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.

CEO’s Report

There was nothing particularly new in the CEO’s report. Ridership continues to be well under budget, and the growth in demand hoped for this fall appears to have plateaued. Still to be seen is whatever effect a more restrictive set of rules governing business openings and social interactions will bring.

Status of the SRT

At the October Board meeting, CEO Rick Leary had promised to deliver a report on the future of the Scarborough RT in November. This report is not yet available but is expected “shortly” according to Leary.

Presto

Work with Metrolinx on settling their outstanding contract disputes is going well, and there will be a “reset” of deliverables under the TTC/Presto Master Agreement.

A pending report for the November 26 Metrolinx Board meeting gives slightly more detail on this:

“Following approval of the key principles of a settlement from the Metrolinx Board and TTC Board, both organizations are working on a final settlement agreement to close off all existing commercial claims regarding PRESTO, while simultaneously delivering new, modern fare products that will further enhance the customer experience for TTC transit riders.”

This is a change from a period when Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster simply dismissed the TTC’s claims out of hand.

Commissioner Shelley Carroll asked if the TTC could put out an RFI (Request for Information) to see if the TTC can get something more affordable and compatible than Presto.

CEO Rick Leary replied that Presto knows their existing contract [with their IT vendor, Accenture] is up, and they are putting out their own RFI/RFP. The issue is the costing of back office systems [needed for account based billing and full open payment support]. Both TTC and Presto want to get their costs down by analogy to what other systems are paying. Leary has been in discussions with Verster, and there will be a report to the Board in the first quarter of 2021.

Cleaning Streetcars

Recent reviews of vehicle cleanliness have flagged an issue with the streetcar fleet, and the TTC is looking at “a second source” for this work. The bus fleet cleaning is already contracted out over objections of ATU Local 113, and this would expand the practice to the streetcar fleet.

Commissioner Carroll asked where the policy direction to outsource this work came from. CEO Rick Leary replied that there is an RFI for pricing this option out right now if there is an opportunity to reduce costs, although the contract award would come back to the Board.

Carroll asked when the Board would make the policy decision to outsource, and stated that in the past management did not look for proposals until the Board had set the policy allowing this change.

Astoundingly, Leary replied that it is up to management to achieve service levels to a Board-approved standard, and they they look for opportunities for efficiencies and savings. This begs the question of whether “Board-approved standards” are anything beyond management’s own concoction (they certainly are for service quality), or if the Board actually intended to cede policy decisions to management.

Carroll observed that this approach makes the decision a budget issue, not a policy issue, but left the debate at that point as no other Board members picked up the thread.

One irony about streetcar external cleaning is that carbon stains on the roofs from trolley poles (more specifically from the carbon sliders in trolley shoes that run along the overhead) are a big problem, but that this will disappear with the conversion to pantograph operation (see discussion of the streetcar fleet later in this article).

Ridership

Although the CEO’s report itself did not update the week-by-week ridership tracking, a new version of this chart was part of a presentation given at a workshop on the 2021 Service Plan.

As a proportion of pre-Covid ridership, the bus network continues to perform best because it is least affected by the work-from-home shift of downtown employees and students. The recovery in demand peaked near the end of September, and has fallen off slightly since then.

The blue line in the chart below shows the number of boardings on buses compared to March 1, 2020 as a starting point

Two measures of bus crowding exceed thresholds. About 35% of all trips are crowded beyond the TTC’s targets.

  • About 27% of all trips carry more than the target 30% load (red line below) allowing for proper distancing.
  • A further 8% of all trips carry more than a 50% load, well in excess of the 30% target (green line below).

These are all day numbers and mask the degree to which overcrowding might be concentrated by time of day, route or location. It is no surprise that riders on busy routes complain about being unable to distance.

There are no stats correlating crowding with gaps in service because the TTC does not track or report on gaps, even though this is a likely source of some of these problems.

Commissioner Carroll asked what the effect would be if Toronto goes into a more severe lockdown.

Rick Leary replied that he will update the Board monthly on ridership, but noted that bus ridership is holding at 49-50% of the pre-Covid era. Messaging about the safety of public transit seems to be holding riders on the system.

An obvious related question is the degree to which trips now taken by transit will be affected by tighter rules on events and business openings.

Financial Update: Operating Budget

The Financial Report contains updates for both the Operating and Capital Budgets, but the discussion focused on the Operating side. Anticipating that there would little new info on the capital projects, I sent a series of questions to the TTC about this and their responses are included below.

Commissioner Carroll asked if the CFO could give the Board an update incorporating recent provicial announcements. CFO La Vita replied that since September, the fiscal pressure is up by ovver $19 million due mainly to poorer revenue than expected. Projections were for 45% of normal revenue, but it looks as if the TTC will only achieve 32-33%. As of Friday, November 13, ridership overall was at 34-35% of budget, and revenue at 33%.

As for 2021, management continuously revisits assumptions for WheelTrans and for the “conventional” system. The current forecast is that pattern from the latter part of 2020 will continue into the first quarter of 2021, and there will be 5% quarterly growth thereafter.

Carroll asked what is the TTC’s “ask” of the province right now? Does the TTC have a clear idea of what their “ask” will be from the City? The Board does not appear to have had this discussion yet.

La Vita replied that provincial announcements established various funds, each with set amounts. Toronto’s share of phase 1 is $440 million, and covers from April 1 to Sept 30, but nothing for losses in March. The City has the money.

Phase 2 runs from October 1 to March 31, 2021 (the end of the provincial fiscal year). All municipalities are still asking about the balance of 2021, and need to know the critera for accessing this funding.

Commission Jennifer McKelvie asked how much the TTC be seeking if it put in a request now. La Vita replied that this number has not been finalized, and that the eligibility criteria for funding need to come. For phase 1, the City had to identify both the extra costs and any savings. Phase 2 includes some policy items such as regional fare integration. $200 million more is needed for balance of 2020, and roughly the same for the first quarter in 2021. The problem will continue well beyond then.

McKelvie wondered how, if the policy requirements such as integration and micro transit cannot possibly be implemented in 2020, the new criteria could fit in. La Vita replied that the province has not provided any clarity on reporting requirements for phase 2.

New Streetcars and Related Issues

[Reported with the CEO’s Report]

There is an ongoing problem with wheel squeal at the intersection of King & Sumach where 504A cars turn south to the Distillery District. This has been addressed by a variety of “fixes” including:

  • changes to the rail profile
  • installation of dampening rings on wheels of cars serving this route
  • installation of on-board lubrication units

The latter two items are not yet on all of the fleet. The reference to on-board lubrication is particularly interesting because this was originally supposed to be part of the Flexity design including GPS-based activation where required.

[Questions to the TTC, with thanks to Stuart Green for getting these details.]

Q: The Financial Update states that 10 Bombardier streetcars have been recommissioned under the Major Repair Program. Is there a projected date for completion of this program?

A: We’ve taken advantage of reduced pandemic-era ridership to accelerate state-of-good-repair work. TTC and Bombardier continue to ramp-up efforts to accelerate the Major Repair Program by increasing the number of vehicles in the program to a high of 22 from seven originally. With this, we are now tracking to complete the program by approximately two years – to end of next year from the original 2023 timeline.

This goes together with the TTC report which states:

“The Major Repair Program is tracking behind schedule in Q3 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which forced Bombardier Transportation’s production facilities to temporarily shut down in late March 2020. Currently Bombardier Transportation is working on accelerating the program to be completed by the end of 2021.”

Pantographs:

An ongoing question has been the rate of work on and projected completion of the conversion to pantograph operation on the entire streetcar network. The TTC’s report says that that the system will be pan-only by Q1 2025.

Currently, St. Clair, Bathurst, Spadina, Harbourfront and Dundas are using pans. Next year, the rebuild of the King-Queen-Roncesvalles intersection will remove the last of the non-pan overhead from King (it is already pan-friendly from Broadview Station to Dufferin Loop).

Much of Queen is already done (with a notable exception at Russell Carhouse and at Coxwell), but there is a big track job planned on Queen West next year that should get much of Queen out of the way. Carlton’s conversion is substantially completed in preparation for streetcar service to return next year. [Corrected November 23 at 11:35 to remove Kingston Road which is only partly converted.]

Q: Is there an earlier date for completion of the changeover of all routes to pans, as opposed to the date for removal of trolley pole compliant overhead?

A: In order implement full stagger, even on the routes that we currently run pantos with minimal stagger, service has to be removed. We could leave the routes with minimal to no stagger (Spadina/HFT/Bathurst) running on pantograph; However, we would not be able to realize the full benefits of pantograph operation. As a result, the Q1 2025 date is the earliest we can have all routes converted to full pantograph operation. Acceleration of removal of hybrid hardware at intersections will be revisited for consideration in future years – likely beyond 2025.

Q: Also, what is the status of pans for the legacy fleet? With the Covid situation I assume this has gone way onto the back burner, but there is the matter of the TTC’s 100th birthday next September, assuming we will be in a position to actually celebrate things like that by then.

A: We are still planning for this. But, yes, timelines have been pushed out so probably a couple of years before we see this happen. At this point we can still run the legacy cars on all but the three routes converted to panto-only (St Clair/Dundas/College). Next year we will complete the Carlton route and will be starting on Queen.

eBus Performance

The fleet of 60 battery-electric buses is now substantially in operation. Although the CEO’s Report says that there is not yet sufficient service accumulation to comment on eBus performance, the Financial Update includes the statement:

“As of October 3, all eBuses have accumulated over 750,000 km of mileage, with a range of 207 km to 226 km for NewFlyer and Proterra.”

Q: Does this range refer to the distance travelled on one full charge of the bus? Is there any data for the BYD vehicles?

Yes, this range is for one full charge and under ideal conditions based on our actual experience. Based on our limited experience with BYD, the range we are seeing is around 200-210km.

Q: Assuming so, does the TTC have any comment on the different between the potential ranges cited in the Green Technology Plan Update and those actually achieved, including how this affects operational planning, fleet requirements, and the need to recharge during the operating day? The ranges cited in that report were 310km for BYD, 280km for New Flyer and 400km for Proterra.

The ranges cited in the original Green Bus Technology Update were bus manufacturer published estimates and at the end of the day, we fully expected our range to differ. One goal of our program is to understand under our environment what those ranges are. What we are learning is that bus route topography, passenger loading, ambient temps, road conditions and the operator themselves have a BIG impact on the energy consumption of these buses.

Leveraging the experience we have with these buses, we are able to make recommendations on a monthly basis as to which blocks of service these buses are capable of operating and we have alerts and processes in place to identify buses running low on charge to avoid leaving any bus stranded on the road.

In the future, we look to adopt an energy management and charging system that will be able to predict range based on all the factors aforementioned and assign an eBus to an appropriate block/run of service.

Today’s buses are able to operate on 1149 of 2088 blocks of 40’ bus service (September 2020 Board Period) assuming a max range of 200km.

For our next eBus procurement in 2023-2024 we anticipate the range to be approximately 300km which would satisfy 1611 of 2088 blocks. At that time, depending on where battery technology is heading, we will make a determination of which service blocks will require opportunity/on-route charging in order to be satisfied by an eBus. Also as an aside, 30/60 eBuses we have today are already up-fitted with overhead charge rails to allow for future on-route charging.

Automatic Train Control

ATC (Automatic Train Control) will go live from Queen to Rosedale on the weekend of Nov 20-22.

Phase 4, from Rosedale to Eglinton, is targeted for fourth quarter 2021. This includes Davisville Yard.

Phase 5, from Eglinton to Finch, is targeted for third quarter 2022.

Work on the Crosstown Line 5 by Metrolinx, as well as the asbestos removal project in the North Yonge tunnels, could affect the timing of these phases.

North Yonge Tunnel Asbestos Removal

The TTC has decided to proceed with a two-week shutdown of Line 1 Yonge-University between Sheppard and Finch Stations for asbestos removal, and that this work will be contracted to an outside company.

This will occur from late evening on Friday, December 4 to the beginning of service on Monday, December 14. Shuttle buses will run during this period. There are also some early closures planned for the section south to Eglinton, and the shuttle will extend to cover the full distance when needed.

The area where the asbestos is to be removed is a classic “box” style tunnel with flat walls where the work is comparatively straightforward compared with the round, bored tunnels using segmented tunnel liners from Sheppard south to Eglinton (except at Stations, crossovers and the three-track segment south of York Mills).

Dell Park Entrance at Lawrence West Station

A report to the Board responds to a request from North York Community Council that the TTC implement a second entrance to Lawrence West Station at Dell Park Avenue near the south end of the station. Here is the Google Street View from Dell Park where it crosses the subway corridor.

Five designs were considered for this link. Two of them connect from the south side of the Dell Park bridge to the platform below, while the other three include a walkway over the existing station to the south end of the platform where there would be a vertical link.

Of these the two that connect directly to the bridge were preferred because they are shorter even though they have a greater construction impact at platform level. Option 4 below is preferred. The preliminary estimated cost is $20-30 million, and this project is no included in any of the TTC’s current capital plans or funding where the focus is on underground stations for fire safety.

The structure will provide for future installation of an elevator, but that is not included in the cost estimate.

Motion Requesting a Special Budget Meeting

Chair Jaye Robinson submitted the following Motion Without Notice:

That the TTC Board:

1. Direct staff to plan and execute a Special Meeting of the TTC Board in December 2020 for the purpose of considering the 2021 Operating and Capital Budgets, ensuring prior engagement with the Budget Working Group.

2. Nominate an additional Commissioner to fill the current vacancy on the Budget Working Group.

This launched a discussion about both the budget process and about how the Board and members of the public would be involved.

Commissioner Carroll asked CEO Rick Leary about a motion the Board had already passed about reinstating the TTC’s Budget Committee.

This originated at the September 24 Board meeting when Commissioner Carroll moved that the TTC:

Re-establish the Budget Committee and, in doing so, dissolve the Budget Working Group and appoint its members (Brad Bradford, Shelley Carroll and Jim Karygiannis) to the Budget Committee.

[In September, Jim Karygiannis was still a member of the TTC Board and his seat on Council had not been vacated by the Courts.]

At the time, there was a clear sense from the Board that this was not a welcome move, and what they eventually passed was:

It is recommended that the TTC Board:

1. Refer the item to staff to report back to the Board in October 2020.

There was no report to the Board at the October 2020 meeting.

Carroll noted that so much is changing re multiyear planning and provincial plans, but the motion was referred to the CEO who never reported back. After a phone conversation between them, what was now before the Board is a working group meeting is not public where people do not get to see information presented.

[See my article A Discussion of In Camera Sessions.]

Interim CFO Josie La Vita replied that management are grappling with the ability to report back this year due to changing situation. The timeframe gets in the way of public having an opportunity for input this year, and the City’s budget launch date is January 14, 2021.The TTC needs to plan for a year where things are not “so crazy”.

Carroll asked whether the report on having a Budget Committee will come to the Board in 2021, and La Vita replied that she plans to report back after the 2021 budget approval in the first quarter on a proposed process for the following year.

Carroll was concerned that with return to lockdown and long future recovery, the TTC needs to be able to bring the public into agreement with is whatever is going to happen. She argued that the TTC should return to having public Budget Committee meetings to avoid 11th hour appeals at Board meetings given that the city might be looking at as much as a decade of recovery

Chair Robinson noted that the City’s Striking Committee had just met to set the city’s budget schedule and the TTC needs to be in sync. This is a chance for the entire board to have input, and it is important that there will be a public meeting.

The TTC Budget Working Group will meet, but this will not be a public meeting.

As the whole issue of recreating a Budget Committee appeared to be moot, only part 1 of Robinson’s motion was retained.

“1. Direct staff to plan and execute a Special Meeting of the TTC Board in December 2020 for the purpose of considering the 2021 Operating and Capital Budgets, ensuring prior engagement with the Budget Working Group.”

This meeting will occur on Monday, December 21, 2020.

6 thoughts on “TTC Board Meeting November 16, 2020

  1. Better take a look at hydrogen buses.

    Steve: Hydrogen buses are another available technology although they have their own challenges. The question for all buses is where the energy comes from, ultimately, and how much is wasted along the way for extraction/production, conversion, storage, and fuelling. Each industry has its own set of lobbyists, and whatever you hear about “today” has a lot to do with who held the last press conference and who got a governmental ear. For example, the natural gas industry is not thought of well as a “fossil fuel” provider, but, hey, presto-chango let’s not look too closely at where all that hydrogen for buses might come from. The jury is still out.

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  2. Wow, the panto upgrade for Kingston Road was done in a jiffy, relatively speaking. I took CLRVs on Kingston Road (when available) a few times a month in 2018 and early 2019. As I recall, the overhead was completely old-school trolley pole back then.

    Kind of surprising that a relatively minor branch got fully upgraded. Maybe the Flexities were drawing more current going up the hill than the overhead was suited for?

    The extra entrance for Lawrence West station makes sense, whatever the cost. Between looping buses and cars entering and leaving Allen Road, the present entrance on Lawrence Ave is extremely pedestrian unfriendly.

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  3. Hi Steve,

    Do you know when more details about the 2021 TTC operating budget be released? It will be interesting to see whether a fare increase will be tabled to offset low ridership and revenues caused by Covid.

    Steve: There is a special meeting of the Board planned for December 21, 2020. The agenda will probably come out shortly before the meeting.

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  4. With respect to streetcar overhead:

    Does the word “stagger” mean having the overhead sway left and right so as to distribute wear more evenly at the tip of the pantograph?

    Would “full stagger” preclude trolley pole operation even with “hybrid hardware”?

    Steve: Yes, and yes. If the wire is slewed too far from the centreline where the trolley shoe is aligned with the wire, it cannot track properly. Also, another part of this work would be to change to self-tensioning overhead which requires breaks in the contact wire that a trolley pole cannot navigate. The two changes would likely be implemented at the same time.

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  5. Kingston Road is not panto ready. Between Dundas and Kingswood there are 3 spans done, the rest is old style. Bingham Loop is ready, Woodbine Loop is almost ready, just needs frog jumps and crossover lilypads.

    Steve: Thanks for the update! I have put a correction in the article.

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