The TTC’s detailed version of the Capital Budget is known as the “Blue Books” because they are issued in two large blue binders. They are not available online. Over coming weeks, I will post highlights from this material beginning with the fleet plans.
These plans were drawn up in late 2017 as the budget was finalized, and there have actually been changes since that are not reflected here. I will note these where appropriate.
For starters, a review of how all of these capital projects are paid for.
Financing and Funding the Capital Budget
The TTC’s budget process at times looks like a game of Three Card Monte where one is certain that one card is the Queen of Diamonds, but never quite sure where she is. This shows up in various ways:
- There is a “base program” consisting of projects that have Council approval for inclusion in the ten-year plan. The estimated cost of this program is $9.240 billion, but there is funding shortfall of $2.702 billion.
- There is an “unfunded list” of projects making up the shortfall. These will migrate to funded status as and when money becomes available.
- The City requires that the TTC make provision for “capacity to spend” reductions in its projects based on the premise that all of the money in the budgets will not actually be used. This offsets $427 million of the shortfall, although one can argue that this is a polite fiction meant to convey the idea that the funding hole is not quite as deep as it seems. The premise is that not all projects will be spent to their full budgets, and an across-the-board provision will soak up the underspending. In practice, some of this “shortfall” is a question of timing – project slippage that shifts spending to other years – not a question of budgeting too high.
- Some projects have their own, dedicated funding streams and appear separately from the base program. At present, these are the subway extensions to Vaughan and to Scarborough.
- Some projects in the base program have funding directed specifically to them. The provincial 1/3 share of the new streetcars is an example. This is separate from provincial money that flows to Toronto from the gas tax.
- Some projects have timelines associated with the structure of funding programs. Ottawa’s Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF) Phase 1 requires that projects be completed by March 31, 2019 so that the subsidy is expensed, federally, by the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year. PTIF phase 2 has not yet been announced either as to amount or to the timeframe in which spending will occur. These constraints prevent many projects from receiving PTIF money because they do not fit within the prescribed window for spending.
- Metrolinx projects do not appear on the TTC’s books, but in some cases they can trigger payments from the TTC and/or the City of Toronto. Examples are Presto and SmartTrack.
- Some transit proposals are not even in the base program, but wait in readiness as “nice to haves”.
“Funding” is the process of paying for projects, while “Financing” is the mechanism by which that money is raised. A “funded” project is associated with revenue from “financing” sources that the City can depend on such as property taxes and committed monies from other governments. Where there is a shortfall, someone has to step up with new money, however they might raise it, or something must be removed (or at least reduced in scope) from the list of funded projects.
City of Toronto contributions to capital come primarily from current taxes (“capital from current” and development charges) and from borrowing. The amount of borrowing available to the TTC each year is dictated by the City’s self-imposed 15% cap on the ratio of debt service costs to property tax revenue. A few major projects in the near future, notably the Gardiner Expressway rebuild, are crowding the debt ceiling, and there are years when little new debt will be issued on the TTC’s behalf. In turn, this affects spending plans at the TTC, and projects are shifted into future years with more borrowing room to get around this.
Other constraints can arise from a program like PTIF which, because it has a sunset date, requires that spending that might otherwise occur some years in the future must actually happen sooner than planned. This, in turn, requires matching funds from the City in years where they might otherwise have been spent on other projects.
The TTC owns three fleets of rapid transit cars:
- The Toronto Rocket Trains (TRs) operate on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina in six-car fixed sets, and on Line 4 Sheppard in four-car sets. The two sets are not interchangeable.
- The T1 trains operate on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth. These cars are in “married pairs”, but they always operate on BD as six-car trains.
- The Line 3 Scarborough RT fleet consists of 14 married pairs of cars that run in four-car sets. These are captive to the SRT and are completely incompatible with any other part of the rapid transit network.
When the Spadina extension to Vaughan (aka TYSSE) was in design, the TTC was planning to build it with conventional signals, and the existing fleet was assumed to be available as part of the fleet. Later, with the decision to move to Automatic Train Control (ATC), the extra T1 trains that were intended to be part of the Line 1 fleet were no longer appropriate. Neither were the T1s used on Line 4. This created a surplus of T1 cars and a need to buy additional TRs to make up the difference. For the Sheppard line, the TTC had Bombardier convert the last 4 trainsets, 24 cars, in the order to six four-car sets. This solved the Sheppard problem, but reduced the number of TR trains available to serve the YUS.
A similar situation now exists for Line 2 planning where the surplus T1s were counted as “available” for the Scarborough extension, but in fact the move to ATC on the BD line including the extension will prevent them from ever running to STC. This is part of a larger tangle of capital projects and timing relating to the T1 fleet, the SSE and a planned Line 2 renewal project.
Toronto Rocket (TR) Cars
The TR fleet operates primarily on Line 1 YUS with 76 trains. Here is the fleet plan for this line, as it was in late fall 2017.
The current scheduled service for the YUS requires 61 trains in the AM peak and 63 in the PM peak. Two extra “gap trains” were recently added in the AM peak, and it is unclear whether the reduction of two trains shown in 2020 is now actually possible, let alone if more gap trains are added to the PM peak.
The “Service Resilience” line does double duty: it soaks up otherwise spare trains, but it also provides for the addition of trains to the schedule when this will be possible following completion of the ATC project in Line 1. However, as I reported in an earlier article Toronto’s Transit Capacity Crisis, a further 10 trains would be needed for the YUS to reach the target maximum service of 33 trains/hour with ATC. These trains are not included in the chart above. (The 10 trains that are shown in 2031 are for the Richmond Hill extension and they are much too far in the future to contribute to increased capacity in the near term.)
Note that from 2026 onward the “Contingency” value goes negative showing that the “Resilience” trains representing a service improvement would not actually exist. The problem would not be straightened out until there is another order of TR cars to expand the fleet.
This chart is both confusing and out of date. It does not reflect current thinking on the buildup of service with ATC starting in 2020, the reduction in round trip time that ATC will allow, nor the additional trains needed to reach a 33 trains/hour service. Moreover, the ratio of spare trains to peak service is inconsistent staying at 5 trains even as the peak builds from 68 up to 87.
A subset of the TR fleet operates on Sheppard, and there is no plan to expand beyond the six four-car sets now available for the line. With two spare trains, one could be used to add service, but there are no current plans for this. If service on Line 4 moved from 4 trains to 5, the headway would be reduced from the current 5’30” to about 4’30”.
The T1 fleet operates on Line 2 BD. These cars will be due, based on a 30-year lifespan, for replacement in the late 2020s. However, with the SSE opening in 2026, earlier replacement will be required and this will affect the timing of spending both on the new fleet and on a yard to house the cars.
This plan shows the rather generous allocation of spare and contingency vehicles made possible by the T1 surplus. There is a peak requirement of 45 trains today, and a fleet of 60 gives a very generous 33% spare factor, all things considered. For a few decades, the TTC has been in a position where, thanks to transitions between fleets, there are more spare trains than are strictly required for service. Whether they can actually operate with a tighter spare factor, especially for the more elderly T1 trains, remains to be seen.
In any event, the plan above shows the replacement trains (plus 9 additional sets) arriving between 2026 and 2030 even though the Scarborough Subway, which will require ATC-capable trains, opens in 2026.
The plan shows a target peak service of 56 trains in 2032 with 13 spares, or 23%. This allows for only a modest reduction in headways on the BD line following its conversion to ATC in 2026.
Future Subway Car Needs
There is provision in the plan for a small number of trains for the Relief Line, but this would only be for a Danforth to Downtown service. This is clearly a placeholder.
An overview of new car spending appears in a consolidated table. The three lines for each set refer to “Budget”, “Proposed” and “Variance” indicating changes to this plan in the 2018 version.
Note the long lead times for new train order. Early years are consumed by engineering and specifications, followed by a contract which includes a signing payment, and finally progress payments as trains are delivered. As mentioned above, this plan is based on replacing the T1 fleet substantially after the SSE has opened, not before, and there is no provision for growth in the TR fleet for Line 1 until late in the next decade. Shifting these projects to earlier time periods will have a considerable effect on the TTC’s medium-term capital requirements.
The 10 growth trains shown below are for both Lines 1 and 2.
I will turn to facilities projects in a separate article, but in the context of fleet planning it is worth noting how this will interact with other projects.
- Engineering, specifications, etc for a replacement fleet for the T1 trains.
- Acquisition of property near Kipling Station for a new storage yard and maintenance facility (expropriation is in progress)
- Tender and contract for T1 replacements
- 5 prototype trains for T1 replacement
- Scarborough Subway Extension opens
- Delivery of 6 T1 replacements
- Staged implementation of ATC on Line 2
- Delivery of remaining 51 T1 replacements
This schedule does not include delivery of the 7 additional trains for the SSE which are shown in the fleet plan. Moreover, it is unclear how the BD line can operate with partially active ATC when the trains supporting this mode will not be delivered until after ATC is implemented, notably on the SSE when it opens in 2026.
There is no construction schedule for the new yard at Kipling as only property acquisition funding has been approved by Council, but obviously this yard must exist before the first of the T1 replacements arrives. If that car order is moved ahead, then this will affect timing for the yard as well. Some funding may be available from other projects that can be scaled back including planned storage on the Scarborough Subway Extension, but this will not cover the full cost of a completely new yard and shops.
On a related note, current planning for the Relief Line assumes that it will use Greenwood Yard as its home base. The timing of the RL will affect the timing of whatever changes are needed to support a new fleet for the RL, as well as the shift of BD operations from Greenwood to Kipling.
There is a project for 10 new trains for ridership growth, but the timing lies beyond the 10 year capital plan. Any new trains will require more storage, and there does not appear to be provision for this in the facility plans.
Overall, several projects needed to relieve congestion and add capacity to the subway network are now planned further in the future than is appropriate for the urgency of the situation in 2018.
The Scarborough RT, now over 30 years old, will be kept alive pending the opening of the SSE by reconstruction of its fleet and infrastructure. The fleet plan shows the scheduled service returning to six trains in 2019.
The bus fleet plan below was drawn up before the TTC Board decided to move to a zero emission fleet over the coming cycle of vehicle replacements. Therefore, this plan reflects a fleet of diesel buses. It differs from the 2017 plan in a few respects:
- The quantity of buses to be acquired in the short term is much larger reflecting the availability of PTIF funding from Ottawa.
- There is now provision for 68 new articulated buses in 2020-21. This has the effect of reducing the total fleet size (counted in vehicles) slightly in following years.
There is little increase in peak bus service until 2020 when new capacity at McNicoll Garage comes on stream. Then there is a drop in 2021 when the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will replace a substantial amount of bus service, bounces back in 2022 and then plateaus through to 2027. (Click on the image below to get a larger version. My apologies for the colour contrast problem – it’s the TTC’s chart.
An associated plan is the garage space plan. Despite additional space coming online at McNicoll in 2020, the system will again be over capacity from 2022 onward.
As the budget is currently written, there is no provision for any additional garages beyond McNicoll, or any significant growth in the fleet to allow for major peak period service improvements. Moreover, there is no provision for a new garage designed for zero-emission vehicles nor for any purchase of these vehicles even though this is now the TTC Boatrd’s stated direction.
These issues are obviously linked as no new diesel-based garage should be built if the system is going to convert to electric vehicles. The effect of undertaking this fleet changeover has yet to be reported to the TTC Board, let alone sent on to Council for necessary funding.
One big concern is that the PTIF funds will be used to get past the high initial cost of the technology change without conferring additional capacity on the system. There are many potential uses for PTIF phase 2 money, but the bus advocates within the TTC, not to mention potential vendors, are eager for any way to make their products “cheaper” at least on a net basis to Toronto.
TTC maintenance practices over the last few years have emphasized “fix before fail”, the proper way to maintain any equipment or infrastructure, but one that was sacrificed on the altar of reduced costs. Why spend money fixing something when you can just hope it will run forever. This even led to game-playing with performance stats where a bus counted as “working” as long as it made it off of the garage property. If it failed a block down the road, this did not count as a bus that failed to be available for service. The metrics have changed, and the criterion now is that buses fail as infrequently as possible in service. This shows up in the rising mean distance between delays caused by equipment failure.
Another important change is the move to a shorter planned lifespan for buses. This will avoid the cost of a second vehicle overhaul at roughly the 12 year mark as well as operation of aging equipment whose various subsystems are less current than those of new vehicles.
At a recent Board meeting, the CEO reported that reliability has now reached the point where garages have enough vehicles available to send out all of the scheduled service without dipping into the maintenance spares.
Finally, the Wheel-Trans fleet is scheduled for a refresh, but the total fleet available for service will be roughly the same. There will be shift of some vehicles from the regular WT van service to “Community” services.
This ties in with the TTC’s desire to shift WT riders onto the “conventional” system. How successful this will be remains to be seen.
The streetcar fleet “plan” at this point consists of waiting for Bombardier to actually deliver the long-overdue Flexity fleet. As I write this, car 4466 has arrived in Toronto, and cars up to 4464 are transmitting location data.
As of the most recent schedule (included in the February 2018 CEO’s Report), deliveries up to car 4522 are expected by year end 2018, or 56 more cars counting from late February. This will leave 82 more cars for Bombardier to deliver in 2019. The additional Toronto production line at Kingston is expected to begin shipping cars in fall 2018.
Where the new cars will go when they arrive is something of a guessing game because the TTC cannot count on deliveries and schedule their services until cars are actually on the property. For example, the peak scheduled Flexity service in February 2018 is only 31 cars, and allowing for maintenance and training spares, this would require a fleet of about 40 cars. In fact 63 of them are on the road with the extras replacing CLRVs on the 504 King and 512 St. Clair schedules (512 has not yet formally converted to 100% Flexity operation).
Current plans are to continue replacing CLRVs with Flexitys as they become available, but this will consume all deliveries expected until late summer.
Beyond the initial 204-car order for Flexitys, the Capital Plan includes unfunded projects for:
- 60 additional cars for ridership growth (beyond the capacity improvements available with the original order)
- 15 additional cars for new services in the Waterfront
The TTC is aware that these plans will strain the capacity of the existing three carhouses, especially when the first round of Flexity overhauls begins in 2022. This will take space at Leslie Barns that is now available for routine maintenance and servicing.
In order to accommodate the new LFLRV’s, and anticipated additional low floor vehicles to meet ridership growth beyond 2019, upgrades to existing facilities and the addition of a new downtown facility are required. [Streetcar fleet plan, p 1; Blue books, p 751]
An obvious location for a fourth facility will be Hillcrest where the existing Harvey Shops, a facility designed around CLRV-length vehicles will be underutilized with the shift of streetcar work to Leslie Barns. This site is centrally located, and it would not require as extensive facilities as at Leslie as it would only provide day-to-day support for a smaller fleet, not full maintenance and overhaul capabilities.
The TTC is conducting an overall review of bus and streetcar maintenance facility requirements leading to a new facility plan. Clearly, the planned shift to electric buses would also affect the requirements for and design of any new shops.