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.
In this article:
- Rogers Wireless Service
- Eglinton Crosstown LRT (A very brief mention)
- Safety on the TTC
- Spare Buses and Service Reliability
- Grasping at Straws for New Revenue
An unexpected and lengthy discussion came from a presentation by Ron McKenzie, Chief Technology and Information Officer at Rogers Communications. He spoke about their acquisition of the Canadian assets of BAI Communications, the company whose 2012 contract to outfit the TTC with wireless service in the subway has come nowhere near expectations.
One might ask why this situation languished so long, but none of the Board was so intemperate as to pursue the question. It should be remembered that back in 2012, wireless connectivity was not as ubiquitous as today, and the absence of system wide access has taken a major security crisis to penetrate the TTC’s consciousness as a major shortcoming.
McKenzie was very much “on message” and was politely evasive when asked questions he cannot answer, notably the position of other Telcos on providing service over the Rogers/TTC network. According to their April 10, 2023 press release, the deal will not actually close for a few weeks. Any commercial arrangements Rogers might have with other carriers will not be public yet, although the major players routinely co-operate on ownership and operation of plant on other transit systems and in major commercial buildings.
The fundamental problem is that the BAI infrastructure was not designed for multiple frequencies and carriers, nor is it capable of supporting modern 5G communications protocols. The first step will be to modernize what is already in place and then expand coverage to the 75% of TTC tunnels where there is no service today. The initial goal is to support 911 service for all users, regardless of their carrier.
Rogers will set up “carrier hotels”, equipment rooms where other carriers can connect with their plant to provide service. However, modernization of what is there is a pre-requisite step and full access will take time to implement even with the most willing partnership among the major telcos. Expansion of the antenna network throughout the tunnels will be limited by the speed with which they can be installed, but coverage can be activated following the progress of this work.
There was some discussion of whether a single carrier (Rogers) owning the infrastructure is preferable to a consortium as is the case in Montreal. McKenzie argued that the difference between the two cities is that in Montreal, the network was installed from scratch as a combined effort, whereas in Toronto the existing plant will be taken over by Rogers and upgraded.
Modernizing the infrastructure “opens the door” for other telcos to join via a comparable arrangement to networks in large buildings and other transit systems. Some members of the Board worried that Rogers will have a competitive advantage, and that their rivals might not be as keen to come into the TTC network as Rogers appears to think.
Regardless of carrier, however, 911 service will be available to anyone in the subway regardless of their carrier. This was emphasized repeatedly by McKenzie, but it dodged around the question of whether 911 is sufficient for other urgent situations such as access to suicide prevention lines.
Attempts to get a hard date for the conversion were deflected with general answers. The existing system will probably take about 9 months to upgrade, but an end date for service throughout the tunnels was not easy to pin down. McKenzie left this in the TTC’s lap saying that their maintenance windows will affect how quickly the new hardware can be installed.
An intriguing point drifted by without comment when Councillor Mantas asked how long Rogers had been in conversations with BAI to take over their infrastructure. McKenzie replied that they have been in discussions for about a year. This puts the recent brouhaha about the lack of service in the subway in a different light in that the wheels have been turning long before the recent security crisis, although possibly with less urgency.
Very little information about the BAI/TTC contract came out in the public session, but the TTC’s General Counsel did note that there is a requirement for good faith to let other carriers in to the network.
The amount of revenue the TTC has received is rather small. BAI was to pay the TTC $25 million over 20 years, and the next nearest bid, from Bell, was about $5 million. Some politicians have a rather inflated sense of the money available from “the private sector” to subsidize transit operations.
A confidential briefing note on the Rogers deal was discussed in private by the Board at the end of the meeting.
On March 31, the TTC and Metrolinx CEOs Rick Leary and Phil Verster toured part of Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown. There is still no opening date for this line.
Safety on the TTC
There was a joint presentation by TTC, City and Police about safety on the TTC and the deployment of staff from various departments and agencies. Rather than my attempting to consolidate all of their remarks, I direct interested readers to the video record of the meeting.
What was refreshing about this material is that it does not begin with the assumption that “fixing the problem” is simply a matter of greater police presence, but that a variety of approaches is needed to different types of people on the transit system, notably the homeless and those with mental health problems.
These issues will not go away overnight, and even recent drops in incident rates could reflect the change in weather (fewer people sheltering in the subway) as much as any other factor. It is too soon to tell, but the need for a sustained presence of both security and social outreach workers will be needed including anticipation of seasonal changes in fall 2023.
An key point learned by the TTC is that the ongoing rapport between outreach workers and people who shelter on the transit system is important so that there is trust, and an understanding of people’s needs. The implicit argument is the need for continuity in staffing, not just head count.
The discussion focused on the subway with little consideration for surface routes or hot spots.
Spare Buses and Service Reliability
Several questions were raised about the CEO’s report by Councillor Ainslie, and we learned various things from the responses. In some cases, clarification of items will be provided in a briefing note that may or may not see the light of day on a public agenda.
Ainslie asked about the over 500 spare buses. CEO Rick Leary confirmed that this does not include WheelTrans spares. There is some excess in that fleet because it is in transition to a new model. He also confirmed that the industry standard for spares is about 20-22%, although it used to be 18% when buses were less technically complex. New hybrids and electric vehicles might do better. About 100 extra buses are kept to cover for construction.
It should be noted that scheduled replacements of buses to replace streetcars or to supplement service where there is major construction (e.g. Finch West and Eglinton) are already accounted for, and the 550 current spares are over and above this allocation.
Staff reported that there is a project underway to review On Time Performance (OTP). If a route falls below 90% of the target, there is a review to determine the root cause and whether vehicles should be added, for example, to adjust for construction delays. For short term disruptions, Run As Directed (RAD) buses are used. Actual service can be greater than 100% of the scheduled level. It is unclear how well this process will address the bane of headway irregularity especially considering the fairly generous metric by which the TTC defines “on time”.
There will be a presentation at the May Board meeting on RAD buses and on the work underway to improve tracking of these vehicles including for trip prediction apps.
RADs have been something of a get-out-of-jail-free card for Rick Leary who could claim that many woes of service were routinely fixed by these buses, although riders might beg to differ. The ability to report on their number and use would provide better insight into just how much they accomplish.
Councillor Ainslie asked about the a pending purchase of eBuses in the Major Projects Update, when the performance of the vehicles shown in the CEO’s Report is well below target. This produced some garbled and incorrect info from CEO Leary and his staff.
Leary claimed that the Mean Distance Before Failure (MDBF) for diesel buses is about 12k km even though his own CEO’s report shows differently. Yes, the target distance for the diesel fleet (left below) is 12k (the dotted green line), but the fleet betters the target by over 50% (20k vs 12k). We do not know by how much it exceeds the 20k line (blue) because the reported numbers are capped.
Technically, it is true to say that the target is 12k, but this implies considerably worse diesel performance than actually occurs. This misrepresents the diesel fleet’s performance, and one cannot help thinking the reporting is skewed to make the eBus option look better than it really is.
For the hybrids (middle below), the target is 24k, but the fleet actually achieves at least 30k. Again the real numbers are clipped in the chart and performance could be better than shown.
For the eBus fleet (right below), the target is 24k, and for a time the fleet exceeded this number, albeit with some capping at 30k evident. More recently, however, the eBus numbers have fallen sharply.
TTC management came out with some bafflegab about how, in a small fleet, a few failures can make a big difference in the numbers, but they also claimed that one vendor’s buses (BYD) were no longer in service due to failures with water penetration in the battery compartment. If these buses are not on the road, then the poor numbers for what remains do not speak highly of the fleet. Management claims that the New Flyer eBuses have been performing very well in the same range as the hybrids. Whether the purchase recommendations fit with the actual in-service experience remains to be seen.
All of this, frankly, gives the impression that management do not want to present hard numbers or defend the purchasing decision that has, presumably, already been made. We will not know if we have a fleet of lemons for a few years, nor whether the poor performance of some vendors’ products during the “head to head” trial will be ignored in the procurement which has been delegated to the CEO without Board oversight.
Councillor Moise, a Board member, asked why the TTC is cutting bus service when it is the busiest mode. This brought a rather woolly answer from staff who talked about how equity and diversity are central to the planning process, but that in the current financial environment they are protecting services especially on bus routes. The subway service cuts are an offset, but the TTC has plans to run extra trains for special events. How crowded the new, reduced service will be remains to be seen.
Service improvements are coming in May notably on the Markham Road corridor for reliability and extended express service, and overnight service on four routes will improve. (See my previous article on the May 7 changes for details.)
Seasonal services will return in May, and in June there will be a trial weekday service on the 201 Bluffer’s Park route.
That is not a particularly rich list of improvements, although staff claim that more are coming in the fall. There was no mention at all of the major upheavals pending due to concurrent construction projects downtown and in the east end of old Toronto.
There is too strong a history at TTC Board meetings of telling only the good news stories.
Finally Commissioner Osborne asked why it takes so long to paint a bus lane. Staff replied that implementation is fast once a lane is approved by Council, but the consultation process takes time. They did not mention that some of the current proposals, such as Jane, have not been unanimously received with cheers.
Grasping at Straws for New Revenue
Councillor Holyday, a member of the TTC Board, is not noted for his financial largesse at budget time, and routinely votes with the Tory wing of council to rein in spending attempts. He is not yet a declared candidate for the Mayoral by-election, but appears to be trolling for an issue he can claim as his own.
He was surprised to read in the Financial Update that the TTC had “paused” $87 million in capital spending in 2022 as part of the City’s covid backstop efforts. The TTC’s CFO confirmed this was done, and that it was reported to council a few times by the City’s CFO. Work was deferred to 2023, and in turn that would have displaced other projects into future years.
The TTC’s capital underspending for 2022 was $172.5 million on the base budget, a good deal of which was carried over for incomplete projects to 2023, a common practice. The $87 million in deferred work was on top of the $172.5 million.
Holyday asked if it was fair to say that we will buy less with our dollars in the future thanks to the deferrals and inflation. The CFO replied, yes, that would be true.
Anyone who sits on Council and does not know that this is how the budget actually works really has no business being there, but that could be said of many of Holyday’s colleagues.
He then turned to the question of sponsorship for station naming rights, and clearly there are visions of megadollars dancing in Holiday’s mind. This is a man who nickles and dimes the budget every year. Any magical source of new, non-taxpayer funding, is the holy grail. Holyday moved that staff report to the June 2023 meeting on what might be available.
Councillor Moise was the only one to question this strategy saying that the City must look both to other revenue tools and other levels of government. Naming rights would be a last resort.
Chair Burnside supported the idea as he wishes to keep fares down for everyone. Commissioner Osborne urges that the report be comprehensive so that we understand the cost of renaming a station. Commissioner Jagdeo supported the motion saying that the Board would be “stifling innovation” if they did not consider this option.
“Innovation” is a word that covers a wide range of dubious schemes. We will see what TTC management comes up with. The dollar amounts they are likely to raise are chicken feed, and there is also the question of capital dollars (one time project support) vs operating dollars (ongoing benefits for service and fares).
As a parting comment, here is an old advertisement by TD Bank at King Station where the ad was designed to look like a window through new tiles to the original station decor behind.
Dare I ask why or how you have such random pictures Steve?
You have such an obscure collection of transit images. If you were to do a book similar to what the late Derek Boles did, you would make a small fortune locally.
In either case, have you considered an online showcase of the images in your collection?
That King Station photo is very interesting to people such as myself and others who enjoy Toronto Transit history.
Steve: I have a lot of “ordinary” rail fan images of streetcars, although in many cases I took the trouble to include something interesting in the background or to find an unusual vantage point. I particularly liked the “Green Machine Station” ads for the cleverness of design and in using the TTC font at a time when it was under threat from renos.
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Fascinating/depressing that this was covered so extensively in 2011 when naming rights were included in the new advertising deal, and $0 came of it. Not that it would stop Holyday, but it would make sense for someone to bring it up.
If Durham College Oshawa GO station is any indication, naming rights are not a big money maker. The majority of public transit systems don’t have naming rights for their stations. If you want more tax money, vote for more taxes Holyday.
I’m kind of surprised that the TTC board is not hounding Metrolinx, especially Phil Verster regarding when the crosstown will be complete. More than 10 years of construction and nothing to show for it. Subway projects more complex than the crosstown have been completed (see the Hong Kong MTR extension of east rail line, which had to tunnel through mountain and under a harbour got it done and working) Even when the Vaughn extension was delayed the TTC gave a timeline for completion. Why can’t Metrolinx give a timeline for the crosstown to even begin testing?
Steve: The TTC board hardly holds its own management to account. You can hardly expect them to demand anything from Metrolinx especially when many of them are John Tory acolytes and rocking the boat with Queen’s Park was definitely not part of the former mayor’s style.
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I’m against the concept of selling naming rights, but having said that…that old TD ad *does* look pretty good.
Steve: And it’s just an ad, not a special high-priced buy with the right to rename the station.
Is this a quote from Rogers?
Steve: It is a paraphrase of what Rogers said several times.
Those carrier hotels already exist, Robelus just wouldn’t use them.
Steve: For readers, that name is a consolidation of Rogers, Bell and Telus.
911 is already available anywhere there is service, regardless of if you even have a SIM card, as required by telecom regulations.
The infrastructure absolutely could take RF from any carrier licensed in Toronto.
5G didn’t exist when the contract was signed and LTE was just being rolled out by Robelus in 2013.
The $25 million also includes the WiFi system, not just cell.
Steve: A few points. The story is dated 2016, and it foresees completion of the BAI rollout in the then-near future. Clearly that did not happen. Yes, 5G didn’t exist and LTE was in early days, but it’s not clear that all of the statements made in the article would hold up today. Is Rogers lying about network compatibility? I have to take their statements at face value in today’s technology context. Did the major telcos refuse to play on the BAI network when it was set up? Almost certainly, but that does not explain how the TTC let BAI out of its contract to complete 100% coverage of the system.
The article mentions the complexity of service in tunnels as well as the number of users. There were issues with BAI’s system from day one including long times to connect for service with a logon and a forced commercial. By the time that finished, the train had arrived. Another issue was that the signal did not penetrate well into the trains, and it was difficult to re-establish a connection when arriving at a station. 911 service has to work “now”, and I’m sure most people wouldn’t even try because they could not get any other service.
I also suspect that for many people, the distinction between data and voice service is not well understood. There is just “service”.
The whole BAI/Rogers deal interested me in the context of Cllr Holyday’s idea that there was money to be had in station naming rights. Clearly the TTC did not get much out of BAI, and naming rights won’t go far either. But their effective masters at Queen’s Park think there are ways to avoid transit subsidies, and the ad industry is full of charlatans who look to run rampant on transit, or at least they did when there was actually a market.
You sure have Holyday pegged right!
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Presumably Councillor Holyday is really interested in finding sponsors for Bloor subway stations bordering his ward? Jiffy Lube Kipling station? Scotiabank Islington station? Maybe he and Metrolinx can team up to find sponsors for the Eglinton West stations too. Metrolinx can share how much private sector money came in as part of the Durham College Oshawa GO sponsorship.
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I wonder if the TTC will make it easier for Rogers to access the tunnels to do work on the cell network than they did with BAI.
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The TTC will want to shake down York Univeristy, Black Creek Pioneer Village, The DND (Downsview Park), Yorkdale Mall, the ROM, and 407ETR for their naming rights payments. Vaughan paid for their share of the extension so they’ll probably get a free pass.
Hopefully the GO won’t get it in their heads to come after the City for fees to keep up the Exhibition GO station name!
Naming rights, schnaming rights! Have these folks thought it through? If Rogers buys the naming rights to the Skydome-adjacent Union and rechristened it as Rogers Station what happens at the next random knife stabbing? Is the media supposed to report on a knife attack and refer to it as occurring at Rogers Station?
So, the BYD buses are ALLEGEDLY out of service because the water ALLEGEDLY penetrated into the battery compartment. I say ALLEGEDLY because this is coming from Steve who is fiercely anti-Chinese. But let us assume that this is actually true, then how do we know this? Because BYD buses participated in the trial. But Nova Bus buses did NOT. And so, how do we know that water is not going to penetrate into the battery compartments of Nova Bus buses or worse? Under no circumstances, should the contract or any part of thereof be awarded to Nova Bus.
Steve: I was quoting TTC staff about the state of the BYD buses. You can watch the video yourself.
My objection to BYD is that they attempted to do an end run around proper procurement practices with a “deputation” to the TTC Board organized by former Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong. They were hoping for a sole source contract, but that idea fell apart under the desire for a head-to-head competition. It was one of the sleaziest stunts I have seen at the TTC, and I can tell you that Andy Byford was not impressed but was powerless to stop it because of political pressure.
If that’s what it takes to sell your buses, that doesn’t say much for your company no matter where it is based.
Looking at the TransSee tracking data, 3753 and 3756 were actually in service this evening, but the others haven’t seen service in months. Even those two only had service for a limited number of days.
Steve: Looking at the data on TransSee a bit more granularly, the BYD bus usage in 2023 has been:
January: 3755 (only two observations Jan 29)
February: 3753 and 3759 (only one observation for 3759 on Feb 14)
March: 3753, 3755 and 3756
April: 3753 and 3756 (both last seen on April 13, not tonight, the 17th)
These vehicles spend most of their time in the garage.
I believe In a world class city TTC transit station names should reflect honour and tribute to dedicated public servants and great people who made it. I would surely join many others and vote for Steve Munro Station.
Steve: I would decline the honour. Station names are for neighbourhoods, streets with long history and public buildings. And they should not change on a whim. I can think of civic honours I might have been granted, but I am not on the right Christmas card list for that sort of thing. The 2005 Jane Jacobs Prize meant more to me than any station name could.
Munro Park is already named after Steve….ok, no it isn’t.
Steve: Munro Park predates me by several decades. However, there is an intersection of Mountstephen and Munro Streets 😉
I have known Steve since we were both in high school and he is not [anti] any ethnic group, but he is anti stupidity and mediocrity. You should go on line and read some of the problems that BYD (Build Your Dreams) EB’s have had. Albuquerque cancelled and returned their order because they had so many problems. LA transit and other companies have also had problems with BYD equipment. BYD products are not ready for prime time yet. Most EB companies have had early teething problems but BYD has had more than its share and this would seem to indicate poor engineering.
If someone reasonably progressive wins mayorship, I’m guessing the subject of renaming Dundas Street won’t be killed in committee-and-staff-reports, and with it renaming Yonge-Dundas Square and both Dundas stations. Honestly, as far as sponsorship goes, I would be kind of okay with the downtown locations becoming Eaton Square and Eaton Centre Station? For the right amount of money, and no “CF” please. Otherwise it might end up being something dreadfully generic like Metropolitan Square.
Maybe some one of the developers around Dundas West will be interested in a sponsored rename too.
Steve: But of course “Eaton’s” doesn’t exist any more. The challenge is greater for the street than the square because it passes through so many different neighbourhoods. Of course we could always undo the renaming of streets that went into making what is now “Dundas”. That should confuse everyone magnificently!
Well, the name continues as CF Toronto Eaton Centre, which for better or worse is a pretty major local landmark – most people familiar with downtown will know where “Eaton Centre” or “Eaton’s” is.
It’s not a high bar, but at least it would be a better sponsorship than “Durham College Oshawa GO”.
But as far as I know, Dundas west of Ossington — and in fact what is now called Ossington, south to Queen — was always called “Dundas”. Maybe the confusion then is why we have a whole bunch of new confusing names, and “Dundas” is still around.
Here’s a map from 1874, 149 years ago.
Steve: Yes, west of what is now Ossington, it was always called “Dundas”. The rest of it was patched together from many streets all the way east from there to Kingston Road. Hence also the frequent shifts in alignment where there is a transition from one street to another as at Bathurst.
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It is envious and small-minded to criticise Stephen Holyday’s naming ideas!
While I do not live in his ward, (I did have the privilege to vote [or not] for his father, Doug Holyday, as my MPP). looking to get more familiar with Stephen, I checked out his bio on wikipedia.
The Background section is succinct:
Who better than the current occupant of the Holyday Council Seat™® to understand and extol the power of Naming???
And now there is an Amazing Opportunity to grab on to, before someone else does! Doug Ford just announced that the Ontario Science Centre is moving down to Ontario Place. ()
Not only does it throw the name of the Eglinton Crosstown station at Don Mills into question (Science Centre), but it throws the name of the “Ontario” line wide open! And, you know, Doug (Ford) may not even have made these key realizations yet!
So, how much for just the name?
Well, you can get your name on a major hospital for $50 million (before inflation).
I would figure that a mere $5-10 million should be enough to produce the Stephen Holiday Station™®. And say $100-200 million to create the Stephen Holiday Line™®.
With the vast influence this blog wields, it may be appropriate for Steve (not Stephen) to start a GoFundMe campaign to Make It So!
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We’d be lucky to get 7 figures for any such sponsorship. It’ll be $250k (cost of rebranding to be covered by the TTC) plus a few tickets to a Ford family stag and doe.
This topic does remind me of the map from a decade ago.
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Boris Johnson as Mayor of London thought it would be a great idea to sell station naming rights. Unfortunately, big brands explained they weren’t interested given the reputation risk – e.g. announcements with “PlayStation Oxford Circus is closed because of [reason]”…
Instead – they’ve done temporary renaming and branding – Visa paid £80,000 to rename Southgate station for two days after football manager Gareth Southgate after the 2018 World Cup.
On the other hand, IKEA spent £800k to get their logo on every Tube map…
@Prashant K There’s a reason that European operators are just buying the batteries and drivetrains from BYD, not the buses…. (The London ones are Alexander Dennis bodies with BYD batteries + drivetrain)
Steve: For the benefit of readers, BYD started out as a battery company and then looked to transit vehicles as a potential market. In a state-run market they had untrammeled access.