At its meeting on October 22, the TTC Board will consider a report setting out plans to purchase new buses, streetcars, subway trains and Wheel-Trans vans in coming years.
In an important departure from typical practice, the City is setting out its position including what can be achieved with already-committed City funding without waiting for confirmation of contributions from other governments. Both the provincial and federal governments will face voters sometime in the next few years, and this, in effect says “come to the table”.
The plan has many strong points although some important details are missing. Key to this plan is that it is a system plan, not a scheme for one tiny chunk of the network nor a flavour-of-the-day announcement from one politician.
The TTC proposes acquisition of hundreds of new and replacement vehicles over the coming years:
- From 13 to 60 new streetcars from Bombardier to be delivered between 2023 and 2025.
- Approximately 300 hybrid-electric buses for one or both of the two qualified suppliers to be delivered between 2022 and 2023.
- Pending outcome of technical evaluation and product comparison work now underway, approximately 300 all-electric long-range buses in 2023 to 2025.
- 70 Wheel-Trans buses for delivery in 2022 and 2023.
- 80 subway trains to replace the existing fleet now used on Line 2 and to provide for future service improvement with ATC (automatic train control).
That list is only part of a larger scheme shown in the table below.
The “ask” for funding on these projects is based on the full quantity of vehicles (column 2 above) as opposed to what the TTC can achieve with only the City’s contribution (column 3).
A political problem for the TTC is that they are seeking funding for the ten year plan within the next few years even though some of the spending is in the latter part of the decade.
For example, the buses are unlikely to be contracted on one big purchase that would lock in a single supplier, and a new contract would be tendered two or three times during the decade. Similarly, the quantity of Wheel-Trans buses represents far more than one fleet replacement (as of June 30 there were about 280 WT buses). Part of this funding would not be required until late in the decade when the next purchases would be at end-of-life.
Commitments that far off are unlikely to be made by either the provincial or federal governments both of which would face at least one if not more elections in the meantime.
A further issue is that there are many more projects in the TTC’s long-range capital plan than the ones listed here, and there is no sense of relative priority for things like ongoing infrastructure maintenance. If the vehicles program soaks up all available funding, other projects could find that the cupboard is bare.
Missing from this report is an overview of the cash flow requirements for each project and the point at which money for each component must be secured. Projects with long timelines such as ATC installation need early commitment even though they would not finish until late in this decade or possibly longer. The same does not apply to the cyclic renewal of the bus fleets and some of the associated infrastructure.
To support the electric vehicle purchases, the TTC together with Toronto Hydro and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) are working on plans for the charging infrastructure that will be required to move to a zero emissions fleet by 2040 in regular buses, Wheel-Trans and non-revenue vehicles.
The subway train order will likely grow because Metrolinx would piggy-back the needs of the Yonge North extension to Richmond Hill and the Scarborough extension to Sheppard for economies of scale and consistency of fleets on the two major rapid transit lines. However, the cost will be on Metrolinx’ account because these are now provincial projects. There is a danger that if future provincial funding is constrained, the provincial projects could elbow aside requests for local projects.
The committed and required funding amounts are set out below.
The City’s share is provided by the City Building Fund, a supplementary property tax introduced in the 2020 budget, together with funding that had been allocated to a planned rejuvenation of the Line 2 subway fleet for an additional decade of service. Now that those trains will be replaced, the money set aside to refresh the old fleet is available for this project.
|City Building Fund Project||$ millions|
|Bloor-Yonge Station Expansion||$500|
|Line 1 Capacity Enhancement||$1,490|
|Line 2 Capacity Enhancement||$817|
|Line 2 Automatic Train Control||$623|
|Other Critical Subway State of Good Repair (Note 1)||$160|
|New Vehicles and eBus Charging Systems||$1,140|
|Total City Building Fund||$4,730|
The vehicle procurements are funded on the City side by a combination of CBF monies (see above) and the previous allocation for renovation of the Line 2 fleet of T1 trains.
|80 New Subway Trains||$ 623|
|T1 Overhaul and Maintenance to 2030||$ 74|
|Procurement of Buses||$ 686|
|eBus Charging Infrastructure||$ 64|
|Wheel-Trans Buses||$ 22|
|New Streetcars||$ 140|
|Existing Approved Funding (T1 Life Extension)||$ 474|
|City Building Fund||$1,140|
Combining the $1.61 billion above with the Line 2 ATC funding brings the City’s total to about $2.2 billion. The TTC and City invite their partners at the provincial and federal levels to make up the difference of just under $4 billion between City allocations and the total required for this portion of the overall capital plan.
The City’s strategy is to start spending its $2.2 billion and hope that the other governments will come in for their share. There are elections at both levels that could provide some leverage, but there are also problems with Toronto’s appetite for capital compared to other parts of Ontario and Canada.
The report argues that one reason new streetcars are needed is that 50 buses are now operating to supplement streetcar route capacity. In fact, the 50 buses now operating on streetcar routes are for construction projects on 511 Bathurst and on 506 Carlton. There are 129 peak streetcars operating on the remaining routes out of a fleet of 204.
In the schedules just before the pandemic hit Toronto, there were 58 buses operating on streetcar routes for a mixture of supplementary service (trippers) and streetcar replacements due to vehicle shortages. The peak streetcar service was 164 vehicles out of 204.
During the pandemic, the TTC has taken advantage of reduced demand to accelerate corrective maintenance on the streetcar fleet, especially the roughly first third of the order which have structural problems. Service reductions on streetcar routes coupled with bus replacements provide the headroom for this work.
There could be a brief period between the end of the 2020 construction season and the onset of 2021 projects when all streetcar routes could actually operate with streetcars, but this will be short-lived due to planned work on Queen, The Queensway and the intersection at Roncesvalles.
As for supplementary capacity, that will have to be addressed based on the recovery of streetcar route ridership and the fleet availability. We should reasonably see the TTC able to field a peak service of 170 cars if overall reliability can be maintained at a level where a 20 per cent spare capacity (34 cars) can be achieved.
Further out, there is the question of rising demand on the streetcar system both with the changing population of the “old” city served by that network and with the job market in the core area assuming that this recovers post-pandemic.
The TTC estimates that the system can accommodate 60 more cars in total with the capacity of existing carhouses (+35) and conversion of part of Harvey Shops at Hillcrest for carhouse use (+25). This would allow operation of the 512 St. Clair route from a depot much closer to the route.
The cost of changes at Hillcrest is estimated at $100 million, although this would be offset by reduced dead-head mileage of cars running to and from the St. Clair route (now operated from Leslie Barns).
A decision on this option is required early in 2021 so that the facility can be available when deliveries of new cars fill the existing space available. By implication, the money must be included in the 2021-30 Capital Budget. It is not included in the total project cost shown in Table 1 above.
A related issue not mentioned in the report is the status of a Waterfront East LRT. This would not require a large fleet expansion as the route is short, but the cars would likely have to come out of the 60 expansion vehicles to avoid triggering a crisis in available storage.
Overall, there are many considerations in projecting the year by year needs for streetcars over the 2020s.
The TTC canvassed manufacturers who might supply additional streetcars. The list included:
- CRRC Qingdao-Sifang
- CRRC Tangshan
- Hyundai Rotem
A fundamental problem for all but Bombardier was the lead time required to adapt an existing vehicle design to the Toronto streetcar network (curve radius, gradients, etc) and set up manufacturing capability. Even Bombardier has start-up costs to reactivate their production line, but this can be done relatively quickly with vehicle deliveries in early 2023 when the TTC expects to need more cars, assuming demand recovers on the network.
The cost per car is high for a small order because of the fixed cost of reactivating production facilities, $50 million, are incurred for one car or for 60.
The TTC’s plan for the bus fleet foresees a move to totally electric (zero emission) operation by 2040 as part of City policy, but getting there is not simply a case of buying battery buses.
In a previous article, I wrote about the existing fleet. Here is a table of the current fleet as of June 2020. The current policy for the replacement cycle is to use buses until they are 12 years old, although the TTC is still in a transitional stage between their former 18 year policy and the new one. Purchase of new buses is tied to the rate at which old ones come up for replacement.
That said, many buses will be replaced over coming years by projects of various modes. The TTC estimates these will be:
- 50 buses reallocated from streetcar routes
- 50 buses reallocated from opening of Line 5 Crosstown
- 25 buses reallocated from opening of Line 6 Finch West
- 18 standard sized buses reallocated following the planned purchase of 68 net-new articulated buses
- 10 buses reallocated from opening of various BRT routes
Note that the BRTs do not release many buses. This implies that travel time savings will mostly be reinvested on the affected routes, not used to cull buses for other lines.
Buses released in this manner allow service on the remaining system to be improved without new bus purchases or added garage space. However, this also means that there would be no offsetting saving in the operating budget when a new line opens because the buses would be repurposed rather than retired.
Although initial projections showed a need for 1,575 buses during the decade from 2020-2029, this is reduced to 1,422 by the reallocations above.
This list does not include any provision for the buses that a premature shutdown of the Scarborough RT would trigger, now a possibility according to the October CEO’s Report [p 11]:
To ensure reliable transit service is maintained until the Line 2 extension enters service, various options are being assessed, including initiating an overhaul program to further extend the life of SRT vehicles or replacing the SRT service with bus replacement service using new buses to meet the transit service need along the SRT corridor until the extension is completed.
We will be bringing a report and business case to the Board next month outlining our recommendation.
The TTC plans to shift all of its operations to electric buses over the next two decades, but will continue to buy hybrid diesel-electrics for a few years still. The reason for this is that the head-to-head technology comparison of buses from three manufacturers is running about a year late, and the TTC will not be in a position to commit to large scale eBus purchase for a few years and now expects its first production-scale deliveries in 2023.
The TTC plans to tender for buses with a provision for higher than expected growth or continued needs for distancing, but this is not included in the plan above. That begs the question of where additional buses, if any, would be stored and maintained. In the short term, the TTC can overload its garages as it does now, but there is a limit to this tactic.
In the chart above, the 237 hybrid buses include 268 standard sized and 68 articulated vehicles.
The all-electric bus procurement will invite bids from all vendors, not just the three who are in the current eBus trial. This would add Nova Bus to the group, a manufacturer who did not have a long-range eBus available when the TTC set up their trial program with BYD, New Flyer and Proterra. Whether other vendors would have a viable product by the time this purchase rolls around remains to be seen.
Although the TTC will open a new garage, McNicoll, at the end of 2020, they foresee no requirement for another garage until the mid-2030s. and this effectively limits the size of the bus fleet and service improvements that might occur.
Purchase of hundreds of new electric buses will trigger the need for charging facilities at all garages. This would also extend to other sites such as the Wheel-Trans Lakeshore Garage and non-revenue vehicle locations if these are included in the shift to electric operation.
Work is now underway on a proposed partnership between the TTC, Toronto Hydro and Ontario Power Generation:
This arrangement puts responsibility for much of the charging infrastructure in the hands of the utility rather than requiring the TTC to develop this capability in house. It is also a way to shift some of the up-front cost onto the vendor.
Toronto Hydro would deliver increased electrical service capacity to each of the TTC bus garages (as well as on-route charging sites if required in the future) ahead of the electrification schedule. In turn, OPG would undertake the design, build, operations, and maintenance of all on-site charging infrastructure under a definitive agreement reflecting a co-investment/co-ownership model.
A draft agreement is tentatively targeted for consideration by the TTC Board in Q1 of 2021. In the meantime, TTC, Toronto Hydro, and OPG are working proactively on feasibility studies, preliminary design, detailed scheduling, and procurement strategies to keep pace with future eBus deliveries and full fleet electrification.
A ninth garage, when it does come, would necessarily be designed and built for electric buses from the outset.
With the TTC planning to receive new hybrid buses in 2022-23, these would not be due for replacement until 2034-35 and that sets the effective date for the end of diesel operations and maintenance of the supporting infrastructure both for fueling and for engine repair.
A related issue is the longevity of electric buses, including hybrids, which could push the replacement cycle back up above 12 years. At this point it is too early to say for sure, but long experience with electric vehicles has shown that they outlast diesels.
There are two fleets of subway cars:
- The T-1 fleet of 370 cars (not quite 62 6-car trains) was acquired in 1995-2001. It was originally used on all lines, but now serves only Line 2 Bloor-Danforth because these cars are not equipped with Automatic Train Control (ATC).
- The TR (Toronto Rocket) fleet operates on Lines 1 Yonge-University and 4 Sheppard. The Line 1 trains are 6-car sets, and the TTC has 456 cars (76 trains). The Line 4 trains are 4-car sets, and the TTC has 24 cars (6 trains).
The TTC’s subway fleet planning has been somewhat inconsistent in past years for a variety of reasons, notably a lack of co-ordination with ATC signalling projects.
The T-1 Fleet Surplus
In the original fleet plan for the Spadina extension to Vaughan, the TTC assumed that some of its T-1 subway car fleet would be used, but with the change to ATC (not originally part of the extension project), this was no longer feasible.
The Sheppard line operated with four-car T1 consists, but these were replaced with four-car TRs so that the trains could operate over Line 1 to reach Davisville Carhouse following conversion to ATC.
In February 2020, before the covid-related cuts, the peak service on Line 2 required 46 trains. With a fleet of 62, the TTC has 16 spares for a generous spare ratio of almost 35 per cent. This situation arises because originally some of the T-1s were expected to operate on other lines.
By contrast, Line 1 only required 65 of its 76 trains for peak service in February, a spare ratio of 17 per cent.
It is not possible to run more trains on Line 2 because of the limitations in the existing signal system. With a 62-train fleet, the TTC would be able to operate the Scarborough extension with every second train turning back at Kennedy using about 52 trains in service plus 10 spares. Alternatively, if new trains were provisioned in the Scarborough project, the extra trains could be used for growth.
The original Scarborough project budget assumed that the extension would use existing spare equipment (the T-1 surplus). With the project shifted to Metrolinx, it is unclear who will pay for the trains. There is also the matter of whether full or half service will operate beyond Kennedy in peak periods. A turnback track was originally included at Kennedy in the designs, then removed for budgetary reasons, but it has been reinstated in the plans. In any event, the extension will require fleet expansion by 14-15 trains including spares if full service will operate to Sheppard.
The delivery period for new Line 2 trains is in the latter half of this decade, 2026-2030. It is essential that the new fleet be in place before the Scarborough extension opens if that line has only ATC signalling. Earlier plans, which had the Scarborough line opening in the mid 2020s, would have required a temporary system to permit operation of non-ATC T-1 trains over the new line.
The TR Fleet
Meanwhile, on Line 1, the ATC project is scheduled for completion to Finch Station in Q3 2022 at which point the TTC can begin to reduce headways on the entire line. Partly this will be done by tightening up schedules, but major changes will require more trains.
The number of trains planned for Line 1 implies a target headway of about 110-115 seconds (down from the current 140 seconds) assuming that the current service design with AM peak short turns at Glencairn remains. If full service is extended to Vaughan this will require more trains.
The Yonge North extension to Richmond Hill, a Metrolinx project, will also require additional equipment. Still unknown is the level of service that will operate beyond Finch Station. Enough trains will be required to operate whatever service is planned at the future shorter headways for the southern part of the line.
Finally, there are two other potential fleet additions mentioned in the report, but beyond the scope of the table below:
- Expanding trains on Line 4 Sheppard to six cars to add capacity on that line. This also has implications for physical infrastructure at stations and transfer capacity at Sheppard-Yonge.
- Adding a seventh car to trains on Line 1.
The report lists several priority infrastructure projects in support of subway capacity growth:
- Completion of Line 1 ATC installation
- Renewal and upgrade of Davisville Carhouse to provide additional capacity on Line 1
- New maintenance and storage facility (MSF) to accommodate fleet growth on Line 1 including the Yonge extension
- Installation of ATC on Line 2
- Renewal and upgrade of Greenwood Shops for the new Line 2 fleet
A few points are notably absent in this list.
First, there is no reference to carhouse space for the large and growing fleet of works equipment. An important consideration is the distance between a carhouse and work sites around the system and the dead-head time between them during the already-brief overnight window.
Second, there is no reference to the planned new yard and maintenance facility for Line 2 trains west of Kipling on the former CPR Obico property which the City is currently buying. The TTC’s intent was to create a new carhouse designed to serve the six-car unit trains that will operate on Line 2, trains that cannot easily be maintained in Greenwood Shops that was designed for the two-car T-1 units.
Greenwood was to have become the carhouse for the Relief Line, but now that the Ontario Line will have its own carhouse in Thorncliffe Park, this is no longer part of the plan. Greenwood was also intended to take a greater role in hosting the works fleet. It is not clear what the TTC’s current plans are for Greenwood, although it would make sense that it retains some role in Line 2’s future to split the fleet between two sites.
There is no surplus capacity on the network for the new Line 2 trains to be received, tested and enter service in parallel with the existing fleet.
The new MSF for Line 1 trains will probably be located near the north end of the Richmond Hill extension. It is not clear whether this project would be funded through Metrolinx as part of the cost of that extension, or if it would be treated as a City/TTC project. Some of the storage capacity would be needed for trains that will add to line capacity south of Steeles Avenue.
Line capacity is not just about signalling and fleet size, but also station capacity. There are separate projects in this vein of which the largest is the planned expansion of Bloor-Yonge Station listed under the City Building Fund above. [I will turn to the Bloor-Yonge project in a separate article.]
However, other major stations will need additional capacity for passenger circulation when trains begin running at shorter headways delivering passengers at a higher rate to platforms and access paths through the stations. It is not clear how much of the proposed work beyond the Bloor-Yonge project is fully funded.
A further issue for adding capacity to the subway is the ability of electrical systems to power more trains, systems to ventilate tunnels and stations in case of a fire, addition of platform doors to control access to the track area, and improved/redundant access for disabled riders. All of these are outside of the scope of this report.
The TTC’s capital plans originally included 525 Wheel-Trans buses over the period 2020-2029. Of these, 512 were for replacements (including accelerated retirement of older vehicles by 2022), and only 13 for growth.
Ridership on WT has been static for five years, and the TTC is attempting to shift riders from dedicated vehicles to its “family of services” model where trips are taken in part on the conventional system by those who can use it. Therefore, the provision for growth has been removed and the overall project now includes only the 512 replacement buses.
The existing fleet, as of the end of June 2020, number only about 280, and good chunk of those replacements would for a second generation of vehicles late in the decade. (Unlike conventional buses, WT vans do not last 12 years.)
As for “green” WT buses, the report states:
As part of the TTC’s efforts to green all of its revenue and non-revenue fleets, staff is investigating options for zero emission buses for the Wheel-Trans fleet. Currently, there are no known available options on the market for all-electric buses that are in the size range required (6-metre to 7-metre) for Wheel-Trans operations and that comply with the Government of Canada’s Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
The TTC is conducting a market survey for such vehicles, and staff will report back when something is available. This is expected in three to five years. When this change takes place, the Lakeshore Garage which houses the WT fleet will have to be converted for electric van charging.
Capital Vs Operating Budgets
In all of the discussion of buying and replacing vehicles and signal systems, there is no mention of operating costs. Some savings will come through technology change, but running more service inevitably costs more money.
For the streetcars, there is not just the cost of running an expanded fleet, but of running more of the cars Toronto already has once the requirement for extra maintenance/retrofit spares is eliminated. Yes, this will reduce bus requirements on streetcar lines, but those buses are intended for use elsewhere and their cost will remain in the system overall.
Similarly, when a new rapid transit line opens, it will release buses. Metrolinx factors this potential saving in as a benefit of the project, but if the TTC intends to redeploy those buses to other routes, their cost remains in the system.
If the high spare ratio for the bus fleet is reduced and a higher proportion of the fleet is used for daily service, that is a net new cost.
Some of these costs will be reduced by the expected savings from hybrid vs diesel, and then battery vs hybrid technology, but the dollar value is not yet known.
Running more subway service on existing lines adds to operating costs. The TTC expects to move to one person train operation with the implementation of ATC, but this represents a relatively small saving on overall subway costs. There is a small army needed to maintain trains, tracks, signals, tunnels and stations, and some of these costs will scale up as the service grows.
Too often, there are extensive discussions about paying for “stuff”, for capital subsidies on vehicles, systems and construction. Meanwhile, the day-to-day operating budget goes begging for funding, and a lot of this falls on riders.
Riders feel the effect in two ways:
- To the extent that service is funded through fares, there is the eternal conflict between running more service and raising or lowering fares.
- Taxpayer contributions through subsidies are squeezed by a desire to keep taxes down, although special levies for transit capital projects are now part of Toronto’s tax landscape (the Scarborough Subway Tax and the City Building Fund).
Any plan for a post-pandemic transit world must consider not simply a return to the status quo, but how the City will pay to operate future services that are clearly implied in the fleet plan.
Postscript: New Transit Technologies
Readers might ask why I have not dealt with the segment of the TTC report dealing with new technologies for transit vehicles.
First off, they have nothing to do with short-to-medium term issues of system capacity.
Second, some of them have the flavour of a technology looking for a problem to solve, a way to divert attention from transit’s real needs. We can waste a lot of time waiting for solutions that never come, or we can focus on making transit better today.
Toronto’s and Ontario’s history of looking for some new whiz-bank transit technology is not pretty, and our history is littered with lost opportunities to improve transit with what we already have.