TTC Board Meeting: May 18, 2022

The TTC Board’s May 18, 2022 agenda contained many routine items, but of interest were:

  • CEO’s Report
    • Advancing Analytics at the TTC
  • Establishment of a Human Resources Committee

CEO’s Report

The CEO’s Report contains the usual statistics about system performance, and there were few substantial changes from past months. These metrics deserve to be revisited along with the TTC’s Service Standards, and I will deal with them a separate article.

A frustrating problem with the CEO’s Report is that information in it is usually a month or more out of date. For example, ridership numbers are reported to the beginning of April even though it is now mid-May. In an environment where day-to-day changes in transit’s recovery from the pandemic have implications for service and budgets, more recent information should routinely be presented to the Board. It should not be up to Board members to ask staff for more recent figures.

The chart of recovery by mode takes us to April 1. The effect of the omicron surge in December/January was quite substantial, and the system has only now built back to a level above the peak in late November 2021.

The values in the report are over a month old, and they were verbally updated at the meeting in response to a question.

Pre-Pandemic Recovery LevelApril 1, 2022 (Report)May 7, 2022 (Verbal Update)

Further details appear in the Advancing Analytics presention later in this article.

Revenue rides are running ahead of the budgeted level after a poor start in January. The TTC expects that on an overall basis through the year, the budget and actual numbers will balance out although the actuals are currently running ahead. Much depends on the rate of growth of in person office work and post-secondary attendance.

The actual revenue from fares for the first quarter was $140 million compared to the budget estimate of $107 million. The pre-covid normal value was $313 million, and so there is some distance yet to travel in the recovery.

The overall TTC and City budgets have not yet been made whole by extra provincial and federal covid relief funding, and the City faces a gap of about $800 million in its operating budget. To counteract this, there is a proposal to cut back on capital-from-current spending so that capital projects will not weigh as heavily on the operating budget. However, this will defer some projects planned for 2022 and can add to future costs if more work is paid for by borrowing than by current revenue.

The TTC is currently studying how to cut $87 million out of its 2022 Capital Plan as an offset to the City’s shortfall. The need for this work does not vanish. It is simply pushed further into the future and adds to the unfunded deficit in the overall capital plan.

Advancing Analytics

An important presentation in the meeting dealt with the analysis of TTC data. They have a wealth of information, but much of it is hard to get, and what should be routine stats on system operations are simply not available.

The TTC has now set up a group to pull together their vast collection of data and assist departments in making use of this under the name of a Centre of Excellence for Data Innovation. Examples of some of its work are included in the presentation deck, and the TTC intends to make much more publicly available soon. They also intend to provide access through an open data portal so that those outside of the TTC can make use of the data. (No details have been provided yet.)

Readers of this site will know of my long-running series of analyses of route operations, and these depend on access to vehicle tracking data that the TTC has provided since 2008. However, that is an ad hoc arrangement as opposed to one that makes data available to any who want it.

Here are some examples.

Access to Transit Modelling

Using origin-destination data for various types of trips, the TTC has mapped the effect of Line 5 Crosstown’s opening and the associated surface route changes. The map below shows changes in the 60-minute range for job access. The improvements are, understandably, concentrated along the Eglinton corridor, but they also affect feeder corridors where the faster Eglinton segment brings more trips under the cutoff level. Areas where access falls arise from route changes that impose longer routes or transfers that do not exist in the “before” network.

Demand Modelling

TTC ridership has been reported on aggregated, averaged values across all routes and times of day. This masks issues with specific routes, times and locations where service does not meet the demand or the standards TTC aims for in an era when people still want some degree of social distancing.

The table below shows several major corridors and the differences both in time-of-day values and in individual routes versus averages. Hot spots that are invisible in consolidated numbers jump out in this table. The slide below notes that this information can be used for deployment of demand responsive service, although the TTC still is not reporting exactly where and when that service operates.

Stop Level Analysis

The chart below shows the percentages of ridership recovered on a stop-by-stop basis. Note that there are no data for streetcar lines because these vehicles do not yet have automatic passenger counters installed.

Many stops, particularly in the outer suburbs, show a strong rebound in demand as of Spring 2020, a year ago, with a 75% level. This is well above the overall system averages reported at the time, and shows how averages can mask behaviour at the local level.

Route-by-Route Analysis

The map below shows the bus routes where recovery of ridership has been strongest including a “top 10” that collectively achieved 69% of former boardings by April 2022.

One problem with this map is that how a route becomes part of the “top 20” is unclear. According to the legend, this is by boardings, and that should eliminate relatively minor routes. If the real ranking is by percentage recovery, this might make more sense. A route could be short and have few customers in absolute terms, but do well measured against pre-covid performance.

By Mode and Time of Day

The charts below show how ridership has returned to different parts of the system at different rates.

In the bus chart (left), the percentages give the ratio of Spring 2022 values (yellow) to Fall 2019 (light blue). The degree of recovery is not uniform across the day. For streetcar and subway routes, the relatively low peak period recovery is quite clear, but off-peak demand is stronger.

Anyone who rides the subway knows that it can be crowded in the off-peak, particularly evenings, because service is less frequent but ridership is returning. According to the TTC, subway service will be restored over the summer and fall, but they provided no details of quantity or timing. Like so many aspects of TTC service, this will be subject to “resource availability” (for which read staffing and budget headroom).

Use of WiFi Data for Ridership and Origin-Destination Surveys

The TTC is working with the provider of WiFi services in the subway to collect origin-destination data on an anonymized basis, and hopes to extend this to surface routes as WiFi is rolled out there. This has an advantage over Presto data in that entire trips are captured, not just points where passengers “tap in” to the system.

Continuing the Masking Mandate

CEO Rick Leary reported that the province was has established a date of June 11 for a possible change in the masking mandate. This was done in consultation with transit agencies.

Mask usage has started to fall, but surveys show that 94% of riders are masking, with 88% doing so correctly. Commissioner Carroll asked whether surveys are conducted across the system because adherence varies by time and location.

Whether anything more will come of this remains to be seen considering the possibility that the province will drop the mandate, and that TTC prefers to be non-confrontational on the issue.

Human Resources Committee

The Board, in private session, approved a proposal to re-establish its Human Resources Committee for reasons not stated in the public report. It will consist of Chair Jaye Robinson, Vice-Chair Joanne De Laurentiis, and one additional member to be chosen by the Chair from among Council members on the Board.

It is unclear why the Board would make such a move so close to the end of its mandate, and this implies that there are events behind the scenes serious enough to warrant Board oversight.

As a general note, the TTC Board has been lax compared to those in previous terms in its oversight of management because Councillors are so pre-occupied with covid effects on the city.

Postscript: Performance Data From Other Cities

Two examples of the type of data available in other cities are linked below. Note how the level of detail substantially exceeds what the TTC has produced over the past two years. This should be an inspiration for what Toronto could have. A hat tip on this to Jarrett Walker (@humantransit), Jeffrey Tumlin (@jeffreytumlin) and Ari Ofsevit (@ofsevit) on Twitter.