TTC Waffles On Reduced Crowding

Following my recent article in NOW, the TTC replied to my request for clarification of their position on crowding and how it would be addressed in their 2020 budget.

The TTC’s Stuart Green emailed on Tuesday, January 21, 2020:

The increase of 89,211 hours is comprised of the initiatives outlined in [the] table on page 18 which are described below the table on page 18.

The comments on page 17 are referencing the fact that some of these hours have been provided to preserve service standards. The crowding standard in this case is an example. No statement was made that there would be a reduction in crowding. The hours for reliability initiatives are being added to address operating needs and thereby preserve existing standards as noted in the Improvements to Surface Transit Schedules report (June 2019). The report indicated that it “is not possible to bring all schedules that actually operate outside of the tolerances of service standards in line with them within existing funding.” The 2019 funding for service reliability was used to maintain a balance between providing a reliable and comfortable service.

Page 17/18 reflect the base budget additions only. Page 22, identifies a further $3.7M investment (classified under new & enhanced). These approximately 39,000 hours are additional to the hours presented in the table on page 18 and are aligned to the 5 year service plan.  The “priority action” from the deck is linked to this specific initiative. These hours will be added in stages throughout the year, primarily in May and September.

With all of these references to other reports, a guide is required to understand what is stated here. It all begins with those 89,211 service hours, part of the increase for 2020 over the 2019 total of 9.45 million hours. Service is budgeted in hours because that is the primary driver of costs, but hours are not affected by inflation allowing service to be planned and measured on a constant basis.

They first show up on pages 17-18 of the TTC’s 2020 Operating Budget Report:

A further $4.8 million and 88 TTC operators are required to deliver an increase in service hours, which is required to adhere to the TTC’s service standards so that no more than 51 passengers are accommodated per bus in peak periods and 36 in off peak periods. To adhere to these standards, an additional 89,211 scheduled operating service hours are proposed for 2020 and is described in greater detail in the Service Budget section below.

The following section includes a table setting out the build-up of the 89,211 hours:

None of the components listed here address bringing service into line with crowding standards. Over half of the added hours simply carries forward 2019 changes into 2020 on a full-year basis, and the next highest component is the provision for the Leap Year. “Operational Flexibility” refers to additional buses that are on standby to deal with gaps and emergencies. There is an offsetting saving due to the full implementation of the new streetcar fleet.

The TTC has previously reported that some routes are operating above its crowding standards, and the TTC acknowledged in 2019 that they could not operate within these standards using existing funding. The text quoted from the budget states that the 89,211 new hours are needed to adhere to the standards. This implies that improvements would correct past problems and limit the effects of ridership growth to stay within the standards. The table shows that in fact the hours would go to other purposes.

The point was reiterated in the presentation deck used at the Board meeting which included the bullet “Delivery of expected service standards” [p 13].

In previous conversations with Stuart Green, he has described this as a problem with editing, but his email is quite explicit that “No statement was made that there would be a reduction in crowding”.

A further 39,000 hours will be added in 2020 at a cost of $3.7 million. The purpose of this is described in the TTC’s Budget Report [p 22]:

Service Reliability

5 Year Service Plan: Improvements to Surface Transit Schedules

To improve on-time performance, which is crucial to customer satisfaction, surface transit schedules will be revised to reflect operating conditions and improve reliability for customers. This is consistent with the plan outlined in the 5 Year Service Plan and 10 Year Outlook, which was presented to the Board on December 12, 2019. In all, 1,000 weekly service hours will be added over the course of 2020 at an estimated cost of $3.7 million and is essential to fulfill our commitment to customers that we will improve service reliability on our bus network.

This is our “truth in advertising” promise – that the TTC’s bus will depart on time according to published schedule. To start, service will be added on 5 of the busiest and most operationally challenging corridors in the City including 29/929 Dufferin, 35/935 Jane, 39/939 Finch East, 37/937 Islington and the 86/986 Scarborough Routes. These improvements will benefit service for 175,000 customers per weekday.

On time performance is not the same thing as route capacity, especially when the TTC only measures this at terminals and does not achieve it even there. The schedule changes often brings wider headways, less frequent service, to routes as the allocated vehicles are stretched over longer scheduled round trips. Combined with gapping and bunching of buses and streetcars, this can make for worse service, not better, but it avoids running more buses and streetcars.

It is not clear whether the TTC expects that 2020 will continue the problem that available resources will not fund service across the network to meet the service standards. CEO Rick Leary has stated that a quarterly crowding report will be coming to the TTC Board this year, but if past experience is any indication, the TTC will report vehicle loads on an average hourly basis without also showing the effects of service gaps. Crowding could be improved with more-reliably spaced service, but there is nothing to indicate that this is part of the overall plan.

What is clear is that the TTC Budget Report claimed that new resources were going to address service standards as their sole purpose, not “some” or “as an example” as the TTC claims. However, only one page later, the same resources were allocated to other changes.

What we do not see is a dedicated, explicit plan to address crowding, nor any estimate of what will be needed to achieve this. New capital funding for a variety of state of good repair projects, not to mention vehicle purchases, brought much rejoicing to the TTC. However, without clear plans and funding to operate more service, riders will not see any improvement in their daily travels.

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