TTC Board Meeting December 8, 2022

The inaugural meeting of the TTC Board for the new term of Council met on December 8. As is common for the first meeting, the agenda was light, and the event was more ceremonial than substantive.

Councillor John Burnside is the Board’s Chair, replacing Councillor Jaye Robinson who was not re-appointed.

Joanne De Laurentiis, who acted as Vice-Chair in the past term, was re-elected to the position. Note that terms of citizen members are not coterminous with the Council term, and so she remained on the Board through the recent election.

CEO’s Report

The Board received a presentation from staff as background to the CEO’s Report. A chunk of this was introductory giving some background on the TTC and its recent accomplishments. It included a short section on ridership and plans under the the title “Key Focus on Service and Customer Experience”.

CEO Rick Leary talked about the benefits of the move to Automatic Train Control on all of Line 1 and the implementation of One Person Train Operation. He cited a recent case where the TTC achieved a throughput of 32 trains/hour at Bloor Station between 8 and 9am, an increase over the typical pre-pandemic level of 24 to 26.

Note that this would have occurred after a gap with a backlog of trains, not as a routine level of service. The AM peak scheduled level sits at 21 trains/hour plus a few gap trains if needed. One advantage of ATC is that it provides a faster throughput of bunched trains after a delay at choke points like Bloor where platform dwell times are long.

Ridership continues to recover on the system, although only modest growth is expected for 2023 due to the effect of work-from-home. The bus network, which serves proportionately more trips that are not amenable to WFH, continues to show the best performance carrying 77% of pre-pandemic demand.

Weekday ridership sits at about 70%, while weekends do better at 80%.

Trips on the TTC occur for many reasons. Note that in the chart below, the percentages for October 2022 are on a ridership base about one third lower than the pre-covid values. The category “Professional and General Office Commutes” has not only fallen from a 28% to 22% share, but on a smaller base. Some percentages increase because their category is now measured against that base. For example, “Market Trips” went from 7% to 9%, but this still represents fewer trips.

This chart is important because it shows how many transit trips are not traditional office commutes, and that the wide variety of demands do not necessarily fit a system organized only to handle office workers.

Customer satisfaction is a softer metric than trip counts, but the general trend in 2022 has been downward, notably in October with the increased crowding levels associated with stronger ridership.

This is echoed by both crowding and wait time being two areas of dissatisfaction, especially wait time. TTC staff noted that customer pride ranks higher with frequent riders, while satisfaction ranks higher among infrequent riders.

Service Reliability

The TTC has a new way of displaying reliability stats for its surface routes subdividing them into groups depending on the degree of “on time performance”. This is an improvement over previous reports that merely quoted all route averages for a month’s operation thereby burying much detail. However, four problems remain:

  • The analysis is not subdivided by time of day and day of the week to show variations peak-to-offpeak, and weekday to weekend.
  • The definition of “on time” is generous enough that service bunching can occur even though vehicles count as “on time” by the standard.
  • There is no count of missing vehicles and the gaps that they cause.
  • “On time” performance is measured only at terminals, not along routes where most riders actually use the service.

The presentation does show which routes fall into each of the categories in the table above in a series of maps.

I leave it to readers to compare the behaviour of their routes with the values shown above. One note is that routes affected by construction get a “bye” in this presentation, for the most part. However, for example, 34 Eglinton East is shown with better than 90% “on time” even though it operates through some notoriously congested parts of the Crosstown Line 5 construction project.

This could be due to schedules that are padded for construction effects allowing buses to always be on time leaving terminals. However, it does not explain why the 34 should appear with a “>90%” ranking while its counterpart 32 Eglinton West is on the “construction” list.

Line 5 is a very large project, but the TTC has to deal with many others and often does a very poor job. Line management, which can be poor even on “normal” routes, is often totally absent for routes with construction, notably on the streetcar network. It is not enough to say “oh dear, there is construction”, but to actively make the best of service under the circumstances.

The TTC trumpets the imminent arrival of more streetcars while suggesting that they would be used less thanks to traffic congestion and construction. CEO Rick Leary made a passing comment that more bus substitutions for streetcars might be required. He should first concentrate on why construction service, even with buses, can be so appallingly bad. The problem is less the mode than the abdication of responsibility for good service.

At times, the TTC floods construction routes with extra buses, but they can often be found running in packs or laying over for extended periods at terminals.

Schedule changes are planned for a few routes to improve reliability, but it is not yet clear whether this will simply continue a common Leary-era practice of padding running times so that, in theory, vehicles can never be late. This can have a counterproductive effect by making running times too long leading to slow operation and long terminal layovers including late departures made possible by generous schedules for the coming trip.

There is an “action plan” which has a lot of boilerplate but little actual content:

  • Continuously improving operational practices and procedures
  • Improve the quality and availability of real time information to TTC customers
  • Evolve organization engagement in Customer Service response
  • Build on innovative initiatives to promote safety
  • Develop Customer Experience Action Plan based on customer priorities

The TTC has long prided itself on a customer focus, but the points above sound like an organization that has some distance to go to achieve that. The TTC is a century old, but still has to make the point that an action plan should be “based on customer priorities”.

Rick Leary talked about improving service “resiliency” with a pool of spare, unscheduled vehicles to fill gaps as they occur. However, these vehicles rarely show up in tracking data either for real time predictions riders depend on, or for historical review. There is no way to prove or disprove their effectiveness or existence beyond the frequency of rider complaints about big service gaps that were clearly not filled by anything.

Moreover, bunching has become commonplace and the gaps this causes could be filled simply by managing the service that is already on the street. I am working on a way to measure the severity of this problem and the results will appear in a future article.

A major problem for the TTC is that if analysis does not report on known, easily observed problems, but rather concentrates on one or two metrics. This oversimplifies the world seen by riders, and there will always be a split between the claimed and actual quality of service.

Rick Leary said “We know we need to be more reliable”. Work on this is long overdue, not least because the TTC’s self-image treated all problems as beyond their control.

Scott Haskill, Acting Chief Customer Officer, explained that the TTC is “embarking on a pretty major service improvements package” looking not just at schedules, but also terminal operations. They will also be working with the City to expand Transit Signal Priority, and to improve co-ordination with construction projects. Haskill said that “we are doing more now than we have ever done before” and that TTC has seen some improvements in recent weeks.

I hope that this process does not run headlong into budget constraints that make improving service more difficult.

Next Meeting

There was little discussion during the meeting of budget pressures, especially on operations. Although Provincial-Federal funding of almost $348 million was announced on December 7, the TTC budget already contained a provision for additional support and this is not “new money” from a budgetary perspective. There is no word on covid relief funding in 2023.

The next Board meeting is on January 19 and should have a much meatier agenda including the operating and capital budgets. Although the TTC will receive $4.7 billion in capital funding under Mayor Tory’s City Building Fund, there is still a $13 billion gap in the 10-year state of good repair budget.

8 thoughts on “TTC Board Meeting December 8, 2022

  1. Let me do the bad thing and comment before RTFA … on the “on time” map (which I did look at in the tease!) … how many people do those routes carry? It occurs to me that they probably serve un-congested areas and don’t have to stop for many passengers … so are able to run on time a lot.

    Steve: Well spotted. Of course there are routes that run well on an all-day average basis usually because of the areas they are located in, although there are some major ones like Eglinton East and Flemingdon Park. The big problem is the vast number that run at less than 90%, and even that is by the TTC’s generous standards.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Was there any meaningful commentary/questions from board members? Any indication they plan to hold Leary’s feet to the fire to ensure improvement?

    Steve: No.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m surprised safety is not really mentioned, it’s increasingly been on my mind the last two years. Also feels like an easy way to increase ridership.

    Like

  4. So on the reliablity maps, there’s nothing for routes like 29 Dufferin, 96 Wilson, south of Bloor E-W streetcar routes, etc etc. I presume that they are “white” due to construction.

    The maps also carefully trumpet the good routes by giving them a separate map, but then for less reliable routes, they get added in over top (or underneath) the good routes.

    I’d like to see individual maps showing only each reliability level.

    I’d also like to see an individual map showing the routes that weren’t even analyzed due to whatever.

    That would be vastly more transparent than the way it was done. I might even dare call the way they did it “fiddling with the data”, or “dishonest”.

    Steve: You might say that. I could not possibly comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I called TTC Customer service a few weeks ago about the 84 route eastbound east of Bathurst on a Saturday… buses shown as 16, 18, 21, 25 minutes away… asked why, and told them this was an every weekend problem… they said no way that is right… told the rep to fire up her app… she said omg… on tape…(lol) I told her route management is a joke, (nothing new here) she said she would report it… next operating period >>> SSDD same s**t different day… they don’t care… 4 buses in crappy service averages to Rick’s 8 minute service I guess…, and the board has no clue what is on the street.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m beginning to think that there is a deliberate ploy to drive people off the system by making it unreliable, but that’s skeptical me. I can understand in part for the 84 in the peak period, certainly on the 84C branch going across Finch is a nightmare. Even though in the afternoon there is a significant rest time at Rossdean (if it not already delayed crossing Finch northbound) but by the time it crosses Finch it can be 10 minutes down. Not sure what its like on the D branch or the 165 and 989, but off-peak and at weekends there is NO EXCUSE!!!

    Regarding the overall recovery, will it ever reach re-pandemic levels, it seems to be levelling off at about the 70% level. I read that traffic has returned to pre-pandemic levels, should we be concerned about that, with so many still working from home, seems to me that many have abandoned transit, will they ever come back?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Once-Upon-A-Time there used to be Inspectors (promoted experienced Operators) who were posted at key points and they checked matters thus ensuring adjustments were made ASAP. NOBODY dared leave these points ahead of time.

    Any possibility something like this could be restored as a “pilot” ? Toronto loves pilots!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It would be nice if Rick would actually ride the system he is CEO of, and not just hop on Line 1 at Davisville with media in tow, but get on at Yonge and Bloor at 4:30pm on a Friday when there if a Leafs game on. And also hop on the Yonge night bus at St. Clair at 5:30am. Wonder what he would think about how the commoners live. I doubt that man has ridden a bus in the last 20 years. Other then media stunts, I do wonder how often he uses the TTC. I would bet he does not.

    Liked by 1 person

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