The Hidden Cost of Subway Capacity Relief

Two studies are underway for the so-called Relief Line:

The alignment for the southern segment has been settled for some time, but the northern segment is still in the exploratory phase of deciding the best route. Planning for the northern segment is under Metrolinx, and all publicly visible work on this stopped for the provincial election in 2018.

Every time either of these lines comes up, the inevitable reaction is “sticker shock” from the very high cost of building a new subway into downtown.

What is missing from the debate is the high cost of retrofitting the existing subway to handle more riders.

When the TTC first advanced its ATC (Automatic Train Control) project, it was to be the solution to all problems. There have been a lot of bumps along the road including:

  • Failure to include ATC signals in the design for the Vaughan subway extension.
  • An unworkable plan to run a mixture of ATC (Toronto Rocket) and non-ATC trains (the T1s now on the BD line) on Line 1.
  • Piecemeal contracts for new signal systems resulting in overlapping and incompatible work.

This was all sorted out, more or less, a few years ago as one of Andy Byford’s big successes as TTC CEO. For a history of the signalling contracts, please read my article here.

However, there is much more to providing added capacity on the subway system, as the TTC gradually discovered and acknowledged through additions to its Capital Budget. Several projects, many of which are not funded, now sit as proposals in TTC plans.

  • Additional trains for Line 1 (for more frequent service and for the Richmond Hill extension)
  • Additional storage for more trains
  • Platform Edge Doors (PEDs)
  • Expansion of Bloor-Yonge Station
  • Expansion of busy stations to provide better circulation for increased volumes of riders to and from trains

Additional Trains and Storage

The subway fleet plan, which I reviewed in detail in another article, includes a provision for more trains to increase the level of service and capacity on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina.

Current peak service requires 65 trains of which 4 are “gap trains” used to fill in where a delay would otherwise create a gap in service. The 61 regular trains provide AM peak service every 141 seconds (2’21”) with half of the trains short-turning at Glencairn. According to the plan, by 2029 there will be 79 trains of which 2 will be gap trains. The 77 regular trains represent an increase of about 26% and would bring headways down to roughly 112 seconds (1’52”). Allowing for some trimming of running time expected with ATC, this would result in Line 1 operating a 1’50” headway which is considered the minimum possible given physical constraints at terminals and the effects of dwell times at very busy stations.

However, the fleet of 76 TR trains will only get the TTC through part of this improvement, and there will be a deficit of 9 trains by 2028 as shown above. A 68 train service (70 trains total less 2 gap trains) corresponds to a headway of about 126 seconds (2’06”), an improvement of about 11.4%, and this is the limit of what is possible without more trains.

The plan shows trains under the headings of “capacity” and “ridership growth”. However, only part of the proposed procurement (the 18 “capacity” trains) is necessary to get to the 79 train service shown in 2029. The remaining 26 trains, some of which are spares, would not physically fit on the line without extension of all service on the Spadina leg to Vaughan. Whether the north end of the Spadina leg would actually require a 110 second headway is another matter.

With the price of a subway train sitting at about $36.5 million (mid 2020s), the 44 new trains proposed here would be worth about $1.6 billion plus the cost of future operation. This project is not funded.

A project to expand storage at Wilson Yard is part of the budget, but there is a limit to how many trains will fit there. As the chart above shows, the TTC would run out of storage for trains before all of the proposed new trains are delivered. Future storage depends on a new yard that is part of the North Yonge extension to hold them.

There is a catch-22 here in that some might argue for advancing the Richmond Hill project so that its yard would be available sooner. However, this would also advance the point at which more capacity on both the existing Line 1 and the proposed Relief Line would be needed.

Station Capacity

Much of the TTC’s focus for capacity has been on the signal system and on trains needed to provide more service. However, more service means more riders, and specifically a larger rate for passengers arriving at and leaving stations, and for transfers between lines 1 and 2. There are already problems at some locations with the crush of passengers. Bloor Station is best known, but St. George also has difficulties, and some stations south of Bloor encounter problems with backlogs of passengers trying to leave the platform before the next train arrives. This is particularly severe at locations with limited platform access which can include escalators that are not always in service.

There are three projects in the Capital Budget to address these problems.

Bloor-Yonge Station

The expansion of Bloor-Yonge Station includes the addition of a second platform to Yonge Station on the Bloor line much like the second platform recently added at Union. This would split demand for eastbound and westbound trains between two platforms. The project also includes additional circulation space on the upper (Bloor Station) level for the connections to the new platform. While this addresses some station capacity issues, it will do nothing to increase service and capacity on Line 2 to carry passengers away from Yonge Station even though increased service on Line 1 will deliver them at a higher rate.

This project has a $1 billion price tag, and is budgeted for the first half of the 2020s with completion in 2025. This project is not funded.

There is currently no proposal to expand the capacity of St. George Station, and this location is hemmed in by buildings.

The project summary for the project is below.

Platform Edge Doors

Platform Edge Doors (PEDs) have been proposed for both Lines 1 and 2 for various reasons:

  • suicide prevention,
  • allowing trains to operate through stations without slowing to avoid passengers on crowded platforms, and
  • elimination of litter at track level which causes fire-related delays.

In various public statements, the TTC has been inconsistent about which of these goals is most important, and of course a decision to equip all stations, or only some, depends on what one is trying to achieve. Each is a noble cause in its own right, especially with respect to suicides, but the TTC needs to project a more consistent message on this.

Litter at track level varies with the station usage, and is worst at the very busy stations. Recently, a potato, or maybe it was a lemon, became notorious as it spent over a week wedged under the eastbound track at Yonge Station. Whatever it was, this was only part of an accumulation of debris that had built up over a month putting the lie to the TTC’s claim that it cleans stations frequently specifically to avoid the buildup of material which could cause “smoke at track level” incidents. Some problems do not require multi-million dollar solutions.

A more recent problem with passengers going to track level to retrieve lost objects, or possibly just as a stunt, is quite another matter.

Automatic Train Control (ATC) is an integral part of a PED roll out to provide precision stopping. For Line 1 YUS, the budgeted cost is $610 million with the project spanning the mid 2020s following the full cut over to ATC. In turn, the TTC argues that it will be difficult to achieve the planned 110 second headways with the expected crowding level at major stations unless trains are not slowed on their approach out of concern for hitting waiting passengers.

The cost of PEDs is budgeted at $651 million for Line 2 BD as a post-2028 project assuming that ATC will be in place by that time.

The PED projects are not funded.

The project description from the Capital Budget for the work on Line 1 is below. The Line 2 version is almost identical.

Proposed project schedule. In this chart “BTL” refers to “Below The Line”, that is to say, not included in the funded part of the budget.

Other Station Improvements

Big as many of the subway projects might be, the TTC now includes in its plans a $5.5 billion – yes, that’s billion – unfunded project for enhancement of its station capacity on Line 1. The timing of the proposed work is:

  • 2019: Preliminary strategic implementation plan, solutions and recommendations; business case and Class 5 cost estimate.
  • 2020: Program management plan and preliminary design.

The bulk of the spending for this project is shown in years 2023-2027, although some work might begin sooner depending on the timing of design, project approval and tendering.

The project description includes this warning:

Failure to identify and eliminate key element constraints to achieve target capacity at required horizons will result in increased overcrowding and congestion on Line 1 forgoing TTC’s ability to meet demand needs beyond our current capacity. [Capital Budget Blue Books, p. 584]

There is no indication of the scale of the problem of the locations to be tackled, but the price shows the cost of reworking station capacity in a busy and very constrained set of downtown stations.

And, no I am not making up the $5.5 billion estimated cost. Here is the page showing projected funding and cash flow. To put this in context, this one project is almost as big as the entire funded TTC Capital Budget for State of Good Repair. And of course, that $5.5 billion is unfunded.

Summary

The cost of providing more capacity on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina is far more than Toronto has been told in the past. When this all started, it was simply a matter of a new signal system, but that was only the first of many parts in this story. How much of the projected cost here can be trimmed is difficult to say, and that in turn would be affected by the capacity the TTC seeks to operate on Yonge Street. Moving to a full 37k/hour peak demand may not be practical, or could be quite challenging.

Meanwhile, the Relief Line project has, until comparatively recently in TTC history, been treated as something the city only needs as a last ditch effort, something to address a long-future problem, not a pressing need today.

Toronto has been ill-served by the attitude that the Relief Line is a project for another day, not to mention its characterization by some politicians that it is only a project for coddled downtowners. Tell that to people who cannot get on the Yonge Subway, many of whom live far north of Bloor Street.

The division of the RL planning into a south-of-Danforth segment separate from the northern extension means that the substantial benefit of intercepting riders east of Yonge well north of Bloor-Danforth is many years in the future.

The TTC owes Council a thorough discussion of capacity issues on the subway network including all of the interrelated projects needed to deal with present and future demand. For far too long, many projects have been discussed in isolation from each other, or simply have been ignored.

This is an issue for politicians at both Toronto and Queen’s Park who downplay the cost and complexity of a provincial takeover of responsibility for the subway and its funding. Even if the subway remains in Toronto’s hands, there are huge costs facing the TTC and its “funding partners”.

Nothing less than the credibility of transit as an engine for the city’s growth is at stake.

TTC 2019 Fleet and Capacity Plans Part II: Streetcars and Buses

Streetcars

There are several related projects in the 2019-2028 Capital Budget and in the 2019-2033 Capital Investment Plan. These include:

  • Completion of the 204 car Flexity order now in progress
  • Purchase of 100 additional cars for growth and expansion
  • Renovation of Russell Carhouse for maintenance of new streetcars
  • Major renovation of Harvey Shops for maintenance of new streetcars, and as the operating carhouse for (at least) 512 St. Clair

Allocation of the New Flexity Streetcar Fleet

As I write this on March 20, 2019, the TTC has received cars 4400-4535 from the Thunder Bay plant and 4572-4573 from Kingston. Of these, prototype 4401 is at Bombardier for production refits, and a pool of four to six cars will be out for major repairs for the next few years.

CEO Rick Leary has stated on a few occasions that the buses now on streetcar routes will come free for service on the bus network by year end when all new cars have arrived, and that all of the legacy CLRV/ALRV (standard sized and two-section articulated cars respectively) will also be retired this year. This directly contradicts his own Capital Investment Plan which shows that buses will still be required into the mid-2020s when, in theory, a further order of 100 streetcars would arrive.

However, even assuming that Bombardier does deliver the last of its order up to car 4603, there will not be enough new cars to cover service on all of the lines. The table below compares service as it existed back in 2006 before the new cars were ordered, the TTC’s plans for Flexity implementation in 2013, the current schedule requirements, and the number of streetcars needed if all routes return to rail operation.

The numbers above are divided into six sets:

  • The 2006 AM peak service requirement for all streetcar routes assuming that there are no construction projects underway. This is a blend of sources to avoid diversions and substitutions.
  • The actual service in March 2019 (current).
  • The streetcar service operated a few years ago on routes that now have full or partial bus operation.
  • A hypothetical March 2019 service assuming that the five routes now with buses (511 Bathurst, etc) were operated using streetcars.
  • The TTC’s June 2013 deployment plan for the new cars.
  • A hypothetical March 2019 service assuming current Flexity service for routes that have already converted such as King, and the 2013 deployment numbers for routes that have not.

For the purpose of this discussion, the ALRV fleet is assumed to have been retired even though, officially, schedules still call for five of them to run on 501 Queen. In practice these, and some CLRV runs, are operating with Flexitys.

The total fleet requirement including spares at 20% would be 216 cars, and this is 12 more than the TTC will actually have without allowing for a half-dozen cars undergoing major repairs. This means that it is impossible to operate the streetcar system without either trimming service or leaving buses on some routes. When there are construction projects that block streetcar service (such as the work by Toronto Water now underway on Dundas), there would be enough cars operate the rest of the network. Otherwise, the most likely candidates for buses are the perennial targets, the Kingston Road services 502/503.

Some routes – King, Spadina and St. Clair – have more service today than the 2013 deployment plan provided, but this means that there are not enough cars to handle the rest of the network as originally planned. Service improvements on the streetcar system are limited to the added capacity that Flexitys will provide on routes still using old cars (e.g. Queen), but there is no headroom from 2020 onward.

Expanding the Fleet

In the 2018 Capital Budget, the TTC planned to acquire 60 more streetcars in 2019-20 for ridership growth, and 15 in 2020-21 for new Waterfront service. In 2019, this has changed to a larger order in the mid-2020s. However, the budget is inconsistent in its presentation of needs and timing.

The chart below is adapted from the fleet plan as it appears in the budget. (The copy I have is in black and white muddying some details depending on colour.) This shows a proposed purchase of 95 cars in 2025-28. It is already out of date because the CLRV and ALRV fleets will be retired sooner than planned. This creates a shortage that prevents full return to streetcar service at the end of 2019 when the Flexity deliveries are supposed to be complete.

Projections out to 2043 show a very substantial increase in the streetcar fleet to almost double the planned fleet in the early 2020s. That’s a lot more streetcar service than we have today. However good this might look, it does not address the challenge that there are not enough cars for the lines and service levels today, and this will not change in the near future.

A few pages later in the budget is a project to purchase 60 new cars which clearly shows the need for 60 cars starting in 2020, with even more in the future. Of particular note is the text about the effect of deferral on service. This project description is obviously out of date, but that is a common problem with the budget.

The actual spending has been moved to 2024-27. It goes without saying that whatever the date, this is an unfunded project.

Adding to the inconsistency is the statement in the 15 year Capital Investment Plan that the TTC would purchase “approximately 100 additional streetcars from 2025 to 2028 to meet demand, at a cost of $510 million”. [p. 54]

A further problem lies in the planned renovation of Russell Carhouse to handle Flexity maintenance similar to the work now underway at Roncesvalles. This will take that site out of operation for two years. Without Russell’s capacity, there would not be enough room to accommodate the extra 60 streetcars if they were procured as originally planned.

The TTC is also considering major changes at Harvey Shops which, as currently configured, can only be used for a small number of Flexitys. The scheme is to revise the layout of tracks and service areas, and to make this an operating site for, at least, the fleet needed on 512 St. Clair. This would very substantially reduce the dead head mileage for 512 St. Clair cars that shifted to Roncesvalles Division from the carhouse at Wychwood, only a short distance north of Hillcrest, in 1978. However, this capacity would not be available until 2028, and the Fleet Plan shown above does not include it. That site would also substantially increase storage capacity on the streetcar system because, in another project, the TTC proposes shifting bus maintenance operations to a new as yet unknown location. This is separate from the construction of another bus garage in the 2020s.

All of this assumes that money will be found to pay for the larger fleet and facility changes needed to accommodate it. In the chart below, all figures are in billions of dollars including inflation. Note that the $370 million for the current 204-car purchase is the remaining money to be spent in years that are part of the Capital Investment Plan, not the total project cost.

The TTC clearly has plans to improve and expand the streetcar system, but there is a deadly combination of constrained capacity growth and rising demand which will not be addressed in the short-to-medium term. That drives potential riders away from transit and adds traffic that streets cannot absorb more demand.

Buses

For many years, growth in bus service has been limited because the TTC has no place to put more buses even if they bought them. This allowed TTC management to avoid the basic issue of how much service was really needed, and budget hawks on Council to avoid increasing TTC subsidies to pay for this.

The chart below is adapted from the fleet plan in the capital budget. The first column shows the fleet makeup before 2014 and then shows the procurements and retirements over the period to 2034.

  • The “Net” column is a check on the arithmetic to ensure that the numbers actually net out. There is an error highlighted in red where the TTC claims it will retire more buses than it actually owns. This has only a small effect on the future fleet size (five out of two thousand buses).
  • There are 200 hybrids and 60 electric buses in the 2019 budget, followed by a pause for one year in 2020 when there will be no purchases. This is partly a result of timing pressure to spend federal PTIF dollars within the required window, and partly to provide an evaluation process for the electric buses.
  • Electric bus purchases will begin in earnest in 2021 with the last of the existing diesel and hybrid fleet being retired by 2033.

The projected service requirements have changed since the 2018 version of the plan, and both versions are shown in the chart. Four planned major events will reduce bus requirements:

  • The Eglinton Crosstown LRT opens in 2021 replacing frequent bus services on several routes.
  • The Finch LRT opens in 2023 replacing bus service west of Keele Street.
  • The Scarborough Subway Extension opens in 2026 shifting the termini of many routes to STC station.
  • The planned expansion of the streetcar fleet in the mid 2020s eliminates the need for buses to supplement/replace streetcar services.

The use of articulated 18m buses will increase by 68 vehicles in 2021 if this plan holds. The next round of artic purchase in 2025-26 will replace the 153 diesel artics now in the fleet, but there are no net additions.

With the shift of the bus fleet to electric operation, the TTC plans to convert its garages at a rate of two per year. However, they have not produced a plan that aligns this conversion with the rate at which electric vehicles will replace diesels and hybrids.

Garage space continues to be an issue. The current capacity across seven garages is 1,631 buses compared to a total fleet of 2,012, a shortfall of 381. Even when McNicoll Garage opens in 2020 adding capacity for 250 buses, there will still be a shortfall with system capacity of only 1,881. A ninth garage to add a further 250 spaces is not planned to open until 2031. That garage, like many projects, sits in the “out years” of the capital plans so that it does not contribute to the shortfall in available funding over the 10-year span of the budget.

This puts the TTC and its would-be customers in a long-standing box when looking at service improvements. For another decade, Toronto will be told that there is no room for more buses beyond the current fleet plans. The planned growth in peak service from 2026 onward is under one per cent per year.

TTC management plans to bring forward a service plan later in 2019 which will examine future demand. A vital part of such a report will be to look not just at minimal ridership and fleet growth, but to consider what happens if service improves at a substantial rate. Oddly, there is provision for this in the streetcar fleet plan, but not in the bus plan.

The 15-year Capital Improvement Plan includes construction of a collision centre and heavy overhaul facility for the bus fleet. This would release space now used at Hillcrest allowing it to be repurposed as a new streetcar shops and depot. The engine shops now at Hillcrest would become obsolete with the migration to an all-electric bus fleet.

 

Will the TTC Presto Project Ever End? (Updated)

Updated March 19, 2019 at 4:00 pm: The TTC has replied to questions I sent about the new Presto spending. There is a major change in project scope.

Buried in hundreds of pages of the TTC’s Capital Budget are a few sheets on the implementation of Presto, the fare system foisted on Toronto by Queen’s Park.

According to the project description, the estimated final cost (EFC) for the TTC would be $44 million (this is net of subsidies from other levels of government). However, as the project budget shows, $43 million was spent to the end of 2017, and a further $19.4 million in 2018. Most of the costs booked to date have been under the category of “Project Management”.

The project is supposed to wind up in 2019, but there is a budgeted TTC cost of $17.3 million.

And lo and behold! In 2020 there is a further $49 million.

Both the 2019 and 2020 spending are net new in the budget this year, although $47 million of the 2020 amount is still considered to be “unfunded”.

On March 5, 2019, I asked the TTC what this proposed spending was to cover considering that the Project Summary (below) is silent on this new money.

And so a question for everyone who is following the Presto story: Why is there a total of $66.3 million in new money included in the 2019-2028 Capital Budget that was not there last year? What will it pay for? Will this spending ever end, or are will Toronto continue to discover costs for Presto it missed when the project to adopt this system was sold to the TTC Board and Council?

The TTC Replies:

A portion of 2019 added funding is to enable TTC farecard staff to continue work on PRESTO implementation (products, service standards, etc.)  There is also a portion of unspent 2018 funds carried forward into 2019.

Some 2019 costs and the 2020 cash flow is a preliminary estimate for the cost of an on vehicle ticket solution for buses that will allow customers to pay with cash to obtain a ticket that will allow them to pass through faregates.  This is a very early estimate that was developed as part of the comprehensive list of projects identified in the Capital Investment Plan.  As noted, aside from initial funds for a feasibility study this project is not funded.

The 2019 funding increase was two part:

a) Continued PRESTO implementation costs

The PRESTO rollout was anticipated to be substantial complete in 2018 with the rollout of the PRESTO Ticket product, and solutions for cross boundary travel, downtown express travel and other PRESTO payment products. MX was unable to deliver these items, particularly PRESTO Tickets, as expected in 2018 and delayed the implementation to 2019. Resources were also added to the capital program to addresses software quality and system performance issues. Additional capital funds were requested to accommodate and support the continued work and change to the PRESTO implementation plan.

b) Commence initial Cash on Surface (Farebox Replacement) work

A solution is required to allow cash paying customers transferring from surface vehicles (buses, streetcars, Wheel Trans) to enter non-integrated TTC stations with fare gates. Initial capital funds were added to year 2019 and 2020 as a very early estimate that was developed as part of the comprehensive list of projects identified in the Capital Investment Plan.  This funding is for business case development and feasibility analysis only.

We had also added funds for the development of a fare payment solution for Wheel Trans contracted taxis in the event Metrolinx/PRESTO was unable to do so.

[Email from Stuart Green, March 19, 2019]

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TTC 2019 Fleet and Capacity Plans Part I: Subway (Updated)

Note: At the time of publication (Noon on Monday, March 18, 2019), I await a response from the TTC to several questions on issues raised in this article. When the responses arrive, I will update the article.

Updated March 20, 2019 at 6:40 am: The spreadsheet of major project costs has been revised to show the correct final cost for the Line 2 Platform Edge Doors project. The value under “post 2028” was correct, but the EFC originally contained the value for the Bloor-Yonge project. This change does not affect the text of the article as PEDs were cited only in that table.

The TTC’s Capital Budget and Plan exist in a summary form in reports to the TTC Board and City Council, but there is a much more detailed version commonly known as the “blue books”. These are two large binders packed with information about capital projects.

For years, I have been reading them to sniff out issues that the general reports don’t cover or acknowledge. The 2019 edition became available at the beginning of March, and as I dove into it, many questions began to fill notes especially where there are direct conflicts between materials in the books themselves, and between these details and public statements and reports. Combing through this material may look like the height of transit nerdishness, but there is a crucial underlying issue here.

Cost-cutting politicians, not to mention ambitious transit managers, think that everything can be solved with a quick takeover of ownership and decision-making responsibilities. The temptation is to appear to do much while spending as little as possible. TTC and City practices chronically understate the capital needs of the transit system, and this makes a takeover appear cheaper than it really should be. Couple that with a government and its agency, Metrolinx, where detailed, long-range spending plans never appear in public, and we have a recipe for a system that will crumble from underfunding.

I cannot help but feel that project timings and overall plans for the system have been shuffled around without a thorough review of the effects especially where related plans overlap. Indeed, some project descriptions contain text that does not match the timing implied by the annual budget allocations. TTC management is supposed to be working on consolidated plans for both major subway lines, although the one for Line 2 was promised two years ago when Andy Byford was still the CEO.

A long-standing problem with capital budgets in Toronto, and not just at the TTC, is the overriding concern with the City’s debt ceiling. Toronto sets a target that the cost of debt should not exceed 15 per cent of tax revenue. Originally this was a hard cap for each year in a ten-year projection, but major projects in the near future made this impossible to achieve. Now the target is to stay at or below the ceiling on average. With a bulge in spending, and hence an increase in debt, in the mid 2020s, debt costs go over the line and this is “fixed” only by having years at less than 15% to make the average work out.

For a capital-hungry agency like the TTC there is a problem: future projects have requirements that simply do not fit into the City’s plans. The severity of this shortfall has been understated for over a decade by three simple expedients.

  • Project schedules in the budget are pushed beyond the ten-year mark where the related debt pressure would appear in City projections.
  • Projects are shown “below the line” in unfunded status with a hope that revenue sources such as new subsidies from other governments will appear.
  • Projects are omitted from from the budget completely.

The result is familiar to city-watchers with annual hand-wringing about the sky falling tomorrow, while somehow we manage to pay for today’s projects. In January 2019, the TTC knocked the legs out from this with the publication of a 15 year Capital Investment Plan revealing capital needs far greater than any numbers used in past projections. What had been a ten year, $9 billion plan that was roughly two-thirds funded (i.e. had known or likely monies available) went to a fifteen year, $33.5 billion plan with only one-third funded. This is just for “state of good repair”, and any system expansion sits on top.

In all of this lies a more subtle problem than simple financing. Years of shuffling projects made projected spending fit within City targets, and this served political needs to make key projects appear manageable. Overall planning, including the relationships between line items in the budget, took second place, if it was considered at all.

Capital planning requires a long-term view of the city and its transit system, and decisions made today have effects reaching more than a decade into the future. Toronto continues to suffer from delays in provision of new fleets for the surface system, including the garage space needed to hold a larger bus fleet, that go back at least to the era of Mayor Rob Ford. For years, the standard response to pleas for better transit service is that there are no buses and streetcars to provide more service, and even if we had them, we would have no place to put them. This flows directly from decisions to throttle spending.

Toronto faces the same challenge on its subway where decisions about the timing of spending, even of acknowledging the scope of requirements, limit the ability to address capacity problems.

This is a long article focusing on matters related to fleet planning, although there are related issues with infrastructure and facilities. Key points are summarized first, with details in following sections.

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The Evolution of TTC Ridership and Fares 2005-2018

Recent discussions about TTC ridership and fare evasion included references to the numbers of riders who use each fare medium, but this was not published in detail in reports and presentations.

The TTC publishes a breakdown of ridership through the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal including values for each type of fare annually back to 1985. Charts in this article use the data from 2005 onward. [Click on any chart to open an expanded version.]

Adult Fares

With the availability of Presto, Adult fare payments have been migrating to that medium for the past few years. The chart below shows the number of rides by fare type and the evolution of the preferred medium is clear over the years.

  • In 2005, the number of token fares (red) was lightly greater than the ticket fares (orange), but ticket use dropped off as this medium was withdrawn.
  • Metropass fares (dark blue, an estimated count of trips based on user diary records) grew  considerably to 2014, and then began to drop as Post Secondary passes (green) and later Presto (yellow) and Presto-based Monthly Passes (dark green) ate into Metropass usage.
  • Weekly passes have never accounted for much of the total. Other small fractions are broken out in a separate chart below.
  • Total Adult ridership has been falling since 2014, although this was masked in overall counts by the rise in Children’s trips with the advent of free travel.
  • Note that 2015 is shown with an asterisk. Ridership due to the Pan Am Games is not included in the totals to allow consistent year-over-year comparisons.
  • A Presto “SRVM” is a “Single Ride Vending Machine”.
  • Presto usage jumped substantially in early 2019 with the discontinuation of Metropasses, but this is not reflected in data to 2018 below.

The bands associated with monthly passes could overstate actual ridership depending on the accuracy of diary-based estimates. There is likely a drift between the ridership multiple (rides/pass) used to calculate the published figures and the actual ridership as discussed in my previous article about the Auditor General’s Report.

The data above show ridership values, and these are reformatted below as percentages of all Adult trips.

In order to make the low-usage media values clearer, the chart below includes only media for which less than five percent of Adult fares were paid with each type.

  • The Weekly Pass (turquoise) tops out at about 2.5% of all Adult fares in 2012 and then drops again on a clear downward trend by 2018. This pass will likely be replaced by some form of fare capping later in 2019, but there is no definite decision yet on this.
  • The two hour fare only came into use in mid 2018, and it does not yet represent a large number of trips. Indeed, counting these as “trips” is a challenge in comparison with the previous fare structure where a “free” transfer may have been valid, or not, depending on the nature of the trip.
  • The Presto Monthly Pass became available in mid-2018, but Metropass users opted not to convert to it in large numbers until 2019.

Senior and Student Fares

Seniors and Students receive approxiately a 1/3 discount over Adult fares at the ticket/token rate, although their discount for passes is lower. This means that more trips must be taken by a passholder to “break even” compared with paying by tickets.

  • There was a steady growth in Monthly Pass usage (dark blue) up to 2016 that was since reversed by Presto-based fares. Weekly passes (turquoise) accounted for a trivial number of trips.
  • Tickets (orange) and Cash (grey) have long been the dominant payment medium for this group of riders.
  • Presto fares (yellow) made a considerable inroad into ticket use in 2018.
  • Total ridership by Seniors and Students dropped slightly in 2018.

The chart below shows the same data as percentages of all Senior and Student fares.

The low-usage media for Seniors and Students are a small percentage of that market, which in turn is considerably smaller than the Adult fare market.

Children

The advent of free rides for children 12 and under more than doubled the estimated riding from this group. Presto “children” (although there is some dispute about how many of these are genuine) have added a few more.

Miscellany

Finally we come to a collection of fare media that collectively account for a small and declining amount of total ridership. Day Pass usage has been dropping thanks to Presto, and this medium will disappear entirely later in 2019.

Total Ridership

The jump of over 10 million rides associated with free children’s travel offset a chunk of the adult ridership loss as noted above. This also partly blinded the TTC Board and Senior Management from what was happening to their system overall. The decline of total ridership began in 2017, but the Adult decline had already been underway since 2015.

The complete set of charts in PDF format is linked below.

TTC_Ridership_Analysis_2005_2018

TTC Board Meeting: February 27, 2019

The TTC Board met at City Hall on Wednesday, February 27.

There was also a meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee at TTC Headquarters, 1900 Yonge Street, at 9:00 am on Tuesday, February 26 with many items that are also on the full Board’s agenda.

The City Auditor General’s report on Fare Evasion was on both agendas. Given its length and detailed content, I reviewed it in a separate article. An update on actions taken by the Board is included below.

Also in this article:

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TTC Service Changes Effective March 31, 2019

TTC service changes for the schedule period running from the end of March through to mid-May 2019 are comparatively minor.

The reconstruction of King-Queen-Roncesvalles, originally planned to start this spring, has been delayed to 2020. Planned changes in affected streetcar services will not occur, although some revisions to 504 King are expected in May to address service reliability. The schedules for 29/929 Dufferin service have been left as originally designed for this period with all service extended to the Princes’ Gate Loop. This change will be reversed in May.

Construction begins on the CNR bridge over Coxwell Avenue. Half of the underpass will be closed at a time, and this begins with the northbound roadway. 22/322 Coxwell services will divert via Woodbine and Danforth.

Reconstruction of the bus roadway at Jane Station was planned to begin with these schedules, but work has been deferred until May. The new schedules provide for extension of the 26 Dupont and 55 Warren Park routes to Old Mill Station, but they will actually operate to Jane Station pending start of construction. At that time, the 35/935 Jane services will shift to on street loading on Jane Street.

On line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina, the crew relief and break point will move north to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station from Sheppard West Station.

Route 95/995 York Mills will be revised with weekday midday 995 express service added to the schedule. The midday 95B service to UTSC will be replaced with 95C service to Ellesmere Station as in the peak periods.

There are minor changes on several bus routes (see the linked summary for details) to adjust running times and headways.

Updated March 14, 2019: The number of vehicles on 167 Pharmacy North has been corrected in the spreadsheet linked below.

2019.03.31_Service_Changes

Waterfront Transit “Reset”: The Union Station Connection

Toronto’s Waterfront Transit Reset planning has been underway since 2016, and most of the decisions about routing were settled by early 2018.

A major outstanding issue was the link from Queens Quay to Union Station. Three options were originally under consideration:

  • Retaining the streetcar link with an expanded loop at Union to provide greater capacity and an underground junction at Queens Quay leading to the Waterfront East line.
  • Replacing the streetcar operation am “automated people mover” (now “APM”, but originally called a “funicular”) using two linked trains, one in each tunnel, and an expanded station at Queens Quay. The APM trains would be linked by a cable that would move the cars, and they would have no on-board propulsion. When one train is at Queens Quay, the other would be at Union.
  • Replacing the streetcar operation with a pedestrian walkway and moving sidewalk from Union to Queens Quay.

In the two latter schemes, the original idea was to keep the streetcars on the surface at Queens Quay with links down to a station below.

The walkway/moving sidewalk option was discarded early in the process because there was not enough room for a bidirectional ramp (akin to what used to be at Spadina Station) and walkway, and a unidirectional ramp would pose accessibility problems.

Two technologies remained – streetcar and automated people mover (APM) – for the tunnel with sub-options for the interchange between APM and streetcar.

Streetcar with expanded Union loop and Queens Quay Station (modified EA)

APM with streetcar below grade at Queens Quay / Bay

APM with streetcar at grade along Queens Quay

The design of a surface station at Queens Quay proved to be unworkable because of:

  • the space that would be taken out of the street by track, platforms and vertical access to the station below,
  • the volume of transfer traffic projected and its potential conflict with other activity for this location,
  • the need for an outdoor transfer connection.

For both remaining schemes, an underground station would be required at Queens Quay although the design would vary depending on whether the streetcar or people mover option was selected for the Union link.

Overall Evaluation

The two options were evaluated for various factors including user experience, overall network benefit, construction effects, and cost. On balance, the streetcar option won out, and the people mover option was not as simple and cheap as its proponents had thought. The one criterion on which the PM did rank better was construction difficulty.

This recommendation will go to Toronto’s Executive Committee, the TTC Board and Council in April along with reports on other major projects including SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension. How much attention the Waterfront will get in the midst of debates on larger projects remains to be seen, and of course there is always the problem that available funding falls far short of paying the bills for every project on the table.

Toronto talks a good line about “transit first” development, but never puts up real money. The waterfront is always a project for some indefinite future time, but not now. As a city, we love new buildings and crow over the number of cranes in the sky, but we assume that travel demands these buildings create will magically flow over the existing network. On a regional scale, this has delayed needed growth in GO Transit and the Relief subway line, and on a local scale it limits transit growth to a handful of very expensive subway extensions whose value is counted first in votes.

Development at a scale many parts of the GTA can only dream of will occur within a few kilometres of Union Station, and there is a great danger that transit will not be ready as buildings come on stream.

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Fare Evasion on the TTC: The Auditor General’s Report

With official ridership stats flat or falling over the past few years, and the annual pressure to raise fares to balance the budget, the issue of fare evasion comes up regularly as an untapped revenue source. This became a particular concern with the move to all-door loading on, primarily, the streetcar network where the absence of a fare check at vehicle entry gives more scope for evasion than on buses or in subway stations.

Toronto’s Auditor General (AG) has issued a report and a video on this topic. They will be discussed at the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee meeting on Tuesday, February 26, and at the full Board’s meeting on Wednesday, February 27.

The political context of fare management comes in on a few counts, and should be remembered when reading about dubious decisions and practices as flagged in this report.

  • As the TTC shifted to larger vehicles, primarily on the streetcar system, an important goal was to increase the ratio of riders to operators. However, as all-door boarding and Proof-of-Payment (PoP) became more common, the need to validate fare payments went up. The politicians who control TTC funding at the Board and Council levels have a fetish for “head count” where limiting the growth in staff, or better still reducing their numbers, takes precedence. The result was that the number of Fare Inspectors did not keep pace with the growth in PoP.
  • Presto was forced on the TTC by Queen’s Park under threat of losing subsidies for other programs. There is a strong imperative to report only “good news” about Presto both at Metrolinx and at the TTC for fear of embarrassing those responsible at both the political and staff levels for this system. Getting the system implemented took precedence over having a fare system that worked.
  • Historically the TTC has claimed that fare evasion on its system amounts to about 2% of trips. With fare revenue for 2019 budgeted at $1.2 billion, this would represent a loss of about $24 million in revenue. If the actual evasion rate is higher, assumptions built into the PoP and Presto rollouts especially about the scale of enforcement required, are no longer valid.

Through all of this, there are many examples of poor co-ordination between Metrolinx/Presto and the TTC, of poorly thought-out implementations of procedure and of operational practices that simply do not achieve the best possible results. There is plenty of “blame” to go around, but a fundamental problem is that the system “must work” for managerial and political credibility.

The AG conducted a six-week review of actual conditions on the subway, streetcar and bus networks in November-December 2018 and found that the actual evasion rate was substantially higher, especially on the streetcar system.

The dollar values shown here are built up from mode-specific evasion rates and the level of ridership on each mode.

Problems with Presto contributed about 5% to the $64.1 million total in lost revenue, but this does not include issues with fare gates or TTC practices regarding “crash gates” in stations which allow fast entry for riders with media that can be checked visually. The proportion of such riders has dropped substantially with the end of Metropasses, and will fall again when tokens and tickets are discontinued later in 2019.

The report contains 27 recommendations all of which have been accepted by TTC management. The challenge will be to see how they are implemented.

Summary

The Auditor General’s findings fall into broad groups:

  • The challenges of self-service fares where entrances are not always checked
  • Presto equipment reliability and performance
  • The ratio of fare inspection staff to the number of passengers
  • Deployment issues for fare inspectors

A related issue is that the way the TTC estimates ridership might not accurately reflect conditions in the field. The reported drop in “ridership” in the past few years could lie as much in the methodology of counting multi-trip (pass) usage and shifts from old-style passes to Presto as in a real loss of riders and system demand. Moreover, a weakening in the rate of growth is clear going back longer than Presto has been available on the TTC, or Proof-of-Payment was in widespread use.

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King-Queen-Roncesvalles Project Deferred to 2020 (Updated)

Updated February 28, 2019: The TTC has confirmed that schedule and routing for 504 King and 501 Queen will not change at the end of March as originally planned. However, the 29 Dufferin schedule had also been changed to send all buses to the Princes’ Gates loop anticipating streetcar congestion at Dufferin Loop. This schedule change will remain for one schedule period and then be backed out in mid-May.

The City of Toronto announced today that the work planned for this summer at the King-Queen-Roncesvalles intersection and westward on The Queensway to Parkside Drive would be deferred to 2020 because of complications with the project.

Email from Chief Engineer, Michael D’Andrea.

“As you know, in early February, the City issued the tender for the planned project at the intersection at King / The Queensway / Queen / Roncesvalles. This project included: sewer and watermain replacement, replacing the entire TTC overhead and track infrastructure within the intersection and west along The Queensway, Streetscaping, road and intersection works along the Queensway, rehabilitating the bridge over Parkside Drive, removing the right-turn channel at Queensway and King Street and overall intersection / road improvements within the area. Based on feedback received to date from contractors considering the tender, there are areas of construction and design that require additional review and clarity to ensure the construction delivery schedule and budget can be upheld and delivered according to plan.

As a result, the City of Toronto is rescheduling the delivery of this project to 2020.

Efforts are underway between several City Divisions and TTC to firm up the design, schedule, and tender and reporting to the Infrastructure & Environment Committee. We expect to provide additional information to all stakeholders involved (Parkdale BIA / Roncesvalles BIA / St. Joseph’s Health Centre) in April – with more details to follow for the residents in the area at a later date.

We understand that the wait and anticipation for this construction has been a long time coming; however, the City and TTC wanted to ensure that the planned construction will be delivered according to the plan, schedule and budget that works to mitigate traffic and TTC service impacts as much as possible. We look forward to meeting with you and stakeholders soon, to further discuss these measures.”

I await clarification from the TTC whether the route changes contemplated to go into effect with the March 30 schedules will or will not take place. They are probably far enough away from finalization of those schedules to avoid having an inappropriate service design for diversions that are not required now.

When I hear definitively, I will update this article.

Meanwhile, the expected release of streetcars from the west ends of 501 Queen and 504 King will not occur, and this will prevent the change back to streetcar operation on other routes until more of the new cars are available.