TTC Board Meeting Wrap-Up: January 27, 2020

The TTC Board met on January 27 with a full agenda and several reports of interest including:

Despite its importance, the air quality study report was squeezed out for time and there was no discussion. I will turn to this in a future article with additional information from background reports.

CEO’s Report

The CEO’s Report also received only brief consideration by the Board. Among items of interest:

  • Although year-to-date ridership for 2019 to the end of November was below budget, the trend has been upward since the summer.
  • Presto ridership accounted for 394.2 million of the 484.6 million rides taken during this period, or 81.3%. Now that sales of “legacy” media have ended, the TTC expects that this proportion will grow over 2020.
  • Reliability of the new Flexity streetcars continues to be high based on contracted requirements. The “operational” metric, which includes issues that are beyond the manufacturer’s control, is running at a much lower rate and fell slightly in November. A target for this value will be established through a peer review of vehicle performance.
  • Reliability of the CLRV fleet continued to fall through November reflecting the age of the cars and the limited maintenance that cars near retirement would receive. This could be among the last reports in which the CLRVs appear as part of the fleet and service review.

The usual metrics about service quality (“on time” departure from terminals, short turns, etc.) are in this report, but the CEO advised the Board that these will be revised early in 2020. I will comment on the new charts and metrics when they appear.

Capital Investment Priorities

For details about this report, please refer to my articles:

The version of the report now posted on the TTC’s website includes an amendment to the chart showing how the Flexity streetcar order was funded. The Canadian government of the day, through the “Honourable” John Baird, famously told Toronto to “fuck off” when they sought a federal contribution, although he later apologized. As a fig leaf to hide their embarrassment, federal gas taxes were allocated by the City to this project.

Discussion of the report covered a lot of territory, and some Board members were confused about just which projects were fully funded and which were not. The problem lies in the way the information has been presented. Spending is cited for the ten year capital plan, but in many cases a project’s timelines extend beyond that horizon. There might be “100 per cent” funding for an initial stage of a project, but not for the whole thing. As the chart below shows, the spending on Subway Infrastructure, $3.7 billion from 2020 to 2029, is fully funded, but there is a further $6.5 billion lurking in the unfunded portion from 2030 onward. The degree to which various line items are funded over the full 15 year span varies with the lowest among them, the Line 2 Enhancement, sitting at only 22%.

This gives the short term impression that Toronto is well out of the woods, but in fact we have only reached a clearing.

The distinction between the “fully funded” subway projects and the one third funding allocated to surface vehicle projects was not lost on the Board. Ironically, it is with surface improvements that riders (and taxpayers) can see changes fairly quickly, but the plan is not organized to achieve this.

Some Commissioners argued that a way forward with streetcar purchases should be found, while others were concerned with the bus fleet.

Staff advised that a report on buses including an update on the electric bus test program will come to the March 2020 Board meeting. However, there is no meeting scheduled for that month. I have asked for clarification on this issue.

Councillor Carroll, with an amendment by Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong, moved and the Board approved:

1. That the TTC Board directs the TTC CEO to submit to the May 2020 TTC Board meeting a business case analysis for action on an expedited procurement plan for 20 and up to 60 streetcars included in the revised 2020 Capital Budget.

2. That the TTC Board directs the TTC CEO to report back to the Board by Q3 2020 on a vehicle procurement strategy for implementation to be included as part of the 2021 Capital Budget for the outstanding vehicles identified in the revised 2020 Capital Budget.

The motion originally spoke of only 20 streetcars (the portion funded in the plan), but Minnan-Wong argued against this on the grounds that a small order would have a higher unit cost, and that this would be a de facto sole source purchase. He is hoping for a larger order to attract interest from bidders other than Bombardier, and his amendment expanded the scope of the review to 60.

Councillor Carroll noted that the wording of this motion was worked out in discussions over the past weekend with both the CEO and the Mayor’s Office, and so the ground had been prepared.

The second part of the motion addresses the general issue of vehicle procurement and budgeting, and directs staff to include this in the 2021 Capital Budget. The purpose of this is for the TTC to maintain control of the discussion rather than ceding ground to City staff and Council. Previously, TTC management recommended a longer timeframe with a 2022 target, but this leaves important discussions of system planning, supposedly a crucial issue, in the background for far too long.

A key issue, mentioned by nobody, is that there is money in two City reserves for transit that have not been allocated:

  • The Scarborough Subway Levy, at 1.6% on the property tax, was supposed to finance the City’s share of the Scarborough extension, a project that has been taken over by the Province. It is unclear how this money will be used.
  • The original City Building Fund was to finance the City’s Smart Track contribution to the Metrolinx GO RER program. However, the actual scope of that program may change, and it is not clear that all of the SmartTrack stations will be built. With the three-stop Scarborough subway extension, the need for a Smart Track Lawrence East Station disappears, and the Gerrard Station may conflict with the Ontario Line.

With Metrolinx looking for developer contributions to station projects, it is not clear which Smart Track stations still are viable even with the City contribution.

To underpin calls for federal and provincial support of Toronto’s transit projects, Commissioner Di Laurentiis moved and the Board adopted:

That TTC staff conduct an economic benefit analysis in partnership with appropriate City staff that will identify the specific and broad underlying impetus that a properly funded and maintained Toronto transit system provides to business competitiveness and job creation in the Toronto region specifically, and Ontario as a whole.

The whole package now moves through the City’s Budget Committee to the Council meeting on February 19.

Automatic Train Control Alstom Contract Amendments

The report on the public agenda includes a substantial history of the ATC project on Line 1 Yonge-University including the changes in project scope and timelines. The current project schedule was approved by the Board in April 2019 (See: Automatic Train Control Re-Baselining and Transit Systems Engineering Review in Attachment 2, p 11 of the pdf.)

The current report provides funding for the revised scope, although the dollar value of this is not public.

Commissioner Lalonde moved an amendment that was adopted by the Board:

That staff conduct an extensive lessons-learned review of the Automatic Train Control (ATC) project prior to presenting a business case for the implementation of ATC on Line 2.

While a thorough review of major projects such as ATC are definitely worthwhile, there is a timing issue here. The Line 1 project is not supposed to be fully implemented until September 2022 and this coincides with the point where work on the Line 2 project is supposed to begin (see spending plan in the table above). The review really needs to be underway well before full implementation in order that the Line 2 project is not delayed.

Related issues are the timing of new subway car purchases and construction of a new yard for Line 2 relative to the timing of the Scarborough extension project. This is now pegged at 2029-30 in provincial plans, but there is strong pressure to pull this back closer to the original 2026-27 timeframe. Such a move would have a domino effect on the Line 2 renewal.

Keele Yard Derailment

On the morning of Wednesday, January 22, 2020, subway service on Line 2 was severely disrupted by a derailment at Keele Yard.

Four trains originate from this yard early in the day, and the fourth of these was pulling onto the main line when one axle on the fourth car of the train derailed. The train was already foul of the main line, and it was impossible to maintain service. 116 buses provided a shuttle between Jane and Ossington Stations. This disrupted bus service on other routes as vehicles and operators were redirected to the subway shuttle.

Staff report that preliminary investigation shows that two factors in combination were responsible:

  • Localized wear on rail at a switch
  • A new wheel on the axle that derailed

The wheel, with less wear than would be found on a typical wheel, was able to climb over the worn area in the track rather than following it.

Use of Keele Yard has been discontinued pending a complete review of tracks there and repairs/modifications as needed.

Presto Contract Discussion

The ongoing dispute with Metrolinx over the Presto contract continues, and this was discussed in the morning’s private session. An intriguing tidbit raised by Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong was that the TTC had made a Freedom of Information request to Metrolinx, but this was rejected. If negotiations have reached that level, this process is neither harmonious nor is it likely to be resolved soon.

5 thoughts on “TTC Board Meeting Wrap-Up: January 27, 2020

  1. This statement in the Star from TTC official seems a bit ominous:

    “Monaco said the rail at Keele had likely become so worn down because a piece of equipment called a kick plate that’s supposed to guide trains’ wheels over the tracks had been missing from the yard since 2015.

    He said he didn’t know why it went missing, but it has to be custom made and isn’t readily replaced. The problem may have gone undetected because Keele, which holds only four trains, is much smaller than the TTC’s busy Greenwood and Wilson Yards, and gets less attention from staff, Monaco said.”

    I suppose that an organisation that has staff who seem unable to see and remove old route diversion notices in subway stations cannot be expected to have people who might see less obvious potential problems!

    Steve: Interesting. That was in an interview separate from the meeting. Fort Monaco was not as descriptive as that in the meeting itself. I wonder how they could know it was missing since 2015.

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  2. Regarding derailed subway train blocking the eastward main track at Keele Yard. Where was the derailed car in the consist? Unless it was foul the cars should have been uncoupled and pulled away. Delay minimal compared to what took place.

    If the derailed car itself was blocking the main track why weren’t trains operated against the current of traffic one at a time? Capacity would still be there just slower.

    Steve: As I said in the article, it was the fourth car of the train that derailed. The train (as can be plainly seen on news photos of the event) was leaving the track in the yard closest to the main line, and the third car was already foul of the eastbound rail. There is also the problem that a power cut was needed to work on the derailed car. In the photos it is clear that the lead pair of cars was uncoupled and moved west toward Keele Station. As for wrong rail operation, Line 2’s signal system does not support this, and even if it did, the next opportunity to resume two-way operation would have been at Ossington. There would have been huge gaps in service between platoons of trains in each direction.

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  3. In the Presto contract discussion, is it publicly known which items are settled, and which are still in dispute? For example, does the discussion include the replacement of paper transfers on buses and streetcars as they cannot open fare gates at subway stations?

    Steve: No, we don’t know which items are settled, but the replacement of paper transfers has been reported as an issue between the TTC and Metrolinx. The whole idea of major technical changes appears, from Metrolinx point of view, to be something that must await the next generation of Presto products. Remember that transfers will exist only for cash fares once the stock of tokens and tickets is used up by riders. The whole problem of fare gates being unable to read anything other than an NFC-capable device, as opposed to an optical code, created a huge barrier from the outset in which the TTC must take some responsibility for approving that implementation.

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  4. Though it will obviously depend on how one measures ‘on time’ (and who does the measuring!), this Montreal plan is interesting.

    The director of the region’s transit governing body wants guarantees that Montreal’s chronically late buses will arrive on time.
    “It has to be improved,” said Daniel Bergeron, the executive director of planning for the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain, which oversees transit planning in the region.

    The ARTM sets fares, collects public money and doles it out to operator agencies like the Société de transport de Montréal.

    Bergeron said future funding of the STM and other operators will be tied to performance.

    He told the Montreal Gazette he’s concerned about the slow growth of transit in the region, as only 24 per cent of commuters use public transit, compared with 23 per cent in 2013, according to a study published last week.

    Bergeron said part of the way to entice more people to take transit is to improve the quality of bus service.

    Steve: If this were to happen in Toronto, there would be two effects. First, management would concoct KPIs they could easily hit. Second, they would miss them, and the funding cuts would translate to less, not better, service.

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  5. Have they supplied a link to “TTC’s 2020-2029 Key Capital Investment Priorities”? Currently it’s a Placeholder Report.

    Steve: It’s been on the agenda for some time and is linked from this article.

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