TTC Board Meeting October 22, 2020

The TTC Board met to discuss various matters of which the most substantial were:

CEO’s Report

CEO Rick Leary presented his monthly report with several observations of interest.

114 TTC employees have tested positive for Covid-19 since the pandemic outbreak, and 95 of them have returned to work.

The remaining workers on layoff will be recalled in November, and all have been notified of their return dates. They will offset an expected wave of retirements in late 2020. Hiring of new operators will occur in 2021.

Ninety percent of bus trips are operating with 25 of fewer passengers (level 2 in the TTC’s hierarchy of crowding metrics). This still leaves ten percent above that level with no indication of when or where this occurs.

Although ridership on the bus network has plateaued at about 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, this is the strongest of the three modes. Some subway and streetcar operators will be retrained and redeployed to drive buses.

Changes of tracking service will allow inclusion of the “run as directed” service (route “600”) for scheduled vs budget comparisons. New metrics are coming in future CEO Reports to better describe the system’s behaviour.

[I will comment on this in a separate article as a focus for discussion of what statistics would be useful to see both for the general public and for those who are supposed to be managing transit service.]

55 of the planned 60 new battery-electric buses are now in service and there will be a head-to-head competition between the three vendors. This will compare various factors including customer and employee satisfaction, performance of vehicles and charging systems, and performance of the vendors. Results are expected in mid-2021 in advance of a larger procurement cycle.

November’s board meeting will bring a report on the status of system expansion projects. Although these are now under Metrolinx’ control, the TTC has a resource provision agreement with them to support the work. The primary operational focus now is on preparation for Line 5 Crosstown.

There are significant benefits from all-electric buses, although the hybrids are the most reliable now. This is no surprise given that they are a mature vehicle compared to the battery-only models.

On the fiscal side, Interim CFO Josie La Vita reported that since the return to stage 2 Covid rules in Toronto, ridership has dropped back to the previously seen of 35% for this stage. Management are re-evaluating year-end projections because, although they were expecting to reach 45% by then, actual results will be lower. This also has implications for 2021 planning. There will be a revised projection at the November meeting.

The future of the SRT is uncertain according to Leary’s report:

The Scarborough RT entered revenue service in 1985. After 35 years of continuous operation, the SRT vehicles remain with us 10 years past their design life of 25 years. Due to the age of the vehicles, obsolescence of key parts is becoming critical and SRT vehicles are becoming increasingly more difficult to maintain.

Overall reliability continues to degrade with equipment failures resulting in more frequent and unscheduled service interruptions, which can impact service levels. 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.

A business case and recommendation will be on November’s agenda. Leary wanted to make sure that the Board knew there is a report in the works. The original plan was to have the Scarborough extension open in 2026, and even that was going to be a “tough challenge”. Discussions continue with the City and Province on this including would pay for the cost of an extra four-plus years of RT operation.

This is clearly a sensitive issue for Scarborough and for proponents of the subway extension whose completion has drifted off to 2030 (or so) thanks to changes in provincial spending priorities. Regardless of one’s position on the LRT vs subway argument, the endless wrangling has not served riders well.

Fleet Plan

The TTC’s ten year fleet plan was covered in detail in a previous article on this site. The report and staff presentation are available from the TTC’s site.

There were two deputations via phone to the Board who raised issues that, in the typical manner, received no response.

Hayden Poon of TTC Riders commented that:

  • There is no information on NextBus displays about crowding so that would-be riders will know in advance if they could/should board an approaching vehicle.
  • There is a problem with trains queueing at Finch Station causing delays for riders that can be especially frustrating when attempting to connect with infrequent service on York Region transit routes.

Loading information from the automatic passenger counters is not integrated in the data feed the TTC sends to NextBus, and moreover, my understanding from TTC staff is that the APC data is not “clean” in the sense that the raw data requires correction to offset the system’s behaviour. Real time loading levels appear to be unlikely in the near future.

A related problem is that a bus can have an acceptable level of crowding when one boards, but this does not last as it picks up riders along the route. The TTC has no plans to limit boarding when a “bus full” condition of 25 riders occurs.

The problem at Finch is endemic to subway operations because trains generally have more travel time than they need for most trips and arrive early at terminals. This was less of a problem before automatic train control went into effect and the holds at intermediate dispatch points along the line were removed. One benefit of ATC is that running times are expected to be shorter, but the TTC has yet to adjust schedules to capture this saving for the portion of Line 1 now under ATC (Vaughan to Queen, with an extension north to Rosedale coming soon).

TTC Riders supports the implementation of ATC on Line 2, a project that is not yet funded. Commissioner Carroll asked whether the group was lobbying the federal and provincial governments to provide more transit funding. Any advocates run headlong into the fact that substantial monies were committed by both governments to projects identified as “key” by Toronto, and for the moment, the cupboard is bare.

The fundamental problem is that the key items soak up all available capital while much-needed work goes begging. Neither the TTC Board nor City Council has ever conducted a full priority review of transit projects, probably because many people would not want to see how their pet schemes would actually fare, nor the total dollars required to fund even a minimum top group in a priority list.

TTC staff advised that, yes, other governments are aware of the funding needs from the overall 15 year capital plan, but gave no sense of how the entire shopping list has been prioritized, if at all beyond saying “please, sir, I want some more”.

A long-time regular deputant, Alan Yule, objected to handing the new streetcar contract to Bombardier and wondered if vehicles like the Alstom Citadis, now being built in Canada for Metrolinx, could be used on selective TTC routes such as 509 Harbourfront.

The Citadis cannot be used “as is” on only selected routes because of geometric constraints on the TTC network notably curves on routes used for carhouse access, and at Union Station one of the tightest curves on the entire system.

The vehicles for 6 Finch West will not be maintained by TTC staff, but by whatever entity wins the operations and maintenance contract. TTC will only provide drivers and dispatch the service. Therefore there will be no potential for commonality of vehicle maintenance expertise between a Citadis-operated Finch route and a Flexity-operated TTC network. Indeed, there will be more in common for 5 Crosstown’s Flexity fleet, but as on the Finch line, the Crosstown fleet will not be maintained by the TTC.

To me, the most troubling part of the report and presentation is the stance that the TTC wants a full commitment to several big-ticket projects almost immediately at a time when many other things compete for political and financial attention. A sense of proportion and priorities is missing.

A critical pair of projects is the replacement of the Line 2 fleet of T-1 trains and the installation of automatic train control. This was needlessly delayed in past budgets and now fights for attention. The idea of rebuilding the T-1s for a further 10 years’ service to 2030 or beyond is still rolling around in the TTC and this risks the future capacity and reliability of a key route in our network.

The “ask” for bus purchases is for a full ten-year commitment to what would likely be a huge order for battery buses. Aside from the fact that lead times for buses are much shorter than for rail vehicles, it would be foolish for the TTC to lock itself in to a large order for a new technology and vendor. The lobbyists will be out in force, of course, but they should be sent packing.

The streetcars present a difficult problem both because of the relatively small quantity and the status of Bombardier (and their soon-to-be new owners Alstom) as a credible vendor. Politically, the streetcar network does not enjoy wide support outside of the core area it serves, and more generally LRT lines are under a cloud at Queen’s Park. Sheppard East is officially a planned subway extension, and who knows when, if ever, the Eglinton extension to UTSC will get built.

Tangled in all of this is the future of Bombardier manufacturing facilities.

Ben Case, the Head of Vehicle Programs at TTC, replying to a question about confidence in Bombardier’s capabilties, said that although there were welding problems with the first 67 Flexitys, Bombardier has performed well in the last three years meeting their delivery targets. He neglected to mention that these were revised targets and, indeed, did not know what the original ones were. Such is the state of corporate memory at TTC these days.

Here is the schedule vs actual information as reported in July 2018. Bombardier did manage to churn cars out at a brisk rate late in their contract, but this is not what they promised originally.

Commissioner Carroll asked whether there were price advantages from volume purchases of vehicles. Case replied that the only impact is for a subway car order, and that without full funding from other governments, the City cannot launch the planned order.

Of course the streetcar order itself has one-time costs to restart the production line which on a car-by-car basis would decline as the size of the order rises, but they are a fixed cost.

There is also the cost of reconfiguring Harvey Shops at Hillcrest as a carhouse for roughly the last two dozen cars of a 60 car order, and this effectively adds to the total capital cost beyond the 35-car point. This would be offset by operating budget savings with much shorter dead-head trips from existing carhouses to a central route like 512 St. Clair. No calculation of this trade-off has been presented yet.

Bloor-Yonge Station Expansion

For drawings of the proposed expansion, please see my previous article. The staff report and presention are available on the TTC’s site.

The pressure for capacity at Bloor-Yonge

The presentation includes a grid showing the effect on station capacity under various scenarios projected over three decades into the future.

The current situation, indicated by yellow circles in the chart above, is barely tolerable under normal, pre-pandemic conditions if there is even the slightest interruption in the flow of trains. This situation will only worsen as demand on the two lines rises along with their capacity to deliver passengers to the stations under ATC.

By 2031, assuming construction of the Ontario Line and the Richmond Hill extension to Line 1, conditions at Bloor-Yonge as it now exists would be worse than today on one platform. Although the report does not specify which platform, this is likely the Line 2 level and its connecting stairs and escalators that are already limitations on flow between the levels.

Without the Ontario Line (or equivalently the Relief Line North which never got off the drawing boards thanks to foot-dragging at Metrolinx), the station would be overwhelmed by 2031 assuming a Richmond Hill extension plus the Relief Line South were operating. The reason for this is that any “relief” line does not pull its full weight unless it goes to at least Eglinton, preferably beyond.

If the station is rebuilt with separate eastbound and westbound Line 2 platforms, then it can handle any future scenario at no worse than today’s conditions. Even so, some form of “relief”, whatever it is called, is clearly needed.

There is no discussion at all of capacity problems at St. George Station, another important transfer connection between Lines 1 and 2.

As to the total project cost, the TTC has commitments from the city, provincial and federal governments for a one-third share each of $1.5 billion. The federal contribution is capped (as is generally the case when they participate). It is not clear where the responsibility for any overruns will fall.

Getting From Here to There

The meeting included a discussion of construction effects on station capacity. Staff replied that they are putting the staging schedule together now with a goal of minimizing effects, and the next phase of work will produce more details. Rick Leary observed that this project is more complex than the work that was done to add a new platform and expanded concourse at Union Station.

Some weekend closures are expected for large construction effects.

This begs the question of how the TTC will organize shuttle bus operations at this key location if a substantial portion of the road is occupied for construction.

Of note in the table above, there is no consideration for the interim period between late 2022 when ATC goes live on all of Line 1 Yonge and the TTC begins to increase capacity and 2029 when the ATC project will be completed on Line 2.

In the AM peak, the capacity of Line 2 is throttled by the signal system at the current 2’20” headway (about 26 trains/hour). Under ideal conditions, Line 1 can handle a few more trains by slipping “gap trains” into the flow southbound at Davisville. These deliver an empty train at Bloor to clear the platform after a delay. Line 1’s capacity will improve further when ATC goes live in fall 2022.

However, in the PM peak the situation is reversed. More frequent service will be capable of delivering transfer passengers to Yonge Station from Line 1 at a higher rate than today. Line 2 will not see improved service until at least 2029. A further problem will be the effect of the station’s expansion program on capacity until the work is completed.

Such are the effects of the constant changes of heart on the timing and priority of the Line 2 renewal program which was prepared, but not incorporated into the TTC’s capital plans while Andy Byford was still CEO. A then-Commissioner was assured more than once by Byford that a plan to improve capacity on Line 2 would see the light of day soon. That did not happen.

The plan totally vanished under Rick Leary to avoid budgetary pressures for the City and other competing transit projects. It has now reappeared in part with the Line 2 ATC project and the plan for a new fleet. There is no word yet on the plan for a new maintenance yard west of Kipling Station for which the City is buying property.

For a time, the TTC entertained the idea of extending the lifespan of the T-1 fleet now operating Line 2 to at least 40 years. We have seen on both the SRT and on the old streetcar fleet what happens when a fleet is kept beyond its time. This was a poorly-conceived plan that has, more or less, been shelved. Nonetheless, it was still mentioned during the staff presentation as a backup strategy if funding for a new Line 2 fleet replacing the T-1 cars is not forthcoming.

The conflict between various new rapid transit plans and the need for renewal of the existing system has been well-known for years, but the political climate was such that system expansion got the attention. Projects get funding because of their political priority. “Smart” and “deserved” take precedence over “needed”.

10 thoughts on “TTC Board Meeting October 22, 2020

  1. Hi Steve, thanks for this. Quick question re. the streetcar situation: does the TTC currently (before the new order) have enough vehicles to provide full service on all its routes? I don’t believe we’ve seen streetcars on all routes in a long time. I believe the 511 Bathurst switched to buses right around the time that the 505 Dundas went back to streetcars. I understand the bus replacement in both cases is/ was related to construction work, but just wondering if full service on all routes is contingent on the additional 60 car order. Will we see streetcars on all routes soon, or will that have to wait until additional vehicles are procured?

    Steve: A lot depends on what you mean by “full service”. Peak service today is not at pre-pandemic levels, and indeed there really isn’t a peak as schedules are currently designed. This means that in theory everything except the east end of Carlton (where there is construction) could be restored in 2021. Pre-pandemic, 511 Bathurst used 11 cars and Carlton used 22. Considering that peak service today is about 130 cars, and it was 162 in February, there is certainly headroom. The TTC has taken advantage of the lower fleet utilization to accelerate some of the upgrades to the fleet including welding repairs on the early cars, but I have not seen any news on when they would able to run 160 or more vehicles (even 160 provides a generous spare allowance of over 25% with a 204 car fleet, 160 scheduled, and 44 spare. The target should be around 170.

    Major track projects over the next few years will affect both King and Queen.

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  2. Two things will add to the uncertainty of the planning. Covid aftershocks and travel patterns.

    Covid will/has changed the life of central core work. A large percentage of the core workforce is discovering that “work from home” is possible. and both employees and employers can see/reap benefits from this “new normal”. Once Line 5 (Crosstown) is open, some shift in travel patterns will occur. Eglinton and Yonge will become a major node, but what “relief” this will provide to Y/B remains to be seen.

    On line 2 would it be possible to use Lower Bay and the Broadview storage track to slip “extra” empty trains into the flow to help clear the Yonge platforms? Or is the spacing/timing on Line 2 to tight to allow this?
    ATC has been installed on Line 1 in a linear fashion, from one end to another. Could Line 2 be wired from the center to the east and west? Would having ATC in the Ossington to Chester core allow for tight enough spacing to run core short turn “relief” trains?

    Will the reconfiguration of Y/B station affect the Lower Bay track connections?

    Steve: There is only room to store one train at each of Broadview westbound and Lower Bay eastbound. They could help but only in a pinch. Also staging a train into lower Bay is tricky because it has to come north from Union and would have to do this before the University line is running full peak service.

    Starting ATC in the middle would be possible, I suppose, but the basic problem is that if one runs a tighter headway in that middle area, there will be problems where the line transitions back to block signals with their lower capacity.

    The Bloor-Yonge project does not affect the link to lower Bay. It is an essential path between the two lines even if it is not used by revenue service.

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  3. Believe I read in a previous article of yours that NOVA bus has a shot of winning the electrical bus contract, am I correct?

    Steve: Yes, NOVA would be one of the bidders invited to participate. They are named explicitly in the eBus report. The reason they were not in the initial round is that they did not offer a long-range bus that could stay out all day on one charge when the process started. That said, there are arguments for and against carrying all those batteries around all day, but the TTC has only made passing reference to charging stations along routes. It will be interesting to see how this all comes out.

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  4. String. Up. Wires.

    Or in the TTC’s case, put them back.

    Batteries are for toys and phones (which may or may not be the same thing).

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  5. The City has created a web-site explaining Public Transit in Toronto.

    Clearly missing is any strategic planning body.

    It explains how TTC operations is only funded by fare box and city taxes. Every other city in North America gets provincial/state subsidies.

    Steve: This may seem like a quibble, but it’s an important one. The site actually says: “The 59% of the TTC’s operating budget is funded through fares. The majority of the remaining 41% is funded from the City’s property tax-base.” Note the word “majority”. There is a relatively small amount of provincial money in that pot too from the gas tax transfer to the city. It is not correct to say that the province pays nothing, but they come nowhere near the 50% of the subsidy that they used to carry.

    In 2020, because of the budget pressure of the pandemic, all of the provincial gas tax money is going to operations.

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  6. Looking at the TTC Fleet Procurement Strategy and Plan, it appears that the next 70 new Wheel-Trans buses will be battery electric, and that Toronto Hydro and Ontario Power Generation will provide eBus charging infrastructure presumably for the Lakeshore garage. But why is the TTC planning to eventually purchase 512 minibuses when it has only 279 (as of June 2020)?

    Steve: Because two replacement cycles for this fleet fall within the period of the plan. WT buses don’t last as long as other vehicles.

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  7. “Also staging a train into lower Bay is tricky because it has to come north from Union and would have to do this before the University line is running full peak service.”

    Very curious about this. I tried to find a track diagram but was unsuccessful. What prevents a westbound train from going out of service at Yonge (or eastbound at St George) and then pulling in to Lower Bay at the end of the previous rush hour? In addition, do the switches not permit a train to be parked on each side of that platform?

    Are you able to described the movement that would be required to store a train at Lower Bay?

    This seems like a brilliantly simple way to alleviate a problem that occurs frequently.

    Steve: Here is a link to a subway track map on the Transit Toronto website. It predates the Vaughan extension, but we don’t need it for this question.

    Unlike St. George Station, there is no crossover at Lower Bay, and so it is impossible for a westbound train from Yonge Station to get onto the eastbound track at Lower Bay. To do this, a train from the BD Line (2) would go through Lower Bay and out onto the University line southbound at Museum, head south to the pocket track at Osgoode or the centre track at St. Andrew, and then come back north and turn east into Lower Bay.

    That connection was only ever intended to allow trains from the Danforth subway to run to and from downtown, not to provide a turnback. St. George has a crossover because (a) this is the main line and needs turnbacks here and there for flexibility, and (b) the structure is already opened up for the crossover on the level above which is the University subway’s turnback (now for emergencies, but for years as the terminus of the University line).

    There is a similar link from Spadina to Upper St. George allowing trains from the west to run directly downtown.

    The integrated operation of the BD and YUS lines only lasted six months in 1966.

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  8. Steve: NOVA would be one of the bidders invited to participate

    This is despicable that the TTC has already decided on the outcome long before the trial is even completed. And even more despicable is the fact that the TTC took away half of the Chinese company BYD’s order and gave half each to the Canadian NOVA and American Proterra, why because BYD was a little bit late? Keep in mind that this is the same TTC that repeatedly keeps awarding contracts to Canadian Bombardier which makes poor quality products delivered years late. The vast majority of brand new Bombardier streetcars are having to be recalled and have been breaking down from day one. How can you conduct a fair comparison of BYD buses with the others when there are not enough BYD buses to compare? It is clear that the Canadian authorities are waging a covert trade war with China (see Huawei, etc) in contrast with Donald Trump’s overt one.

    Steve: Well, for starters, it was BYD’s lobbying of the Deputy Mayor who sits on the TTC Board that got them a “deputation” that amounted to a marketing pitch. No vendor would be allowed that under normal circumstances, and they had a black mark against them from the outset. They lost ten of a possible twenty bus order for non delivery. Moreover, even those ten were a YEAR late and they still are not all in service. Frankly I think the only reason they are part of the comparison is that they have friends at court, so to speak.

    The original comparison was supposed to be 10 buses each to three manufacturers. The TTC moved to expand this to 20 each, but BYD wasn’t delivering, and so these were split between Proterra and Flyer. As of August 2020, there were 24 buses from those suppliers in service, but the first of the BYDs did not enter service until late September. Experiences with BYD vehicles in other cities have inspired confidence.

    Nova will be a bidder in the next round because they now have a vehicle that meets the TTC’s requirements. They did not when the original call for vehicles went out.

    As for Bombardier, the welding problems prompting recall affected 67 out of a fleet of 204. They have been making subway trains for Toronto for years and the most recent batch are quite reliable.

    This has nothing to do with Canada vs China, but with incompetence by a vendor who talked a good game but couldn’t deliver. This is in contrast to the high volume of sales they have enjoyed around the world. If they are so good, why did they have to resort to a back door sales approach and then not provide vehicles for the contracted date?

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  9. National governments all over the world are bailing out transit systems suffering from COVID-19 but here in Canada, Justin Trudeau has not delivered a single penny.

    Steve: Normally I do not post comments from this person who shows up in a variety of guises, sometimes with extremely abusive comments. However, this one deserves a reply because he (?) is dead wrong.

    The Canadian government has provided funding for transit as described in this announcement from, of all places, Queen’s Park about shared funding support for municipalities. This is not the last of the federal money, but I cite it as a counterexample to what is otherwise simply anti-Trudeau drivel. There is lots to complain about from the Federal Government, but is helps if you get your facts straight.

    Now go crawl back under your rock.

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  10. Ottawa found that the Alstom Citadis design was not properly adapted to Canadian winters and have caused several problems. Alstom has made some fixes, but we’ll need to see how well they perform this winter to know whether they are practical for Toronto long-term.

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