TTC Service Changes January 3, 2021: Part II Buses

Updated January 7, 2021: Comparative service level charts have been added for routes 53/953 and 60/960 showing changes between the November 2020 and January 2021 schedules.

Updated January 5, 2021: Information about express routes 953 Steeles East, 960 Steeles West and 984 Sheppard has been updated in the route summary. Comparative service charts will be added for weekday service on 953 and 960 in a separate update.

Updated December 26-28, 2020: This article has been extensively updated with charts to illustrate the change in service levels on corridors that have or had 9xx Express services. I will turn to other routes in a separate article.

Some of you have probably been wondering where my list of bus service changes for January 2021 has wandered off to.

The problem is that some of the information in the TTC’s service change memo is inconsistent, and a new version to be issued after Christmas. Some information about planned schedule changes is available through the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal which has the electronic versions of all schedules for use by various trip planning apps.

Because the difference between some new and old schedules is not as straightforward as usual, I have added charts comparing service levels by time of day rather than the breakdown into peak, midday and off peak periods.

Information here should be considered “preliminary” in case the TTC makes further revisions before the new schedules take effect.

Scheduled Erratic Service

The schedules for many routes suffer from build-in irregular headways. If the route runs on time, the buses are not evenly spaced, and “on time” performance is the metric the TTC uses, for better or worse, to evaluate service. This irregularity arises from several factors that can also interact on the same schedule:

  • The route has branching services that are not on a compatible headway. For example, it is easy to blend two services running every 20′ to give a 10′ combined service on the common mileage. However, if it is a 25′ and a 10′ headway, this is impossible.
  • For pandemic-era schedules, some trips were cancelled without adjusting surrounding buses to even out the headways. This might have occurred unofficially, but it would take a lot of work to ensure that spacing stayed ideal even if the buses were not strictly “on time”.
  • For pandemic-era replacement of express services, “trippers” operated usually on schedules that did not blend with the basic service. These buses were typically in service from 5 am to noon, and from 3 to 10 pm.
  • Some “Run as Directed” (RAD) buses (aka Route 600 series) operated where needed to supplement scheduled service. These do not appear on any schedule nor in a route’s vehicle tracking logs.

My purpose in looking in detail at the January 2021 changes is to show how all of these factors interact.

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TTC Capital Budget and Plan 2021

Updated December 22, 2020 at 1:20 pm: Some illustrations from the Board meeting presentation have been added to this article, or have replaced previous versions with lower resolution from the budget report. Text has been added in some sections notably in comments about the timing of future projects and spending.

This is a companion article to my piece on the Operating Budget for 2021. This year operations will have a big challenge because subsidies are needed to backfill lost fare revenue, and yet politically, spending money on what we already have does not have the allure of announcing yet another subway plan. “Look! Another bus on Dufferin” does not stir the blood in quite the same way although one might argue that the long-suffering riders there are equally “deserving” of attention.

The Capital Budget has its own problems. For many years the true need for transit capital in Toronto was hidden so that the depth of the funding hole would not be obvious. Magically, there always seem to be enough capital to cover current costs, and somehow future years took care of themselves as they became the new present.

That scheme came unglued as TTC capital needs rose and available money went to the flashy new projects: a subway here, an LRT there, and of course an expressway rebuild lest those non-transit riders should be delayed on their vital journeys to and from downtown. A new class of project “below-the-line” was invented to accommodate work that was necessary, but for which money had yet to be found.

However, even getting on that unfunded list required acknowledgement that a project was necessary, and a long list of below-below-the-line work accumulated. In budgetary terms, this tactic was non “sustainable”. One cannot claim to be making a budget while ignoring over half of one’s future needs. Far from being ready to face the future, the TTC had a long queue of projects needed to refresh decades-old infrastructure, but no money to pay for them because they officially didn’t exist in the mind of fiscal planners.

This was not entirely the TTC’s fault. The City of Toronto preferred to have its transit system and appetite for capital look as if everything was in hand. The situation was not helped one bit by the prevailing attitude among some politicians that transit infrastructure, especially subways, is near-immortal while, in fact, lines dating back to the mid-20th century were showing signs of their age.

The situation was simply untenable as what once was “the future” banged loudly on Toronto’s door. In early 2019, a 15 year capital funding outlook was presented to the TTC Board including a $33.5 billion projection of capital needs to 2033.

The capital budget and ten-year plan before the Board on December 21 is not a full update of the 15-year plan, but it shows the transit funding crisis Toronto faces quite starkly. The 15 year plan’s status today is:

… the CIP has been updated and further refined in accordance with Board and Council direction, resulting in a 2021 to 2035 CIP that totals $37.7 billion, of which $10.349 billion is unfunded within the first 10 years and a total of $23.239 billion over the 15-year period. [p. 1]

The total does not in include major expansion projects beyond closeout of the Spadina extension project ($120 million), end-of-life support for the SRT ($47 million), and design work for the Waterfront LRT ($50 million). This is small change on the scale of the 15 year plan’s billions.

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TTC Operating Budget 2021

Updated December 21, 2020 at 5:50 pm: This article has been updated with additional and replacement illustrations from TTC management’s presentation to the Board at its meeting today. Explanatory text has been added or modified as needed. (The illustrations from this presentation are clearly identified by the date on them.)

Other issues were raised both by deputations and by Board members. I will deal with these in a separate article.

On Monday, December 21, the TTC Board will consider its Operating and Capital Budgets for 2021. This article deals with the Operating budget that pays for day-to-day service and maintenance. I will turn to the Capital budget that pays for major repairs and system expansion in a separate article.

Tracking the budget can be challenging even in normal times because there are so many moving parts. This year we have the collapse of demand thanks to the pandemic, together with an uncertain future for both economic and ridership recovery, not to mention government support to bridge the gap.

The table below shows how the budget has evolved over the past year. It begins, as all budgets do, with the prior year’s budget as a starting point. Normally, there would be much hand-wringing if the probable outcome were off by a tiny amount. Covid has blown such a hole in our finances that projections made a year ago bear no relation to the year as it evolved.

Along the way, there were many changes to operations through the year, but the TTC managed to keep service overall at about 85 per cent of the planned level. This percentage was not uniform across the system. Some bus routes, the very part of the network that suffered the least from ridership loss, saw substantial service cuts through the loss of their express services. As the TTC gradually restores the network, these problems will be reversed, but there is no guarantee that the system will have enough resources to deal with the combined effect of returning demand and a continued desire for social distancing.

The 2021 base budget includes various changes between 2020 and 2021. For 2021 there is a combination of new and enhanced services (a paltry amount compared to the overall budget) and a very large requirement (almost $800 million) to cover for Covid effects.

Fare and other miscellaneous revenue such as commuter parking and advertising will be down about 58 per cent over the 2021 year. This is not as deep as the losses at their worst in 2020, but ridership is projected to grow slowly through the year improving the TTC’s revenue picture, although it remains far from the pink of health.

Absent in the 2021 budget is any provision for a fare increase. Under normal circumstances this would generate about $30 million in added revenue, but fares now account for less than half of their former contribution. Mayor Tory has announced that there will be no fare increase, and this is a year in which that is a comparatively inexpensive decision. A longer-term problem will be a decision on the target level of fare revenue as operations and ridership return to normal in future years especially as covid-related subsidies disappear.

Expenses will rise by 2.4 per cent on the conventional system, although on a dollar basis, this is substantially offset by Wheel-Trans budget cuts in response to reduced demand.

The bottom line is that almost $800 million will be needed to supplement TTC’s normal revenue streams while maintaining service as planned. The arrival of such funding is far from certain, and detailed announcements probably await provincial and federal budgets for the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2021. Committed funding to date only gets the City and TTC to March 31, 2021.

Recent announcements might have sounded as if this were all new money, but in fact the status of transit funding is unknown for three quarters of 2021 starting, appropriately enough, on April 1st.

Unless otherwise noted, all tables and charts in this article come from the TTC’s Operating Budget report or from the Presentation at the Board Meeting of December 21, 2020.

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Can Toronto Still Be A Transit City?

As someone whose blog on transit affairs approaches its fifteenth birthday, I am often asked “so what would you do”. Usually the context is limited – how to improve bus service, which technology should be used for what line, and of course the perennial request to “draw a map”.

All of these are valid up to a point, but a common problem I and anyone else attempting to plan for the GTHA run into headlong is the accumulation of fixed plans that cannot be changed. They are like boulders on the landscape left by retreating glaciers, and they are almost immovable. It does not matter that many of them are invisible — they exist only as promises and dreams, not as actual built and operating systems.

With something tangible, we can at least debate how things might be improved, how they might be better used as part of a regional network. With dreams, we are dealing with egos, often large political ones held tightly, like security blankets, to the chests of politicians who would otherwise be intellectually naked.

A recent article by the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro traces the history of the Scarborough LRT and subway projects through many political twists and turns. This is required reading both as a refresher for long-time followers of the debate and as an essential primer for newcomers on how we got to this sorry point. A summary of the article also appears as a Twitter thread with branches off to other work, notably John Lorinc’ series for Spacing Magazine.

In 2006, I wrote about A Grand Plan, my then-answer to what our network should look like, and I revisited that in various articles over the years. Metrolinx did not yet exist, and the context was the pending creation a regional transit plan that would set the stage for transit expansion in coming decades. We are now in the last days of 2020. The co-ordinated, prioritized, considered plans of Metrolinx’ early days have been replaced by the interventions for political, not planning, reasons. The only questions that matter now are “where are the votes” closely, but more surreptitiously by “where do my friends own property”.

A selection of comments from these articles appears at the end of this post. It is disheartening to think how long we have all been debating these issues and how little has been achieved.

Late in 2004, TTC staff prepared a plan to argue what could be done to improve Toronto’s transit. The then head of planning, Mitch Stambler, bounced ideas off me asking what they might call this plan. I wrote:

“Better Late Than Never” would be a good description for some TTC services, not to mention for a plan that we could actually achieve rather than endlessly debating.

As I said when we chatted last week, it is important that we somehow emphasize that this is something we really can do, and can do in a reasonable timeframe at a cost we might be able to afford. Also, we have to tie this in with the idea that Toronto is growing through transit to support the OP [Official Plan].

As a sidebar, somewhere the plan has to acknowledge that the TTC is NOT the only game in town, and that some of the growth will be handled by other systems, notably GO Transit. What is vital is that we do not repeat the errors of “Network 2001” which planned for lots of growth but ignored the potential contribution of commuter rail. That’s where the so-called justifications came from for the Sheppard Subway and for the scheme to massively expand Bloor-Yonge station.

Somewhere, we have to say that we should not try to handle all of the regional demand on the subway, and that this approach will leave resources (and subway capacity) free to handle comparatively-speaking local demand.

The LRT (or whatever) study needs to acknowledge this context — that it is NOT trying to be a mega solution to all transportation problems of the 416 and 905, but that it is trying to address the growth of population on The Avenues, and more generally in a built form that is not suitable for a network of subway lines.

“Toronto, A Transit City” is generic and it shows the focus we want for overall growth using transit (be it on the Avenues or elsewhere). It’s also broad enough to embrace a larger scheme of studies … “Toronto: Building a Transit City” … which would probably come to be shortened in general parlance as the “Transit City” plan or something like that.

Email to Mitch Stambler, December 29, 2004. Note that the Bloor-Yonge scheme mentioned here was much more heroic, complex and probably impossible to build than the recently-approved version that will add a new eastbound platform to Yonge Station.

That was 16 years ago.

The Short Version

I know perfectly well that some readers want a quick hit, a cut to the chase, and their eyes glaze over when they see that a long epistle awaits. Here are the high points:

  • The Scarborough debate has been entirely about new capital projects and spending, but not about state of good repair and service quality which leads directly to operating subsidies. We need not just one pot of gold to address new builds, but two more to keep and improve the existing systems especially where transit is less competitive and many trips are poorly served.
  • We need to decide what we should achieve with transit. Is it a fundamental investment in mobility for everyone and in the region’s economy, or is it a service for “them”, the people who cannot drive?
  • Are transit promises just to buy votes, and are proposed new lines only to serve well-connected landowners, or is their intent to make lasting, valuable changes for the region?
  • How much are we prepared to spend on transit building, operations and maintenance, and how will this fit with competing demands from other sectors such as health care?
  • Transit should not exist as a mechanism to underwrite an industrial strategy or to develop new technologies, beneficial though they might become. Even “green” technology should not be viewed as inherently good without a commitment to carrying more people by transit and diverting trips from autos. We should not let spending on green transit detract from spending for more and better transit.
  • There is much unmet need for transit in the region, and this should not be held hostage to redevelopment schemes as a pre-requisite to improving the network. People need to travel between many locations, and they should not have to wait for every point in between to sprout towers around new transit stations.
  • Transit construction is often touted for job creation, but could all that work could be distributed among more, less expensive projects rather than one or two megaprojects? Just because we spend billions of dollars and create many short-term jobs in the process, we have not necessarily spent well.
  • The 905/416 border is cited as an obstacle to “regional integration” when the problems it brings are largely questions of revenue allocation and jurisdiction for carrying passengers. These are not difficult problems by contrast to the very different service level found on routes in the 416 versus the 905. Much better funding of transit at the local level is needed to overcome this, especially with buses as the likely way that travel between areas outside of Toronto’s core will be handled for the foreseeable future.
  • Getting around the region is an everywhere-to-everywhere problem, but much transit (even within Toronto itself) is focused on the core to the detriment of travel between outer parts of the city and region. If we are serious about transit as a regional entity, then the ability to travel across the region and between its many parts is as vital as expanding the existing core-oriented rapid transit network.
  • Road space is shared to varying degrees between different groups of users – motorists, transit, freight, pedestrians, cyclists. The most difficult areas to change this balance are typically the most congested because space is at a premium. Improved transit priority is not achieved just by drawing lines on a map, but by detailed review of how streets work and how their use can be rebalanced. Access to transit is as important as service – if riders cannot easily access service, transit cannot serve its purpose.
  • “Governance” is touted as a solution to problems, but it is really code for centralization of power and decision-making. The agency that might have at least provided central coordination, Metrolinx, is a direct tool of government policy with little accountability, cherry picking which services it delivers and leaving local transit systems to muddle through.
  • The question must be asked: has the region already passed beyond a point where transit can become the choice of travel for many, if not most, journeys? Have we delayed or compromised transit improvements for so long that transit can never catch up as a competitive service? Stripped of all political posturing, what is really possible in our transit future? Without honest and transparent planning, we cannot answer any of these questions.
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TTC Service Changes January 3, 2021 Part I: Streetcars (Updated)

Updated January 7, 2021: Maps showing the revised operation of 501/301 Queen, 504/304 King and 506/306 Carlton have been added from the TTC’s Route Diversion pages.

Updated December 23, 2020: The operating schedules (in GTFS format used by various trip planning apps) for the January-February period have now been issued on the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal. These confirm two outstanding issues with the service as it was described in the change memo:

  • The 304C King West night shuttle will operate on a 20′ headway, while the main part of the 304 King streetcar route between Dufferin and Broadview Station will operate on a 30′ headway. This means that timed connections between the two services will not be reliably possible for each trip.
  • The 310 Spadina night service appears to have escaped the cutback from a 15′ to a 30′ headway. The January schedules show service every 15′.

The TTC memo detailing service changes for January is a long one, and in the interest of breaking this up into more digestible chunks, I will deal with the streetcar and bus networks separately.

The usual summary of schedule changes (for the streetcars only) is linked here:

Some routes will see major changes beginning in January and continuing, with modifications as the year goes on.

In addition to various construction projects, the TTC plans to accelerate the retrofit of its Flexity fleet with various fixes and the major repairs to the early cars with frame integrity problems. The intent is to substantially complete this work by September 2021 by which time ridership recovery in the territory served by streetcars will be recovering from the pandemic ‘s effects.

The total scheduled cars in peak periods will be 145 out of a total fleet of 204. As I reported in a recent article about the 2021 Service Plan, the TTC aims to field 168 cars in peak once they have the fleet back at a normal 20 per cent maintenance ratio.

Queen Street will take the brunt of construction work for the early part of 2021 with a shutdown of streetcar service west of McCaul Loop. This will allow conversion of the overhead system for pantograph operation and, when construction weather allows, the complete replacement of the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles intersection. See:

That project will also affect the King service west of Dufferin Street.

Streetcars will return to Bathurst and to part of the Carlton route.

Blue Night Service (Updated)

The overnight service on four routes (501 Queen, 504 King, 506 Carlton and 510 Spadina) was increased due to congestion at the carhouses when most of the fleet, including many still-active CLRVs, was “in for the night”. Service on all but Carlton operated every 15 minutes, while Carlton ran every 20, even when it was a bus operation.

The night service reverts to half-hourly headways in January, except for 310 Spadina which remains at quarter-hourly. Also, the 304C King bus between Dundas West and Shaw will operate every 20′ while the main 304 streetcar route will operate half-hourly.

501 Queen

The 501 Queen route will be split with streetcars running between Neville Loop and McCaul Loop, and buses between Long Branch Loop and Jarvis Street. The 301 Blue Night service will also be split, but the streetcar portion will loop via Church, Richmond and York to avoid causing noise from wheel squeal at McCaul Loop.

The western portion of the route will include a short turn with half of the buses terminating at Park Lawn during most periods of service. Buses will loop downtown via Jarvis, Richmond and Church Streets. The buses will be supplied by Mount Dennis and Birchmount garages.

Routings in the area of Humber Loop will vary depending on the branch:

  • Westbound 501L and 301L: From the Queensway, south on Windermere Avenue, west on Lake Shore Boulevard West to Long Branch Loop.
  • Eastbound 501L and 301L: East on Lake Shore Boulevard west, north on Windermere Avenue, east on the Queensway.
  • Westbound 501P: From the Queensway, south on Park Lawn Road, south on Marine Parade Drive to Park Lawn Loop.
  • Eastbound 501P: From Park Lawn Loop via north on Marine Parade Drive, north on Park Lawn Road, east on the Queensway.

501 Queen will operate from Russell Carhouse and will continue to use trolley poles as the east end of the route has not yet been converted for pantographs (that project is planned for fall 2021).

502 Downtowner

This route is still suspended and all streetcar service on Kingston Road is provided by route 503.

503 Kingston Road

The 503 Kingston Road streetcar will continue to operate to Charlotte Loop at Spadina. The City has just awarded the contract for reconstruction of Wellington and Church Streets from Yonge to King, and that will occur in the spring. This will complete the Wellington Street project which has been delayed by other utility projects in the same area.

503 Kingston Road will operate from Leslie Barns and, like 501 Queen, will continue to use trolley poles.

504 King

The 504 King route will be split with streetcars running east of Dufferin Street and a bus service operating from Shaw to Dundas West Station. Both the 504A Distillery and 504B Broadview Station services will terminate at Dufferin Loop.

To reduce congestion at Dufferin Loop, all service on 29/929 Dufferin will be extended to the Princes’ Gate Loop.

The 504A Distillery service will operate from Russell Carhouse, and the 504B Broadview Station service will operate from Leslie Barns. The route will continue to operate with trolley poles.

The west end bus service 504C and 304C Blue Night will loop via south and east on Douro Street, north on Shaw Street to King Street West. Buses will be provided by Mount Dennis Garage. Because service on the 304 streetcar and the 304C bus will operate at different headways, regular connections between them will not be possible.

The operator relief point for the 504B service will be shifted from Queen & Broadview to Broadview Station to avoid service delays on other routes caused by late arrivals of operators for shift changes.

505 Dundas

The cutback of 505 Dundas service to Lansdowne has already ended (on Dec 9) and all cars now run through to Dundas West Station. This change becomes part of the scheduled service in January. Headways will be widened slightly during most periods to operate the same number of cars over a longer journey.

Operation of this route will be split between Leslie Barns and Roncesvalles Carhouse, and that will continue until spring 2022. Cars running to and from Roncesvalles will operate with trolley poles and will change to pantographs at Dundas West Station. Cars from Leslie already run on pantograph on their dead head trips.

The eight AM peak bus trippers will be interlined with buses from other routes. In the west, four trips will originate at Lansdowne from trippers on the 47 Lansdowne route. In the east, four trips will originate at Broadview Station from trippers on the 100 Flemingdon Park route.

506 Carlton

The 506 Carlton route will be split with streetcars returning between Broadview and High Park Loop, and buses operating between Parliament and Main Station. Overhead conversion for pantographs is not completed yet on the east end of the route, and reconstruction of the bus roadway at Main Station is planned to start in March.

506 streetcars will loop in the east via Broadview, Dundas and Parliament. 506C Buses will loop via River, Dundas and Sherbourne Streets.

For the overnight service, the 306 streetcars will run to Broadview Station and will use the bay normally occupied by 505 Dundas which has no overnight service.

The looping shown for the 506B/306B buses is different from the version show in the service change memo. The TTC has confirmed that the map is the correct version.

All 506 Carlton cars will operate from Roncesvalles Carhouse. They will enter and leave service using trolley poles, but once on Howard Park Avenue will switch to pantographs as the west and central portions of the route have been converted. The 506 buses will operate from Eglinton and Malvern garages.

508 Lake Shore

This route remains suspended pending recovery of demand to the business district downtown.

509 Harbourfront

This route reverts to the February 2020 schedules. Extra service that was added to compensate for the absence of 511 Bathurst cars will be removed.

510 Spadina

This route reverts to the February 2020 schedules with minor changes in service levels.

511 Bathurst

Streetcars return to 511 Bathurst using the February 2020 schedules. If construction work on the Bathurst Street Bridge is not completed by January 3, streetcars will divert via King, Spadina and Queens Quay until the bridge reopens.

512 St. Clair

The 512 St. Clair route continues with the November 2020 schedules and a covid-era reduction in service.

Routes 509 through 512 will all operate from Leslie Barns and will enter service using pantographs from the barns to route via Queen and King Streets.

The allocation of streetcars to carhouses by route is shown in the table below.

Eglinton East & Waterfront LRT Updates

Toronto’s Executive Committee considered a report on the current status of the Eglinton East LRT and Waterfront East LRT projects at its meeting on December 10, 2020.

The primary function of this report is to authorize continued study, not to set priorities nor to discuss funding schemes. As such, its recommendations passed easily because it preserves the convenient fiction of progress without actual commitment. The real battles come when there are $30 billion worth of transit projects and less than $10 billion to pay for them.

In a beautifully ironic touch, the same morning brought news from the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro that the Scarborough RT would not last long enough to avoid a shutdown well before the Scarborough Subway could be completed. That announcement raises a raft of questions about Toronto’s transit future that go well beyond Scarborough itself, and I will turn to those issues in a separate article.

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TTC 2021 Service Plan

The TTC’s proposed 2021 Service Plan will go before the TTC Board at its meeting on Tuesday, December 15, 2021.

In September 2020, I wrote about the draft Service Plan as it was presented for public consultation. The final version has been amended in parts and contains more detail than the draft version.

The effects of the pandemic will run through service plans for many years, but the TTC’s approach is to maintain a relatively high level of service in support both of social distancing and of the large number of essential trips that are taken by transit. The Service Plan is silent on how this will funded, and that will no doubt be a topic of the 2021 Budget to be discussed at a special meeting on December 21.

Although the TTC plans to operate at close to 100 per cent of its pre-pandemic service level, the actual distribution of service may not be the same. Service will not return to its former state with recognizable peak periods and heavy demand to the core area as long as business and educational travel is replaced by work/study from home arrangements. Until the effect of the just-announced availability of a vaccine works its way through society, we will not know when and how various activities will return to “normal”.

Demand on the system had been growing through 2020 after a trough in the spring, but that growth was blunted recently by the renewed lockdown in Toronto. The strongest return of demand has been on the bus network which serves more areas where trips are taken by transit to jobs where work-at-home is not practical. In some locations demand is already over 50 per cent of former levels and, coupled with a desire for less-crowded vehicles, service at pre-pandemic levels is required.

The TTC anticipates that system-wide demand will return to 50 per cent of former levels by the end of 2021, and this implies higher values particularly on the bus network. It will not be possible to provide social distancing beyond whatever can be achieved by fielding as many of the buses the TTC already owns. One advantage of the flattened demand curve is that the fleet can achieve better utilization with demand spread out over more service hours.

The Service Plan notes that a common complaint during the consultation process was uneven vehicle spacing and bunching problems. This is extensively documented in many articles on this site and the problem continues to this day. The only “solution” proposed by the Plan is changes to schedules so that they reflect actual operating conditions, and there is no mention of the need for much better service management.

There is a lot to cover in the overall plan, and the remainder of this article will address major topics. Some items, notably those related to customer service issues at stops, are not covered here but I will turn to them as and when specific proposals appear. Interested readers should refer to the full document.

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TTC Holiday Service for 2020-21

Normally December brings thoughts of celebration both for Christmas and New Year’s Day, but as with so many other things, 2020 will be very different. The TTC’s plans for the holiday period reflect these times.

Two notable changes:

  • There is no provision for extra shopping service or an early pre-Christmas rush hour beyond what might be added through run-as-directed (RAD) vehicles.
  • There will be no special late night service on December 31. Some RAD crews will be rescheduled into the evening in case extra service is needed in selected areas.

As usual, all school trips will be removed effective Monday, December 21. They will return on Monday, January 4, 2021.

The extra bus crews for subway shuttle service will be removed from Sunday, December 20 to Saturday, January 2 as there are no planned shutdowns for major construction or repairs. The regular RAD buses and streetcars supplementing day-to-day operations will continue.

The schedules to be operated through the period are:

  • Weekend of December 19-20: Regular Saturday and Sunday service.
  • Monday to Thursday December 21-24: Regular weekday service.
  • Friday December 25: Regular Sunday service. Subway opens at 8:00 am.
  • Saturday December 26: Regular Holiday service similar to Thanksgiving Day. Subway opens at 6:00 am.
  • Sunday December 27: Regular Sunday service.
  • Monday to Wednesday December 28-30: Regular weekday service.
  • Thursday December 31: Regular weekday service with no late-night extensions. Some 900-series express buses may be changed to operate as locals depending on demand.
  • Friday January 1: Regular Sunday service. Subway opens at 8:00 am.
  • Weekend of January 2-3: Regular Saturday and Sunday service.
  • Monday January 4: Regular weekday service including school trips restored.

Service changes for January 2021 have not yet been announced.

The Siren Song of Regional Fare Integration

The Toronto Region Board of Trade recently published a discussion paper on the subject of regional transit integration focused on fare structure and the barriers it creates to regional travel.

See: Erasing the Invisible Line: Integrating the Toronto Region’s Transit Networks

This is to be the first of four papers with others to follow on subjects such as increasing utilization of the regional rail network and improving service on the local bus networks around the GTHA. No publication dates have been announced for the remainder of this series.

The absence of those papers leaves the first one on fare integration out on its own missing some of the context that drives choices of what might make an appropriate “solution”. In particular the key roles of both GO Transit and local transit systems, or at least as the Board of Trade might see them, inform the proposal of a new fare structure, but more as background. Are these assumptions valid and does a new tariff based on them actually stand up to scrutiny?

Schemes to unify the regional fare structure have floated around the GTA for years. Lots of ink was spilled on reports, models and consultation. Nothing much has actually happened, or at least that’s the impression one might get, in part because different players have different goals.

Metrolinx is absolutely wedded to a zone fare system because that is how their fare collection technology works. They speak of it as “fare by distance”, but their zonal structure contains many inequities because it evolved piecemeal along with their network. Long trips are cheaper than short ones, measured in cost/km, both to discourage short-haul riding and to give greater incentives to long-haul commuters to switch from their cars to GO’s trains. Relatively recently, GO introduced reduced short-haul fares so that it could attract more short trips, but the tariff as a whole remains a patchwork.

When Metrolinx first proposed a distance-based regional fare strategy, it had an added wrinkle with a premium fare for “rapid transit” which meant anything on rails on its own right-of-way including the subway. Any trip longer than 10km (slightly above the average trip length on the TTC) would cost more than it does today, and drawing 10km circles around various centres easily shows who would pay more to travel. This had the effect of preserving GO Transit’s revenue stream, while raising the cost of subway travel for longer-than-average journeys.

This was in aid of a “zero sum” solution where the cost of lower fares for riders crossing the 905-416 boundary would be recouped from higher fares within Toronto. Metrolinx showed only a few sample fares to illustrate changes, but neglected to present a thorough review of the effect on TTC riders who are by far the majority of transit users in the GTHA.

In time, Metrolinx, or at least some members of its Board, came to realize that this was not a viable solution, and that any new fare structure would require added subsidy to avoid penalizing one group of riders to reduce fares for others. Alas, nothing official ever came of this.

The regional transit agencies were not sitting still, however, and the now-universal fare model is based not on distance travelled, but on the elapsed time for one or more trips, in effect a limited duration pass. Not only is this scheme easy to understand and administer, it removes a long-standing penalty against riders who took multiple short trips, typically to run errands or stop off in a longer journey just as one would do as a motorist.

Even Toronto, after much foot-dragging, embraced the two-hour transfer when it became politically beneficial. What was once portrayed as an unaffordable fare giveaway morphed into a modest-cost change that greatly simplified fares and improved system convenience. The only remaining gap in this arrangement is the lack of reciprocity across the 416-905 boundary so that a two hour fare can buy rides inside and outside of Toronto.

The odd man out remains GO Transit, a regional, long-haul carrier, an operator of fast trains where two hours would take a rider a far greater distance than on a bus, streetcar or subway. There will always be a conflict between seeing GO as a “rapid transit” line serving local demand as opposed to “commuter rail”. Just to complicate things, GO buses fall somewhere in between because they operate limited stop service with much more comfortable accommodation than, say, the Dufferin bus.

GO faces an additional problem with a penny-pinching master at Queen’s Park for whom spending more money on transit operations (as opposed to capital construction) is not a priority. Even the GO-TTC co-fare was eliminated although it remains in place for GO-905 travel. It is ludicrous that a “first mile” trip in the 905 gets a co-fare subsidy, but not one in Toronto.

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Plans for GO Expansion Omit Key Features

Metrolinx has launched another round of consultation for various projects that make up the GO Transit Expansion Plan. Information on these is scattered through various pages on their site.

The consultation runs until December 11, 2020.

There is an interactive map of locations where changes are proposed, although it can be tedious to navigate because the default map does not have street names. (You can change this by selecting a different base map from the options in the upper right of the display.)

This map shows roughly the location of the Ontario Line corridor, but gives no detail about extra space, although the map is not to be taken as definitive. Nothing is shown of potential stations for the OL, and there is no information at all in the map for the several proposed SmartTrack stations.

This means that the scope of the project review and the combined effect GO Expansion will have with other projects is not known. Moreover, it would be foolish to approve a project based on a spec that did not include two major additions that are somewhere in the Metrolinx pipeline.

Stations, be they for the Ontario Line or for GO/SmartTrack require platforms and circulation elements (stairs, elevators, roads) but there is no hint of the space these will take.

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