With the shutdown of Queen Street for Ontario Line construction between Victoria and Bay, we will not see streetcars there for many years. The last cars will run just before midnight on April 30, 2023.
Until early 2024, the absence will be over a longer stretch from Broadview to McCaul until new diversion track via York and Adelaide is finished. In turn, that depends on relocating nine utility vaults under the new Adelaide trackage.
It is possible that the TTC will revise the diversion pattern once the Don Bridge reopens to streetcars later in 2023 (it will close for maintenance on May 7), but nothing has been decided yet.
Here are photos of various generations of streetcars on the central section of Queen as a memento while we await their return.
Note that this is a large gallery, and it will take a while to load after you first click on a photo.
Two months from now, on June 26, Toronto will elect a new Mayor thanks to John Tory’s unexpected departure. There will be at least fifty candidates on the ballot, although most of them will garner only a handful of votes.
I am not one of them, and have no ambitions to high office. That said, I certainly have hopes that our new Mayor will have a strong pro-transit agenda and will actually care about the City rather than brown-nosing their way to small favours from Queen’s Park.
For those who are interested, here is the campaign-sized version of my advice and platform were I running:
Service is key. Run as much as possible, everywhere, and run it well.
Build budgets based on what you want to see, not on what you think you can afford. Just getting by is not a recipe for recovery and growth. If the money doesn’t come, then look to “Plan B” but aim for “Plan A”.
Fares are a central part of our transit system, but the question is who should pay and how much. Strive for simplicity. Give discounts where they are truly needed. Make the transit system worth riding so that small, regular increases are acceptable.
Focus on ease of use among transit systems in the GTA, but do not equate “integration” with amalgamated governance.
Transit property: parking or housing?
Foster a culture of advocacy in management and on the TTC Board.
Beware of lines on maps. A “my map vs your map” debate focuses all effort on a handful of corridors while the rest of the network rots.
Plan for achievements in your current term and make sure they actually happen. Longer term is important, but the transit ship is sinking. You are running for office in 2023. Vague promises for the 2030s are cold comfort to voters who have heard it all before.
That’s more than will fit comfortably on a leaflet, but, hey, I am the blogger who writes long form articles about transit. As a commentator, my biggest worry lies with those who say “TL,DR”. In the following sections I will expand on the bullets above. Thanks for reading.
How much would all this cost? In many cases the answer depends on the scale and speed of implementation. Although I have a sense of at least order of magnitude costs, I am not going to be foolish enough to put specific dollar figures here. For too long, City policy has started with a budget rather than a philosophy, an aspiration to be great, and settled for just good enough. We almost certainly cannot afford everything today, but we need to know what tomorrow we strive for.
If the 2003 Ridership Growth Strategy taught us anything, it was that we should first talk about aspirations, about what the transit system might be, rather than precluding debate with the classic “we can’t afford it” response. It’s amazing what monies can be found once information is out in the open. We commit tens of billions to construction, but are terrified, at least politically, by far lower costs to improve transit for everybody today.
I have deliberately omitted a discussion of security and related social services here. These are not just transit issues, but part of a city-wide, society-wide problem that will not be solved with a simple show of force. Recent trends both in public opinion and official responses at the City and TTC show an emphasis on providing support for those who need it: the homeless and the mentally unwell. This should continue and expand.
An inevitable question is who will I endorse? That will come later in the campaign as candidates flesh out their programs. Some make their beds with the provincial Tories. As enemies of the city, collaborators, they deserve only contempt. For others, we are in promising early days.
In recent articles, I commented on the size of the bus fleet claimed in the CEO’s Report, the number of buses actually shown as active in the Scheduled Service Summary, and the ratio of spares to scheduled service.
Updated April 24, 2023 at 6:30pm: The chart of average daily mileage by each bus has been amended to show the garage assignments of each vehicle.
An underlying issue for a transit system with a large proportion of spare vehicles is that the active vehicle count can be lower than the total count. Poor-performing vehicles, be they near retirement or simply lemons that cannot travel far without a breakdown, can be sidelined with no effect on service.
However, this can create two key problems:
A culture of indifferent maintenance while keeping only the best buses on the road can minimize repair costs and keeps service quality up, at the expense of garage space and the capital value of the unused vehicles.
The headroom to improve service is lower than it would appear from the raw vehicle count if vehicles shown on the active roster are there in name only. If they were actually needed, they might not be reliable enough to provide service.
To determine the actual usage of the bus fleet, I obtained a summary of tracking data from Darwin O’Connor, proprietor of the TransSee website, for the period from March 1 to April 21, 2023. This allowed me to plot actual usage of the fleet in various ways. Many thanks to Darwin for this assistance.
First is a simple plot of active vehicles by day. The chart below shows the number of buses with non-zero mileage by day over the period. There are several interesting features of this chart:
The regular pattern of weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays is clear. Note the three-day weekend for Easter in early April.
Although scheduled service cuts were implemented on March 27, there was no change in the count of active buses which, if anything, rose slightly. There is a drop in the following week.
The number of active buses exceeds the peak scheduled service by about a hundred vehicles. These are not necessarily extra “run as directed” buses, but rather vehicles that only operate for part of the day and are replaced by others (for example, AM and PM peak trips).
The spike on March 13 appears to have been caused by a single day on which buses that were otherwise inactive were sent out in service. Looking at the detailed tracking data, they did not stay in service for long. However, this spike distorts the apparent number of active buses if one looks only over a wider range of dates.
Another way to look at the data is to plot the number of days buses were active over the 51-day period. The chart below shows the number of buses with non-zero mileage and the count of days active. For example, the high point shows that 141 buses were active on 47 of the 51 days. By contrast, 72 buses were active on only one day, and a further 43 for 2 to 10 days.
This means that 115 buses did not venture into service much during the period. In addition to these are buses still counted as active, but which did not operate at all. The TTC might nominally have a fleet of about 2,040 buses (although they claim 2,114 in an outdated chart in the CEO’s report), but the number actually available for service is likely below 1,900.
Yet another way to look at the data is to plot the daily average distance traveled by each vehicle considering only the days on which it was active. In other words, if the bus went out in service, how long did it stay there?
In the chart below, buses with no tracked mileage are not plotted. Note that the horizontal axis skips over breaks in fleet numbering. For example, there are no buses in the 2000, 4000, 5000 and 6000 ranges.
Items of interest here include:
A few buses sprang to life briefly, but have daily averages very close to zero.
Low average mileages are evident for older buses in the fleet:
7900 to 7979: 2006 Orion VII Diesel
8000 to 8099: 2007 Orion VII Diesel
1000 to 1149: 2006 Orion VII Hybrid
1200 to 1423: 2007-2008 Orion VII Next Gen Hybrid
1500 to 1689: 2008 Orion VII Next Gen Hybrid
The battery buses 3700 to 3759 stick out with consistently lower average mileage than other parts of the fleet. Some eBuses were completely inactive during the 51-day period:
New Flyer: 3705, 3706, 3715, 3720, 3724 (5 of 25 buses)
Proterra: 3729, 3732, 3736, 3739, 3744 (5 of 25 buses)
Buses assigned to 900 Airport Express have higher daily mileages (3330-3341, 8007, 8008) because they run on a very fast route.
Blocks of buses have higher daily mileage than others because they operate from garages with faster routes.
The TTC has just started to take delivery of over 300 new hybrid buses, and hopes to buy a comparable number of eBuses starting in 2024, subject to federal funding. If these displace the little used older fleet and increase the number available for sustained, all day service, this will be a significant contribution to what the TTC could achieve.
There will be a jump in service requirements in November 2023 when the SRT Line 3 is replaced by a bus shuttle from STC to Kennedy Station. That new fleet is arriving just in time. A budgetary oddity is that this service will be paid for from the Capital Budget as part of the cost of the Scarborough Subway Extension, and so it does not represent a net new cost to the TTC. Meanwhile, Queen’s Park is foot-dragging on paying for conversion of the SRT right-of-way as a bus roadway that would speed travel and reduce bus requirements.
Having more, working active buses to provide better service requires more operators and mechanics. A bus that sits in the yard costs next to nothing to “operate”. If hundreds of new buses sit idle (or allow middle-aged buses to be sidelined) this would be both a waste of capital and a betrayal of the promise of better service with a rejuvenated fleet.
The TTC has not produced a public fleet plan in years, and especially not one showing the effect of various scenarios for service growth or retrenchment. Current plans see only a 1% growth and this translates to small expansion of the bus fleet, especially considering that some bus services will convert to LRT when and if Lines 5 and 6 ever open.
Council’s goal to “green” the fleet may reduce diesel emissions, but the much larger target and goal is to move riders from private autos to transit. This cannot happen without better service and a working, fully available fleet.
Updated April 24, 2023
The chart below contains the same data as the scatter chart above showing average daily mileage for each vehicle, but with the dots colour coded to show the division to which the bus was assigned as of January 2023. The variation due to service characteristics in different parts of the city show up particularly for buses operating on faster suburban routes.
First off, I must report an error in my previous article which includes a table showing that the TTC has 551 spare buses. The actual number turns out to be 478.
The reason for the error is that a chart in the CEO’s report incorrectly shows the total bus count at 2,114. That was the value when this chart was originally used back in early 2021, but it has not been updated to reflect retirements of old vehicles. The actual number of active vehicles, according to the TTC’s Scheduled Service Summary for March 26, 2023, is 2,041. (This number does not appear as a total, but is obtained by adding up the number of active buses for each group in the fleet. See the last page of the summary for details.)
This still leaves the TTC with more buses on their hands than they strictly require for scheduled service plus maintenance, or to put it another way, with headroom to run more service without buying more buses.
The TTC has three new bus orders in the works for delivery in 2023-24:
135 40′ hybrids from New Flyer
68 60′ hybrids from New Flyer
134 40′ hybrids from Nova Bus
It is not clear how many existing buses these will replace and what the resulting fleet mix will be by the end of 2024.
Separately from these will be a new fleet of over 300 battery electric buses. This contract (or possibly contracts) has not been awarded yet while the TTC awaits confirmation of federal funding for “green” buses.
The TTC Board met on April 13 with an agenda that did not give any indication that there would be lengthy debate on any item. I previewed the major issues in a previous article and will not repeat those comments here.
The City of Toronto, TTC and Metrolinx will be undertaking four five major projects in the east end through the spring, summer and fall:
Sewer work, track and road reconstruction on Broadview Avenue from north of Gerrard to Danforth. This will include expansion of the streetcar loop at Broadview Station to relieve queuing on Broadview by streetcars waiting to enter.
Water main and track replacement at Lower Gerrard & Coxwell.
Paving work at Main Station.
Rail overpass construction for the Ontario Line at Queen and Degrassi.
Repair of the Queen Street bridge at the Don River.
This will result in major changes to streetcar and bus routes.
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to stand on any street corner in the east end and explain to confused strangers where their streetcar or bus might be operating today.
Updated April 17, 2023 at 5:50am: A reader has pointed out a route change that appears on some of the maps in the Main Station presentation deck but which has not been announced anywhere else. The TTC proposes to extend the 8 Broadview east to Warden Station apparently replacing that branch of 70 O’Connor.
Updated April 28, 2023 at 7:40am: A link has been added to a second TTC Main Station page which speaks only of the changes effective May 7, and to the TTC’s Broadview Construction page.
The big items in the public portion of the agenda are the monthly CEO’s Report and an update on TTC’s finances and major capital projects to the end of 2022.
There are also two reports on collective agreements and non-union salaries. Although the details lie in confidential attachments, the public reports give an overview of the various labour contracts and salary drivers across the organization. I leave perusal of these to interested readers.
Finally there are a few references to the TTC’s eBus program scattered through reports. I will consolidate this info in its own section at the end of the article.
Correction April 18, 2023: It turns out that the size of the bus fleet shown in the graphic below is wrong. There are only 2041 buses, not 2114, in service as of March 2023. The article has been amended to reflect this.
Updated April 11, 2023 at 8:45pm: The TTC’s map of diversions for the 501 Queen car effective May 1 has been added to this article.
Updated April 21, 2023 at 11:20am: The 501 diversion map has been replaced with a higher resolution version.
During the City’s 2023 budget discussions, TTC staff offered to make information about the effect of budget cuts on service public. However, an unseen hand either at the TTC or City prevented this from happening before the budget was approved. In time, a list of changes for March 26, 2023 appeared on the TTC Board’s February 28 agenda, but there is no comparable briefing note for the May 7 changes on their April 13 agenda. The Board and City Council are still in the dark on the effects of service policies they blindly adopted with the budget.
Recently, the transit advocacy group TTCriders obtained the draft changes through a Freedom of Information request. This article is based on that draft version of the May 7 service changes dated January 27, 2023. That was after the City Budget Committee’s wrap-up meeting on January 24, but before the budget went to Council on February 15.
Although drafts fall into my lap from time to time, I do not normally publish them as they are subject to change, and there is enough misinformation circulating among the fans and Twitterati that I prefer to keep that sort of thing to myself.
This is the last Board meeting before the May schedules will come into effect, and it would have been an ideal chance for management to update the Board on what was about to happen as they did with the March service cuts. They have only themselves to blame for losing control of the message.
From a procedural point of view, the absence of a report on the agenda means that the topic of service cuts is not formally before the Board for debate or deputations. This is a classic way to stifle discussion.
City-TV’s Nick Westoll covered this story on April 6, and the TTC did confirm that the subway service cuts will occur as shown in the draft. He obtained the following statement from the TTC:
“All changes are designed to match capacity to demand and put the most service out at times and areas that it is most needed. All changes are also within the … established service standards. What TTCRiders has is an early draft that has already been revised since the version they have and is still not finalized. The final schedules will be … shared publicly later this month … We will monitor routes in real-time and deploy unscheduled service when we observe gaps or overcrowding.”
TTC’s Stuart Green as quoted by City-TV
A major problem with unscheduled service is that it is invisible to service tracking apps. Riders waiting for a bus will not know that there is an “extra” lurking just out of sight, and they might just give up in frustration. Moreover, there is no way for the TTC to demonstrate retroactively how it managed the service and we have to take it on faith that gaps shown in the data really didn’t happen. There are far more gaps than spare buses, and it does not take an Einstein to figure out that many gaps will not be filled. This is a convenient fiction that TTC management uses to fob off complaints about service.
As for the final schedules, by now operators have already signed up for their crews in May, and the service plans are more or less cast in stone.
An Overview of the Cuts
In the interests of transparency, here are the draft changes for May.
I cannot stress enough that this is a first draft dated January 27, 2023, and some of its proposals may have changed before the final version which has not yet been published. Readers should cite this information with caution pending the official version of the May service.
Cuts that began with the February and March schedules continue into the May proposals. Analysis of the ups and downs from route to route can be tricky because several events happen at the same time:
Many routes have running time adjustments to adjust for rising traffic congestion. Sometimes this is accomplished with added vehicles, but more commonly by widening existing headways and running the same (or fewer) vehicles further apart.
Some routes have service cuts to align capacity with the updated crowding standards. These cuts are sometimes combined with other changes.
Some routes have seasonal changes either because they serve academic sites or amusement areas (e.g. the Beach).
Several construction projects will begin in May:
Queen & Yonge will close until sometime in 2027 for Ontario Line construction. Various diversions will ensue.
The Queen Street bridge at the Don River will be under repair. Service that would normally travel along this route will divert to Dundas Street.
Main Street Station loop will close for paving. All service will be rerouted to Victoria Park Station, or will be operated with interlines between pairs of routes with on-street boarding.
The intersection of Lower Gerrard & Coxwell will be rebuilt.
Track on Broadview from Gerrard to Danforth will be rebuilt, and the streetcar loop at Broadview Station will be expanded.
The railway overpass west of St. Clair & Caledonia (GO Barrie corridor) will be under repair.
Further details are in the main part of the article.
An important point to remember when the TTC talks about service reductions is that an “X” percent service cut is not the same as an “X” percent saving in operating costs. There are two important reasons behind this:
There is a substantial fixed cost, especially for the subway, for infrastructure, management and maintenance, and this does not vary with changes in service.
If a service change leaves the same number of vehicles in service, but running further apart (typically to allow for traffic), there is no change in the vehicle hours operated. The same number of buses is on the road, only travelling more slowly (or spending more time in layovers). Only costs that are directly related to the distance travelled go down, not those such as operator wages that are related primarily to hours.
The result of these is that an edict to save “X” percent in costs will require more than “X” percent in cuts. This is a classic problem of marginal vs fully allocated costing and savings.
The usual spreadsheet showing old and new headways, running times and vehicle allocations is linked here:
Note to the fans: please do not send me queries about divisional allocation of bus routes as some of these were not settled in the draft plan. I will include this information when the final version comes out in late April.
Updated April 9 at 8:15 am: There is also a FAQ addressing many questions about this project.
Because this session fell on the first day of Passover, there will be a second Q&A session on April 11, 2023.
There is an online survey available to provide feedback on the project. Please note that although members of the project team almost certainly read this blog, comments left here will not be part of the formal record and might be missed by the team. Do not treat the comments section here as an alternative to using the survey.
The WELRT project has taken an extraordinary amount of time to reach this point, and only part of that can be put down to the pandemic. Indeed the last public session was conducted in 2021. The biggest problem is that the waterfront is nobody’s top priority. Even former Mayor Tory, who talked a good line about waterfront development, did not push the project until quite recently, and his momentum, such as it might have been, has now vanished.
Recently, many on Council and in the wider community have worried that residential developments along Queens Quay East and on Villiers Island (the new island to be created as part of the Don River rerouting work now in progress) would all be for high-end buyers or investors, and would not address Toronto’s housing needs. With a move to increase planned densities in the eastern waterfront, there is an even stronger need for much better transit. The area is now served by the Bay, Sherbourne, Parliament and Pape buses, but service can be quite unpredictable.
For the record, the AM peak service planned for schedules coming into effect May 7, 2023, is:
every 20 minutes on 19 Bay,
every 7 minutes on 75 Sherbourne,
every 7 minutes on 65 Parliament, and
every 19 minutes on 72 Pape.
Each route serves a portion of the waterfront and, depending on your destination, not all of them might be useful. Notably the two which link to Union Station are infrequent and unreliable. This is hardly a “transit oriented” neighbourhood.
In spite of the poor transit service, the eastern waterfront is hardly at a standstill. Many condos as well as commercial and academic space have appeared, and much more is planned. How a projected 50,000 workers/students and 100,000 residents will get around for the next decade is a mystery.
This project has been underway for a very, very long time as the chart below shows.
The current study is subdivided into three segments, plus future extensions into the Port Lands east of the Don River (dotted blue lines below).
Segment 1 (red) includes the Bay Street tunnel and the portal area on Queens Quay.
Segment 2 (turquoise) runs from Bay Street to New Cherry Street (which will open later this year).
Segment three includes the link via Cherry from the Distillery District south to Commissioners Street and east to an around-the-block loop just west of the realigned river (yellow).