Bloor-Yonge Station Expansion Update

At its meeting of December 8, 2021, the TTC Board received a report and presentation about the Bloor-Yonge project. This is a massive undertaking to expand capacity at the major junction of the subway network that is considered critical to future demand growth on the network.

Funding to the tune of $1.5 billion is already committed by the City, the Province of Ontario and the Federal government.

The project will:

  • Add a new, separate eastbound platform on the south side of the existing station similar to the reconfigured Union Station where a northbound-to-Yonge platform was added.
  • Convert the existing centre platform to westbound only.
  • Add and reconfigure vertical access between the concourse east and west of the Line 1 station to Line 2 below.
  • Substantially increase the concourse space.
  • Increase ventillation fan capacity to reflect both the expanded station area and current fire code.
  • Add new entrance connections at 81 Bloor East and link the existing automatic entrance on Yonge north of Bloor to the new platform.
  • Reconfigure the main entrance of the station at 2 Bloor East.

In pre-pandemic times, severe congestion was common particularly, but not only, on the southbound platform. If nothing is done about this, the safety issues this brings will become more severe and train operations will be hampered by the volume of passengers.

Although Automatic Train Control will allow for more frequent service, this also means that passengers can be delivered to the station at a faster rate than today. If stairs, escalators and platforms cannot handle the added demand, the station will be a pinch point on the network. At a political level, the City of Toronto Council is already on record as requiring this expansion (as well as the Relief, now Ontario Line) as pre-requisites for the Line 1 Yonge extension to Richmond Hill.

The issues facing the TTC are summarized early in the presentation deck.

Modification & expansion of the existing Bloor-Yonge Station required to address current issues and future ridership demand as follows:

• Overcrowding of the Line 2 platform due to substandard platform width and congested vertical circulation in the AM and PM peak hour

• Overcrowding of the Line 1 platforms due to poor passenger distribution leading to congestion and queuing at vertical circulation in the AM and PM peak hour

• Overcrowding of Lines 1 and 2 platforms AM and PM peak hour hampering alighting and boarding leading to increase in dwell time for trains

• Projected ridership growth will exacerbate current deficiencies in station performance

• Projected ridership growth will greatly extend recovery time from a missed headway

• Line 1 expansion to Richmond Hill

Presentation deck, p. 3
Continue reading

TTC eBus Usage Profiles July-December 2021

The TTC is about to award one or more contracts for buses in the coming months including 300 conventional hybrids and 300 battery eBuses.

Although they have been conducting a head-to-head comparison of vehicles from three vendors for some time, they have not published results for each of them separately. Moreover, it is not clear the extent to which this comparison will inform the purchase for two reasons:

  • Vendors may claim that their newer buses are better than the ones the TTC is testing.
  • Some vendors’ products were not in the trial because they did not have a vehicle meeting TTC requirements at the time of the request for proposals.

The TTC eBus fleet consists of 25 buses from each of New Flyer and Proterra, and 10 from BYD. The original plan was for this order to be split equally among the three vendors, but BYD could not deliver their buses on a timely basis, and part of their “share” was divided between the other two vendors.

The TTC CEO’s Report includes stats on bus reliability measured as the mean distance between failures.

There are two major problems with these charts:

  • The values reported are capped, and we have no idea how far above the target lines the month-to-month values actually reach. If one class of buses is substantially more reliable, but this is not shown due to capping, then it is impossible to make a valid comparison.
  • Buses that never leave the garage do not contribute either to accumulated distance nor to breakdown counts. “Problem” buses could be sidelined because the TTC has lots of spares, and the stats for the working buses would make the group as a whole look better than it really is.

Methodology

In an attempt to get a handle on the actual use of the eBus fleet, I turned to vehicle tracking data. If a bus is regularly in service, it will appear in the tracking data, and it will not be simply sitting in a garage.

For this purpose, I used the trip tracking function on Darwin O’Connor’s TransSee website to find out where the eBuses spent their time for the past six months.

For comparison, I also pulled data for the month of September for 25 hybrid and 25 articulated buses. These buses date from 2018 and 2013 respectively.

From the trip reports, I extracted the vehicle number, date and time of the observation, and recorded the hours in which each bus was “seen”. Although this is vulnerable to missing tracking data (such as during the recent TTC cyber outage), any such effect is across the board and does not affect comparisons between vehicle types.

On a summary basis, each vehicle could be seen in 24 hour every day over the period. The number of observations is a broad indication of how much the bus is used. Also, the total number of buses used within a specific hour, broken down by type, shows the patterns of each fleet’s usage and the proportion of the fleet that was active during each hour.

July 2021

Here are the data for July 2021. Each vertical block separated by yellow lines is one day. The data for each group of buses is colour coded.

A few points are quite obvious here:

  • The Flyer bus fleet was much more utilized than either the Proterra or BYD fleets, and at times over 80% of all Flyer buses were in service (20 out of 25). Proterra never fielded more than 9 of 25, and BYD never got beyond 4 of 10.
  • There is a distinct pattern of double spikes in the usage on weekdays which typically have a higher total number of vehicles. This shows that many (and on some days all) of the eBuses did not stay out through the midday, but returned to their garage. On weekends, usage of Proterra and especially BYD buses was very low.
Continue reading

Ontario Line Downtown Construction: V – Traffic Effects

This is the fifth and final article in a series reviewing the construction effects of the Ontario Line downtown. It deals with overall issues across the project rather than the specific issues at each station.

In reading the report, there is a sense that working out traffic flows for motorists and trucks took a much higher priority than thinking about transit, pedestrians and cyclists.

The Ontario Line stations are projects on a scale and time frame larger than major building construction projects, and the work will be undertaken by an agency that is not noted for its sensitivity to local concerns. If Eglinton was any indication, there will be plenty of opportunity for finger-pointing between Metrolinx, the City and “Project Co.” (the placeholder name for the yet-to-be-selected P3 partner).

City Led Projects

In addition to the work of building the Ontario Line, there are other planned construction projects downtown. The list below only reaches to 2026.

The following City-led construction projects were included:

  • Gardiner Express Rehabilitation – Grand Magazine Street to York Street (2024 to 2026)
  • TTC 504 King streetcar track rehabilitation – 2024
  • Yonge Tomorrow – Reconfiguration of Yonge Street between Queen Street and College Street
  • Sewer Rehabilitation –
    • Richmond Street between Simcoe Street and John Street (2023);
    • Richmond Street between Peter Street to Spadina Avenue (2023);
    • Wellington Street between Clarence Square and Blue Jays Way (2024);
    • Front Street between Bay Street and Scott Street (2024).
  • Watermain Replacement –
    • Adelaide Street between York Street and Victoria Street (2022);
    • Dundas Street, between Church Street and Sherbourne Street (2024);
    • Front Street between Bathurst Street and Spadina Avenue (2026).

Congestion

The table below shows the effect of various configurations on traffic volumes and speed for the AM and PM peak periods.

  • The Base Case is the existing conditions with no added projects.
  • The “Future Background” adds in the City projects listed above, and assumes that they all happen at once. In fact they will take place at different times.
  • The “Future Total” adds in the effect of the Ontario Line construction on top of the City projects.

The base number is the projected vehicle count on each corridor at Yonge Street. The number in square brackets shows the existing travel time (Base Case) and the projected change (Future Cases) between Parliament and Bathurst Street.

King is notable by its absence in the table, but it is hard to believe it will not be affected especially with the lack of enforcement of priority measures. It will be under construction in 2024, but in other years traffic will inevitably use any available street regardless of signage or paint on the roadway.

Travel times are already considerably higher in the PM peak than in the AM. The projected changes in the AM peak are small relative to the base case because the road network can absorb the reduced capacity at that time. However, in the PM peak, travel times double (or more) across the core area.

This will have a severe effect on transit service.

Considering the cataclysmic effects shown above, this table bears close scrutiny. An immediately obvious point is that almost all of the change is the result of the City-led projects and the Ontario Line construction adds very little on top of this. But the model assumed that all of the City projects planned out to 2026 would occur at the same time rather than individually.

This is lazy modelling, and it should be redone on a year-by-year basis to evaluate the effect of taking specific chunks out of the road network as planned.

Equally important should be a model run with only the Ontario Line changes included. It is possible that the model with only all of the City projects yields so much congestion that there is no room for “growth” on that account when the OL is added to the mix.

A rather obvious question here is how construction vehicles are supposed to access the OL sites if traffic is so congested during part of the day. Indeed, one might ask whether a moratorium on truck activity during at least the PM peak will be needed.

A well-known characteristic of traffic congestion is that it can build slowly with volume, but at a critical point there is a “knee in the curve” where congestion gets much worse with only a small change in the network. This is seen on a day-to-day basis when all that is needed to snarl an otherwise open road is a curb lane blocked by a delivery truck or utility workers with a few traffic cones.

Continue reading

Ontario Line Downtown Construction: IV – Moss Park & Corktown Stations

This is the fourth article in a series about the anticipated effects of construction through downtown of the Ontario Line. Because the stations at Moss Park and Corktown are similar in their construction technique, I have grouped them together.

Both stations will be built as off-street using cut-and-cover rather than mining because the entire station site can be opened for access. Effects on pedestrians are less severe, and transit stops are undisturbed.

However, the scope of work is much greater at Corktown Station because this will be a Tunnel Boring Machine launch site. Not only will this see the excavation of the station itself, but the removal of “muck” from the TBMs as they progress west across the route.

Continue reading

Ontario Line Downtown Construction: III – King/Bathurst & Queen/Spadina Stations

This is the third article in a series about the anticipated effects of construction through downtown of the Ontario Line. Because the stations at King/Bathurst and Queen/Spadina are similar in their construction technique, I have grouped them together.

Two of the four corners at each intersection will be used for excavations down to the tunnels which will exist by the time station construction begins. The plan is to avoid road closures that would disrupt transit service, not to mention capacity on the road network.

This may sound good in theory, but transit service will suffer from new pinch points in the road network, and pedestrians will attempt to make connections between transit routes walking along roadways adjacent to construction zones. Although there are no formal cycling lanes on streets at either station, a substantial volume of cycling traffic now uses curb lane space that will disappear.

In both cases, construction is planned to run from July 2022 until mid-to-late 2029.

  • July 2022 to June 2023: Setup, utility relocation and enabling works
  • July 2023 to March 2026: Excavation
  • March 2026 to September 2027: Below grade concrete work
  • Fall 2026 to Fall 2027: Exterior station work
  • June 2027 to September 2028: Interior station work
  • March 2028 to March 2029: Station fit out and testing

There is no plan to selectively re-open parts of the street once the major works of excavation and concrete pours are out of the way.

An obvious issue for the long term is that no sooner will subway construction decamp from these sites, but new building construction will move in. The loss of sidewalks and road space could continue well into the 2030s.

When I asked the City of Toronto about this, they understandably have no information on the time frame or effects of potential developments of these “Transit Oriented Community” sites to be developed by Infrastructure Ontario.

[…] although these sites have been flagged as TOC’s we don’t currently have any details around these and their construction impacts. If lane closures are required for their construction then reports will need to come forward to City Council at the appropriate time which will spell out the occupations required and impacts.

Ashley Curtis, Director Transportation Planning & Capital Program. Dec. 2, 2021.
Continue reading

Ontario Line Downtown Construction: II – Osgoode Station

This continues the series reviewing the construction plans for downtown stations on the Ontario Line and their effect on roads and nearby properties.

Like Queen/Yonge station described in the previous article, Osgoode connects with the Line 1 subway in a new two-level station. However, the construction approach will be completely different.

The expanded Osgoode Station will be dug from two excavations at opposite corners of the station rather than from access pits in the middle of Queen Street. The primary entrance to the expanded station will be at the northeast corner of University and Queen, a space now occupied by part of the park in front of Osgoode Hall.

A second entrance to the station will be built at Queen and Simcoe and will use the existing bank facade for its exterior.

The diagram below shows a much larger portion of this park to be occupied for construction than was previously thought to be threatened. Compare the orange hatched area below with the next drawing from the June 2021 round of consultations.

This drawing shows “Station Building 1” occupying about half of the frontage on University between Queen Street and the gate to the walkway across the front of Osgoode Hall. In the diagram above, the entire width of this area is taken for construction as well as part of the area north of the walkway along the street, and the lawn in front of the Hall.

Given the effect any work within the Hall’s grounds will have on the park, this is not a trivial change. Quite bluntly, I believe Metrolinx showed the smaller scope in the drawing above because proposing to take so much of the park, even temporarily, would have produced an uproar. They stick handled their way around any discussion of Osgoode Station during the consultation sessions. This has the smell of deliberate misrepresentation.

If anyone is considering a design based on a proposed reallocation of lane space on University and expansion of the east side pedestrian realm, they have been very quiet about it. Conveniently for Metrolinx, this is not a residential neighbourhood with the usual population of critics quick to leap on their proposals.

All of the trees at Osgoode Hall in the photo below lie on lands shown as the construction zone for this project. Civic vandalism in the name of “progress” does not begin to describe this proposal.

University Avenue Looking North at Queen, June 2021 / Google Street View

Early Works

The main construction work begins in July 2023 with station excavation running to March 2026. The station exterior would not be complete until Fall 2027, and the lane closures would not be undone until sometime in 2029. (See the city’s report for details.)

However, some works must take place in advance of the main project:

  • Utility relocation from March 2022 to May 2023.
  • Other “setup, preparatory and enabling works” from July 2022 onward. It is not clear just what these entail or which areas of the site would be affected.

At various times in 2022 there will be short-term closures of parts of Simcoe Street and University Avenue (see the list of Early Works closures for details).

Street Restrictions

For much of the project, various lanes and parts of sidewalks will be close or restricted:

  • Queen Street road lanes will not be affected.
  • On the east side of University to north from Queen (see photo above), the street is now four lanes wide with the curb lane used for a bike path. In this area, the sidewalk will be taken over for construction and pedestrians will be shifted into what is now the northbound curb lane.
  • NOTE: The report is unclear about whether there will actually be a cycling lane or not, or when. “The existing northbound curbside bicycle lane on University Avenue fronting the Osgoode Hall will be closed for construction staging purposes. However, the northbound travel lanes on University Avenue will be realigned and a protected 2.0 metres wide northbound bicycle lane around the work zone will be provided.” [p 28]
  • On Simcoe Street, the west sidewalk and part of the street will be closed between Queen and the laneway running midblock west from Simcoe. The intent is to use the west side of Simcoe as a staging and storage area.
  • The east sidewalk on Simcoe will be narrowed to leave enough room for one traffic lane and a cycling lane, although that lane is not shown clearly on the drawing above.
  • Pedestrian access will be maintained in front of the bank/second entrance building along Queen west of Simcoe.

Here is what Simcoe Street looks like today. The bank on the left will become the second station entrance.

Simcoe Street Looking North to Queen Street June 2021 / Google Street View

Transit Changes

The only explicit changes proposed for this area are the relocation of the westbound streetcar stop east to a point clear of construction, and closing the existing station entrance north of Queen on the east side of University.

The report proposes a westbound York/University stop on Queen, but this would be closely after streetcars have stopped northbound on York at Queen. With the northeast station entrance closed, passengers transfer passengers are more likely to use the southeast entrance (through the Opera House) and a stop on the north side of Queen does not make sense. Better that transfers walk between the Opera House entrance and the proposed stop at York & Queen along the south side of the street.

The eastbound stop on Queen at University will remain.

Metrolinx has not published diagrams of Osgoode station below street level showing how the existing and new spaces and circulation patterns will work.

In the next article, I will review King/Bathurst and Queen/Spadina stations.

Ontario Line Downtown Construction: I – Queen Station

This is the first of a series of articles reviewing the plans for construction of the downtown Ontario Line stations between King/Bathurst and Corktown Station. The base document is a report at the Toronto Executive Committee’s meeting of December 7, 2021.

This is a long report detailing the effect of multi-year construction at six sites. Beginning with early works in 2022 and continuing to 2029, each of the sites will be at some stage in construction, although the exact timetable varies from station to station.

The project will involve many curb lane closures and associated effects on sidewalks, bike lanes and transit stops. As previously reported, there will be a complete road closure of Queen from Bay to Victoria for the construction of a deep and complex link there to the existing Line 1 Queen Station. Osgoode Station is a less complex project because there are fewer nearby buildings constraining the site, although it has its own challenges.

King/Bathurst and Queen/Spadina are similar to each other in that they will use shafts on two of the four corners of their intersections as the launch points for mining out the station caverns under the street.

Moss Park and Corktown Stations are both cut-and-cover locations, but Corktown has the added complexity of also being a site for the tunnel boring machine launch and for removal of spoil from the tunnel excavation.

Each site has other issues:

  • Volume of spoil from the excavations and the routes trucks will use to move material from six concurrent construction sites.
  • The constraints on emergency vehicles while road access is limited.
  • Local business and residential access.
  • Cycling lane effects.

In all of this, we must assume that traffic, transit, pedestrian and cycling demand will be at least at pre-covid levels, although there are likely to be shifts as some traffic “evaporates” in frustration.

This first article will deal with the most complex project: Queen Station. Next will come Osgoode, to be followed by the two western stations at Bathurst and Spadina, and then the eastern stations at Moss Park and Corktown. I will wrap up with a discussion of issues common to all sites.

Continue reading

Metrolinx Don Valley Layover “Consultation” Update (Corrected)

Correction: Metrolinx has advised community members that the pop-up at Frankland School is one of a series of such events and is not intended as a formal consultation session given with almost no notice.

In their continued goal of always being right (one might say “Resistance Is Futile”), Metrolinx has published another article about why we just must have the Don Valley Layover track on the former Don Branch from roughly Rosedale Valley Road to the “Half Mile Bridge”.

There is little new in this article which re-iterates much previous material, but at greater length in an attempt to appear oh-so-reasonable.

Of particular interest is the sense that after resisting community input, Metrolinx appears to be softening their position. “Appears” is the operative word here.

While working on that, Metrolinx is making sure to protect the Don Valley, as the area sees this work to come later this month (December).

• Arborists (tree experts) will evaluate trees in the vicinity of the proposed layover
• Biologists will assess the habitat features in the adjacent area 
• Heritage experts will assess any impacts on heritage features in the area including the Prince Edward Viaduct
• Engineers will assess the current infrastructure.

Metrolinx initiated a procurement process for the technical advisor that will advance the design for the layover facility. In addition to architects and engineers, this team will include landscape architects and restoration experts.

Metrolinx expects to have the consultant on board early in 2022 to begin the initial design and work with the community.

What is not clear is whether there will actually be any change to the proposed design, or if this is a typical “consultation” where the community gets to choose the colour of the wallpaper.

There will be a pop-up consultation at Frankland School tonight (Dec 2) starting at 4:30 pm. What, you say you don’t know about this? That’s no surprise as Metrolinx does not mention it on their own engagement site, and few people who live in the area have heard of it. However, in due course it will serve the purpose of reassuring Metrolinx Board members and politicians that there has been “consultation”.

See correction text at the beginning of this article.

Metrolinx claims that the Don Branch is the only suitable location, but they have never addressed key questions:

  • Metrolinx claims that the “Rosedale Siding”, a second track on the GO Richmond Hill corridor west of the Don River, cannot be used for storage as it is required as a passing track. (Indeed with the recent diversion of VIA trains over this route, GO and VIA trains passed each other using this siding.) However, they fail to acknowledge that the right-of-way held three tracks, not two, in the past, and that a third track could be restored. (See photos in this article.)
  • Metrolinx claims that support buildings are required at this location even though a similar storage facility on the Lakeshore East corridor at Midland has no buildings and trains are simply parked there.
  • Metrolinx has not addressed a proposal to place the support buildings and parking, to the extent that they are actually required, at the north end of the layover track beside the Bayview/DVP connection road rather than at the Viaduct.
  • Metrolinx plans to use the Richmond Hill corridor as a turnback area for trains at Union Station. However, they are electrifying double track all the way to Pottery Road, far further than is needed as a turnback facility. This implies that the line will be used for something else, possibly storage of trains, but Metrolinx is silent on this.

Metrolinx talks about reduction in the footprint of the layover facility, but this typically refers to revisions made a few years ago when the proposed location was changed and some of the buildings were redesigned. They have not addressed why the buildings are needed if only between-rush hour storage is planned, as opposed to the ovenight operations that were contemplated in the original scheme.

By conflating changes made in the past with current community criticism, Metrolinx implies that they are altering their scheme today. That is misleading, as parliamentarians would say.

The whole matter of Metrolinx’ relationship with trees is fraught on many of their projects. Of particular concern is that they bring in an arborist to review the situation well after they pass the point of no return in design lockdown.

The site review they now plan is rather odd considering that the Environmental Assessment and Site Selection processes are complete. If they are truly contemplating reopening the question, this would run contrary to their approach on many projects where “consultation” proceeds while Metrolinx assumes that nothing will change and plans accordingly.

In a separate article, Metrolinx claims that the area to be occupied has already been disturbed by construction.

Placing these buildings immediately north of the viaduct will take advantage of construction that has already been done in the area. This is an area where green space was previously disturbed during the rehabilitation of the viaduct and there is already an access road in place to support an adjacent hydro facility.

That statement might have been valid for the originally proposed location south of the Viaduct which was used some years back as a staging area for work on the bridge. However, the area north of the Viaduct is treed as anyone can see looking down from the subway on the viaduct, and as I can simply by looking out my apartment window. Even the staging area south of the bridge has grown back in, and the idea that it is expendable because it was “disturbed” is no longer valid, but it suits Metrolinx to misrepresent actual conditions.

(For the record, I live in the building at the upper right of this image.)

Google Earth June 2021

At the heart of this debate is a fundamental distrust of Metrolinx’ intentions based on their dealings with many communities in many projects. “Trust” is not a word one would use.

I have no illusions that this work will be stopped, but wish that Metrolinx would stop trying to prove “the community” wrong and address real concerns about their proposals. This is a small part of a much larger project, but it shows just how things can go wrong with “public participation”.

How Much Bus Service Could The TTC Run?

At a time when TTC ridership is sitting at just under 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, this may not seem the time to ask a question like this article’s title. However, the service effects of an operator shortage are felt across the system and may not disappear soon.

The TTC puts recent service cuts down to vaccine hesitancy among a small group of staff. Leaving aside the internal union politics and the constant skirmishes between ATU and TTC management, there is more going on here.

At its meeting on November 29, the TTC Board received a third quarter financial update, and there was considerable praise for how management has “contained” costs shifting the year-end outlook to one where the TTC will not actually use all of subsidy monies available. In fact, $36 million will go into the City’s transit reserve where original budget projections forecast a draw, not a deposit. That’s money not being spent on transit, and moreover, it sets the bar lower for a starting point in 2022.

A big contribution to that saving is that the TTC is not scheduling as much service as it budgeted, and even then is not staffing at a level where all scheduled service actually gets onto the street. Cancelled runs and missing buses are common, and this problem continues even on the reduced schedules of November 21.

This situation is a complete reversal from past years when anyone who said “give us more service” received a stock two-part reply: we have no buses, and even if we bought more, there is no garage space.

The problem today is not buses – it is operators to drive them.

In this article, I turn the question around and ask how much service the TTC could provide if only they hired enough staff.

In Brief

The TTC has always owned substantially more buses than it requires to operate service. This is perfectly normal for any transit system, but the gap between what the TTC owns and what it operates widened over the past decade.

The proportion of the fleet that is “spare” (a word embracing many factors) has grown for two related reasons. Buses are more complex than they were a few decades back, and that affects maintenance work. Historically, the TTC aimed for a 18-year bus life cycle, but they are working toward a 12-year cycle to advance retirement of lower-reliability old buses and avoid the cost of major overhauls to keep them running. They have not yet reached that goal, and currently planned bus purchases do not fully achieve this.

One might argue that it says something about the robust nature of older buses compared to what we see today. To some extent, a shorter lifespan target can be a self-fulfilling prophecy when maintenance plans assume that a 12 year old bus will be discarded, and buses in what was once a middle age of 8-10 years are now seen as elderly.

There was a time when a ratio of buses in service to those held aside as spares was between 7:1 and 6:1, or a spare factor close to 15 per cent. By about a decade ago, this ratio fell to 5:1 or a 20 percent spare allowance. Since then, as a deliberate policy, the TTC has allowed it to fall to 4:1. There is no sign yet of a return to a better ratio. Two factors – a younger bus fleet and the benefits of electrification (partial or complete) – are yet to be reflected in the provision for spares. This affects not just capital costs – more buses are needed to provide a given level of service – but also the need for garage space.

In the pandemic era, the number of spares has risen considerably and the ratio is in striking distance of 2:1 thanks to recent service cuts.

If the ongoing cost of operating the TTC falls because of cutbacks, then the challenge to restore funding faces the double hurdles of cost inflation and a return to historic service levels both for operations and maintenance.

Turning back the clock can be difficult if a generous spare ratio becomes a “new normal” and buses can simply be sidelined rather than repaired. Even worse, if capital to buy new buses is plentiful, but operating funds to maintain the fleet are not, garages can fill up with vehicles that are tempting spare parts stores. This happened decades ago in Boston from which TTC CEO Rick Leary hails (but not on his watch).

Unpopular though this could be in some political circles, the TTC should ask the question: what service could we operate with the existing fleet if only we had enough money to hire drivers for all of the buses? Don’t tell Toronto what we “can’t afford”, tell us what would be possible and how much this would cost. This is a perennial problem with the TTC: a failure to advocate for the best we could have.

Continue reading

TTC Ridership, Finances and Service as of November 2021

The agenda for the Toronto Transit Commission board meeting on November 29, 2021, is rather thin considering that the board has not met for some time, and there are major policy issues worth discussing about the system’s future.

Two major reports are:

Ridership

TTC ridership continues to run below budget projections, although it has been growing. Recently it has been tracking near budgetary projections, but shortfalls during stay-at-home periods earlier in 2021 have kept the year-to-date total below expectations. Although we are now almost at the end of November, only data to the end of September are reported here.

Another view of ridership is based on “boardings” where each transfer (except between subway lines) counts as a new boarding. In transit parlance, these are “unlinked trips” as opposed to the “linked trips” that have traditionally been associated with individual fares paid. Even that gets tricky with passes including the two-hour transfer.

Relative to pre-pandemic demand, the bus network is at 55%, streetcars are at 42% and the subway is at 38%. Updated data showing recent experience would obviously be useful here to see whether riding has plateaued, or if it continues to grow, especially in light of recent service cuts.

Demand on Wheel-Trans is down substantially compared both to pre-pandemic times and to budget projections.

Bus occupancy has grown steadily over the year. An important point about the chart below is that it is measured trip-by-trip rather than being averaged over all trips on the system. What we do not know, however, is how many of these trips have high loads because the affected bus is running in a gap, and how many are because the service overall has less capacity than required for demand. Also, of course, we do not see the distribution of crowded trips by route or time-of-day.

An important issue here is that as overall demand recovers, the TTC plans to set its crowding targets progressively higher until they reach historical pre-pandemic levels. If service, and hence crowding, are irregular, then some buses will operate well beyond comfortable or attractive levels even as (and if) riders get more used to being in crowds.

Overcrowding was a constant complaint in pre-pandemic times, and Toronto should not aim simply to return to an overstuffed system. However, more service costs money and that is in short supply, even for politicians who are truly pro-transit at budget time.

Continue reading