The TTC CEO’s Report: Old Wine in New Bottles?

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”:

  • Ridership
    • Revenue rides (linked trips)
    • Customer boardings (unlinked trips)
    • Wheel-Trans passenger trips
  • Financial
    • 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.

Ridership

The TTC reports three ridership numbers that mean different things, but must be considered together to make sense of the system:

  • Revenue rides (linked trips, loosely equivalent to a single fare’s journey a few years ago)
  • Boardings (unlinked trips counting each separate route used separately, except for the rapid transit network which is considered as one “route”)
  • Fare revenue (dollar value of fares paid and from this the fare per ride or per boarding)

The count of revenue “rides” has been problematic for some years because passes broke the link between one fare paid and one journey taken. This was further complicated by the two-hour transfer which allows one fare to pay for what once would have counted as multiple trips.

Boardings are counted at the route level for surface routes and give a rough indication of overall demand, but these numbers must be normalized relative to route length, service levels and time-of-day patterns to allow comparisons. An important issue is that all boardings, whether for a one kilometre trip or half-way across the city, count the same. Service standards included a minimum “boardings per hour” count that bears no relation to the amount of service each boarding consumes.

Overall revenue gives a dollar value for easy month-to-month or year-to-year comparison, and it can be restated based on trips or boardings, although each of them has its problems. For example if one attempts to calculate how “profitable” a route is, then routes that serve a lot of short hops (typically routes that are themselves short) will always look good because the cost of serving each boarding is low. Long routes, even if they are busy, will never appear “profitable”.

The TTC does not attempt to calculate a route “profitability” value, but simple-minded politicians raise the issue from time to time.

The charts in this section track not only current values, but show the effect of pandemic-era ridership losses and the progress, such as it is, in recovering system demand.

In prepandemic times, weekly ridership was fairly stable through the year with a small dip in the summer and a big drop at year-end thanks to seasonal holidays. The occasional downward spikes in the yellow line above correspond to weeks including a statutory holiday when there are only four “weekdays” rather than five. In 2021, trips are running below budget because society has not opened up as quickly as the budget plans expected.

The boarding counts throughout the pandemic have been highest on the bus network because it serves more areas where work-from-home is simply not an option and demand is stronger than in the downtown area served by streetcars and subways. Note that a transfer between bus routes counts as two boardings, but a transfer between subway lines counts as only one.

The TTC has not published boarding counts at a route level since 2018.

Wheel-Trans ridership fell off substantially in early 2020 with the Covid restrictions, grew somewhat through early fall, and then dropped off into early 2021. What is notable about this chart is the flat level of demand from 2017 to early 2020 suggesting that the demand is capacity constrained and/or that growth was being handled by shifting some WT riders back to the conventional system.

System capacity today is of course limited by social distancing concerns just as on the conventional system, but with the key difference that WT controls how many people can ride together on a vehicle. Until we return to more normal times, we will not see whether growth returns and hits a ceiling making system capacity a new “hot topic”.

One value that is missing from this chart is a sense of how many riders the WT system could handle at current and future social distancing levels (i.e. how many rides are reasonably possible given the fleet size and staffing level).

Financial

The only item in this section is fare revenue which as of mid-March was running at about 25 per cent of the pre-pandemic level. Unless more details of TTC finances are to appear in future reports, this should be consolidated with the “Ridership” section and interpretive commentary should address the topics together.

A notable absence from this section is any comment on financial and service projections for the year. This would put fare revenue and riding trends in context.

Customer Experience

This is the most important group of metrics because riders, preferably riders who want to stay on the system, are the raison d’être of a transit system.

First up are the customer satisfaction and customer service communication stats.

Customer Satisfaction

“Customer satisfaction” is a broad area that has stayed between 75 and 80 percent for much of the past five years. The important information comes in drilling down to specific areas.

Satisfaction is consistent for most elements of the customer journey (wait time, trip duration, comfort of ride, etc.). Customers continue to be satisfied with the TTC’s response to the pandemic, safety measures implemented to protect employees and the TTC’s communication of safety information. However, satisfaction with the safety measures implemented to protect customers has decreased this quarter and customers are less confident in their ability to physical distance on vehicles.

This information is not split out by geographic area or rider type (regular, casual) to give any sense of uneven perceptions of service quality.

Effective April 16, the TTC began to supply crowding data via the Rocketman and Transit Apps so that riders could know in advance how crowded vehicles coming down the line would be. This is somewhat useful provided that a rider has the technology to access the data. It is not shown on the information displays at some stops nor is it available to apps that depend on the NextBus data feed which does not include this information.

More to the point, riders do not always have the option of waiting for the next bus in the hopes it will be less crowded. They have to be somewhere “on time” and already have to deal with uncertainty in vehicle arrivals, let alone crowding levels.

Customer Service Communications

When riders call up the TTC via phone or online, the reason for the contact is logged and stats are presented relative to boarding counts. This is particularly important in an era when riding has changed so much. There might be fewer calls, but if their ratio to riders goes up, this would signal a problem among those riders still on the system.

The ratio of CSCs to boardings has gone up 40 per cent since 2019. Although the overall satisfaction scores might be stable, clearly there are more issues among riders (those who remain on the system) than before. Among the many categories, compliments are also up relative to boardings.

Note that on the chart below the horizontal scale is in years until 2021 when it changes to months. In particular, for 2020 this combines pre-pandemic stats in the first quarter with Covid-era experience that almost certainly varied from the second quarter onward.

There is some overlap among categories in that the effects of irregular service might be reported under “crowding”, “missed stop” or “timeliness of service”. “Safety and security” jumped a lot, but the underlying reasons also changed because crowding and infection control are big issues that had no equivalent before 2020.

Safety and security is the cornerstone of the TTC’s service, and is of increased importance to customers during the pandemic. New categories and existing categories taking on new importance are: Cleanliness, Crowding, Masks and Safety & Security. These four areas account for 24% of CSCs in 2020 and YTD 2021. In 2019, they accounted for 5%.

Service reliability categories continue to be important to customers during this time. Timeliness of service, Missed Stop, Routing and Vehicle Operation speak to the continued need for reliable, frequent and comfortable service.

These four areas account for 63% of CSCs in 2020 and 61% YTD 2021. In 2019 they accounted for 80%.

On-Time Performance

After a detailed attempt to understand issues for customers, we come to a much less helpful section on service quality. The metrics reported and their associated goals have not changed, only the method of presentation.

“On Time” is measured in a different way for rapid transit and surface lines.

  • On the rapid transit system, a train is considered to be off schedule if the headway (gap between trains) is 1.5 times the scheduled value. For example, if trains are supposed to arrive every 4 minutes, then up to 6 is allowed before this trip counts as “late”.
  • On surface routes, a vehicle is “on time” if it leaves no more than 59 seconds early and no more than 5 minutes late relative to the schedule. The location of other vehicles, gaps and bunching, are not part of the analysis. The attitude is that if service is “on time” at terminals, headways along the line will take care of themselves. Alas this is not true, and the problem is compounded by padded schedules, variations in operating styles and conditions enroute.

Mid-route “on time” stats are supposed to be coming in a few months, but they will suffer many of the same problems and create others of their own:

  • “On time” will still be reported as average values across all routes, all day rather than breaking out the bad periods for special mention and attention.
  • If operators are held to scheduled times, there will be a lot of buses and streetcars sitting at the side of the road burning up excess scheduled time at each reported point. With a six minute window to leave “on time”, there is no guarantee that service will actually improve.
  • One might hope that branching services will merge together better and short turns will blend into through service with mid-point monitoring, but that six minute leeway will allow a lot of bunching.

The subway OTP charts tell a rosy tale even for Line 3, SRT, which is notoriously plagued with problems. That alone should signal that the metric is not telling us what it should. Intriguingly the CEO’s report includes the following commentary:

Analysis
Compared to January:

• Line 1 total delay minutes decreased by 24.6%.
• Line 2 total delay minutes decreased by 30.1%.
• Line 3 total delay minutes decreased by 10.2%

Line 4 continues to run as scheduled and without any major issues

An improvement of any factor by 30 per cent is worth crowing about, but we do not know “30 percent of what”. The TTC’s delay statistics are notoriously hard to parse even though they are available through the City’s Open Data Portal. For the subway, there are myriad delay codes with fine-grained breakdowns of, well, breakdowns and other types of delay. For surface routes, delay causes are grouped very coarsely. Somewhere in between there should be a reasonable medium.

There is never an analysis of this information in the CEO’s report tracking major delay causes and, equally importantly, consolidating related delay types so that it is clear which broad areas are responsible for problems. In some cases this information would reveal chronic problems that the TTC can control such as equipment and infrastructure reliability, and others where the challenge is more in how to react to problems such as security incidents and ill passengers. Delay causes get ad hoc mentions in the text to explain major problems, but there is no ongoing tracking of delay types and what might be done to address them.

A 90 per cent “on time” target is easy to hit when data for an entire month is lumped together even if there are problem times of day and a few major outages. If the system is running at 90 per cent reliability, riders will encounter a problem once in ten trips and it is that problem they will remember and dread for future journeys.

Surface OTP values measure schedule adherence at terminals, not elsewhere on the line. The values have been improving over the years thanks to generous schedules that make it difficult for vehicles to be late except during unusual circumstances such as major storms or special events.

There is a particular problem on routes with long-running diversions because the assumption appears to be that service will not operate properly even though schedules are adjusted, sometimes quite generously, to compensate for anticipated congestion.

Stats are averaged over the entire networks of bus and streetcar routes on a monthly basis and it is impossible to see where the individual problems might lie. The challenge is to find ways to report the problem areas with specifics so that changes can be related to the lived experience of riders.

In 2020, [bus] OTP increased by 17% compared 2016 and by 12% compared to 2018. This positive trend is attributed to a number of factors including: the near elimination of short turns, schedule refinements, end of line monitoring to mitigate late or early departures and improved operator schedule adherence.

With the completion of the VISION system (Vehicle Information System and Integrated Operations Network) roll out on our bus and streetcar fleet, we also now have more accurate data to monitor and adjust service in real time, inform scheduling and improve OTP.

New technology might enable better management, but we have heard this story before.

Bunching, Gapping and Crowding

The TTC does not report the degree of bunching and gapping in its service. Cities which do this have varying criteria for what constitutes a “gap” or a “bunch”. A related metric is “excess wait time” calculated by multiplying the number of riders who had to wait longer than expected by the amount a gap exceeds the scheduled headway.

For example, if a bus is supposed to arrive every 6 minutes, but the gap is 9 minutes wide, anyone who arrived at the stop during those first 6 minutes had to wait 3 minutes longer than they might have planned. This combines the level of demand with the degree of inconvenience the gap presents. Note that there is no offsetting “premium” for riders of the next bus that might be only a few minutes behind, only a penalty for the gap.

A common problem throughout the system is bunching – buses and streetcars running in pairs (or trios or worse) for extended periods. Nothing in the service reliability stats reflects this behaviour.

Crowding is often related to headway reliability because vehicles in wide gaps carry more riders. In some cases the problem is simply that there should be more service, but in others it is the reliability that causes the crowding. For example, there are occasional Tweets with a photo of a crowded bus. If one can figure out when and where it was, then review archival tracking data. More often than not the vehicle is carrying a gap and, possibly, running in a pack of buses. On average, these buses might not be crowded, but most riders are on the full bus. It is the variation that is important, not the averages.

Now that the TTC tracks crowding and includes this information in the vehicle tracking feed used by some apps, it should be trivial to cross-reference crowding to headway reliability. Moreover, problem routes, locations and times should be reported as an integral part of the “Customer Experience” section to track how well, or not, management responds to these conditions.

Today’s stats are consolidated across the entire system on a weekly basis and give no indication of problem locations. Trips carrying over 50 per cent of bus capacity rose from mid-February to late March. These may only be about 5 per cent of all trips, but their concentration on specific routes could reveal services in need of better management and/or more service.

The TTC operates “demand responsive” service with “run as directed” buses, but where and how these are used is not reported. Indeed, if there are still crowded trips, it is clear that the RAD buses are not solving all of the problems.

A related issue is that the TTC talks about RAD buses as if all of them were in service at once when, in fact, they go out in overlapping waves. The number at any one time is considerably lower than the total. At the recent Board meeting, CEO Rick Leary cited 190 RAD buses giving the impression that they were all in service at the same time to supplement service. They are not.

Wheel-Trans Wait Times

Using Wheel-Trans, unlike the conventional system, has two distinct component: booking a trip and actually taking it. Indeed, the time needed just to get a booking can exceed the length of the journey.

These metrics should be considered together as they are two sides of the same coin.

With demand sitting at 25 to 30 per cent of normal levels, one would hope that the WT system would be capable of improved performance. Problems with the call centre have been a major issue, with average wait times exceeding an hour during some periods in 2018 and 2019. It is appalling that the TTC allowed this problem to exist for a long time, and indeed that average wait times over 15 minutes go back to 2016. This is not a customer focused organization.

On-time performance for trips is good in 2020, although to a rather generous metric of 20 minutes. This is relative to the pick-up time, and gives no indication of whether WT delivered riders promptly to their destinations. What we do not know until relatively normal demand and distancing requirements return is whether the TTC will maintain the good stats we see today or slip back to unreliable service both for call-taking and providing rides.

Escalator and Elevator Availability

Escalator and elevator availability is reported against a high target of 97 per cent. Again this is a metric that averages values over months and makes no distinction in the charts between routine, short outages, scheduled maintenance and major construction or repair. One can work backwards to this information, to a point, in text accompanying the charts, but the distinction should be clear in the charts.

Of particular note are conditions that render an officially “accessible” station inaccessible, typically through the failure (or scheduled repair) of a key device, typically an elevator. For example, a station might have multiple elevators, but all of them must be working to permit trips between the surface and both train platforms. It is not enough to count devices and “up time”, but also whether a station as a whole can be used by all would-be riders.

Maintenance is necessary, and something is always being repaired somewhere even without unscheduled events such as floods. When stations are seen as a whole, the overall accessibility could well be less than the reported values.

People and Diversity

There are no metrics for this area in the April 2021 report as they are still in development. They will be added later in 2021.

In this report, the text discusses Covid-related issues and hiring/recruiting practices.

There is no mention of efforts, if any, to have TTC employees classed as front-line workers for vaccination priority. This should apply not just to drivers, but to maintenance staff whose work requires them to be in close quarters. A chart tracking vaccinations would give an indication of progress toward a healthier, safer workforce.

Safety and Security

There are three charts within this group:

  • Lost time injuries per 100 employees
  • Customer injury incidents rate per million boardings
  • Offences against customers per million boardings

Although the number of boardings has gone down substantially in 2020-21, the injury and offense rates have both climbed indicating that they are more prevalent now than a year ago. There is a related problem with the makeup of TTC ridership that the report discusses obliquely.

The TTC’s Community Engagement Unit (CEU) is focused on the needs of customers who are under housed and/or experiencing mental health or addiction issues, and to bring sustainable solutions that benefit customers and other community stakeholders. As of December 2020, the team has had 255 interactions with individuals since the beginning of the pandemic. They have helped find shelter space , provided food vouchers and have arranged for taxi services for those in need of assistance. The pandemic has amplified social issues and we have responded by implementing a number of tactics, including:

• Enlisting the assistance of TPS patrol to attended highly impacted stations and routes
• Creating a response team comprised of the CEU and Streets to Homes personnel
• Organizing and participating in mask distribution campaigns

A table summarizing compliance with orders from various regulatory bodies appears as Appendix 2, and it shows that all orders issued in 2020 have been addressed. Almost all of the orders were issued for Fire Code violations. There is no analysis of how these might relate to subway fires and measures taken to reduce their frequency.

Customer mask use

Since the pandemic began, proper masking has been a major concern for both riders and employees. The TTC conducts surveys to determine the proportion of riders who are masking, and masking correctly. The results are summarized in the chart below.

In brief, about 88 per cent or more of observed riders have been masked correctly (“mask adoption”) with a much higher percentage wearing one but not properly.

There are two problems with this chart.

First, one does not have to ride the TTC very much to encounter someone who is not masked at all. A mask hanging around someone’s neck is not “compliance”, it is a decoration.

However, a more subtle problem lies in the way the TTC presents the numbers. 90 percent “adoption” is seen as a good result, but it does not take into account that many people regard someone who is not masked as a danger, not simply as a social outcast. Even if the rate is at 95 per cent, this means that one in twenty riders will not be masked. That translates to at least one person, possibly more, on each bus or streetcar at its target load.

The effect of that one in twenty on the perceived safety of riding transit is out of proportion to their numbers especially if vehicles are crowded and physical distancing limits compound concerns about masking. Through their dress, behaviour and appearance, some riders give the impression that they could be a greater than average risk to others.

Appendix: Service Delivery

Metrics of Line Capacity, Short Turns, Cleanliness, Reliability, and Availability have been moved to Appendix 1. However, the basic content has not changed.

Charts of rapid transit line capacity are presented relative to scheduled service. In April 2020 there was a big dip due to Covid-related absences. The numbers recovered because the scheduled service was reduced in response to lost riding.

When scheduled service over the reporting period is constant, as it was for the pre-pandemic era, this presentation is equivalent to actual line capacity. However, in an era of changing demand and service levels, the actual capacity operated should also be shown.

As in many other charts, consolidation of data for an entire month hides the degree of variation and the effect of individual major events on capacity. However, these chart do focus on peak periods rather than all-day averages.

The short turn charts are still with us although the number of events is near zero. This is good news for riders on the outer ends of lines, but it comes at a cost of extended travel times and generally wider headways. Moreover, it is not clear whether these results will continue once traffic and ridership build up post-pandemic.

Is the goal to protect this statistic at all costs, or to provide better service in general? This ties in with the need to regulate service and ensure that it actually runs on the scheduled spacing, not in packs that have the same effect on riders as a short turn.

Appendix: Cleanliness

Bus and subway car cleanliness scores are running at 90 per cent with a jump in bus scores to near 100 percent through 2020. Streetcar scores are much lower dipping below 80 percent in late 2019 (pre-pandemic) due, according to the report, in service audits. In other words, the vehicles might be clean at the garage, but they do not stay that way in service.

Stations sit consistently at a 75 per cent score (which is also the target) with all stations in the network averaged together. There is no explanation of why both the score and the target are lower than for vehicles of all modes.

Appendix: Asset Reliability

Vehicle reliability is reported as Mean Distance Between Failures (MDBF). In the case of buses, a “failure” is one requiring a road call as opposed to simply driving back to the garage. In the case of rail vehicles, a “failure” is an incident causing a service delay of five minutes or more.

eBus numbers reflect only preliminary experience, and the values for all three vendor fleets are merged together. They should be split to reflect performance of each group of buses.

Some MDBF values have clearly been capped at the target level rather than showing what the fleets are capable of and the degree of variation in results. For example, in the recent eBus report, a control group of hybrid buses achieved a MDBF over twice that of the target 30k value shown here.

Streetcar numbers have climbed substantially due to the retirement of the old CLRV/ALRV fleets, improved reliability on the Flexitys, and the lower number of cars in scheduled service during major retrofit programs.

Bus road calls have declined as the oldest vehicles were retired over recent years and the TTC moved from an 18-year to 12-year life cycle for buses.

Completely missing from this discussion of “assets” is any mention of infrastructure which is especially important for the subway network. For example:

  • How often do signal failures interrupt service (with data subdivided by old and new signalling technologies)?
  • How often are there power failures and why?
  • Where are there slow orders and emergency repairs on both the subway and streetcar track systems?

Such events are mentioned in passing in discussions of service reliability, but they are not tracked and reported in their own right. Considering the importance of infrastructure to the TTC’s system this is a major gap in the CEO’s report.

Appendix: Asset Availability

Vehicle availability is tracked relative to scheduled service, although this target has changed substantially in the pandemic era due to service cuts. For example, streetcar availability is shown as 100 per cent, but this is against a much reduced peak requirement thanks to major overhauls now in progress and the conversion of some streetcar routes to bus operation during construction projects. Similarly, bus availability runs above 100 per cent because scheduled requirements have fallen.

A question the TTC must face is whether they will be able to return to full utilization of their fleet at the target level for spare vehicles after the pandemic. It is easy to get lazy about maintenance and reliability when a large proportion of the fleet is sidelined.

At the TTC’s target level for spares (18 percent) they should be able to field almost 1,800 peak buses out of a fleet of 2,114. Similarly, they should be able to run 173 streetcars at peak. The current (March-April 2021 schedules) peak requirements are 1,527 buses and 133 streetcars. RAD buses will increase the number somewhat over the scheduled peak, but not anywhere near the level possible if the TTC reached their target spare ratio. Of course running more buses and streetcars requires more drivers, and that affects the budget and subsidy requirements. This will be a major problem in 2022 as funding will constrain the growth of service.

Nothing in the CEO’s report track this problem or the amount of service that could be operated if buses and streetcars were not sitting in the garage.

The other group of metrics under “Asset Reliability” deals with fare collection devices which appear to be operating reasonably well, although they are due for upgrades.

9 thoughts on “The TTC CEO’s Report: Old Wine in New Bottles?

  1. I propose a pilot to regulate On Time operations. Toronto City Hall loves pilots. Just ask Jennifer Keesmaat!

    Under this Pilot NO vehicle (streetcar or bus) would leave any terminal early. Not ONE minute. ZERO. Nor would they operate early beyond any timed stop (as indicated online TTC website) that is a transfer point. Vehicle will wait (with 4-way signals flashing) at transfer point to receive additional passengers. There will be NO bumper-to-bumper operation of any vehicles. Period.

    After a period of Pilot operation schedules will be adjusted and the Pilot continued. Repeat.

    Like

  2. In brief, about 88 per cent or more of observed riders have been masked correctly (“mask adoption”) with a much higher percentage wearing one but not properly.

    I am having problems understanding this.

    Like

  3. The problem with a strict You Will Not Run Early policy is that it could lead to a crawling trip, to keep to the padded schedule. I’ve been on streetcars on Lake Shore (in Etobicoke!) that kept to their schedule by ambling along at 20 km/h despite there being no traffic to impede movement.

    I can just see a 501 streetcar (or bus) sitting there with its four-way flashers at Brown’s Line, Thirtieth, Kipling, Islington, Royal York, Mimico, Park Lawn, Windermere…. Sometimes the quicker operator is just trying to get their passengers somewhere in a decent amount of time.

    This is why headway management is, in my opinion, more important than timepoints, especially when the reasonable timepoints might vary, not just with the day and time of day, but with the weather, the school calendar, special events, accidents on the Gardiner, and on and on.

    Steve: Yes, headways are vital, but management gets gold stars for two things: no short turns, and being “on time”. The padded schedules allow them to achieve the former, but at the risk of glacial service if they stick to the latter. This is what passes for good management in Toronto.

    Like

  4. Steve:

    You produced a new word in this article,

    “How often do signal failures interrupt service (with data subdivided by old and new signalling technoogies)?”

    “Technoogies” definition – When technologies on paper don’t work properly in real time. It might find its way into Merriam-Webster.

    Steve: I have corrected the typo in the article. Many thanks!

    Like

  5. “The problem with a strict You Will Not Run Early policy is that it could lead to a crawling trip, to keep to the padded schedule. I’ve been on streetcars on Lake Shore (in Etobicoke!) that kept to their schedule by ambling along at 20 km/h despite there being no traffic to impede movement.”

    It’s all a matter of defining “early” properly.

    On a route which is run to schedule (which should mean anything with infrequent or less frequent service; I would call this anything with headway above 5 minutes, but the cutoff is debatable), each vehicle should move exactly according to its schedule, except for unavoidable delays. This is easy, if management cares to do it, by simply giving each trip a list of timepoints and times and requiring drivers to comply.

    On a route which is run to headway, no vehicle should move if it would come closer than a certain small amount below scheduled headway to the preceding vehicle or further than a certain small amount above scheduled headway to the succeeding vehicle, subject to exceptions ordered by control to deal with unusual situations such as breakdowns. This is not as easy because there is no fixed schedule, but especially with modern technology should be well within the capability of any reasonable transit management.

    I would add that drivers should be assigned to routes in part based on their speed. Put the faster drivers on the important trunk routes with many vehicles and the slower ones on routes with fewer vehicles. I know that right now drivers pick their assignments based on seniority but that is nutty: I don’t expect to be able to pick and choose what work I undertake at my (salaried) job and it’s an entirely unreasonable expectation for any employee. It’s OK to take employee preference into account (as indeed it is at my work place) but crazy to make it the only factor that determines job assignments.

    Like

  6. Who is going to write the schedules that all operators/vehicles can reasonably maintain while being flexible enough to account for the fact that ideal travel times can change hour by hour and day by day?

    Good luck removing work selection from a unionized environment. And if you want to call union workers lazy or privileged, I bet that most salaried positions don’t involve shifts that can start and end any time, 24/7/365, at locations from south Etobicoke to north Scarborough. There is probably no fairer way to choose your work piece, unless you make it a total lottery.

    And “quicker drivers will get the heavy routes” will just make the operators game the system.

    Steve: Yes. Seniority is the one thing that drivers have to look forward to after years of working crappy hours and broken shifts.

    The challenge is not to write a schedule where absolutely every possibility is allowed for and buses spend as much time sitting at terminals or time points as they do driving. That would be totally counterproductive. However, there is a vast amount of data on typical travel times, and TTC planners do use this. The problem is that management sets a standard that enough time is allowed for the 95th percentile of trips. This effectively slows down the schedule to the slowest operator under the worst conditions, but Rick Leary gets a gold star for driving down the short turn count. That’s not management, it’s, as you say, “gaming the system”. It simply will not be practical to have both mid-point OTP metrics and padded schedules.

    What is needed is better headway management. Nobody can convince me that buses and streetcars need to run in packs to be “on time”. A related issue is that, as you note, conditions change, and lines need to be managed to those conditions. This is especially true when, for example, a delay location (e.g. construction or a diversion) requires management to something other than the official schedule. Headways – and by that I mean reasonably spaced service, not clockwork, just not bunched with big gaps. Stirred into that pot is a need to keep cars on time for scheduled crew changes. A bad schedule can make it harder, but one that is too lax gives so much leeway that drivers can alternate between driving as fast as possible, followed by a siesta at the terminal. This is a bigger problem on bus routes than on streetcars which seem to have an endless collection of slow orders and rules.

    Like

  7. There’s a topic heading of Steve’s at the top – Corporate views vs riders views’ – and there’s the views of the riders of bikes, where we are often the competition to the core services, but the TTC’s tracks with help by the City keep it dangerous thus ensuring captive riders who aren’t so suicycle as some others. The tracks themselves are a set of dangers, and far too frequently the margins of the tracks on the outside of the concrete close to the curb are in very rough shape, so on narrow roads with tracks if there’s construction or film operations or bad parking or a truck or a delivery or whatever, the rider of the bike really doesn’t need coffee to get her or himself fully awake/adrenalized, and it’s a good thing car paint jobs are so costly. It’s been an issue – including trying to get City Wall to tabulate up the harms/crashes honestly – for such a long time e.g. decades – that it can’t be classified as a ‘hot’ topic, but it remains real.

    The TTC/City are quite OK with keeping roads with tracks dangerous: McCaul is sub-standard widths, but was recently reworked from Dundas up to College in that too-narrow width to keep the parking revenues, (and at least we now have University Ave bike lanes after decades – it’s only got a subway underneath it with four lanes each way); but also High Park Ave I think it is, running east/west from Dundas St. W. over to Roncesvalles, freshly rebuilt, but with too narrow a curb lane, again occupied often by parking.

    If we actually began counting the full GHGs of both concrete and TTC vehicles/infrastructures the TTC/transit might be far less ‘green’ than the bike, though of course the real culprits are the private cars, and electric vehicles are not ‘green’ either, comparatively to other options. But since we’re totally ignoring air travel – and about the entire population of Canada has used the Pearson Airport in pre-pandemic times – what’s a bit more delusion? We’re only in 2021….. 30 years after the Changing Atmosphere conference and the Toronto Target….

    Steve: The maintenance of paving is entirely up to the city, although the TTC pays part of the cost for it own track allowance. This leaves the strip outside the rails, but still part of the streetcar lane in less than ideal shape as this chunk is prone to water penetration and the freeze/thaw damage that results. The boundary between the streetcar and curb lanes often leaves a lot to be desired. This seems to be a case where the TTC only replaces small sections when they do stop rail replacements, or when it becomes dangerous to streetcars as it did on Queen Street near Roncesvalles a few years ago. On top of that, the curb lane is where all the pavement cuts for utility work occur, and that can make for a very uneven surface even if there are no parked cars.

    Like

  8. I would define “Technoogies” as the painful knuckle-rubbings on the heads of transit and transit-connected folks who actively work to screw up the “good flow” needed by riders.

    They should be given

    • to bus and streetcar drivers who follow along directly behind the vehicle ahead of them, resulting in a packed Vehicle #1 and more drivers than passengers in Vehicle #2;
    • to drivers that race through their routes to get back to the terminal as quickly as possible, passengers at stops be darned;
    • to Transit Brass, who clutch at their pearls about how “difficult” it is to manage “unforeseen circumstances” on the routes while disregarding systemic problems that could be improved with active action and continuous, regular review;
    • and to City Councillors who only look at money and not the passengers who also just happen to be “taxpayers” (their usual target group for civic love), deserving of good transportation service, just like drivers on the Gardiner or DVP.

    And you’d know who’d been “misbehaving,” because there’d be visible bare spots on the heads of a lot of folks at Council and Transit Committee meetings! “Technoogies All Around!”

    Steve: I am working on a “Request for comment” article about how to measure the quality of headways. Stay tuned!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.