TTC Budget and Ridership Update: January 2022

Toronto Council’s Budget Committee has been working through budget proposals from all departments and agencies in recent days. On January 19, it was the TTC’s turn.

Normally this step in the slow march to Council approval is simply a rehash of material presented at the TTC Board. However, in light of the return to greater restrictions on public gatherings, there has been a drop in ridership significant enough that the operating budget has been updated. This article reviews the changes.

Previous articles:

Ridership, measured as a percentage of pre-pandemic levels, has been trending up through the fall, but has dropped off again since the move to close or restrict many activities.

The fall also shows up in average bus occupancy numbers.

When the TTC set its 2022 operating budget, the drops shown above were not yet reflected in the stats.

Their projection for 2022 ridership fell in a band based on the experience to date with system recovery, but this has now been modified. The TTC now aims to be back to the low end of its projected demand by Q3 2022. This will create a shortfall in revenue compared to budget of about $100 million.

The revised and original operating budget proposals are shown below.

The original version is in a somewhat different format from the TTC’s budget presentation at their Board.

The columns of interest are the “2022 Budget” in the revised version, and the “2022 Recommended Budget” in the original.

(In $millions)OriginalRevisedChange
Revenues922817-105
Gross Expenditures22342229-5
Net Expenditures13121412100
COVID Impact461561100
Total City Funding excluding COVID8518510

The additional $100 million has been added to the City’s list of items for which it seeks provincial and federal assistance.

Provincial Gas Tax

In normal years, the City divides the provincial gas tax share it receives from Ontario between the operating and capital budgets, with $90 million going to operating and the rest to capital. In 2020, because of the extraordinary strain on operating revenues, all of the provincial gas tax went to operations. The City plans to return to the standard practice of splitting this revenue between the two budgets in 2022.

The province recently announced that the total gas tax funding for municipal transit would be $375.6 million. Of this, $120.4 million is a “top up” to the share that would have flowed to municipalities under the usual formula of two cents/litre, but for reduced fuel consumption during the pandemic.

Toronto will receive $185.1 million.

Without the one-time top-up, this is a revenue stream that can fluctuate with the economy and with changes in the mix of fuel efficient and electric vehicles across the province.

Covid vs non-Covid Budgets

An intriguing issue in the City and TTC’s reported year-end projection is a conflict between the financial situation each of them reports:

  • The TTC will post an unexpected surplus of about $36 million (revenue including subsidies in excess of actual expenses). This will go into a City reserve fund for transit.
  • The City reports a shortfall of $75 million for transit-related Covid costs that has not yet been paid by either the provincial or federal government.

I asked the City to explain this, and they replied that, in effect, there are separate budget lines for “normal” operations and costs related to Covid.

The 2021 Operating Budget for the TTC was developed with $796 million in anticipated COVID-19 impacts.  COVID-19 related financial impacts across the City were identified and included in Agency and Divisional budgets, while COVID-19 support funding from the Government of Canada and Province of Ontario were consolidated between the various Safe Restart Agreement (SRA) streams and budgeted for corporately by the City.  While the TTC has experienced 2021 COVID-19 financial impacts in the form of lost revenue and added costs that has been consistent with the $796 million budgeted estimate, there is $75 million in outstanding funding support to address these COVID-19 transit impacts experienced in 2021, reflected as a revenue/COVID-19 funding shortfall in the City’s budget.

City and TTC staff continue to dialog with our Federal and Provincial counterparts and consistent with commitments in the provincial Fall Economic Statement, expect to receive full SRA funding support for 2021 COVID-19 financial impacts. 

Stephen Conforti, Executive Director, Financial Planning Division, City of Toronto by email, January 18, 2022

I asked for a clarification of this, and the City replied:

While there is only one budget for the TTC, COVID-19 support funding for Transit, Shelters, Public Health, Long-term Care, etc. was budgeted separately within the City’s corporate revenue budget.  As a result, the net budget for the TTC increased by $796 million in 2021 to account for COVID-19 impacts (lost revenues and added costs), with the offset in the form of expected COVID-19 support funding residing in the City’s corporate revenue budget.

Given that the COVID-19 funding shortfall of $75 million specific to transit costs resides in the City’s corporate revenue budget, the deficit created by this funding shortfall is reflected and reported in the City’s accounts and referenced in TTC variance reporting.

Stephen Conforti, Executive Director, Financial Planning Division, City of Toronto by email, January 21, 2022

What has happened, rather oddly, is that thanks to the downturn in service levels due to both the vaccination mandate and TTC’s service trimming, the TTC’s costs dropped, but ridership stayed strong almost to the end of the year. This predates the effect of the restrictions on ridership seen in the charts above.

The result was that the TTC will not need all of the subsidy draw originally budgeted, and the “surplus” will go into the transit reserve following City policy. Also, a planned draw on that reserve in the 2021 budget will not be needed. The final amount of that “surplus” will depend on the effects of ridership and revenue drops in late December 2021.

For 2022, a draw of $20.7 million is planned on the transit reserve.

TTC Service Changes Effective February 13, 2022

In the February 2022 service changes, the TTC will begin to restore some of the pandemic-era service cuts. Many of the affected routes are comparatively short and operate on headways where the removal of one or two buses made a big change in the level of service. At the same time, running times on some routes will be adjusted for reliability including some cases where service is improved by reducing round times.

The total amount of service remains below the budgeted level by 1.8 per cent in light of reduced operator availability.

About 20 crews remain open at each division, and they would be staffed using spare operators or overtime.

Vehicle occupancy standards will be changing for the purpose of planning service levels. I will discuss the TTC’s plans for the timing of service improvements in a separate budget update article to be published soon.

The TTC will be modifying the vehicle occupancy standard in the February board period in preparation for projected increases in ridership in Q2 2022 (50% of pre-pandemic levels) and Q3 2022 (70% of pre-pandemic levels). The vehicle occupancy standard will be adjusted to 80% of pre-pandemic levels or approximately 40 customers per bus in the AM and PM peak periods (measured at the peak point, peak direction, peak hour for each period). In addition, to accommodate this increase in customer demand, service hours are also budgeted to increase in Q2 2022 to 100% of pre-pandemic levels.

Subway

There is only one change on the subway. The step-back crewing for One Person Train Operation (aka OPTO) on the Spadina Subway at St. George Station will be changed to a double step-back to give operators more time between trains and reduce delays.

Streetcar

The following changes will occur on streetcar routes:

  • 501 Queen:
    • Streetcar service is restored via Queen to Wolseley Loop at Bathurst Street. It will be further extended to Sunnyside Loop in May.
    • The travel times on the bus service between Broadview and Humber/Long Branch will be reduced. No buses will be removed from the schedule, and headways will improve.
  • 505 Dundas:
    • The temporary extension to Woodbine Loop has been removed.
    • Four AM bus trippers from Broadview Station that originate from 100 Flemingdon Park have been restored.
    • Service to Broadview Station will resume with the schedule change in late June. (Presumably this will also see 504 King return to Broadview Station as well, although it is not explicitly mentioned in the TTC’s service change memo.)
  • 506 Carlton:
    • Streetcar service is restored over the full route following sewer construction on Coxwell Avenue.
    • Four AM peak bus trippers from Main Station that originate on 23 Dawes, 24 Victoria Park and 67 Pharmacy have been restored.

The total number of buses operating on streetcar routes has been reduced:

  • AM peak: From 88 to 83 (net of 8 restored trippers on 505 and 506)
  • PM peak: From 81 to 66

The TOInview infrastructure project map now includes the reconstruction of streetcar track on Adelaide from Charlotte Street to Yonge Street as a 2022-23 project. This is part of the Ontario Line diversion, but it also will give eastbound service a bypass for events on King and Queen between Spadina and Church. The addition of a southbound track on York Street is not yet listed on TOInview.

Buses

The following routes will see changes, most of which are service restorations to fall 2021 levels.

  • 8 Broadview: Schedules changed for reliability. Late evening headway increases from 20 to 30 minutes on all days.
  • 9 Bellamy: Service improvement weekdays during the peaks, midday and early evening.
  • 11 Bayview: An AM peak tripper removed in error in December has been restored.
  • 12 Kingston Road: Service improvements during weekday peaks, Saturday morning, Sunday morning and afternoon.
  • 20 Cliffside: Service improvements during all periods except Monday to Saturday late evening, and Sunday evenings.
  • 22 Coxwell: Running times increased and service reduced during most periods.
  • 23 Dawes, 24 Victoria Park and 67 Pharmacy: Trippers interlined with 506 Carlton restored.
  • 25 Don Mills: AM peak trippers removed. School trips restored.
  • 42 Cummer: Peak period service improvement. 42C Victoria Park service restored.
  • 45 Kipling: Service rebalanced between Steeles and Belfield branches so that matching headways operate on each branch.
  • 50 Burnhamthorpe: Service improvements during all daytime periods and weekday early evenings.
  • 57 Midland: Service improvements weekdays all day except midday, Saturdays except late evening and Sunday daytime.
  • 61 Avenue Road North: Service improvements weekday peak periods and midday.
  • 76 Royal York South: School trips restored.
  • 78 St. Andrew’s: Service improvement during weekday peaks.
  • 100 Flemingdon Park: Four AM peak trippers interlined with 505 Dundas restored.
  • 161 Rogers Road: Service improved during all periods on weekdays, offset by service reductions in some periods on weekends.
  • 168 Symington: Service improved during all periods on weekdays, offset by service reductions in some periods on weekends.
  • 925 Don Mills Express: Weekend operation restored.
  • 600 Run as Directed: Weekday crews reduced. Weekend crews substantially increased. Although this is not explicitly mentioned, weekend subway shutdowns for maintenance and construction will resume in February.
  • 300 Bloor-Danforth Night Bus: Several trippers have been added, especially on Sundays, to deal with crowding on trips in the period before the subway opens.

Details of these changes are in the spreadsheet linked below.

TTC Fare Policy Town Hall

On February 2, 2022, the TTC will hold an online Town Hall to discuss their soon-to-be-published 5-Year Fare Policy and 10-Year Fare Collection Outlook. Details are on the linked page.

This is part of ongoing consultation about the future of fares in Toronto, and it will inform both a progress report to the TTC Board in February and a Final Recommendation in May 2022.

One important aspect of this study is to look at fares and fare collection without the constraints of any specific system, and of Presto in particular, to determine what a new system should look like. If Metrolinx and Presto can compete on those terms, fine, but the policy will set a bar for all vendors.

It will be interesting to see whether the powers that be at Queen’s Park will let the TTC go with a new system, or like the Liberals did, threaten to withhold subsidies from the TTC if they don’t use the provincial system.

The TTC study is reviewing a range of fare models:

  • Existing fare structure including two-hour transfers
  • Free travel for all riders on all services
  • Full cost recovery by increasing existing fares
  • Remove the cross-boundary fare between York Region Transit and TTC. Riders would pay at the start of their trip on whichever system they boarded and ride for that fare.
  • Fare capping with daily, weekly or monthly caps. This would produce the same effect as a pass, but without the need to purchase one up front. If a rider took more than the “capped” number of trips in a period, the extra trips would be free.
  • Peak/off-peak pricing with higher fares for trips beginning during the peak period.

At the December 20, 2021, TTC Board Meeting, staff tipped their hand on a preferred option – fare capping. This option is simple to understand, and it extends the benefits of discounted travel to frequent riders without the challenge of deciding in advance and paying for a pass.

Other options under review include:

  • A review of concession fare groups and pricing
  • A loyalty program to reward frequent riders
  • Group travel discounts

From previous consultations, the TTC has learned five key points from riders:

  • The 2-hour transfer is considered to be “equitable and inclusive” for all riders
  • Age based concessions and the Fair Pass discount should be retained
  • Discounts should be extended for more riders for equity reasons
  • A single cross boundary fare would make this type of travel more affordable
  • Changes to the fare structure “require equity and access to continue to be foundational”

The political challenge will be to have a new fare system embraced by Toronto and participating GTA municipalities. Nothing is free, especially “free” transit, and there will no doubt be a robust debate about where funding for cheaper fares or extended discounts will come from.

The most important factor in any study like this is that options are all on the table rather than being excluded from the outside with a blanket “we can’t afford it” statement. That, among other excuses, helped to prevent the implementation of the monthly pass years ago, and worked against the two-hour transfer more recently. The decision on what we can “afford” is not management’s to make by filtering options in a study, but for politicians to decide based on where they want to spend tax dollars.

This study appears to be keeping the options open rather than settling on a “solution”.

There is a link on the TTC’s page to register for the Town Hall.

Infrastructure Ontario January 2022 Update

Infrastructure Ontario has issued its quarterly update of projects that are in the planning and procurement stages. This affects several parts of the Ontario government, but my focus here is on transit projects.

The spreadsheet linked below tracks the past and current updates to show how the projects have evolved. There are two sections: one for active projects and one for projects with no currently reported info (typically for projects that are now in construction or completed, or that have been withdrawn).

Where a cell is coloured yellow, there is a change from the October 2021 report. Several cells are coloured light yellow. There is new text, but the only real change is to say “Jan-Mar” instead of “Winter”, and similarly for other seasons. This eliminates a point of confusion in past reports.

The substantial changes in this round are:

  • The Ontario Line North Civil, Tunnels and Stations contract dates have slipped by one quarter, and the contract type has changed from DBF (Design, Build, Finance) to TBD (To Be Determined). This covers the OL infrastructure work from East Harbour to Science Centre Station.
  • The Yonge North subway extension has been split into two projects: one for the tunnel and the other for the stations, rail and systems. The projected dates for the tunnel contract are unchanged, but for the stations project they are TBD.
  • A new line has been added for the Eglinton West LRT tunnel between Jane and Mount Dennis.
  • All of the GO expansion projects have slipped into 2022 for contract execution, but with dates early in the year. This implies an imminent flurry of announcements just in time for the coming election. These projects are running a few years behind their originally planned dates.
  • The contract type for the GO OnCorr project which includes future operation and maintenance of the system has changed from DBOM (Design, Build, Operate, Maintain) to “Progressive DBOM” which appears to provide earlier design input from prospective builders as well as a better (from the bidders’ point of view) allocation of risk between Metrolinx and the P3.
  • The Milton GO Station project has not been updated since October 2021. It is possible that this work is paused pending a resolution of issues between Metrolinx and CPR about all-day operation on this line.

Toronto Contemplates Net Zero Plan

Updated January 13, 2022 at 6:45 am: Sundry typos and scrambled phrases have been corrected. The projection of additional bus requirements for a 70 per cent service increase has been corrected to include spares.

At its recent meeting, Toronto Council endorsed a plan to move the City to Net Zero emissions by 2040. A review of the full plan is well beyond the scope of this blog, but some proposals affecting transit service and operations are very aggressive.

If Toronto is going to be serious about this we need a detailed examination of assumptions, scenarios, cost projection, and plans out to 2040. Where will population and job growth be? How will transit serve them?

Before I get into the report itself, a quotation from former TTC CEO Andy Byford is worth mention.

Andy Byford sums up the role of a transit system:

“…service that is frequent, that is clean, that goes where people want to go, when people want to go there, that is customer responsive, that is reliable, in other words that gets the basics right …”

Andy Byford on CBC Sunday, December 21, 2021

Too often we concentrate on big construction projects, or a new technology, or a showcase trial on one or two routes rather than looking at the overall system. In particular, we rarely consider what transit is from a rider’s point of view. It is pointless to talk about attracting people to use transit more if we do not first address the question of why they are not already riding transit today. This is an absolutely essential part of any Net Zero strategy.

The reports contain a lot of material, although there is some duplication between them. They contain proposals for short and medium term actions. At this point, Council has not embraced anything beyond the short term plan.

From a transit point of view, that “plan” is more or less “business as usual” and does little to challenge the current status of transit service in the short term. There is hope that electrification of the diesel/hybrid bus fleet might be accelerated, but little sense of what, on a system-wide basis, would shift auto users to transit beyond works already in progress.

A vital point here is that transit has two major ways to affect Council’s Net Zero goals:

  • Conversion of transit vehicles to all-electric operation will reduce or eliminate emissions associated with these vehicles, depending on the degree to which the electricity sources are themselves “clean”. This is a relatively small part of the City’s total emissions.
  • Shifting trips from autos to transit (or to walking or cycling) both reduces emissions and relieves the effects of road congestion, including, possibly, making more dedicated road space available for transit and cycling. Emissions from cars are much more substantial than those from transit.

In the short term, the overwhelming focus is on conversion of the existing bus fleet to electric operation, not of expanding service to attract more riders. Improvements to specific routes might come through various transit priority schemes, but these will not be seen system-wide. Based on demand projections, large scale capital works, notably new subway lines, will primarily benefit existing riders rather than shifting auto users to transit.

The short term targets related to transit are quite simple:

  • Electrify 20 percent of the bus fleet by 2025-26.
    • This effectively requires that 400 diesel or hybrid buses be converted. The TTC already plans to buy 300 eBuses, and the Board has asked TTC management to look at accelerating this conversion. This target is very low hanging fruit provided that someone will pay for the buses.
  • Further targets are 50 per cent conversion by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2040.
    • Looking at the TTC’s likely replacement schedule (discussed in my Capital Budget Follow-Up), they will easily be achieved as much of the existing fleet is due for replacement by the early 2030s. Hybrid buses to be acquired this year will reach end of life in 2034-35.

This is an endorsement of “more of the same” in our transit planning, but no real commitment to making transit fundamentally better so that it can handle many more trips at lower emission rates than today.

Looking further out there are proposals for substantially more transit service and free fares, but these are not fully reflected in projected costs or infrastructure needs.

Some of the proposals for the NZ2050 plan are, shall we say, poorly thought-out:

  • Convert one lane of traffic to exclusive bus lanes on all arterials.
    • Many arterials are only four lanes wide and taking a permanent bus lane has considerable effects on how the road would operate. This is a particular problem for routes with infrequent service during some periods of operation.
  • Increase service frequency on all transit routes: bus by 70%, streetcar by 50%, subway off-peak service increased to every 3 mins.
    • This represents a very large increase in transit service with effects on fleet size, facilities and, of course, budgets. This would require an increase in the bus and streetcar fleets beyond what is already planned as well as construction of new garages and a carhouse.
  • Tolls of $0.66/km on all arterial roads.
    • This would apply only to fossil-fueled cars, and the forecast amount of revenue is less than half of the additional funding transit would require.
  • No transit fares.
    • The immediate cost of this would be about $1.2 billion in foregone fare revenue, offset by about ten percent in the elimination of fare collection and enforcement costs.
  • Shift 75% of car and transit trips under 5km to bikes or e-bikes by 2040.
    • This is truly bizarre. In effect, transit stops performing a local service for most rides and they are shifted to cycling. The average length of a transit trip is under 10km, and many are shorter. Moreover, trips are often comprised of multiple hops each of which might be quite small. There is a small question of how much uptake there would be in poor weather conditions.
  • Shift 75% of trips under 2km to walking by 2040.
    • Even some transit trips are short, and transit, especially with improved service, is the natural place for these trips. It is not clear whether the plan would be to somehow deter transit users from making very short trips just as, indeed, a car driver would.

[Revenue and cost issues are discussed in more detail later in this article.]

With all of the planned investment, transit’s mode share of travel is projected to fall, while walking and cycling would rise considerably in part because of the policy of diverting short trips. It simply does not make sense to push people off of transit just at the point where we are trying to encourage transit use. This part of the plan is laughably incoherent, and is an example of how good intentions can be undermined by poorly crafted policy.

For example, it is less than 5km from Liberty Village to Yonge Street, and if we were to take the proposal seriously, we would expect most people to cycle to work downtown, not take GO or the streetcar services. I look forward to the public meeting where this scheme is unveiled to the residents. If the demand for GO and for the King car is any indication, they do not want to use “active transportation”. Similarly, the planned development at East Harbour is less than 5km from downtown.

Meanwhile, transit electrification itself only eliminates 3 per cent of existing emissions, assuming a clean source of electricity. The subway and streetcar systems already are electrified, and both have capacity for growing demand if only more service were operated.

Reports:

The Council motion reads, in part:

City Council endorse the targets and actions outlined in Attachment B to the report (December 2, 2021) from the Interim Director, Environment and Energy, titled “TransformTO Net Zero Strategy”.

Councillor Layton moved two amendments:

* Request the Board of the Toronto Transit Commission to identify opportunities to accelerate the Green Bus Program and to request the CEO, Toronto Transit Commission to report to the Board in the second quarter of 2022 on these opportunities.

* City Council request the City Manager, in consultation with the General Manager of the Toronto Transit Commission, to outline in the 2022 Budget proposal options to increase spending on surface vehicles and hiring additional operators aimed at increasing ridership to get us on the path to achieving the TransformTO goals.

The first amendment echoes a request from the TTC Board to its management at the December 20, 2021 meeting. Acceleration of eBus purchases will require additional funding from somewhere, as well as a vendor capable of meeting a larger order. It will also have effects on TTC infrastructure needs for garaging.

The second amendment is more pressing because it speaks to the 2022 Budget process that will launch on January 13. If the TTC is going to ramp up service this year, this must be factored into the budget. A likely problem will be that any growth beyond that now planned will be entirely on the City’s dime rather than supported by other governments. However, we need to understand what could be done, if only to know the cost should a “fairy godmother” show up with some spare change.

Neither the amendment nor the short-term target for 2022-2025 gives any indication of just what is meant by “better” transit service, nor do they distinguish between restoring pre-covid service levels and going beyond that to encourage more ridership.

The points listed above for NZ2050 are excerpted from Attachment C, the technical background report. A casual reader might think that Council has embraced a very expansive view of transit’s role, but they have not.

The tactics from Attachment C are notably absent from Attachment B which refers to them, but actually lists a much more restricted set of transit goals. I have confirmed with City staff that Council has only endorsed Attachment B.

Q: For clarification: There are, broadly speaking, two levels of a shift in the emphasis on transit in the short term plan to 2030 and in the longer term to 2040 and beyond. Reading the Council motion, it appears that Council has endorsed the short term plan (Appendix B), but has not endorsed the more aggressive targets of the longer term set out in Appendix C. Is this a correct interpretation?

A: Yes. City Council endorsed the targets and the actions outlined in Attachment B ‘TransformTO Net Zero Strategy’. Attachment C is a technical backgrounder report that was used to inform the targets and actions that were recommended and adopted.

Email from Steve Munro to Toronto Media Relations, December 29, 2021. Response from Toronto Environment & Energy Division, January 10, 2022.

That is a polite way of saying “we had some really aggressive ideas, but we know enough not to bring them to Council”.

“Transit” vs “Transition”

In the process of reviewing the reports, I searched on the word “transit”, but got hits more frequently on “transition” as there are many other sectors where reduction or elimination of emissions are possible and on a large scale.

According to the most recent greenhouse gas inventory, transportation is the second largest source of GHG emissions, accounting for 36 percent of total emissions with approximately 97 per cent of all transportation emissions originating from passenger cars, trucks, vans, and buses. Gasoline accounts for about 30 per cent of Toronto’s total GHG emissions.

TransformTO: Critical Steps for Net Zero by 2040. p. 30

Here is a pie chart showing the relative contribution of each proposed action in the Attachment C list which is a more aggressive set of changes than Council adopted. Note the small contribution of transit (red) compared with other areas such as personal and commercial vehicles and changes to building energy use.

Based on Section 7: Low-Carbon Actions pp 52-56 in the Net Zero Technical Report

Another way to look at this is shown in a chart of energy sources and emissions generated by each transportation sector as the full NZ plan is implemented.

  • Top left: the emissions of urban buses are shown in green. This falls off to zero as the bus fleet electrifies.
  • Middle left: the decline in diesel (green) is a combination of transit, trucking and a small contribution from diesel-powered autos.
  • Bottom left: Cars and light trucks are the overwhelming contributors of emissions within the transportation sector.
  • On the right, the charts are harder to accept at face value because they include the effect of a very large shift of short trips to active transportation. An interesting comparison would be what might happen if autos electrified, but did not lose mode share.

That last point has a knock-on effect because if short trips are not shifted, but are only electrified, they will contribute a substantial demand to generating and charging capacity, not to mention continued auto traffic and competition for road space.

Net Zero Technical Report, p. 91
Continue reading

TTC 2022 Capital Budget: Board Meeting Follow-Up

This article is a follow-up to the TTC Board’s discussion of their 2022 Capital Budget at the meeting of December 20, 2021.

Links of interest:

The topics here are a bit scattershot as was the Board debate, but they include:

  • The Toronto Net Zero 2040 plan and electric buses
  • The conflict between budget planning timeframes and available funding
  • The growing backlog in State of Good Repair
  • Fleet replacement timing issues
  • Where the money comes from
  • The need to co-ordinate related projects within the budget
  • Funding for capital programs
  • Future subway demand and capacity enhancements

There is always a problem with the complexity of the budget that drops on Board members at most a week before the meeting where it will be approved.

There is no “Budget Committee” at the TTC, and so there is no group within the Board who are primed for the debate and can vouch for management’s work in the same manner as the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee. The Board used to have a Budget Committee, but it languished under an uninterested chair (ironically, a member of Council’s hawkish right) and the current Board is unwilling to recreate it.

This says a lot about how seriously (or not) they take their oversight role. Let a few pencils go missing and the Audit folks will be all over the problem, but billions in capital spending and the underlying policy decisions go with little review. This should be a job for whatever TTC Board is crafted for 2023 after the next municipal election.

For those interested in the details, read on.

Continue reading

TTC 2022 Operating Budget (3)

This article is a continuation from:

I posed a series of questions to TTC media relations to clarify some of the presentation and discussion at the December 20 Board meeting. Here are their answers.

When Does Better Service Resume?

This question was asked before the recent Covid surge and associated rise in absences from work.

Q: There is some confusion in the language used in the Opex report and by various speakers about the point at which 100% of pre-pandemic service would be restored. Variously this has included:

“by Q2” implying a target date at or near the beginning of the quarter

“in Q2” implying a targer anywhere up to June 30

“given the capability based on demand” for Q2 implementation

In your press release, Chair Robinson is quoted:

“The 2022 budget approved today gives us the flexibility to increase service up to pre-pandemic levels, in response to demand, while funding key sustainability and service improvement initiatives – all without raising fares for our riders,” said TTC Chair Jaye Robinson.

This does not even mention a return to full service in Q2.

Which version is correct? Have you budgeted for 100% in Q2, but may not actually operate it depending on demand levels?

As a related note, when the Nov 21 cuts were announced, there was an intention to begin reversing these in January. No service memo for the January Board has been issued yet. Will it be coming out soon and will some of the cuts start to be reversed?

TTC replied:

A: We predicted a return to pre-pan levels would begin IN Q2 as demand increases…if it increases by then based on current realities. So the budget allows for that in Q2, not by Q2.

All service planning is being done based on demand AND workforce availability. So we are planning for scenarios. With ridership now back down to 40-ish per cent and Step 2 in effect, we don’t expect an increase in demand.

Email from Stuart Green, Senior Communications Specialist, Media Relations and Issues Management, Corporate Communications, January 6, 2022

Although the point is now rather moot, the original intent was to ramp up through Q2, not by Q2. Much now depends on how quickly the current wave recedes and ridership recovery returns to its former path.

It is now a matter of record that there were no service restorations in January 2022. The mid-February changes have not yet been announced.

Line 5 Crosstown Operating Costs

Q: The full year cost of running Line 5 as cited as $63 million based on deltas in 2022 (startup costs plus initial operation) and then in 2023 (to full year operation).

The statement was made that the TTC will “operate and maintain” the line, but my understanding is that significant chunks of the project will be handled by Crosslinx notably vehicle maintenance, tunnels and station infrastructure.

Could you clarify which aspects of Line 5 Opex are actually included in that $63 million?

The TTC replied:

A: The City, in an Agreement in Principle dated 2016, agreed to receiving 100% Fare & Non-Fare box revenue and in return the City would pay all Operating & Maintenance costs for Line 5. Maintenance costs have already been pre-determined and identified for the next 30 years in the Project Agreement between Metrolinx and CTS.  The TTC budget process is identifying the combined operations and maintenance costs for Line 5.

So yes, Crosslinx is doing the work, but the agreement the City signed sees the TTC pay them for it.

Stuart Green, op. cit.

This means that the costs payable to Metrolinx for Line 5 should now be known for the next 30 years, but it is not clear if the TTC actually has these figures. Some enterprising Councillor (or even TTC Board member) might usefully ask for this information so we can see what future cost increases, if any, are baked into the Line 5 agreement.

The Status of Run-As-Directed Buses

Q: Rick Leary cited RAD operations as being 140 buses.

First, based on schedule info, there were 140 crews, not 140 buses, and the maximum RADs in service at any time was maybe 60, not 140.

Second, these buses were also used as subway shuttles and other fill ins for emergencies and were not always available as unscheduled extras on busy routes.

Third, my understanding was that the RAD crews were stripped from the schedules on Nov 21 as a workforce reduction measure.

Are these statements correct, and if not, what is the actual situation?

The TTC replied:

A: Still clarifying with Service planning.

Stuart Green, op. cit.

Answers to questions about the Capital Budget will appear in my pending follow-up on that item from the Board meeting.

The Scarborough Junction Mystery

As part of the GO Expansion plan, Metrolinx had intended to grade separate the junction at Scarborough Station on the Lakeshore East corridor to eliminate the conflict between frequent service on the Stouffville corridor which runs north, and on the Lakeshore line itself. Plans call for frequent, electrified service on both corridors. All Stouffville and about half of the LSE trains will be electric. Some diesel operations will remain on LSE for trains that will run beyond the end of planned electric territory at Oshawa.

Approval for this project was granted at the end of February 2021.

The Environmental Project Report for the Scarborough Junction Grade Separation TPAP was available for public review from December 22, 2020 to January 20, 2021. It has been reviewed by the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.  The Statement of Completion has been issued, and the project can now proceed  to the  detailed design and implementation phase. 

Source: GO Expansion Program Website

Here is a map of the junction as it appears in the Environmental Project Report:

Four consortia were prequalified for the GO OnCorr project in May 2019, and the RFP process closed on November 30, 2021. The successful bid will be announced sometime in 2022. The consortia include major international rail operators including SNCF (France), MTR (Hong Kong), RATP (Paris) and DB (Germany).

In April 2021, transit video blogger Reece Martin posted an interview with Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster on a variety of topics. Verster talked about a shift in how major contracts are handled including early involvement of proponents in the design phase. The portion of interest includes the following exchange which has been edited only to remove pauses and add punctuation.

PV: Let me give you an example Reece. Just practical examples speak a thousand words for me.

RM: Sure.

PV: We have three big projects overlapping at the new East Harbour Station that we are working with Cadillac-Fairview and the City of Toronto to get built in the Docklands area. And the three projects are: GO expansion, we want more trains on the Lakeshore East; the Ontario Line is going to have platforms at East Harbour; and then we want to build East Harbour itself which is going to be the Union Station of the east. So these are three massive projects that are intersecting.

From the really quality work that we got done by our GO Expansion team, it was evident that if we had a third platform, sort of a centre platform, in the station, we could increase the capacity of trains that can stop at East Harbour by about 8 trains per hour at the peak higher than the 12 trains we had intended. So we can now stop 20 trains an hour rather than just 12, and that 20 years from now when capacity gets constrained at Union Station, we will have saved 2 of the 16 roads. We would have freed up by having this platform in terms of reducing the switchover times between lines which then occupies capacities. So we make in effect 8 trains on 12 increase in capacity at East Harbour, we save 2 platforms out of 16 at Union Station.

But more than that at Scarborough Junction by putting a centre platform at East Harbour, a couple of kilometres down the way at Scarborough Junction, we can now avoid building a rail grade-to-grade separation which saves us $140 million.

RM: That big flyover that you guys had planned before.

PV: Exactly. Now that’s not required because of a station design choice we made further upstream that benefits Union Station as well as East Harbour as well as to the east [?].

You see this is innovation. Now this sounds really boring perhaps for other people that are not sort of rail geeks like people like you and me, but I’m telling you this is unique stuff and it’s super exciting to make these changes. I call these once in 60 year, once in 100 year type decisions that we are making now that will massively benefit this network 50, 60 years from now.

Talking Transit with the CEO of Metrolinx, posted April 15, 2021

It is quite clear that Metrolinx had a revelation about its proposed design for the LSE corridor almost a year ago, and this reflects various design changes that have occurred along the way.

  • Originally, at East Harbour Station, the Ontario Line would have “straddled” the GO corridor with the eastbound OL track on the south side, and the westbound OL track on the north side. This would have permitted across-the-platform transfers with “local” GO trains running on the outer pair of tracks while the express trains ran through on the inner pair. This arrangement was touted in an October 2019 Metrolinx blog article that remains online.
  • The straddle option turned out to be problematic not just at East Harbour, but further up the GO corridor at Riverside/Leslieville and Gerrard OL stations which would be much more complex with split platforms, as well as the need for two portals at each end of the surface-running OL segment from west of the Don River to Gerrard Street. Metrolinx abandoned this scheme, and shifted the OL to the north side of the rail corridor. The across-the-platform transfer, previously thought to be essential, was abandoned.
  • This change allows all train-to-train interchanges to occur at a concourse level under the tracks much as at Union Station. In turn, that also makes possible a platform arrangement with stopping by all GO trains, not just those on two of four tracks.
  • From a rider’s point of view, it does not matter which track a particular GO service uses, and it is a short step to allocating pairs of tracks to each of two services, rather than to local and express trains. That eliminates the need for the grade separation at Scarborough. (There are implications for Danforth and Scarborough Stations, but that’s a separate matter.)

This is all very interesting stuff, although I would hardly use the term “innovation” to describe moving away from the original straddle design (something else that was an “innovation” in its time) that way. One might ask why it took Metrolinx so long to come up with this scheme and, in the process, simplify operations, increase capacity and reduce project costs.

In a recent Twitter exchange, I asked Metrolinx to confirm or deny that the grade separation had been removed from the project. The GO Expansion team replied:

The reference concept includes minimum service level requirements – how the winning proponent chooses to do that (which grade seps to build, trains, signaling, etc.) is up to them. The contract is designed to spur market innovation in this way.

Metrolinx has completed the necessary TPAPs for all potential grade seps, so needed approvals are in place for financial close, expected in the first half of this year. Once the proponent is on board, we can confirm with certainty which grade separations will go forward. 2/2 ^pp

Tweets by @GOExpansion, January 4, 2022

In other words, the design is up to the winning proponent, even though everything on the Metrolinx website still claims that the grade separation is part of the plan including this October 2020 article in their blog which has not been removed or amended.

Twitter is not an ideal place to get into technical discussions, and it was also obvious that reconfiguration of the platforms and track allocations would have other effects at East Harbour. Therefore, I wrote to Metrolinx seeking clarification of their position.

As presented in all of the consultation materials and discussed in an article on the Metrolinx Blog, there will be a flyunder at Scarborough Junction where the outer eastbound track will connect to the Stouffville corridor via a grade separation to eliminate the conflict with through service on the Lake Shore corridor.

In an interview with Reece Martin on YouTube, Phil Verster talks about a change in the configuration at East Harbour and at Scarborough Junction that eliminates the need for the flyunder and increases capacity at Union Station. Although he does not go into the details, this implies that the allocation of LSE corridor tracks to services will change so that the Stouffville trains will use the northern pair of tracks and the LSE trains will use the southern pair. Coupled with an added platform at East Harbour and through-routing of services at Union, the capacity of the combined corridor is improved by reducing train conflicts and by improving operations at Union.

This is an interesting idea, but when I raised, via Twitter, the question of why it was not reflected in published materials, the response from the GO Expansion team was that decisions on configuration were up to whatever proponent is selected for the GO OnCorr program. That directly contradicts Phil’s enthusiastic statement that this change is happening and the decision has already been taken by Metrolinx.

The only way to reconcile these positions is to say that Metrolinx has not actually “decided” on which configuration to use, but will “suggest” the new scheme as an option for bidders. Alternately, one of the bidders already came up with this idea as part of the work on their proposal evaluation and Metrolinx has embraced it unofficially.

Can you clarify what the situation actually is?

Email from Steve Munro to Metrolinx Media Relations, January 6, 2022

Changes at East Harbour station have ripple effects, and I pursued these questions as well:

There are implications at East Harbour on a few fronts.

First, does the proposed added platform that Phil mentioned alter the alignment of tracks crossing the Don River, and what does this do to the GO and OL bridges and any early works including the Ontario Line alignment?

Second, with the new hook-up of services running through at Union, is there still a need for electrification of the Bala Subdivision (GO Richmond Hill) as a turnback facility, or will you no longer have a service that only runs west from Union and needs that turnback?

Third, one of the rationales used for the Don Valley layover has been the loss of capacity in the existing Don Yard (aka Wilson Yard) due to other projects by which, I assume, you mean the Ontario Line construction. Originally, in the straddle configuration, the OL would have had two portals one on each side of the corridor, but now it has only one on the north side. How does the revised geometry work for the existing yard tracks, the bridges, the OL portal and the connection to the Bala subdivision?

Email, op. cit.

Metrolinx replied:

Hi Steve,

We don’t have any further information to share beyond what the GO Expansion account replied. For further updates, stay tuned to Metrolinx News.

Email from Fannie Sunshine, Advisor, Media & Issues Communications, Metrolinx, January 6, 2022

And there the matter sits. Phil Verster gives a gung-ho interview about innovative design eight months ago, but nothing on the Metrolinx website reflects his comments. A request for detailed feedback nets a “stay tuned” answer.

This whole exchange begs a more delicate question: to what degree can project designs be changed at the behest of the P3 proponent after all of the public reviews are completed based on a proposed design? What other changes might be in the works for any Metrolinx project, and will they just happen without any review or consultation?

To me, the proposed change in track allocation on LSE makes sense, but why is it such a secret?

Coming Soon: January 2022

The last week has been quiet on this blog as I took a break from writing and spent the holiday period both enjoying the season, to the degree that was possible, and watching a lot of online concerts.

But fear not! I bring tidings of, well, not necessarily great joy, but of articles in the pipeline, something for you all to read while sitting around the internet yule log.

Yes, there will be more service analyses including:

  • A few more reviews of short routes and their less than stellar service.
  • A review of major bus routes in Scarborough including the short-lived express services on Kennedy and Warden.
  • An update on the review of travel times on existing and proposed “red lane” corridors.

Of course it’s budget season, and I have an update on the TTC’s Capital Budget based on the presentation and discussion at their recent Board meeting. That’s waiting on feedback on some questions I posed.

City Council will have its own budget launch on January 13, and we will see just how deep a hole we are in for the coming year.

At its December meeting, Council endorsed the Net Zero 2040 plan aimed at getting the City’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions down to zero in two decades. This includes not just the municipal government and its agencies, but homeowners, businesses, drivers of all manner of vehicles and transit.

Transit makes a small direct contribution mainly through diesel exhaust, and this will decline as the bus fleet is electrified. The larger benefits lie in diversion of trips that might otherwise be taken by car. The City’s plan includes proposals for considerably more transit service, but this does not appear to have been endorsed by Council (along with other aggressive portions of the plan). There is certainly no provision in TTC capital or operating budgets for the scope of expansion required for the NZ2040 plan.

As I write this, I await replies to a series of questions posed to the City to clarify portions of their transit proposal.

With luck, this will be a year of modest recovery if the pandemic can be brought under control, but it will certainly not be a year of bold expansion, except for a few political egos tied to certain rapid transit construction projects.

At the end of January, this blog will celebrate its 16th birthday, and I will reflect on where we go from here in the anniversary article.

A happy 2022 to everyone!