Starving the Bus Network for Service

My recent article for NOW Toronto, TTC Bus Service Losing Ground, reviewed the problem of passenger congestion on TTC bus routes and the long-standing failure of service to keep up with the rising population and employment in Toronto. This article presents the details and the wider context.

When Transit City was proposed back in 2007, the TTC expected that over the course of its implementation a large number of buses would be replaced by an LRT network that would, by today, be substantially complete. In turn, this would reduce the need for new bus storage and maintenance facilities because the growth would occur in suburban LRT barns at the Mount Dennis yard on the Eglinton line, on Finch near Highway 400, and on Sheppard East at Conlins Road.

One new garage was planned in Scarborough, although the project was delayed by Mayor Rob Ford. The garage on McNicoll will finally open late in 2020. However, the demand for storage space at existing overcrowded garages simply means that McNicoll will be full the day it opens and the TTC will be back in a situation where fleet expansion requires garages to have more buses than they were designed for. A ninth bus garage sits in the long term plans with a 2031 opening date, but there is no funding for it and the TTC has yet to identify a potential property. They will remain short of garage space for the coming decade.

This creates an odd sort of response to requests for more service: we have no place to store the buses. That, of course, is a chicken-and-egg situation where the TTC (and the City) can avoid the cost of providing more service by claiming that they couldn’t run more buses if they wanted to. Unfortunately, this does not accelerate the provision of more garage space, and the service vs storage deadlock remains.

The amount of service the TTC fields every day is affected by several factors:

  • the size of the fleet
  • the average capacity of a bus
  • the average age and reliability of the fleet
  • the proportion of the fleet needed for maintenance spares
  • the number of buses required to supplement the streetcar network
  • the number of buses reserved for extra service, especially to handle subway emergencies
  • the budget for service

As the TTC migrated from a fleet of high-floor to low-floor buses, the capacity of vehicles dropped by about ten percent. This meant that more buses were required to provide the same level of service, a process that occurred gradually until late 2015 when the last of the high-floor buses were retired. Conversely, low-floor two-section articulated buses can carry about 50% more passengers than a standard bus. These vehicles began to appear in the TTC’s fleet in 2014, but they make up less than 10% of the fleet today. The only planned expansion is for the TTC to buy 68 more in 2021.

Older buses tend not to work as reliably as young ones, and if a fleet is not regularly replaced, a higher proportion of it can fall into those “twilight years” when maintenance needs are higher and buses are more likely to fail in service. The TTC used to keep its buses for about 18 years and overhauled them twice during their lifespan. The argument for this was that the overhauls were cheaper than simply buying a new bus.

However, the bus building industry no longer produces vehicles with a long intended lifespan, and 12 years is a more common retirement age. This also avoids the need for that second overhaul to keep an older bus on the street.

The TTC has shifted to a 12 year replacement cycle for buses, and took advantage of federal “stimulus” funding to replace many older vehicles that otherwise would have remained in service. This gets over the one time “hump” of changing to a shorter life-cycle, but it also accelerates the need for ongoing spending because the annual replacement rate is now 50% higher – about 180 buses per year, rather than 120. This budget effect is compounded by the shift to more expensive hybrid or all-electric vehicles.

The newer generation of buses is also more technically complex, and a larger proportion of the fleet is required for spares to ensure that maintenance is preventative, fix-before-break work rather than gambling that a bus will continue to run even after it should have come into the shop for a check-up. A few years ago, the TTC changed its maintenance practices so that buses cycled through routine inspection and repair more frequently with the aim of reducing in-service failures. This had the desired effect, but at a cost of taking a larger maintenance pool from the fleet than in past years.

Finally, new buses often go through retrofit programs during their warranty period, and this further increases spare requirements if there is a sudden influx of new buses in a short time period.

That’s just the story on the maintenance side, but there is also the dreaded line whenever service is discussed: “subject to budget availability”. In other words, even if there are enough buses to improve service, there may not be the operating budget dollars (and the drivers this would pay) to actually field more vehicles.

Both the streetcar and subway networks make demands on the bus fleet.

It is no secret that the TTC has had problems with both its old and new streetcar fleets, but the biggest problem now is that growing demand on the streetcar routes exceeds the capacity of the new streetcar fleet.

  • When there were too few streetcars to operate that network, buses substituted to make up the difference.
  • Traffic congestion continues to worsen leading to slower service.
  • Construction projects shut down parts of the streetcar network from time to time.

At various times over recent years, there have been buses running on portions of Carlton, Dundas, Queen, King, Kingston Road and Bathurst. Some of these cases have been complete replacements while others are on portions of lines affected by construction.

With the streetcar shortage, construction work provided a rationale to bus a route and free up vehicles, but this grew beyond beyond construction season to semi-permanent replacements.

During the summer, the TTC has surplus vehicles and streetcar substitutions do not affect the availability of buses on bus routes.

Long-running projects (such as the water main reconstruction on Dundas) and route conversions due to a shortage of streetcars (such as on Kingston Road) are another matter. These take buses away from the bus network during the peak season. That said, the number of buses involved has been overplayed in some circles primarily as a way of carping about the Bombardier cars or about streetcars in general.

Subway shuttles place their greatest demand on the bus fleet when emergencies occur during the peak period. There are some vehicles at each garage that are “run as directed” buses, but these are nowhere near enough to make up for losing a busy part of the subway system. If there is a peak period shuttle, it requires not just the spare buses but vehicles and operators “borrowed” from other routes.

There is always a balancing act between having enough spare buses and staff to drive them for most emergencies, and the cost of having unused resources that are always a target for the budget hawks looking for “waste” in the TTC.

All of these factors affected and constrained the growth in bus service over the past decade, and will continue to do so without a significant change in TTC planning and funding policy.

Evolution of Bus Network Capacity

The chart below shows the number of buses in service during the AM peak period.

Source: TTC Schedule Service Summaries. Current versions of these documents are available on the TTC Planning page, and an archive of older versions is on this site under “Reference Material”.

The green portion of the bars show the articulated bus fleet from 2014 onward, and the red portion shows the buses dedicated to streetcar lines. Note that the TTC bus fleet is over 2,000 vehicles, but the scheduled service sits at about 1,600. This shows that the TTC has a spare ratio of at least 25% which is high by industry standards. For every four buses in service, one is in maintenance. This begs the question of whether the worst of the worst buses in the fleet ever get out of the yard.

The chart below is an adjusted version with each articulated bus counting for 1.5 standard sized vehicles. The green band is wider, but not by much. Of particular note is the fact that the top of the green band (the capacity of buses operating on bus routes) has not changed very much. This is a direct result of the limit on fleet growth and the high proportion of spares.

The afternoon peak fares somewhat better because there are fewer vehicles in service then compared to the morning. This means that there is more headroom for service growth without expanding the fleet.

Another way to look at these data is to plot the capacity of scheduled service to a base year. The chart below uses February 2014, six years ago, as a reference. To put this in a political context:

  • 2010: The last year of David Miller’s mayoralty
  • 2011-2014: The years of the Rob Ford mayoralty (yes, the election was in fall 2010, but the effects of a new administration take a while to show up in budgets and agency plans)
  • 2015-2018: John Tory’s first term as mayor.
  • 2019-present: John Tory’s second term.

Even during the Ford era, there was some growth in the capacity of TTC bus service, although this was in part due to a budgetary windfall the TTC had and they could afford to improve service.

Growth during the Tory era has been slow, especially for AM peak service thanks to the constraints on fleet size and the allocation of new vehicles to priorities like maintenance, not to additional service. The only significant network change occurred in December 2017 when the Vaughan subway extension opened.

A Publicity Shell Game

Express Buses

Some years ago, the TTC Board told management “build us an express bus network”, and in due course the 900-series of bus routes came to be. There was only one small problem: almost all of the routes were identical to the “E” branches of existing routes. They had a new brand and colour, but very little actual change in service.

See Express Buses: Real Change or Photo Ops?

Recently, I updated the history of the 900 services to show changes since they were introduced. In several cases, service is less frequent now thanks to schedule changes in the name of “reliability”. To put this another way, the TTC tried to make some express buses too “express” and drivers could not keep up with the scheduled travel times. The fix was simply to run the same buses on wider headways (the interval between buses) and thereby extend the travel times at no cost.

The TTC trumpeted the express bus network, but in almost every case, it was a case of business as usual, not a real improvement.

Reliability Adjustments

Throughout 2019 the TTC made schedule changes on many routes in the name of service reliability. There were two motivations for these changes:

  • increased traffic congestion
  • a desire to schedule service so that most buses under most conditions would be able to make their trips without being short turned

These are valid goals on their face, but in the majority of cases they were achieved by running buses further apart in order to lengthen trip times. For example, if 10 buses run every five minutes on a route, then the round trip time is 50 minutes. If they run every six minutes, the round trip is 60 minutes giving them 20% more time, but at the expense of a 20% cut in service capacity. If one wanted to maintain the 5 minute frequency, but with the longer travel time, then 2 more buses would be needed.

The TTC argues that the “before” service would already be performing worse than the scheduled value and, therefore, the change would not be as great as it appears. However, wider headways combine with the typical irregularity of service to mask any benefit. Moreover, the goal of reduced short turns benefits riders on the portions of routes where fewer or no short turns makes for better service, but at the expense of overall line capacity.

Also, when travel times are more than most trips will actually require, drivers have less incentive to stay on time because they can always make up time from the padded schedule. There is a trade-off in that schedules with more generous times allow service to reach the terminal even under poor conditions (bad weather, unusual congestion along the route).

However, this tactic is driven by the two measures reported for service quality:

  • the number of short turns
  • on time performance

These do not give a full overview of service quality along a route, but the schedules are built to make those numbers look good. This provides “improvements” on paper, but not necessarily for service overall.

A related issue is crowding. If buses are scheduled to run less frequently, then more riders are on each vehicle. This strains route capacity and, in some cases, pushes crowding beyond TTC standards. There has been talk at TTC Board meetings about a regular crowding report, but nothing has appeared yet.

The actual changes in bus schedules for 2019 were reviewed in a series of articles on this site broken down geographically across the city.

Buses on Streetcar Routes

The need for buses to supplement or replace streetcars on some routes is often cited as one reason service cannot grow. This is misleading because (a) the number of buses allocated to streetcar service is low relative to the fleet, and (b) that number has declined from its peak. If the buses now used for streetcar route service went back to the bus network, they would only provide a one-time 4% capacity increase. This assumes that the buses would actually find their way to bus routes rather then being retired.

Current plans for bus replacements are:

  • March 29, 2020:
    • Streetcar service returns to 505 Dundas supplemented by some peak period bus trippers.
    • Streetcars removed from 511 Bathurst for construction projects.
  • Spring-Summer 2020:
    • Streetcars removed from 506 Carlton for construction projects.
    • 505 Dundas route shortened due to construction on Dundas west of Lansdowne.
    • 503 Kingston Road route reverts to streetcar operation between Bingham Loop (Victoria Park) and Charlotte Loop (at Spadina & King).

This basically shuffles streetcars around between routes where they can operate, but does not drive up the bus requirements. In any event, much of this period corresponds to the summer holiday interval when there are many spare buses.

The Five Year Service Plan and Ten Year Outlook

The TTC has a plan for where its services are headed, and I reviewed it in detail a few months ago. While this plan looks good as a glossy document, it is not an aggressive attempt to build transit’s role for mobility in Toronto.

The anticipated total ridership for 2019 is 525.3 million. Within a five year horizon to 2024, the plan aims at ridership growth to 560 million in 2024. This is a compound annual growth rate of about 1.25%. This will keep up with population and employment growth, but will not shift many more riders to transit.

The peak bus fleet is planned to grow by about 80 vehicles (about 5%), but two other changes will free up vehicles for redeployment within the network:

  • The opening of Line 5 Crosstown will release between 50-60 buses from the Eglinton corridor for use on other routes.
  • The planned purchase of additional streetcars will reduce, although not necessarily eliminate, the need for buses on streetcar routes.

A key point will be whether the TTC (and City Council) treat the replacement of buses by expanded rail operations as a chance to improve service elsewhere, or instead as a chance to cut the size of the fleet and save on operating costs. Opening Line 5 is projected to add substantially to the TTC’s net budget (the portion paid for through subsidy), and there will be a strong temptation to “save” money by retiring rather than redeploying buses no longer needed for the Eglinton corridor.

The ten year outlook makes no mention of a ninth bus garage for future growth because it currently lies just beyond the plan’s horizon in 2031. However, planning and construction must begin within this decade, and that would have to be accelerated if a more aggressive growth policy were attempted on the transit system.

TTC management does not intend to revisit this plan until mid-2021 for the 2022 budget cycle.

In the short term, the political emphasis lies with rapid transit projects and the provincial plan for new routes: the Ontario line (aka Relief line), the Eglinton West LRT subway, the Richmond Hill extension of Line 1, and the Scarborough Subway extension. For these projects, Queen’s Park hopes that the federal government will make a 40% capital contribution, but it is not clear whether this will happen, nor how much these projects will crowd out other capital needs.

The recently approved City Building Fund includes money for buses and streetcars, but only one third of the total needed on the assumption other governments will each chip in a third. The buses this money will buy primarily will go to replacing older vehicles, not expanding service. The need to buy about 180 buses a year just to stand still takes big bite out of capital budgets, especially with buses now costing $1.0 to $1.5 million each for green technology.

A constant problem in TTC planning is the reticence to “think big” in the name of fiscal sustainability. For many years, this produced capital budgets that hid billions of dollars in necessary projects lest politicians were terrified by the effect this would have on taxes either directly, or through borrowing. Operating budget projections ignored the cost of substantial system expansion.

The result was a mindset that transit cannot be expanded because it is “too expensive”.

The capital plan unveiled in 2019 shook the ground under the city’s financial planners, not to mention Council, but at least it gave a sense of the spending actually needed. Even at that, the plans for surface service are modest and, at the time it was published, did not account for additional costs of electrification of part or all of the bus network.

With the political focus on rapid transit, Toronto has no idea of what would be needed or what could be achieved if plans for the surface network aimed higher.

19 thoughts on “Starving the Bus Network for Service

  1. And yet we’re already taxed to the hilt in this country. I would love to see improved transit across the board. But we need to have a mature conversation about why transit building costs have grown so much and how effectively our money is being used (without the usual tax’n’spend vs austerity hysterics).

    Steve: Transit building costs a lot because we choose very expensive options, for starters. Also, of course, that topic has little to do with the shortfalls of bus service except that money spent needlessly on rapid transit projects is not available for the more prosaic business of improving bus routes.


  2. hallepernia wrote: “But we need to have a mature conversation about why transit building costs have grown so much”

    The answer is simple: poor planning by governments for decades. That’s why, as much as she doesn’t like the term, Hazel McCallion is known as the Queen of Sprawl. She was all for building new subdivisions because of the development charges and increased property taxes that they brought in but she never did anything about transit until it was too late. The same goes for much of Canada. For example, we could have had a subway on Eglinton if Mike Harris and his buddy Doug Ford Sr. (aka the father of current Premier Doug Ford and his late brother Rob) hadn’t killed the line AFTER the city had begun building the line. It was simply filled in. Jump forward 25 years and the line is late being completed, costs a fortune, and is an LRT that is not completely underground.

    If you don’t like the costs for transit, put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the politicians who can’t seem to do anything. For example, in the last 10 years we have talked about an extension to the Bloor-Danforth line in Scarborough but nothing has occurred – it’s all talk. Yet, in China they can build a ton of transit lines in less than 10 years.


  3. hallepernia wrote: “But we need to have a mature conversation about why transit building costs have grown so much and how effectively our money is being used (without the usual tax’n’spend vs austerity hysterics).”

    We also need to have a mature conversation about how local government works and how tax income is distributed among the different levels of government. The idea that a modern, multi-million people city should rely almost entirely on property tax revenue is utterly outdated. So is the idea that any autonomy such a city has exists solely at the discretion of the provincial legislature.


  4. Mayor Allan “Lampy” Lamport had it right decades ago. “Build one mile of subway every year.” Too bad nobody listened to him!

    Steve: Yes, but there would still be many bus routes in need of service even if we had lots of subways.


  5. The number of buses I see “laying over” at stations during rush hour is crazy! Prime example is Kipling and Royal York Stations, buses parked waiting to re-enter service after dropping passengers. We are talking 5-10 minutes sitting there parked empty.

    Steve: Yes, the effect of padding running times so that it is almost impossible for a bus to have to short turn results in many buses being very early. I have been collecting data on many bus routes across the city and plan to delve into this problem in more detail in coming weeks and months. It’s one thing to be able to guarantee service, but the number of buses wasted this way on some routes is very troubling. Also, of course, with so much extra running time, buses can leave late and still be guaranteed a decently long layover at the other end of a route. This is an issue for line management and service reliability, something the TTC does not report on meaningfully.


  6. Many thanks Steve, for this assessment, though it is disappointing in some ways. I do hope you have all of this site backed up/archived elsewhere.

    With the ‘taxed to the hilt’ opinion, in some ways, yes, but in other ways – like subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and autmobiles, nope. One figure I like bringing out nearly every year at budget time from 1996 was from Vancouver as reported in the Globe, where they found that every car had a subsidy of about $2700, or seven times more than what transit was given. (Jan 10, 1996 Globe). So the alleged fiscal conservatives are actually not at all – they tend to be ‘carservative’ first and foremost, and interested in keeping the suburban votorists happy, which means making the core pay, one way or the other, along with the future eg. climate. Caronic denial is alive and well – the Council wouldn’t even vote for a study of a Vehicle Registration Tax, though they did move towards looking at some form of user pay for storm drainage, much of which is needed from the large amounts of land under asphalt.

    Public transit is also waaay better for public health – though with this virus scare, odds are high that the transit may be far less popular, and maybe biking will surge, and since we’ve been lagging in the long-haul and safe/smooth networks eg. Bloor/Danforth as one salient example, maybe more cyclists’ deaths, sigh. And it’s not always the cars: the streetcar track margins are often in horrible shape and could well tip a cyclist in to traffic, apart from the rails, and nobody is interested it seems in fixing all that up, despite Notice of Hazard and some fussings in deputations.
    It is a big mess isn’t it? F’ed up before the Fords, though it doesn’t hurt truth much to opine that things got Forded up more with their ascents…

    And as the Province seems remarkably obstructionist, forceful and dumb with their priority projects, let’s try to spike all that funding ask at the federal level, as a survival strategy, though yes, of course federal support – if wise – would be extremely helpful.

    Steve: Transit’s attractiveness may take a short-term hit from the virus scare (and equally from a simple drop in demand as people work from home and public gatherings are reduced), but this too shall pass. Anyone who makes transit policy on the basis that there is less demand because of a social/economic downturn perpetuates the same myth from the 1990s that saw us redirect the emphasis on more transit downtown (the Relief Line) to overbuilt suburban extension proposals. Remember that in the mid 1990s there was “spare” capacity on the Yonge line and the Richmond Hill extension could be built to use it up.

    The demand, the riders came back in droves as the GTA grew, and the same will happen again. An anti-transit spending policy would put us even deeper in the hole we have been digging for at least a quarter century.


  7. Following up on Mike’s comment, the charts showing gradual buildup in service over the years don’t tell the whole story because they have been distorted by the recent spate of “reliability improvement” service changes that have resulted in more time sitting around at terminals and less time actually on the road carrying passengers.

    Last night I went through the AM peak period vehicle allocation, running times and “terminal times” for each route/branch in March 2020 and in March 2017 (looking for a reasonably comparable period before most of the “reliability” service changes started). For simplicity I ignored trippers, and I only looked at bus routes (did not include buses running on streetcar routes).

    In March 2017, there were 1,458 buses out on the street. On average, the terminal time made up 4.1% of the scheduled time, and buses were actually “in service” 95.9% of the time. So for each hour those 1,458 buses ran, they actually operated 1,398 hours of service.

    In March 2020, there are now 1,499 buses out on the street, which is a 2.8% increase from 3 years ago. But now the terminal time makes up 11.1% of the scheduled time, so those buses are only in service for 88.9% of the time, which works out to 1,332 service hours — a 4.7% decrease from 3 years ago. The TTC is paying 3% more (not counting inflation) for 5% less service.

    Another thing that emerged from looking at the March 2020 schedules — seeing the number of routes that are overly “padded”. There are 35 branches (15% of all branches) where terminal time makes up more than 20% of the scheduled time, using 144 buses (10% of all buses). The worst offenders: the 76B (12 out of 30 minutes is terminal time / 68%), the 40B (13 out of 40 minutes / 68%), the 64 (8 out of 25 minutes / 68%). The 64 in particular I can’t understand why the terminal time needs to be so generous — it is a short route on low-traffic streets, there is nowhere really on the route that can cause service to be unreliable to that extent, and they’re not using layover time as a tool to align with another branch or keep to a clockface headway. They could easily cut the terminal time back from 8 to 3 minutes (which would still be 15% terminal time) and get an instant service improvement from 8:20 headways to 6:40 headways.

    I would be curious if midday or evening or weekend service would be better or worse in terms of wasted terminal time.

    Steve: A few months back I did a five part series looking at allegedly “improved” routes over 2019 documenting that almost all of the changes brought wider headways, longer travel and especially recovery times.

    Because detailed data from the Vision tracking system only became available in October 2019, I was not able to track the change in route behaviours from about April 2018 for 18 months. I am about to begin a series of articles on routes that had “reliability” improvements and what happened. There was one early example when I reviewed 41 Keele and was not impressed by what I found. The basic problem is that there is no headway management, and with wider scheduled headways the service was even worse after it was “improved”.

    There was one exception to the pattern, 505 Dundas, about which I am about to start writing. However, the extra running time there had a perverse effect that service actually improved and ran faster with longer running times. This sounds perverse, but you will have to wait for the article to find out what was happening.

    Thanks for compiling the stats on buses and bus hours actually in service.


  8. I originally posted and Steve replied

    “Mayor Allan “Lampy” Lamport had it right decades ago. “Build one mile of subway every year.” Too bad nobody listened to him!”

    Steve: Yes, but there would still be many bus routes in need of service even if we had lots of subways.

    Agreed. What I was trying to address was your remarks about subway costs, long construction time etc. Which results in our current troublesome situation with various changes or attempts for some to get what they “deserve” rather than the overall good.

    Lamport was referring to high costs of such major projects especially high startup by contractors and the scarcity of qualified people to design and build such mammoth projects. His idea was to retain a small TTC staff of engineers etc. thus keeping better control of projects plus the ease of funding a little at a time on an ongoing basis rather than trying to come up enormous amounts of money. Likely such a method would result in less interference by people trying to get their own way. Building one piece, one station and marching ahead bit by bit would keep things on track in more ways than one!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oops on the 76B stats! Of course 12 minutes terminal time out of 30 is 60% actual in-service time, not 68%. So in other words the 76B buses spend 40% of their time sitting around somewhere (Royal York station? somewhere in north Mimico?).

    Steve: Yes it’s an odd situation where the 76B is a half hourly service even though the actual travel time is well under that length in some off-peak periods. What is really strange, however, is that the 18/12 driving/recovery time ratio only exists in the AM peak and weekday early evening schedules. At other times, the recovery period is much shorter and the travel time longer. The scheduled speed for the two affected periods is very high at 28.1 km/h, so much so that I wonder if this schedule can actually be achieved. Given that it’s a single bus, how the time is allocated really doesn’t matter.


  10. South of the border, people are starting to observe that buses are getting slower and slower every year due to excessive traffic, and that’s reducing ridership and making the routes more expensive to run. And their solution is more bus lanes. In fact, I think Andy Byford was championing this in NYC before he was canned. Perhaps this could be part of the eventual solution. The TTC could even calculate how much money could be saved and how much more efficiently they would be using the road space than cars would.


  11. Steve: A ninth bus garage sits in the long term plans with a 2031 opening date, but there is no funding for it and the TTC has yet to identify a potential property.

    There is a low usage adult school slated for closure on the south side of Danforth just east of the Bloor St Viaduct. That would be a perfect space for a new TTC bus garage near Broadview station.

    Steve: I can look out my window and see the site on the south side of Danforth. It is smaller than, for example, Eglinton Garage on Comstock Road, and is poorly located both for traffic circulation, grades and surrounding roadways. Moreover, the TTC needs a new garage on the west side of the city to balance out dead-heading costs and keep vehicles close to the routes they will serve. Broadview/Danforth is very poor for that goal.


  12. Steve, when you say we choose expensive options, I’m not sure about that. All costs have ballooned – LRT, regional rail, maintenance, SOGR etc.

    Steve: We choose subways which are much more expensive to build and operate than LRT. Also, because subway advocates tend to low-ball cost estimates, the scale of the “oops” when the bills come due is bigger than for any other mode.


  13. Appreciate the response, but it doesn’t address my point.

    Steve: The cost of many factors has risen faster than inflation. Construction costs across the industry are one, and part of this is caused by the amount of economic activity. If we then choose the most expensive option to build, this compounds the effect. State of good repair gets more expensive because the system on the whole is older than it was decades ago when much of the subway system was fairly new and had not reached the point where parts of it have to be replaced. Just as old houses and cars are more expensive to maintain than new ones, so too with subways. Vehicles are now more complex and have some subsystems that didn’t even exist years ago such as air conditioning and automatic train control, not to mention the various pollution reduction devices on buses.

    As for general operating costs, even if the base cost components went up at inflationary levels, the system gets bigger. A one percent riding increase coupled with a one percent inflationary cost give a two percent increase. This isn’t waste as some might suggest but basic economics. Only if new riders can be served at no marginal cost is this avoided. By contrast the Vaughan subway extension added about $30 million (net of new revenue) to the TTC’s operating budget, and that goes straight to two things: pressure on Toronto taxes, and constraints on growth of other services. We “chose” to build that subway and must now pay to operate it. The effect of the Eglinton, Finch and Scarborough extensions will be very substantial, and I expect to hear a lot of wailing about out of control costs.


  14. “Build a mile of subway a year”. This makes sense if you have short lines that don’t extend anywhere near to the edges of the city. Lamport was mayor, then chairman of the TTC, in the 1950s. The “subway” was Union to Eglinton, period.

    By building a mile of subway a year, you can extend these short lines, and the extensions will be useful right away.

    It’s a lot harder to start a mile of new subway line than to add a mile on to an existing subway. And the new subway line isn’t useful for years and years, because a two-station, one mile subway makes no sense.

    And note that constructing a new end-of-the-line terminal like Finch or Kennedy for every mile extension is not a useful endeavour either.

    With our current subway lines being already quite extended, we need new lines. The current lines are too big to fail, yet fail they do. So we need parallels, such as the Relief/Ontario/Whatever line to take pressure off Yonge. That has to be built at much more than an average mile a year to become at all useful by later this decade.

    (And that’s assuming that a mile of subway can be fully built and equipped in a year.)

    For the 76 bus, I think Steve would have to do some examination of real time data. Royal York can get tied up northbound approaching Bloor, sometimes with lineups of cars and buses hundreds of metres long. And the two schools down by Norseman also turn Royal York into a traffic quagmire at drop-off and pick-up times. So while the schedule may be padded, there are reasons I can see for the need for padding.

    Steve: I have not pulled any data for the 76 Royal York South, but what you describe does not surprise me from journeys I have had on that route.


  15. Steven opined following some of my thoughts, that an anti-transit spending policy would put us back in a hole, not that we’ve been out of one, = but that’s a mis-interpretation as we need to spend $$$$$ and the federal level can be fantastic – if IF they’re sensible about what gets the nod, and don’t keep a hands-off/no-thought approval policy in place, which in TO’s case, has been hampered by the Ontario Cons smashing up of Council and then relief that they weren’t going to continue to smash up the TTC.

    Somehow, we need to reduce drastically the politics in all of our transick, which will be less easy, yes, as the cheaper ways for improved transit are on the surface, which often takes political will agin votorists, largely absent in Caronto, though to be fair, there’s almost always a tension between suburban and urban interests.

    So having the TO Council go along with the priority projects of the Ford government is horrible; and it’s a good thing these aren’t yet plans, but schemes, and not really so defensible. And so yes, do urge the federal level to respect taxpayers and planners – if they’re reacting so strongly to all of the virus stuff, the climate emergency is greater, and do we have the billions to waste? (This is a good link.

    For instance, maybe along with the extra buses, we also need a bus garage or two, and not all in one area either. What’s the status of the Lansdowne site? Could it be used for TTC again, and as buses are lighter than other transit behemoths, could there be second story?

    Steve: The eastern part of the site, the section that is not polluted by chemicals leaking in from a neighbouring non-TTC site, has been dedicated for new housing. The west half is in limbo pending resolution of the pollution problem.


  16. “The garage on McNicoll will finally open late in 2020. However, the demand for storage space at existing overcrowded garages simply means that McNicoll will be full the day it opens and the TTC will be back in a situation where fleet expansion requires garages to have more buses than they were designed for.”

    On the south side of Comstock Road in Scarborough, right across from the current garage, there is a considerable acreage of “mature” industrial/commercial development, and also one very large lot (currently empty) on the southwest corner of Comstock and Warden. If the primary requirement is for additional bus storage space, would it not make sense for the TTC to be looking at acquiring expansion space in industrial space immediately adjacent to their existing garages, perhaps without the need to put in additional service facilities for cleaning and refueling?

    Steve: That is similar to what was done recently to expand parking capacity at Malvern by about 40 buses. There was an adjacent property available and the TTC bought it. The degree to which any existing garage can be expanded depends on how many buses the existing facility can reasonably service. A modest increase helps, but doubling the size would not be workable without major new facilities.


  17. Thank you for the informative reply, Steve. What’s your take on an elevated/cut and cover Scarborough Extension?

    Steve: Elevated for the SSE is a non-starter because of the size of the structures. Cut-and-cover is very disruptive and I am not sure about how close it can alawys be to the surface because of utilities, grades and the Highland Creek crossing at Lawrence.

    The real problem is that it’s in the wrong place. The only reason it is on McCowan was to avoid competing with SmartTrack in the rail corridor between Midland and Lennedy.

    And the real real problem is that it should have been part of a Scarborough LRT network, but that train has left the station.


  18. Steve opined ‘that train has left the station’…. but there’s a HUGE amount of logic and planning evasion, and since there’s now even greater pressure on the billions, not including whether the feds will cough up for the schemes, despite the momentum of some of this folly, it’s only left the station theoretically – and who knows – can we hope that there are fiscal conservatives at QP who won’t see the point of burying billions in TOronto vs their own areas in the rest of ON.

    For me, it’s still worth squawking about, as between oil, stock sags, and virus pandemics, lots of big stuff to weigh on all budgets – especially kinda stupid projects, though we do need to spend in Scarborough, and everywhere else.


  19. Re rapid transit construction costs, Metrolinx did a study comparing costs around the world about 10 years ago. Madrid’s cheap construction was a global outlier due to several factors, including continuous building, easy geological conditions, building in open fields with no utilities or buildings in the way, minimal safety and environmental regulations, no public consultations, and cheap property acquisitions. China is a not a valid comparator to North America. Toronto’s costs were similar to other cities in North America. There is no silver bullet that will magically reduce construction costs without harming democratic processes and worker safety.

    However, we exacerbate the high costs by deciding transit projects based on political considerations and advice from imported, unqualified “transit experts” instead of making sound, technical decisions based on local data and analysis. In addition, the independence of GTA transit agencies is in significant decline. Metrolinx has always been on a short leash held by the provincial government, and City Planning answers directly to City Council. As these bodies take on more responsibility for transit, the ability of TTC to act at arms length has decreased and, along with it, the desire of staff to speak truth to power. The politicization of transit is getting worse, not better, and this will lead to even higher costs and poorer returns.

    Re the possibility of the federal government rescuing transit from the stupidity of local or provincial politicians, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Setting aside whether federal politicians are any smarter, the optics of the feds taking over local and provincial decision-making would be political suicide in a federation that guarantees federal-provincial separation of powers.

    Re padding of schedules, the overall approach to this issue is wrong, and is resulting in a lower quality of service, unnecessary reduction in carrying capacity, vehicle crowding in bus terminals that were never designed for a lot of long layovers, and higher operating costs. Using a 95th percentile standard oversimplifies the solution to a complex problem that differs by route and time period. This solution appears to be intended to take the place of proper route management — essentially a means of making the routes “manage themselves,” rather than deploying the necessary resources to actively manage the route operations on the ground. However, there are no shortcuts, and I predict that this experiment will fail, but only after too much money and time have been wasted.

    Steve: We have already seen the hand of the federal government in selectively supporting big projects that have local support rather than those that might be “best” in some politics-free environment. The real question going forward will be how many of the overblown projects will actually proceed, or if the feds will simply say “here’s $xxx for transit, and when that’s gone, don’t ask for more”. Metrolinx, their “foreign experts” and Doug Ford have some soul searching to do.

    As for the scheduling mess, I fear that as long as Rick Leary is running the show we are stuck with that, and in the current circumstance there will be much bigger problems to address such as how much demand will come back how quickly, and how we will serve it.


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