The TTC Board met on Thursday December 12, 2019 at 1 pm to discuss a variety of issues. Note that there is a special meeting on Monday, December 16, 2019 at 9:30 am to discuss the operating and capital budgets for 2020.
Items on the agenda include:
- The CEO’s Report
- Financial Update for the Period Ending October 5, 2019
- Two Notices of Motion by Commissioner/Councillor Brad Bradford regarding service quality on routes 70 O’Connor and 92 Woodbine South
- Subway Closures Review for 2019 and Forecast for 2020-2022
Also on the agenda was the 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook which I have addressed in separate articles:
- TTC’s Service Plan 2020-2024: Too Much Gloss, Not Enough Substance?
- TTC Annual Service Plan for 2020
There is an update on the discussion at the meeting regarding this plan at the end of this article.
CEO’s Report for December 2019
The CEO’s Report contains the usual collection of statistics and performance indicators, and as usual it received little discussion by the Board.
Ridership has been improving and catching up with the budgeted level, although the TTC is still falling short due to the extreme cold weather of early 2019. See the section on the Quarterly Financial Update for more information on this topic.
Presto usage is running well ahead of 2018 as riders shift to the fare card as their mode of payment. The effect of discontinuing tokens and tickets will not show up until, at best, the December 2019 data and probably later as riders work through their stock of old fare media.
Subway service performance is reported on a different basis from the surface routes. For a subway train to be “on time” it must leave the terminal within 1.5 times the scheduled headway. Whether it is strictly “on time” is of no consequence. All lines show very high performance numbers on this basis in part because the automatic dispatching system pushes trains out of terminals when their departure time arrives.
Service capacity on Line 1 Yonge-University, expressed as a percentage of the scheduled value, has improved in 2019 over the previous year. At key stations on the lower Yonge line, this should improve in 2020 after that segment cuts over to ATC operation and the queuing of trains on station approaches should be shorter. This will allow faster arrival of following trains and longer dwell times without holding up service. The delivered capacity percentages should rise further.
On Line 2 Bloor-Danforth, the capacity percentage has been running above 2018 values since the summer. It is intriguing to note the 100% values in the summer when, on Line 2, scheduled headways are widened. The AM peak scheduled service has varied over the year.
Period Headway Gap Trains January to June 22 2'21" 0 June 23 to Aug 3 2'39" 1 Aug 4 to Aug 31 2'39" 2 Sept 1 to Present 2'21" 1
This implies that the “winter” AM peak headway of 2’21” with no gap trains was more difficult to operate than the “summer” headway of 2’39” with one or two gap trains. It would be useful for the TTC to understand how much each factor contributes to capacity running below or at the scheduled value.
Toronto Rocket Trains (Lines 1 and 4)
The Toronto Rocket (TR) trains continue to perform well, although without some of the high points reached in 2017. It is important to remember that the number of delays chargeable as a “failure” for this metric is small each month, and so a change of one or two either way can make a big swing in the MDBF value.
T1 Trains (Line 2)
The T1 trains, the older of Toronto’s two subway fleets, has been improving in 2019 and their reliability sometimes exceeds that of the newer TRs. Note that the chart below is at half the scale of the one for TRs with gridlines every 250k kilometres, as compared to 500k above.
Streetcar “on time” performance is measured only at terminals, and the target is for vehicles to leave no more than one minute early or up to five minutes late to their scheduled departures. This would seem like an easy target to hit especially for routes whose schedules have been revised with extra running time, but the TTC actually achieves only about 73% in their best month for 2019.
It is important to note that the six minute rule has its limitations for routes with frequent service. On a five minute scheduled headway, two streetcars could leave together and still both be considered “on time” for these stats. The shorter the scheduled headway gets, the more vehicles can fit into the “on time” window, and on a two minute headway, three vehicles running in a pack would be “on time”. The TTC does not measure service reliability, nor does it publicly report on crowding.
In response to political pressure, TTC management have worked for years to reduce the use of “short turns” as a service management tool. In the past, this was a quick way to attempt to get operators back “on time”, but at the cost of service quality beyond the short turn location. The number of short turns has been driven down to very low values, although at times this comes at the expense of service management and filling of bona fide gaps after delays. Note that since May 2019, the values shown are close to zero. From observation riding the system, this is simply not possible given the short turns I have seen, but the management goal is to drive this number down, and that is what the chart shows.
The CLRV fleet is nearing retirement with its last day planned for December 29, 2019. Reliability of the vehicles has been falling, although this is partly offset in the stats by the retirement of the least-reliable members of the fleet. Beginning in 2020, only the new Flexity Low Floor LRVs will be in service.
The Flexity Low Floow fleet’s performance is reported on two metrics. One is the “operational method” used for the CLRV and Bus fleets where all types of failures are counted. The other is the “contractual” method where only failures that are a fault of manufacturing are counted. The latter value is used for acceptance purposes, but the former tells a story from the riders’ point of view where any failure causes delay, regardless of the responsibility for it.
The number of Road Calls and Change Offs continues to decline showing the effect of retiring the older, less reliable cars.
“On time” departures for bus routes run slightly better than for streetcars (around 75% for buses versus 70% for streetcars), but this is still far from the target. Like the streetcar routes, bus routes have problems with bunching and gapping right at terminals, a condition that worsens as vehicles travel along their routes.
As with the streetcar routes, the number of short turns has been driven down to a very low value, well below the target. This is clearly the result of a “no short turns” policy even though the TTC denies that one exists.
Reliability of the bus fleet continues to exceed the target level. The recent improvement is a direct result of two factors: the oldest and least reliable buses have been replaced with new vehicles, and the TTC has a large ratio of spare buses to service requirements allowing more pro-active maintenance and allowing the worst of the fleet to stay off of the road.
The reliability improvement possible with a younger fleet and better maintenance shows up in the drop in Road Calls and Change Offs over past years.
The TTC does not break down its bus fleet reliability numbers by type of vehicle, but this would be worth tracking as we work through the gradual shift from “clean” diesels, through hybrids to battery electric buses. At present, only a handful of the 60 battery buses on order have been delivered, and even fewer can actually be found in revenue service.
The Queensway Service Interruption
On Wednesday, November 27, 2019, service was suspended on The Queensway, and later all streetcars were removed from route 501 Queen following the discovery of damage to the track brakes of 22 cars. Although the reason for this was not originally reported, it is now known that there was a six-inch long piece of broken rail at the Queen & Roncesvalles intersection and this allowed track brakes to strike the rail or roadbed shearing them off of their mounts. Awaiting identification of the problem, streetcar service was suspended for 2.5 days, and there was a lot of information of dubious quality floating in the media about the cause.
This location has been pending reconstruction for some time and the track is in poor condition. However, various factors prevented the work from happening. It was last scheduled for 2019, and now is targeted for 2021. Other major projects on Bathurst and on College/Dundas are scheduled for 2020, and these cannot be in progress concurrently with work at King-Queen-Roncesvalles because this would isolate a large part of the streetcar network.
Meanwhile, the TTC will pay much more attention to preventative maintenance so that this type of event will not recur. Management was asked what the cost of repairing 22 cars and running the replacement bus service was compared to the cost of fixing the rail. They didn’t know, but will report back. Anyone who rides around the streetcar system will be able to point at other locations needing attention that are probably languishing awaiting a major repair project. Unless the TTC takes more care, this will not be an isolated incident.
A description of the planned reconstruction is in this report from January 2019: Roadway Alteration and Traffic/Parking Amendments The Queensway, Queen Street West, King Street West and Roncesvalles Avenue
I have recently received the vehicle tracking data for November 2019, and plan to investigate the travel times and speeds of the replacement bus service along various sections of the 501 route as compared to streetcar operations. Given that there are other major issues, notably the TTC budget, in the pipeline, this comparison will not appear until later in December.
Financial Update for the Period Ending October 5, 2019
The TTC’s operating results will come out on budget overall for 2019 with a lower than expected subsidy on the conventional system offset by extra costs on Wheel-Trans.
The capital budget will be 82.7% spent within the year. The shortfall is due to timing issues both with deferred projects and with work that will spill over into 2020. The low spending on the Transit Expansion projects reflects the transfer of this work to Metrolinx.
The passenger count is down from budget due in part to the cold weather in early 2019, but ridership has been growing later in the year and this is projected to bring the year-end numbers closer to budget than the results for the first nine months. An important issue that has been discussed elsewhere is that although “ridership” in the conventional sense was falling, “boardings” are going up and crowding remains an issue. Riders may be paying the equivalent of fewer fares due to changes in the fare rules and pass usage, but the number of passengers boarding vehicles is rising.
The average fare is slightly below budget. In past years, the TTC has seen ridership shortfalls partly offset by a higher average fare, but this has not happened in 2019.
The CEO’s Report includes a breakdown of the ridership changes. On a year-over-year basis (not the same as the calendar year basis used here), adult ridership is up 7.4 million offset by lower ridership by seniors and youth (down 1.6 million), children (down 3 million) and day and weekly passes (2 million).
Expenses are running below budget for a variety of factors including:
- Labour costs are down due to one-time underspending for deferred hires (Transit Enforcement Officers and Instructors), and lower average wage rates due to higher-than-planned numbers of new operator hires (junior operators are paid at a lower rate).
- Non-labour costs are down thanks to improved vehicle reliability, as well as a one-time saving due to the later implementation of the Vision tracking system on streetcars than originally planned.
- Diesel fuel consumption by new buses is lower than the projection used in the budget.
- Other costs are down primarily due to one-time effects of the timing of occupancy of a new warehouse ($3 million) and lower Presto commissions ($2.5 million) due to the later cutoff of legacy fare media in 2019 than planned in the budget.
Revenue includes a $19.7 million draw from reserves. This will almost exhaust the city’s transit reserve fund, and this draw is one-time revenue because the money will not be available in 2020 and beyond. This as well as the one-time cost reductions noted above will contribute to pressure on balancing the 2020 operating budget.
Comparing 2019 to 2018, the major changes are in labour and benefit costs. Some of these are due to contracted increases ($29 million), and others (CPP enhancements and OHIP+) to legislative changes. Some of the labour cost increase arises from providing more service.
Presto fees are higher in 2019 compared to 2018 (up $25 million) as the take-up of the new fare card proceeds. This is not offset by reduction in legacy fare costs ($5 million) because the two systems still co-exist.
Wheel-Trans results are affected primarily by the shift of longer trips to contracted taxis. Spending on that account is over budget while costs in other areas run below budget, but not by enough to fully offset the taxi costs.
There are no major issues in the capital budget results for 2019, and the big challenges lie in future years when the capital requirements greatly outweigh available funding.
I will write about this budget in more detail when the 2020 budgets are released. They will be discussed by the TTC Board on December 16.
Service on the 70 O’Connor and 92 Woodbine South Bus Routes
Commissioner/Councillor Bradford has proposed two motions directing staff to report in the first quarter of 2020 on problems with service reliability and crowding on two routes in his ward, These motions arise both from constituent complaints and from an article I published about 70 O’Connor on November 20, 2019.
On December 10, 2019, I received the tracking data for service on 70 O’Connor in November 2019, and the situation was as bad if not worse than in the October data. I will report on this separately, but as an initial observation can report that the bunching of multiple buses at Coxwell Station on Saturday afternoons continued through November. This was not a one-day effect on October 5, the day of the event that piqued my interest in the route.
In response to my article, the TTC suggested that it was possible that there was extra service operating on the route that was not picked up by the tracking data I receive. I have already made it clear that if they have evidence of additional service, I would be happy to include it in my analysis, but have heard nothing back on that score. Meanwhile, several users of the O’Connor bus have mentioned to me that, yes, it really is that bad, some by comments here, others on Twitter or in person. When the CBC went to Coxwell Station to interview riders, they had no problem finding people whose experience with the route matched what I reported.
As for 92 Woodbine, I do not have current data for it, and as to crowding, the TTC does not yet make its passenger counter data public for outside analysis. As I have mentioned often, they have not published riding data on a route-by-route basis since December 2016, the most recent update in Toronto’s Open Data catalog for this dataset.
“Subways last 100 years!”
That was the rallying cry of advocates of subways over LRT during the Rob Ford era in Toronto, but the reality is that things wear out and need to be rebuilt or replaced.
The TTC’s report lays out work done in 2019 together with plans for 2020 through 2022. This received a lot of attention in the media because the number of closures will go up in 2020 including:
- 27 full weekend, 8-to-14 one day, and 86 early weeknight (Monday to Thursday) shutdowns on portions of Line 1.
- 6 full weekend, 2 one day, 20 early weeknight closures; and 8 late Sunday openings on portions of Line 2.
- 1 full weekend and 2 one-day closures on Line 3.
In 2021 and 2022, the majority of the planned closures affect Line 1, but there will likely be changes and additions.
The major works in 2020 include:
- Automatic Train Control (ATC) on Line 1 Yonge
- The cutover of Phase 3B (St. Patrick to Queen) is tentatively planned for the weekend of February 22/23, and for Phase 3C (Queen to Rosedale) on November 14/15. These will require full weekend shutdowns of portions of Line 1 for the changeovers. An important factor with the Phase 3C cutover will be that operations through Bloor-Yonge should be less constrained by train congestion, although the real benefit will appear once ATC is in place to Eglinton in fall 2021.
- Construction on remaining ATC phases working north up Yonge will continue through 2020. Completion to Finch is planned for the third quarter of 2022.
- Eglinton Crosstown project
- Tunneling under the existing subway at Eglinton Station and building the links into the existing station require subway service to be suspended.
- Eight beam replacements on the Prince Edward Viaduct requiring late Sunday openings. (This is an ongoing annual plan.)
- Special trackwork replacement at York Mills centre track, Lawrence crossover (completion of 2019 work), Davisville build-up track, University wye, Broadview centre track (completion of 2019 work), and Keele crossover.
- Tie replacement (composite in place of wood) between Bloor and Rosedale stations
- Drainage work between Kennedy and Warden stations
- Asbestos abatement on the University line
Some of the shutdowns will be used for more than one project. For example, while the Crosstown work at Eglinton requires service suspension there, track replacements can proceed at other affected locations nearby.
This is all needed work, part of the unglamourous “state of good repair” projects to keep the subway running.
The Five Year Service Plan
There were several deputations to the TTC Board on this subject about which, as noted above, I wrote extensively in two previous articles. Two aspects of the plan received a lot of attention.
Express Bus Corridors
The TTC proposed to “explore” the possibility of five express bus corridors based on the fact that these handled over 30,000 weekday boardings (the legend in the chart below erroneously says “weekly boardings”).
Many deputants and some members of the Board spoke to this proposal seeing it as a way to get improved service quickly. They urged the TTC to go beyond “exploring” as soon as possible, but that will be challenging given the very different character of parts of these corridors. In particular, parts of Dufferin and of Finch East are quite narrow and the provision of dedicated space for buses without major changes to the roads would be challenging. There are places where structures such as buildings or underpass walls are in the way.
The physical limitations of these roads seems to be a mystery to some in the discussion, and I think that TTC management did everyone a disservice by making this proposal without at least a first cut at a feasibility review.
Things almost came off the rails, so to speak, when the discussion turned to a Viva-like busway system which in places is wider than the entire road allowance of some of the streets in question. (The fact that York Region, after all of this construction, chooses to run infrequent service tells us all we need to know about transit infrastructure planning.)
New Streetcars and Buses
The Service Plan includes the need for more buses and streetcars just to keep up with basic improvements, never mind any significant system expansion. A representative from Unifor, the union whose workers in Thunder Bay produce all of the TTC’s rail vehicles, spoke about the benefits of maintaining domestic production, although they could have made a better case for the suite of Bombardier products at that plant, not just the streetcars.
Reactivating the streetcar production line is relatively simple given that it is already in place. What will take time is restocking the supply chain for parts that make up the cars.
Although Thunder Bay also has produced Toronto Rocket trains, and there have been hints that we need more of these fairly soon, that production line was mothballed years ago and would take time to set up again.
There is also the basic procurement issue of whether Toronto buys from one supplier or seeks competing bids. The TTC was supposedly conducting a market “sounding” to determine what might be available for another streetcar order, but there has been no public report of the results.
In his recent announcement of an expanded City Building Levy, Mayor John Tory mentioned the need for funding for new vehicles including streetcars and subway trains. Whether this equipment will show up in the TTC’s 2020-29 capital plan remains to be seen. For far too long, necessary but unfunded projects have stayed out of sight lest their combined worth and borrowing requirements terrify the politicians. Now, if there is going to be more money for transit, the TTC and Council have to make hard decisions about priorities.
Buying new vehicles is not enough because once you own them, you have to operate them. Toronto will face future costs to operate a larger fleet and this must be acknowledged in budget projections, not treated as a surprise that nobody knew of when the bills arrive.
Finally, one Commissioner, Ron Lalonde, fell into a common trap of equating rapid transit construction with system expansion. He complained that critics of the Service Plan said it was insufficient when, in fact, the Eglinton and Finch LRT lines would be coming on stream. What he missed, as so much rapid transit advocacy misses, is that a few new lines are not a network, and there are travel needs all over the city that the new lines will not serve. Population and job growth must be addressed system-wide, not just in a few corridors. This means better service and better-managed service so that transit arrives reliably with room for would-be riders.