Missing Riders, Uber and the TTC

It is impossible to browse the news online or in print without seeing an article about transit ridership. Will people ever go back to work in office buildings? Has work-from-home destroyed transit demand? What is the future of cities in general and our town, Toronto?

I am not going to attempt to peer into that crystal ball as there are too many possible futures. However, I want to throw out a few ideas that should be part of any debate or prognostication.

The transit market is not a monolith, not in Toronto and certainly not from city to city, system to system. There are different markets each with its own demand patterns and riders, and recovery of these markets will not all happen at the same time.

The TTC has a particularly broad reach in that, in “before days”, there was strong demand not just for downtown commuter trips, but around the suburbs. Many types of jobs do not have the work-from-home option. They are keeping us fed, alive, and supplied with an unending delivery of goods we once picked up from a local store.

Moreover, many trips are not “work” trips but are for other purposes.

  • School trips for all ages are an important market, and these are often overlooked as part of transit demand.
  • People make trips for shopping and other personal errands on the TTC, especially if they do not have a car (or if the only one in the family is being used by someone else).
  • Finally, there are leisure trips, broadly speaking, for outings to sports events, theatre, movies, an afternoon on the beach or a walk through the cherry blossoms.

Office commuting will resume when employers and employees feel safe gathering together. Yes some prefer working at home, at least some of the time, but others are just as happy to escape to the alternate universe of their work space and colleagues. There were already moves to reduce the space per office worker and design more for “hotelling” to make better use of expensive space, but there is still a demand for office space, at least in the core area. The creation of new space may halt or slow for a time, but “downtown” still has its allure.

We have already seen that workers in critical industries and in many settings where there is no online alternative are straining the transit service despite claims that crowding is rare.

School traffic is not going to disappear either, but it will return under different circumstances and at a different pace. Much depends on when it is really safe to resume gatherings on that level, based on actual health science, not on political pressure to reopen at whatever cost.

The last to return will be the leisure trips because here has to be something “there” to generate the traffic.

This affects the TTC in a different way from GO Transit which is almost entirely dependent on one market: downtown commuters. GO’s future is tied to these riders much more than is the TTC’s largely because it is the only market they pursued for most of their existence. They are highly dependent on parking lots and personal cars for “last mile” feeder service.

GO has tried to market itself for off peak traffic and group travel, but that demand is trivial. It is viewed as a loss-leader to get potential new customers onto GO who would try weekday service after they use it on the weekend. Of course, someone bringing their family in for a ball game might not actually work downtown, and GO has little service to other destinations.

GO’s daily ridership dropped much further than the TTC’s and it remains in single-digit percentages of its former level with some trains carrying loads that would fit on a bus.

The TTC is different as its stats show. Ridership (equivalent to fares paid, or “linked trips” in planning parlance) are at 25-30% of former levels across the system, with higher values in some areas. The budget plans for a growth to about 50% by fall 2021, but whether this is achieved depends a lot on the perceived success of the vaccination campaign and a big drop in future infection rates. In the first quarter of 2021, the TTC expected to see the first glimpse of a recovery but, thanks to political bungling, we got a third wave of infections and another “lockdown”.

That hoped-for growth starting in September may turn out to be wishful thinking, and that does not bode well for a transit system that cannot be kept on financial life support forever. The 2022 budget assumes a fairly healthy growth in demand, although not back all the way to pre-pandemic levels.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

“Boardings” or “unlinked trips” count each leg of a journey separately. Any transfer between vehicles (except on the subway) counts as a new boarding. While all modes suffered a downturn through the fall and winter, the bus network did best of the three showing its relative importance to riders who continue to be on the TTC.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

Crowding complaints come overwhelmingly on the bus routes, in part because there are so many more of them. The bus fleet has automatic passenger counters that can report real stats, but these are not yet widely available on the streetcar fleet.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

In the near future, the TTC will provide a crowding level feed to two apps: Rocketman and Transit App. This will allow riders to see how crowded approaching buses are, although it will of course do nothing to prevent a bus, once boarded, from filling up later. This information, however, will make an interesting adjunct to real time and historical tracking analysis because it will allow crowding and service reliability to be compared.

The TTC’s analysis above fails to show the real situation riders face because it lumps every bus trip on every route all day together. Many routes are never crowded. Routes with chronic bunching might only be crowded on the “gap” bus. Routes with highly directional demand will have a lot of lightly-loaded counterpeak trips. Having “only” 5% of trips show up as “crowded” will understate the degree of the problems when and where they actually exist.

Moreover, there are more riders on a crowded bus than on an empty one, and so the “average” experience will be that more people to see crowding. A good analogy might be that someone trying to board the subway southbound at Bloor in the AM peak as opposed to eastbound at Broadview at the same time will have a very different experience of subway crowding. The same is true for bus routes.

With route level crowding stats, the TTC should be able to provide “hot spot” reports rather than simply averaging the entire system.

Clearly they are doing some of this already because service plans for coming months, including the May schedule changes, will reduce service on some less-loaded routes to be redeployed on other busy routes.

An important improvement would be to include the hot spots/hot time list in the Daily Customer Service Report so that riders can compare their experience with what the TTC thinks happened. The next challenge is to make the service run reliably, a frequent topic on this blog.

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Ontario Line Maintenance Facility Site Selection

This article is a follow-up to Ontario Line Maintenance & Storage Facility and provides detail on the MSF location selection process.

When I first wrote about this project and its effects, Metrolinx advised that they would not be releasing information about the site selection until late 2022, roughly the same point where a contract for construction would be awarded and long after any design changes would be possible.

This position changed quite recently, and the presentation deck for a public meeting on April 15 includes maps of the proposed sites. The original version included the legend “Elected Officials Only” is part of these illustrations and shows how this deck was closely held until quite recently. A revised version posted during the meeting has some differences in the deck.

Although sites downtown and west to the Exhibition were considered, none of them was large enough to accommodate the MSF and yard.

A common thread through this process is that all of the facilities will be at one location as opposed to building storage at various points along the route. That approach would take advantage of train automation to allow remote dispatching of trains to and from service, but it has not been included in the design.

Most of the sites are clustered around the Ontario Line corridor with a few exceptions well away from the line. These are described in the maps below.

The slides describing the removal of various sites from consideration were in the originally posted version of the deck, but they do not appear in the version now online and shown at the meeting.

Four sites in various parts of Flemingdon Park were rejected either because they are too small, they are too far from the main line, or because major development is already planned on the site.

In the original Relief Line Subway plan, trains would have been stored and serviced at Greenwood Yard. This yard is too small for the projected Ontario Line fleet, an intriguing claim considering the relative demand and capacity on Line 2 (now served mainly from Greenwood) and the future Ontario Line.

This leaves three sites on either side of the CP rail corridor through Leaside. Each of these sites has its challenges.

Metrolinx settled on using parts of site 1 (the southern part of the Wicksteed block), and site 2 (the northern part of the Overlea block).

In the previous article comments thread, a reader suggested placing the storage yard in Site 3 (the northeastern portion of the Leaside block). This requires an underpass at the CPR. It is not clear whether Metrolinx considered a hybrid Site 1-3 scheme that would not require the entire Leaside block, only enough room for the storage yard now planned for the northern portion of Site 2.

In the public meeting, Metrolinx stressed that they would be talking to affected businesses about support for relocation. The surprise expressed at this plan by members of the community suggests that consultation is comparatively recent although planning has been underway for some time.

The affected properties are shown in the map below.

The Islamic Society of Toronto plans to the move the Masjid Darussalam mosque from 4 Thorncliffe Park Drive to 20 Overlea Boulevard according to Metrolinx.

Metrolinx said that they are “keenly aware” of impacts to businesses and importance of Iqbal Foods (located in 2 Thorncliffe Park Drive) in the community. They are dedicated to work with all of the business owners to relocate “within the neighbourhood”. How much financial help will be involved remains to be seen. CEO Phil Verster said that it is “100% our intent” that these businesses are not lost to the local community.

Metrolinx received many complaints about timing of their announcement and holding the meeting during Ramadan in an area with a large Muslim population. They plan to hold more consultations after the holy month concludes in mid-May.

The overall project timeline for the North Section of the Ontario Line is summarized in the chart below.

TTC eBus Update April 14, 2021

This article is an update to TTC Plans Massive eBus Order to include information from the TTC Board meeting of April 14, 2021. The staff presentation video is available on YouTube.

The TTC has tested eBuses from BYD, Proterra and New Flyer in a “head-to-head” comparison over the past year (times vary due to delivery delays). There was a sense when this trial began that it would reveal whether certain products were inherently better than others, and possibly winnow the field of potential bidders.

They plan to award a contract for 300 hybrid buses in 3Q2021, and a contract for eBuses in either 4Q2021 or 1Q2022.

In his presentation, Bem Case, Head of Vehicle Programs, made considerable effort to note that the trial was not intended as a selection process, but rather to inform vehicle specifications and contract provisions for a future purchase. Case claimed that BYD and Proterra would be “upping their game” for the large eBus RFP, and their bids should address many issues from the trial. The expected cost for an eBus is around $1 million, about $200k less than the average cost for the trial fleet.

The three trial vendors are not the only ones in the running. Nova Bus, was not part of the trial, but Case advise that they plan to be compliant with the requirements when a Request For Proposals (RFP) goes out.

There are two unnamed manufacturers, one in Canada, one in the US, described as “upstarts” who are trying to get into the market.

Reading between the lines, one can sense that lobbyists have been busy to ensure that no vendor has an inside track. With a 300-bus order on the line, there is a lot of money at stake.

The challenge for the TTC will be to frame a tender whose language actually protects the system up front from bad products rather than simply counting on provisions such as liquidated damages (penalties for non-performance). Issues with the first generation of hybrid buses and the Bombardier streetcars order are fresh in everyone’s mind.

An important clarification emerged regarding the “Negotiated RFP” process. It is not the TTC’s intent to select one vendor in advance and negotiate a contract, but rather to invite bids and then negotiate with vendors to fine tune requirements and issue a revised RFP if necessary. The intent is to avoid writing a spec that disqualifies most or all vendors and forces the entire process to start again from scratch.

Case emphasized that the eBus industry is maturing quickly especially with respect to spare parts availability and post-sales support. Both of these are essential to keeping the fleet on the road, and for ensuring that warranties are honoured promptly. The head-to-head comparison will continue through 2021, and this will provide additional experience to inform both the specifications and evaluations. The TTC expects that availability and reliability issues to date with the trial fleets will be resolved, and they expect strong competition between would-be vendors.

During the trial, many of the problems with vehicles did not lie with the propulsion systems, but with other factors such as vehicle quality, doors and heating. This implies that the ability to actually build a reliable bus is at least as important as packaging the electric technology, and bidders with a track record as bus builders should have an advantage.

A question arose about why management needs to have negotiation authority now when the trial period is still underway. Staff claim that this is needed to begin the process so that eBus deliveries can begin in 2023 rather than pushing the hybrid-to-eBus transition out to 2024. This puts the TTC Board in the difficult position of handing authority for a major procurement to management with little oversight of the decision, but that appears to be how the Board prefers to operate.

Commissioner Ron Lalonde asked whether a larger bus fleet would be needed to compensate for charging time. Case replied that at current battery capacity and usage, so-called “long range” buses can operate for only about 15 hours. This covers only about 40 per cent of TTC service as it is now scheduled. (Many diesel and hybrid buses enter service for the AM peak and stay out until well into the evening.) Various options are available to address this:

  • Reschedule routes so that vehicles return to the garage before they run out of charge. With a 15 hour limit, this constrains vehicles to operate from the AM peak until the early evening, or from the PM peak through late evening.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell buses were mentioned by Case as a longer-range option, although they bring their own challenges.
  • On route charging was also mentioned, but with no details such as a distinction between charging stations such as those used in other eBus systems, or in-motion charging using trolleybus overhead.

Case advised that in the short term, eBuses would be used on routes where their range was not an issue, and that options to expand charging options could be left to the future.

Lalonde asked that management provide an ongoing comparison of the economics of eBuses with comparison to hybrids so that the Board can follow the evolution of the technology.

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong took the, for him, unusual step of promoting himself as an advocate for green technology. He noted that according to a Columbia University Study (done for New York’s MTA), although the capital costs of eBuses are higher than for other technologies, this is offset by lower operating costs and the green benefits are, essentially, a free benefit of converting. (The situation is a bit more complicated than this because the analysis also includes health care savings that do not accrue to the transit budget.) He did not mention that capital purchases are much more heavily subsidized than operating costs, and this has a beneficial effect on the TTC’s bottom line and City subsidy requirements.

There was only limited discussion of the proposed arrangement with Ontario Power Generation and Toronto Hydro for the supply and operation of the electrical distribution and charging systems. Responding to a question about various configurations of lease and purchase of system components, Bem Case noted that it is to the TTC’s advantage to buy buses and to specify an industry standard charging system because this avoids being locked into a single vehicle that is part of a vendor/lessor’s offering. This keeps electricity supply separate from vehicle selection.

An important factor in the timing of the planned order is the availability of federal subsidy. It is ironic that the feds will be pushing the transit market to buy eBuses as part of their “green” strategy, when a predecessor government (Paul Martin was PM at the time) forced the purchase of early generation hybrid buses that were quite troublesome.

An annoying part of the discussion was the TTC’s penchant for being the best and biggest and first in whatever they might do. Many other cities are testing eBuses. Toronto is not the only one with a cold climate (Edmonton and Winnipeg, for example, are much worse). Despite repeated statements that this order would give Toronto the largest fleet of electric buses in North America, the existence of two large trolleybus systems (Vancouver and San Francisco) was not acknowledged.

TTC management would do well in future reports to include more comparative data and experience from other cities. This should not be difficult considering that they chair a regular online meeting of 26 properties who are testing and operating these vehicles.

The staff recommendations were amended by a motion from Commissioner Bradford asking management to include in their next Green Bus report a fleet plan showing the TTC’s existing fleet, potential eBus allocations and possible deployments to routes.

The presentation included a chart showing the planned rollout/conversion of garages to electric operation. This shows that the intent is a gradual buildup of eBus operations across all garages rather than full conversion of a few sites early in the program. This plan distributes whatever problems might arise with eBuses across the system, but more importantly it defers the need for large scale hydro infrastucture until 2024 and beyond.

This chart was included in the online presentation and is clipped from the video, but it is not included in the online presentation deck.

Ontario Line Maintenance & Storage Facility

Updated April 12, 2021 at 9:30 pm:

The map of the northern segment of the Ontario Line published by Metrolinx in their October 2020 blog article has been added for reference. Scroll down to the end of the article.

Metrolinx has unveiled a plan for the Ontario Line’s Maintenance and Storage Facility north of Thorncliffe Park. Because of the local terrain, green space and the Hydro corridor (not shown on the map below), this is split into three distinct sections:

  • The main buildings are west of Beth Nealson Drive north of the Don River.
  • Some servicing areas are in a long spur parallel to the CPR corridor. This will also be the location of a delivery track where vehicles will arrive from the manufacturer.
  • The storage yard will be in an area now occupied by various shops and offices as well as a mosque.

Here is a satellite view from Google Maps rotated to match the orientation of the map above.

Source: Google Maps

The area to be occupied by the yard at the north end of Thorncliffe Park Drive West is shown below. This was taken before the Costco building went up on the vacant land in the upper right of the photo. The Ontario line will run north from Overlea Boulevard along the west edge of this property.

Source: Google Earth

Google Street View east from Thorncliffe Park Drive at the future storage yard.

The area for the main buildings on Beth Nealson Drive is shown below as it currently exists.

Source: Google Earth

According to the Metrolinx Blog article on this plan, the site was chosen from a list of nine. Metrolinx has not published the other locations that were considered.

The work we did to identify the best site for the MSF and yard will be pulled together as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report that will be available in 2022.

We can let you know we looked at land near the western terminus at Exhibition all the way to the east and to the northern end of the alignment. A list of nine sites were brought forward for more detailed analysis, some of which were ruled out because they weren’t big enough or they affected too many businesses and jobs.

The site in the southeast portion of the Leaside Business Park was selected because our studies showed that it keeps impacts to the local community to a minimum while meeting all of the needs for the project:

• it is already zoned for industrial use;

• it is close to the main line, making it quick and easy for trains to go in and out of service;

• it is large enough to meet future needs;

• it minimizes community impacts;

• has less individual job impacts.

Email from Metrolinx Media Relations, April 9, 2021

While the northern portion that will house the main buildings might only displace a self-storage farm, the southern portion where the yard will be located sits on top of buildings that are an integral part of the Thorncliffe Park community. What the reaction will be might be gauged at an online meeting to be held on April 15, 2021 at 6:30 pm.

Updated April 12, 2021 at 9:30 pm:

When Metrolinx announced their revised route through Thorncliffe Park in October 2020, they touted the fact that this would avoid disruption of buildings such as the Macedonian Orthodox Cathedral. The map of the revised route is below.

Note the area labelled “MSF Study Area”. This is the location, in the updated plan, for the Operation and Maintenance building. The area at the north end of Thorncliffe Park Drive West is not touched by the line and there would be no reason for anyone to raise flags about the businesses and institutions already there.

The yard which is now part of the complex is completely new, and there was no advance indication that this would be part of the design.

On a related note, one of the comments below from Simon Hirst suggests that an alternate location might be the land on the other side of the CPR corridor now occupied by a gravel and cement company. This is visible as a white patch directly above the “MSF Study Area” in the Metrolinx map above (where “north” is to the right, and “west” is up), and in the view below which is a closer view of the same area in the usual geographic orientation.

Source: Google Maps

If that area were to be used, a connection tunnel would have to go under the CPR to link with the Ontario Line whose main shops and offices would be where the brown-roofed buildings labelled “Toronto Moving and Storage” are in the upper right of the photo.

Because Metrolinx has not published its list of alternative sites, we do not know whether this option was considered but rejected for some reason.

Metrolinx does not plan to publish its alternative site analysis until Fall 2022 with the Environmental Project Report, but they also intend to let the contract the includes construction of the MSF and yard at roughly the same time precluding major changes in design.

TTC Plans Massive eBus Order

At its coming meeting on April 14, 2021, the Toronto Transit Commission will consider two reports that, if adopted, will begin a transition to an all-electric fleet over the coming decades.

Although the first report’s title suggests that this is simply an update on the trial of 60 eBuses now in progress, in fact the report includes recommendations for eBus purchases:

The Board delegate authority to the TTC CEO to undertake a public procurement through issuance of a Negotiated Request for Proposal (NRFP) and enter into up to two contracts for the supply of approximately 300 long-range, battery-electric buses (eBuses), based on the following:

a. Limit the total contract award amount, including all applicable taxes, and project delivery costs to within the approved funding of approximately $300 million;

b. Apply lessons learned through the TTC’s eBus Head-to-Head Evaluation to pre-qualify potential suppliers based on demonstrated compliance with system compatibility requirements and Transport Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Standards;

c. All 300 eBuses to be delivered between Q1 2023 and Q1 2025; and

d. Negotiation of an acceptable agreement that is satisfactory to the TTC General Counsel.

Procurement

The TTC plans a split contract to two vendors. Based on experience to date, this would seem to guarantee work to New Flyer Industries [NFI] but a second vendor is a more difficult question.

The TTC raises important caveats:

When reviewing this report, it is important to understand that the findings are specific to the eBus models procured, and to how those buses have performed in the TTC’s operating environment. As a result, the findings of this report may not be applicable to other transit authorities. Further, as the results are preliminary, we expect that action plans across all vendors will result in improvements to vehicle and vendor performance that will be reflected in our next report on the eBus head-to-head evaluation in Q1 2022.

As well, new eBuses offered by BYD, NFI and Proterra are expected to address system compatibility issues, which for the TTC will be critical for the successful adoption of this technology.

Eventually, TTC management has to qualify or disqualify each would-be vendor, but clearly we are nowhere near that point.

Under normal circumstances, the TTC would have an open bid on which any vendor could make an offer. An invited bid creates a process where we must trust that no untoward influence occurs. Considering the unseemly way in which BYD elbowed its way to the table through lobbying and a direct sales pitch to the Board in the guise of a “deputation”, a closed process could be subject to challenge depending on who is invited to bid, and who is excluded.

It is totally unclear why management seeks authority to negotiate a contract at this time when the head-to-head comparison has a year still to run and the vendors might, or might not, correct performance problems in the meantime. Conversely, none of the vendors in the trial has a vehicle that comes close to meeting the performance of the hybrid fleet.

Assuming that Nova Bus, a major Canadian supplier whose vehicles were not in the trial, is asked to bid, it will be interesting to see what types of vehicle they will offer. The TTC plans to pre-qualify bidders based on experience in the trial, and it is hard to understand how, within this constraint, Nova Bus would be invited unless the TTC uses experience from other properties as a reference.

One expected outcome of converting to eBuses is that by 2040:

Vehicle reliability and availability will have increased by an estimated 25%

It is not clear what the base for this improvement is. Is the TTC including its aging diesel fleet in the baseline, or speaking relative to the hybrids already in operation?

Aside from transparency, the results to date raise another key issue. Suppose that eBuses simply do not attain the performance and reliability we have come to expect from transit buses. Do we embrace the technology in the hopes that it will catch up and for the larger “green” agenda, and will we provide adequate budget to the TTC to handle the extra cost of ownership?

Throughout the evaluation report, there are many points under the heading “Lessons Learned”. For readers’ convenience, I have consolidated these in one document. They show just how many topics require a hard-nosed negotiating position by the TTC together with credible vehicle performance data.

There are few surprises, but clearly the TTC intends to go into this bus procurement cycle with is eyes open. Many of these lessons depend on work still underway as part of the trial making the delegation of purchase negotiation authority to staff at this stage even more troubling.

Quite bluntly, the proposed procurement process does not make sense and leaves Toronto open to being saddled with less than ideal vehicles. The authority to negotiate a purchase should be deferred until the results through 2021 are known, and the eligibility (or not) of Nova Bus as a potential supplier is clarified.

Fleet Planning

Updated April 10 at 8:20 pm: The original table of buses incorrectly showed vehicles 1000 to 1689 as diesels when they are, of course, hybrids. This is corrected below.

The TTC is not prepared to completely switch its purchases to eBuses because the technology is not yet mature. Purchase of 300 hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) was authorized by the Board in October 2020. Together, the orders would allow eBus and HEV technology to displace about forty percent of diesel fleet where many buses are near end of life.

What is not clear is the proportion of net new vs replacement vehicles in the 600 bus procurement, nor of the amount of additional service that the refresh of the fleet on this scale will represent. As I write this article, I await the TTC’s provision of an updated fleet plan showing the overall fleet size, service allocations and maintenance spare factors for coming years.

The current bus fleet numbers 2,113 vehicles of which 1,404 are diesels.

Adapted from Scheduled Service Summary for February 14, 2021 (p. 74)

The purchase calendar for new buses in the October 2020 fleet plan shows that the TTC anticipated more than 600 buses in the coming five years, but the number is capped by available funding.

Over recent years, the TTC increased its spare factor in response to dropping vehicle reliability and increased technical complexity. A tactic to offset this was to shift from an 18-year to a 12-year replacement cycle so that buses are retired before they reach an age where maintenance needs rise and reliability drops. This has an obvious effect on capital budgets, and that is compounded by the current premium paid for electric buses compared to diesels.

An important part of buying new buses and a new technology is the hoped-for improvement in vehicle reliability and availability. This would mean that the size of the fleet needed to provide a given level of service would go down. For example, if the spare factor is 20%, then a 120-bus fleet is required in order to field 100 of them in peak service. If the fleet overall becomes more reliable and the spare factor can be lowered, this translates to savings in both capital and operating costs.

Conversely, if new eBus technology cannot achieve a spare ratio equivalent to the existing diesel and HEV fleet, then more buses are needed just to provide the same service. This will be affected not just by reliability factors but by the capacity for charging vehicles that could remain in service through the day. If buses must be scheduled for garage trips simply because they will run out of power, that represents non-productive mileage and driver hours that add to fleet size and operating costs. (An alternative is on-route charging, but the TTC has not yet discussed that option in detail.)

With the shift to HEVs and eBuses, the premise that a bus should only be retained for 12 years may no longer be valid, but it will be at least a decade before we know if the new propulsion technology translates to long-term reliability and a longer replacement cycle. Past experience with trolley buses suggests that eBuses should last longer, but other factors including the robustness of bus bodies and the pace of technology change in the propulsion systems might work against this.

A more subtle problem can arise if a fleet is larger than needed to achieve the target spare factor for an extended period. Surplus “problem” vehicles might be sidelined rather than kept in working order. An organization can reach a point where a larger spare pool becomes part of the maintenance culture and a return to the target level is not as simple in practice as in theory.

For a fleet of 2,113 vehicles a 20% spare factor should allow a scheduled peak service of about 1,761 buses. The peak requirement in May 2021 schedules is about 1,500. Similarly, a streetcar fleet of 204 should allow peak service of 170 vehicles. Whether the TTC will achieve this by the end of 2021 when major overhauls are completed and construction projects affecting streetcar routes will all wind down remains to be seen. Buses now operating on streetcar routes are included in the peak service count, and they would be available for redeployment to bus routes.

This is an issue for the TTC as it moves out of the pandemic era: despite its large fleet, how many vehicles are actually available for service? Do vehicle purchases perpetuate a higher spare ratio? Is the service offered limited by actual vehicle availability, by the number of drivers the TTC hires, or both?

Comparing eBuses with Hybrid Bus Performance

Over the course of testing their 60-vehicle fleet of eBuses, the TTC used its existing Nova Bus hybrid fleet as a comparative benchmark. Despite problems with early generations of hybrids, reliability of recent purchases has been quite good. If an eBus cannot at least match this reliability, this has grave implications for service planning and ongoing costs. It is all very well to be “green”, but a bus in a garage for extra maintenance work chews up funding that could be better used to serve riders.

A very high level comparison of the four fleets for four key criteria appears below. There are many other factors in the evaluation, but these are considered essential. Of the three eBus vendors, only New Flyer avoids the “Needs Improvement” flag in this key group.

Note that Nova Bus was not part of this trial because they did not have a “long range” vehicle capable of extended service when the TTC issued its RFQ.

When the TTC procured its eBus fleet, Nova Bus did not offer a long-range battery electric bus. However, it is now building on its experience with HEVs and opportunity charged battery-electric buses to offer a long-range bus starting in 2022.

For clarity, “opportunity charging” refers to the use of charging stations installed along routes where buses can recharge “on the fly” using a pantograph to link to an overhead power feed.

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Infrastructure Ontario’s April 2021 Update

Infrastructure Ontario issues quarterly updates about the projects it is managing for P3 procurement, and I have been tracking the transportation items on this site. Their April 2021 Market Update came out on April 8, but I have been waiting for clarification of some issues before posting here.

Here is a spreadsheet tracking changes in project status since these updates began.

Items highlighted in yellow have changed since the last update.

Note that this report only covers the procurement portions of Metrolinx projects that are undertaken through Infrastructure Ontario. Contracts that are in construction, or are directly tendered and managed through Metrolinx outside of the P3 model, do not appear here.

Ontario Line, Line 1 North Extension (Richmond Hill Subway), Line 4 Sheppard East Subway

There are no changes to these projects in this update.

Line 2 East Extension (Scarborough Subway)

As previously announced, the tunneling contract gets underway this spring. The contract for the remainder of the project (stations etc.) enters the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) stage this spring/summer, but contract execution is not expected until spring 2023.

Note that vehicles for the extension will be procured as part of a TTC order for fleet expansion and renewal that does not show up in the IO updates.

Line 5 Eglinton West Extension

As previously announced, the tunneling contract gets underway this spring. There is no date yet for the remainder of the project to enter the RFQ stage.

GO Expansion Projects

Metrolinx came up with a new term for procurement, the “alliance” model where more responsibility for the project is shifted back onto Metrolinx as owner rather than expecting bidders to take on a substantial project risk. This showed up in the Union Station platform expansion project early in 2020.

In this round of updates, things appear to have gone a step further. Three projects (Lake Shore East and West Corridors, and the Milton Corridor) are reduced in dollar value. I asked Infrastructure Ontario about this, and they replied:

Since the previous Market Update (Dec 2020), there have been some changes in scope of work for these projects. Items which have been descoped may be carried out by Metrolinx in the future under separate, traditionally-procured contracts. The intent is to better manage risks and costs with respect to the GO Expansion program.

As these projects remain in procurement, we will provide further updates this spring/summer.

Email from Ian McConachie, IO Media Relations, April 9, 2021

Specific changes by corridor:

CorridorChange (per Infrastructure Ontario)Previous CostUpdated Cost
Lakeshore WestDescoping of Exhibition Station in-corridor enhancement works and track improvements, Clarkson Station and Bronte Station in-corridor enhancement works.$500M-$1B$200-500M
Lakeshore East-Central Descoping of Scarboro Golf Club Works and 2.5km of grading (previously part of LSE-E) and deferral of Highland Creek Expansion $200-499M$100-200M
Milton Descoping of Station Operations West Facility and replacing the pedestrian tunnel with a pedestrian bridge. $100-199M< $100M

The project formerly called “Milton Corridor” is now called “Milton Station”.

A separate project line, Lakeshore East-West Corridor, dropped off of the IO Update in mid-2020. The project was transferred to Metrolinx for delivery as a non-P3 contract.

The comment about “better manage risks and costs” is telling here, and it implies that the P3 model has not worked out as favourably as hoped for all of Metrolinx’ work. In some cases it is simpler and cheaper to just go out and buy/build something yourself than to set up elaborate machinery for others to do this for you.

Notably the $10B GO “ON-Corr” project which entails a complete restructuring of GO including future operation, maintenance and electrification has not changed status in a year. With GO’s ridership uncertain in the near term, projecting just what Metrolinx might ask a P3 to undertake, let alone contracting for it, is like peering into a very cloudy crystal ball.

TTC Service Changes: Sunday, May 9, 2021

The May schedules will bring many changes across the TTC network including:

  • Streetcar network changes due to construction projects
  • Route reorganizations in Downsview and Scarborough
  • Many service reductions due to reduced pandemic-era riding
  • Some service improvements to address crowding

Updated April 10, 2021 at 9:35 pm: References to “117 York University Heights” in the spreadsheet of detailed changes have been corrected to route “107”.

Streetcar Changes

Construction continues at the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles intersection. Phase 1 now underway is planned to run through August 2021. In Phase 2, work will shift to other parts of the intersection. The full project is planned to run through late 2021.

The only schedule change in May for this project is to give the Roncesvalles 504G shuttle additional running time.

The central-west Queen reconstruction includes conversion of overhead west from Parliament Street for pantograph operation as well as track replacement from University to Fennings (west of Dufferin). The 501 Queen streetcar service will divert via Parliament to King and will loop at Spadina via Charlotte Street. The 501L/P Queen bus service will be extended to Broadview Avenue.

The 503 Kingston Road service which also loops at Spadina & King will be adjusted so that headways and service blend with the 501 Queen service.

Water main reconstruction on Broadview between Danforth and Gerrard will require a bus shuttle until late in 2021. A 504D King shuttle will operate from Broadview Station to Front & Parliament via King. This will replace both the 504 King and 505 Dundas streetcar service north of Gerrard.

All 504 King service will run between Dufferin and Distillery Loops. Service west of Dufferin will continue to be provided by the 504Q shuttle between Shaw and Triller. Service east of Parliament will be provided by the 504D shuttle.

All 505 Dundas service will terminate at Broadview looping via Parliament and Gerrard.

Reconstruction of the overhead for pantographs on the east end of 506 Carlton as well as construction work at Main Station will be complete, and streetcar service will resume over the full route from Main Station to High Park Loop.

Weekday service on 510 Spadina will all terminate at Queens Quay Loop. Riders bound for Union Station will have to transfer to 509 Harbourfront. Weekend and overnight 310 Spadina service is unchanged.

Streetcars from 512 St. Clair running out of service via Bathurst southbound will no longer loop through Bathurst Station to avoid blocking the road and sidewalk when the platform is occupied by a 511 Bathurst car. 512 cars entering service will continue to run through the loop northbound.

The resulting streetcar network is shown in the map below.

Service Reorganizations

Two service reorganizations will occur in May.

In Scarborough, the 116 Morningside service will be consolidated so that all trips operate to Finch. The branch to Conlins Road will now be served by an extension of the 905 Eglinton East Express route.

In Downsview, the 107 St. Regis and 117 Alness-Chesswood routes will be combined as one route 107 York University Heights as shown in the map below.

Service details are in the spreadsheet at the end of the article.

Service Reductions and Improvements

The list of changes for May includes many routes under the heading of pandemic-related service reductions. This is also a time of year when seasonal effects would normally trigger reductions across the system.

Routes with service improvements:

  • 35 Jane M-F peaks
  • 92 Woodbine South weekends (seasonal)
  • 96 Wilson M-F peaks improved; early evening service blended with 165 Weston Road North
  • 102 Markham Road service improvements and reallocation from 102A Centennial branch to 102B Steeles branch
  • 119 Torbarrie new midday service
  • 121 Fort York-Esplande extensions to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach (seasonal)
  • 126 Christie Sunday/Holiday service adjusted to be consistent with weekday schedules
  • 165 Weston Road North service improved; early evening service blended with 96 Wilson
  • 175 Bluffers Park (seasonal)
  • 509 Harbourfront M-F (seasonal)
  • 510 Spadina M-F service consolidated to Spadina Avenue
  • 924 Victoria Park Express weekday peak service restored
  • 927D Highway 27 Express M-F peak service to Steeles
  • 929 Dufferin Express: articulated vehicles replace standard length buses
  • 989 Weston Express weekday peak service restored

Routes with service reductions:

  • 1 Yonge University weekends
  • 512 St. Clair M-F
  • 6 Bay M-F
  • 7 Bathurst M-F
  • 11 Bayview M-F peaks
  • 23 Dawes AM Peak
  • 24 Victoria Park M-F early evening
  • 32 Eglinton West (weekday running times reduced due to less Line 5 construction delay)
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 38 Highland Creek M-F early evening
  • 52 Lawrence West M-F midday and late evening
  • 60 Steeles West M-F midday and early evening
  • 63 Ossington M-F St. Clair 63B short turn trips reduced
  • 66 Prince Edward M-F peak service on 66B to Lake Shore reduced
  • 71 Runnymede M-F peaks
  • 73 Royal York M-F
  • 75 Sherbourne M-F (seasonal)
  • 76 Royal York South M-F
  • 88 South Leaside M-F peaks
  • 94 Wellesley M-F
  • 100 Flemingdon Park M-F AM peak and midday
  • 106 Sentinel M-F peaks and midday
  • 109 Ranee M-F PM peak
  • 113 Danforth M-F peaks
  • 129 McCowan North M-F
  • 134/913 Progress M-F
  • 900 Airport Express weekends
  • 927C Highway 27 Express to Humber College (seasonal)

Routes with revised schedules for reliability

The effect of reliability changes varies from route to route. Usually, the change involves adding running time without adding buses so that scheduled service becomes less frequent. In some cases, running times are trimmed to reflect changing traffic conditions such as the wind-up of construction projects

  • 14 Glencairn
  • 26 Dupont
  • 29 Dufferin
  • 32 Eglinton West
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 86 Scarborough
  • 116 Morningside
  • 127 Davenport
  • 929 Dufferin Express
  • 941 Keele Express

For details of service plans and changes, please see the spreadsheet linked below.

2021.05.09_Service_Changes_V2

Ontario Line Design Changes Again (2)

This article is a follow-up to Ontario Line Design Changes Again including material from a new Metrolinx blog post.

As previously reported, Metrolinx has changed the track configuration between Corktown and Gerrard Stations on the Ontario Line so that both OL tracks are on the same side (north/west) of the rail corridor rather than straddling the four-track GO corridor.

When the Ontario Line was announced with much fanfare, a great deal was made by Metrolinx of the across-the-platform transfer connections possible at both Exhibition and East Harbour Stations with the GO Lakeshore corridor. The explicit benefit was to offload of GO/TTC transfer traffic from Union Station.

This design fell off the table (quietly) last year at Exhibition Station, but until quite recently, it was still advanced as the rationale for the OL’s configuration in this segment.

Now it too has disappeared and both OL tracks will be on the same side of the corridor. This actually makes life easier for Metrolinx designers including:

  • only one shared centre platform rather than two would be needed at stations, and only one set of vertical accesses (stairs, escalators, elevators);
  • electrification of GO will be relatively isolated from that for the OL which will run on a different voltage and probably a different height of overhead above the rails;
  • only one bridge rather than two will be required to carry the OL across the Don River;
  • only one tunnel portal will be required at Gerrard rather than two;
  • no tunnels under the rail corridor will be required to shift the eastbound OL first to the south side at East Harbour and then back to the north side at Gerrard;
  • there is room at East Harbour for platforms for all four GO tracks, not just the two outer ones, permitting this to be an express and local station as befits its location at a major development node.

Considering that Metrolinx is all about building projects more efficiently, one has to wonder why they didn’t pursue this configuration from the outset unless that cross-platform transfer was a holy grail untouchable until now.

The change is promoted as the result of listening to the community where more than a little opposition to the OL came from its intrusiveness and potential effect on buildings and open spaces. Until quite recently, Metrolinx defended their original design against all criticism.

Their tune has changed:

Re-positioning Ontario Line tracks at East Harbour means all Lakeshore East and Stouffville GO train services can stop at the station – something that wasn’t possible with the previous design. With a shared concourse providing easy access to all of the rail services that will serve East Harbour, more customers will be able to transfer between more trains, and travel to more places.

Customers who will be boarding the stations at Queen and De Grassi and at Gerrard and Carlaw will also see more benefits because, no matter what entrance they use, they’ll arrive at a centre platform that serves trains in both directions. They won’t have to worry about getting to platform level just to realize their train is on the other side of the rail corridor, accessed through a different station building. This will create a simpler, more accessible experience for everyone who uses the station.

[…]

But the improvements to the track positioning means teams can cut down on the amount of station buildings needed as well, which means even fewer impacts to the parks that have been developed around the active rail corridor over the years.

The line now occupies slightly less space than before, although the diagrams above are not engineering drawings showing the exact scope of work before and after the redesign.

Metrolinx is still silent on the need for or absence of crash walls between the GO rails, the Ontario Line and nearby buildings. These would add to the total width of the corridor.

Metrolinx would do well to show more detail for their new plan all the way from the Don River to the portal(s) at Gerrard.

Another round of community consultation is planned in coming weeks.

Yet Another Fantasy Map Clouds Regional Planning

On March 29, 2021, the Toronto Region Board of Trade released a proposal Getting on the Right Track – Connecting Communities With Regional Rail as the second of a planned series that will eventually include:

I reviewed the first report in The Siren Song of Regional Fare Integration and will not duplicate my comments on the Board of Trade’s fare proposals beyond the level needed to explain how the scheme in Getting on the Right Track dovetails with this.

From the title of the article, one can easily guess that I was not entranced with the Board’s proposal, and I should make clear why right at the outset.

First: Although the plan includes a very robust regional network with frequent service on all GO corridors, there is too much talk of how everything will work when it is finished, and not enough about how we actually get from here to there.

Second: As with so much regional planning that comes out of Metrolinx, there is no discussion of last mile costs and service, nor of the burden local municipalities would face in providing them. Yes, a “last mile” report is in the offing, but this could range anywhere from massive increases in publicly funded local transit to an embrace of ride sharing services. The report contains not even a hint of how the vastly improved service will get riders to and from its stations.

Third: The focus is very strongly on Toronto (the 416) where there is an established transit system that can provide frequent service at connection points, but less on how this would scale outward into the 905 and beyond.

Fourth: The Invisible Line report and its fare-by-distance proposal is assumed as a pre-requisite even though there is no agreement that this is how fares should and will be calculated. In particular, its gerrymandering of fare zone boundaries and the tariff has not been subject to critical review outside of venues such as this blog.

Many proposals in Getting on the Right Track are good and provide a level of background we have not seen from the nominal regional planner Metrolinx, an agency that prefers to save proposals for Ministerial photo ops and routinely hides details under confidentiality provisions.

To give Metrolinx their due, a key shortcoming in the Board of Trade’s report is that it does not clarify which parts of its proposal are works already in the Metrolinx pipeline, and which are net additions to the scheme. Indeed, maps purporting to show regional networks and travel times do not even acknowledge rapid transit lines planned and under construction that will open within the timeframe of the Board’s proposal.

An untutored reader might think that almost nothing is underway, that the Board has returned from the mountaintop with the one true word on regional transit.

Finally, and particularly toward the end of the report, elements creep in which feel like pet rail projects with only minimal evaluation. They are included either because the Board sought to curry favour with politicians in the affected areas, or because someone had too many crayons to play with. I leave it to the dedicated reader to peruse those parts of the report.

There is a sense throughout that what might have been a reasonable proposal for Metrolinx to aim higher in its plans evolved into a design exercise that substitutes detail and volume for practicality.

“Organization Before Technology Before Concrete”

On page 20, the Board makes a key observation, if only by implication, about how transit is planned in the GTHA by citing a practice elsewhere:

The German-speaking world has propounded the planning and engineering doctrine of “organization before technology before concrete.” The highest priority is to resolve issues of organization, which includes factors like fare and service integration between agencies. Then, technology, such as better signalling systems and rolling stock, should be improved. The last priority is the building of new infrastructure, like additional tracks and grade separations on corridors. This prioritization provides the most economically efficient means of improving service and capacity on a network.

Getting on the Right Track, p. 20

This is one of several cases where there is an implicit, if not explicit observation that the way “we” do business is out of step with good practices elsewhere, or even just common sense here. However, the Board has violated its own principle by driving through an entire network design exercise without clearly figuring out goals, not to mention the basic question of how much we might be prepared to spend on this transit network.

“We” is a tricky term here because there are three levels of government each of which prefers to fund only certain types of service and infrastructure, and each has significant blind spots in the financing and funding of public transit.

In this article, I will not attempt an exhaustive review because even my readers have limits to their patience. Moreover, there are points where one must peer very deeply into the crystal ball, make too many assumptions about actual future circumstances. If our current situation teaches anything, it is that the future will change.

Guiding Principles

This section is buried down on page 21, and yet it is absolutely key to the entire discussion. It is so important that I will include its text here.

Drawing from international best practices, it is possible to demonstrate five guiding principles that form part of successful implementations of regional rail. Based on these principles, it is possible to design a network and operations plan for the Toronto Region.

Two-way, All-day Service

The majority of trips in any region – even work trips – do not involve the downtown core and do not take place at rush hour. A service plan that provides service all day, every day is essential if a regional rail system is to become a core part of the regional transit network.

High Frequency (turn up and go)

Research by Transport for London indicates that riders on routes with a frequency of 12 minutes or less will not need to consult a schedule and can instead simply “turn up and go.”

This level of service has been demonstrated to drive major increases in ridership. Frequency is even more important when making connections because wait times can multiply when a trip involves several connecting segments, and a missed connection could result in an unacceptable delay.

Seamless Integration with Local Transit

On a busy commuter rail service like GO Transit, park-and-ride lots fill up early in the morning. That makes them effectively useless for mid-day travellers. For two-way, all-day service, there needs to be another way to access the station. Transit-oriented development can play a role – and provides a major opportunity for recovery of regional rail investment – but as the TTC subway demonstrates, the most effective way to deliver large numbers of riders is by seamlessly integrating rail with local bus and streetcar services. That means fully integrated fares – a transfer is an inconvenience, so you should not have to pay more for it. It also means having bus routes designed to connect with stations, additional rail stations to connect with busy surface corridors, and schedules with timed transfers where necessary. The objective is to create the equivalent of a subway backbone for the whole region, serving local trips as much as long-haul. By being a backbone of a broader transit network, regional rail does not just serve residents of neighbourhoods adjacent to stations – it serves everyone in the region.

Focus on Equity

Planning should intend to prioritize improved access to employment opportunities and services for equity-seeking communities. This means reducing travel times, locating additional stations where they would serve communities like the City of Toronto’s Neighbourhood Improvement Areas, and ensuring that fares are not prohibitively expensive. Transit must function as an integrated network, particularly for those who rely on it for all their trips so it is imperative that no transit mode be deemed “premium.”

Integration with Regional Planning

With its region-wide extent and high level of service, regional rail should become a centrepiece of regional planning. In Copenhagen, for example, all substantial office developments must be located within walking distance of a rail station. This would not be possible today in Toronto, given the limited size of the existing rapid transit network, but it could be possible with regional rail. Greenfield suburban developments could be designed around rail stations, creating “15-minute communities” oriented to walking and cycling, rather than following the traditional auto-oriented pattern centred on concession road blocks. Regional rail is the most feasible path to a truly transit-oriented region.

These are key principles not just for a regional rail network, but for transit in general. They run counter to so much of what would-be transit riders are fobbed off with.

“High frequency” really does mean frequent service, not a train now and then when it is convenient to run one. This requires a commitment to both capital and operating costs for the rail network.

“Seamless integration” means an end to assuming that parking will solve all access problems, and that the rail system’s revenue stream is sacrosanct. The concept of a “premium” service as a justification to charge higher fares on part of the network simply does not work if the rail lines are the key, backbone component of a whole. This is an example of how looking at only one aspect – fare revenue – distracts from the larger picture of the potential contribution and value of the rail network for mobility.

As for regional rail and planning, this is a fascinating position for the Board of Trade because it implies that we would dictate where development could and could not occur. Will we also consider network effects of overbuilding at selected “hot” development nodes, and the implications for road congestion and pollution of allowing growth away from transit stations?

The Trillium Network

Yes, it’s a branding exercise, and the Board makes no bones about this. It has a nice sound, and it uses the provincial flower. The name and logo might even survive a change of government. There is a spiffy map.

The key point in this design is that services are through-routed at Union Station and arranged in a manner to avoid conflict between four main corridors: Lake Shore, Kitchener-Don-Richmond Hill, Barrie-Don and Milton-Lincolnville. This is not new, and Metrolinx has talked about the need to reorganize its service in a similar way as part of its expansion program.

Services have route numbers all starting with “T” although the nomenclature could be confusing if a scheduler decides that trains will operate between some other pair of endpoints. The combined service through Union Station is impressive with the intent of a massive increase both in GO’s capacity and its usefulness as a regional and local carrier.

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