The April 2021 TTC CEO’s Report came in a new format, and with that a hope that the long-promised improved content had arrived, not just better graphics. The new report looks good, but it continues to over-simplify key details and omits measures of major system components.
Back in January, I reviewed the then-current version in Measuring and Reporting on TTC Operations: Part I and planned a Part II that would look at how metrics used in other cities might be applied in Toronto, and what they would reveal. That article has been sitting in rough draft for a while. Building alternate views of the TTC requires some data crunching I just have not brought myself to do yet.
I recommend that earlier article to readers if only to avoid reiterating the shortcomings of past reports here.
A key point is that the report tells us what the TTC did, not what it might do if its assets were fully utilized. For years the combined tropes of “we have no buses” and “we have no garage space” were used to rebuff calls for more service when the real problem was underfunding on both the capital and operating side. More service means not just more buses, but hiring enough drivers to take as many buses as possible out of garages and onto the streets.
The CEO’s report tells us how successful the TTC was at fielding scheduled service, but is silent on the constraints that prevent the operation of more.
In the pandemic era, it is not enough to say that the TTC provides “98% service hours for 32% ridership” when social distancing fundamentally changes how we think about system capacity. As ridership returns, there will be a balancing act between providing more space (i.e. more service, more seats) and changing crowding standards. We are likely to see a period when the social comfort riders hope to see will exceed the space the TTC can provide due to both financial and fleet limitations. Already service is being shuffled between lower and higher demand routes to address crowding without extra costs.
The eagle-eyed readers will note that the cover photo on King looking east from Yonge includes a 514 Cherry car (a route that was replace by the 504A King to Distillery service in October 2018) and a CLRV (a vehicle retired at the end of 2019).
An important improvement is the presence of a “Hot Topics” section to focus attention on key items of note. That said, a few potential problems come to mind:
- How does a topic get on this list?
- What happens when a topic remains “hot” for an extended period?
- Is there an upper bound to the hot topic count?
Most of the “hot topics” in this report belong in the permanent lists as they represent standing issues, not monthly flashes. If the “hot topics” really are “hot”, they should appear sooner than three-quarters of the way through the report.
The report has no tracking of infrastructure reliability even though, for example, track, power and signals are responsible for interruptions of subway and streetcar service.
Averages vs Details
A common problem throughout the TTC’s presentation of various metrics is the degree of averaging, of consolidating data and thereby missing its variability in time, space and effect on riders. If something “works” 90 per cent of the time, that may sound good, but that other 10 per cent can have a disproportionate negative effect. Moreover, as discussed here many times, it is not enough for “n” vehicles to show up every hour. They must be reasonably spaced to give predictable wait times and crowding levels.
By reporting on average values, the TTC ignores the day-to-day, trip-to-trip experience of riders.
Corporate Views vs Rider Views
Corporate plans look at the world from a corporate view, but the TTC’s job is first to serve riders and move people around the city.
The “core metrics” are now aligned with the corporate plan’s strategic objectives and, in theory, demonstrate how the TTC is advancing that plan’s goals. This approach consolidates metrics that are most important to riders in one category, and shuffles some key ones into an appendix.
There is a particular problem that accessibility issues do not get their own grouping because this is not one of the TTC’s five corporate objectives. Given the TTC’s long history of underserving these needs, metrics of accessibility should be reported as a group and tracked together rather than being scattered through each section of a corporate view.
This does not mean hiving Wheel-Trans off into its own section, but recognizing that there are many aspects to accessibility that affect users of both WT and the “conventional” system, especially now that riders are encouraged to use the “family of services” as much as possible.
Metrics should include items from the capital budget, not just strictly “operating” statistics. Ongoing plans and progress on key projects that will affect system capacity, safety and accessibility should be included even though they may be in the capital budget. It does not matter (and riders do not care) how various parts of the system are funded, only that system improvements are tracked in one place.
This would not preclude the quarterly Financial Report from going into more detail, but the absence of “one stop shopping” in the CEO’s Report weakens its value.
There are five strategic areas plus a group called “Hot Topics”:
- Revenue rides (linked trips)
- Customer boardings (unlinked trips)
- Wheel-Trans passenger trips
- Fare revenue
- People and Diversity
- (Metrics to be announced)
- Safety and Security
- Lost time injury rate
- Customer injury incidents rate
- Offenses against customers
- Customer Experience
- Customer satisfaction
- Customer service communications
- On-time performance (subway)
- On-time performance (streetcar and bus)
- On-time performance (Wheel-Trans)
- Accessibility: Escalator and elevator availability
- Hot Topics
- Wheel-Trans contact centre wait time
- Customer mask use
- Bus occupancy
Of the three Hot Topics, only customer mask use might be considered as a “topic of the moment” although it will be with us as long as the pandemic and infection are a concern to riders.
Problems with Wheel-Trans booking systems have existed for years. Measures of availability and response time deserve a permanent spot within an Accessibility group.
As for bus occupancy, this is fundamental to the perceived quality of transit service. This has been a pressing issue for years, but is a particularly hot topic in the pandemic era . We often hear about “run as directed” buses, but never see stats to support the benefit they might provide at key locations rather than as a system average. With Automatic Passenger Counters across the bus fleet, the TTC should report regularly on crowding at a granular level including problem routes, locations and times of the day.Continue reading