TTC Board Meeting November 16, 2020

The TTC Board met on Monday, November 16.

This meeting saw the return of Chair Jaye Robinson, albeit in a supporting role. She has been on medical leave for several months, but her treatments are almost complete and she plans to return fully to her position in December.

Items of interest on the agenda included:

The Financial update refers to new vehicle programs but there were additional details that I requested from the TTC.

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A Discussion of In Camera Sessions

Correction November 21, 2020 at 12:17 pm: The mover of the motion to hold a special Board meeting was Chair Jaye Robinson, not Commissioner Shelley Carroll.

Near the end of the recent TTC Board meeting, Chair Jaye Robinson moved that the Board hold a special session to deal with the 2021 Budget. In the midst of the debate, the Board began talking about whether this should be a standard public meeting or if they could meet in camera.

Commissioner Ron Lalonde, chair of the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee, asked whether his committee could meet in camera, a practice he is used to in the private sector. Because the TTC is bound by the City of Toronto Act and its provisions regarding open meetings, the Board and its committees can only go in camera for specific reasons listed in the act to deal with labour relations, security and other sensitive issues.

There is a way to get around this by meeting as a “working group” that does not make any decisions, but can act as a talking shop for management and the Board out of prying eyes. If there are any formal decisions to be made, they are agreed to in private and then reported out to a public meeting for the purpose of a rubber stamp approval.

What might have been discussed, what the positions of Board members and management might be, what options were even considered, even the fact that a meeting will take place, these are all cloaked in secrecy. Members of the public might depute to a public Board meeting before it ratifies any decision, but they will do so with no knowledge of what was actually discussed or the ability to present counterarguments. This is a convenient, but gaping, procedural hole.

The Board may find deputations tiresome, including those from “the usual suspects” (I was a regular among this group until I moved my commentary online), but this misses the whole point about public debate. We are in a period of severe social and fiscal constraints, and the public deserves to know about and have input into decisions on key services such as transit.

If the Board has specific issues it needs to debate in private, and for which the City of Toronto Act provides, then be my guest. As for “working groups”, they have no place in public decision-making. Toronto has a history of decisions that were made under cover, including money changing hands in the City Hall parking garage.

There is good reason to believe that lobbyists routinely talk to TTC Board members and Councillors about matters of public interest. These interactions are documented in the Lobbyist Registry, itself a product of an era in Toronto politics that many have forgotten.

The unseemly “deputation” by an eBus manufacturer that was little more than a sales pitch to the Board was probably only the tip of the iceberg. The stage management of a Board meeting was so lax that we actually got to see how the sausage gets made (to mix a few metaphors). That betrayed both sloppiness and a presumption that bending the rules really didn’t matter. I know that then-CEO Andy Byford was livid about this, but powerless to stop it.

Once upon a time, there were “citizen members” on the TTC Board, and this practice was ended because one of them had his hand in the cookie jar.

The TTC Board would do well to remember its history.

Updated November 22, 2020 at 4:40 pm: For further history of the attempt to have formal meetings of a Budget Committee at the TTC, please see my omnibus article on the board meeting.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, November 22, 2020

Updated November 20, 2020 at 11:00 am: The article has been updated with the usual detailed table of service changes and a comparison of pre/post service levels on routes where express bus operation will be restored.

The focus of changes in coming months is to gradually restore the system to a pre-Covid state allowing for differences in demand patterns. At this point, we do not know what the effects of 2021 Budget constraints will be. I will write about that in a separate article.

Restoration of Express Bus Services

The 900-series express bus services will be reinstated on several routes. These will replace the “trippers” that were added earlier in 2020 as a partial replacement for the express operations.

Weekend service formerly operated by these routes is not restored at this time, and this leaves some routes still with considerably less service than they had pre-covid because nothing replaced the weekend express operations during the cutbacks earlier in 2020.

The affected routes are:

  • 902 Markham Road
  • 929 Dufferin
  • 935 Jane
  • 941 Keele
  • 945 Kipling
  • 952 Lawrence West
  • 954 Lawrence East
  • 996 Wilson

The PDF linked below compares service on the affected routes showing the headway (time between buses), bus/hour values and the number of vehicles assigned in each corridor.

Construction Projects Affecting Streetcars

The service changes in place for the Dundas/College intersection reconstruction and for repair work on the Bathurst Street bridge will remain in effect until January.

Construction Projects Affecting Buses

Keele Station loop will reopen allowing 41 Keele, 80 Queensway and 89 Weston to use that loop. The interline between 30 High Park and 80 Queensway will end.

Construction at Scarborough Town Centre Station that required relocation of 38 Highland Creek will end, and that route will return to its normal location.

Subway Changes

Stand-by crews will be added to Lines 1 (YUS) and 2 (BD) to provide added “resiliency” for service. This will cover for situations when operators are not available when required to take over trains.

Many of the “Route 600” crews and buses (Run As Directed) will be dedicated to subway shuttles, notably for the shutdown between Finch and Sheppard from December 4th to 14th for asbestos removal. The shuttles will extend south to Eglinton during late evening closures.

Weekend closures between Broadview and Woodbine on Line 2 are also planned, but the dates have not yet been announced.

Bus Trippers

Additional service will be scheduled as trippers on many bus routes to reduce crowding:

  • 16 McCowan
  • 17 Birchmount
  • 24 Victoria Park
  • 25 Don Mills
  • 32 Eglinton West
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 39 Finch East
  • 43 Kennedy
  • 47 Lansdowne
  • 68 Warden
  • 85 Sheppard East
  • 89 Weston
  • 95 York Mills
  • 100 Flemingdon Park
  • 129 McCowan North

New Service

A new 43C Kennedy service to Village Green Square will operate during peak periods every 30 minutes on a trial basis. This was part of the TTC’s 2020 Service Plan.

Scheduled School Trips

Many special trips operate to handle demands at various schools around the city. These have used buses from the “600” RAD pool which are not visible to riders using service tracking/prediction apps.

Effective November 23, these buses will be scheduled as part of regular service on the routes they serve making them visible for service tracking.

The list is very long, and I will consolidate this information in a future update.

Service Changes Effective December 20, 2020

Metrolinx Construction

Construction at Eglinton West Station for the Crosstown LRT will reach the point where 32 Eglinton West, 63 Ossington and 109 Ranee can return to their normal routes. The temporary 163 Oakwood route will be removed.

With part of the 32 Eglinton West service shifting back to Eglinton West Station, bus bays will be freed up at Eglinton Station. 56 Leaside and 51 Leslie will return to their usual location.

Scarborough RT Service

The project to rebuild the SRT fleet will end in 2020, but no change has been announced in the level of service once the full 7-train complement will be available.

Holiday Schedules

There will be no extra pre-Christmas shopping service nor extended late night service for New Year’s Eve this year.

As usual, all school trippers will cease operation for the winter break now planned as December 21 to January 1.

Crews for all 600 series buses associated with subway closures will be dropped as no shutdowns are planned through this period.

On Christmas Day, Friday December 25, a holiday service will operate with most routes beginning service at 8 am.

On Boxing Day, Saturday December 26, a holiday service will operate with most routes beginning service at 6 am.

From Monday to Wednesday December 28-30, a normal weekday service will operate except for school trippers and subway closure buses.

On New Year’s Eve, Thursday December 31, a normal weekday service will operate but some express buses might be changed to run as locals (TBA). Some of the RAD service for buses and streetcars will be switched to late evenings to supplement service as needed.

On New Year’s Day, Friday January 1, a holiday service will operate with most routes beginning service at 8 am.

From Saturday January 2 onward, operations will revert to normal schedules with subway standby and RAD buses. School trips will resume on Monday January 4.

Details of Service Changes

The PDF linked below details the service changes planned for November 22, 2020 and for December 20, 2020.

116 Morningside: The Effect of BRT Lite

This is a companion post to the article on the 86/986 Scarborough bus services and the effect of the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside BRT corridor on them. It follows the same general layout and readers will be able to compare charts for the two routes.

116 Morningside shares with 86 Scarborough the portion of the BRT corridor from Brimley & Eglinton east to Guildwood & Kingston Road. From that point, route 116 turns south and then east through the Guildwood neighbourhoods, then north via Morningside. The route extends to north of Finch, but the BRT corridor ends at Ellesmere.

As with the 86 Scarborough bus, the travel time savings occur at locations where stops have been removed. The routes share this effect on Eglinton Avenue. Only one minor stop was removed on Morningside.

Unlike the Scarborough route, 116 Morningside has no express service, and so the speeds for all vehicles both pre and post-Covid are for local services.

The travel time savings on 116 Morningside are smaller than those on 86 Scarborough because it spends less time on the portion of the BRT segment where stops have been removed.

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86 Scarborough: The Effect of BRT Lite

Effective in mid-October the City of Toronto began implementation of reserved bus lanes on the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside corridor between Brimley Road and University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC). This is intended to be the first of several transit priority measures that will be rolled out over coming years.

I will address the City report listing the various candidate routes in a separate article. This piece reviews the behaviour of the 86/986 Scarborough local and express services as the BRT lanes, dubbed RapidTO, came into effect.

Work to install them began at the outer end on Morningside, and then worked south and west. The full extent to Brimley on Eglinton is not yet in service and so the effect will continue into November. The data presented here show results to the end of October 2020.

Concurrently with the transit priority lanes, the TTC reinstated the 986 Express service that had been suspended in the spring. True to TTC form, the express buses are faster than the locals, but the headways are quite irregular making the saving from a faster trip a tradeoff against a potentially long wait for an express bus to appear at your stop.

This article reviews service on the 86/986 Scarborough routes. I will turn to 116 Morningside in a separate article.

Summary

The introduction of reserved lanes and the removal of stops in the Eglinton-Kingston corridor has resulted in a small reduction in travel times for 86 Scarborough buses over this portion of the route.

The effect increased slightly from week 3 to week 5 of October, and it somewhat offset the growth in travel times as road traffic returns to “normal” pre-Covid levels.

The travel time saving provided by the 986 express service is considerably greater than the saving provided by the reserved lanes.

The variability in travel times on this route did not show the same “before” level seen on King Street (often used as an example of what might be achieved) and the lanes did little or nothing to alter this.

Headway reliability is a severe problem on both the local and express services, and service gaps continue to bring more delay to rider journeys than the time saved by the reserved bus lanes.

Travel time savings, such as they are, are due in part to the removal of stops, not to transit priority per se. Claims made for the benefits of the BRT arrangement should be tempered by the fact that two major changes — reserved lanes and stop removals — were implemented at the same time.

Future transit priority proposals should avoid concurrent changes where the “priority” component’s effect might be artificially enhanced. If the TTC’s desire is to remove stops, this can proceed without waiting years for detailed design and approval of the RapidTO scheme. There must be full public consultation, not a masquerade under the rubric of a “transit priority” scheme.

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35 Jane Saturday Service in October 2020

About three weeks ago, I wrote about the appalling condition of service on 35 Jane on Saturday, October 17 in A Travesty of Transit Service.

The October tracking data from this route reveals just how bad the problem was, and shows that this is part of a constant problem on the route.

Buses run in convoys on 35 Jane on Saturdays, and to a lesser extent on Sundays, for hours on end producing extraordinarily irregular service. This would be bad enough in pre-covid times, but with crowding being such an issue in 2020, the TTC’s inattention to reliable service bears added responsibility.

This article reviews the route’s behaviour on October 17 in detail, and then turns to other weekends to see how common the situation might be.

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Tracking the “RAD” Buses

A challenge both for someone like me who wants to analyze service “as operated” as well as for riders, and even for the TTC, is to track the hundreds of “Run as Directed” (or “RAD”) vehicles (mainly buses) in the system.

During the Covid pandemic, the TTC opted to cut back on scheduled service on many routes and run unscheduled extras to be used when and where required depending on demand. Their name for this is “demand responsive” service.

The idea is good as far as it goes, but it has produced many problems:

  • Internally, most of the vehicles are associated with a “route 600”. More accurately, that is where the drivers’ crews are. However, when one of these buses goes into service there are problems.
  • The driver does not “sign on” to the route they are serving, and so a RAD bus running on Steeles West does not show up under the route 60 tracking data.
  • Because the bus is not associated with a scheduled run, NextBus does not know what to do with it, and the bus does not appear in projections of vehicle arrivals. A RAD bus might be just around the corner, but riders will not see it on transit service apps.
  • From a service tracking point of view, the vehicle hours are not charged against the route where the bus operates (which could be several in the course of a shift).

There is a further problem with the tracking data in that a bus “dead heading” to or from service (or even between RAD assignments) looks exactly the same as one that is serving passengers on a route.

The TTC is aware of these problems, and hopes to enhance its tracking system, VISION, to compensate. Current plans are for more regularly scheduled service to return by February 2021, subject to budget issues, and the number of RAD vehicles will decline.

I have been working with TTC IT folks to figure out a data extract from their VISION system that will allow visualization and reporting on the RAD buses. The charts in this article are a first step and are provided for those who are interested.

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Can the TTC Report Meaningfully on Service Quality?

In many articles over several years, I have written about the quality of transit service in Toronto and the degree to which it varies from the sometimes sunny presentations by TTC management. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and heading into an extremely difficult budget year for 2021, understanding service from a rider’s perspective has become more important than ever to retain and rebuild demand on the transit system.

On the budget side, there are already harbingers of cuts to come. The TTC proposes to remove poor performing routes from the network and to trim hours of service on some routes. This includes the 14x Downtown Express services with their notoriously high cost/passenger and a few routes’ late evening operations. This is really small-scale stuff especially considering that the saving from cancelled express routes is already in place since Spring 2020.

The larger problem Toronto will face will be to decide what deeper trimming might look like, how candidates for cuts might be chosen, and how to evaluate the operation of what remains. There are already problems with erratic service that accentuates crowding problems coupled with an underutilized fleet of transit vehicles. Conversely, advocates for service retention and impovement, including, one hopes, TTC management, need solid ground to support calls for specific improvements and to measure them when they occur.

Management reports monthly on service quality and vehicle performance, but the metrics used fall far short of telling the whole story. Recently, CEO Rick Leary mentioned to the TTC Board that these metrics will be updated. This is worthwhile to the extent that new information is actually revealed, not simply a rehash of what we have already.

This article reviews the metrics now in the CEO Report and proposes updates both to the metrics and to the standards against which they report.

Broadly the areas covered here are:

  • Ridership and Trip Counts
  • Budget, Scheduled and Actual Service
  • On Time Performance and Service Reliability
  • Service Capacity
  • Vehicle Reliability and Utilization
  • Infrastructure Reliability

This is a long article because it covers many topics and I wanted to put the arguments together so that the way factors interact is clear. If you want to skip all the details, at least for your first read, there are consolidated recommendations at the end of the article.

Technical note: Many of the illustrations were taken from the October 2020 CEO’s Report. Although I have enlarged them for readability, their resolution is limited by the quality of the source document.

The Tyranny of Averages

Almost all TTC performance metrics consolidate data into monthly average values and, sometimes, into annual moving averages. While this approach simplifies presentation and shows long term trends, it hides a great deal of variation that is at least as important to quality measurement as the long term view.

As I have written many times:

Passengers do not ride average buses.

Telling riders that on average buses are not full and that their arrival is within standards is meaningless to someone who waits twice or more the scheduled headway (the time between vehicles) and finds a crowded bus when one shows up. This problem existed long before the pandemic, but crowding and the effect of service cuts combine to make it a greater concern than before.

Averaging in the performance of off-peak services such as evenings and weekends with overall route behaviour masks poor quality service. Conditions during busy periods are diluted by data from trips when demand on a route is lower.

Averaging performance across the network dilutes the behaviour on busy routes even further by including vehicles running with less crowding and better reliability.

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