TTC Board Meeting July 14, 2020 (Part I) (Updated)

The TTC Board will hold a virtual meeting on July 14 beginning at 10 am. This post reviews some of the issues that will before the Board, and I will update the article with any additional material of interest after the meeting. The items covered here include:

  • Ridership and financial updates
  • Service levels
  • Vehicle reliability
  • Reserved bus lane plans

In a second article to be published after the meeting, I will address several reports regarding accessibility and Wheel-Trans service.

Updated July 14, 2020 at 10:00 pm: Notes have been added at the end of the article regarding the Reserved Bus Lane proposal.

CEO’s Report

Ridership

Ridership on the TTC remains well below pre-covid levels, but is has been growing slowly in past weeks primarily on the bus network. In early July, the TTC implemented new protocols for masking, all door boarding, and increased loading standards for vehicles.

Weekly ridership has increased by 45 per cent from the COVID-19 low experienced in late April (see page 14). While ridership levels are up across all vehicle modes, the bus fleet is carrying the bulk of the load.

As of the week of July 4, the TTC averaged 555,000 bus boardings every weekday (40% of normal) compared to an average of 330,000 boardings on subways per weekday (22% of normal). While the subway remains the backbone of the system, our bus fleet has shown during this pandemic what we’ve always known to be true — that it’s the real workhorse in the TTC network.

Of the 525 million riders we carried in 2019, 60 per cent of those took bus trips — the largest total by vehicle mode. [pp 11-12]

In the charts below, the slope of recovery curves (blue) is not steep on the scale of pre-covid values, but relative to the depth of losses in late March, the added ridership makes full distancing of passengers less practical. In turn, that affects the system’s attractiveness to gaining riders which will depend on both the evolution of public sense of the safety of transit travel and the continued success in reducing covid infections.

Presto taps continue to rise and they have almost doubled since late April.

The drop in Presto taps from an early March peak of 1.8 million/day to late April’s 237 thousand, or about 87%, was deeper than the original reports of ridership loss at roughly 80% indicating that riders were not just using the system less, but also were taking less complex journeys (fewer taps/journey). Now that travel is growing again, the tap count is growing faster than riding counts.

A “ride” is counted based on “linked trips”. Riding multiple vehicles for one fare counts as one “ride”.

Ridership in recent years has been dropping slightly, a problem that was flagged many times in the context of service levels and quality, as well as the effects of tariff changes (two hour transfer), possible over-counting of rides taken by monthly pass holders, and fare evasion. 2020 and coming years will be unlike any in the TTC’s century-long history.

The relative strength of demand on the bus network has implications for service and fleet planning depending on the speed of the recovery, and the crowding standard that will be considered “normal”. Whether the TTC aggressively goes after demand will depend on the financial situation, and Toronto’s willingness to spend money on service to attract riders, rather then just getting by with minimal improvements.

Service Operated

The TTC is operating most of its “planned service”, but this is relative to a target of 77% or greater than pre-covid levels. This leaves a lot of vehicles in garages and carhouses. Multiple scenarios have been planned based on different recovery rates, but the TTC has not announced which path it will actually take. This depends both on the rate at which offices, schools and other generators of demand resume operation, as well as the level of financial support for transit operations.

Service cutbacks in response to lower ridership began in mid-March. Initially, this was done on an ad hoc basis by cancelling express services and cutting individual crews without actually modifying schedules. This was followed by formal changes to bring schedules in line with the service actually operating on the street. The TTC has not announced fall plans yet beyond saying that the 900-series express routes will resume operation. On some routes, however, this could simply be a redeployment of scheduled “tripper” buses that were added in the June schedules.

The TTC states its rapid transit capacity relative to scheduled service level. In other words, do they field all of the service that they plan in the schedules. However, this can produce misleading charts when there are major changes in scheduled service. In the charts below, note that for Line 1 (YUS) and 2 (BD), there is a drop in April corresponding to unscheduled service cuts. By May, the schedules matched the actual operation and so the percentage of service delivered went up again. There was no service cut on Line 3 (SRT) and so the chart shows no dip in April.

This metric needs to be updated to reflect ongoing changes in scheduled service levels. There are two separate factors: the actual capacity planned and operated is one, and the other is the ratio between the two values.

On Time Performance & Short Turns

As with the subway capacity, the “on time performance” metric (OTP) for surface modes was affected by the operation of far less service than scheduled during the early weeks of the pandemic. TTC measures OTP against schedules, and so if service operates on an “as directed” basis to compensate for missing vehicles, it will run “off schedule”. A related problem is that even with a six minute window for service to be considered “on time”, this is (a) measured only at terminals and (b) averaged over all operations hiding swings around reported values.

Many schedule changes have given more time both for driving (end to end time) and for recovery at terminals with the intent of pushing short turns almost to zero. While more vehicles are now reaching terminals, and they have time to recovery from delays enroute, departure times continue to be off schedule. (I will explore this problem in more detail in future articles looking at major routes.)

As on the bus network, OTP took a dip in April and bounced back in May when actual operations and schedules came back in sync with each other. Although short turns have been effectively eliminated, terminal departures and headway reliability continue to be problems.

Vehicle Reliability

Vehicle reliability is reported as mean distance between failures (MDBF). This number can behave oddly for various reasons:

  • Only a “failure” that causes a serious service delay counts. If something doesn’t work, but the vehicle can move along after only a short delay, then the fault does not count.
  • In the case of subway trains, the number of failures per month is small. Given that the fleet mileage is fairly constant, a small change in the number/month translates to a big changeup or down in the MDBF values.
  • Some components fail based on hours of service, not mileage, such as constantly running subsystems like air conditioning. Vehicles on slower routes accumulate fewer miles but the same number of hours and this makes the failure rate of hourly-related problems higher on such routes. Similarly, doors cycle open and closed based on the number of stops, not the mileage travelled.
  • If a fleet is not fully utilized, the best vehicles could be in service more of the time. This can artificially inflate the reliability one would see if the fleet were fully utilized.
  • If a fleet’s average age is low due to large volumes of vehicle purchases (the sort of thing that happens in “stimulus” programs), reliability reflects the fact that most components have not had a chance to wear out yet. At the other end of the scale, when the average age of the fleet goes up, reliability can drop. This can have knock-on effects if maintenance staffing is scaled to a comparatively reliable young fleet, but not adjusted as the fleet ages and requires more maintenance.

Subway Trains

In March and April 2020, there was an unusually high MDBF for the older T1 trains used on Line 2 BD. (Note that the scales in charts below are not the same.) This was caused by the very small number of failures within that fleet.

In the charts below, note that the mileage is based on car miles, not train miles. Because these vehicles operate in trains, many in-service failures do not delay service in the way that a surface vehicle fault might. This reduces the number of incidents that are “chargeable” for the purpose of this metric.

Buses

The TTC charts of bus reliability are subdivided by vehicle type, but suffer from being “clipped” at the top. For example, hybrid buses have shown an MDBF value of exactly 30,000 km for February-May 2020, but there is no data for past months in the chart. Similarly, diesel buses have a fixed value of 20,000 km over the same period. This gives no indication of month-to-month volatility nor of any emerging trends in the numbers. It is not clear why the TTC is presenting data in this format.

Data have begun to accumulate for the eBus fleet and its reliability has grown from February to May. Based on an active fleet of 22 New Flyer and 10 Proterra buses, the fleet reached 20,000 km in May. There was only one BYD bus in service at that point, and so there is insufficient data to report on that product.

The number of calls for on-road repairs or replacement of vehicles (change offs) continues to decline, although the recent numbers probably reflect the lower number of buses in service. This is a metric that should be presented as a percentage of the vehicles in service, not as an absolute number, so that reliability can be measured against the service actually operated. Moreover, this number could also be affected if the least reliable vehicles were rarely used in service, but if the TTC returned to 100% of pre-covid service levels, this metric would go back up again.

Streetcars

As with the bus fleet, the decline in road calls and change offs is probably due as much to reduced usage of the streetcar fleet as to any inherent change in reliability. The MDBF values for streetcars fell, but so did the RCCO count.

There are three metrics for streetcar reliability:

  • Contractual value: Some types of failure are not chargeable to Bombardier under the contract as they are not due to faulty manufacturing. These are reported in two ways:
    • 12-month average (salmon coloured below left): This is the running average over the past 12 months. Bombardier is required to maintain an average of 35,000 km or better to avoid contract penalties.
    • Monthly figures (mauve below): These are the month-by-month value and they bounce around more than the running average.
  • Operational value (green below): This includes all failures whether they are related to manufacturing or not. The fleet hit about 35,000 km for this metric in March and April, but the numbers have fallen back again in May.

The report makes a revealing statement about reliability:

Compared to April, reduction in service mileage, along with increased overall system failures (11 per contractual method) contributed to reduced reliability in May. [p 49]

If failures were determined by mileage, then the MDBF would stay the same and failure counts would decline. However, if the MDBF goes down at the same time as fleet mileage declines, this indicates that some failures are not related to mileage, but rather to hours of operation as discussed earlier.

In comparing modes (bus vs streetcar), the slower average speed on streetcar routes is a key factor because time-related failures will occur against a lower base of vehicle kilometres travelled than for buses.

Note that SC stats do not reveal what the backlog is of warranty and preventative maintenance. Easy to hide this with reduced service requirement of 130/204 cars. All well to say that this tactic allows work to be completed faster, but proof will be at winter schedules when construction projects on 511 Bathurst and 506 Carlton have completed. What proportion of the fleet will actually be available for service? What is the revised target date for completion of structural repairs and other design changes working their way through the fleet?

There is a long description of work-in-progress on various subsystems which suggests that these cars have a lot of modifications in their future. How much of this is Bombardier design defects is unclear, but at some point the design has to stabilize.

Action Plan

Vehicle modification programs designed to address the root cause(s) of failures are at various stages of development and implementation. These reliability improvement programs continue to be refined as the number of LFLRV vehicles in service increases and more in-service data becomes available.

  • Train and cab control system: TTC is continuing to work with Bombardier to design and implement a more reliable master controller on the fleet through an upcoming fleet modification that has faced ongoing delays due to impact of COVID-19 on the supplier. Additionally, an engineering investigation of other electrical failures is underway.
  • Train control management system: Bombardier Engineering is investigating the recent failures related to the datalogger and the digital diagnostics display.
  • Door system: Failures appear to be electrical-related and are under engineering investigation for root cause. Cab door lock failure is also under engineering investigation and the supplier is performing a root cause analysis.
  • Communication system: A camera modification program that addresses known issues with image quality and stability has commenced, but has faced ongoing delays due to impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the supplier. Also, passenger information system failures are under engineering investigation.
  • High voltage power system: Multiple modifications aimed to improve various sub-systems are being implemented on the fleet. This includes adjusting the limit switch on the main switch, and replacement of some trolley pole and pantograph components with more robust ones (e.g. bracket and chain).
  • Brake system: Quality control containment and improvements have been implemented at supplier sites. In addition, component improvements (e.g. seals, guidance shaft and locking pins) are in validation and planning stages with implementation targeted for Q4 2020.
  • Carbody structure and interior: A vehicle modification program to install improved inter-car dampers and articulation flooring designs is currently underway to address these failures.

In addition to the contractual programs, operational reliability improvements being made to improve MDBF include:

  • Passenger door system: Improve operational efficiency in addressing passenger door failures requiring isolation to reduce delays.
  • High voltage power system: A modification program for the limit switch adjustment on the main switch is underway, which will help fix pantograph equipment reliability issues.
  • Ramp system: Implement an improved maintenance program to include updated processes as specified by TTC Engineering staff to reduce debris related failures and to prevent bent side guards. TTC Engineering to investigate the root cause of bent flaps and develop a solution to prevent bent flaps causing failures.
  • Air conditioning system: Continuous implementation and monitoring of HVAC seasonal preventative maintenance practices along with increased inspection audits will help reduce seasonal HVAC failures.
  • Camera system: Improve pre-service inspection of surface vehicle camera system camera functionality along with rear view camera, door camera and interior camera housing to ensure no obstruction or loose connections will help reduce camera system-related failures.

In addition, continued improvement of inspection and pre-service maintenance plans, together with more effective application of operational procedures will help increase the operational MDBF. [pp 49-50]

Vehicle and Service Reliability from Open Data

The TTC publishes delay data for all three modes through the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal. For the subway, there is a long list of incident codes, 71 in all, including a finely detailed set for various types of mechanical failures. For surface vehicles, the situation is much different.

Under the general heading of “Mechanical”, there were 262 streetcar delays in May 2020 out of a total of 563. A further 14 were logged as “Overhead-Pantograph”, many of which were on the then-recently converted 505 Dundas route.

Among the bus delays, 1,206 were logged as “Mechanical” plus a further 113 “Late Leaving Garage – Mechanical” out of a total of 3,505.

It is clear that the TTC is capable of detailed logging of equipment failures in the subway, and they must be keeping more detailed logs than the published ones for surface vehicles if only to distinguish between the types of problems and assignment of responsibility.

When “mechanical” can mean anything from a sticking door to a derailment, the granularity of reporting is too simplistic.

The links below lead to City of Toronto pages where delay data can be download by anyone interested in a more detailed review.

Financial and Major Projects Update

The report to be considered by the Board contains two major sections. The first reviews the operating budget financial situation and projections to year-end 2020. The second reviews major capital projects. I will deal with the capital portion of the report in a separate article.

The TTC projects that it will run over half a billion dollars beyond its originally projected net budget (i.e. subsidy requirement) because of lost revenue during a period where service continues to  operate with much less crowding than in pre-covid times. Part of this total includes an offset from Wheel-Trans because lower demand for that service reduces its total expenses, especially for contracted taxi services.

The projection assumes that demand through the summer will average 20% of pre-covid levels and that this will rise to 30% in the fall. If results are better than this, then the emergency subsidy requirement from the City will be reduced.

Should these conditions prove to be favourable to transit ridership, fall ridership could range from 30 to 60% of budgeted levels. For every 10 percentage point increase in average fall ridership beyond 30%, the year-end financial impact could improve by approximately $40 million. Even with the best case scenario of 60% of budgeted fall ridership being reached by the year-end, unfavourable variance would still result in a $430 million gap that would require emergency funding by the City. It should be noted that the year-end unfavourable variance of $430 million to approximately $550 million, is after accounting for $116 million in Provincial Gas Tax funding being transferred from the capital to the operating budget to help reduce the overall funding gap for the TTC. [pp 2-3]

Several factors drive the results of which ridership, and hence fare revenue, is by far the most important.

The level of service has been maintained at a much higher level than ridership would justify under pre-covid conditions, but this has allowed for distancing between passengers on board.

The comment below implies that there has already been a decision to maintain service at current levels until ridership reaches half of pre-covid levels, although provision of additional service will vary depending on where demand appears. Any schedule changes require a lead time of at least six weeks, usually more, and so the September service levels have already been set, although they are not yet announced. Strong growth in demand is unlikely until the fall and depends on both the working and school environments. With the lead time needed, we are unlikely to see major formal changes in service until late fall or early winter, although scheduled service can be supplemented with extra vehicles.

Relative to the decline in ridership, year-to-date and full year service hours are only modestly below budget. This reflects service hours being essentially on budget early in the year, before the implementation of the demand-responsive service plan which has resulted in TTC operating approximately 85% of budgeted service since April. This level of service is expected to continue at least until Labour Day and until such time as ridership hits 50%, as outlined in the June report to the Board entitled COVID-19 – Transitioning to Restart and Recovery. Ridership will continue to be actively monitored and will be updated for the P6 Financial Results report to the Board in September. [p 5]

The detailed projection for year end shows the increases and reductions relative to budget.

The 2021 budget will be a continued challenge because, unlike 2020, there will not be a first 2.5 months that operate at “normal” ridership, revenue and expense levels.

Bus Lane Implementation Plan

The Board will consider a report regarding proposed reserved lanes for buses in the Eglinton/Kingston/Morningside corridor. I have already written about this and related subjects in previous articles linked below. If there is any additional information presented at the meeting, I will update this article.

Future articles will include:

  • An update on 29 Dufferin travel times looking back to 2011
  • A review of travel times on 60 Steeles West
  • A review of travel times on 54 Lawrence East
  • A review of travel times on 39 Finch East

One important map that was include in the Implementation Plan report shows the cumulative loads on bus routes across the city for the second week of June 2020. In the map below, the diameter of the circles represents the sum of on-board loads (presumably both ways) leaving stops. These are all-week numbers taken in a period when bus system demand was running at around forty percent of pre-covid levels. Also, they show total on board passengers, not a per vehicle level of crowding (for that type of display, see the heat maps in the June board meeting report).

The new streetcars do not yet have automatic passenger counters, and similar data are not available for routes where they operate.

While this may be “early days”, it is refreshing to see data about demands on routes at a network level showing up in reports. Aside from taking advantage of the technical capabilities the TTC has now, this also allows planners and politicians to see data in a system context rather than just for one or two routes of interest at any given time.

The bus lane plan, assuming it is fully implemented, will not have a major effect on the system as a whole because (a) the rollout is planned over several years and (b) the plan only affects six corridors. These are important corridors, but many other parts of the city will not be touched.

Service levels, especially as the TTC reacts to whatever funding is or is not available from the city, will have a far greater effect than whatever priority schemes might be implemented on major routes. Also, as I have written in route-level reviews, the major benefit of priority lanes will not be to reduce travel times during most periods, but, if King Street is an indication, to provide reserve capacity and resiliency so that travel times, and hence service reliability is maintained under less-than-ideal conditions.

There will be a political challenge to justify all-day reservations on some of the proposed routes especially if service is reduced thanks to the pandemic.

Updated July 14, 2020

The TTC Board approved the proposal unanimously, albeit with some dog-in-the-manger antics from Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong.

The original recommendations read:

1. Approve the recommended prioritization of the five priority bus corridors

a. Priority A: Eglinton East

b. Priority B: Jane Street

c. Priority C: Dufferin Street, Finch East and Steeles Avenue West

2. Approve the creation of a new capital project entitled Bus Lane Implementation at a cost of $7.628 million with funding to be reallocated from the following capital projects:

a. $6.98 million from the TTC’s 2020 Capital Budget Subway Asbestos Removal Program;

b. $400,000 from the Construct BRT Lines on the Avenues – EA capital project; and

c. $250,000 from the Opportunity to Improve Transit Services capital project.

3. Direct staff to report back in December 2020 on results of community consultations, a detailed design, implementation plan and capital costs for Jane Street.

4. Direct staff to forward this report to the City of Toronto and specifically, the City Clerk, the General Manager of Transportation Services Division and the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning Division.

This was amended by three motions:

By Commissioner McKelvie:

1. That the Toronto Transit Commission request that the City of Toronto work with local Scarborough agencies to identify and employ local youth from the Neighbourhood Improvement Areas to paint the required lines for the Bus Lane Implementation Plan along the Eglinton East corridor.

2. The the TTC Board request the City of Toronto Office of Recovery and Restart to advocate for provincial and federal funding to accelerate the implementation of the Bus Lane Implementation Plan, in conjunction with work being done by TTC for emergency relief funding with the federal and provincial governments.

By Commissioner Bradford:

1. Request the Chief Executive Officer to report back on the operating cost impacts of service reliability delays by route for all five priority bus corridors for the Board’s September24, 2020 meeting.

2. Request the Chief Executive Officer to work in partnership with the General Manager, TYransportation Services, City of Toronto to accelerate transit priority measures on all five bus priority corridors and integrate this direction into the Surface Transit Network Implementation Study (STNIS).

3. Request the Chief Executive Officer to continue acceleration of transit priority measures on the four remaining transit priority corridors (Jane, Steeles West, Finch East and Dufferin) and target installation for Priority B and Priority C corridors in 2021 with a report back on the status in Q4-2020.

By Commissioner Carroll:

That the Sheppard Avenue east study for bus enhancements, including the possibility of dedicated lanes between the Sheppard Subway and Agincourt GO Station (requested by the Board in its February 2020 meeting), be brought into alignment with the projects referred to as Priority C and reported back at the same time.

Notable by its absence was any reference to Lawrence East which had been added to the list, east of Victoria Park to Rouge Hill, on a motion by Commissioner McKelvie at the June 2020 meeting.

Current plans call for detailed design on Eglinton/Kingston/Morningside including public consultation to occur over the summer with a target of November 2020 implementation. Consultation for Jane Street will occur in Fall 2020 with a goal of Spring 2021 implementation.

There were a lot of people trying to “do something”, but also a lot of confusion on this file. Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong took umbrage at the potential effects on auto traffic with the removal of lanes on major streets, and claimed that in the case of Lawrence Avenue, local Councillors had not been advised of the proposal before it was passed by the TTC Board in June.

His sterling contribution to the meeting was to ask whether driving in a private car was the safest way to travel, implying that giving more priority to transit was hard to justify. The City’s General Manager of Transportation, Barbara Gray, replied that there is a need for travel options in the city including cars, transit and cycling. A related problem, of course, is that if transit riders do shift to cars, this will make traffic congestion even worse than it was pre-covid. Gray noted that the STNIS (pronounced “Saint NIS”) will consider traffic conditions on Lawrence and other corridors.

Minnan-Wong can be expected to attempt to dilute the TTC’s position when this proposal reaches the City of Toronto Executive Committee meeting on July 21. The City’s own report on the Eglinton proposal is available online as part of the agenda for that meeting.

The debate on the future of transit priority is bound up with rising demand and the need for some degree of distancing on TTC vehicles. Rick Leary reported that as of the first week of July 2020, ridership on the bus network was at 40% of pre-covid levels, streetcars at 26% and subways at 22%. Given the very different demands on routes, an overall average of 40% for buses means that there are routes and locations above that level, and service may not be adequate for those conditions. Conversely, the TTC and City face a large deficit in their 2020 operating budget and it is not clear whether the TTC will be able to continue operating at its current level, let alone make service improvements later in 2020.

Several people made online deputations to the meeting, and nobody spoke in opposition to the bus lane proposal. Important points were made, some by multiple speakers.

  • Crowding and irregular service are ongoing problems on bus routes. This is not news, but TTC management love to claim otherwise. Most streets are operating with much less traffic and faster travel times for transit vehicles. The usual excuses about congestion and bunching simply do not hold water. The problem is one of “TTC culture” and the abdication of responsibility to provide reliable service.
  • Although some areas such as northern Scarborough contain families with multiple jobs and cars, this does not mean that auto travel would be the chosen mode if there were a reliable transit alternative.
  • Bus lanes to improve transit speed and reliability are needed on many streets, and they are needed now, not in the indefinite future. “2022 and beyond” is too vague an implementation date for streets beyond Eglinton and Jane.
  • Using transit priority as a way to save money is not want riders want. They want and need better service, but the plan pitches cost savings as its primary benefit. Decreasing service as ridership is growing would be counterproductive. A reserved lane does not guarantee uncrowded service as riders of routes like 512 St. Clair know.
  • If travel times do improve, this will induce more ridership and the TTC should be prepared to serve that.
  • Density is increasing along transit corridors and service must rise to handle this.
  • Time savings on express buses can be limited by traffic congestion and the inability of the express buses to bypass the locals.
  • The higher recovery of ridership on bus routes shows how the population they serve has fewer options such as the ability to work from home, and the resources to drive instead of taking transit.
  • TTC was named the “best transit system in North America” a few years ago, but it appears that some politicians and TTC Board members do not believe in transit.

This was a series of good, engaged presentations, the kind of thing the TTC Board needs to hear more often, but doesn’t because of the difficulty of attending Board meetings. The combination of an online venue and the fact that the item was dealt with early in the agenda both helped to get a good turnout. Moreover, the TTC Board did not pull a common City Hall trick of limiting deputation time to three minutes as a mechanism to stifle debate and criticism.

Some basic transit planning points were garbled in the debate, notably whether the TTC has enough buses to support the priority corridors, and how service will change when they are in place. For some reason, possibly a botched staff presentation, Commissioner Carroll was under the impression that there was a limit to the speed of a priority rollout because somehow this would require buses that the TTC does not own. This is wrong on two counts.

First, current service levels are well below those earlier this year as shown in the charts below. These are taken from the summary of pending service changes issued approximately every six weeks by the TTC. The total number of AM peak buses in February was 1,615 while by late June it was only 1,276. The actual total could be somewhat higher depending on the number of  unscheduled extras the TTC runs, but overall there are easily a few hundred buses sitting idle. That does not take into account the very generous maintenance spare ratio the TTC has of over 20% (for every 5 buses in service, at least one is available for maintenance), a factor that has been growing in recent years. The total fleet numbers over 2,000 buses.

However, running more buses would require that the TTC recall laid off workers and spend more on service to carry riders. There is no sign that this is in the cards for the balance of 2020. The TTC’s bus problem is and has been for some time the desire of the City of Toronto to constrain the growth of transit costs.

Updated July 15, 2020 at 9:40 am: The TTC has confirmed that the 1,276 buses shown below includes 1,100 in regular service, 90 trippers, 48 scheduled “600” buses (extras for use where needed) and 38 to supplement service on routes affected by construction.

Second, the provision of transit priority will have two effects, both of which are familiar from the King Street Pilot, but in these cases over a longer portion of affected routes:

  • Travel time during periods when there is now congestion will be reduced. The amount of reduction varies by route and location. (Some of these effects are explored in articles now and to come on this site reviewing individual routes.) There are periods when there will be little or no time saving because there is was no congestion holding up vehicles in pre-covid times.
  • If the variation in travel times can be reduced, service can become more reliable.

Shorter travel times can be used in two ways, and which the TTC will actually do depends on who is talking and which paragraph one reads in which report:

  • Service can be scheduled at the same frequency but with fewer buses because the round trip is shorter. This saves operating costs and avoids capital costs for new buses and garage space.
  • Service can be improve by running the same buses more frequently.

The arithmetic (calling it “math” would be overkill) is simple:

  • Buses required = round trip time divided by the time between vehicles (aka “headway)

If the headway does not change, but the saved buses are scooped to reduce costs, this means that riders do not have any improvement in scheduled service. There might be more reliable service depending on how well the transit priority scheme evens out travel times, and the degree to which the TTC actually manages the service. King is often cited for its increased riding, but this was possible in part because more service and larger vehicles were operated. Where the TTC did save money was in the avoided cost of increasing capacity simply by running more vehicles. For the Bus Lane Plan, the TTC sees an opportunity to save money, not to improve service, and this is counterproductive if making transit more attractive is the goal.

A related problem is that if the headway is wide, one must save a lot of time on the round trip to make a big dent in the fleet requirement. Ideally, what is needed is a route (or collection of routes) with very frequent service and a large change in the travel time. Actual experience varies from route to route, and the Eglinton-UTSC corridor actually shows relatively little change in travel time from pre-covid conditions to those found today when traffic is lighter. There will, however, be a future benefit when construction of the Scarborough Subway begins in the next year or so. Other routes such as Dufferin, Jane and Finch show much larger changes in travel time post-covid, but even this only applies at certain times. The saving does not exist throughout the day.

When the TTC does reach the point of using all of its current fleet, it faces problems of fleet planning and technology policy. The TTC and City want to move to an all-electric fleet for new bus purchases, but the evaluation of possible vehicles has only just started and has two years to run. Moreover, they need more garage space. Should the next garage be built around an electric fleet? Can the system provide enough service with the buses we have today to stretch to the time when the next bus order is placed? What are the budgetary implications of moving to a vehicle with a much higher capital cost? Is the City actually prepared to operate more service with all this entails for future spending?

In the rush to “do it now”, there is a fundamental problem that on the Eglinton corridor, especially on Eglinton itself, reserved lanes are comparatively easy to implement because there are already HOV lanes in place. The situation in other corridors, especially where they are only four-lane roads, is much different. There is also the question of differing service levels and the degree of transit “presence” to claim the bus lane.

Some of this was covered in the technical report in the Board’s package, but little of this was actually mentioned either in the staff presentation or in the Q&A exchange between board members and staff.

There is a fundamental problem in all this talk of “transit priority” that it is seen as much as a cost reduction tool as it is a way to improve service quality and capacity. In some ways, I am reminded of the sham of the 900-series express bus routes that are little more than a rebranding of existing “E” branches on routes. If we spend millions and a lot of political capital to paint streets and post signs, but then remove service as a “saving”, riders will have every reason to ask why we bothered.

6 thoughts on “TTC Board Meeting July 14, 2020 (Part I) (Updated)

  1. Has the new satellite system (what is it called?) on buses resulted in improved on-time (but not ahead of time) operation? How much of the system is so equipped?

    Steve: No. Vision hardware is now on all buses and many streetcars, but service behaviour is unchanged.

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  2. I’m assuming the purchases of new buses will not happen anytime soon.

    Steve: There is nothing in the budget for this. However the bigger problem in the short term is that the TTC isn’t even running “full” service yet, and seems unlikely to do so for most if not all of 2020. They have hundreds of buses sidelined waiting for service to be restored, plus the extra buses they have because the spare ratio is so generous.

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  3. I believe the Implementation Map should be part of the evidence based decision-making process for Public Transit. A year’s summary would be better. We cannot draw conclusions from the one week map but facts cannot be denied. Based on the one week, I see that Jane is used as an artery with Wilson and Lawrence West heavily used. In the east, Victoria Park, St Clair East and Lawrence East look big. From the one week map, I can see that Eglinton East, Jane, Dufferin and Lawrence East are justified projects. The map does not justify Steeles West nor Finch East because Wilson, Lawrence West and St. Clair East are busier.

    The high order transit projects of the Scarborough Subway Extension and Yonge Subway Extension do not address the needs identified in the one week snap shot. For me, this map shows where we can improve the quality of life of commuters because I see line-ups, crowded buses and delay. The map does not show under-served zones with long bus rides and wait times.

    As a citizen I would want to focus rapid transit in the Jane/Dufferin corridor and Victoria Park. I am not a resident of either but I feel that is where money should be spent. We get the government we deserve, with bullys like Tory and Ford, who don’t look at the evidence but have the power to defy evidence. Toronto has such a history of bad behaviour, Sheppard subway, Vaughn extension and the current list of high order transit projects.

    It is very dispiriting.

    Steve: The appearance of detailed riding data in TTC reports is very recent, and I suspect that they have only recently been able to do this sort of analysis. In particular, when the map of potential bus priority corridors was drawn up, I don’t think they had this info, and might have chosen differently if they had.

    As you note, these maps do not show crowding levels or wait times. With bus demand overall back to 40% of pre-covid levels, there will be routes, locations and times of day that are well above that level. Add in the TTC’s inability or unwillingness to manage headways, the service actually on the street might not address actual demand.

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  4. Do you think what September service change the TTC is likely to have?

    Steve: They have talked about restoring the 900 express services, but I suspect a lot of this will simply be conversion of the scheduled local trippers back to express runs.

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  5. Would most 900 express services have same service levels as before or most local or express route have changes to their service levels for the September service change?

    Steve: We don’t know yet. The September changes have not been published yet, and it is possible that there will be some rebalancing depending on routes that have heavier demand.

    The service in place from late June through to the end of August is a bit odd in that there are basically two services scheduled on many routes that used to have express buses. There is a basic level of service that runs all day, and overlaid on this are “trippers”, although the name is an understatement. Basically a bunch of buses come out early in the AM peak and run until around noon. A second batch come out after 2 PM and run until mid-evening.

    The headways for each of the two services, normal and trippers, is rarely the same, and so there is actually scheduled uneven headway. This is the sort of thing that happened regularly with the express 900 series too with the added complication of different stopping patterns.

    I am planning an article about this, but am waiting for the TTC to post the official scheduled service summary for the summer operations (probably coming in the first week of August).

    The May-June period is very hard to nail down re service levels because a lot of buses, in particular the 9xx and 14x expresses, were redeployed as locals where needed. They don’t show up in either the schedules or in the vehicle tracking data.

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