The TTC Board met on February 8, 2022. Several hours were spent in private session on items that reported only by name in the agenda. They primarily relate to litigation (one item involves an as-yet unsettled claim regarding a contract for the Spadina Subway extension to Vaughan) and Labour Relations.
This article includes comments on:
- CEO’s Report
- 5-Year Fare Policy
- Fare Collection Modernization
- The Discriminatory Effect of Zones and Fare By Distance
- Cross-Boundary Service Integration
- Network Expansion Update
- Net Zero 2040
The CEO’s Report contained the same collection of charts tracking various aspects of system performance, but submerging key details by averaging and by capping of reported values.
I have already reported on current ridership trends in TTC 2022 Service Plan Update.
One item of note did pop out: declining bus service reliability. This is attributed cancelled trips which grew as the year wore on due to staff shortages and the TTC’s selective cancellation of some crews.
Another observation is not explained by the report: service on weekends is worse than the system average and pulls scores down, and there are problems with two groups of routes: those that have the fewest trips, and the largest routes in the network.
Weekend performance continued to bring down the period’s overall score, with the network experiencing a 75.4% performance for the period during Saturdays and Sundays.
When segmenting the bus network based on total number of scheduled trips, the bottom tier of routes, consisting of the 64 routes that are the smallest by number of trips, was the lowest performing tier of the period (74.9%). The top tier of routes, made up of the 13 largest routes, was the second lowest performing group of the period at 76.1% OTP.Source: February 2022 CEO’s Report, p. 19
Problems with long routes are understandable because they are likely to be disrupted somewhere and have limited opportunities for schedule recovery. Short routes and routes with infrequent service, as I have demonstrated in a series of articles, are prone to disruption through a combination of missed trips and a lack of service supervision. I will return to this problem in future articles.
The TTC plans schedule adjustments in March-April to address some of these problems, but schedules alone do not explain the erratic nature of some services.
What is still missing is regular reporting at a route-by-route and time-of-day level so that problems can be seen from a rider’s point of view, not from the generalized, high-level system averages. Obviously the TTC has this data because they report (above) on the distribution of problems.
Years ago, before Rick Leary became CEO, the TTC committed to publish regular information about service reliability in its Customer Charter. These reports were not updated for many years, and have disappeared along with the Charter from the TTC’s new website. All that remains is the daily Customer Service Report which gives average information for the system, not for routes other than the rapid transit lines.
5-Year Fare Policy
This item was covered in detail in a previous article: TTC Heads Toward Fare Capping, Flat Fares, No Zones
During the discussion on Advancing the 5-Year Fare Policy, Commissioner Carroll asked for better modelling of the effect if the break-even points for fare capping were changed.
Chair Robinson moved that recommendation 2 (below) be referred back “for further due diligence and detailed financial analysis to inform the final fare policy” that will come to the Board for approval in May 2022.
2. Endorse in principle the opportunities related to fare capping and aligning concessions across Fair Pass, Seniors and Youth as detailed in the Comments section of this report to inform the final fare policy recommendations that will be presented to the Board for approval in May 2022;Original recommendation 2 from Advancing the 5-Year Fare Policy
There are many pending or possible changes including:
- alternative levels for capped fares,
- cross-boundary fare and service integration,
- expanded access to Fair Pass pricing,
- expanded access to Post-Secondary fares for students who are not full time, and
- whether modified fares should form part of the ridership recovery strategy.
With the TTC and City still wondering whether they will receive all of the request funding for Covid-related support, there is little chance that we will see a major change in the fare structure for a few years. However, the options need to be well-understood so that change, if it comes, can be implemented without another year or two of study. This should be a “shovel ready” set of policy options.
Fare Collection Modernization
In the report Fare Collection Modernization, published about a week before the meeting, a table shows the types of fares available with the Presto system.
By the time this table appeared in the presentation deck at the Board meeting, it had been reformatted and included reference to “Phase 2 – 2024” in which the missing open payment portions of the tariff would be addressed. The essential difference is that a central account-based system must be able to associate a credit/debit card (or equivalently an app functioning as one) with the type of fare to which a rider is entitled.
One major unanswered question is the future of Presto and the TTC’s relationship to it. The current contract expires in 2027, and meanwhile the TTC is trying to get the functionality it expected out of Metrolinx.
The current PRESTO system was implemented based on existing fare structures and limitations of the PRESTO technology. As part of the 10-Year Fare Collection Outlook, an important element is to ensure that the fare collection system can accommodate existing and potential new fare policies.
Open Payments has been a priority deliverable of the Master E-Fare Agreement1 (“the Agreement”) since its signing in 2012.
The TTC and Metrolinx have discussed the modernization of PRESTO for several years to bring Open Payments to TTC customers. Through negotiations, Open Payments was made a priority deliverable and was slated to be implemented at the end of 2024. In late 2021, Metrolinx approached the TTC with a plan to deliver of Open Payments in 2022.Fare Collection Modernization, pp 5-6
Although most of the costs of the Presto system are covered through the TTC/Metrolinx contract, the fare gates are owned by the TTC and they are responsible for any upgrades. The report recommends that purchase and installation of new card readers for the fare gates be approved at a cost of $4.0 million net of GST rebate. The equipment will come from the manufacturers, Schiedt & Bachmann.
Any added functionality within the Presto contract is subject to an important caveat:
Maintenance of the TTC’s commission rate of 5.25% for all new payment products and ensure that no additional fees will be incurred by the TTC or passed onto TTC customers;Fare Collection Modernization, p 17
An important consideration in the implementation of any new fare system is accessibility. This is a much broader term than physical usability, and it includes barriers to people who are unbanked, have low income and cannot conduct their financial business in the manner to which many of us (including too many designers of smart apps) are accustomed. This includes groups who rely on cash for most or all of their purchases.
The availability of PRESTO Tickets will ensure continued access for social and community agencies that distribute fares to numerous groups, such as newcomers, those experiencing homelessness and clients with low incomes. These products will be improved by the introduction of account-based functionality and will be supported by an expanded cash-accepting network of retail locations and in-station self-serve devices.
Finally, as the future of cash collection in the context of modernization is considered, careful evaluation of the impacts to equity-seeking groups will need to be examined given that they are generally more reliant on cash.Fare Collection Modernization, p. 3
A common complaint about in-person card reloads is that Metrolinx set up an exclusive deal with Shoppers Drug Mart (part of the Loblaws empire, and a favoured partner of the Ford government) to provide this service. However, Shoppers changed their store practices to reduce in-person service and this works against those who must reload their cards via this path. Moreover, there are far fewer Shoppers Drug Marts than the former network of corner stores distributing TTC fare media, and they tend to be in affluent areas where their higher mark-up cosmetics business find customers.
Among the TTC’s requirements for a new system:
Pre-authorization fees if required to implement the two-hour transfer, cannot exceed the total cost of the trip and cannot cause undue burden to the customerFare Collection Modernization, p. 17
One major problem with fare payment via debit and credit cards is that they incur fees for both the vendor and the buyer. The problem of “micro transaction” fees has been around at least as long as Presto, and a common way to avoid them is to bulk load value onto a stored value card like Presto. If fare readers accept credit and debit cards directly, any economy of scale in the transaction is lost. For example, bank fees levied at a transaction level can add substantially to the price of a fare, as opposed to a single fee for a monthly bill (e.g. pass or capped fare).
The TTC organized a vendor briefing from many would-be providers of fare systems. Six were short-listed and presented to TTC and YRT in late July 2021.
There were three key observations [text adapted and condensed from the report]:
- Vendor experience and success varied in delivery of large-scale projects.
- Vendor experience varied from large scale projects in many countries to a single regional project.
- Vendors have strengths and weaknesses in their systems.
- A vendor choice must take account of risks, benefits and past performance.
- Nearly all vendors have technical shortcomings, and “clear and deliberate contract requirements will help to mitigate” these.
- A successful project will require “a unique tender process and contract structure”.
A key observation speaks to the gap between salesmanship and delivery:
As expected, vendors made no mention of their shortcomings, but no vendor has a complete product that will meet all agency needs, nor can the vendor’s engineers implement a project without active dialogue, a well-documented scope and design, and decision-making from the transit authority. No matter the vendor, there will still be a need for the TTC’s intimate involvement in its fare collection system.Fare Collection Modernization, p. 8
There is also the important issue of project management and the unhappy tendency to think that a vendor will magically handle everything:
Given the current state and challenges to date of fare collection at the TTC, the prospect of a new vendor may be seen as an attractive option, where project schedules and budgets operate as clockwork. On the other hand, vendor project management is universally poor and has major impacts on project schedule, system design and project budget.
Even capable vendors are stretched very thin due to being awarded multiple simultaneous projects, and therefore provide scant project and engineering resources onsite, irrespective of the size or visibility of the project. Most fare system projects end up one or more years behind schedule and over budget. Some agencies ask for an “off-the-shelf” solution, while others focus on pushing financial risk to the vendor, but all usually realize later that the lack of clear contract requirements is a primary driver of schedule and cost overruns.Fare Collection Modernization, p. 8
Oh to be a fly on the wall and know what the TTC thinks of Metrolinx/Presto’s inability to deliver on promises and their arrogance, until recently, in addressing contract disputes.
The Discriminatory Effect of Zones and Fare By Distance
The staff position on fare schemes based on zones or distance travelled is quite clear: they work against the purpose of transit and are discriminatory.
This argument tends to be made in the abstract, but it was driven home by a presentation from the Social Planning Council of Toronto. They have studied the relationship between home-to-work travel patterns and demographics with the findings summarized in Distance-based transit fares don’t measure up: A picture of inequity in five maps.
The first two maps below show very clearly that long commute trips by transit are concentrated in the outer part of the city. This reflects both the geography of the city as well as the lack of work locations close to where people live.
Another view shows the average public transit trip length. The lower values are concentrated in the older parts of the city where destinations tend to be much closer to origins and therefore trips to reach them are shorter. Note that this maps all trips, not just commutes.
The outer parts of the city have much higher concentrations of racialized and immigrant residents.
The combined effect of these charts shows that distance or zone-based fares would disproportionately affect these groups.
These charts do not map socioeconomic status, although it is well-documented in other studies that the same outer corners of the city also have lower average incomes.
Status Update – Cross-Boundary Service Integration
The Board received a report and presentation on the status of talks with neighbouring transit agencies on the question of service integration. Several routes now operate across the 905/416 boundary, but the rules governing them differ for historical reasons.
Some TTC routes extend into the 905 because they provided service over many years to areas outside of the “old” City of Toronto. Notable examples are the “radial” streetcar routes to locations like Richmond Hill and Woodbridge, and routes within what is now Toronto to former Scarborough, York, Weston, North York and southern Etobicoke towns. In some cases, it was convenient for a TTC route to be extended beyond Steeles Avenue under contract to York Region, and some of these operations still exist as the map below shows.
TTC routes operate outside of Toronto, but the buses operate as part of the Toronto network within the city borders. By contrast, buses from 905 municipalities are allowed to deliver passengers to TTC subway stations, but not to carry local traffic within the 416.
The TTC proposes an initial trial on two routes:
There are three stages to the proposed transition:
• Phase 1: MiWay and YRT will pilot “open door” service on the Burnhamthorpe and Dufferin North corridors. The TTC continues service on these corridors.Status Update: Cross-Boundary Service Integration p. 2
• Phase 2: MiWay and YRT will continue an “open door” pilot on the Burnhamthorpe and Dufferin North corridors. MiWay and YRT to increase service levels to serve all customers, and the TTC to reallocate service to other areas within Toronto.
• Phase 3: Full rollout of “open door” service on all 24 cross-boundary routes operated by BT, DRT, MiWay and YRT. The TTC to adjust service levels to match capacity with demand and reallocate service to other areas within Toronto.
Current legislation restricts other agencies from operating local service within Toronto and this will require amendment of the City of Toronto Act. Also, Presto does not currently support the fare collection and revenue sharing model contemplated for these services. There is also an issue of jurisdiction for service operation and whether replacing TTC buses with vehicles and operators from another service triggers “contracting out” provisions in the TTC’s contract with ATU Local 113.
According to TTC Collective Bargaining and Non-Union Salary Updates, also on this meeting’s agenda, this matter is still in arbitration, but is expected to emerge in the next few months.
Several important issues were remitted to the parties for negotiation within 90 days. Should the parties not be able to agree these items will return to the arbitrator for decision. These include such issues as cross boundary service integration …Collective Bargaining Updates, p. 7
A further problem lies in the recommendation that the province take on incremental capital and operating costs as well as Presto development costs. This is a roundabout way for the TTC to get the province to buy them more buses when they already have far more vehicles than they need for service plus maintenance spares.
The problem lies in the lower level of service provided by agencies in the 905 than the TTC operates today on “their” portion of the route. A agency like YRT will have to run more buses to replace the capacity now provided by the TTC. However, that replaced service represents spare buses for the TTC while the province buys more buses for the 905 operator. The total fleet size goes up, but Toronto does not have to pay for it.
The report claims that:
Customers who take bus routes on cross-boundary corridors will have more frequent service because they can now access 905 transit agency buses within Toronto for local travel.Status Update: Cross-Boundary Service Integration p. 1
The details are shown in this table:
This is true only during the period when both the TTC and the 905 operator provide service on the common corridor, or if the 905 operator increases their service to replace what the TTC removes. Once the TTC quits the scene, riders will be at the mercy of whatever service YRT, or MiWay or whoever provides.
Moreover, even if the province does provide transitional funding to cover new costs, there is no guarantee this will not simply be rolled into whatever standard funding each agency receives. The cost will be small for a few routes, but as the practice grows, so will the subsidy call.
The TTC fundamentally misrepresents the shift, and in particular is silent on how Toronto service and crowding standard would be enforced on routes that the TTC does not operate.
One might equally ask why the TTC does not extend its routes into the 905, but that option does not appear to be on the table in the rush to appear “cooperative” on the regional integration front.
The Board approved the report with an amendment from Commissioner Carroll asking for details of revenue sharing, reinvestment and ensuring consistent service before the TTC moves to phase 2 of the proposal.
The Network Expansion Update’s recommendations deal with various agreements with Metrolinx regarding the Ontario Line, but the report itself contains background on many other projects.
One of these is Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown for which a summary of operating expenses was published as part of the TTC’s budget. A more detailed breakdown is in the network expansion report.
Key projects have inter-dependencies and must come on stream in the correct order. The table below summarizes information in the report. (Interested readers can peruse the report for more details of specific projects.)
|New Transit Control Centre||Preliminary Design||2028|
|Bloor-Yonge Capacity Improvements||Stage Gate 3||2030 **|
|Line 5 Crosstown||Construction||2022 *|
|Eglinton West Extension||West tunnel contract: awarded|
East tunnel contract: procurement
Stations & systems: planning
|Eglinton East Extension||Planning||TBD|
|Line 6 Finch||Construction||2023 *|
|Yonge North Extension||Planning/Procurement||2029-2030 *|
|Scarborough Extension||Tunnel contract: awarded|
Stations & systems: planning
Kennedy enabling works: design
|Ontario Line||Planning/procurement||2030 *|
|Sheppard East Extension||Concept definition (?)||TBD|
|Waterfront East LRT||Preliminary design & engineering||2030-2031|
|Waterfront West – Exhibition to Dufferin||On hold pending evaluation of Ontario Line impact||TBD|
|Durham-Scarborough BRT||Preliminary design||TBD|
|Dundas BRT||Concept definition||TBD|
- * Metrolinx schedule
- ** In-service date for new Line 2 platform. Project continues beyond 2030.
The detailed terms for the operating agreement between the TTC and Metrolinx for Line 5 are still being finalized, but are expected to come to the TTC Board and Council in April and May, 2022, respectively.
On the Yonge North project, the provincially announced scope does not include a station at Cummer. The TTC and City are negotiating with Metrolinx about this station and whether it would be included in the base project, or simply left as a future provision much as the option for Park Home Station (now known as North York Centre) was in the original North Yonge subway.
Joint TTC-City-Metrolinx work continues on terminal station designs. Notably, Steeles Station is now seen as possibly including centre median platforms on Steeles Avenue for a future BRT service.
As previously reported, construction of the Ontario Line streetcar diversion for the Queen Street will begin in Spring 2022 and will be complete in time for the May 2023 closure.
The Waterfront East LRT is at 30% design, and work is underway to find cost reduction options, as well as to decide on phasing for the project. An update on this and other projects, notably a comparison of BRT and LRT for Eglinton East, will come to Executive Committee on March 30, 2022.
Commissioner Carroll moved that the TTC ask Metrolinx to clarify the scope and high level timeline for the Line 4 Sheppard East extension.
This report does not address key fleet and facility projects such as the acquisition of new subway trains and the provision of space to store and maintain them. Current plans call for the delivery of two prototype trains in 2025 with production deliveries starting in 2026 and ramping up to a peak of 20 trains/year. The intent is to replace the existing T1 fleet with 80 new trains by 2030 (SSE opening), and with an option for 32 additional trains for capacity growth in 2030-2032.
The timing is also related to the need for Automatic Train Control capability for the YNSE and SSE projects and trains required for these extensions.
Net Zero 2040
Right at the end of the meeting, the Board briefly dealt with a staff report on the Council-approved Net Zero 2040 plan. See my previous article Toronto Contemplates Net Zero Plan for details.
The discussion, if one can call it that, was very self-congratulatory about how the TTC’s plans already align with Council’s policy. Where the problem lies is that there is a more aggressive plan that includes very substantial increases in transit service. TTC plans do not address this at all.
There is only one recommendation in the covering report:
Request that staff identify opportunities to accelerate the Green Bus Program and report back in the second quarter of 2022 on these opportunities.
However, there were two recommendations appoved by Council at its December 15, 2021 meeting, not one, and the second one read:
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 agenda for the February 17, 2022, budget meeting of City Council has not yet been published [as of 10:30 pm on February 13], and so we do not yet know if this report will materialize.
A Budget Briefing Note to Council addresses the full effects and requirements of the Net Zero 2020 plan. One aspect of that plan is a very substantial increase in the level of transit service. The Briefing Note includes the following:
TTC’s 5-Year Service Plan & 10-Year Outlook, approved by the TTC Board in December 2019, included increases in transit service levels commensurate with increases in customer demand based on population and employment growth projections. The TTC 2022 Operating Budget proposes operating 100% of pre-pandemic service levels with further increases in service levels to be included in future operating budgets. The TTC 2022-2031 Capital Investment Plan (CIP) includes funding requirements to acquire new vehicle and electric charging systems to meet the service level needs outlined in the 5-Year Service Plan and to transition the TTC’s fleet to zero-emissions by the 2040 target.
The TransformTO Net Zero Framework Technical Report includes additional modelling scenarios which may be required to achieve net zero by 2040. While analysis and consultation with TTC is required to validate the assumptions of these models, these scenarios currently identify the need for additional investments to support a greater modal shift toward transit vehicles than currently identified through the TransformTO Critical Next Steps Staff Report and therefore, the TTC’s 5-Year Service Plan and Capital Investment Plan.
The modelling used to derive the recommendations in the Net Zero Strategy will need to undergo more precise analysis in consultation with TTC staff to confirm what (if any) net increase in service is required beyond the identified targets under the TransformTO Net Zero Strategy Staff Report.
This work will be undertaken as a priority in order to have any resulting modal shift scenarios presented through the TTC’s 2023 budget process.Budget Briefing Note, pp 5-6
The TTC should not be patting itself on the back too strenuously yet. There is much funding still to be found to address their own plans for fleet replacement and electrification, let alone a substantial growth in fleet size, garaging and operating costs.