This article continues comments written before the TTC Board meeting of September 24, 2020. The staff presentation had more information than in the report linked from the agenda.
The following chart was included in my first article on the TTC’s Covid response. The red and green lines in this chart marks the number of trips that accumulated more than a 30% and 50% load respectively. The 30% load has been the target for service through the summer, but this is challenging to achieve for a few reasons.
Demand on the bus network has recovered more quickly than on the rest of the system and now stands at almost 50%. This is not evenly distributed by route or time of day, and there will be trips that routinely face higher demand than can be handled.
However, on some routes, notably those that formerly had express services, the revised all-local service is well below the average of 85% of pre-covid service the TTC commonly cites. In a few cases, routes have only half of their previous service unless unscheduled extras are added to compensate.
TTC management note that both the green and red curves turned downward slightly in early September, and attribute this to the operation of more unscheduled buses than in earlier months thanks to operators who have been recalled from layoff.
The more severe challenge, however, is that there simply are not enough buses and operators even at full service to provide generous spacing with demand at 50% of pre-covid levels, let alone higher proportions.
More operators will be recalled in October 2020 and this will add to on-demand service for school travel, particularly in the midday which now will have peaks that did not previously exist as half-day attendees switch over from the morning to the afternoon panel.
The success of using demand responsive service will be seen in how these stats behave in coming weeks.
Sept 26, 2020: Revised to include the change in financing method for the OnCorr GO Corridor project.
Is The P3 Model Falling Apart?
Two revisions in the large GO project procurement model involve a change from private sector financing to traditional government borrowing.
This suggests that the market willingness to finance projects on behalf of the government, or at least to do so at rates competitive with direct government borrowing, may be on the wane. That implies that the “P3” model may be coming unglued.
At its heart, this was always seen as an accounting mechanism to shift debt off of the government’s books, and without this shell game, a major argument for P3s could vanish.
The Future of Electrification
The change in financing model could shift any decision on propulsion technology back to the government.
Metrolinx had pushed this off its plate by saying that the bidders who were going to design and operate a future GO network would make that choice. This punted the knotty political problem of hydrogen trains touted former Premier McGuinty out of Metrolinx itself.
Will Ontario be willing to finance the large up-front capital costs of electrification itself with so many other pressures on financial resources, or is electrification about to fall out of consideration while spending focuses on service expansion?
The project is in three sections of which the last will be the “Northern Civil, Stations and Tunnel” which includes the portion of the line east of the Don River and north to Eglinton, but not the Maintenance Facility which is included with the “South Civil” portion as it is needed relatively early in the project.
Some of the work on the North section between the Don River and Gerrard Station might be undertaken as part of the GO Corridor improvements, but exactly what this might entail has not been made public.
Since the last update, there are three changes for the North section:
The date for RFQ (Request for Qualifications) issue has been changed from Winter to Spring 2022.
The RFP (Request for Proposals) issue has been changed from Spring 2022 to Fall 2022.
The Financial Close (in effect, the contract signing) has been changed from Fall 2023 to Spring 2024.
The remaining portions of the line are on the same timeline as before.
The timelines for this project, with financial close for the first two portions in fall 2022 and for the third in spring 2024 puts this beyond the next provincial election expected in mid 2022, the four-year anniversary of the Ford government’s election. Who will be in place to make final decisions, and what the government’s financial position will be by then, remain to be seen.
Line 2 East Extension (Scarborough Subway)
This project is now shown with two portions: one for the tunnel, and the other for the stations, railway and systems.
There is no change in the tunnel portion of the project, but the remaining portion has reverted to the dates shown for the overall project in the Winter 2020 update.
GO Expansion Lakeshore West Corridor
The financial close for this project has been changed from Winter 2021 to Spring 2021.
GO Expansion Lakeshore East-West Corridor
This was originally to have been a “Build-Finance” project, but it is now “Design-Bid-Build”, a change that was made in August 2020 according to the IO report.
GO OnCorr Projects
[Added to this article on September 26, 2020]
This is a very large project including future operation of GO Transit and possible changes in the propulsion technology.
The procurement model has been changed from “DBOFM” (Design-Build-Operate-Finance-Maintain) to “DBOM”. The proponent will no longer finance the project which has a projected value of over $10 billion.
The TTC will make changes on several of its routes in the schedules taking effect Thanksgiving weekend. Among the updates, the major groups are:
Changes to 116 Morningside, 86 Scarborough and 12 Kingston Road related to the implementation of the bus-only lanes on Eglinton, Kingston Road and Morningside.
Restoration of service on 905 Eglinton East and 986 Scarborough express services, also as part of the bus-only lane implementation.
A substantial increase in the number of 600-series crews (run as directed buses) to provide service for school trips.
Service cuts on certain routes during poor-performing periods.
Removal of seasonal services.
Eglinton East Bus Lanes
The travel time savings have two effects on routes, sometimes a mixture of both:
Reduced travel times allow the same level of service to be provided by fewer buses.
Reduced travel times allow service improvements by retaining the existing allocation of buses.
Service on the 86/986 Scarborough corridor will improve during peak periods with the return of the express service. The total number of buses operating on the two routes will be increased, even though running time savings allow some reductions in the number of buses allocated.
Weekday midday and early evening service on 86 Scarborough will be reduced by the elimination of the 86B Highland Creek service.
During all other periods, there is generally a reduction of one bus on 86 Scarborough but no change in service levels. This is made possible by the anticipated faster travel times on the reserved lanes.
The 986 Express service is restored at approximately the same service level as in March 2020, but with one less bus because of travel time savings.
On 116 Morningside, there are minor improvements in service during some periods by using the same vehicles on shorter travel times.
The 905 Express service is restored with the same number of vehicles as in the March 2020 schedules except for the AM peak and midday weekdays. This provides slightly more frequent service during all periods except the AM peak (when it is unchanged) due to reduced trip times.
The 12D Kingston Road to UTSC service will be slightly improved in the PM peak by the addition of one bus. It will also have more, not less, travel time than in the previous schedule and will have generous layover/recovery provisions. It is not clear why the TTC does not simply improve the service and trim the layovers which total over 20 minutes per round trip.
The following seasonal services will not run after Thanksgiving Day, Monday, October 12, 2020:
121D Front-Esplanade service to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach
175 Bluffers Park
The 92 Woodbine South route will revert to its winter schedule due to reduced travel to Woodbine Beach.
Some routes will have service trimmed during periods of light demand to free up resources for the 600 demand-responsive services.
38 Highland Creek weekday late evening
42 Cummer AM peak and weekday late evening
51 Leslie AM and PM peak
56B Leaside to Brentcliffe AM and PM peak service removed with partly offsetting improvements to 56A Leaside to Eglinton Station.
121 Front-Esplanade moves to a 30 minute headway all day on weekdays.
122 Graydon Hall AM peak
134 Progress: All off peak service will operate as 134D to Finch via Centennial College, and articulated buses assigned to some runs on this route will be replaced with standard sized buses.
900 Airport Express early and late weekday evening
927 Highway 27 Express weekday midday
53A Steeles East will have scheduled peak service restored correcting an error when the 953 Steeles Express (which formerly provided this service) was suspended.
During the period when 505 Dundas cars are looping via Lansdowne, College and Ossington due to construction, a 505S shuttle bus will operate between Lansdowne and Ossington on Dundas.
512 St. Clair has operated with a irregular headways due to cancelled runs. These will be restored resulting in much more even scheduled service.
The four east-west corridors detailed in this article share a common characteristic in their schedule changes between the pre-covid winter schedules and the spring-summer versions. The only change has been to remove the 9xx express service without any update to the underlying local services.
In some cases, this represents a substantial cut in the total service provided on portions of the route where roughly half of the “winter” service operated as express trips. Some of these cuts are substantially greater than the TTC’s oft-cited 80-85% level of pre-covid service, and this illustrates an ongoing problem with reporting stats on an average basis that hides the fine detail.
These are long routes where service might not even be well-spaced leaving the terminals, and headways become much worse along the way. The problems cannot be attributed to “congestion” in times of relatively light traffic, and there is clearly no attempt at headway management. In turn, the uneven headways cause crowding well beyond what all-day averages might suggest.
This year, I “attended” the Toronto International Film Festival from the comfort of my bedroom thanks to the near-shutdown of public venues for screenings and my own preference to cocoon during these difficult times.
The end of a festival always has a strange feeling after a week of hanging out in line, chatting with fellow film-lovers, grabbing lunch in favourite restaurants (while not eating or drinking so much I will fall asleep in the next movie). After the last film, the streets are emptier, the cinemas don’t feel like they’re girding for another day, and only the die-hards are still there for a closing night screening.
Walk out onto the street, wait for the streetcar, and ride back into the “real world” with days that don’t revolve around TIFF. This year was different. I gave my computer a rest after many online streams, and wandered into the kitchen to figure out what dinner would be.
Maybe next year we will be back in theatres again. Fingers crossed.
The films here are in order of my personal ratings. If a film is not here, that doesn’t mean it was not good, simply that I did not pick it as part of my schedule. Even the cut-down TIFF had more than one could watch in 10 days unless one were really, really in love with a computer screen.
The TIFF People’s Choice Award this year went to Nomadland, my own personal favourite. Frances McDormand brings us another wonderful characater, Fern, a woman who drifts from job to job among a community of nomadic workers in a version of America far from the classic dreams of city life with a home and a two-car garage. Superb. *****
Sir Anthony Hopkins stars with Olivia Colman in The Father , a tale of family relationships falling apart as his character, also named Anthony, slides into dementia. Without giving away the ending, the story is told from Anthony’s point of view and the audience must gradually shift its understanding of just what the “real” world is as the story unfolds. A tour-de-force of acting with an excellent script and direction from Florian Zeller. ****½
Mira Nair directs a large cast in her six-hour version of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy originally produced for the BBC and coming to Netflix. Andrew Davies, a man with many period piece adaptations to his name, is credited as the screenwriter, but it was clear from the Q&A that his original design was adjusted to suit Nair’s desire to bring the political threads forward. She sees the difficult problems of finding a way to make India work politically in its early days as a parallel to the more humourous challenge of finding a suitable bridal partner. Absolutely delightful throughout. ****½
At its September 24, 2020 meeting, the TTC Board will consider a report from management on the current status of the “Restart and Recovery” program.
This report contains a variety of information including:
A review of the physical changes the TTC has been implementing and investigating to improve health and safety on its system.
Demand and service plans for the coming months.
A current survey of rider attitudes to travel on the TTC
This article deals only with the service plans. I will turn to the other components after the TTC meeting.
Conventional System Service
Ridership on the main part of the transit system (excluding Wheel-Trans which I will discuss later) has been growing slowly from the low point in April 2020.
The return of demand varies by mode and this is strongly influenced by the higher proportion of trips to downtown jobs and academic institutions that have been replaced by work-from-home arrangements.
The bus system is back at about half of its normal demand although the subway is at only about a third. The TTC does not plan to restore full service until the system as a whole reaches 50%, but is running extra unscheduled buses on routes where crowding is a problem. As I have previously reported, the TTC does not list where and when these extras are used, nor does it routinely publish crowding statistics.
A big problem with the 49% level for bus boardings compared to pre-covid conditions is that this is an average. It blends data from all routes, all times of day, and all parts of the city. There will be places and times of lower demand and places where routes are as crowded as pre-covid. This is borne out by photos posted on social media by riders.
Certain types of trips, indeed even the potential for some trips, will not return to the system until “normal” times especially for special events and entertainment. School travel at all levels will run below “normal” while classes are provided via distance learning for the safety of students.
This will dilute the returning numbers of workers who continue to use the TTC and bring down the overall percentages even though some routes will see demand well over the 50% level, but with less than 100% of the pre-covid service.
Overall crowding levels are shown in the chart below which is driven by Automatic Passenger Counter (APC) data. As ridership grows, the proportion of trips running above 30% or 50% of capacity (reference points for acceptable crowding in stages of the recovery plan) have also grown. Note that this includes the benefits of whatever unscheduled extra service the TTC has operated.
What is badly needed is a better public understanding of where crowding is a problem at the route and time of day level, not simply on an average basis across the system. Only in this context can the addition or redeployment of resources — drivers and buses, not to mention funding — make sense.
The TTC plans some service improvements in coming months:
Starting in September, the TTC is dispatching extra buses to deal with the rise in school trips as elementary and secondary schools re-open and some of their population returns as TTC riders.
In October, the TTC will make improvements on Eglinton East to take advantage of the recently installed bus lanes. This will include restoration of 905 Eglinton East and 986 Scarborough express services.
In November, more express services will return and local services will be improved by using some of the buses and drivers now operating on demand-based standby service.
The October changes will be accomplished by reallocating service from poor-performing routes, and it will be interesting to see which routes are on the chopping block. Indeed, it would be useful to see a full list of routes and service periods that are under threat of service cuts considering that full funding for 2021 is far from certain. For 2021, any new services will have to compete with existing routes for resources.
An important distinction in service design that will be with us for some time will be the spreading of the “peak” period, or more accurately a lower demand at the height of the peaks resulting in more uniform demand and service levels. This has been part of the schedule design for recent months when “trippers” that ordinarily would be in service for only a few hours in each peak operated for 6-7 hours/day with only a brief mid-day window between the “AM” and “PM” peak service levels.
Another issue related to core area demand will be the degree to which non-core oriented trips take a proportionately larger role on the TTC and how network and service designs react to this.
Travel between suburbs has always been more difficult than travel to and from downtown because so much service is oriented to feeding the subway network. Coming months provide a chance to address this problem with a stronger focus on the surface network and the areas it serves.
For 2021, various options are part of TTC planning:
Continuation of some demand-responsive service to allow quick adjustments as travel patterns evolve.
The potential effect of a “second wave” that could affect both ridership and the level of distancing required on transit vehicles.
Adjusting service patterns and network structure, as discussed above, to react to and support new patterns of demand.
Improve service reliability (a subject of several recent articles on this site).
Continue the RapidTO plan of creating more exclusive bus lanes.
Cross-border service and fare integration with systems in the 905.
Micro-transit and automated shuttle services (*).
(*) The last bullet is quite clearly a sop to the political forces at Queen’s Park where there are assumptions that large savings can be had by using self-driving mini-buses and/or some form of alternate transit to replace lightly used routes. The big problems on the TTC are on routes where these options are hopelessly inadequate, and yet there will be pressure to focus on them as some sort of magic bullet for transit budget problems.
Public consultation regarding the 2021 Service Plan is now in progress with the intent of reporting to the Board late in 2020. The big unknown for next year is the state of the TTC Budget and the possibility that the system will face arbitrary cutbacks to fit within a City and Provincial budget envelope.
Although Wheel-Trans is a much smaller operation than the “conventional” system, ridership has been returning to it roughly in line with the rest of the surface system. Demand is expected to be close to 50% of pre-covid levels by the end of 2020.
As demand rises, the ability to distance on WT services will begin to be difficult and some ride-sharing will have to occur starting in late September.
WT ridership is a particular challenge for the TTC on three counts:
The ratio of a fully-loaded vehicle to one operating at covid-based distancing and capacity is much higher for WT than for regular TTC vehicles. This means that distancing problems kick in much sooner as demand grows on the WT network compared with the “conventional” one.
The TTC has attempted to shift WT riders to its “family of services” model where trips are taken part by a WT ride and partly on the conventional system. However, crowding issues, already challenging for some WT users under “normal” circumstances, are more of a problem with limited capacity on buses.
The WT user community has a higher proportion of riders with risk factors for covid exposure and their concerns about behaviour by other riders are heightened.
Coming Soon …
I will update this article with additional information, if any, from the TTC Board meeting.
September 29, 2020: This article has been updated with information on the east section of the Ontario Line between the Don River and Danforth.
September 23, 2020: This article has been updated with information on the central section of the Ontario Line between Osgoode Station and the west side of the Don River.
I asked Metrolinx a series of questions about information released in the two “neighbourhood updates”:
1. The station boxes that are shown are barely 100m long. What provision will the stations include for ventilation shafts? Will they be within the platform area or will they be beyond the end of the platforms as on, for example, the Crosstown line?
2. There is only minimal discussion of entrance locations. Will the stations include two separate paths from platform to surface as per fire code?
3. Will there be emergency service buildings between the more widely spaced stations to provide egress in case of a tunnel fire?
4. There is reference to using the space for lower Queen station as part of the design, but this area is (a) fairly small and (b) already used for a variety of purposes. Is the intent to have the OL go beneath all of the existing structure with the actual track and platform below lower Queen and with the “ghost” station space (which is already used in part as a pedestrian underpass between northbound and southbound platforms) only used for circulation space between the two lines? That would make a lot more sense than actually trying to take OL trains through the existing lower Queen Station.
5. The diagram of the Don Yard shows a direct conflict between the structure for the westbound OL portal and the Richmond Hill GO corridor. What is happening here?
In response, Metrolinx issued the following rather opaque reply:
Metrolinx will factor in all necessary safety and accessibility requirements into the Ontario Line designs. The most recent update is a more detailed vision of the project, but more details are still to come.
Metrolinx will be closely coordinating any Ontario Line work alongside our existing rail operations to minimize or avoid service impacts, while also respecting concurrent GO Expansion work.
Email from Scott Money, Metrolinx Media Relations
The original article begins here:
On September 17, 2020, Metrolinx released the Draft Environmental Conditions Report [Draft ECR] for the Ontario Line.
A huge volume of material is included, thousands of pages, but the vast majority of this only documents existing conditions and gives little indication of the actual “environmental impact” that building and operating the Ontario Line will have.
For convenience, here are links to source materials. The Draft ECR link leads to a page with many documents, some of which are very large PDFs.
It is self-evident that the actual impact of any project cannot be known without the details of what will be built. This information is not yet public and only sample area maps which are drafts “for illustrative purposes only” have been released for a portion of the route. More will follow in coming weeks, but one must ask why they are not all available now if Metrolinx expects informed comment on their proposal.
Even on the supplied maps, many key features are missing including:
Vertical and horizontal alignment including property requirements for construction
Station sites, access and circulation plans including redundant paths between platforms and the surface for fire safety
Emergency service buildings and access structures to tunnels
Utility buildings such as substations
During the public consultation process and as recently as the April 2020 report summarizing this work, the project timeline was illustrated as below. This clearly shows that only one set of “Environmental Reports” were to be published and this was expected in Fall 2020, that is to say, now.
Ontario changed the legislation relating to Environmental Assessments with the effect that the item of most interest — the actual design and effect of the project — will not be known until later in the process than the public originally expected.
As required under O. Reg. 341/20, Metrolinx is preparing an environmental conditions report, which will be published for public review and input prior to finalization. The report will characterize the environmental setting in the vicinity of the Ontario Line, including existing noise and vibration levels, air quality, natural environment features, built heritage and archaeological resources, socio-economic and land use features, and traffic conditions.
Metrolinx is also planning to publish early works reports for components of the Ontario Line project that are planned to proceed to implementation ahead of completion of the Ontario Line assessment process.The early works reports will assess the environmental impacts of the early works and describe associated mitigation measures. The early works reports will be published for public review and input prior to finalization.
Following finalization of early works reports, Metrolinx will publish an environmental impact assessment report, which will assess the environmental impacts of the Ontario Line and describe associated mitigation measures. The environmental impact assessment report will be published for public review and input prior to finalization,as part of Metrolinx’s effort to meet the best practices and community consultation principles that are part of the Environmental Assessment Act with all projects. This will be followed by early works reports and the Environmental Impact Assessment Report environmental impact evaluation results, mitigation measures, monitoring activities, potentially required permits and approvals and other components.
Source: Metrolinx Update to City of Toronto, p. 13
There are now three streams of reports and consultation. First up is the ECR which has just been issued, but separately there are reports on “Early Works” (design and construction that can get underway to advance the project before the full design is locked down) and then the “Environmental Impact Assessment Report”. It is only in the last report that the details of design and effects on neighbourhoods will be revealed, and this is planned for winter-spring 2021.
On a parallel track, the procurement process is already underway with teams short-listed to bid on two major contracts:
Rolling Stock, Systems, Operations and Maintenance (RSSOM)
Southern Civil, Stations and Tunnel (Exhibition to Don Yard Portal)
The Northern Civil, Stations and Tunnel package (Don Yard Portal to Eglinton) will be tendered separately in 2022.
The ECR contains material reviewing conditions in a wide study area shown in the map below.
The study area is relatively wide in some areas, but narrower in others implying that a range of options was reviewed for parts of the route. Notable by its absence is the original Eastern-Pape corridor for the Relief Line showing that there was never any intention of entertaining this as an option, if only for comparative purposes.
The study area in Thorncliffe/Flemingdon is fairly large in part because this includes the proposed maintenance yard, but also because alternative routes through this area were under consideration.
Alignment plans are shown only for the western segment between Exhibition and Queen/Spadina at this point. Metrolinx plans to unveil details of additional segments on a weekly basis for other parts of the line:
Osgoode Station to Don Yard
East Harbour to Pape South
Pape North to Science Centre (Eglinton)
They have published details for the first segment in a blog article as well as on the West Neighbourhood page (both linked above). I will update this article as information on these segments is revealed.
One burning issue in the third segment is the alignment through and effects on the South Riverdale and Leslieville area between East Harbour and Gerrard Stations. Although details on this have not been published, there is a note in a recent Metrolinx report to City Council (linked above) about the area just north of Queen Street where a recreation centre stood in the line’s path.
The Ontario Line team is working with City staff to ensure the project is delivered with minimal impacts to sensitive community areas and properties, such as parks and community centres. For example, following significant design and engineering effort, the station at Riverside/Leslieville has been positioned to avoid impacting Jimmie Simpson Community Centre. Efforts are underway to minimize impacts to other key community assets, including, Pape Avenue Middle School, Valley Park Middle School, Bruce Mackey Park, the future Ordnance Park, places of worship and other locations. Where an impact cannot be avoided the team will continue to work with City staff to address continuity of programming.
Source: Metrolinx Update to City of Toronto, p. 13
The TTC has announced that it will recall 132 more workers effective October 2, 2020. Of the 450 who were laid off in April, 150 were recalled in September. This leaves 168 still awaiting recall.
The TTC intends to use these drivers for “demand responsive service” with buses (and a few streetcars) that are dispatched as needed on routes where scheduled service cannot handle demand. The return of students to in-school classes adds to system load, and more service is needed.
The layoffs are a temporary measure with all operators to be recalled when the TTC reaches 50 per cent of pre-pandemic ridership levels on all vehicle modes (before the pandemic the TTC was carrying 1.7 million rides on a typical weekday day). At the lowest point of the lockdown, the TTC was moving roughly 15-20 per cent of pre-pandemic ridership. Currently, the TTC is seeing daily ridership in the 35-40 per cent range (or more than 630,000 customers each weekday).
TTC Press Release Sept. 17, 2020
This statement clarifies a confusing element in past announcements where it was unclear whether the 50% criterion would apply to selected portions of the network where demand was strong or to the network as a whole. Because demand into the core area, particularly on the subway, is much lighter than usual, the bus system will have to reach a level well over 50% of pre-covid riding before overall system demand will trigger full service restoration.
In previous articles, I have been tracking the level of scheduled service on many routes (the final article will appear soon) as well as the irregularity of headways (the time between buses) both in the schedules and in actual operation.
What is missing is any report of where the standby buses the TTC operates are used. With an increasing proportion of service provided by unscheduled vehicles, knowing how they are allocated is important as well as how this correlates to on-board crowding.
There is roughly a two month lead time for changes in the scheduled service, and the next two sets of schedules will come into effect at Thanksgiving and in late November. Details of proposed changes are not yet public, but at this point it is fair to assume that the October schedules are locked down and the November changes are well along in draft state. These lead times are required to give time for workforce and fleet planning, and to organize sign-ups for crews.
Using standby or “run as directed” service allows the TTC to have a pool of vehicles and drivers that are not pre-allocated to specific times and locations, and this gets around the lead time problem for scheduled service. The downside is that systems that depend on schedules including public information and vehicle tracking don’t “see” the extra buses.
One member of the TTC Board, Commissioner/Councillor Shelley Carroll, plans to move a motion at the September 24, 2020 Board Meeting that full service be restored. The earliest that is likely to happen would be year-end on a formal basis, and if all remaining drivers are recalled they would likely be used for standby buses until then.
The agenda for that meeting will be published soon, and we will see whether management has any specific proposals to address this.
Still at issue is the question of service standards both to deal with crowding levels and for “poor performing” routes where the Ontario Government wants transit systems to consider alternative means to provide service.