TTC Plans For a Zero-Emission Bus Fleet

Updated June 13, 2018: Discussion and motions from the TTC Board Meeting added.

At its meeting on June 12, 2018, the TTC board will consider a staff report which sets out in some detail the first stages of Toronto’s migration from diesel and diesel/hybrid buses to a zero-emission fleet.

The TTC’s abrupt shift from diesel to zero-emission followed a July 2017 motion adopting the TransformTO climate change plan which included a reduction target of 80% by 2050. After continued defense of “clean diesel” technology on the basis of cost and reliability, ongoing problems with Hybrid buses, and a view that new technologies were not yet mature enough for system-wide use, the TTC has reversed course and embraced a move to buying only zero-emission vehicles by the mid-2020s. As older vehicles reach end of life, the diesel and hybrid fleets would gradually disappear.

In September 2017 at an unusual Board meeting a vendor, BYD, was given the opportunity to make an extended product pitch as a “deputation”. This led to a more general interest in zero-emission vehicles from two other vendors (New Flyer and Proterra), as well as natural gas alternatives thanks to lobbying by Enbridge Gas.

In November, the Board approved a 30-bus trial with ten vehicles from each of the three vendors, as well as a less definitive study of the role of gaseous fuels.

A major problem through the entire process is that much of this is new technology, and there are many competing claims for its suitability that are not yet substantiated by real world experience. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times details problems with their battery buses and the gap between promises and actual performance.

Toronto is just beginning to learn the cost of moving to a greener fleet and the escalation not only in vehicle costs but in related infrastructure. $50 million has been allocated for those first 30 buses, and a further $88 million is on the table for another 30 plus associated infrastructure. The report is deliberately vague about specific prices for vehicles because negotiations with vendors are still underway.

Without extra investment by other governments, the technology change simply would not happen. In a November 2017 report, TTC staff noted that battery buses were “significantly less expensive” than other options based on the availability of PTIF funding.

Indeed, the current plan is structured to burn through as much of the Federal government’s Public Transit Infrastructure Fund Phase I money as possible. When PTIF was announced, all projects to be part of the first phase were required to be finished by March 2019. This is partly a political date given the election next year, and partly an accounting requirement so that spending occurs within a few fiscal years (government fiscal years start on April 1). The PTIF deadline was extended from 2019 to 2020 when it became obvious that actually spending the new money would not be possible for many cities.

Toronto found itself without projects either in the City or Transit budgets that could soak up the available money in only a few years, and initially the focus was on a massive replacement of the bus fleet to retire the worst of the older buses and, at the same time, shift from an 18-year to a 12-year replacement cycle.

In this context – a subsidy windfall plus an unusually large, multi-year bus order – the opportunity for a fast change in technology presented itself both to the politicians and to the would-be vendors. Whether this will work out remains to be seen, but the TTC is moving cautiously with a trial program that will determine whether the new technologies are credible replacements for what we have today. Meanwhile, the TTC will shift back to Hybrids from Clean Diesel on the premise that Hybrid technology has improved since the less-than-reliable generation of buses they are about to retire.

Recommended Action

The staff report recommends that:

  1. The quantity of electric buses will be increased from 30 to 60 with all vehicles to be delivered by March 31, 2020, and the TTC will work with Toronto Hydro on the design and installation of charging and energy storage systems; the project cost is increased from $50 to $120 million.
  2. The TTC will work with Toronto Hydro to modify one bus garage to accommodate up to 300 buses through the supply of a substation and backup generator at an estimated cost of $18 million.
  3. Staff will provide a project update in first quarter 2019 to the new TTC Board following the Council election in the fall of 2018.
  4. Staff will conduct a feasibility study of all garages and report in the fourth quarter of 2019 on “preliminary estimates for the total costs, benefits, and potential funding opportunities associated with the green bus plan”.

Separately from these reports, staff will present a plan in July 2018 feeding into the 2019 budget process with updated capital plans and tradeoffs necessary to free up money for the new bus infrastructure.

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Will Toronto Get More New Streetcars?

Updated June 13, 2018 at 10:00 am: The discussion and actions at the Board Meeting are reported at the end of this article.

Streetcar riders in Toronto are a long-suffering bunch. The size of the fleet has not changed since the mid-1990s despite the addition of a new streetcar line on Spadina in 1997 and the Harbourfront extension to Exhibition Loop in 2000. As the fleet wore out, its reliability dropped, and the now 40-year old CLRVs (single section) and 30-year old ALRVs (two section “articulateds”) are showing their age.

The TTC needed new cars some time ago, and the process of ordering the low floor Flexity fleet goes back to 2006. The first attempt, one that might have brought Toronto new cars about the same size as the ALRVs with a mixture of low and high level floors, was called off when the 100% low floor Flexitys (a design originally for Berlin) became available. That delay, combined with foot-dragging by incoming Mayor Rob Ford, and manufacturing incompetence by Bombardier, has left the TTC with a fleet far below its needs, and new cars straggling onto the property at a glacial rate.

During the past 20 years, population and employment downtown has grown far faster than in other parts of Toronto, and the residential density, once on a downward trend as family neighbourhoods gentrified, is growing. This is not confined to the new south-of-King areas, and is pushing north into the territory of other streetcar lines. The rate of growth is also changing. When the TTC ordered 204 Flexitys, these were expected to handle rising demand through 2027. This date has been revised much earlier to 2020

A major issue for the TTC, and for transit advocates in Toronto, has been the problem of “latent demand”. If the fleet stays the same size or declines, service and capacity follows the same path. The original plan for Flexity roll out onto the streetcar lines focused as much on reducing the number of operators required to carry demand little changed from then-current levels. Now, the TTC acknowledges that growth on streetcar lines went unmet for years.

The 1990s were a critical period because Toronto was coming out of a recession during which the TTC had lost 20% of its ridership, but the streetcar fleet, sized to mid-1990s demand, was unable to expand service as the system recovered. Many of the complaints about “bad streetcar service” come directly from the failure to add capacity as the economy rebounded, and then as the population along streetcar lines began to grow.

Much of the residential growth Downtown between 2012 and 2016 took place south of Queen Street. Almost 50% of all Downtown growth occurred in the King-Spadina and Waterfront West neighbourhoods. The Bay Corridor, King-Parliament and Waterfront Central saw moderate increases accounting for 36% of new residents. As a result of the increase in development in Toronto’s Downtown area, TTC streetcar ridership increased by 20% between 2008 and 2018 which is much higher than what was anticipated back in 2008. Transit mode share across the City has also increased from 23% (2006) to 27% (2016), putting additional pressure on the system.

Recent revision of the projected employment and population growth for Downtown Toronto has introduced higher forecasts which now extend to 2041. The revised estimate of number of new residents in the Downtown is 500% greater than originally projected. The revised estimate of new jobs in the Downtown is 200% greater than originally projected.

The size of the TTC’s streetcar fleet has been unchanged for almost 30 years, during a period of continuously-increasing ridership growth. This has resulted in streetcar capacity, during peak periods, being completely exhausted more than 10 years ago, with no ability to accommodate additional ridership during peak periods. Experience with deployment of the new LFLRVs on the first few streetcar routes has shown that there is an existing unmet, latent demand for peak-travel on the TTC’s streetcar routes. King Street is an excellent example of this. Over the first few months of operation the route experienced an increase of all-day weekday ridership of 16%. There are other factors that have contributed to the ridership increase (such as priority treatments and increased reliability); however, latent demand is one factor driving the ridership increase.

On King Street, the TTC has seen the combined effect of running more capacity (larger vehicles) and more reliable service (the King Street pilot). This number is still constrained by the capacity of service on the street.

On Queen Street, the shuffling of vehicles between routes and the retirement of most of the ALRVs has led, finally, to a schedule that reflects the equipment actually available to operate the route and a net increase in capacity provided, as opposed to scheduled.

Higher-density development is beginning on the Dundas, Carlton and St. Clair routes, and it is spreading away from the central part of the city where the subway is the primary mode.

Future new routes in the eastern waterfront as well as a new link to southern Etobicoke will require even more streetcars.

The TTC projects that by 2033, the peak service requirement will be 287 cars, (345 including spares), equivalent to about 570 (690) CLRVs. At their height, there were only 196 CLRVs and 52 of the larger ALRVs. This is a huge increase in the streetcar system’s capacity, almost to the level of the 745-strong PCC fleet which dominated the system through the 1950s and 60s.

At its meeting on June 12, 2018, the TTC Board will consider a report from staff that summarizes the result of a vendor survey to gauge interest in producing streetcars and proposes the following actions:

Over the coming months, staff will undertake the following:

  1. Request funding approval through 2019 budget process;
  2. Update contract documents based on stakeholder input, contract changes, and lessons learned;
  3. Engage consultant to validate RFI responses (e.g. technical and commercial performance, on-time delivery performance, etc.);
  4. Develop scope and budget for additional maintenance capacity at Hillcrest; and
  5. Report back to the TTC Board in Q1 2019 with recommendations.

The wild card in all of this will be the outcome of the provincial election on June 7, and the degree to which the incoming Premier will support or attempt to sabotage any expansion of streetcar service. Funding arrangements, especially under the federal PTIF scheme, depend on all three levels of government contributing. This effectively gives any one level the ability to veto a project unless there is a change in the rules.

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So You Want To Own A Subway (2018 Edition)

Among the many promises made by the Progressive Conservative Party in the run-up to the June 7 election is a scheme to upload the Toronto subway system to the province with the intention of relieving Toronto of this ongoing cost. This was also part of their 2014 campaign, and it is born no doubt from the Ford brothers’ assumption that (a) this could be done cheaply and (b) Toronto would save money overall. The pot is sweetened this time around with the guarantee that Toronto would keep the fare revenue and operate the system. The overall tradeoffs in operating and capital costs are not entirely nailed down.

Oliver Moore in the Globe has written about this proposal wondering whether it is actually workable. The quotes below are taken from his article.

The Tories are framing the upload largely as an accounting exercise, making it easier to find funding and thus facilitating transit construction. The province would pay an estimated $160-million annually for major capital maintenance on the subway network, taking an obligation off city books.

Under the proposal, the Toronto Transit Commission would keep operating the subway, with its board setting fares and the city retaining revenues. Expansion planning would be controlled by the province, although Toronto and Ottawa would be asked to help fund construction.

Note that the proposal is silent on the operating cost of the subway. There is something of a myth that the subway “breaks even”, but this is not true, especially for the more-recently opened segments. It is a matter of record that the Sheppard Line loses money, and the TTC estimated that the operating impact, net of new fares, of the Vaughan extension would be $30 million per year.

If the province builds a new subway line, would Toronto, through the TTC, still be on the hook for paying its operating cost?

Any concept of “breaking even” requires that fares be allocated between surface and subway routes and this is an impossible task. One can propose many schemes, but they all have built-in biases because a “trip” and a “fare” are such different things. The situation is even more complex as an increasing number of riders pay through some form of pass all the way from the yearly Metropass (formerly called the “monthly discount program”) down to the two-hour transfer.

How Much Does The Subway Cost?

The estimated value of an upload to Queen’s Park of $160 million/year is woefully inadequate because the TTC’s capital budget for ongoing maintenance is much, much larger. There is much more to owning a subway than collecting billions in construction subsidies. Despite the frequent claim that “subways last 100 years”, they require a lot of ongoing maintenance and replacement of subsystems. With the exception of the physical tunnel and station structures, a large proportion of the older subway lines has been completely replaced or undergone major overhaul at least once since they opened. Line 1 YUS is on its third generation of trains, for example.

I wrote about this four years ago, and this article is an update of my earlier review.

A big problem arises for anyone taking a superficial look at the TTC’s books because so many projects are not funded, or are not even part of the approved “base budget”. They are “below the line” or, even worse, they are merely “proposals” of future works that might find their way into the official list. Looking only at current, approved funded projects ignores a large and growing list of projects that, for political convenience, are out of sight, the iceberg below the water line.

Slogging through the TTC’s Capital Budget is no fun, but somebody has to do it. You, dear readers, get the digested version of hundreds of pages of reports. Thank you in advance.

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TTC Contemplates Earlier Subway Closing

At the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee meeting of May 29, 2018, staff presented a report entitled Internal Audit Quarterly Update: Q1 2018. That is not the sort of title that would prompt avid late-night reading, but one item within the report sparked a brief conversation between the committee and staff.

There are several issues related to the management of overnight work in the subway which requires a variety of resources including staff, work cars, power cuts and central supervision to keep all of the crews from tripping over each other. One part of the ongoing audit work is to review the systems (many automated, but some manual) used to schedule and track the work plans, but another issue raised was the relatively short maintenance window within which work can be done. Responding to a question, staff advised that they are reviewing the operating hours of the subway to determine whether changing these hours could improve the productivity of overnight maintenance work.

Here are extracts from the report:

Audit Observation #3: Track Level Maintenance Window

TTC’s revenue subway service hours limit the nightly maintenance window, which impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of track level work and exposes subway infrastructure to accelerated deterioration.

Limited Track Level Maintenance Window

Per an international CoMET/Nova benchmark study of “Metro Key Performance Indicators (2016 data)”, TTC ranked fourth amongst 34 participants in terms of subway service density or network utilization – a standardized method that measures operated passenger capacity compared to network size. This KPI reflects the ‘intensity of utilization of the metro network’, which is a function of train frequency, train length and car capacity. The study asserts high train frequency may reflect a good use of fixed infrastructure, but the intense impact on asset utilization should be warranted by ridership demand, i.e., recognizing the need to balance competing objectives of making subway service more available for customers versus the costs associated with accelerated deterioration of subway infrastructure and assets due to an increase in daily use. The study comments that TTC offers relatively high levels of capacity primarily due to larger trains and higher frequencies across its entire, relatively small network.

TTC track level work starts once the system is fully cleared of revenue trains. TTC’s subway system is closed to the public at 1:30am and opens at 6:00am on week days and Saturdays, and at 8:00am on Sundays. However, trains continue to run through the system until approximately 2:30am and re-enter the system at around 5:30am, leaving an average total available daily maintenance window of 180 minutes (300 minutes on Sundays as service preparation starts around 7:30am).

Night shift work typically runs from 10:30pm to 7am, including a 30-minute unpaid meal break. Per discussion with Subway Infrastructure management, track level set-up activities typically start at 2:45am and Transit Control requests crews to complete work and start clearing the track at 5:00am. Work activities expected to be performed out-side of this track level access time period include employee roll-call, safety-talks/briefings, work car preparation, and tools maintenance, etc.

[…]

In a Nova comparison study, “Track Possession Timings ” (2014), it was noted that given TTC’s subway service hours, and taking into account estimated time required for set-up and safety check activities, as well as post work preparation for service, TTC workers’ total available time to work productively at track level was between 30 and 225 mins less than the other ten participants. Further, the average maintenance window of these other participants was almost 2hrs longer than that of TTC.

If the maintenance window was to be increased by 2 additional hours, 5 nights a week, Audit estimates the opportunity for improved productivity by SI’s Track Maintenance and Structure Maintenance Sections alone to be valued at approximately $3.38 million. Such a change would also reduce overtime and potentially the need for weekend closures by these two groups. Based on payroll data, Track Maintenance and Structure Maintenance incurred overtime costs of $4.58M and $1.26M respectively in 2017. Structure Maintenance Management estimates that if the maintenance window was to be extended by 2 hours, 5 nights a week, the annual overtime for this Section could be reduced by 75%, which in 2017, would be equal to approximately $945K. It is reasonable to assume productivity improvements and material overtime savings could be realized by other groups that complete maintenance and capital project work at track level if the maintenance window is extended.

[pp 8-9 of Attachment 3, at pp 27-28 of the document]

Note that the “other ten participants” are not listed nor are the relative service levels of their transit systems mentioned to indicate whether they are valid comparators for Toronto.

A proposed action plan appears a few pages later in the report:

Audit Observation #3 – Management Action Plan Considerations:

To maximize and optimize the track level maintenance window, Management should:

  • Evaluate actual ridership and revenue associated with TTC’s late-night subway service (after midnight runs) to ensure current intensity of service and impact on subway infrastructure (and vehicle) asset maintenance costs are warranted.
  • Conduct in-depth analysis of TTC’s current subway infrastructure asset management approach, resource planning and crewing methods, work car dispatching techniques and work methods to identify opportunities for maximizing productivity and transparency of resource utilization at track level.

This was striking on at least two counts.

First, there is no recognition in the report that closing earlier is anything more than a question of sending trains back to the yard earlier, and no mention of providing replacement service. It is no secret that night buses on Yonge and Bloor-Danforth are very heavily loaded after 2 am and, if anything, more service is needed then. A similar problem occurs during the early part of the day before the subway opens. The auditors also seem to be unaware that there is no night service to replace the University-Spadina subway, and this is difficult (as users of Spadina shuttles know) because the subway does not follow an arterial road like Yonge or Bloor.

If two hours were added to the shutdown period, the amount of bus service required to replace the subway would be substantial, and it is likely that ridership would be lost thanks to the relative inconvenience. Moreover, there would be knock-on effects for users of connecting bus services who would face much longer journeys to their connection points on a surface bus, and who might also face a decline in service thanks to the unattractiveness of the night bus replacement for the subway.

This change could actually trigger a system-wide retrenchment of service hours.

Second, there was absolutely no intimation that anyone at the meeting was aware of just how severe the impacts of this proposal would be on riders, nor was there any attempt to defend their interests. Indeed, the focus is on making the maintenance teams more efficient and saving millions without considering the offsetting costs and potential lost revenue.

Some of the basic assumptions in the text quoted above are wrong, notably a claimed closing time for the subway of 1:30 am. In fact, the closing time varies across the system. There is a scheduled meet of the last northbound, eastbound and westbound trains at Bloor-Yonge at about 1:54 am that has been in place since the BD line opened in 1966. Stations close as these last trains make their way outbound to terminals. One might hope the auditors would check with TTC planners or even simply look at their own website.

The last train eastbound on Line 4 Sheppard does not leave Yonge-Sheppard station until 2:14 am.

It is quite clear to anyone who actually rides the subway late at night that it does not close at 1:30 am across the network. This is only the start of a process that continues until about 2:30 am, and some trains have to return to their overnight storage locations even later. The maintenance window varies depending where one is on the network.

The comment in the report about “accelerated deterioration of subway infrastructure and assets” is a function of the very frequent service the TTC provides across the entire subway system at all hours with trains every 5 minutes or better until almost the end of service. How much extra wear and tear this represents since the subway opened in 1954 might be of interest, but this service level is a matter of TTC Service Standards. One could argue that full service is not required, based on demand, beyond a core portion of the system late at night. However, I dare any politician to stand up and tell suburban Toronto that they will lose their frequent service just because the trains are not full.

Another issue here is that actually running the trains is only part of total subway costs, and unless one can also drop staffing levels associated with stations, security, line supervision and on-call maintainers, the saving of running, say, only half of the service beyond a turnback point such as Eglinton is small. The same consideration applies to running less frequent service generally – the trains are only part of the overall operating cost.

It is important to note that this “accelerated deterioration” is a function of frequent service over long hours, not some side-effect of inefficient maintenance procedures as one might erroneously read the audit report.

I hope that if there is a detailed study, it will take into account the benefits of good late night and early morning service on the subway, not to mention the requirements for substantially improved night bus service. Indeed the existing night service needs improving, but languishes thanks to a combination of indifference and budget restraints.

It is only a few years since the TTC began Sunday service at 8:00 am rather than 9:00 am in January 2016.

In a Nov. 4, 2015, letter to the Board, Mayor John Tory and Chair Josh Colle wrote:

“As a vibrant and growing city, Toronto does not conform to a traditional Monday to Friday schedule … Our businesses are open, our cultural centres are operating and the engines of our economy remain in motion. The people of Toronto should be able to move around this city with ease — seven days a week — and the TTC plays an instrumental role in providing this mobility.”

Early Sunday openings are the latest service improvement to be introduced in recent months, following this year’s expansion of overnight service and all-day, every-day service across the city, implementation of ten-minute-or-better service and reduced off-peak crowding on bus and streetcar routes.

Someone should send a copy of this letter to the auditors who appear to be incapable of making a full evaluation of the effects of their recommendations or even appreciating the seriousness of what they propose. “Efficiency” in one department does not mean better service for the organization and the City as a whole.