In the first article in this series, I reviewed the Capital Budget and Plan that covers the years 2019-2033 for the TTC. There are three reports on the January 24 Board agenda related to this subject:
- The 15 Year Plan and Budget
- Making Headway – Capital Investments to Keep Transit Moving
- The Capital Budget “Blue Pages” for 2019-2028 [Line item budgets]
This article concentrates on the “Making Headway” report which is a glossy overview of the 15 Year Capital Plan. It is a generally good report, although there are annoying omissions of detail that would flesh out its argument.
This report deals mainly with “state of good repair” (SOGR) projects that involve rejuvenation of existing infrastructure and expansion necessary to handle growing demand. New lines are not, for the most part, included in the report although plans for them are reflected in SOGR planning where they trigger expansion of existing capacity. Leaving out new projects like the Richmond Hill extension may be a political decision, but this means that the context for some recommendations is incomplete. A useful update would be to produce a consolidated plan showing the “new” projects and the time-critical events they trigger (such as fleet expansion or replacement and station capacity issues).
For many years, the TTC, the City of Toronto and its so-called funding partners have been content for the official SOGR backlog to stay out of sight. This has the triple benefit of reducing the projected borrowing TTC projects will require, making the benefit of capital funding the TTC does receive (mainly from gas tax) appear larger than what is needed, and avoiding difficult questions about spending on new projects in the face of a gaping hole for existing maintenance. This must stop, and the “Making Headway” report certainly puts the TTC’s needs in a different, and far more critical, light.
A backlog of deferred maintenance has grown, putting the safety, accessibility and sustainability of our transit system at risk despite the need to move more customers more reliably than ever before. [p. 7]
One cannot help remembering the soothing words of TTC management in the early 1990s when recession-starved governments cut back on transit maintenance, and the TTC said they could get by on the money they received without compromising the system. Then there was the fatal crash at Russell Hill and, bit by bit, Toronto learned just how badly the TTC’s condition had fallen. The CEO at the time (a position then called “Chief General Manager”) went on to become a Minister in the Harris government that slashed provincial transit funding completely. Things appear to be different today with the TTC calling out for better funding, although at a time when the last thing any politician wants to hear is a plea for more spending.
One page should be burned into the souls of anyone who claims to support transit’s vital role:
It is easy for the need to invest in our base transit system to be overshadowed by the need to fund transit expansion. But investing to properly maintain and increase the capacity of our current system is arguably even more important.
Population growth and planned transit expansion projects such as SmartTrack, the Relief Line South, the Line 2 East Extension to Scarborough and new LRT lines on Eglinton and Finch West will add hundreds of thousands more customers to Toronto’s transit network.
The result will dramatically increase pressure on a system already grappling with an aging fleet, outdated signals on key subway lines, inadequate maintenance and storage capacity, and tracks and infrastructure in need of constant repair.
Without the investments outlined in this Plan, service reliability and crowding will worsen, as the maintenance backlog grows and becomes more difficult and costlier to fix. This is the fate now faced by some other major transit systems in North America that allowed their assets to badly deteriorate.
Our customers, our city, our province and our nation can’t afford to let that happen. [p. 8]
This is not the message recent and current leaders in Toronto and Ontario wanted to hear, and they collectively are to blame for the mess we are in today.
Although some items, particularly those in the second decade of the plan, are not fully costed, the items are included to raise awareness that they exist.
Given the scale of the investment required, however, it would be irresponsible to delay conversations about funding until estimates are exact. [p. 9]
There is a mythology about transit assets, particularly subways, that they last a century. This is nowhere near the truth, and those who push such claims as a justification for subways as a preferred mode are flat out liars. Only the physical structure lasts many decades, and even that requires ongoing repair. Components such as trains, track, escalators, electrical systems, signals, tunnels, pumps and station buildings require repair and replacement at regular intervals. The Yonge subway, now over 60 years old, is on its third set of trains, and the Bloor-Danforth line on its second. All of the track has been replaced two or three times. Stations do not have their original escalators, and the ones now in place are coming due for major overhaul or replacement. The list is endless. A subway is not a “build it and forget it” project any more than a new car or a new house.
When the existing system is asked to carry far more riders, more is needed than a new coat of paint. More trains and bigger stations are just a start, and the analogy would be trading up to a family SUV or moving to a bigger house. If Toronto were a stagnant city with little population or job growth, this would be less of an issue, but Toronto is instead a booming area facing problems of growth it cannot serve or chooses not to serve adequately.
The chart below shows how many aspects of a transit system are linked together. We cannot simply say “buy more buses” or “run more trains” and think that every problem is solved. This problem is compounded when any “improvement” we make vanishes into the black hole of deferred maintenance, making up for what we should have done years ago.
Seen from a high level, the $33.5 billion plan breaks down like this:
Of the “funded” portion, about one third depends on assumptions regarding available funds from various sources in the second decade of the plan, and the remainder is based on the current known commitments of various government. This is less than certain with provincial plans to take over ownership of the subway system and responsibility for funding its capital maintenance. Note that in the chart above, 65% of the total is subway related. This would leave Queen’s Park on the hook for $22 billion over 15 years, and that does not pay for system expansion.
(For clarity, some of the spending included above is on works in progress such as the ATC signalling on Line 1 YUS, and the delivery of new streetcars. Only the costs in 2019 and forward are included in the figures here.)
Funding vs Financing
This report deals with the funding needs of the transit system. The distinction is often blurred between getting the money (funding) and paying for it (financing). The distinction is that if you buy a car, somebody (you, or more likely your bank) pays for the vehicle. The dealer and the automaker are happy, but you now have a debt. That’s “financing”. A slightly more creative scheme would be for you to rent the car so that someone else (a leasing company) actually owns it, but this is still “financing”. Real money changed hands somewhere, although the leasing company would get a better price on a fleet purchase, and they have tax write-off opportunities that you probably don’t.
Money could come from outside investors who may simply provide financing secured by future revenues (taxes on new development, for example), or might build or buy and even operate assets on our behalf. But one way or another, we have to pay for them unless new money with no strings attached appears out of thin air. That’s how one-time grants for major projects like subway extensions work. Governments give the TTC money with which to build new lines, but the cost stays on the government’s books and is not a future charge against the transit system. That’s a system the province doesn’t like one bit, and that is why Ontario wants to own and finance projects if only because the accounting looks better without that “gift” to Toronto.
There is a great debate over where we will find $33.5 billion, but there is no way to make that number vanish short of simply not undertaking the projects it will fund.
Proposed investments in the two major subway lines have similar dollar values, but vary by category because each line is at a different point in its rejuvenation.
|Line 1 YUS||Line 2 BD|
|Track, Power & Infrastructure||11%||10%|
The table above does not include infrastructure that would be provided as part of planned expansions such as additional trains for Scarborough and North Yonge, as well as a new Northern Yard on the Richmond Hill extension. More trains are also required so that service can be increased on both lines from the current 2’20” the signal system allows to 1’40” on YUS and 2’00” on BD. It is not clear whether some of these costs are actually buried in “capacity expansion”, but the fleet plan charts below clearly show a growth in total fleet size for both lines.
Plans for YUS show a bump in service requirements in 2020 that is not matched by an increase in the fleet. The changes every four years in service needs corresponds to a gradual reductions in headway thanks to automatic train control (ATC). For several years, this eats into the spare pool for the route, and the service:spares balance is only briefly restored in 2026. The TTC clearly expects to get good performance out of its Toronto Rocket (TR) fleet and operate with less than their desired spare ratio for an extended period.
The next big jump both in fleet size and yard capacity occurs in 2031 presumably as an offshoot of the Richmond Hill extension together with achievement of the 1’40” target headway for ATC. The proposed yard location at the north end of the line means that construction of the extension would have to be substantially complete for its capacity to be available. This could bring problems for the timing of new train deliveries in anticipation of the line’s opening to passengers.
In total, the TTC plans to acquire 44 more trains for Line 1 in two groups between 2024-28 and 2030-33.
On the BD line, there is a small increase in the number of trains in service, but no actual change in “service needs”. This implies a reduction in the spare ratio with no change in the actual level of service.
The spare pool today on Line 2 is larger than the 20% target. The storage problems on BD arose from shifting all of the T-1 trainsets to that line from YUS and Sheppard. Earlier fleet plans assumed that some T-1s would remain on Line 1, but this was rejected in favour of buying a complete TR fleet with automatic train control built in. The TTC owns more T-1 trains than it actually requires and there is a generous spare pool of 16 trains above the 45 required for scheduled service. The excess would provide at least some of the trains required for the Scarborough extension provided that the question of automatic control is addressed.
By 2025 the fleet starts to expand, and the timing implies that there would be a combined order for new trains for both lines (Line 1’s fleet starts to expand in 2024).
The storage capacity line on the chart (green) sits firmly at about 70 trains until 2030. However, almost all available storage today on Line 2 is now spoken for with the reactivation of Keele Yard and some track usage changes at Greenwood. The only remaining addition is space for a few trains at Kipling Station. Moreover, if “TR” type trains are ordered for Line 2, they cannot be serviced at Greenwood because they will not fit in the carhouse. This makes the timing of a new yard at Kipling much more pressing than the plan indicates.
There is no increase in service planned on Line 2 until 2026 (the SSE opening), and even that only covers the extension, not more frequent service, because the ATC project for the main part of the BD line will not be completed by the mid-2020s.
The chart below implies a considerable amount of excess capacity due to the yard at Kipling. However, this does not take into account the need for a new, modern facility to service TR train sets on the BD line, nor the use of Greenwood as the carhouse for the Relief Line which is now has a target opening date of 2029 before the new yard at Kipling would be available according to this plan. Moreover, the plan contains no money for renovations at Greenwood, and this presumably would be built into the Relief Line’s budget. In any event, it has to occur before the Relief Line trains arrive.
Missing from the report is a detailed chronology of the changes planned for all lines including extensions, and the dependencies between various projects. There is a considerable history of poorly co-ordinated fleet and facilities planning at the TTC going back over a decade, and these plans continue some of the basic flaws in the timing and sequencing. For budgetary purposes, projects like the Western Yard at Kipling (for which property acquisition is now in progress) get pushed off into the distant future even though the capacity will be needed as soon as new trains begin to arrive for the BD line.
There are two major components to plans for stations: replacement of major systems that are at end of life (e.g. escalators, elevators) and capacity expansion for additional demand.
The TTC operates Canada’s largest fleet of escalators, and this continues to grow with new stations that are more generously provisioned both for accessibility and for their greater depth. Many escalators on the older parts of the system will be due for replacement or major overhaul during the 2019-2033 period.
A major issue for any escalator project is the loss of capacity for passengers between platforms and the surface. Several stations still have only single exits, and it is unclear whether this will change before capacity is lost to escalator renewals. College is a particular example where only one narrow stairway connects the platform to the mezzanine level in each direction when the escalator is out of service.
In the coming years, regional growth and transit expansion will bring more people into stations and add to rush hour crowding. We must ensure our stations can safely and accessibly support the increased flow of passengers. [p. 42]
Although the plan acknowledges the need for more capacity, there are few details on where and when this would be provided. There is no explicit item for station capacity expansion other than at Bloor-Yonge in the budgetary figures.
The Bloor-Yonge project would involve building a second platform at the lower level of the station for use by eastbound passengers somewhat like the new platform at Union for Yonge line passengers. This would trigger an expansion of the mezzanines connecting with the upper level to provide for vertical circulation and a better distribution of traffic through the station.
However, the western end of the station structure is physically within buildings on the north side of Bloor Street, the level of Yonge Station is deeper than at Union, and there is a high water table. This will not be a simple project, and it has a price tag of $1.1 billion.
Another major station project will be the addition of Platform Edge Doors (“PEDs”). The details and scope of this work are still to be revealed as part of a study now in progress.
The overall breakdown of the $3.9 billion for “stations” projects is 27% for Bloor-Yonge Station, 24% for completion of station accessibility by 2025, 6% for escalators and elevators, 32% for PEDs, and 11% for “other”.
As with the “subways” plan, this section would benefit from more detail and a chronology cross-referencing major projects with other significant events such as planned increases in the level of service and the opening of extensions that will add to demand.
Plans for bus service, the fleet and garages sound nice in theory, but many issues lurk under the surface.
Simply maintaining our current fleet size will require purchasing between 120 and 160 buses every year to replace retiring vehicles, but there is currently limited bus funding in 2021 and 2022 and no funding thereafter. Accommodating increased ridership will require an additional 15 buses per year. At the same time, we are determined to transition to zero emissions technology as soon as practical.
Purchase 2,300 new low/zero-emissions buses at a total cost of nearly $3.7 billion, representing a complete replacement of our fleet as older buses reach the end of their 13-year useful life. By moving to steady state procurement for new buses — which means buying them in similar quantities every year — we limit sudden spikes in our capital funding needs and increase the efficiency of our maintenance operations.
Build two new garages at a remaining cost of more than $600 million: McNicoll Garage, which is already under construction, and a ninth bus garage, which will include the ability to maintain, charge and store electric vehicles. [p. 36]
Two recent policy changes have triggered a large increase in future capital needs for the bus fleet.
For many decades, the TTC would keep a bus in service for about 18 years, sometimes longer, with two major mid-life overhauls to replace major components such as the diesel engine and bring the body back to “like new” condition. As buses became technically more complex, and as North American bus standards shifted to vehicles with a shorter design life, rebuilding a bus became more challenging and the last third of bus lives saw much lower reliability than with newer buses. In response, the TTC now plans on a 12-13 year replacement cycle for vehicles, and the reduction of the average fleet age has substantially improved bus reliability with a “60% reduction in breakdowns since 2014” [p. 33]. However, this also increases the annual need for new vehicles by 50%.
The TTC and City of Toronto have embraced a goal for a zero-emissions fleet by 2040 and to that end will now only purchase low or zero emission vehicles. The last “clean diesel” arrived at the TTC in late 2018. In the near term, they will shift primarily to hybrid diesel-electrics while running trials on fully electric (battery) buses. This adds substantially to vehicle costs, and as the quote above shows, the TTC anticipates a unit cost over $1.5 million per vehicle over the 2019-33 plan. A further expense will be the retrofit of existing garages for an electric fleet, and only a small amount of this work is included in current budgets.
The fleet plan shown in the chart below has some troubling implications:
- The TTC does not expect to remove the last buses from streetcar lines until 2025 because of the timing and likely allocation of new streetcars.
- The rate of growth of service due to ridership is only 15 buses per year, less than one percent of the service requirements in 2019.
- The plan shows no effects from the replacement of buses by new subway and LRT service on Eglinton, Finch or in Scarborough.
- Although there will be two new garages, their primary function is to provide room for the existing fleet which is now shoehorned into overcrowded facilities. Little of the new garage capacity contributes to extra service.
The TTC shows no indication of planning for substantial demand growth on its bus network even though:
60 per cent of all people who travel on the TTC take a bus for at least part of their trip. In fact, buses carry more customers than any other TTC mode, including the subway. [p. 34]
In a telling choice of photos, the bus section shows a 97B Yonge bus at Dundas [pp. 32-33] running on a peak-only, half-hourly service that is never heavily loaded. This may be a nice “beauty shot” for a glossy presentation, but it is about as far as possible from being representative. Packed buses on Dufferin or Finch are nowhere to be seen.
Unlike plans for the regular bus fleet, Wheel-Trans projects a steady increase of demand over the 15-year period. This will trigger the need for a second garage in the mid 2020s, but will also mean a substantial ongoing increase in the operating subsidy required to operate this service. This is only the fleet for demand handled by the TTC itself, not for rides in accessible taxis. Despite a desire to shift more demand out of Wheel-Trans buses both to taxis and to the “conventional” system, the TTC projects a steady growth in demand for service with its own fleet.
The plan for the streetcar fleet shows a substantial increase with 100 more vehicles to arrive in the mid 2020s. If these actually arrive, they will represent a huge increase in fleet capacity compared to the smaller and much less reliable fleets they replaced, and this will allow the streetcar network to “catch up” after two decades where there were no spare cars with which to improve service. Recent experience on 504 King shows what is possible if only service is reliable enough and has room for additional demand. The lack of a comparable approach in the bus network plan is quite telling.
The plan for “service needs” appears to be out of sync with other TTC reports and statements about the status of the old fleet. There is a drop from 2020 to 2021 in scheduled service (counted as vehicles), but this mainly represents smaller cars being replaced by the new, larger Flexitys. However, the January 2019 CEO’s Report includes a table showing that the CLRV and ALRV fleets will be retired by the end of 2019, and this is echoed by verbal reports at TTC Board meeting.
The fleet buildup does not start until 2024, and this implies that the TTC does not plan to exercise the option for more cars on the Flexity order with Bombardier which could be manufactured as a continuation of current production much sooner. It is not clear whether buses would be used primarily as peak period trippers or if the system would continue with entire routes under bus operation.
Although the 15-year plan speaks of the Waterfront LRT extensions opening in a decade or so, there is no explicit reference to fleet requirements. All of the proposed new cars are for ridership growth, not for system expansion.
Purchase streetcars on a schedule that uses economies of scale to reduce purchase price per vehicle. This involves completing the current purchase of 204 streetcars, plus approximately 100 additional streetcars from 2025 to 2028 to meet demand, at a cost of $510 million.
The proposed Hillcrest conversion, at a projected cost of $900 million, seems rather steep to accommodate considerably fewer vehicles than at Leslie Barns. This scheme needs to be fleshed out with a better explanation of the work involved because the planned expansion of the fleet cannot be accommodated within existing facilities. Originally, the TTC was considering only a small amount of storage at Hillcrest to serve 512 St. Clair, but they have clearly moved to a much more ambitious project as well as a larger target fleet.
There are $2.1 billion worth of projects of which the lion’s share is taken by Information Technology, a new Transit Control Centre and other facilities. Although the report does not mention this, the Transit Control would be a second site to back up the existing relatively new one, as well as a backup site for IT facilities. This is not a case of the TTC throwing away almost new assets.
Another project in the cards is the consolidation of TTC office space at a site to be determined, although the land around Eglinton Station is often touted as a possible location.
What is Missing?
This plan is a good start and reveals the depth of problems facing transit service in Toronto, but more work is needed if only to strengthen its arguments.
Many project descriptions would benefit from greater line item details including distinctions between projects already in progress and those that have yet to begin.
The 15-year plan concentrates on maintenance and rejuvenation of the existing system, but many aspects of the work will interact with planned expansions of subway and streetcar routes. These should be incorporated so that the linkages are clear together with the effects of new services on the existing system.
The plan must include more than a shopping list of work to be done. It must also include dependencies and critical timing information to show when decisions must be made and which choices trigger other “must haves”. The timing of projects and related spending should be clearly related to a schedule that will bring new and upgraded facilities and vehicles online when they are needed.