This article continues a review of what the TTC aims for, at least on paper, in service quality, and how their success (or lack of it) in providing good service is reported for public and political consumption. The framework for this commentary is the CEO’s Report, using the August 2022 version as a reference point.
I deliberately broke this discussion into two parts. The first looked at the various figures related to system performance are presented and how they reveal or hide critical information.
The TTC Board is notoriously unwilling to get into the weeds on system statistics, operations and finances. Superficial analyses in the CEO report give them nice pictures and charts to look at, but that is not the same as a discussion of key issues and future risk. This is vital in any planning for recovery from a pandemic that will continue to affect the TTC in 2023 and beyond. There is a separate detailed quarterly report that reviews finances and the state of major capital projects, but it does not address many issues notably the cost and capability for growth as ridership returns to the system.
While it may suit those who run the TTC and the City to keep this discussion under wraps, that cannot be done for long as the 2023 budgets will be upon us immediately after the coming municipal election. There is a lot of great talk about the importance of transit, but this does not translate into real understanding and support beyond a few very large construction projects. (That statement applies equally to Metrolinx and GO, but my focus here is on the TTC.)
- Although fare revenue recovery is reported, this is not matched against cost growth. Fares have been frozen through the pandemic. Even at recovery to 100 percent of pre-pandemic ridership, the proportion of costs borne by fares will have fallen and the need for subsidy will be higher. “Full service” will cost more in 2023 than it did in 2020, even without the added cost of improving beyond historic levels.
- Ridership recovery takes place at a different rate on different routes and modes, not to mention time-of-day.
- Underutilized fleets provide a reserve for service improvements, provided there are drivers for the vehicles, up to the point where the need for spare buses and streetcars limits service growth. After that point, growth hits a knee in the cost curve as new capital assets must be acquired.
- Asset reliability is reported as the proportion of scheduled service actually operated, but with no sense of how much reserve exists in the fleet.
- Fleet reliability is reported in a way that prevents direct comparison between segments, notably various types of buses. Although there is a target for reliability, the degree to which this is exceeded (in effect the headroom for better utilization) is not reported.
- Service reliability and quality are reported on broad averages across routes and days, with no indication of the variation across the system. Purported “on time” metrics do not reveal actual rider experience.
- There is no report of:
- the amount of scheduled service that does not operate because no driver is available;
- the utilization and effectiveness of Run-As-Directed buses;
- the amount of bunching and gaps as a proportion of service operated;
- routes with demand, service levels, crowding and headway reliability issues.
This review does not look at the WheelTrans system and accessibility in general because it has a raft of issues of its own on matters such as adequacy of service, dispatching, the online booking interface, qualification for service and the TTC’s attempt to shift riders at least partly onto the “conventional” system through the “Family of Services” program. An important issue for WheelTrans overall is that it is entirely funded by the City of Toronto with no assistance from other governments. This makes it particularly vulnerable to penny-pinching efforts by those who guard our “precious tax dollars”.Continue reading