This article continues my coverage of the July 14 Board meeting which began with Part I. Included here are comments on:
- The Capital portion of the Financial Update
- The Accessibility, Easier Access and Wheel Trans Transformation Plan Updates
- Plans for accessibility at Donlands and College Stations
The TTC will spend the lion’s share, about 90 per cent, of its capital budget in 2020 with the remainder carrying over into 2021. Single-year carryovers are common due to timing of projects that either start late or do not fit conveniently within the calendar (and hence the budget) year. Work on some projects has been accelerated taking advantage of the light passenger loads in the covid era.
Line 1 Automatic Train Control
This project is “on time” relative to its revised schedule and, if anything, has been pressing ahead thanks to extra shutdown hours in the covid era. The remaining phases are:
- 3C: Queen to Rosedale. Low speed testing completed, high speed testing in progress. Cutover planned for 4Q2020.
- 4: Rosedale to Eglinton. Construction 90 per cent complete. Cutover planned for 4Q2021. This phase could be affected by Metrolinx work at Eglinton because the stopping location for Line 1 trains will shift further north to make the link to Line 5 Crosstown more central on the platform than it would be otherwise.
- 5: Eglinton to Finch. Early works in progress. Cutover planned for 3Q2022.
When the ATC system is completed end-to-end, the TTC would be able to operate a more-frequent service on Line 1. However, this is constrained by a few factors including the size of the Line 1 fleet and the transfer capacity to Line 2 at Bloor-Yonge and St. George Stations. Expansion at Bloor-Yonge is a $1 billion project with funding from all levels of government, but there are no plans for changes at St. George. Additional trains and storage capacity would probably be bundled with the Richmond Hill subway project.
Fire Ventillation and Second Exits
This project dates back to 1998 and is moving along slowly. Originally it was intended to bring the TTC’s ventillation systems up to current standards, but this proved more complex and expensive than originally expected, hence the extended schedule. The second exits program is part of this project so that all platforms will have at least two separate paths to the surface that meet fire code for physical separation. In some cases the Second Exit program has been combined with the Easier Access (elevator) program so that construction is underway once at stations rather than as two separate jobs.
McNicoll Garage & Bus Purchases
This project is nearing completion with move-in now in progress. The garage will become operational late in 2020.
Although this site will expand the total garage capacity for the bus system, the TTC will still fall behind its requirements, especially if the fleet were to begin expansion in the next few years. As discussed in Part I, there is a planning challenge because of the competing effects of the timing of new bus requirements, the need for another new garage, and the shift to electric buses. These issues have not been addressed by any public report at TTC Board meetings.
Current plans call for a mix of Hybrid and Electric bus purchases in 2021-24 with a transition to emission free buses by 2025.
All 60 electric buses have been delivered, with BYD bringing up the rear, an ironic situation considering that their lobbying triggered the TTC’s electric bus pilot program. There are 25 each of Proterra and Flyer buses, and 10 BYDs. The TTC plans to test the three models head-to-head over the next two years.
Projects to install charging capability at the three pilot garages are running late due to issues with both Toronto Hydro and Enbridge.
The last of the new Flexity streetcars, 4401, was delivered in May and it is now in service. This was one of the three prototypes, and it has now returned from extensive retrofits at Bombardier.
Peak service only calls for 130 cars while 511 Bathurst and 506 Carlton operate as bus routes. This lower service requirement will be used to advance warranty and upgrade programs, as well as to increase the pool of cars at Bombardier for structural repairs. The real question will come in early 2021 when we see how many cars the TTC attempts to field on a regular basis.
Although the budget provides for an additional order of streetcars, there is no money allocated for this, and with reduced demand on the streetcar system thanks to covid, the situation is not as pressing than it was a year ago.
A related issue is the proposed Waterfront East link from Union Station to Distillery Loop. Design of the underground portion (Union to Queens Quay) is underway by the TTC, while the surface portion is being handled by Waterfront Toronto. A separate TTC project is working on design for a link from Exhibition Loop to Dufferin Loop.
Subway Vehicle Facilities
The TTC is also tight for subway train storage space. Originally, part of the T1 fleet was to be used on Line 1, but with the decision to go full ATC on that line, the T1s were displaced by a completely new fleet of TRs for Lines 1 and 4. The TTC has more trains than will fit in available storage space and this has triggered expansions at Wilson, Davisville and Greenwood Yards, Kipling Station, and the reactivation of Keele Yard.
VISION Vehicle Tracking and Management System
The new system, replacing the three-decade old “CIS”, has been installed on all buses, and as of the end of May was also on 58 streetcars. Some aspects of this project are running late due to covid staffing constraints.
Vision provides more services to the TTC than the original CIS did partly by bundling functions such as stop announcements which had been grafted on as separate subsystems years after CIS was first rolled out, and partly with a layer of managerial functions that were not part of the old system. One issue that is not clear is how flexible Vision will be in adapting to line management techniques that were not part of the TTC’s view of how things should be done when the system was procured. For example, the TTC viewed service quality from the point of view of “on time performance” at stops, especially at terminals. Other schema, such as a headway based strategy where the goal is to maintain even vehicle spacing, are quite another matter.
Based on past experience, the TTC Board is unlikely to demand a change because they tend to rubber stamp whatever service standards management proposes. At least with the new system substantially in place, an excuse such as “the system is old and limited and can’t be changed” is no longer valid, and it is time for the TTC to broaden its view of service quality metrics.
Five reports on the agenda addressed various aspects of system accessibility, and it was surprising that they did not attract the same level of participation via deputations as the bus lane plan. In particular, due a timing issue and the interruption in the usual meeting schedules, there was no commentary by the TTC’s Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT). Their last published minutes are from a meeting in February. Although the current reports were on their June 25 meeting agenda, minutes from that meeting were not included in the TTC Board agenda. Therefore it is hard to know what issues within those reports ACAT might have flagged.
ACAT meeting minutes are quite detailed and give an insight into the topics raised by members with TTC staff. These minutes do not appear in the main ACAT agenda pages, but when they are reported out as items on the TTC Board agenda.
There was little discussion of the reports by the Board itself.
With several reports on related topics showing up together on the agenda, common threads appear. In particular, at least in their policy statements, the TTC is becoming aware that accessibility involves a wide range of passenger needs, and is a system-wide function, not something that most of the organization can ignore. Riders have a wide range of mobility challenges, and individuals can vary from one trip to another in their ability to use conventional services. A “one size fits all” model does not serve the community, and the TTC must evolve to provide a range of services and facilities.
Para transit on the TTC has evolved from a completely separate service intended for the most disabled riders on their most important trips (medical, work, school), to a much broader definition of the market and requirements for service and accommodation. Physical changes are a benefit to all riders, and yet they have been viewed and presented in the context of a relatively small community. Elevators, for example, are used far more by people with strollers and luggage (not to mention TTC maintenance staff) than they are by people in wheel chairs. The fleet carrying riders with mobility issues is no longer just the Wheel-Trans vans, but also taxis and the entire “conventional” fleet of transit vehicles.
Conversely, there can be a temptation to view any improvement with the rubric that “a rising tide lifts all boats” where changes meant to benefit some do not help or could even hinder others. An example was mentioned in the ACAT minutes regarding a proposed change for streetcar boarding so that doors would only open when activated by passengers. This has benefits such as preserving interior temperatures during the extremes of summer and winter weather, but it creates a problem for the visually impaired who must locate the door open button just to activate a door that previously opened for them.
TTC policy is now to shift rides, where possible, to the “Family of Services” with a mix of “last mile” services provided through Wheel-Trans vans or taxis connecting to regular service on the “conventional” network. This requires co-ordination across the entire organization including staff training and a recognition that what might seem to be a minor change to conventional operations (e.g. stop relocations, construction or route changes) can have a major effect for riders who face new barriers or unfamiliar surroundings. This is compounded by the covid situation where following the rules, especially about distancing, might be impossible for some riders.
As various aspects of the TTC’s Accessibility Plans roll out, it will be interesting to hear from the riders who are supposed to benefit from these changes.
The Accessibility Plan is a mixed bag of projects addressing a variety of issues across the system. Most of them are truly related to accessibility in the sense of providing for those with some difficulty in mobility, but other aspects of equity are included under this title as well. I will leave it to readers to peruse the full list of goals, completed or otherwise, within the report. The major groupings are:
- Elevators and Barrier Free Access: The major outstanding issue here is the completion of the elevator project (see “Easier Access Plan” below). The other item is the installation of wayfinding tiles at centre platform stations. This has a 2020 start date, but no end date.
- New Station Entrances: This is an ongoing topic to add accessible entrances via adjacent buildings and developments. The notable change is an update to the Entrance Connection Policy to ensure that third party facilities “best meet the needs of TTC customers”. This is a direct result of a new elevator at St. Patrick Station not being properly designed for use by riders in wheelchairs and scooters.
- Elevator and escalator reliability: Although there are specific dates associated with rebuilding and modernizing elevators and escalators under this topic, this is really an ongoing project to deal with aging infrastructure. This type of work presents a challenge to 100% accessibility because it is very likely that there will always be at least one station with major repairs underway that make it partly or totally inaccessible. This will affect trip planning not just by Wheel-Trans clients, but also many regular riders who depend on these devices for vertical movement in stations. Bathurst, for example, serves trips bound to Western Hospital.
- “To improve service reliability for customers, overhauls of one elevator at Bathurst Station and one elevator at Scarborough Centre Station began in 2019 and were completed in 2020. Overhauls of a second elevator at Scarborough Centre Station and one elevator at Kennedy Station are planned to be completed in 2020. TTC also plans to modernize seven escalators at Yorkdale, King, Spadina, and Broadview subway stations to improve reliability and reduce unplanned outages for our customers who rely on these devices.” [p. 9]
- A real time monitoring system will be added so that the status of elevating devices does not depend on reporting by station staff. This is long overdue, and was proposed for escalators well over a decade ago.
- Scarborough Subway Extension: This project has been transferred to Metrolinx who are now responsible for making the three planned stations accessible. Inaccessible SRT stations will remain in their current state. One might be churlish to ask why non-working devices are not already spotted and reported by the rarely-visible Station Managers.
- Low Floor Streetcars: Retirement of the last of the CLRVs in 2019 made the entire fleet accessible. However work remains at many stops across the network to make them accessible.
- Buses: The TTC and City have plans to upgrade hundreds of bus stops across the city for accessibility. Some stops will remain “as is” because there are plans for stop consolidation to safer locations near traffic signals and pedestrian crossings.
- “Innovative” Transit Services: This topic includes various forms of last-mile transit access including the planned automated shuttle trial at Rouge Hill. It also includes expansion of Community Bus Services. Work on several aspects of this are on hold due to the pandemic. One can only hope that there will be less reliance on new technology and more attention to actual provision of service.
- Wheel-Trans Improvements: Various WT updates are in progress (see below).
- Expand Family of Service operations: At present, only specific routes are included in the FOS delivery model. This will be expanded by four major bus routes and one streetcar route per year.
- “By the end of 2020, Wheel-Trans expects to have connections to over 60 frequent service routes, at more than 350 transfer stops across the city, as well as all accessible subway stations. By the end of Q1 2021, Wheel-Trans plans to connect to over 80 routes and more than 450 transfer stops. We will evaluate whether there is a requirement for additional routes and stops beyond this to improve connections.” [p. 12]
- Equity: This includes implementation of new service standards adjusted for Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIAs), the Fair Pass program, and the public forum on accessible transit.
- “TTC will trial the new equity-focused consultation process and equity-based performance measures in 2020 during development of the 2021 Annual Service Plan. The equity-focused consultation process will involve reaching out to equity-seeking groups during development of major transit service changes to ensure that potential negative impacts are minimized. The trial of equity based performance measures will involve modifying TTC service standards to pilot new services in Neighbourhood Improvement Areas for customers who need our services the most.” [p 13]
- An issue for this process will be that while NIAs may be small, routes serving them are much longer and service cannot be selectively improved only within NIAs. Moreover, there are always constraints on service improvements thanks to budgets and to resources (vehicles and storage space). We could well see that “equity” translates to little more than having services to NIAs appear at the top of the list of things we would “like to do”, but won’t.
- Implementation of Phase 3 of the Fair Pass to all residents with incomes below a cutoff of “Low Income Measure plus 15%” was planned for 2021, but could well be affected by budget constraints. The question of whether the discount is low enough has never been addressed. The discount brings fares and pass prices down to the same level as the Seniors and Students rate, and so represents no added benefit to low income riders in these groups. As Queen’s Park presses ahead with some form of regional fare structure, there will be a question of which discounts will survive and at what level.
- Communications: The TTC will launch a fully accessible version of its website later in 2020.
- Signage and Wayfinding: Tactile signs have been installed as trials at some locations notably places where multiple routes stop in different locations. Next steps for the beacon system, now in trial at St. Clair Station, will be included in a new Wayfinding Strategy to be developed in 2020-21.
- Customer Service: The photo ID centre will be moved from Sherbourne to Bathurst Station soon to make it accessible (construction on elevators for Sherbourne has only just begun). The Lost Articles Office will remain at Bay Station, but will be modified for accessibility.
- Presto: There are various issues with accessibility and the Presto system which, of course, is a Metrolinx product although some specifics of implementation such as device placement are up to the local operators. The TTC is contemplating requirements for a replacement system when the Presto contract expires, but the political likelihood of their being allowed to actually implement one is close to zero. The real issue is to ensure that any new Metrolinx-based fare strategy and equipment is fully accessible not just for Toronto but across the many client systems.
Hubs & FOS / Stronger focus on rider’s view of the system / need for std ops staff to understand how to serve WT community in FOS.
As noted earlier, Wheel-Trans is in transition from a dedicated service for end-to-end trips to an integrated part of the network providing last-mile services for riders who can make part of their journey on the “conventional” network if only they can physically get to it. This shift is implemented in the Family of Services concept, although that has not been uniformly well-received.
One key issue is that the TTC is re-qualifying its WT rider base depending on the type of service they require and can use. Some will remain WT clients for entire trips, some will use a mix of services, including different services depending on their condition. It is in the TTC’s interest to shift as many riders as possible away from end-to-end service.
Reading between the lines of the report, there is a growing awareness at the TTC that their service should be viewed from the riders’ point of view, not simply from the convenience of the provider. This affects provision of call centre support, online booking, and a strong understanding by non-WT staff of the needs of riders who are making “FOS” trips on regular vehicles.
Some of these changes, plus the increasing level of physical accessibility, have been successful in diverting WT trips onto the conventional system, although the proportion depends on weather and other circumstances. In Aug-Sept 2018, 22% of WT clients reported using the conventional system for part of their journey. This fell to 18% in Winter 2019, and rose again to 23.5% in Winter 2020.
A very long standing complaint by WT riders has been the difficulty of booking trips and the outrageously long wait times to connect by phone.
In a flagrant dereliction of duty to provide service, both the average and maximum call wait times in early 2019 were astronomical at 42 and 219 minutes respectively. Addition of more staff brought these numbers down, although the values were still 6 minutes on average and 61 minutes max. The numbers have fallen further in 2020 due to reduced demand.
A detailed look at recent data show how reporting averages can mask the actual rider experience. This is a well-known problem on regular surface routes where the TTC might operate all of its scheduled service more or less on time, but with wide variation in wait times due to bunching and gapping. Call centres are busy at certain times of the day, but all day (or even monthly, as above) averages will hide problems at the very time when many riders wish to access the service.
The chart below shows the pattern over the day and, in particular, how the maximum waits can be considerably longer than the averages. Management could claim “we are hitting our targets” if those targets are based only on the average levels, while many clients would complain about poor service. It all depends which stats one looks at and which metric is management’s official goal.
The TTC plans to address these peaks with a contracted call overflow service, but this is not yet in place.
The TTC has implemented an online self-booking system for those clients who have and are capable of using this technology. The intent is to divert trip bookings away from the call centre and allow riders to manage the service they require.
Finally, the SOF concept requires provision of locations where riders can transfer between WT van or taxi services and regular routes. This is not merely a case of outfitting key subway stations, but of providing transfer stations around the city in recognition that many trips are not subway-oriented.
Here are photos of the new hub at Meadowvale. These hubs include heaters and accessible doors.
Over the course of 2020, the TTC plans to install these shelters at 16 hubs as shown on the map below. Note that where they are at intersections, there are two shelters so that travellers in each direction have one. This is a major improvement over the scheme mooted in workshops for the five year service plan where major transit stops would have only one enhanced shelter per location.
2025 final target. EA IV unfunded to look at additional features in stations eg redundancy. NB that SRT will NOT be accessible at intermediate stations.
TTC has accelerated design work for the remaining sites with the intent that all design will be completed by the end of 2021. Construction will be in progress at many locations concurrently. Warden and Islington are the two problem sites.
Both of these stations were terminals of the first extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway beyond the old City of Toronto into Scarborough and Etobicoke. They were designed with individual bays for separate routes, but this arrangement is impractical for escalators and elevators. The later termini at Kennedy and Kipling were built with island platforms so that passengers move between levels in the station with all bus routes served by a common platform, stairs, escalators and elevators. Victoria Park was originally built with a similar layout to Warden, but it has been totally reconfigured with a common L-shaped platform at street level.
In the mid-2000s, there were plans to rebuild both Warden and Islington, but these schemes depended on redevelopment of station lands to provide funding and, possibly, to share some structural elements. There was also an issue with the shared use of Islington by Mississauga Transit (now MiWay) and a proposed shift of their routes to a new regional terminal at Kipling. That scheme is now a Metrolinx project and does not have an announced completion date. Once MiWay has left Islington, much less space will be needed for subway-surface transfers and a smaller island can be built to serve remaining routes.
Warden is much more complex because of the large number of routes it serves today, an arrangement that will not be affected by planned rapid transit network expansions. Ideally, any new terminal will be incorporated in development on the site, but whether this can happen in time for the 2025 accessibility deadline is uncertain. The TTC is also examining provision of a separate accessible connection point for those who require it as a stop-gap measure pending provision of a completely new bus terminal. No details of this scheme were provided at the Board meeting.
A “Phase IV” has been proposed to expand beyond the original scope of having one elevator path between each platform and street level at every station.
Also of note, a separate project has been created and a study funded for Easier Access Phase IV (EA IV). A terms of reference will be developed in 2020 in consultation with ACAT that establishes the assessment criteria used to identify the subway stations that would most benefit from additional accessibility features. [p 8]
Note that the inaccessible stations on the SRT (Lawrence East, Ellesmere, Midland and McCowan) are not included as these will be decommissioned once the Scarborough Subway extension opens. When the SSE project aimed for 2026, this did not represent a major delay, although ironically, all of these stations would have simply disappeared with the one-stop subway plan. The Metrolinx project page claims that the three stop subway extension “is estimated to be complete by 2029-30”. The project recently released an amendment to its Environmental Assessment with details of the revised design. I will discuss this in a separate article.
The Board awarded contracts for construction of new entrances and addition of elevators at Donlands and College Stations. For those who are interested there are more illustrations (although the resolution leaves something to be desired) in the linked from the title above.
At Donlands, the new elevators will be just east of the existing stairs and escalators at platform level. The eastbound elevator will run from street to platform level with a stop at the concourse. The westbound elevator will run only between the platform and concourse levels. Similar arrangements exist at other stations such as Broadview.
The second exit will be built near the west end of the station structure. This arrangement was arrived at after considerable debate within the neighbourhood to find a location for the surface building with a willing seller, and an exit design that met fire code.
At College, the second entrance construction includes the elevator access to the platform. This will not be provided at the main (north) entrance at College/Carlton, but further south through the College Park (former Eaton’s College Street) building.
The view below shows the south end of the station under Yonge Street. Both the new sets of stairs and the elevators will lead to a new concourse that will be built under Yonge Street with a connection into the lower level of College Park. Riders will use elevators in that building to reach street level.
As part of this work, Yonge Street will be reconfigured at street level by the removal of the existing median and widening of sidewalks on both sides of the street. This is part of a larger proposal called “yongeTOmorrow” to rethink the design of Yonge from College south to Queen with expanded space for pedestrians and limited auto access. Current plans call for this to reach Council for approval in December 2020, but whether it will be approved there remains to be seen given the hostility to any project which can be tarred with the phrase “war on the car”.