Many Questions About A Subway Takeover

In the melee that passes for Ontario politics, one major issue is the proposed takeover of Toronto’s subway system by Queen’s Park. Such a change, they claim, would allow a great speed-up of system expansion currently hung up at Toronto Council. A good deal of that hang up can be traced to the Premier and his brother’s actions at Council, but such trivialities get in the way of a good stump speech.

The idea that planning should be based on actual evidence is a buzz-phrase heard most commonly when a politician is trying to appear “businesslike” and claims to be applying some sort of intellectual rigour to back-of-the-envelope planning. The uploading proposal sounds good in theory, but this is due in part to poor understanding of transits needs and cost both at Queen’s Park and at City Hall. The scheme surfaced years ago at Council as a simplistic way to cut the cost of transit support in the City’s budget, and the idea moved to the provincial level along with the Ford regime.

A common thread through every proposal is that the true cost of owning, operating and upgrading the subway system is poorly understood, even by members of Toronto Council and the TTC Board whose job it should be to know these things. It is a convenient myth that the subway “breaks even”, and that if only someone would take the cost of expansion and capital maintenance off of the City’s hands, all would be well.

In the interest of informed debate, this article examines the plan, such as it is, and the many issues that have yet to be addressed by its proponents.

Understanding the TTC Budget

A detailed breakdown of the TTC Budgets can be found in:

The TTC’s budget and long-term plans are poorly understood. The TTC Board scheduled Budget and Strategy meetings, but either cancelled them or spent the available time on narrow-focus rather than system-wide issues. At Council, things are even worse because budget debates, crammed with every department’s issues, get only short review. These are usually in an environment hostile to discussions of change except for a few, small topics. The “big picture” is limited to battles over new transit lines while the health of the overall system goes ignored.

For a decade or more, service growth in Toronto was constrained by the size of the streetcar and bus fleets, the physical limits on train spacing on the subway and the capacity of its stations. Much of the recent service growth is outside of the peak period when spare vehicles are available.

On the capital side, the City has a policy that its debt service costs should not exceed 15% of tax revenues. The province mandates a 25% cap, but the City takes a more conservative approach to provide headroom. Originally the cap applied to each year individually, but it is now considered over a ten-year average so that peaks and valleys in debt costs can smooth out for a 15% average. Already, planned borrowing for future years takes up all available room, and additional debt-financed work is possible only with special levies such as the Scarborough Subway tax (1.6%) and the John Tory City Building Fund (building up to 2.5%). (These are both tax increases above the rate of inflation.) If the cost of borrowing goes up, or City tax revenues fall, the 15% line will be only a fond memory.

The problem is compounded by a chronic understatement of transit needs going back at least eight years. When the marching orders are to keep deficits, and hence taxes, down, any proposals for improvement run counter to political goals. “We can’t afford it” becomes a standard response, and options simply go unstudied especially if they are associated with the wrong political faction.

If we don’t know what options will cost, we don’t know what might be possible or what the trade-offs among options would look like.

Even worse, with the Capital Budget, there is a long list of items that are either:

  • approved but not funded (roughly 1/3 of the approved list, about $3 billion worth)
  • “below the line” with neither approval nor funding (over $1 billion)
  • “future consideration” (over $2 billion)

Many of the big ticket items in these lists are subway items such as new and expanded fleets for the two major routes, and capacity expansion at busy stations. Many items in the budget are actually part of a larger project such subway capacity. However, the budget is presented on a departmental basis, and there is no consolidation of related line items. This has two effects: the TTC Board and Council rightly complain when projects appear to grow because approving the first step triggers the need for all that follows, related items are consigned to “funded” or “unfunded” status without regard for their place in the larger scheme.

The problem with these lists is that they are getting longer, especially the second and third group, even though some items form parts of critical system updates. Other projects simply are not on any budget, or are pushed so far into the future that they have no effect on the current ten-year plans. The 15% rule caused important projects related to Line 2 Bloor-Danforth to be pushed into the late 2020s even though some of them are pre-requisites for the Scarborough Subway Extension. (The components of Bloor-Danforth subway renewal and capacity expansion are discussed in detail in an appendix to this article.)

If Ontario takes over responsibility for the subway, they will inherit that long list of projects. For its part, Toronto Council and the TTC Board do not fully understand the implications if Ontario simply chooses not to invest in the existing system because the estimate of a takeover has been low-balled.

The TTC Board is very simple-minded in its deliberations, and avoids going into details. Their focus is on cost containment, not on service, except when someone needs a photo op to announce some relatively trivial change such as an express bus network that adds few new buses.

If Council and the TTC don’t understand their own system and its real needs, how can they fight for it?

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Dundas/Lansdowne Reconstruction

The second leg of College Loop is under construction at Dundas & Lansdowne, although the work has been interrupted by an unexpected gas main. The northern leg at College & Lansdowne was done in 2016, and the western leg at College & Dundas is planned for 2020 along with other work on the western end of the Dundas and Carlton routes.

A snag in the project is described in a comment on another thread:

Re: Dundas and Lansdowne, based on conversations with a TTC worker a few days ago, it seems that contractors discovered a previously unknown high-pressure gas main directly under the roadbed, thus the slowdown. (I had noticed a switch from demolition using heavy machinery to much slower work with handheld jackhammers in that area.) The worker I spoke to said that due to the discovery of the gas main they would be unable to install the west-to-north curve as current standards demand greater clearance between the tracks and buried gas lines. The pipe does indeed seem to be very shallow and is readily visible when standing on the northeast corner of the intersection. I was told that relocation of the gas main would not be possible within the current construction window and that the missing curve would have to be installed next year as part of the College/Lansdowne reconstruction. [comment by “slmably”]

Looking at the pending construction work map on the City of Toronto’s website, work is planned on Lansdowne south from College in 2019.

Here are photos of the work in progress:

Thursday, September 13. 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Friday, September 28, 2018

2018.09.28 Looking E on Dundas at Lansdowne

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, October 7, 2018

Thanksgiving weekend will bring a major change in the organization of streetcar service on King Street, a further expansion of the new Express Network, and several service improvements mainly during the off-peak period.

2018.10.07_Service_Changes [Revised to correct branch letters on 12 Kingston Road]

King and Cherry Streetcars

As I reported in a previous article, the 514 Cherry route will disappear as a distinct entity. Service on 504 King will be changed to a configuration to the design used over summer 2018 while Broadview Avenue was closed for construction. An eastern and western branch will serve the route overlapping in the central section.

  • 504A Dundas West Station to Distillery Loop
  • 504B Broadview Station to Dufferin Loop

Unlike the summer routes, the Kingston Road streetcar service will remain in its traditional design:

  • The 502 Downtowner route operates between Bingham Loop (at Victoria Park) and University Avenue weekdays until 7:00 pm. This remains as a bus service pending availability of enough streetcars to restore streetcar service to McCaul Loop.
  • Peak period 503 Kingston Road Tripper streetcars operate from Bingham Loop to York & Wellington via King. Service to the Charlotte loop at Spadina, part of the summer design, was discontinued with the return to fall schedules in September.

Scheduled headways on the outer parts of the route are wider than currently operated on the premise that the route will operate with larger Flexity cars rather than the old CLRVs. The TTC’s intent is to have the route completely converted to new cars by the end of the year. As of September 13, about three quarters of the AM peak 504 King cars were operating with Flexitys as well as all of the 514 Cherry cars. Based on Flexity delivery rates, the conversion will not complete before the new schedules go into effect and a few CLRVs will remain at least to late October. The TTC plans to use these only on peak period trippers so that off-peak service is fully provided by Flexitys.

Express Bus Network

Four routes will join the 900-series express network. (For details of stopping patterns, please refer to the table of changes linked above.)

952 Lawrence will operate from Lawrence Station to Pearson Airport via Dixon Road during peak periods. The combined local and express service will provide about 13.5 buses per hour compared to the current 12 at the express stops.

Concurrent with this change, the end of construction at Lawrence West Station, service on the Westway branch will be cut back from Yonge Street to its usual eastern terminus at the Spadina subway. This branch will also change from 5 to 4 buses per hour during the AM peak.

Overall, the total number of buses assigned to this route will rise slightly during peak periods, but weekday off-peak headways will widen slightly.

924 Victoria Park will operate during peak periods replacing the 24E Victoria Park Express. This is only a rebranding, and the number of AM peak buses is actually dropping by one in the new service design.

929 Dufferin will operate weekdays in peak and off-peak until mid-evening between Wilson Station and the Dufferin Loop at the western entrance to Exhibition Place. Concurrently, the peak period short turn at Tycos Drive will be dropped and all of the local 29 Dufferin buses will run through to Wilson Station. The peak period combined frequency at express stops will improve, but local stops will see less service. Both the local and express services will operate with articulated buses.

989 Weston will operate during peak periods as a through service from Keele Station to Steeles overlapping both the 89 Weston and 165 Weston Road North routes. There is no change on the 165 schedule. The combined service at express stops will improve over current 89 Weston levels.

Service on Sheppard East will be reorganized on weekends.

  • On Saturdays, the 85 Sheppard East local service will change from articulated buses to standard-sized vehicles, while the 985 express service to STC will change from standard to artic buses.
  • On Sundays, the 985 Sheppard East Express will change to artic buses.

Concurrent changes will lower the capacity provided on the 85 service while slightly increasing it on the 985 express. However, the headways (time between vehicles) on the express service will widen to offset the use of larger vehicles.

Service on Finch West will be improved on weekends by provision of 939B Finch Express service to Finch West Station during the daytime. There is no change in the local bus schedules, and so this is a net new service, albeit not a very frequent one.

Construction Projects

Three construction projects end with the October schedules:

  • Lawrence West Station will re-open as a bus terminal for 59 Maple Leaf and the Westway branch of 52 Lawrence. The 109 Ranee and 400 Lawrence Manor buses, which had been stopping on street, will move back into the bus loop. Concurrently, because of the large number of buses on Lawrence serving this station, the through services to Yonge Street will continue to use on street stops and riders will require transfers to enter Lawrence West Station unless they are Metropass or Presto users.
  • Track construction at Lansdowne and Dundas will complete. The 47 Lansdowne, 402 Parkdale and 505 Dundas routes will resume their normal operation. Given the speed of recent construction projects, this is likely to occur before the official schedule change.
  • City construction at Yonge and Sheppard is finally complete and the 97 Yonge bus will resume its normal route rather than being split at Lawrence.

Seasonal Services End

Various seasonal services will end including the trial operation of 175 Bluffer’s Park. Its future will be the subject of a report to the TTC Board in 2019.

Miscellaneous Changes

1 Yonge-University-Spadina operations will be modified to improve reliability in three ways:

  • On current schedules, four trains in the AM peak originate at Finch Station rather than operating from Wilson Yard. This will be increased to five.
  • At the end of the AM peak, trains running in to Davisville currently short turn northbound at Lawrence Station. This requires co-ordination with the southbound service and can cause delays and gaps. On the new schedules, these trains will run through to Finch northbound, and then dead head southbound to Davisville. Although this will remove a problem at Lawrence, it could worsen queuing problems northbound at Finch.
  • In the evening, all trains running in to Wilson Yard will do so southbound from Vaughan using the new north entrance to the yard, rather than short turning northbound at Wilson.

Peak period service will be modified on a few routes:

  • 11 Bayview will get better AM and PM peak service.
  • 12 Kingston Road will gain a new branch 12D operating to UTSC and providing a through service on Kingston Road. However, this will run only every 30 minutes during the AM peak, 25 minutes during the PM peak, and the actual usefulness of the service is dubious. Concurrently, service will be reduced on the existing 12A/C branches. This change is more about political optics in southern Scarborough just in time for the election than it is a real contribution to better service. [Lettering of branches corrected Sept 13/18 at 3:55 pm.]
  • 25 Don Mills will get better service on its 25C branch to from Sheppard to Steeles during weekday midday and PM peak periods.
  • 925 Don Mills Express will see a slight improvement in AM peak service.

Off peak service changes include:

  • 54 Lawrence East will receive better service on both branches on Saturday afternoons.
  • 63 Ossington will receive better late evening service on Saturdays.
  • 95 York Mills Saturday service will be revised both to operate more frequently, and to extend the hours of the 95B service to UTSC which now ends eastbound from Yonge just before 7 pm into the mid-evening.
  • Saturday afternoon service on 102 Markham Road will improve slightly, but evening service north of Steeles Avenue will be cut from every 20′ to 30′ at York Region’s request.
  • 112 West Mall will receive improved weekday midday service.
  • Service on 129 McCowan North will be improved on Saturday daytimes primarily by trimming excess running time.
  • 131 Nugget will get better service on Saturday afternoons.

Details of all changes are in the PDF linked above.

King Street Update: August 2018

This article continues the series reviewing the operation of transit service on the King Street transit priority pilot. August brings two major events that affect service on King Street, although the traffic problems are concentrated at the western part of the line: the Caribbean Carnival and parade on Saturday, August 4th, and the CNE from mid-August onward, especially with the air show in the final days of the month. Both of these bring congestion through Parkdale notably at the approaches to The Queensway and to Jameson Avenue westbound.

Peak Travel Times

As usual, we begin with the PM peak travel time chart westbound from Jarvis to Bathurst. The 85th percentile line has higher spikes in August, and the three largest relate to specific events:

  • Wednesday, August 8: A delay near Church Street held a few cars causing a jump in the 85th percentile value although the change to the 50th (median) percentile was much lower. The cause of the delay is unknown because the TTC did not issue a service alert.
  • Tuesday, August 21: Severe congestion westbound to Spadina from about 5:40 pm onward drove up both the 85th and 50th percentile values. Again, there was no TTC alert indicating a problem.
  • Friday, August 31: “Police activity”, as the alert put it, required diversion of streetcars in both directions due to an incident west of Yonge Street. The spike in the 85th percentile was caused by one car that crossed Jarvis at about 5:30 pm but was not diverted. As a result its trip, including the delay, was included in the 5-6pm data for the pilot district. As with the August 8 data, note that the change in the 50th percentile is small and on a par with typical day-to-day variations.

For comparison, here is the eastbound chart.

Here are the full sets of charts:

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The Decline of Service Capacity on 501 Queen (Updated)

Updated September 5, 2018: A history of service levels on Queen Street back to 1954 has been added at the end of this article.

While Toronto celebrates the success of the King Street Pilot, only a few blocks away on Queen Street transit service is not quite so rosy. Like much of the transit system, service on 501 Queen has not changed substantially over the years, and this has been compounded by various construction projects that disrupted service and fragmented the route.

One long-standing issue on Queen has been the type of vehicle assigned to service. Until February 2018, the service design assumed that the two section Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) would operate. However, it had been common for years to see the smaller CLRVs mixed in to the service despite their lower capacity. This was a direct result both of declining ALRV reliability and the concurrent use of these vehicles on other routes, King and Bathurst.

The February 18, 2018 schedules specify a mix of CLRVs and ALRVs on 501 Queen, and provide shorter headways (the time between vehicles) to compensate for the lower vehicle capacity. However, even this change did not completely fix the problems.

Although the ratio of service design capacities is about 3:2 for the two vehicles (108 vs 74 during the peak, 61 vs 42 off-peak), and 10 of the 35 cars on 501 Queen were scheduled to be ALRVs, the change in headways did not compensate for the lower average capacity. In the table below, the “after” vehicle capacities are a weighted average of ALRV and CLRV standards based on the proportion of vehicles scheduled. In practice, the TTC rarely achieved this ratio, and the capacity actually operated was lower. (Note that “capacity” here is the service design load, not the crush vehicle capacity.)

AM Peak Midday PM Peak
Before
Headway 5’00” 5’20” 5’10”
Cars/Hour 12.0 11.3 11.6
Vehicle Capacity 108 62 108
Route Capacity/Hr 1,296 701 1,253
After
Headway 4’15” 4’45” 4’50”
Cars/Hour 14.1 12.6 12.4
Vehicle Capacity 83.7 47.4 83.7
Route Capacity/Hr 1,180 597 1,038

When streetcar service returned west of Humber Loop, the scheduled service on the Neville-Humber portion was not changed. On the Long Branch portion, the service design calls for 7 CLRVs weekday daytimes supplemented by 5 AM Peak CLRV trippers that operate through to downtown. (These will be discontinued in September due to the shortage of cars.) In practice, at least one of the cars operating west of Humber is typically an ALRV, sometimes more, even though these vehicles should be on the Humber-Neville service.

With the declining availability of ALRVs, if the present schedules are operated with 35 CLRVs rather than the 25+10 CLRV+ALRV mix now planned, the scheduled capacity is further decreased.

AM Peak Midday PM Peak
After
Headway 4’15” 4’45” 4’50”
Cars/Hour 14.1 12.6 12.4
Vehicle Capacity 74 42 74
Route Capacity/Hr 1,043 529 918

During July 2018, there were only 12 ALRVs operated in service at various times, and some of these disappeared as the month wore on. Some of these cars, notably 4207, were assigned to the AM peak trippers to conserve their limited availability.

By month-end, only 7 ALRVs were showing up on Queen, and the number has been declining through August. As I write this on August 31 at 9:30 am, only ALRVs 4221, 4226, 4240 and 4249 are on the route.

I wrote to the TTC’s Brad Ross to inquire about plans for service and capacity on Queen Street. Here is his reply:

1) The reduced availability of ALRVs in recent weeks is due to a deep inspection of the entire fleet to assess their condition, which is not good.

Service Planning is working at making further changes to the Queen route in the new year that assumes no ALRV availability to ensure that we are operating adequate capacity. If ALRVs are available, they would operate either as trippers or replace a CLRV as “bonus” capacity. All of our advance planning for construction service on Queen in 2019 assumed CLRV-only operation and was budgeted accordingly.

2) 501 QUEEN will be the next route to receive the new streetcars after the deployment on 504 KING is complete at the end of 2018. They will be deployed 1-for-1 to CLRVs and the proportion of service operated by low-floors will vary throughout the year as construction at King-Queen-Roncesvalles progresses and the streetcar portion of the route is adjusted.

The detailed plans for staging the trackwork at Roncesvalles as well as the reconstruction of The Queensway with reserved streetcar lanes west to Parkside Drive (the eastern limit of the existing right-of-way) have not yet been released. Riders can expect various replacement bus services, again, from late winter through (at least) early summer.

One unhappy consequence of declining capacity is that vehicles are more crowded, take longer to load, and discourage more riders from even trying to use the TTC. Lost riders are hard to recover, and incentives such as cheaper fares cannot compensate for inconvenience and the discomfort of packed cars.

The following section updates charts presented in an April 2018 article Service Capacity on 501 Queen with data to the end of July.

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