The Transit Nest Egg Toronto Won’t Spend

Between the Scarborough Subway Extension, now rebranded as the Line 2 East Extension, and SmartTrack, Toronto has a lot of money sitting in the bank that could be used to fund other, much more deserving projects.

Ontario has taken over responsibility for the SSE/L2EE, and at least three of the proposed six SmartTrack stations compete directly with the SSE or the Ontario Line. A fourth (at Finch East) would certainly be affected by the SSE running north to Sheppard.

My latest for Now Toronto: Why is city council pretending that SmartTrack is still alive?

The Child Pass Problem (Updated)

Updated February 15, 2020 at 10:00 am:

Additional information from the TTC has been added to clarify some issues raised here including:

  • How the number of child card taps relates to the number of rides.
  • Which “average fare” is the one used in loss calculations for fare evasion.
  • The discrepancy between full year child card losses and associated citations as compared to the fare evasion study conducted late in 2019.
  • The difference between evasion rates calculated from tap data on Presto machines as opposed to from in-person observations, and the time periods covered by each.

Changes are flagged in the body of this article for readers who have been here before.

Introduction

The TTC’s Audit and Risk Management Committee met on February 11 to discuss three reports of which two dealt in detail with the problems of fare evasion and revenue loss.

Documents related to this are:

Among many areas covered by these reports was the problem of misuse of Presto cards set up for free travel by children by riders who were anything but.

Although this was flagged as a problem when the reports were published in advance of the meeting, the scale and potential revenue loss only came out in the staff presentation to the committee. To complicate the debate, there were two separate and different estimates of the scale of this problem.

The range of fare evasion losses with Child Presto cards ranges widely depending on how one does the calculation. The root of the problem is that there were only 10 million Child Presto taps in 2019.

In one version, a the TTC concludes that 89 per cent of child card taps are not by children. However, the small total number of taps limits the size of the potential revenue loss to about $12 million, well below the total projected losses of $70 million.

In the other version, the TTC claims that one third of all fare evasion is due to Child Presto abuse, but there were not enough child taps in 2019 to account for this level. It is possible that the level of abuse has been growing strongly and was much larger in late 2019 (when the study yielding the “one third” figure took place) than for the year overall.

Updated February 15, 2020:

The TTC confirmed that there are two separate calculations for Child Presto losses that cover two time periods and methodologies.

  • The estimate of $12.4 million loss was based on estimating the number of rides that do not fit with a typical usage pattern one would expect for children, and it is calculated from all-year card usage and the system average fare of $2.25.
  • Statistics for provincial offenses in court showed that about 13% of cases related to Child Presto abuse. This was based on the full year 2019.
  • The 33.7% overall evasion rate for Child Presto use is based on a study in the final months of 2019. This implies a strong growth in the fraudulent use of Child Presto cards.

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Fare Evasion on the TTC

This week’s article for NOW Toronto: Fare evasion storm diverts attention from TTC’s real problems

There are two reports on the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee agenda for Tuesday, February 11 dealing with fare evasion and revenue controls:

These reports contain far more information, and cover more ground than I could fit into the NOW piece, and more details are likely to come out when TTC management presents their reports at the committee meeting.

I will update this article following the meeting.

Metrolinx Declines to Answer, Again

On Monday, February 3, both my recent NOW Toronto article about the Ontario line and my own Q&A with Metrolinx diving more deeply into the issues appeared.

On the same day, Ben Spurr reported in The Star that members of Toronto Council had learned of private discussions between Metrolinx and interested developers about alternative alignments and station sites. These issues are at the heart of many questions about and objections to the OL plans, and in particular the reluctance, if not outright refusal of Metrolinx to entertain alternatives.

With the Star’s article, Metrolinx can no longer claim that they only have one design, or that alternatives cannot be discussed.

At tonight’s community meeting, on February 5, conveniently a few blocks from my home, I asked Richard Tucker, who is in charge of this project from Metrolinx, point blank what alternatives were on the table.

He responded “Is this for media” and I replied “Of course”.

To which, in turn, Tucker said, in effect, I cannot tell you about that.

If I had merely been an interested member of the community unknown to Metrolinx, who knows what he might have told me, but for official consumption, mum’s the word. This is a senior public servant who simply does not understand (or whose bosses do not understand) the concept of openness, transparency and actual “consultation”.

In many ways, Metrolinx is its own worst enemy with its secrecy and refusal to engage in discussions. This is not confined to pesky media, bloggers and community groups. It is commonly reported by members of Council and the Legislature, not to mention privately by professional staff at the city and TTC.

In the absence of any official pronouncement from Metrolinx, I would be happy to receive information from members of Council who were briefed, or via the tried and true “brown envelope”.

Ontario Line: Many Questions, Few Answers

This article is a companion piece to my article in NOW Toronto Doug Ford’s Ontario Line headed down the wrong track which should be read first as an introduction.

In preparation of that piece, I sent a set of questions to Metrolinx to clarify and expand on many elements of the project. Some of their responses were included in the article, but for limits both of space and complexity, not all of them.

The many duplicate responses (which begin at question 5) are here for readers to see. The text is copied “as is” from a Metrolinx email received on Friday, January 31, 2020. My comments, if any, are in italics after each question and answer.

I look forward to Metrolinx providing more substantive answers to many of these questions before they bother the public with another round of superficial consultation.

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Fourteen

January 31, 2020 marks the fourteenth birthday of this blog.

Back in those early days, I posted both transit commentary and film reviews, but the latter fell aside as online reviews by everyone crowded the field, and governments got into the bad habit of making major announcements just when I would otherwise have some time free to write about TIFF or HotDocs. It was a dastardly plot!

In the mid 2000s, urban affairs were brewing again, and a new generation of civic activists found their voices. Many of them now have moderately influential positions as writers both online and in print, a much endangered medium.

When I started out, my thoughts were to delve into issues at a level the daily press could not, and to provide a place where people could discuss whatever was going on in the transit world from a more detailed technical level. Little did I expect that this would evolve to the breadth of followers here and on social media, much less that I now have fans!

Two factors in the evolution of this blog have been most rewarding:

First is that new generation of activists fighting for a better city and a better transit system. We are not alone, and there are many thoughtful, well-informed voices in Toronto and the region beyond. If only more of us could be in government, I could be happier, but our time will come.

Second, I have evolved from a professional IT person who attends an inordinate number of cultural events and dabbles in transit issues on the side, to a writer, albeit of technical material, and moderator of a very long-running transit salon. This was never an ambition all those years ago when my transit advocacy began as part of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee.

There are now 2,300 posts on this site, and almost 53,000 published comments from you, dear readers. Well, most of you are dear, and the ones who are not tend to invite a click on “Delete” with accompanying laughter and scorn.

A special thank you to those who “lurk” – you know who you are – and the occasional private thank you lets me know the reach this blog has.

Where is transit going in Toronto?

The near future has the sense of a gloomy night with the first hints of a dawn to come. There is finally a recognition at Toronto Council that transit simply cannot get by on the crumbs that so-called inflationary spending increases produce. There is a huge backlog of spending required that, for many years, the City and TTC kept hidden from view lest the borrowing it would trigger frightened passing financial analysts.

But that is only half of the problem. Surface routes both inside Toronto itself and in the GTHA beyond have long been neglected as a vital part of the transit network. We cannot move everyone everywhere on a handful of commuter rail and subway lines.

The assumption that transit’s main goal is to get people to and from King & Bay has not been valid for decades, but that is where almost all planning and political capital was focused. Even calls for more suburban subways claimed that riders needed to get downtown where the good jobs are, and left those wanting to travel elsewhere to their own devices.

Speaking of capital, a bigger challenge than getting a new rapid transit line, regardless of the technology, is to get money for better service everywhere, not just on whatever new bauble we manage to open once a decade. Nobody holds photo ops and press conferences to announce better service on the Queen car or the Finch bus because the money required to make a real city-wide difference is substantial, and usually comes 100 per cent from local tax dollars.

Changing that outlook and increasing transit’s share of trips beyond the rail rapid transit network will be a hard slog. Travellers will not give up their car-oriented patterns both from convenience and from a long-standing distrust that transit will ever amount to more than an occasional, inconvenient bus intended to move a few seniors to and from the local mall.

Left to their own devices and revenues, local governments are not going to invest in better transit, and the provincial government shows no indication of moving into this arena either.

There is plenty to do. Politicians to elect and others to send to a well-earned and thumping defeat. But there is more than just elections, there is the vital need for new policies that will address a city-region where transit must take a much bigger role. The alternative is traffic strangulation, an environmental nightmare, and economic decline.

Lest this sound a too gloomy end in what should be a festive post, I will leave you with a swan gliding in the summer sun on the Avon in Stratford. For those who still have not figured out where the Twitter handle @swanboatsteve comes from, please read A Bold Initiative for Don Valley Transport.

TTC Service Changes: Sunday, February 16, 2020

The TTC will implement a number of service changes on February 16, 2020, but this is a comparatively minor set including the end of construction and resumption of normal routes for three projects:

  • Davisville Station paving, Lawrence Station paving, and Runnymede Station easier access construction (79 Scarlett Road only).

There will be changes to some services on Don Mills on weekends as the provision for effects of Metrolinx construction is reduced. No other routes are affected, nor is any weekday service.

So-called reliability improvements continue to work their way through the system. The predominant effect is to stretch available buses over longer running times with corresponding reduction in scheduled service levels. Routes affected in this round are:

  • 21 Brimley, 53/953 Steeles East local and express, 54 Lawrence East, 116 Morningside, 129 McCowan North, 505 Dundas, 945 Kipling Express

The peak bus fleet in regular service goes down by 5 in the AM peak and up by 5 in the PM peak, and so this month is a wash in terms of vehicles used. However, the reliability changes mean that buses on the affected routes are scheduled for slower driving speeds and/or longer times for recovery at terminals.

505 Dundas is a particularly odd case because the route is already notorious for having multiple buses taking extended layovers at terminals. The “new” schedule reverts back to October 2018 when running times were even more generous than they are today. Streetcars will return at the next schedule change on March 29, and if they have as generous travel times as the buses, congestion at Broadview and Dundas West Stations will become even worse than it is today.

2020.02.16_Service_Changes

TTC Board Meeting Wrap-Up: January 27, 2020

The TTC Board met on January 27 with a full agenda and several reports of interest including:

Despite its importance, the air quality study report was squeezed out for time and there was no discussion. I will turn to this in a future article with additional information from background reports.

CEO’s Report

The CEO’s Report also received only brief consideration by the Board. Among items of interest:

  • Although year-to-date ridership for 2019 to the end of November was below budget, the trend has been upward since the summer.
  • Presto ridership accounted for 394.2 million of the 484.6 million rides taken during this period, or 81.3%. Now that sales of “legacy” media have ended, the TTC expects that this proportion will grow over 2020.
  • Reliability of the new Flexity streetcars continues to be high based on contracted requirements. The “operational” metric, which includes issues that are beyond the manufacturer’s control, is running at a much lower rate and fell slightly in November. A target for this value will be established through a peer review of vehicle performance.
  • Reliability of the CLRV fleet continued to fall through November reflecting the age of the cars and the limited maintenance that cars near retirement would receive. This could be among the last reports in which the CLRVs appear as part of the fleet and service review.

The usual metrics about service quality (“on time” departure from terminals, short turns, etc.) are in this report, but the CEO advised the Board that these will be revised early in 2020. I will comment on the new charts and metrics when they appear.

Capital Investment Priorities

For details about this report, please refer to my articles:

The version of the report now posted on the TTC’s website includes an amendment to the chart showing how the Flexity streetcar order was funded. The Canadian government of the day, through the “Honourable” John Baird, famously told Toronto to “fuck off” when they sought a federal contribution, although he later apologized. As a fig leaf to hide their embarrassment, federal gas taxes were allocated by the City to this project.

Discussion of the report covered a lot of territory, and some Board members were confused about just which projects were fully funded and which were not. The problem lies in the way the information has been presented. Spending is cited for the ten year capital plan, but in many cases a project’s timelines extend beyond that horizon. There might be “100 per cent” funding for an initial stage of a project, but not for the whole thing. As the chart below shows, the spending on Subway Infrastructure, $3.7 billion from 2020 to 2029, is fully funded, but there is a further $6.5 billion lurking in the unfunded portion from 2030 onward. The degree to which various line items are funded over the full 15 year span varies with the lowest among them, the Line 2 Enhancement, sitting at only 22%.

This gives the short term impression that Toronto is well out of the woods, but in fact we have only reached a clearing.

The distinction between the “fully funded” subway projects and the one third funding allocated to surface vehicle projects was not lost on the Board. Ironically, it is with surface improvements that riders (and taxpayers) can see changes fairly quickly, but the plan is not organized to achieve this.

Some Commissioners argued that a way forward with streetcar purchases should be found, while others were concerned with the bus fleet.

Staff advised that a report on buses including an update on the electric bus test program will come to the March 2020 Board meeting. However, there is no meeting scheduled for that month. I have asked for clarification on this issue.

Councillor Carroll, with an amendment by Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong, moved and the Board approved:

1. That the TTC Board directs the TTC CEO to submit to the May 2020 TTC Board meeting a business case analysis for action on an expedited procurement plan for 20 and up to 60 streetcars included in the revised 2020 Capital Budget.

2. That the TTC Board directs the TTC CEO to report back to the Board by Q3 2020 on a vehicle procurement strategy for implementation to be included as part of the 2021 Capital Budget for the outstanding vehicles identified in the revised 2020 Capital Budget.

The motion originally spoke of only 20 streetcars (the portion funded in the plan), but Minnan-Wong argued against this on the grounds that a small order would have a higher unit cost, and that this would be a de facto sole source purchase. He is hoping for a larger order to attract interest from bidders other than Bombardier, and his amendment expanded the scope of the review to 60.

Councillor Carroll noted that the wording of this motion was worked out in discussions over the past weekend with both the CEO and the Mayor’s Office, and so the ground had been prepared.

The second part of the motion addresses the general issue of vehicle procurement and budgeting, and directs staff to include this in the 2021 Capital Budget. The purpose of this is for the TTC to maintain control of the discussion rather than ceding ground to City staff and Council. Previously, TTC management recommended a longer timeframe with a 2022 target, but this leaves important discussions of system planning, supposedly a crucial issue, in the background for far too long.

A key issue, mentioned by nobody, is that there is money in two City reserves for transit that have not been allocated:

  • The Scarborough Subway Levy, at 1.6% on the property tax, was supposed to finance the City’s share of the Scarborough extension, a project that has been taken over by the Province. It is unclear how this money will be used.
  • The original City Building Fund was to finance the City’s Smart Track contribution to the Metrolinx GO RER program. However, the actual scope of that program may change, and it is not clear that all of the SmartTrack stations will be built. With the three-stop Scarborough subway extension, the need for a Smart Track Lawrence East Station disappears, and the Gerrard Station may conflict with the Ontario Line.

With Metrolinx looking for developer contributions to station projects, it is not clear which Smart Track stations still are viable even with the City contribution.

To underpin calls for federal and provincial support of Toronto’s transit projects, Commissioner Di Laurentiis moved and the Board adopted:

That TTC staff conduct an economic benefit analysis in partnership with appropriate City staff that will identify the specific and broad underlying impetus that a properly funded and maintained Toronto transit system provides to business competitiveness and job creation in the Toronto region specifically, and Ontario as a whole.

The whole package now moves through the City’s Budget Committee to the Council meeting on February 19.

Automatic Train Control Alstom Contract Amendments

The report on the public agenda includes a substantial history of the ATC project on Line 1 Yonge-University including the changes in project scope and timelines. The current project schedule was approved by the Board in April 2019 (See: Automatic Train Control Re-Baselining and Transit Systems Engineering Review in Attachment 2, p 11 of the pdf.)

The current report provides funding for the revised scope, although the dollar value of this is not public.

Commissioner Lalonde moved an amendment that was adopted by the Board:

That staff conduct an extensive lessons-learned review of the Automatic Train Control (ATC) project prior to presenting a business case for the implementation of ATC on Line 2.

While a thorough review of major projects such as ATC are definitely worthwhile, there is a timing issue here. The Line 1 project is not supposed to be fully implemented until September 2022 and this coincides with the point where work on the Line 2 project is supposed to begin (see spending plan in the table above). The review really needs to be underway well before full implementation in order that the Line 2 project is not delayed.

Related issues are the timing of new subway car purchases and construction of a new yard for Line 2 relative to the timing of the Scarborough extension project. This is now pegged at 2029-30 in provincial plans, but there is strong pressure to pull this back closer to the original 2026-27 timeframe. Such a move would have a domino effect on the Line 2 renewal.

Keele Yard Derailment

On the morning of Wednesday, January 22, 2020, subway service on Line 2 was severely disrupted by a derailment at Keele Yard.

Four trains originate from this yard early in the day, and the fourth of these was pulling onto the main line when one axle on the fourth car of the train derailed. The train was already foul of the main line, and it was impossible to maintain service. 116 buses provided a shuttle between Jane and Ossington Stations. This disrupted bus service on other routes as vehicles and operators were redirected to the subway shuttle.

Staff report that preliminary investigation shows that two factors in combination were responsible:

  • Localized wear on rail at a switch
  • A new wheel on the axle that derailed

The wheel, with less wear than would be found on a typical wheel, was able to climb over the worn area in the track rather than following it.

Use of Keele Yard has been discontinued pending a complete review of tracks there and repairs/modifications as needed.

Presto Contract Discussion

The ongoing dispute with Metrolinx over the Presto contract continues, and this was discussed in the morning’s private session. An intriguing tidbit raised by Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong was that the TTC had made a Freedom of Information request to Metrolinx, but this was rejected. If negotiations have reached that level, this process is neither harmonious nor is it likely to be resolved soon.

Now on NOW: Billions for Transit, But What Do We Get?

My article for this week on NOW is up. The topic overlaps with a previous piece on this site TTC Announces Capital Spending Plan For City Building Fund, but more from the background of TTC’s shifting project priorities and the dangers of planning for shared funding with other governments.

Regular readers here will know that I bemoaned the policy change from major renewal of Line 2 to patching up the existing fleet and infrastructure for an extra decade. This change wafted through TTC Board “approval” without any public discussion a year ago, and now TTC management appear to be rethinking their position. The result? A large chunk of the new money in Mayor Tory’s City Building Fund goes to projects that should never have been deferred in the first place.

Of course if there had been a big debate about funding for the existing Line 2, this might just have pricked the balloon that is the Scarborough Subway Extension. Imagine if we said that the extension could not be built until the existing line was brought up to scratch?

Maintenance and renewal versus shiny new builds is an endless story with public infrastructure.

When Better Service Isn’t – Part V: Streetcar Routes

This article continue the series reviewing routes where the TTC alleges that service has improved during 2019. Please refer to the first two parts for introductory information.

This concluding installment in the series reviews the streetcar routes. The comparisons here are different because the roll out of the new Flexity fleet combined with service resiliency changes and the substitution of buses for streetcars on some routes makes a year-over-year comparison only a snapshot of one point in the transition. Instead, this article compares service in January 2015 when the new fleet was fairly small and the network was operated, for the most part with streetcars, to the service in January 2020.

There is now a pervasive problem on streetcar routes with the amount of time allocated to travel plus recovery, to the point that there can be congestion of multiple cars (or buses as in the case of 505 Dundas) at terminals. This represents a waste of equipment by over-allocation of time so that even the worst case trips will not be late. Most are early, and operators get generous breaks as a result.

When contemplating service levels on the streetcar network, remember that all surplus cars were used up in 1997 when the 510 Spadina line opened, and the fleet did not get net new capacity until the Flexitys began to arrive. There is quite a backlog of demand for better service and more capacity as King Street showed.

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