January 10, 2019 brings the first meeting of a new TTC Board with a new crop of Councillors and a new Chair while, for now, three non-Council or “citizen” members carry over from 2018.
Jaye Robinson, formerly Chair of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure, was appointed as the new Chair of the TTC replacing Josh Colle who did not stand for re-election. She will be joined by Councillors Brad Bradford, Shelley Carroll, Jim Karygiannis, Jennifer McKelvie, and Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Of these, only Carroll and Minnan-Wong have sat on the TTC Board before, and two members, Bradford and McKelvie, are new to Council in this term. The geographic distribution of members is unusual in that none of them represents a ward west of Yonge Street.
Three citizen members remain pending a review of these appointments by Council: Alan Heisey (who was Vice-Chair in the previous term), Joanne De Laurentiis and Ron Lalonde.
The first meeting includes housekeeping activities of selecting a Vice-Chair (who must be picked from the citizen members) and setting up the Audit & Risk Management Committee. Two previous committees will be disbanded in the interest of reducing the call on Councillors’ time:
- Human Resources and Labour Relations: The TTC is at the beginning of a four year labour contract and does not foresee the need for a standing committee to deal with these matters. Any related matters would be brought either to the full Board, or to a committee struck for the purpose.
- Budget: Although the TTC had a Budget Committee in the past term, it hardly ever met. For the new term a two-member “Working Group” is proposed, and this means that any budget meetings will take place in private except when the finished product comes to the Board for approval.
Also on the agenda for January 10 are:
- “Richard J. Leary, CEO will give a presentation to the Board about the TTC, its accomplishments, challenges, vision and next steps.” [This presentation is not yet online.]
- “Brian M. Leck, TTC General Counsel and John O’Grady, Chief Safety Officer will give a presentation to the Board about Member Legal, Safety & Environmental Responsibilities.”
The legal background emphasizes the Board’s role in providing oversight, general direction and strategy, as opposed to micromanagement of the system. However, this does not make for a completely hands-off arrangement as the Board has specific responsibilities and liabilities under legislation notably relating to worker safety and the environment.
Sadly, there is no legislative requirement to ensure high quality transit service.
The Board will meet again on January 24 with a meatier agenda including the Capital and Operating budgets. They are both huge documents, and the Board is unlikely to understand how their components fit together.
With the increased workload for members of the 2019 Council, moves are afoot to trim agendas and shift decisions to lower levels. In the case of the TTC:
In order to manage the number of items being presented to the Board for consideration while simultaneously seeking opportunities to improve decision making efficiency, it is recommended that staff begin to review options where delegated authority from the Board to staff is feasible. [TTC Board Governance at p. 5]
Staff will report on this in the next few months, but it is important that changes do not stifle public debate and that new “policy” does not appear out of thin air from a delegated responsibility.
Important Board roles are strategic planning and oversight of management. For the past two terms, TTC Boards have been less than engaged with overall strategy and the potential future of transit in Toronto. There are the inevitable debates about a few subway lines, but the larger question of the TTC’s purpose goes unanswered. One might argue that Council (or at least the Mayor and his allies) don’t want ideas that will add to costs getting a full airing at the TTC.
The political direction might well be to limit growth in fares and subsidies, but this should not prevent the Board from engaging in “what if” discussions to gauge the possibilities and implications for service levels, fare structures and technology, and large scale planning for system growth and maintenance.
One past example of TTC advocacy was the August 2014 “Opportunities” report produced by former CEO Andy Byford and staff. It contained many proposals including the Two Hour Fare which has only recently been implemented. The 2018 Ridership Growth Strategy contains many principles, but is lighter on specifics.
We cannot, as a city, understand what transit might do if the agency and Board charged with this are content to avoid discussions of what transit could be if only we had the will to pursue a more aggressive outlook on system improvement. The Board needs to actually do its job – be informed and make strategic plans for transit even if, in the short term, we cannot “afford” some options.
This will be a difficult term for the TTC Board who must wrestle with the proposed provincial takeover of the subway system, but this should not divert attention from several major issues affecting the transit system.
Ridership and Revenue
Much ink has been spilled and many hands have been wrung about the question of falling TTC ridership, but the problem is not well-understood. Stats have only been published to the end of October (in the December CEO’s Report) and at the summary level there are only 441.2 million rides taken versus the budget target of 455.9m. The shortfall against 2017 figures of 450.5m is slightly smaller.
An important issue here is just how to count “rides”. In the case of tokens and tickets, this is straightforward and one unit of fare media translates to one ride. However, for passes, the number of media sold is converted to rides by using a factor derived from trip diaries filled out by a sample of pass holders. For example, if the average diary reports 75 trips, then one Metropass translates to 75 trips in the total count.
However, some riders whose pass usage is close to the break-even line versus paying by tokens are now shifting to Presto which retains the convenience of a card without the extra cost of a pass, and now also includes the bonus of the two-hour fare not available when paying by token or ticket. If someone whose regular usage was only, say, 50 trips per month stops buying a pass, this translates to a phantom “loss” of 25 rides. In theory the multiple based on diary records should go up, but there is probably a lag time between the effect of Metropass-to-Presto migration and a revised diary figure. In any event, the concept of a “trip” is becoming less meaningful as riders “buy” transit service in units of time, not of discrete journeys.
Although the calculated trip count is down, revenue is holding steady:
Another important factor that has adversely impacted measured ridership more recently is the ongoing decrease in Metropass sales, which currently generate approximately 40% of total ridership. Some of these lost sales however have been offset by an increase in PRESTO e-purse transactions resulting in a higher average fare, and total revenue almost unchanged. [CEO Report at p 23]
TTC staff are working on how to reconcile past reports of ridership with the way fares are now sold, but there is a far more basic issue for the Board. What the TTC is really “selling” is not a fare or a pass, but transit service and mobility. There is no ongoing reporting of demand and usage on transit routes, and only occasional published figures for special cases such as the King Street Pilot. Growth of ridership has been constrained for many years by the size of the surface fleet, both bus and streetcar, and as the King Pilot has shown there is a latent demand for more service.
Years of cost-cutting (and “tax fighting”) at City Hall have taken their toll. If ridership grows, it will almost certainly cost more to provide added capacity even without considering inflation. This capacity is particularly expensive for peak periods when more and/or larger vehicles are needed. Off peak growth simply requires that more of the fleet stay on the road between the peaks. In either case, however, more vehicle usage translates to more operator hours (as well as added operating costs for fuel and maintenance).
When growing service is combined with inflation, the cost of running the TTC will inevitably rise faster than the inflation rate and the budget hawks will come out to decry “waste”. They are strangely silent when the matter of increasing subsidies to pay for subway extensions are on the table. The Spadina extension added $30 million to TTC subsidy needs over the 2017 and 2018 budget years, equivalent to a property tax increase of over 1%. Those funds were not available to pay for better service elsewhere in the network.
The TTC Board should demand a review of actual and potential demand on its network together with the fleet and facilities implications this would have for future budgets. The debate should not turn on the total system “riding count” which becomes less meaningful in a pass-based fare structure, but with utilization of service and the potential demand for more capacity.
Which routes already exceed the approved Service Standards? What would be the effect of improving the standard (or equally of reducing it in response to subsidy cuts)?
Not to be ignored here is the question of service reliability which is now measured only at terminals, and by a standard that accepts bunching and gaps as a fact of life. How much capacity is lost to vehicles running in pairs (or worse) while riders all try to pack onto the first vehicle that shows up?
On the financial side, the CEO’s report dropped its monthly report of budget tracking in April 2018:
To improve the quality and comprehensiveness of our reporting of financial information (operating and capital budgets, critical projects), we are creating a new quarterly Financials report, which will be introduced to the TTC Board later this spring. As a result, effective with this report, financial information will no longer be included in the CEO’s Report. [April 2018 Update at p 6]
The April Update reported preliminary figures to the end of 2017 and there have been no financial reports for all of 2018. The new financial report has never seen the light of day. Where is it? Is it a confidential document, and if so, why? How can the Board perform fiscal oversight without this information?
A Board member’s job is not to complain about a specific route or to lobby for specific service improvements in their own ward, but overall questions of service quality and capacity should be regular matters for discussion. This is what “strategic” direction is all about. Sadly, past Boards have rarely held a strategy session, and these have been dropped from the planned agenda for 2019 and beyond.
The very nature of meeting procedure gets in the way of strategic discussion and debate because only items on the formal agenda are discussed. Even the CEO’s Report which contains a wealth of jumping off points for discussion tends to sail through meetings with only perfunctory examination, and as an “information” report, it cannot be used as the basis for motions. This ludicrous situation hogties the Board if the Chair and management do not ensure that there is a regular supply of policy matters “for action” on the agenda.
At the very time when Councillors look to reduce the demands for meeting time, the TTC Board should be far more active.
Although the TTC’s Operating Budget for 2019 has not yet been published, there are already suggestions that a fare freeze will be attempted as a political move. To put this in context:
- The operating budget for 2018 for the “conventional” system (not including Wheel-Trans) was $1.82 billion in expenses and $1.24b in revenue mostly from fares.
- Each 1% inflationary increase in TTC costs adds $18.2 million, and so the pressure going into 2019 is easily $30-40m.
- Each 1% increase in fares (equivalent to 3 cents against the current $3 token fare) yields $12.4 million (and this is before allowing for “elasticity” where the increase drives away riding).
- A 10 cent fare increase would bring about $41.3 million (assuming no riding loss).
When fares go up, this usually has a negative effect on riding, but this depends on a few factors:
- If the increase is small and riders perceive that service is generally acceptable, the extra cost is outweighed by the convenience of staying on transit.
- Where riders have no choice but to use transit, the high cost of an alternative offsets the fare increase, although they may take fewer optional trips to offset the higher cost.
- With the advent of the two-hour transfer on Presto, the effective fare has gone down for short trips that are taken within that window. Seen overall, some riders will see a fare decrease even if the base fare goes up. This could encourage more trips (based on the current definition) but not necessarily raise more revenue.
Seen over the long haul, the cost of a monthly pass (using this as a surrogate for fares generally) has gone up almost as a straight line since 1980 when the pass was introduced. The chart below is from my recent article about pass history. Although there have been fare freezes along the way, the upward trend stays close to a linear track which represents a compound increase of about 4.65% over years from 1980 to 2018. The base fare has actually gone up more, proportionately because in 1980 a pass was priced at 52 fares ($26 = 52 x $0.50) whereas in 2018 it was priced at 48.75 fares ($146.25 = 48.75 x $3.00). Single fares are six times higher while passes are 5.63 times higher.
Unless Council decides to make a major change in transit funding or underlying costs, fare freezes inevitably hit a wall and there will be a correction back to the historic trend when Council refuses to add to the subsidy pot. Freezes can also work against any proposals to improve service and the value of what a rider gets for their frozen fare could well be frozen or deteriorating service.
There are at least three known cost pressures built into plans for 2019:
- The City’s “Fair Pass” program provides a discount to senior/student rates for eligible recipients. In 2018, the scope of this was small, but the plan includes expansion to a wider group of low-income residents, and this will add to its cost. This does not appear as a charge on the TTC’s books, but is part of the pressure on overall City costs.
- The Express Bus program introduced in 2018 was almost entirely a rebranding of existing service with only minimal amounts of net new service. Future year plans contemplate expansion of the network and service improvements which will add to TTC operating costs.
- As new streetcars displace buses on the rail network, these buses will become available to improve service on bus routes. They can only do so if there is adequate funding in the budget for an increase in the total number of surface vehicles.
Future years will see an increase in subway costs as the implementation of Automatic Train Control (ATC) allows for the operation of more trains in peak service.
Will service increases bring better subsidies, higher fares, or offsetting cutbacks in the system overall?
TTC management has been working through an efficiency exercise to streamline staff and other costs, but there is a limit to how much can be squeezed out of that source.
Fare policy should reflect costs that riders are expected to bear as well as the offsetting subsidy needed to constrain fare growth in the long term. If the policy is that riders pay “x” percent of costs, then fares will go up every year.
The TTC Board should understand the cost trends and pressures not only for the current budget year, but for several years to come based both on known changes that will occur, as well as optional changes that might be implemented.
Fare policy should distinguish between benefits for specific groups (e.g. targeted fare reductions) and benefits for riders in general (e.g. across the board freezes).
Fare freezes, if any, should be based on an approved policy of reducing costs to riders by lowering the proportion of costs they pay while maintaining or improving service. This should not be a political ploy to give the impression of “doing something” without addressing the problem of reduced revenue and its effect on service provision.
Regional Fare Integration
For many years, Metrolinx was pushing a model of fare integration that treated the subway as a premium fare service because it was “rapid transit” and lumped in with GO’s own regional services. Oddly, Metrolinx did not apply the same philosophy to BRT or LRT lines because, they claimed, there were no such lines existing at the time. This is a wonderful example of planning for the past, not the future. There was also a distinction between “local” and “regional” trips based on a 10km radius so that longer trips would cost more while shorter ones paid a fixed cost. Although the average trip on the TTC is under 10km, there are many much longer trips notably long commutes to downtown from suburbs or between suburban areas.
The Metrolinx scheme would have meant a double whammy for commuters by charging a premium for the subway and adding to the cost of the connecting bus trip, while making short trips across the 905/416 boundary cheaper. The basic problem was that any new tariff had to be “revenue neutral”, and reducing fares for group “A” inevitably meant raising them for group “B”. Fortunately, this was buried, at least for a time.
In its short-lived 2018 budget, the Liberal government proposed a partial subsidy for cross-border travel, although the real level of discount was a lot less than it seemed. Those who paid a full adult fare by Presto would get 50% off ($1.50) on their TTC fare with the balance made up by Queen’s Park. This is similar to the scheme already in place for GO+TTC riders. However, the exceptions are worth noting:
- Riders who already travel at a discount would only see a reduction equal to their fare minus $1.50. For seniors and students, this would be $0.55.
- Riders who travel on pass products (e.g. a monthly pass on Presto) receive no discount on the basis that they are already getting a break on TTC fares.
These changes have not been implemented, and it would be surprising to see the Ford government include them in the 2019 budget given the number and scale of cutbacks in various portfolios even before the full budget is launched. Whether Metrolinx revisits their earlier fare integration scheme remains to be seen.
Any discussions of Regional Fare Integration should occur with public knowledge of proposals the TTC might entertain, and with a thorough analysis of the effect on various classes of TTC riders.
The Presto fare system was imposed on the TTC by Queen’s Park under threat that Toronto would lose its subsidy if the provincial system was not used. It is quite clear that Presto’s business plan requires the large volume of TTC business to be viable, and even with that, there has been talk of a higher fee for serving the TTC than in the original agreement.
During the Term (including the renewal term, subject to any adjustment pursuant to Section 15.1 (Term) of the Master Agreement) Metrolinx shall retain an amount equal to 5.25% of the Gross Receipts (the “Metrolinx Fee”) and shall remit to TTC the remainder of the Gross Receipts, subject to Sections 2.3(b) and 2.3(f), (g), (h) and (i). [Metrolinx/TTC Funding and Financial Reporting Agreement, section 2.3 (a)]
The Term of the agreement is 15 years (counting from November 2012) with provisions for extensions.
There are provisions for a minimum fee payment to Presto that would ramp up to $25 million when the implementation is mature, with lower minima in earlier years. This front-end loads Presto revenue up to the point where the fares collected exceed $476 million (5.25% of $476m is roughly $25m).
The Presto agreement sets out in excruciating detail the TTC’s business requirements for system functionality including the types of fares Presto will support. It is noteworthy that the concept of Limited Use Media (or LUMS) that would support limited use (e.g. single or low-multiple fares, short term passes and other “throwaway” situations) was included in the agreement in 2012 even though these are still not available.
Of particular interest in the agreement are “Loyalty” programs [which are explained starting on p 264 of the master agreement]. This includes:
Loyalty programs for the PRESTO System may be implemented at some point in the future by TTC. If implemented these programs will be designed to increased Customer loyalty directly via fare incentives or indirectly via third party loyalty programs (e.g. Air Miles, Transit Points etc.).
REQ-FRP-253.3 Scope of Loyalty Programs
TTC fare card loyalty programs are based on trips and trip frequency within a specified period of time (e.g. day, week, month). These loyalty schemes will primarily generate loyalty rewards in the form of reduced fares or free transit.
REQ-FRP-258 Real time and delayed loyalty rewards
Ensure loyalty rewards may be granted in real time or granted at some future date as specified by the loyalty scheme.
For example, an e-Purse fare card Customer could be granted a reduced fare (or free ride) after they have taken their 20th trip in one week. This reward would be granted automatically at the time of the 21th trip.
Enable delayed loyalty rewards to be granted sometime in the future, as determined by TTC policy, to a fare card holder meeting the loyalty scheme requirements.
For example, a monthly e-Pass holder who has taken 60 trips this month could be granted a 5% discount in next month’s e-Pass cost. In this case, this reward would be triggered on the 60th trip but not used until the next month’s e-Pass is purchased.
REQ-FRP-259 Primary parameters for transit loyalty
Transit loyalty will be based primarily on the number of paid trips over a given time period. Any fare card holder meeting or exceeding a pre-determined criteria of number of trips per time period would receive discounted or free trips for a specific amount of time. TTC transit loyalty may encompass a variety of Pre-Funded fare products such as the Transit Purse product. All parameters dealing with this loyalty scheme, number of trips, time period these trips are attained in, start time of the loyalty period and stop time of the loyalty period are determined by TTC.
There is a lot more, but it is quite clear that the agreement includes the capability for fare capping so that fares are reduced or eliminated when a rider reaches specific usage levels.
There has never been an open discussion at the TTC of the capabilities Presto is contracted to provide, and therefore, no discussion about future fare options such as the replacement of passes, per se, by time-based fare capping. A related issue is the question of Presto charging the TTC for new functionality even if the system is already capable of a function for other systems like GO or local agencies, and the Presto contract includes functionality that has not yet been exploited. For example, Presto charged the TTC for the implementation of the two-hour fare even though this was already in place for other agencies.
The TTC Board should request a report from management detailing the available fare options included in the Presto contract along with a discussion of how these might be implemented and their effects on revenue and ridership.
As to the Presto hardware itself, there have been ongoing issues with reliability and the responsibility for maintenance. The political situation is such that the TTC does not want to paint Metrolinx in a bad light, but this leaves riders and operators dealing with a system that fails often enough to be annoying.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 has raised the issue of system reliability, but the TTC management downplays their complaints. Some of these, notably the frequency with which fare gates and readers fail, are visible to riders. Others such as turnaround times on maintenance are only seen behind the scenes. The degree to which Presto problems cause fares to go uncollected is unknown and, just to complicate things, this is often mixed into discussions of fare evasion and lost revenue generally.
The Board should receive regular, public reports on Presto revenue collection and system availability.
The TTC originally planned to save considerably on fare collection costs with Presto, and based on the 5.25% estimate for the cost of fare collection. However, policy changes implemented after the fact, notably the decision to redeploy Station Collectors as Customer Service agents, will drive total fare collection costs into the 10% range even without an increase in Presto fees as reported by Ben Spurr in the Star last year.
The Board should revisit the business model for Presto and for the new model of rapid transit station management so that future costs and savings, if any, are understood and can inform budgetary planning.
Service Growth, Fleet and Facilities Planning for the Surface Network
Although the Board and Council may decide that better service is a good thing, politically, if only for its provision of many photo ops as new services appear, there are many constraints to the speed with which more service can actually appear. Toronto has been through this before with the original Ridership Growth Strategy where despite the desire to run more service, there was always a reason it could not be done “this year”.
The Board needs to understand these factors and how they might combine to strangle growth of the system:
- Total peak service is constrained by the size of the fleet and the size of the spare vehicle pool held back for routine servicing and maintenance.
- Technology changes such as a move to electric buses may, or may not, affect the size of the spare pool especially if vehicles are unreliable in early implementation.
- The fleet size is limited by available garage space which is already badly overcommitted.
- A new garage, at McNicoll, will open in 2020, but there is nothing specific planned beyond that until about 2026. Only a preliminary property search is now underway.
- New garages require more maintenance staff to handle a larger fleet, and more operators to drive the additional buses.
The Board should receive a forecast of the bus fleet size and a discussion of how more vehicles would be handled system-wide to improve service, including the effect of alternate service scenarios. In turn, the Board will have to amend the Capital Budget for expansion of the fleet and facilities to house it.
On the streetcar network, service growth has been limited for over two decades by the size of the fleet and, more recently, by the declining reliability of cars that now approach 40 years old. The 204 new Flexity low floor cars were intended to replace a fleet of 196 CLRVs (the shorter of the legacy cars) and 52 ALRVs (the longer two-section legacy cars). The level of replacement service was originally intended to be, for the most part, a 1:1 capacity swap with considerably fewer new cars providing equal capacity to the older fleet on some lines. However, as the latent demand on King Street has shown, there are more passengers to be carried if only the TTC would run more service.
New cars are now arriving from Bombardier at a rate where Toronto may actually see the entire 204-car fleet by late 2019 or early 2020. More cars are needed, and this brings us to the delicate problem of a proposed 60-car add-on order for Flexitys to Bombardier. This will run into problems not just with Bombardier’s credibility, but also with project funding and opposition to streetcars among some members of Council. One might hope that the Federal government, having refused funding for the original 204 with John Baird’s trenchant advice that Toronto should “fuck off”, would find a way to bring money from the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF) to Toronto even if Queen’s Park and our streetcar-hating Premier say “we only fund subways”.
The need for new streetcars ties into my previous point about route crowding and the latent demand which could exist on the TTC system. As population density in the near-downtown rises, demand on the streetcar routes will rise. This is already happening to the degree that the system can handle more riders.
A decision on acquiring more streetcars is not something to leave for the indefinite future.
Facilities to house the fleet will be available at the three existing carhouses – Leslie, Russell and Roncesvalles – and more cars can be housed at the Hillcrest site if some of the property is repurposed for streetcar storage. (The shift of streetcar maintenance to Leslie Barns makes some of the existing shop redundant.)
By 2020, the streetcar system should be able to return to 100% operation with rail vehicles, but for occasional construction disruptions. This will release buses to be used for service improvements elsewhere.
Lost in the shuffle of debates on subway expansion has been any mention of the waterfront. Recent comments from both Queen’s Park and the Mayor’s Office suggest that this is not a high priority item for either level of government. Despite a level of planned development in the eastern waterfront that is no doubt the envy of many suburban politicians, there remains a need to bring transit service to that area beyond the infrequent and unreliable services now offered by 6 Bay, 72 Pape, 75 Sherbourne and 65 Parliament. Meanwhile, the western waterfront has a proposed LRT connection to downtown dating back almost three decades.
A report on the “Waterfront Reset” plan is expected early in 2019 and this will include recommendations on transit service to the eastern and western waterfront. Whether any of this will be built remains to be seen given competing demands for funding and various design issues along the likely alignment, but this should not be dismissed simply because the current regimes focus their attention on other transit projects.
The Board should understand the interaction of fleet, service and facility plans and options for the streetcar network. This should not be addressed simply as a question of buying more vehicles, but of how they would be used including potential system expansion. In particular, the Board must address the question of how demand growth will be handled on both the bus and streetcar networks in the near future.
Surface Service Quality
A perennial issue with surface operations is the reliability of service including regular spacing of vehicles (even headways) as opposed to bunching and gapping which afflict TTC routes. I have written extensively on this before, but the gory details really should not have to concern the Board. However, they should be worried that the TTC’s Service Standards do little to indicate the condition of surface operations:
- Service is measured only at terminals, not along routes.
- The standard is based on performance relative to the schedule rather than to nearby vehicles. For frequent services, riders don’t care about or use a timetable, but do care that vehicles are evenly spaced. This also evens out loading, improves capacity utilization and reduces stop service delays.
- Because service is measured only at terminals, branching routes have no measure of how well (or not) services merge together.
- As mentioned earlier, there is no regular reporting of loading. When this information is presented, it is given as overall averages or totals with no sense of vehicle to vehicle variations caused by irregular headways.
The management issue for the Board is that metrics reported publicly do not reflect actual rider experiences.
The Subway Upload
As I write this, the biggest challenge for everyone is that nobody really knows what Queen’s Park intends to do about transferring ownership of the subway from Toronto to the Province of Ontario. Assuming that this goes forward in some way, the questions for Toronto Council and the TTC Board will require a detailed understanding not just of the transfer, but of the details within Operating and Capital budgets to determine the effect on whatever is left in City hands.
- What, exactly, will Ontario pay for and acquire?
- Will the payment be based on net book value, or on market value including land and air rights that could be exploited by the City for its own purposes?
- According to the Premier, the City/TTC will be left with both the farebox revenue and the day-to-day operating costs while Ontario will take over capital maintenance and expansion. Where will that line be drawn?
- Toronto receives about $160 million in provincial gas tax revenue. Will some or all of this be clawed back on the premise that Ontario is now covering costs formerly on Toronto’s books? Will any provincial funding of surface operations and capital remain, or will all surface costs be on Toronto’s account?
- Will Toronto be expected to contribute to capital projects as they do to the GO Transit capital budget (a process now on hold because of the SmartTrack project)?
- Will municipalities outside of Toronto be required to contribute to the construction and/or operation of rapid transit lines outside of the city?
- Will the province or the city set service standards for subway operations such as hours and maximum headways?
A major issue for Toronto and Ontario will be the badly needed work to renovate and expand capacity of the existing subway network. This is separate from planned expansion projects, but is critical to the subway network’s future. On line 1 Yonge, the following issues are outstanding:
- Completion of the Automatic Train Control implementation.
- Upgrading station capacity to handle a faster arrival rate of passengers and the ability to clear platforms especially when an exit is blocked (e.g. for escalator maintenance).
- Upgrading interchange stations to reflect the greater volume of transfer traffic.
- Ensuring that the subway’s power supply network is capable of handling the extra trains.
- Installing platform edge doors
These items are not all part of the existing capital plans.
Meanwhile on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth, the list is longer because renewal of that line has not begun:
- Automatic Train Control (scheduled to begin following completion of the Line 1 project)
- A new ATC-capable fleet (this will also be required for the Scarborough extension which would have a modern signal system)
- A new yard to hold the new fleet concurrently with the existing one (plans call for Greenwood Yard to be recycled as a facility for the Relief Line)
- Additional station capacity especially for transfer traffic off of the Yonge/University line when it receives more-frequent service
- Power requirements for more trains
- Platform edge doors
Renewal involves other subsystems such as tunnels, drainage and pumps, ventilation, escalators and station finishes (walls, ceilings, tilework, floors). Some of this is routine, but some components require periodic replacement.
For several years, the TTC has artificially reduced its planned capital program by leaving items off of the “approved” list. This pushes more and more work “below the line”, and some of the items listed above are not even in that category. This tactic reduced the apparent future spending by TTC that would draw on borrowed funds from the City, but meant that actual capital needs and the extent of future programs were not fully understood.
Management plans to bring forward an updated capital plan as part of the 2019 budget and it is essential that this be a thorough list of existing and potential needs. A few decades ago, Toronto saw what happens when the need for maintenance funding was downplayed to fit with available municipal and provincial subsidies. The Russell Hill crash was a wakeup call, but it represented only the worst byproduct of pretending that we can “make do”.
The Board needs to fully grasp the scope of the capital program, the degree to which Ontario would actually assume funding responsibility, and the exposure to the system’s integrity that failure to carry out necessary renewal would bring. Toronto Council must be well-informed about the residual costs it will face even if Ontario takes ownership of the subway itself.
Both the Board and City Council must grapple with the limited headroom for borrowing under current City policies and address how the TTC’s capital needs (with or without an upload) will be met.
SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension
SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) are projects born as much out of political grandstanding as out of good transit planning. I do not propose to debate their worth here, but both Council and the Board will have to deal with these projects and their potential costs.
Reports on both of these will come to Council early in 2019. In the case of the SSE, it is expected that the projected cost will be higher than numbers seen in 2018, but this is unlikely to deter Council especially if Queen’s Park will take the project off of the City’s hands. The question then will be how much the City will be expected to contribute to the project, if anything, or whether the capital already earmarked (including the accumulating Scarborough subway tax) will become available for other City-funded projects.
A move to extend the SSE and to add stations will push costs up even more, and will likely delay the project as engineering work done on the basis of the one-stop SSE must be revised to accommodate new stations and potentially connection with an extension. Any delay in SSE completion would also affect the length of time the SRT would have to be kept operating.
Another cost update coming to Council will be the final prices for the new SmartTrack stations, some of which are expected to be very pricy. It is not clear just how far Council and Mayor Tory are prepared to go down this path, especially in Scarborough where a revised SSE could cannibalize ridership for SmartTrack.
I have no illusions that these projects will be stopped or re-scoped as there is too much political capital invested in both of them by politicians at City Hall and at Queen’s Park. However, extra costs for these projects could reduce the available capital for others.
Two unresolved issues for SmartTrack are fares and service levels. The former Liberal government proposed that GO Transit fares within Toronto and immediately nearby stations would be reduced to the equivalent of a TTC fare ($3). Coupled with the GO+TTC cofare scheme, this would make a ST+TTC trip cost $4.50 (see the discussion of fares earlier in this article) for adults paying regular fares with Presto and not using a pass. Whether this scheme is still in place is unknown, but ridership projections for SmartTrack showed that demand would be sensitive to the fare level. Without a free transfer to/from the TTC routes, ST would not do as well as hoped.
On the service front, the actual level of service Metrolinx would provide at SmartTrack stations remains a mystery because they have claimed two incompatible versions. In one case, all trains run local and there is frequent service. In the other, there is a mix of local and express trains with only the locals stopping at the new ST stations. This would considerably increase wait times and make ST much less of a subway-like service. One version is in the report approved by City Council, and the other is in the Metrolinx “New Stations” report.
A further problem could arise if, as rumoured, the GO Transit Electrification project is delayed or cancelled. Part of the service design for the ST corridor assumes the performance characteristics of electrified service, and this will have to be revisited if the line will remain an all-diesel operation.
SmartTrack is not part of the TTC’s mandate, nor is GO Transit, but the Board must be kept up-to-date on what is intended as this bears directly on plans such as surface feeder services into the proposed much more frequent GO/ST services.
I could be cynical and observe that if Doug Ford’s government lasts only one term, it is unlikely that many of his schemes will be advanced beyond the point of no return, and we could be discussing all of this again after the 2022 election. Nonetheless, the TTC and Council have to deal with the world as it exists, and that includes understanding the effects of planned changes to both the provincial and city networks.
This will be a complex and busy year for the TTC Board and for Council. This is no time for a Board that only sits back to discuss “good news”, nor for management bent on polishing their resumés and dedicating staff time to awards that have little credibility with the travelling public.
The Board will have to work hard to get up to speed on a wide variety of issues and really understand how the system works. If anything this will increase their workload, but they would be doing their jobs.