of 30 or 33 trains/hour (corresponding to headways of 2’00” and 1’49” respectively) on a sustained basis and under the most restrictive (tail tracks occupied) conditions.
Bloor-Danforth Line 2
There is no plan to add capacity to the BD line until 2026 when the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) opens and the existing BD line converts to ATC operation. The fleet plans provide for extra trains for the extension and for more frequent service, but only in 2026.
There are conflicts between the schedules for related projects:
- SSE opens 2026 with ATC-only operation.
- BD Line 2 begins cutover from conventional to ATC signals in 2026 completing in 2029.
- Additional service, which requires ATC, is planned for 2026.
- T1 trains, which are not ATC capable, are replaced from 2026 to 2030.
- A new carhouse and yard at Kipling must be available to receive the T1 replacement trains, but there is no construction budget in the 10 year capital plan.
These timings simply do not work, and resolving the conflicts will require both the new fleet procurement and construction of the new carhouse at Kipling to be brought forward.
The T1 Subway Fleet
The TTC has two fleets of subway cars.
- The “T1” trains are used on Line 2 BD, and they will reach their end-of-life in the late 2020s. Current plans call for their replacement beginning in 2026. They are not capable of conversion to ATC at a reasonable cost considering their remaining lifespan.
- The “TR” trains are used on Line 1 YUS and Line 4 Sheppard and they all have ATC controls. Most trains are configured in six-car sets for YUS, but those for Sheppard are four-car sets. The original 80 six-car trainset TR order was changed to 76 six-car sets and 6 four-car sets to provide equipment for Sheppard.
Problems in the fleet plans arose from decisions that changed how the T1 fleet could be used.
- The TYSSE to Vaughan was originally designed to have conventional signals, not ATC. The T1 fleet was sized to provide trains for this extension.
- The move to ATC over the entire Line 1 YUS, with the TYSSE built as ATC-only, meant that additional TRs were required for Line 1 and the surplus T1s did not have a home.
- The move to ATC for Line 4 Sheppard displaced T1s from that line increasing the surplus of T1 trains.
- The need to reactivate Keele Yard was a direct result of shifting all of the T1 fleet to Line 2 BD.
- Planning for the SSE assumed that surplus trains in the existing fleet would be available for the extension to STC, but that extension will require ATC-equipped trains.
Line 3 SRT
When the rebuilding of SRT trains for an extended lifespan completes in 2019, the peak scheduled service will be increased from 5 to 6 trains.
Line 4 Sheppard
There is no plan for additional service on Sheppard in the fleet plan.
Parallel Routes for Subway Relief
Express Buses and Streetcar Routes
Operation of parallel services to the subway offers limited relief given that surface vehicles are much smaller than subway trains, they must operate over city streets already plugged with traffic, and the existing stations are not set up to support large volumes of passengers transferring to a parallel service.
Moreover, the TTC’s standard response to any calls for service improvements has been “we have no buses and no garage capacity”. Their ability to create a major new “relief” service is constrained by the belt-tightening that has limited growth of bus services generally over the past two terms of Council.
TTC staff will study the various options.
The measures to be investigated will include, but will not be limited to:
• Express buses on Yonge Street, together with transit priority measures
• Express buses from other stations on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth direct to downtown
• Improvements to streetcar service and streetcar terminal capacity improvements at Broadview, Spadina, and Dundas West stations, which are served by streetcar routes to downtown
The work will be done with input from TTC planning staff, TTC Operations, TTC Engineering, City of Toronto Transportation, and City of Toronto planning staff. The work will be expedited, with an initial report to the TTC Board in May 2018.
The work will include:
• Review of past work on express bus relief services
• Identification of service options, including routings, corridors, and express stops
• Consultation with key stakeholders
• Projection of ridership and of the degree of subway relief to be provided
• Resource requirements for buses and Operators
• Required transit priority measures to deliver the necessary services
• Evaluation of value for money of the relief services, including comparison of the relief services to other services that could be operated with the same resources [p 7]
This proposal is grasping at straws, hoping that there is some way to bleed off demand from the subway. If this were attempted, a small number of frequent point-to-point services with strong transit priority measures have a better chance of success than many less frequent operations that could raise expectations they cannot meet. The idea should not be to give riders over a wide part of the subway an alternate route to downtown, but to locate a major demand (for example at Finch terminal), riders who all want to go to the core area. Any attempt to provide service that stops “like the subway” at many locations enroute would be limited by the need to follow the subway route and by the overhead of serving those stops. Riders hoping to board enroute would have to decide whether to stay inside the subway or take their chances with the surface bus.
The level of transit priority to make services like this work is considerable, and experience on King Street shows that taking away road capacity from general use is an uphill battle. This hill grows steeper the further one moves from downtown where transit dominates travel on the streets.
Another important consideration will be the operation of a downtown pickup point for outbound service in the PM peak. The volume of would-be riders will be quite substantial and they will require considerable space wherever they are going to board. This terminal area will be more complicated with many routes heading to a variety of destinations than with a few trunk services.
To put a bus service in context, the service design capacity of an articulated bus is 77 of whom 31 would be standees. To divert 10% of the subway’s capacity, say 2,500 riders/hour, would require about 32.5 buses/hour or a headway of just under two minutes. That is a very frequent service, and it would take over a good deal of the road capacity wherever it operates especially at stops.
As for the streetcar routes, let us pretend for the moment we actually have vehicles that could be used for a parallel service. The main route into downtown is 504 King, and it already suffers from overcrowding. If anything it requires more service for riders who live and work along the route today, not as a subway relief valve. There is also a question of platform capacity at Broadview and Dundas West Stations which have chronic problems of streetcars backing up onto the street.
Spadina Station suffers from the way the streetcar platform is operated with, usually, only one Flexity on a platform that is almost long enough to hold two. Streetcars regularly back up into the approach tunnel, and the longest part of a rider’s journey on the 510 car can be the glacial approach to the platform. Two changes at this location are required:
- A way must be found operationally for streetcars to have dedicated unloading and loading zones that can be occupied at the same time.
- Crew management must, like a busy subway terminal, operate with much less chin-wagging between staff and leisurely departures blocking service. Terminal layovers are simply not possible here and streetcars should move through the station as quickly as possible.
Both of these would address problems for the 510 Spadina car, but there is no capacity for an additional “downtown” service overlaid on the existing route.
Streetcar routes are quite obviously local services, and riders who might be diverted from the subway to them must be prepared to trade off a faster, if much more crowded, trip via the subway which they are already riding for a local service that, will take considerably longer to reach downtown, especially from the west.
GO Transit and SmartTrack
GO Transit does not plan significant improvement in train frequencies in the near future pending completion of infrastructure for its “RER” (Regional Express Rail) services in the mid 2020s. Current service from Richmond Hill to Union operate half-hourly inbound from 6:25 to 8:25 am, and outbound from 4:30 to 6:00 pm with additional trains on longer headways on both shoulders of the peak. This service will improve to every 15 minutes in the peak direction as part of RER.
A doubling of GO service adds 2,000 passengers per train, or 4,000 per hour, assuming ten car trains and full loads. Achieving this depends on local bus feeder services and parking to bring riders to the trains.
Politically, one incentive for subway service to Richmond Hill is the idea that riders can come into Toronto for one fare as they now do at Vaughan and Highway 407 stations. However the problem of the separate local fare remains, and there is a limit on how many commuters can be accommodated in ever-larger parking structures.
Many riders originating in York Region are not going to Union Station, and they will remain customers for the subway which serves many other nodes enroute to downtown. That said, the diversion of traffic onto the GO corridor should occur sooner rather than later to address existing congestion.
Correction: The following paragraph has been corrected to reflect the split between the SmartTrack costs related to GO stations, and the Eglinton West LRT extension which replaces the originally proposed branch of SmartTrack to the airport. The modified text is in italics below.
SmartTrack, for all its branding, is simply an increase in service frequency and new stations within Toronto. What is actually planned is minuscule compared to the claims made for this service in the 2014 election, but the service has a huge pricetag, about $1.5 billion. (There is $3.7 billion in the City of Toronto capital budget for 2018-27, but this includes about $2b for the Eglinton West LRT which is the replacement for the western leg of “SmartTrack”.) Operating costs including the subsidy of free transfers from TTC services to GO/ST trains are extra.
Both SmartTrack and the SSE address demand coming in from Scarborough, and their competition for the same market was (and remains) an issue within debates over the appropriate transit solution for Scarborough’s travel. To the west, SmartTrack will add stations at Mount Dennis, St. Clair and Liberty Village, as well as serving an improved subway connection at Dundas West/Bloor. Demand projections show little effect at Bloor-Yonge from SmartTrack. It will skim off some growth and latent demand, but will not actually reduce traffic at Bloor-Yonge from existing levels.
With all the focus on subway relief, it is important to remember that GO transit has other routes that are not part of SmartTrack. Any service and fare offerings should be available on all of these routes to divert travel that might otherwise use the subway.
The Relief Line (aka the Don Mills Subway)
The Relief Line has been written about at great length elsewhere and I am not going to duplicate that work here. In any event, any “relief” is a decade or more away, and the RL still competes in the minds of many who insist on viewing this as a “downtown” transit project even though the principle benefits will flow to suburban riders who need more capacity to reach their destination.
The situation has not been helped by the TTC who downplayed the need for this route for decades, and shortened the proposal limiting its reach as an alternative travel corridor. Back in the 1960s, the “Queen Subway” would have run east from downtown then north to Eglinton and Don Mills. When the proposal was scaled back to end at Danforth, its political attractiveness waned along with the amount of actual relief the route could provide. The high cost was also seen as diverting funding from suburban expansion including, now, the Richmond Hill and Scarborough subways.
Demand projections show that the major relief comes from taking the Relief Line well north of Danforth all the way to Sheppard and Don Mills. This would provide a truly parallel route into downtown as well as new rapid transit service to the entire corridor. Development sites, current and proposed, along the RL make it much more than a sleepy route that would only see demand during the height of the peak with little reason to ride other than as a bypass around Bloor-Yonge.
The political challenge is to move beyond detailed planning now underway to actual construction and service. Although John Tory argued four years ago that SmartTrack would solve every problem one might name, he is now forced to acknowledge the importance of the Relief Line. Neither of these will open while he is still in office, but the decisions and delays will haunt Toronto long after he has retired. The situation is even more complex at the provincial level where the commitment to build an expensive new line into downtown Toronto is not met with unbridled enthusiasm by any party.
Off Peak Fares
The concept of using lower off-peak fares to attract ridership away from the peak period will be part of an update on the Ridership Growth Strategy in July 2018.
Many questions surround such as scheme:
- Would off-peak fares be subsidized while leaving peak fares as they are, or would peak fares go up in an attempt to recover lost revenue?
- Crowding is an issue only for parts of the network at specific times and locations. Should a major fare change be implemented across the board affecting all peak riders, and benefiting all off-peak riders?
- What are the equity effects for riders who have long trips and for those who cannot shift their travel times?
- Would the fare differential be available to all riders, or only to those paying “full” adult fares? How would this plan interact with various fare discounts and passes?
- Is an investment in a new fare structure a productive way to “buy” peak capacity compared to other options including better service on surface routes?
Off Peak Service
Another effect of lower off peak fares will be to encourage demand that could overload existing off peak services both on the shoulders of the peak and more generally through the midday, evening and weekend. Better service at these times does not require more vehicles, but it does require more operators to drive the buses, streetcars and subway trains.
A proposal to improve off-peak service on Line 1 YUS failed thanks to budget limits a few years ago. It was part of a package that included improved early Sunday service, but only part of the scheme survived the budget knives.
Part of the $2 million in added transit funding approved by Council will go to adding four trains to the early evening service on Line 1.
On the surface network, the quality of off peak service is under attack by TTC Board members who feel that the Service Standards are too generous. They argue that there is nothing wrong with having a few standees, but this diverts attention from the routes where off peak crowding is more than a few riders for short periods.
Squeezing the more lightly loaded routes offers limited savings as we found during the Ford era, and it reduces or eliminates capacity and attractiveness for more riders. The TTC has been preoccupied with static “ridership” numbers for so long that it ignores the very real fact that crowding exists beyond its own approved standards. The focus for budgets is not on how to run more attractive service, but on finding ways to make do with existing vehicles and staffing levels.
The bus fleet suffers from a shortage of both vehicles and garage space. These are related in that one cannot have buses without somewhere to store and maintain them. The problem goes back to the transition between Mayors Miller and Ford when the Transit City Plan was killed. At that time, bus fleet and garage planning assumed two things:
- More buses and garage space would be needed for riding growth and improved crowding standards.
- Transit City LRT lines would, when they opened, replace major bus routes that would cap the need for more garages.
What actually happened was that Transit City was killed, and the crowding standards were rolled back to pre-Ford levels. This, in turn, allowed provision for vehicles and a new garage to be deferred in the capital budget. This also benefitted the operating subsidy pressures by reducing the amount of service that could be provided.
Construction of McNicoll Garage eventually started, but it will not open until 2020. A small additional space has been purchased adjacent to Malvern Garage that will house 50 more buses starting later in 2018. No additional garages have reached the planning and budget stages, although the TTC is at least looking for potential sites.
A few dozen buses will come free in fall 2018 as streetcar routes convert back to rail operation, but that is the extent of spare resources available for better peak service on the bus network overall. The next big jump in bus availability will come with the opening of the Eglinton and Finch LRT lines in 2020-21.
Plans for express buses have been half off until 2019 pending both fleet growth and budgetary approval.
There is no service plan that takes into account possible growth in ridership across the bus system, and certainly not for any parallel services to supplement the subway.
Streetcar delivery issues are well-known with the new Bombardier fleet, and crystal ball gazing to produce an implementation and service plan is a cottage industry not unlike the creation of fantasy transit maps. Many configurations of streetcar service can be sketched, but until cars are actually arrive on a dependable basis, any fleet and service planning is hamstrung by uncertainty of the actual fleet that will be available. This is compounded by reliability issues with the old streetcars which, despite the investment of millions in reconstruction, are still vulnerable to very cold weather.
As of February 18, 2018, there will be 91 buses operating on streetcar routes in the AM peak period. Allowing for spares, there are over 100 buses that could be serving riders on bus routes, but instead are operating on streetcar lines to make up for Bombardier’s non-performance.
This raises a budgetary issue because as and when these vehicles are available, they would represent a 6% increase in peak service on the bus network for which there is no available operating funding.
Another problem for the streetcar fleet is that when it is underutilized because buses run on streetcar routes, there is a temptation to retire cars and keep only the most reliable cars on the street. This process can get ahead of new car deliveries throttling the ability to operate more streetcar service.
Very roughly speaking, if all of the Flexitys were in Toronto by the end of 2019, it would be possible to operate the entire streetcar system with them, including an increase in capacity of about 25% on all routes that do not already have them, and a more substantial increase on King with a 1:1 replacement of old cars by new. This would bring a long, long overdue improvement on the streetcar routes which have been starved for service for over two decades.
The actual timing of these changes, and their degree, will depend both on Bombardier’s deliveries, and on City Council’s willingness to pay for improved service.
Further increases in the streetcar fleet to address future growth lie in two potential orders:
- A 60-car add-on order to the current Flexity contract with Bombardier
- A further order for new cars for potential Waterfront lines west to the Humber and east to the Don.
If all of these were actually purchased, the TTC will be tight for streetcar storage, especially considering that Leslie Barns will do double-duty as both a carhouse and as an overhaul facility when the new fleet is old enough to reach its first major overhaul cycle.
Where Does the Money Come From?
There are two problems with paying for all of this and they are at the heart of all debates on transit growth.
- Funding: This term refers to the actual source of money that will pay the bills. Will it be the farebox, the municipal tax base, provincial or federal programs?
- Financing: This refers to how the money will be obtained. Will it be on a pay-as-you-play basis with current revenues paying the bills (typical for the operating budget), or will it be some combination of current revenues and borrowing, including P3 schemes where borrowing is done by a private company which passes on the cost through an operating lease?
The TTC’s capital program has been artificially limited in scope by the City’s self-imposed cap on the ratio of borrowing costs to property tax revenue. There is a provincial mandate that this stay below 25%, but Toronto has its own cap of 15% as a management strategy to (a) leave headroom and (b) provide an attractive, well-managed city to attract good debt ratings and lower borrowing costs. Recently, this cap has proved impossible to meet in an absolute sense, and it is now averaged over a ten-year period to allow for a coming crunch in borrowing requirements (mainly due to the SSE, the Gardiner and SmartTrack).
The TTC is forced to set its capital budget based on a debt target from the City, and this results in about 1/3 of the approved capital needs having no funding. A further (and growing) list of projects is not even on the “approved” list, and these can only be added with Council’s approval. There is much that the transit system needs and wants, but paying for it is quite another matter.
Among the factors now affecting capital planning are:
- 10 additional trains to allow Line 1 YUS to operate at 33 trains/hour
- Timing of the Line 2 BD fleet replacement & carhouse
- Subway station expansion
- Platform doors
- One or two additional bus garages beyond McNicoll including a rolling facilities migration to electric vehicles
- Bus fleet expansion
- 60 or more new streetcars for ridership growth and new Waterfront services
Underlying all of this is the problem between spending that is in the operating budget (more service, fare subsidies) versus the capital budget (more trains and buses, new lines). The nature of funding schemes from other governments pushes Toronto away from any new operating costs toward spending on buying and building things, even though they must then find the funds with which to operate the new assets. Capital spending also has the political advantage that it is “other people’s money” and the hit on operating costs lies years on the future.
In a future update, I will add here the detailed fleet plans from the TTC’s 2018-27 capital budget.