Updated May 9, 2018: Information about the planned changes has been updated based on the staff presentation at the May 8 Board meeting.
Contrary to the penny-pinching approach urged on the TTC by budget hawks, where only routes that were 30% above standard would be improved, the changes will bring all bus routes that are above the Board-approved loading standards below the approved maximum. This will be achieved through a combination of better availability in the bus fleet and reallocation of service from routes and periods which are below the standard. The sequence of implementation will likely be:
- September: Express routes
- October and November: Peak and Off-Peak improvements
The staff proposals were amended by a Board motion directing that one additional gap train be provided on 1 Yonge-University-Spadina in both peak periods starting in September. This will bring the total to 4 AM and 1 PM gap trains.
The TTC Board will consider proposals to improve service on their network at its meeting on May 8, 2018. No doubt, there will be many cries of “Huzzah” and tub-thumping pre-election speeches about how Toronto continues to improve its transit service.
There is not much new here for those who have been following the 2018 budget process. This is merely the implementation stage of changes that were included in the Council-approved budget earlier this year.
Previous articles/items on this topic:
- TTC Budget Briefing Note regarding service improvements
- Crowding on the TTC (my article from February 2018 which includes many links to other related reports)
There are four groups of improvements:
- Improve service reliability on Line 1
- Relieve peak crowding on bus routes
- Relieve off-peak crowding on bus routes
- Implement new express bus services
The changes will be implemented, for the most part, in fall 2018, and therefore have only a four-month effect on the budget. The costs are projected to be $5 million in 2018 and $15.5m in 2019, offset by revenue from new riding of $2m in 2019. For the 2018 budget year, $3m comes from a Council-approved bump in the TTC’s subsidy, and the remaining $2m from spending redirected from other, unspecified, areas within the TTC.
The new riding generated by the changes is projected to be 848,000 in 2019, of which over 60% would come from the new express services. By 2021, this is expected to rise to 1.1 million rides that the TTC would not have seen without the improvements. Many more riders will benefit from less crowded service, at least assuming that the TTC, with adequate funding, stays on top of crowding problems.
Stirring all that together means that the net new requirement for funding in the 2019 budget will be $8.5 million.This implies that the “redirection” of funding in the TTC budget is a permanent change, not a one time efficiency or deferral.
It is important to contrast this with the cost of opening the Vaughan subway extension ($30m annually) or the fare freeze (a comparable amount). The TTC has used its vehicle shortage as a convenient excuse to avoid service improvements with the argument “even if you gave us the money, we couldn’t run the service” response. In fact, what money the TTC does manage to scrape together is going to underwrite service on the subway extension and politically motivated fare policies.
Although there is an intent to reduce crowding, this will only occur on the most badly-overcrowded of routes, and in effect the TTC has made its “standards” worse by only addressing problems on the most badly crowded parts of their system.
Moreover, there is still no ongoing reporting mechanism to allow tracking of crowding by route and time period so that the degree to which the TTC fails to achieve its standards is clear for all to see.
Improving Subway Service on 1 Yonge-University-Spadina
Demand on the Yonge subway south of Bloor Station has been above the level supported by scheduled service, even allowing for the recent conversion to larger trains, for many years. When discussing future system expansion, the added room provided by new trains has always been cited as if it were in the future when in fact this capacity was consumed by overcrowding before the trains were even delivered.
A further problem lies with the amount of service actually operated. This is routinely below the scheduled level, and so the “capacity” shown above exists only in theory. The actual level of service lies well below this target as shown in this chart from the current CEO’s Report [p 28].
One of the worst problems faced by the TTC is not the occasional major upheaval that blocks service, memorable though those incidents are, but the day-to-day operational problems that produce small delays and gaps. Once a gap forms, it is very difficult to close this up because the affected train will be badly overloaded and will spend excessive time at each station as passengers try to crowd onto trains. A basic tenet of transit planning is that one must not plan based on crush capacity except for brief, emergency situations because packed trains cannot run as frequently and the capacity actually provided goes down. This principle is often lost on penny-pinching politicians for whom “there’s always room on the roof” and “taxpayer dollars” are tightly linked concepts.
For many years, the TTC addressed this issue with “gap trains”, a few trains spotted at key locations to be inserted into gaps in the key, peak direction. For example, a crowded platform at Bloor-Yonge can be cleared by a near-empty train originating southbound from Davisville. PM Peak gap trains were stored in the centre track between Union and St. Andrew and inserted as needed onto the line.
The table below shows the evolution of service on Line 1 over the past decade. The AM peak headway is limited by the signal system, and has been 2’21” (141 seconds) without change. The PM peak headway is a bit wider so that all service can run through to the northern end of the Spadina line (rather than short turning half of them) with a comparable train requirement to the AM peak. For many years, the summer schedules included a reduction in gap trains, and a slight widening of the PM peak headway.
Beginning in 2014, the TTC started to add running time to the schedules so that trains (and more importantly the crews) could stay on time. Up to the point where operations extended north to Vaughan in November 2017), 14 minutes (over 10%) had been added to the round trip time in the AM peak. This is a double-edged sword because if trains do not actually require this, queues form on the approaches to terminals. This phenomenon is common on both Lines 1 and 2 at the end of the peak period when there is a good chance trains will arrive “early” with no platform available.
If the running time grows and the headway (space between trains) stays the same, then more trains are required. This was achieved by cutting the gap trains as the table below shows. In the process, the subway lost an important tool for handling minor service disruptions and keeping them from becoming major ones. At the time, this was portrayed by management as making better use of trains that might sit unused on days when there was no gap to fill. That is rather like saying one does not need an umbrella or winter boots because the sun always shines in Toronto.
(In the chart below, “RTT” refers to the “round trip time” in minutes.)
In the May 13, 2018, schedules, the TTC will reintroduce two gap trains in the AM peak on Yonge. One will be located at Davisville and one at Eglinton (in the pocket track north of the station). A third gap train will be added in September.
Spare trains are available because the TTC has already increased its fleet in anticipation of shorter headways and increased capacity with Automatic Train Control (ATC). However, the oft-mentioned 1’55” (115 second) headway ATC will allow probably cannot be achieved with the available fleet, especially if provision is made for gap trains. This is an outstanding flaw in the TTC’s fleet planning.
(The AM peak service now requires 61 trains, not including the gap trains or maintenance spares, to provide a combined 141 second headway. Reducing this headway to 115 seconds requires a 23% increase in the number of trains to 75. The TTC only owns 76 TR train sets. Some saving in total trip time might be possible thanks to ATC, but the TTC has yet to confirm how much they expect to achieve.)
There is no announced plan for gap trains for the PM peak, nor for Line 2 Bloor-Danforth, although spare trains are available. Operationally, gap trains for BD would be more difficult to implement because of the limited places where they could be stored for insertion into the service.
Updated May 9, 2018: At the Board’s direction and management’s concurrence, two gap trains rather than one will be added in September to the AM peak, and a gap train will be added to the PM peak.
Wilson Yard Operations
Trains running out of service in the evening to Wilson Yard now do so northbound. This has two effects.
- The train must cross the southbound track possibly delaying through service.
- A large gap in service to Vaughan can be created.
Updated May 9, 2018: The following text has been corrected to reflect the planned operation.
This will be changed so that the reduction of service that occurs after the PM peak and through the mid-evening is done southbound from Vaughan.
When the new north yard entrance is activated, some of the AM peak service will be able to depart north to Vaughan without conflict between revenue trains and work trains returning to the yard. This track is not yet active, but it is physically in place. This will avoid some of the late service starts that bedevil the Yonge line when trains from Wilson cannot get into service quickly enough to populate the entire route with peak capacity.
The TTC has added 10 staff at Bloor-Yonge and St. George stations to assist with crowd control.
Bus Service Improvements
With the purchase of many new buses and the retirement of the worst of the unreliable old vehicles, the TTC can provide more service without expanding the fleet. This has been a problem for bus operations, albeit on a smaller scale, as with the streetcar fleet where the number of “available” vehicles is somewhat lower than the official fleet size might imply.
Moreover, the TTC has acquired property adjacent to Malvern Garage that will allow 40 more vehicles to be housed at that site (net 30 in service).
These two benefits will allow more bus service to operate from existing facilities. Still to come is the new garage at McNicoll which, thanks to political interference in the launch of this project, will not open until 2020. A proposal for a ninth bus garage is in the works and will come to the TTC at a date yet to be announced.
Peak period improvements have historically been hostage to the TTC’s bus shortage which is complicated by the number of buses required to fill in for streetcars thanks to Bombardier’s delivery delays. Service will be improved on several routes, but this comes with a caveat – only those routes where crowding is already 30% or more above the TTC’s “standards” will be addressed.
This, in effect, changes the real standard by setting a limit below which nothing will be done to address service quality. That will keep the budget hawks happy, but it does not relieve the problem standards exist to prevent – the crowding of service to a point where loading delays and packed vehicles are common experiences that annoy riders and deter new ones. Although these improvements will be carried forward as 2019 budget proposals, there is no guarantee that they will survive, nor that any further improvements to achieve the standards will be on the table, let alone be implemented, next year.
It is not clear whether the improved service will bring crowding down to the actual TTC standard, or simply below the 30% cutoff line that has been used to filter which route are eligible for improvement. If the latter, then this is a de facto change in standards. TTC staff do not publish route-by-route crowding stats, and so there is no way to know just how pervasive overcrowding might be while the TTC board spends its time in hand-wringing over lost ridership.
Updated May 9, 2018:
The TTC will make more buses available than originally expected through three sources:
- Deferrals of bus retirements
- Purchase of net-new buses (already approved in the Capital budget)
- Reduction in the spare ratio because less-reliable old vehicles are retired
The result will be that the available fleet will increase from 1,575 to 1,610 in September/October, and to 1,640 in 2019.
Part of the added operating cost will be funded through money added to the budget by Council, and part from internal reallocation. In 2019, the expansion to full-year operation will be treated as the annualization of an existing program rather than as a net new service. This is important because funding for existing service has a higher priority than for improvements.
This will allow all bus services to be brought within the approved loading standards rather than addressing only the worst cases.
The routes to receive better peak service are:
7 Bathurst 11 Bayview 23 Dawes 25 Don Mills 26 Dupont 29 Dufferin*
36 Finch West (East of Keele) 43 Kennedy 56 Leaside 72 Pape 79 Scarlett Rd
88 South Leaside 89 Weston* 100 Flemingdon Park 102 Markham Rd*
109 Ranee 113 Danforth 122 Graydon Hall 165 Weston Rd North
185 Don Mills Rocket 195 Jane Rocket 198 U of T Scarborough Rocket
199 Finch Rocket
* Improved by addition of express services (see below)
Off-peak improvements will occur on:
24 Victoria Park 25 Don Mills 29 Dufferin 36 Finch West (East of Keele)
54 Lawrence East 63 Ossington 95 York Mills 100 Flemingdon Park
102 Markham Rd 112 West Mall 129 McCowan North 131 Nugget
198 U of T Scarborough Rocket 199 Finch Rocket
New Express services are planned on seven routes, and this change advances plans originally targeted for 2019 to 2021 to late 2018. There are no details on service levels.
Two of these routes will operate on an all-day basis:
29 Dufferin (Wilson Station–Dufferin Loop)
102 Markham Rd (Warden Station–Sheppard Avenue E.)
The remainder will operate only during peak periods, at least initially, with all-day service to be the subject of future reviews.
37 Islington (Islington Station–Steeles Avenue)
52 Lawrence West (Lawrence Station–Pearson Airport)
84 Sheppard West (Extension to Weston Road)
85 Sheppard East (Branch of 190 Scarborough Ctr Rocket to Meadowvale Road)
89 Weston (89 Weston–Finch Avenue)
Between the peak period changes to regular service and the new express routes, bus requirements will go up by 49 not including spares. This effectively soaks up the projected fleet growth for 2018.
A major issue whenever the TTC talks about service improvements is that Council is loathe to actually provide staff hiring authority to actually run the service. The report includes a table of proposed additional staff.
An increase of 27 was approved by Council, but far more are needed to provide all of the new and improved services. A further 84 are requested as shown in the table below.