Updated November 8, 2021: Links in this report have been changed to point to the new TTC website.
For much of 2019, TTC staff worked on a five and ten year service plan to address a basic political problem in our city – all of the focus for planning and spending looks to promises of new subway lines, or “better” versions of ones already on the map. While the subway and commuter rail networks may be the spine of Toronto’s transit, the skeleton and muscles are its surface routes of buses and streetcars without which vast areas of the city would be well beyond transit’s reach.
The TTC sought feedback from various stakeholders through public meetings as well as pop-up displays at locations around the city. Full disclosure: I attended and contributed to stakeholder workshops, and have refrained from publishing anything about the discussions because the plan was a work-in-progress. Some ideas found their way into the final report, others were changed or disappeared. Such is the nature of these processes. No, I was not paid to be there. We got free coffee, juice and cookies. People who came were there because they wanted to see a better TTC.
Two documents will be considered by the TTC Board at its December 12, 2019 meeting:
- 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook (Board Report)
- Next Stop, Even Better 2020-2024 & beyond (Glossy)
[Note: Both documents are published under the common name of the 5 Year Service Plan. For clartity, page citations refer to the glossy version as “Next Stop”. Note that this PDF is formatted two-up and so the page numbers are not the same as the sheet numbers in the file.]
The report is a mix of two separate items. One is the discussion of the multi-year plan, and another is a review of a grab-bag of service change proposals. Such proposals used to appear in annual reports to the Board and this was the standard conduit for route changes to be evaluated and approved (or not). This is a long-overdue return to a practice that seemed to have ended simply because there was never any money to pay for more service, so why bother to discuss the idea. However, many of the recommended proposals are still “subject to budget”, a constraint that undermines all the fine talk about the importance of transit in Toronto.
Right at the outset I must say that my reaction on reading the report, and especially the glossy version, was of disappointment at a lost opportunity. A theme at workshops, and not just from me, was that the TTC should “aim high”, that small-scale change would make little difference to riders and would have no effect on ridership or the system’s perceived worth. This was a time for advocacy, for a vision (and oh I hate that word) of what transit might be beyond political battles over subway routes.
The TTC has failed to advocate for substantial change. This is not unexpected, nor is it the first time. The political environment, especially for anything that affects operating costs and subsidies, is to spend no more, and if possible to spend less. Any report that shows what might be done, but which puts politicians on the spot to carry the torch for higher spending, or conversely to reject explicit improvements, is on delicate ground. Better to aim low at a target that might, possibly be met so that management and their political masters can get the publicity, the back-patting, the accolades that go with achieving a modest target. The TTC has been down this route before.
Probably the most telling point in the exercise is the cover of the “Next Stop, Even Better” glossy version of the report.
The Express Bus Network is a fraud perpetrated on the TTC Board and riders by management who gave the impression of change while, in fact, delivering almost nothing. The article Express Buses: Real Change or Photo Ops? includes a before-and-after comparison of the express routes showing how little really changed. In a separate article, I have updated this with current schedule information.
Almost all of the Express Network is nothing more than existing service (typically the “E” branches of routes) rebranded into the 900-series of Express services. Very little service was actually added, and in some cases there have been declines in service thanks to “reliability” changes in the schedules that stretched headways in order to give more running time at no added cost. Service is erratic, like many other parts of the TTC, to the point where waiting for an express bus to show up would cost more time for riders than they would save through its limited stop operation.
There are plans to add new express routes in 2020, but it is not clear whether these will actually add service or merely be the transit equivalent of a game of Three Card Monte.
Another problem facing the TTC is the inadequacy of service to meet demand, a widespread complaint among riders. There are Service Standards which set out average crowding levels, and the TTC claims to meet these in almost all cases. However, there are many problems:
- The TTC has not published actual crowding statistics for its routes for some time, and there is no way for the public or the political representatives to monitor how “close to the line” existing service might be.
- Some recent schedule changes have included pushing crowding beyond standards because the TTC cannot afford to run the service. This is not a question of peak fleet capacity because the TTC has a generous ratio of spare buses to service requirements. However, this can signal a trend which if not reversed will lead to the “standards” having no meaning or force because the real decision is made at budget time. [See page 8 of my recently published table of January 2020 service changes for details.]
- Riding counts only tell us how many people are on the vehicles, not how many could not board or gave up trying because of crowding and unreliable service. The TTC publishes route-by-route ridership numbers in the City’s Open Data Catalogue, but this file has not been updated since December 2016. It contains no breakdown by time of day, only a full weekday count.
- Irregular service with wide gaps makes crowding worse for most riders who tend to pack on the first thing that shows up, and can actually cause average load statistics to misrepresent demand because the half-empty following buses in a pack dilute the average crowding numbers. Averages do not show the conditions a typical rider, who is more likely to be on a crowded bus than an empty one, must face. The TTC has no measure of service reliability and its effect on rider experience.
There is no point in having standards if you don’t meet them, and especially if the fact that they are missed is not published in a widely-read document like the CEO’s monthly report. That report hides more than it tells by selective reporting and by averaging that masks the range of values in metrics. For example, we know whether ridership and revenue are tracking relative to budget, but we don’t know which routes have erratic service and overcrowding. These exist and cannot be wished away by a simplistic metrics such as end-of-line on time performance or a count of “short turns”, but the extent of these problems is rarely reported.
The report actually lays out very little detail of what might happen in coming years. There are five-year operating and capital budget projections, but few specifics as to what this spending will mean for riders on the street. Selling spending is hard work at City Hall, even with plans for new taxes because these are (a) often consumed for pet projects and (b) are currently only addressing the backlog in capital “state of good repair” spending, not day-to-day operating costs and subsidies which affect the amount of service riders actually see.
The goal is to increase customer trips by 35 million by 2024. That is on a base of 525.3 million projected for 2019, or a five-year increase of 6.67%. That is not a stunning goal especially with improved rapid transit services to come online during the interval.
Returning to past practice, TTC staff will report annually to the Board on requests for changes in the network requested by, among others, Councillors, community groups and employers, as well as changes triggered by events such as new rapid transit lines or staff-proposed area restructuring (such as the recent updates to routes in the Junction).
There is a backlog of such requests, and the main report contains a long section detailing them. I will deal with this in a separate article.
For several years, the TTC and its riders have faced the conundrum that “ridership” is falling, and yet vehicles are full. Riders perceive that this problem is getting worse. A big problem lies in how the TTC counts those riders, and indeed whether “rides” remains a valid measure of system use.
When one fare bought one trip, the relationship between revenue and ridership was fairly clear. One million tokens used translated to one million rides taken, and the same relationship held for tickets and cash. However, since the introduction of the Metropass in 1980, the link between revenue and rides started to come unglued. The TTC attempted to deal with this by having riders keep trip diaries so that pass sales could be converted to rides. With the shift to the two-hour transfer and the elimination of the byzantine transfer rules for Presto users, a fare and a ride in the traditional sense have changed again. There is also the question of free trips either by under 12’s or by fare evaders.
From a policy point of view either at the TTC Board or at Council, the TTC’s net loss determines the subsidy, and “ridership” has been the measure of success and the justification for added funding. That relationship simply does not work as the fare structure encourages riders to use the system more without paying more. Travel is what the TTC is selling, and the more people can use the system, the more it achieves its supposed goal of making transit the choice for trips around the city.
There is a conflict between counting “trips” as an equivalent to single fares, and “boardings” as a count of vehicle and route usage. (A “boarding” is one passenger getting on one vehicle. Every transfer counts as a new boarding, although the TTC does not count transfers between subway lines.)
For some time, “trips” have been stable or in decline while boardings rise. Note that the horizontal scales (years) on the two charts below are not the same, and the upper chart has different Y-axis ranges for boardings and trips.
There was a long period in the 2010s where the TTC was happy to crow about growing ridership, but what they failed to notice was that the rate of growth was slowing down. This is clear in the gradual change in the slope of the ridership (trips) curve until 2015 when the absolute value went down for the first time in many years. In recent years, weekday trips (the white line in the top chart) have declined slightly, but boardings show strong growth. Another way of looking at this is that the boardings per trip are rising even when the number of trips is falling, at least as “trips” are currently measured.
[Next Stop, p 83]
What we do not see anywhere is a report on crowding conditions, although it is well known that this is a problem. Recently, the TTC has started to schedule some routes at crowding levels exceeding the Service Standards because they do not have the budget headroom to operate more service.
The Challenges of Growth
The city of Toronto (not to mention the region beyond) is growing quickly both in population and employment. Moreover, rising congestion and a latent demand for more better transit represent potential for transit to attract a greater travel market share, and to grow at a rate faster than the raw demographic numbers.
This growth is not uniform across the city, and it cannot be addressed by simply adding a little bit more transit everywhere. Indeed, a growth of 1% per year would vanish if it were applied equally across the TTC, even assuming that the physical capacity (track time, vehicles) were available to operate it. One percent represents fewer than 2 new streetcars and about 16 new buses per year spread across the city. On the subway, one percent yields one more train/hour every four years. Increases this small would simply fill up with latent demand. A much more aggressive plan to increase service is needed.
In some locations some improvement can be achieved with transit priority, but this must be tempered with the acknowledgement that priority only goes so far, and only benefits the routes where it is implemented. Furthermore, other factors can undo the supposed benefits.
As an example, the King Street Pilot is oft cited as an example of an improvement, and the better reliability of the King car is well documented. However, the scheduled speed of the King car is actually slower today (December 2019) during many periods than it was two years ago thanks to the TTC’s increase of scheduled running times. There is more service with larger cars, but it is scheduled to operate more slowly than before. Vital considerations in providing “service” are not just speed, but also capacity and reliability. This is not to say that speed improvements don’t have their place, but there is more to transit especially where wait time and the associated frustration make up a good part of a trip. The needs of a King Street could be very different from those of a suburban bus route.
70% of all trips on the TTC network include a trip on surface transit (bus and/or streetcar), which makes the surface transit network critical to access and mobility in Toronto.
In 2019, 66% of new service added was dedicated to improve service reliability. [Next Stop, p 17]
There is an argument to be made about whether the TTC went overboard with “service reliability” considering that on many routes this came at the expense of wider headways with no added service. [I will review this system wide in a separate article.] However, there is a concern that the TTC’s budget for improvement will barely keep up with changes in road conditions without actually providing more service. Again a 1% target for increases will not go very far if 2/3 of that is consumed simply to maintain service as it is today.
Growth is not uniform across the city, and the focus of growth is shifting to the older part of the city close to the core area. Beyond the core area, new midrise developments are popping up along streetcar routes. This disproportionately affects the streetcar system and, to some extent, the subway. Growth of streetcar service was constrained for decades by the fleet when all then-spare cars went to the opening of 510 Spadina. In recent years, the arrival of a new fleet has expanded capacity, but vehicles originally destined for the whole network have been repurposed to improve service on 504 King. This leaves the TTC short cars overall.
35% of Toronto’s proposed residential units which are either under construction or review, are in the Downtown and Central Waterfront.
Starting in 2020, we will only operate new low floor, high-capacity, streetcars on our streetcar network. We will continue to operate buses over the short-term to provide much needed additional capacity to accommodate demand in the Downtown.
Between 2022 and 2024, an additional 60 new streetcars will be required to allow us to better serve our customers. This includes more frequent and reliable service on all routes and specific enhancements to 501 Queen, 504 King and 511 Bathurst that will be developed through the annual plan process. [Next Stop, p 43]
Employment growth is also concentrated downtown despite decades of advocacy for suburban centres. The private sector stubbornly does not necessarily build in locations that planners and politicians draw on maps. This has two important effects.
First, the growth occurs where the rapid transit network is strained to handle current demand, let alone future numbers. Even the TTC’s comparatively sleepy cousin, GO Transit, faces capacity crunches within a decade.
Second, with resources focused on the core and the backlog of demand it represents, suburban rapid transit is still very core-oriented. The Vaughan, Scarborough and Richmond Hill extensions all primarily exist to get people to King and Bay from the outer suburbs. Meanwhile, travelers within and between suburbs face road congestion and bus services that are not oriented to their trip patterns.
This problem worsens the further one gets from the core of Toronto because the scatter of origins and destinations gets wider and wider making transit service a challenge especially with the limited funding it now receives. This has not been addressed by any agency, notably by Metrolinx who are supposedly doing “regional” planning, but mainly want to run trains connecting suburban parking garages to Union Station, the low-hanging fruit of regional service.
There are also demographic and social changes at work that can push transit growth higher than the average change in population or jobs, and many are noted in one diagram.
[Next Stop, p 25]
If the city aims for transit growth based on overall averages, this will not accommodate potentially higher growth in markets that are strong transit users. This is something of a conundrum. Should the TTC go for more riding by established groups who are known to use transit (albeit possibly because they may have less alternative transportation available), or should the TTC go after people who are a “hard sell”, drivers for whom the change in perceived quality of trip would be much higher? This speaks to the whole “Take The Car” theme where transit is seen as a lower quality alternative from which all wish to escape as soon as economically possible.
Minimal improvement will, at best, give headroom for better service to existing riders, but will not attract new riders in large numbers. One might even ask just how high a growth rate is possible on various parts of the system and for various types of trips. This does not have a one-size-fits-all answer.
Within the City of Toronto, 30% of all trips are made on the TTC [Next Stop, p 26], and there is much headroom for growth although this varies immensely across the city. Downtown, transit already has 68% of the market.
The Five Pillars
The 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook is built on “five pillars of opportunity”. Yes, it sounds like corny management-speak, but the real question will be what will the TTC attempt and achieve. If the aspiration is low, and the pillars are short, posing for selfies on them will not be very impressive.
- “Enhance the transit network.” The intent is to make the TTC the option riders will choose (or choose more) when making trips.
- “Enhance customer experience at key surface transit stop areas.” The idea is to make waiting for the bus more attractive at major stops, although one might ask if it’s a major stop, why are passengers spending so much time there.
- “Improve service reliability. Late and irregular service has a significant impact on a customer’s decision to use transit as it increases wait times, crowding and trip duration, while adding uncertainty to their journey.” I couldn’t have said it better. In spite of claims about its service quality, the TTC clearly knows that things could be a lot better.
- “Prioritize surface transit.” Making transit run faster and more reliable were goals of the King Street pilot. The challenge now is to adapt this philosophy and transit priority generally to other parts of the city.
- “Accelerate integration with regional transit partners and complementary modes of transport.” This is a catch all for everything from regional transit integration to ride sharing and other “last mile solutions”.
1. Enhancing the Transit Network
Before listing potential improvements, the report talks of past changes including:
- Expanded all day, every day service. This dates back to the period when Mayor Tory “discovered” that Rob Ford might have cut too deeply into the TTC’s service, and the service restorations have been in place for some time.
- The Express Network. My opinion on this shell game is quite clear. Management was told to create an express network, but what they actually did was, for the most part, to rebrand existing services with little or no improvement. This is hardly an accomplishment, except possibly for the folks who concocted the announcement.
- Local route changes to support the Vaughan subway extension.
While past accomplishments are nice to show, the real question is “what’s next”. The TTC has a list of planned changes.
1.1 Development and Population Growth
In response to growth in development and population, the TTC will review locations of new development “so that we’re ready to make service more frequent and less crowded to accommodate and grow customer demand”. Considering how the TTC has failed to do this for years, in part due to budget constraints, it will be interesting to see what actually happens.
1.7 Applying an “Equity Lens” to Service Planning
[I placed this section deliberately out of sequence to contrast the two maps.]
Proposed service changes in the city’s Priority Neighbourhoods would be evaluated to give a greater weight to the transit dependency there in reviewing whether to add or remove service.
The map below shows how the areas with poor transit access scores correspond to the City’s Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. A challenge the City and TTC face will be that areas of development and population growth tend not to be in the poorer areas, and there will be a conflict between serving transit dependent areas better and improving service to address growth in more affluent districts.
1.2 New Services to Address Travel Patterns
Planned changes include:
- Revisions to the Community Bus Network beginning in 2020
- Extension of the overnight service on Finch East to the Tapscott employment district, offset by removal of night service from Parliament Street, in 2020.
- In 2021, expansion of the Express network, enhanced bus service in Scarborough and new services for growth areas in North York.
- For 2022, the report proposes “to implement new services to ensure the network is designed to take customers to where they want to go”. Simply by making this statement, the TTC acknowledges that it does not serve all of the travel demands in the city.
It is not clear how many of these changes will be net additions to system operations, or will require stripping resources from other routes.
These routes are discussed in more detail in an appendix to the main report, and I will turn to them in a separate article.
1.3 Opening Line 5 Eglinton in 2021
This is really a Metrolinx accomplishment with the TTC going along for the ride. There is a proposed map of the revised bus routes, but these are subject to community consultation.
1.4 Relieve Crowding on Line 1 Yonge-University
With the activation of Automatic Train Control (ATC) over the full line starting in 2022, the TTC will be able to increase the train count over the route from the current 25.5 per hour to about 30.5 adding about 5,500 passengers per hour (based on the design capacity, not crush load, of a subway train). A further increase might occur beyond the plan’s five year horizon, but this is subject to the TTC verifying that they could actually operate headways below 120 seconds (30 trains/hour) and that stations will be able to handle the increased volume of passengers on platforms, passageways, stairs and escalators. There is a planned expansion of Bloor-Yonge Station, but the timing of this work is not yet known. Other stations with constrained access capacity will also have to be addressed to allow for more frequent service.
1.5 Opening Line 6 Finch in 2023
Again, this is a Metrolinx project, but unlike the scale of changes for Line 5, this is primarily a replacement for an existing busy bus route with minimal changes to connecting routes.
1.6 Enhancing the Streetcar Network
This is discussed above under “The Challenges of Growth”.
One point of note is that the TTC plan assumes that more streetcars could be delivered starting in 2022. That is an aggressive timetable, and should be backed up with specific of vendor proposals from the recent market sounding the TTC claims it undertook. If for 2022, when does an order have to be placed? Is 2022 a realistic date and if not, what does this mean for planned service improvements?
These questions are linked with plans beyond 2024.
The streetcar network will grow with a number of new expansion projects that will necessitate additional streetcars, a new facility and modifications to existing terminals and loops.
Several key streetcar projects would improve service along Toronto’s waterfront. These include improvements to the streetcar loop at Union Station; extension of streetcar service east along Queens Quay to the East Bayfront area, and beyond; a new streetcar connection between Exhibition Loop and Dufferin Street; and future improvements in the Humber Bay, West Donlands, and Portlands areas. [Next Stop, p 103]
The reference here to existing terminals and loops includes stations where it is difficult or impossible for more than one Flexity to be on the platform at once causing streetcars to queue outside the loop, often with passengers impatient to get off and blocking traffic including other TTC vehicles.
Completely absent from this section is any sense of how the TTC will address today’s backlog in demand and the need for additional service where growth has been constrained by budgets. There is no discussion of the resources needed to address the combined effect of these factors:
- Population growth (projected at 1% per annum)
- Demographic shifts in the age, transit habits and location of riders
- Latent demand that is not served by current service levels or route alignments
- Increased traffic congestion
It is all very well to talk about how growth affects different areas in different ways, but the overall provision for service growth through both fleet planning and higher operating subsidies could be less than what these combined factors require.
2. Enhancing Customer Experience at Key Stops
2.1 Expand Amenities at Key Stops and 2.3 Improve Placemaking at Key Stops
The TTC wants to make the travel experience better at major stops:
Over the next five years, we will improve our customers’ experience at stop areas across the City. We will continue to work with the City to ensure stops are: accessible for customers of all abilities, equipped with more and/or heated shelters to protect them from the elements and furnished with more seating to ensure our customers are comfortable all year round. [Next Stop, p 47]
There are 22 bus and streetcar stop areas in the City where more than 4,500 customers board each weekday. In comparison, only six GO Transit rail stations exceed this threshold, yet every GO station is outfitted with various amenities to enhance customer experience. [Next Stops, p 48]
This sounds good, but it betrays an attitude to how TTC stops work that is sadly out of touch.
First off, the number used in the chart below – 4,500 or more boardings per intersection – combines demand on all four corners. These are not GO stations where everyone can sit inside while awaiting an infrequent train. These are busy locations where sitting on one corner waiting for a bus that will stop somewhere else is a recipe for missing the service. Moreover, if these really are busy locations, the services there should be frequent. Creature comforts would be nice, but the TTC appears to assume that riders will be waiting for some time.
At some locations downtown, there simply is no room for new on street facilities, not even for a basic transit shelter.
2.2 Improve Wayfinding at Stops
The TTC proposes to install more next vehicle arrival signs to tell people when their bus or streetcar will actually show up because “Schedule and real-time arrival information reduces uncertainty and improves rider satisfaction”. [Next Stop, p 49]
An important enhancement to these signs would be the provision of notices about service disruptions and diversions. One can wait at a stop where service never appears with no idea of what is happening.
For riders arriving at stops, the TTC proposes to expand the TO360 wayfinding system with maps at stops for local neighbourhoods. It is not clear where the responsibility for these maps (content, number of neighbourhoods covered, ongoing maintenance) will lie, with the TTC or with the City.
3. Improving Service Reliability
The TTC prides itself on changes that improved service reliability. My reaction to this table is mixed because “reliability” is a sometimes thing on Toronto’s network.
A major change has been in the fleet mix with a shift to a younger bus fleet that was made possible by a federal infrastructure stimulus fund. Replacing buses after 12 years’ life eliminates the need for one rebuilding cycle, but it will also create an increased demand on the capital budget for vehicle replacement in about ten years. The currently high reliability of the bus fleet might not look as good when the large cohort of now-new buses are all nearing retirement.
The streetcar fleet conversion to low-floor cars is almost complete and Toronto should expect better performance for many years. The unknown factor is the long-term reliability and the challenge the TTC will face when an entire generation of cars reaches its twilight years just as the CLRV fleet, now 40 years old, did.
“Customer focused metrics” is a phrase that implies the TTC has a rider’s-eye view of the system, but the amount of up-to-date data actually published is small. On time performance is measured only at terminals, and even there, service does not hit the TTC’s own targets. Most riders do not board at terminals but elsewhere along routes where reliability declines from whatever might be achieved at terminals. This is a particular issue on routes and during service periods when buses do not come often, and bunching can cause very wide gaps between vehicles. Data on crowding conditions have not been published for a few years, and this means that the scale of a problem is invisible to the politicians and management whose decisions affect the amount of service in the street.
3.1 Improve Surface Transit Schedules
Customers consistently selected service reliability as the most important action in the 5-Year Service Plan [Next Stop, p 54]
This message should be on a poster six feet high at every meeting of the TTC Board and of management to remind them what their riders want. Reliable service comes from a combination of adequate resources (having enough buses and streetcars on the road to handle demand), good management (making and achieving the goal to provide evenly spaced service over entire routes, not just at terminals) and a corporate ethos that values metrics that show service as seen by riders not artificial targets that allow for much back-patting while riders wait in the cold.
Nothing in the plan addresses line management, crowding, nor how to measure and report on these issues.
As for improving schedules, the TTC has already done this for many major routes, and the results are uneven. See my recent reviews of the 41 Keele bus Service Quality on 41 Keele: Fall 2019 Update and 41 Keele Update: October 2019. Headway adherence is more important to riders than the schedule except on infrequent routes where missing a bus that is expected brings a long penalty. For the more frequent routes (12 minute headways or less), even spacing should be the goal, but the TTC does not manage its service to that target or even measure this.
Many of the “reliability improvements” on routes brought wider scheduled headways and the explanation that this simply schedules the service riders actually saw. However, that does not address the fact that headways are still erratic, and fewer trips per hour will pass a point to carry passengers. The term “improvement” verges on an insult to riders’ intelligence.
More reliable service on bus and streetcar routes as we trend towards 90% on-time departures. [Next Stop, p 81]
The TTC must learn that “on time departures” from terminals do not guarantee reliable service along a route. I have demonstrated this in many route analyses, and yet this is the only thing on offer for riders. This is a bankrupt policy, an abdication of the responsibility to provide reliable service, to manage it, and to report meaningfully on service quality that riders actually experience.
3.2 Mitigate Delays and Disruptions
We will continue to mitigate the impacts of planned service disruptions such as subway closures and unplanned service disruptions such as short-term road works, collisions and emergencies. More buses, streetcars and trains will be available to minimize the effects of service disruptions on our customers’ journeys. [Next Stop, p 54]
This is a laudable goal, but it is unclear how the TTC will actually achieve it. During peak periods there are no spare streetcars, and even the bus fleet with a generous pool of spares still needs operators. Extra trains can only be provided from a few key points, and as with buses, there is an assumption that crews will be available to drive them. Past cost-cutting affected the size of the standby pool of operators, and having both crew and vehicles ready to spring into service on a moment’s notice costs money.
From a simple viewpoint of geography, spare vehicles cannot be stashed everywhere around the city, and only delays and diversions of considerable length can be addressed with temporary fill-in services. A common complaint is that the TTC will announce “shuttles are running” when in fact they have not yet appeared on a route. In the specific case of the subway, replacement service cannot possibly provide the capacity needed on the central parts of the network especially during peak periods. The TTC should be careful in what it offers.
4. Prioritize Surface Transit
The TTC is proud to operate 13 of the 24 bus corridors in Canada and the USA carrying more than 30,000 daily passengers. [Note that the legend in the map below says “weekly”, but this should read “weekday”.] This map serves as the jumping off point for selection of major corridors where improvements might be made.
However, the methodology here is flawed because all-day ridership must be related to the length of a route to give a sense of the density of demand. A very long route could have more than 30k daily riders simply by virtue of having a large catchment area, while a shorter route might have more riders and more frequent service, but be unable to break the 30k threshold.
(I cannot help mentioning here that there is an underlying assumption that the TTC is using current demand numbers even though they have not published updated data since December 2016. If they have it, they should share it so that we will all know what today’s demands look like.)
For example, both the 510 Spadina and 501 Queen cars carried 43-44k daily riders in 2016 even though one route is quite short and the other is the longest in the system. The 511 Bathurst route carries roughly half the riders of the Queen car, but is one quarter the length. Some routes have very high turnover and carry many more riders per vehicle kilometre than routes serving longer trips. Which routes deserve priority treatment? The TTC needs to address “key routes” and corridors based on demand and service level, not simply on the raw passenger counts over routes that are very different from each other.
A further problem is to define just what “priority” might mean given that each street, and even sections within a street, has varying characters and one cannot simply apply a cookie-cutter solution such as the King Street Transit Priority design to other parts of the network.
4.1 Explore Bus Transit Lanes
The map of Key Routes influences the discussion of possible express bus locations. An important distinction here is that these are corridors which may carry several routes, and for the purpose of evaluation, it is the combined demand which should dictate where road capacity should be redirected to transit.
Given the success of the King Street Transit Priority Corridor, we will explore implementing exclusive bus lanes, stop consolidation, all-door boarding and other transit priority measures to speed up bus service on Toronto’s busiest bus corridors. Over the next five years we will explore opportunities on Eglinton Avenue East, Dufferin Street, Jane Street, Steeles Avenue West and Finch Avenue East. Although our focus will be on these major corridors to start, we will continue to identify opportunities on other busy corridors to improve travel time and reliability for customers. [Next Stop, p59]
“We will explore” is no commitment to actually run, only to study possible changes. Major reallocations of street space such as on King take a lot of work, fine-grained planning and community input. Moreover, the corridors identified are very different from the King Pilot area both in length and in character.
An important issue is to identify just what the obstacles are today to moving transit faster. Is it prevailing traffic conditions? A shortage of bus service? Crowding and long stop service times? For example, on Dufferin there are known locations and times of congestion. Irregular service contributes to loading delays at major stops such as Dufferin Station. The mode split on these corridors between transit and autos, especially off peak, is lower than on King and a full-time takeover of road space could be hard to justify.
4.2 Implement More Queue Jump Lanes
Queue jump lanes have been a TTC hobby-horse showing up in every transit priority report for years. The basic problem is that there are few locations where they can physically be added to the road network because of constrained rights-of-way.
Since 2010, the City of Brampton has constructed nearly 80 queue jump lanes to reduce travel times and improve the reliability of their bus rapid transit service. [Next Stop, p 61]
That’s very nice to hear, but Brampton tends to have more space to widen roads. The TTC should publish a wish list of queue jump locations they would implement to achieve their target of “up to three” new locations per year so that readers can judge whether the sites are practical.
The approach to Long Branch Loop is flagged as a site for such a lane. There are a few points about this:
- Service at this location is rarely better than one streetcar every 10 minutes. Is this really a deserving location?
- A major problem is the access to and from the loop which cuts across traffic lanes at a busy junction of Lake Shore and Brown’s Line. This calls out for Transit Signal Priority to protect the movement both ways.
4.3 Transit Signal Priority
The TTC hopes to see 20 new Transit Signal Priority (TSP) locations installed annually. This is a nice goal, but only a drop in the bucket of 2,400 traffic signals across Toronto.
Along the King Street Transit Priority Corridor, 8 of 12 intersections are equipped with transit signal priority that improve service reliability, reduce travel times and improve transit efficiency. [Next Stop, p 61]
TSP works, most of the time, at those 8 locations, but where it is not present – University, York, Bay and Yonge – the signals can actually work against transit. This is particularly true at University where there is a long north-south green time to handle traffic volume and this limits the throughput of streetcars. The problem can be acute when the 501 Queen route shifts south to King and the scheduled cars/hour exceeds 30 each way. At that level, signal cycling and the limit of one car/cycle imposed by the farside stops means that there is little spare capacity. This is compounded by the complete absence of intersection management where north-south traffic regularly blocks east-west transit operations.
Another important issue for TSP is the need to support not just scheduled routes, but to handle regularly-used diversions. When the King car is shifted north to Queen, there are severe delays because there are so many more streetcars than usual on Queen, and there is no transit priority for them especially for most turns to and from King and Queen at Spadina and at Church.
(Scheduled service for November/December 2019 is 9.2 cars/hour on Queen and 23 cars/hour on King. Other services operating on King now include the 508 Lake Shore trippers and the 14x series of downtown express buses.)
TSP can actually make service worse if it is poorly implemented. When The Queensway was rebuilt with farside stops and TSP at intersections, the travel time from Roncesvalles to Humber Loop actually went up because TSP was actually organized to aid left turning motorists to the detriment of streetcar service. Similarly, there is a “TSP” signal at the Lake Shore Boulevard exit from Humber Loop which can hold streetcars for lengthy waits even when there is no conflicting traffic on the lane streetcars will cross. On Spadina, Harbourfront and St. Clair, there have been cases where initial TSP installations undid the benefit of the reserved lanes, although some of this has been corrected.
The point in all of this is that “signal priority” only works for transit if it is optimized for transit. When the primary function is to provide better operations for auto traffic with transit getting the leftovers, it is not “Transit” priority.
5. Regional Integration and Complementary Transit Modes
5.1 Service Integration
Nearly 15% of all TTC customers either start or end their trip outside the City of Toronto.
Starting in 2020, we will work with regional transit partners to identify opportunities for further service integration on key regional corridors to be implemented in 2021 and beyond. [Next Stop, p 68]
The claim of a 15% outside-Toronto share of TTC riders does not distinguish between those who arrive on GO trains, mainly at Union, and on bus services from local routes in the 905. Riders who come from GO are a very different lot and face different problems compared to those on local routes.
In the case of fares, GO riders now get a TTC+GO discount provided that they are using Presto and pay a full adult fare (token rate). Seniors get a smaller discount, and TTC passholders get nothing. The longevity of this arrangement is in doubt thanks to provincial funding cuts.
Cross-border riders from local 905 systems face a full double fare, one for each system. Various schemes have been proposed to solve this, but at the end of the day only increased subsidy will make a real difference. Some, including senior planners at Metrolinx, argued for a distance or zone based system, but inevitably the models they constructed raised fares inside of Toronto for longer journeys to pay for a reduced 905+416 fare.
The TTC plans to publish a Fare Study in 2020, but this will almost certainly run headlong into provincial meddling, not to mention the inevitable “Presto can’t do that” problems for any new design.
Meanwhile, the City of Toronto continues to subsidize subway riders from York Region on the Vaughan extension at about $12 million per year. This is money that could be providing service in Toronto, but instead it goes to pay richly for riders who pay nothing toward the subway’s operation.
“Service integration” will have more meaning once there is an open discussion of what is meant and how it will be financed.
“Microtransit” is just fancy term for service with small vehicles such as vans, or more recently with automated vehicles. It is a service designed to address the “last mile problem” at transit stations, not to provide lengthy high capacity line haul or point-to-point services.
Notable by its absence from this section is any mention of taxis or ride sharing (Uber, etc.). Taxis are an integral part of the Wheel Trans system for those who are capable of using them, but not agile enough to ride all parts of the conventional system.
TTC plans to increase services for cyclists at 49 subway stations in 2020 including repair stations and more parking. (The stations absent from the list are primarily on the downtown “U” of the subway.) This will be expanded to major surface stops in 2021.
An important partner in this will be the Parking Authority which owns and manages parking lots as well as the Bike Share service.
5.4 Pedestrian Pathways to Transit
In parts of Toronto, development has faced “inward” to local streets with a design based on auto travel. Riders wishing to access transit stops use informal paths to reach main street locations without going on a long excursion through their neighbourhoods. Some of these paths are on public property, others on private lands.
We can immediately improve pedestrian access to transit by formalizing paths that customers have created.
Starting in 2020, we will identify and prioritize key locations to enhance pedestrian access to transit, and work with the City of Toronto to investigate and implement potential improvements. [Next Stop, p 71]
This is not just a transit access issue, but a safety concern because of the physical condition of some short cuts and the lack of services such as lighting and snow clearing.
5.5 Mobility as a Service (MaaS)
MaaS brings together mobility services like transit, taxi, bike share and parking under one smartphone app to plan trips, get real-time info and make payments. In 2020, TTC will work with the City of Toronto to explore and recommend options for MaaS governance and policies to meet the public’s needs. In 2021, TTC will look to pilot a partnership with another mode, such as Bike Share or Green P. Beyond 2021, TTC and City will work with regional and private sector partners to expand MaaS opportunities.
Seven in ten (69%) TTC customers combined a recent trip with some other mode of transportation. With one quarter (27%) of these trips including a shared mobility service. [Next Stop, p 72]
The statistic cited here requires better understanding so that we know which sub-markets the TTC is trying to address. It is simply not credible that almost 70% of TTC riders used some other mode of transportation to reach the TTC network, and the TTC should break down this number beyond the statement about shared mobility services (which would represent 18.6% of all access to TTC if the numbers here are to be believed). The vast majority of riders walk to TTC stops and stations.
Updated: A related issue is that many transit users do not have access to the technology assumed as a basis for using this type of service. This is an equity issue if some groups are prevented from accessing services or pricing schemes that depend on technology.
The Twenty Point Plan
The proposed actions arising from the Five Pillars are summarized with timelines in the chart below. The significant point here is not so much the content (which echoes timing of the points above), but the fact that most substantive changes do not begin for a few years.
As noted earlier, the problems of latent demand and overcrowding exist today, but the TTC seems to regard dealing with them as a task for the future. Part of this is due to fleet constraints, but part comes from politically-motivated budget constraints that limit service growth. Nothing in the plan gives any indication of the resources needed just to catch up with current demand, let alone to accommodate future growth.
The TTC plans a modest growth in its fleet over the next five years, much of which stems from the opening of Lines 5 (Eglinton Crosstown) and 6 (Finch).
To put the numbers below in context, the peak scheduled service for November/December 2019 is 1642 buses plus 161 streetcars on the surface network, only slightly less than the planned 2020 numbers. This plan assumes that some growth in bus service will come from vehicles released by the opening of Lines 5 and 6 in 2021 and 2023 respectively, and from buses released by converting the full streetcar network back to rail operation starting in 2022. The actual change in the scheduled peak fleet is only 4.5% over the next five years.
The streetcar fleet is expected to grow starting in 2022, but this will require commitment to project funding and procurement in the near future. Some additional cars will be stored at Hillcrest in a repurposed Harvey Shops which was designed around “standard” length streetcars (Peter Witts, and later PCCs and CLRVs). This is referred to as a new “MSF” (Maintenance and Storage Facility) in the table of capital costs in the next section.
Subway service on Lines 1, 2 and 4 will not change from 2019. One train will be added to the SRT bringing it back to a 6-train service after major overhaul of the fleet.
Service on Line 1 (Yonge-University) will start to ramp up in late 2022 following completion of the ATC rollout, with a further increase in 2024. A small increase is also planned for Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) in 2024 although it is unclear whether this means more frequent service (difficult with the current signal system) or more “gap trains” used to fill in after service delays.
Over the ten-year period to 2029, the bus fleet is projected to increase from 2,160 to 2,295 vehicles. The current spare ratio (total fleet in excess of scheduled service) is 28.6% in 2020 (481 buses) which is a very high level, far more than one would expect for a relatively young fleet. The streetcar spare ratio will be 24.4% in 2020, a value that is affected in part by the major retrofit program now in progress to repair frames on the early part of the vehicle order. This repair is expected to be complete in the early 2020s.
The TTC’s fleet of 76 TR trains for Line 1 will drop from its current spare ratio of 16.9% to under 10% by 2024. The TTC has to contemplate additional equipment for this line if they plan to reduce headways from the current 140 seconds to the target of 110 (a 27% increase in line capacity). Even getting to the 2024 service level will be a stretch as the TTC has not operated with a spare ratio under 10% for any fleet for decades.
The situation on Line 2 appears far less critical because there is a large surplus of T1 trains. This is due to the original plans to use some of these for the TYSSE to Vaughan, but with the change to ATC on Line 1, this was no longer practical. The TTC plans a major overhaul of the T1 fleet to extend its life out to 40 years, but this must still be verified by trial overhauls and tempered by whatever signalling technology will be used on the Scarborough Extension and the timing of that line. This is further complicated by the ownership and funding scheme for that extension under the new deal with Queen’s Park. The City may face a bill for new Line 2 trains sooner than is currently planned in the ten year budget.
The five year plan has financial implications for both the Operating and Capital Budgets, and funding for these is far from certain even with Mayor Tory’s recently announced increase to taxes for his City Building Fund.
On the Operating side, a cumulative increase in operating costs of $174 million annually is projected by 2024. Of this, the lion’s share, $107.8 million, is due to the opening of Lines 5 and 6. This jump in costs is not avoidable because the lines are under construction and the City is committed to operating them. The charge from Metrolinx has not been agreed to yet, and the values shown here are estimates.
The challenge, of course, is that the new operating costs will crowd out spending on improvements across the system as a whole
On the Capital side, the list is dominated by streetcar-related costs of $414.5 million for new cars (about $6.9 million per car, a cost which includes spare parts, warranty and training). By comparison, the Flexity fleet now being delivered has a projected final cost of $1,186.5 million (about $5.8 million per car). A related cost is the $85 million needed to retrofit Harvey Shops as a storage yard for some of the additional Flexitys. Shifting operations of central routes like 512 St. Clair to this location will bring a considerable saving in dead-head costs as the yard will be much closer to the routes it serves.
The next largest component is buses at $164.1 million. Note that this is only the cost for buses related to growth, not to ongoing state-of-good-repair replacements, nor does it include the cost of charging equipment at garages if the TTC pursues the City’s all-electric plan for the bus fleet.
The cost of all other initiatives is modest implying that we will not see much real change. The TTC has not indicated what its proposed bus lanes would look like or how significant a change in the affected roads would be made. The degree of change will depend on whether these are full time, physically reserved lanes, or part time lanes where only painted pavement limits incursion by other vehicles.
The TTC plans to report on its achievements under this plan with several metrics:
- Customer satisfaction: This is the usual rolling survey of customer attitudes to the TTC that is reported out quarterly. This reports overall satisfaction and although the index shifts from time to time, it appears to take a series of major incidents to bring much change in the reported value.
- Ridership: This will now be measured by boardings, not by a calculated number of “fares” derived from multi-trip media such as passes or tickets on Presto.
- Service reliability: The TTC plans to continue using on-time departures as its metric even though this gives no indication of service quality along a route. There is no explicit measure of bunching or gaps in service.
- Journey time: This is not defined because there is no existing comparable metric.
- Productivity: Boardings per hour. This value also drives Service Standards reviews because periods of operation with less than a target value (10/vehicle hour for buses, 20/vehicle hour for streetcars) are subject to review.
- Crowding: Measured at the busiest stop. A major problem with this metric is that it reports averages, not the distribution of loads between vehicles, nor is there a recognition that varying levels of vehicle bunching could produce severe crowding problems at locations other than the peak point.
- Efficiency: Net cost per passenger. This is a challenging figure to calculate because the “net cost” assumes an allocation of revenue which is impossible in a system where fares are not directly linked to trips or boardings. Very strange things can result from such a metric (as we saw in the early days of the Service Standards when this was last attempted), especially for short routes that have a lot of turnover, and for the subway. The methodology behind this proposed metric is not defined.
The TTC could make a good start by publishing current data for its routes and any information on the period from December 2016 to present so that there is a baseline against which to measure 2020 and beyond. They should also explain the underlying calculations so that any inherent bias or assumptions (notably for cost and revenue allocation) are clear. We should not have to wait until 2021 to get a measure of how the system is performing today.
The 10 Year Outlook
There is very little in this section beyond basic projections for the bus and streetcar fleets (noted earlier in this article), and a list of rapid transit projects that may or may not come to pass including:
- The Ontario Line
- Line 1 Yonge extension to Richmond Hill
- Line 2 Danforth extension to Sheppard
- Line 5 Eglinton extension west to Renforth
- Line 5 Eglinton extension east to UTSC
- SmartTrack/GO expansion
- Dundas BRT
- Durham-Scarborough BRT
- Bloor-Yonge Capacity Improvement
- Airport Transit Hub
Much of this list is not funded, and it is unclear whether any of the supposed dates for completion of these projects can be met. Even funded projects, notably the Ontario Line, face a challenging deadline and some doubt that they can be completed as soon as hoped.
Realism is not found in much of Toronto’s transit planning, a process driven more by vote getting and election cycles, and so this list is likely to change over coming years. What is a shame in the Next Stop report is that it ends with a catalog of projects that will consume much attention and money over the 2020s while the surface network scrambles to get the leftover crumbs.
In future articles, I will address:
- The 2020 Service Plan’s evaluation of proposed changes to TTC services
- The Express Bus Network service levels
- The effect of “reliability improvements” on service levels