The TTC Board met on June 17, 2020 with several items on their agenda. Chief among these was recovery plan for the transit system as the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown recede and transit demand builds.
Updated June 18, 2020 at 1:30 pm: Charts from the service recovery presentation that were originally taken as screen captures from the meeting video have been replaced with higher resolution versions.
Many of the usual metrics for system performance are meaningless in the Covid-19 era because service and ridership are completely different from original budget forecasts. Even the “on time” statistics fail because the TTC reports this relative to scheduled times, not as a measure of service reliability. Detailed ridership tracking was reported separately under the Covid recovery report (below).
CEO Rick Leary reported that modifications to the operator’s area on buses are in development including extension of the plastic barrier forward to the windshield and altering airflow within the cab to be a “positive pressure” area where air is always pushing out rather than being drawn in from the main passenger area.
As reported elsewhere, the TTC is taking advantage of lower demand to accelerate capital and maintenance programs. The northern part of the Yonge subway (Line 1) will be closed for various periods during coming weeks including:
- Sat/Sun June 20/21 all day: Sheppard-Yonge to St. Clair for Metrolinx construction at Eglinton and track repairs elsewhere.
- Thu/Fri June 25/26 all day: Finch to Sheppard-Yonge for maintenance including ATC installation.
- Sat/Sun June 27/28 all day: Finch to Lawrence for maintenance including asbestos removal and ATC installation.
The TTC has not announced whether completion dates for the ATC project will be moved forward thanks to the extra work.
The rebuild of streetcars to correct welding problems and other retrofits will also be accelerated with 19 more streetcars available for maintenance. This will allow the entire fleet to come up to standard 18 months sooner than originally planned.
Reliability of the streetcar fleet continues to improve. There are two measures of this with one based on contractual requirements (failures due to manufacturing issues) and one based on operational behaviour (including all failures). The contractual measure is running at over 70,000 km mean distance to failure on a monthly basis with the 12-month average sitting just over 40,000 and growing. The operational measure is running just under the 35,000 km target.
In the subway, vehicle reliability is mixed. On Line 2 BD, the T1 fleet is running far above the target level with MDBF values in the millions of vehicle kilometres compared to a target of 300,000. On Lines 1 and 4, the TR fleet is not faring as well. The 12-month rolling average is above the 600,000 target for this fleet (which is younger and therefore is expected to perform better), but numbers for both February and April 2020 were below the target, particularly in April.
The reliability of the electric bus fleet is improving although it is not yet at the 24,000 km MDBF target. The BYD fleet was still not in revenue service within the period of the report, and so no reliability stats for these vehicles are available.
The hybrid bus fleet is running at or above 30,000 km MDBF while the diesel bus fleet is at or above 20,000. It is not clear how much of the improvement is due to inherent reliability as opposed to the sidelining of problem vehicles in the fleet.
Covid Recovery / Bus Priority Lanes
Please see my previous article TTC Preps For Covid Recovery for a review of the main part of this report.
The Board considered this report together with a notice of motion regarding proposals for five bus transit priority corridors. Please see my article Transit Priority Lanes Can Help, But They Are No Panacea and other related articles for background analyses of the potential benefits and limitations of priority lanes as a way to improve bus service.
New information was added to the original report showing how demand is building across the TTC network.
Bus riding has been growing from its nadir in mid-April. Although 70,000 more boardings per day may not be much on the usual scale of TTC operations, it is a very large growth on a base of 288,000 (blue line in the chart below). Across the bus network, the TTC is now carrying on average 30% of its former load, a key point in the recovery where capacity and distancing requirements vie with each other. There is a growing problem with overcrowding relative to the current standard with 12% of trips now running about 15 passengers per standard sized bus, and 1.5% above 25 per bus. The system cannot handle more growth without a combination of additional service and social practices, mainly masking, that will improve safety on more crowded vehicles.
More service on Jane today than in Feb
The map below shows where the “hot spots” were in the bus network in mid-May when total boardings were at 25% of normal, and 7.6% of trips exceeded the 15/bus loading standard.
By June, this had evolved with over capacity conditions on several major routes. Many extra buses built into the May schedules were dispatched to supplement regular service, and on the key routes shown below, the scheduled service will be improved effective June 22. The TTC plans to have more service on 35 Jane in late June than it did in February, although this claim does not take into account the 935 Jane Express buses in the “before” service.
Eventually, the TTC will return to “100% service”, but this will be based on the count of vehicles, not simply a return to original schedules. Some routes still have weaker demand, and buses formerly assigned to them will be used to add service on the busy lines. The express bus routes serving the core where demand is weakest will remain suspended.
The TTC’s plan does not address the issue of using its considerable pool of spare buses to push service beyond the 100% level, nor of the degree to which the streetcar network can be fully operated with that mode once various construction projects are out of the way.
Although TTC management did not say this explicitly in the discussion, the move back to 100% service appears to be contingent on funding from the provincial or federal government that will insulate the City from the extra cost.
Bus Priority Lanes
According to TTC management, “significant” work has already been done with their City colleagues on the bus lanes which were proposed in the Five Year Service Plan last December. Eglinton East is the top priority, and there will be a report on it in July 2020. It is unclear just how quickly we will see detailed proposals for other corridors, especially with a desire by some affected Councillors to have public consultation, and the very real possibility that opposition to these lanes will block their implementation.
The TTC does not help its own argument on this point.
Staff advised that the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside lane would save 7 buses overall for the routes operating in this corridor, and spoke first of this as a budgetary saving, not as an opportunity for improved service. This is exactly the same position staff took in the early days of the St. Clair proposal where residents and riders were dismayed that after so much upheaval there would be no improvement in service.
This position does not align with the statements by Commissioner Brad Bradford who spoke of “flooding the street” with buses taking advantage of the new transit priority, and while that may be a great sound bite, it does not reflect what the TTC is likely to do, or can do with limits on its fleet and staff constraining bus network growth. Moreover, a 7 bus saving is not a huge change at the scale of the full network. This is unsurprising given that the likely change in travel time is not going to bring as much saving as many think.
Bradford asked how the transit priority scheme would help in the Covid fight, and again staff’s response was lacklustre claiming that shorter travel times would reduce the time spent on board, rather than speaking to improved crowding conditions through additional service.
There is a stark disconnect between the hoped-for benefits of transit priority for riders and the manner in which the TTC appears poised to scoop any savings in the budget, not for better service.
Bradford spoke of the importance of the bus network and the “underserved” neighbourhoods where bus lines run. It is odd for a TTC Commissioner to openly talk of “underserved” areas while the very Board and Council he sits on refuses to address the problem of bus route capacity.
The hoped-for September 1 implementation will be a stretch for anything beyond one corridor, and that with little more than paint and signs.
Commissioner/Councillor McKelvie proposed an amendment that the study of future corridors also include Lawrence East from Victoria Park to Rouge Hill. The report with this amendment passed unanimously.
Rider Attitude Survey
The Covid recovery report includes an extensive section on rider attitudes and the potential recovery of transit demand. I will deal with this in a separate article.
Streetcar Track Noise at King and Sumach
An ongoing issue at the intersection of King and Sumach has been streetcar noise and vibration ever since the Cherry Street branch began operation. Several issues contributed to this problem including wheel squeal on curves and noise from track switches tongues “slapping” in their castings as cars passed over them.
Various changes have been made to address components of the problem, but more work is pending.
- With the removal of CLRVs from Cherry Street service, the noisiest cars were no longer making turns at King and Sumach.
- A wheel lubricator was installed at Distillery Loop, although this is of no benefit for cars turning east to south off of King.
- Wheel vibration dampening rings have been installed on 10 streetcars and these reduced noise on curves by 5-7 dBA. A further 60 cars will receive dampeners over 2020, and the rest of the fleet will be completed in 2021. Cars with these devices will be assigned to the 504A King route to the Distillery.
- On board wheel lubricators are already installed on the first half of the fleet, and the TTC plans to add them to the remainder.
- Curve track geometry has been adjusted, and will be further refined as part of the 2021 Capital Budget plan for track repairs.
- Switch tongues that did not sit flush have been ground to reduce the slapping effect as cars pass over them.
- A new design for flexible switch tongues is under review with plans to install one on the trailing eastbound switch where noise has been a problem. A trial installation is already in place at College & Lansdowne eastbound.
Although King & Sumach has been the focus of complaints and testing, many of these changes will benefit the streetcar system as a whole.
Waterfront LRT Design
The TTC Board approved a contract for $15 million for design work on the underground portion of the proposed Waterfront East LRT/streetcar extension. This work is being done jointly with Waterfront Toronto who are responsible for the surface portion of the route from a portal near Yonge Street to Cherry Street including a connection to the existing Distillery Loop.
This contract will take the design of the underground portion to 30% with a project cost estimate leading to a request for Council approval in the second quarter of 2022. Whether this project will actually proceed remains to be seen.
Part of the work will involve staging plans to determine whether and how the project can be built to stretch out spending based on the rate of growth of demand in the eastern waterfront. This statement was a bit puzzling considering the scale of changes required at Union and Queens Quay Stations including lowering the track elevation to provide more space for air circulation to meet modern fire code.