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
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A frustrating problem with the CEO’s Report is that information in it is usually a month or more out of date.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 Level||April 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.
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.
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.
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.
- San Francisco: May 2022 Transit Update
- Boston: Covid Recovery Dashboard
Just wonder how many of the Toronto Transit Commission board members actually use the TTC? Or are they just accountants counting the pennies, I mean nickles and dimes, only.
Steve: I believe that at least half use the system based on comments they have made about personal riding experiences.
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I have never put a mask on the TTC. Why? Because many TTC drivers have not been doing so either. When it was required, I used to put my mask on at private establishments but I am NOT going to put a mask on the TTC until and unless ALL employees of the TTC do so as well.
Steve: This is an incredibly stupid attitude to take. The purpose of masking is the collective protection of everyone, and there are vastly more passengers than drivers on the TTC system. If this is some sort of perverse anti-union statement, or a statement about your “freedom”, it is hopelessly misguided.
Interesting that there seems to be no talk about the increase in assaults and delinquency in the system and on vehicles. You would think the TTC would take those matters a bit more seriously if they are so concerned with getting ridership back up. Then you would think addressing the issue of mentally unstable and homeless people using the TTC as a rolling shelter would be more of a concern. Nothing drives people away faster then dirty homeless people laying across 3 seats with their junk hanging out. Or some crackhead smoking from a meth pipe in the back of a streetcar at 3pm. Or some person ranting and raving on the subway platform not wearing any pants, or people defecating on the subway. I have never before seen it so bad. It’s frustrating that the TTC seems to either not care and not notice how bad it’s gotten in their stations and on their vehicles. I’ve seen parents with their kids in tow as some homeless person proceeds to take a dump in the doorway of the subway. The poor dad trying to explain to his kids what is going on. Exciting end of the day trip to the ROM. Many of these people are on the system for hours and hours, yet no effort is made to remove them, even when they are causing problems or have not paid.
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Mr. Norton wrote about “the increase in assaults and delinquency in the system and on vehicles.”
One item that he appears to have overlooked in his rather long list of criminal and/or anti-social behaviour is sexual groping. I note that a 2015 report to France’s deputy minister for women’s rights reports survey results that:
Please note that, as far as I am aware, none of the TTC public surveys have ever asked any question along the lines of, “Have you ever been sexually touched while on the TTC.” I presume that the TTC is following the well known principle of never ask a question if you may not like the answer.
Sexual assault is, of course, illegal. But it is virtually impossible to get a conviction against a TTC sexual groper. Such a person will invariably claim that his sexual touching was an “accident” caused by the lurching of the TTC vehicle.
Indeed, I myself have seen very suspicious behaviour on a packed bus that sure looked like sexual groping to me. But if charges were laid and I was called as a witness, I cannot put my hand on a Bible and swear in court that I believe, beyond reasonable doubt, that this truly was sexual groping. I would have to admit that there is a reasonable possibility that the behaviour I witnessed really was the accidental result of the lurching of the packed bus.
This is an argument in favour of running adequate service so that buses do not become so packed full that they become a happy hunting ground for sexual gropers.
My own totally unscientific survey of women that I know and with whom I have discussed this issue gives the same results as in France: 100% of female TTC passengers have been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
Steve: In 2017, an app was developed for TTC riders to use in documenting and reporting sexual assaults. A page describing it is on the vendor’s website, but the TTC site appears to be silent on the issue and I have seen no promotional material about this app. I have inquired of the TTC about the status of this app.
Obviously, putting the onus on the victim or witnesses is not a solution to the problem, one that existed in pre-covid times. However, if there is a reporting app, it would be useful for the TTC to document and promote it.
Having spent 40 years of my life working in transit I strongly suggest no body take transit ever. With a capital E. Unless Metrolinx is dissolved.
It is regrettable that the city is pretending to operate a transit system when it is the provincial politicians and their corporate sponsors that call the shots. Blackmail defective Presto system and useless projects costing mere billions.
I wanted to add Steve thanks for your excellent analysis of this meeting. Do you have any suspicion as to what the HR issue might be pertaining too? I also wonder why it is that the TTC seems so unwilling to adopt best practices from other major systems like you pointed out. It’s disappointing that all the change and momentum Andy brought to the TTC seems to have been lost. And they have gone back to their old ways. What are the chances of getting another Andy? How did we end up with him in the first place… Divine intervention?
Steve: Although I can speculate, I will not do so publicly. There has been a lot of “churn” in TTC senior management over the past few years, and part of this has been Rick Leary clearing out “Andy’s people”. How did we get Andy in the first place? I think he already had his eye on New York City when he came here, and in turn that was a stepping stone to London. I think that the Board got so used to having a CEO and senior management that clearly knew what they were doing that they left their eyes off of the ball when he departed.
My comment: It is the Liberals who created Metrolinx and it is the Liberals who blackmailed the TTC into accepting Presto and Steven Del Duca was the Minister of Transportation. If you feel so strongly about this, then you will have the opportunity to vote against the Del Duca Liberals in this coming election.
And the Conservatives looked at the steaming pile of fail at Metrolinx and said yes, we want more of this, by giving the organization even more power. I say it’s only fair to give the Dippers a chance to see how they would blow it.
Steve: I remember too well the experience with the Rae government elected at the onset of a recession for whom job creation was paramount. Subways created lots of jobs in theory, although in practice dring early years much of ths goes to the engineering fraternity, and later to construction unions, another male-dominated field. The idea of spending money on less costly alternatives to relieve constraints in other budget portfolios fell on completely deaf ears at Queen’s Park. Believe me, I tried, but was ignored. Metrolinx is a big construction company, following in the same tradition.
At least Bob Rae paid a quick price for his stubborn incompetence [which he blames on the recession, never on himself]. The present electorate of Ontario is happy to bestow a free pass on the equally ‘misguided’ Ford administration; no questions asked!
This has an advantage over Presto data in that entire trips are captured, not just points where passengers “tap in” to the system.
I was contemplating how one might use current data to study the TTC. Would you know how much “detailed” presto data is available or useable. It’s true that there is only “tap in” data…. But “later on” there is “tap back in” data. For example every weekday morning I tap in at finch and at night I tap in at Dundas.. there’s a good chance I went from Finch to Dundas in the morning. Any thoughts?
Steve: The idea of analyzing tap data to reassemble trips has been discussed before, but I have not seen any successful application of this. There are a lot of “missing links” from transfers that don’t require a tap, not to mention riders who don’t tap all the time or at all. At prepandemic riding levels, there would have been over two million unlinked trips per day. Even if half of these were “tapped in”, that’s a lot of data. For external use it would have to be anonymized by replacing the actual card numbers. As fare collection moves to open payment, this becomes even trickier for privacy with things like credit card numbers. I would not hold your breath for a public data set of this info to be produced.
I should point out, by the way, that it is more likely that someone will travel from a bus coming into the paid area of Finch Station to Dundas. There would be a “tap on” to that bus and an assumption that they rode all the way to Yonge. But if it was the Finch West bus they might have transferred to the Spadina or Yonge lines, and there is no way to tell which one they used. Come to think of it, Dundas is a unique station in that one is likely to tap in on the platform one is going to use as it is the only place without a fare paid connection between the two sides of the station. This would tell you which direction the trip from Dundas headed, but it is the only location where this is possible.
Privacy issues with fare card tracking are discussed in some detail in Do Not Track: A Guide to Data Privacy For New Transit Fare Media by transitcenter.org.
Yes. I guess i didn’t expect there to be a full external use of data, but I assume there would be quite a bit of “good internal data” to get decent guesstimate loading numbers, better than the average numbers that seem to be in the reports. The idea being that you don’t know if they chose the Yonge line or the Spadina line or even a bunch of buses in between. However you should be able to at least know where they tapped on at the beginning of their outbound trip and where they tapped on fire their inbound trip. (And at what times) My thought is people will take “the best route” presented to them if you have good options, which i know needs to be based on needs.
Steve: Maybe, but the numbers the planners are really interested in come from the APCs (Automatic Passenger Counters). They are not perfect but have the advantage that they don’t depend on passengers actually tapping to be counted.