The January 10 meeting of the TTC Board was primarily an organizational one with introduction of new members, plus a few management presentations on Board responsibilities and an overview of the system today.
Alan Heisey was re-elected as Vice-Chair of the Board continuing a role he has held ever since May 2015. This position is earmarked for so-called “citizen members” who are not also Councillors.
Most Board members, speaking of why they wanted to be at the TTC, cited an interest in transit and its role, but one, Councillor Karygiannis, was quite brief in saying “Sheppard Subway”. It will be ironic if Premier Ford is successful in taking over subway planning and construction because this project will no longer be one for the TTC or City Council to approve or build. Subway parochialism is alive and well at the TTC.
The Board discussed revisions to its meeting procedure including a proposal from the Vice-Chair that public deputations be limited. Anyone wishing to speak on multiple agenda items would get only five minutes in total, not five minutes per item. The idea has been referred to staff for review. Because any change in the meeting procedure would amend a bylaw that must obtain Council approval, this cannot take effect immediately.
The idea arises from frustration with a few regular deputants who address multiple reports, sometimes contentiously. However, it would be a short step from this scheme to one in which organized groups were only given five minutes in total rather than for each member wishing to address the Board.
A related procedural problem is that some reports where debate and action should be the order of the day, notably the CEO’s regular update, are classified as “Information” items. This hogties not just public deputations who can speak only to reports where the Board will approve some action, but even Board members who cannot make motions. The very report which should be the focus of each month’s review of operations and plans is insulated from substantive debate, criticism and action by the Board which is supposed to provide strategic guidance and policy.
At a time when “transparency” is the watchword and the sense that governments and their agencies should listen more, not less, to the public, this is a counterproductive proposal. If TTC Board members don’t want to hear deputations, they should get themselves appointed to the Metrolinx Board where self-congratulation is the primary order of business and pesky members of the public sit quietly in the gallery if they bother attending at all.
CEO Rick Leary presented a system overview “Advancing to the Next Level”. This goal will be a real challenge for the TTC where just making do with existing resources has hamstrung real growth and improvement on the transit system. This presentation contains substantial errors of fact about the degree to which service has improved from 2017 to 2018. As an introduction for the new Board, it implies that the past year has been better than actual experience. TTC management spends too much time “polishing their halos” and this gets in the way of substantive discussion about real system needs.
The first chart gives a sense of the system’s scope.
In a shot across the bow at provincial ambitions to take over parts of the TTC, Leary noted that the TTC streetcar system carries more riders than all of the 905-based transit agencies, and the King car rivals GO Transit for daily patronage.
There is a subtle but important point in the chart above: although the peak capacity of the King car is about 3,000 per hour per direction, it serves far more riders, 84,000 per day, because it has strong demand in both directions, in many neighbourhoods, and throughout the day quite unlike the commuter model of GO Transit. This applies to many TTC bus routes as well where demand is to and from points along the routes, not to a terminal location as a subway feeder.
Frequent service on many routes, including the subway, operates to at least 1 am across the city. This is a fundamentally different service and demand pattern than on other GTHA transit systems.
The operating budget breakdown brings out a few important factors:
- The lion’s share of costs at 73% are salaries and benefits because transit is a labour-intensive operation. Any large savings, and equally the major cost pressures, will come in this area either though changes in the amount of service provided, or by a fundamental shift in the underlying costs through “efficiencies” such as a move to one-person train crews and a move to larger surface vehicles. However, such changes are one-time savings, and they cannot be achieved again and again every year. Similarly, service improvements cannot occur without additional resources, and these are separate from basic inflationary pressures.
- Fares generate 63% of total revenue. This is in the ballpark of a two thirds farebox share established decades ago. However, on an historical basis one must be careful because the proportion of subsidy has fluctuated considerably over the past decade depending on year-to-year political and financial conditions. The fare freeze, with tokens remaining at $3 through 2018, caused the farebox share to fall in that year.
The Capital Budget breakdown above includes only the items for which funding has been committed or can be reasonably expected. There are projects totalling this much and more that are in various stages of being “below the line” either without funding, or without even formal recognition as part of the 10 year plan.
About one third of the funding comes from City debt, but this source is tapped out in the immediate future because of other large projects such as the Gardiner Expressway rebuild and SmartTrack. Federal subsidies are high because of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF) whose second phase lies within the 10 year window. However, there is no guarantee it will go beyond that period. Provincial subsidy is low because it includes only a portion of the gas tax that comes to Toronto.
Note that this chart does not include major projects that have their own dedicated funding streams and addresses only the ongoing maintenance needs of the existing system.
A substantial portion of the Capital Budget, especially the “below the line” items, are projects for subway renewal and capacity expansion. If Ontario takes ownership of the subway and assumes these costs, this will represent a substantial increase in provincial outlays simply to maintain what we have, let alone expand the network.
Detailed plans for the two main subway lines will come to the TTC Board for the 1-Yonge-University-Spadina line in April, and for 2-Bloor-Danforth in the fall of 2019. The latter report has been buried within the TTC for over two years and is a long overdue companion to the Scarborough Subway project with which B-D renewal is intimately linked.
Also to appear in 2019, and the sooner the better, will be a five year service plan and fare policy report. These are issues at the heart of what the TTC does: what kind of service is Toronto aiming to provide, and how will it charge riders to use this. If the plan’s authors limit their goals to what Toronto (or more accurately the Mayor’s office) thinks we can afford, rather than what we actually need, they will not serve the city well.
The 2019 budgets will come to the Board for approval on January 24, 2019, but will remain subject to Council’s review in the city’s budget process. The Board has appointed three members to a Budget Working Group, and there is hope that they will create some public outreach mechanism to solicit input. However, this is more likely to be seen for the 2020 budget cycle than now at the end of the 2019 cycle. Even then, there is no guarantee of anything substantive.
Exaggerated Claims of Service Improvements
Included in the report are three pages showing service increases since late 2017. All three of these charts are misleading.
The year-to-year comparison implies that there was a huge improvement in 2018, but in fact the date chosen for 2017 was during the first week of “ghost” operation of the Vaughan extension when there were severe problems getting all trains into service from Wilson Yard. This problem was not solved for some time afterward as the chart of peak capacity delivery (from the CEO’s Report, below) shows.
The chart above shows a scheduled service of 63 trains with only 53 in service. In fact the scheduled service for the AM peak on November 29, 2017, was 61 trains (63 is the value for the PM peak). It is simply not credible that by the PM peak the line remained 10 trains short of scheduled service. The fleet of 6-car Toronto Rocket trains serving Line 1 contains 76 trainsets, far more than enough to operate full service on the extended line and even more so to operate the line when it terminated at Sheppard West during most of 2017.
On the Bloor-Danforth line, the 42 train service is for the PM peak, and the AM peak level is 45 trains.
The figures cited for November 29, 2017, cannot possibly be representative of 2017 as a whole and this chart misrepresents the “improvement” of 2018 over 2017. Indeed the chart below shows clearly that for much of 2017, the capacity delivery rate ran above the 2018 levels falling only in late 2017 due to problems at Wilson Yard.
One noteworth change in 2018 has been the restoration of “gap trains” (also known as “run as directed trains”). As I reported last year, the gap trains had been part of the scheduled service in years past but they had been gradually cut thanks to budget constraints. Now that they have been restored, the TTC can insert empty trains into gaps southbound on Yonge in the AM peak and move more trains through Bloor-Yonge than are actually scheduled. This is possible because the signal system poses fewer constraints on adding trains over the affected section as opposed to over the full line. Moreover, it is better to add trains as needed to fill minor gaps and preserve even train loading on the peak segment than to simply schedule a tighter headway over the entire route which could still be subject to minor delays.
On the bus network, the chart implies a huge improvement in the proportion of scheduled service operated. Although six of seven divisions show a red “X” below, the shortfall is only one bus each in three of the garages, and only 11 buses (less than 1%) overall. The transition from “X” to “✔” is a lot less substantial than a superficial reading of the chart conveys.
The claim of 87 additional buses in service in 2018 does not align with the actual level of scheduled service. The total AM peak scheduled buses in November-December 2017 was 1560 compared with 1582 in 2018, or a difference of 22, not 86 as claimed above. [Click on charts below to expand.]
As for the streetcar network, the chart below very substantially misrepresents the change in service by omitting the buses operating on streetcar routes in 2017.
The chart above claims that there are 56 more vehicles in service on streetcar routes in 2018 compared to 2017. This is flatly not true as the route-by-route summary below shows. The total number of vehicles on streetcar routes in November 2018 was actually slightly less than in 2017 through a combination of factors including elimination of bus/streetcar overlap on the west end of 501 Queen, the service consolidation on 504/514 King/Cherry and the replacement of CLRVs by slightly fewer Flexitys on 512 St. Clair.
The reduced vehicle count was offset by the higher average capacity of vehicles with the shift from CLRVs to Flexitys.
|CLRV Nov-Dec 2017||ALRV||Flexity||Bus||CLRV Nov-Dec 2018||ALRV||Flexity||Bus|
|502/3 Kingston Road||16||8||9|
|512 St. Clair||24||19|
The level of scheduled service rose slightly, about 2% on the basis of vehicle hours, in 2018 versus 2017, although this increase was not evenly distributed across the system. Preliminary budget plans show some service increase in 2019 although this will be subject to the actual approval of fares, subsidy and service levels by the TTC Board and City Council.
It is one thing for the TTC to congratulate itself for improvements, but quite another to create them out of thin air. This is not a good start for a new Board which must depend on management to accurately present information on the state of the transit system and its future needs.
Toronto cannot “advance to the next level” when our management and politicians make excessive claims about where we already are.
Note: I have requested comments from the TTC about the difference between claims of improvements made in Rick Leary’s presentation and actual data from the system. When this arrives, I will update the article.