501 Queen: Streetcars vs Buses November 25-29, 2019

During the last week of November, the first to see streetcars return to The Beach after almost three months’ absence for construction at Kingston Road, the line had a major disruption thanks to a broken rail near Roncesvalles. This rail damaged the track brakes on 22 Flexity cars, and while the TTC searched for the problem, the line was completely switched to bus operation.

Streetcars ran on Monday and Tuesday, November 25-26, and on Wednesday November 27 until midday. Buses ran from the afternoon of November 27 to the end of service on Friday,November 29 (actually Saturday morning).

There have been calls from certain quarters on City Council for a comparison of the operation of both modes. I published an analysis of route 505 Dundas in May 2018. Broadly speaking, it showed that buses outrun streetcars only when there is no traffic in the way and operators can drive as if they are on the suburban streets they are used to.

The substitution on 501 Queen gave an opportunity to compare the two modes over the entire route, not just over a segment running with buses due to construction. This article reviews the data from November 25-29 for 501 Queen.

Methodology

The TTC has two vehicle tracking system, CIS and VISION. The streetcar fleet (and a small number of buses that often run on streetcar lines) is tracked by CIS, while most of the bus fleet is tracked by VISION. The entire system will be on VISION probably in a few years, but for the moment there are two data sources.

Until quite recently, I was unable to obtain finely-grain information about vehicle locations from VISION, but this changed in October 2019. It is now possible to get comparable data tracking vehicles from both systems. This meant that comparable data were available for both the streetcar and bus operations on 501 Queen.

The process for converting data from snapshots with GPS co-ordinates to a format suitable for analysis is described at length in Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data.

In this case, we are interested in three aspects of streetcar and bus behaviour:

  • How long does each type of vehicle take to get from one point on the route to another?
  • What are the speed profiles for each vehicle type along the route?
  • What are the dwell times for each vehicle type along the route?

For the comparatively coarse measurement of travel times between points, the route is divided by screenlines. Tracking when each vehicle crosses a screenline gives both the headways at each line, and the travel times between them.

For fine measurement of vehicle speed, the tracking data are used to calculate each vehicle’s speed as it moved along a route. The route is subdivided into 10m segments, and the speeds of every vehicle passing through that segment in each hour are averaged. This reveals locations where vehicles spend a lot of time stopped or travelling slowly, and of course locations where they move much faster.

For dwell times, the points of interest are those where vehicles are stationary. The “tick” of the clock for tracking data is every 20 seconds, and so the length of a vehicle’s stay at a point can only be calculated to a multiple of that interval. This is a fairly coarse measurement relative to the length of time most vehicles take to serve stops, and the resulting data give only a broad outline of comparative dwell times. Note also that “dwell time” is not necessarily all “stop service time” because vehicles can be awaiting a green traffic signal, or be stuck in traffic at the stop.

The distance scale to which I convert GPS positions is measured in 10m increments. Given that vehicles will not necessarily stop at exactly the same place every time, the charts here give moving averages of dwell times over 30m.

All of the analyses presented here are subdivided into hourly intervals recognizing that a route’s behaviour at 6am is vary different from midday, the two peaks, and the evening. Far too much data presented by the TTC is summarized on an all-day basis, and even on an all-route basis. This masks variations in behaviour by location and time of day, and does not give a detailed picture of what is happening.

Summary

The data reveal various aspects of bus and streetcar operation on 501 Queen, and by extension, on other routes where a substitution might be contemplated. The results for 501 echo those seen in the 2018 article on the 505 Dundas route.

  • Across the entire route, buses travel faster than streetcars, but their performance varies from place to place, hour to hour.
  • On sections of the route where traffic is not free flowing, and where stops are busy, buses do no better than streetcars and during some periods they are worse.
  • Where traffic is free flowing, some of the advantage buses have arises from driving at above the speed limit which is 40 kph within the old City of Toronto, and 50 kph on the Lake Shore section west of the Humber River.
  • The effect of streetcar slow orders at numerous locations is clearly evident in the data.
  • Dwell time for buses appears to be slightly longer than for streetcars. This could be due to loading delays, but in turn that could be caused by the bus service being overwhelmed by streetcar-level demand. (There were complaints about the quality and capacity of the replacement service.) Also, buses lose time getting to and from curbside stops, but this is not necessarily reflected in “dwell times” because they are merely slow, not stopped during these moves.
  • I am unable to comment on service quality with buses because many vehicles were not logged on to VISION with the 501 route number. Therefore, their data do not appear in the extract I received. However, there were enough vehicles to get a sample of their behaviour and determine travel times.

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TTC Capital Budget 2020-2029 and 15 Year Plan (Updated)

Updated December 17, 2019 at 12:00 nn

This item has been updated to reflect actions taken at the TTC Board meeting of December 16 to accelerate decisions on priority projects in light of new funding that will be available through the Mayor’s proposed City Building Fund. The new information is in a postscript at the end of this article.

The link to the “Blue Pages” has been updated to point to a revised version that corrects formatting problems with some amounts in the table, and corrects the names of several budget lines. Among these was a line called “Purch 496 LF 40 ft Diesel Buses”. This has been revised to “Purchase Conventional Buses”. The section on “Buses” within the “Fleet Plan” has been revised to reflect this and include some information from discussion at the meeting

Introduction

At its meeting on December 16, 2019, the TTC Board will consider its Operating and Capital budgets for 2020. The Operating Budget was my subject in a previous article, and here I turn to the Capital Budget and 15 Year Plan. There are two related documents on the TTC’s website:

The TTC has various ways of presenting its capital budget and plans, and navigating these can be tricky for the uninitiated. There are:

  • The 15 Year Capital Investment Plan (CIP)
  • The 10 Year Capital Plan
  • The current year Capital Budget
  • Variations on the budget and plan that do not include “below the line” projects that have no committed funding
  • Estimated Final Costs (EFCs) for projects beginning within the 10 or 15 year window, but stretching beyond

For anyone making comparisons with the opaque budgets and plans at Metrolinx, that agency does not include inflation over a project’s life in cost projections, while the TTC does. The simple fact is that Toronto borrows real dollars to fund projects at then-current prices, not a some years-old notional cost. City financing plans must be based on future year spending at future prices.

The Capital Investment Plan

The Capital Investment Plan was introduced in January 2019 to bring some reality into capital planning that had been absent at the TTC, City and Provincial levels for years. In an attempt to make its future exposure to large capital expenses and possible borrowing look better than it really was, the TTC and City produced 10-year capital budgets that omitted a growing list of critical and expensive projects essential to the health of the system. The CIP pulled up the rug, so to speak, under which all of these had been hiding, and revealed officially what anyone following the TTC already knew – the difference between available funding and needed investment was an ever-deepening hole.

This arrangement suited many parties because the City could make its future debt problems look less intimidating that they really were, and advocates of big spending on new projects did not have to contend with needed spending on repairs and renewal for funding. At the Provincial level, the cost of taking over the TTC, and especially the subway network, looked manageable, but that myth exploded when the real exposure to system renewal costs emerged. Toronto, now happily back in charge of all existing TTC assets, faces the bill for a mountain of projects that Ontario might otherwise have taken off their hands.

The 2019 CIP showed that there was a $33.5 billion investment requirement over the 15 years to 2033, of which over $20 billion had no identified source of funding. A gap that incoming City Manager Chris Murray though was a few billion exploded by an order of magnitude as he noted at a recent speech at the Munk Centre. This was not something that could be fixed with a nip here and a tuck there in the City and TTC budgets.

We must now have faith that the total amount shown in the CIP really is an exhaustive tally of needed spending. However, this could be subject to upheavals such as changes in policy about renewal cycles for equipment, service levels affecting fleet size, technology selections affecting vehicle costs and the timing of major projects paid for by others but affecting the existing network such as the Scarborough and North Yonge subway extensions.

Until quite recently, future spending on TTC capital projects other than rapid transit expansion faced a big downturn in the mid 2020s corresponding to the point where the City’s ability to borrow net new funds crashed into the City’s debt ceiling. In order to maintain a good credit rating and thereby save on borrowing costs, the City limits its debt service charges (interest) to no more than 15% of the revenue stream from property taxes. Other sources of revenue do not count toward this calculation either because they are earmarked (e.g. TTC fares or targeted subsidies from other governments), or because they cannot be counted on to survive as long as the debt they might pay for (government transfers that come and go with a Premier’s whim).

Mayor John Tory has proposed a substantial increase in the City Building Levy, an extra property tax just like Rob Ford’s Scarborough Subway Tax, that will allow the City to borrow $6.6 billion more to cover its share of transit and housing projects. There is a catch, of course, in that we have no idea what other governments might contribute, if anything. Toronto has already burned through its infrastructure stimulus money from Phase I of the federal government’s PTIF (Public Transit Infrastructure Fund), and the Phase II money will go substantially to a few major rapid transit projects as approved by Council. Asking for more effectively opens up the question of better support nationally for public transit, not just for Toronto. As for Queen’s Park, Ontario’s Ford government, not exactly a friend of Toronto, could well say “we are paying for your new subway lines, but you want more”, and dismiss any request. Both Toronto and Ontario are guilty of wasteful spending on big ticket projects while underfunding basic maintenance.

When the 2019 CIP was approved by the TTC Board, it included a recommendation that the Board:

Direct the CEO to begin steps required to prioritize critical base capital needs in advance of the Board’s consideration of the 2020 Capital Budget [Minutes of January 24, 2019, Item 10, point 3]

There is no sign of prioritization among the various projects as an indication of what any new funding, should it appear, would be spent on.

The 2020 CIP includes a recommendation that the Board:

Direct the CEO to update the Capital Investment Plan on an annual basis based on refined cost and schedule estimates as projects progress through stage gates and to prioritize critical base capital needs in advance of the Board’s consideration of the 2021 budget process

The situation with the budget is too critical, and the need for action now by Council and the TTC to identify critical projects that should be first in line for funding cannot be overstated. Without a priority list that identifies the core requirements, Toronto risks losing at least another year to debate and indecision, hallmarks of the City’s transit planning.

In the intervening year, the CIP has grown by about eight percent to $36.1 billion. This is a troubling development because a good chunk of the recently announced “new” money for transit could vanish into supporting cost overruns, not to building and renewing the system.

This growth is summarized in a chart from the TTC’s report. The top portion shows the original CIP presented in January 2019 with $9.7 billion in funded projects and $23.8 billion unfunded.

The bottom portion shows the changes moving forward one year:

  • The project to add capacity at Bloor-Yonge Station has grown by 45% with an additional $500 million above the $1.1 billion shown for this item in the 2019 CIP.
  • SAP ERP is a project to replace legacy IT systems with a modern, integrated suite of software. The added $200 million arises from a combination of scope change and higher estimated cost for the work already committed.
  • ATC resignalling has grown by $900 million due to a scope change in the Line 1 project, and a rise in the estimated cost of Line 2 ATC from $420 million cited in the 2019 CIP. It is not clear whether this includes funding for the retrofit of the T1 fleet that will, under current plans, continue to operate during the ATC era on Line 2, notably on the Scarborough extension (assuming it is built with ATC from day 1, unlike the Spadina Vaughan extension where this was an afterthought). Line 4 has been added to the scope of this project.
  • Lighting in Open Cut refers to the replacement of existing lighting along the above-grade portions of the subway much of which is decades old. This item was included in the 2019 CIP as part of a bundle of subway upgrades, and at a much lower cost.
  • It is not clear from the report just what is involved in the $300 million for “Subway Signal System Alterations” beyond the work under other projects to implement ATC.
  • The last line moves year 2029, originally part of years 11-15, into the years 1-10 column.

This should be a cautionary example that the full cost of maintaining and renewing the system is not written in stone, and increases are inevitable. This also does not include potential changes related to a fleet plan that focuses on replacing vehicles and expansion rather than making do with rebuilds of existing buses and trains.

The original CIP did not include funding for the major expansion projects such as the Scarborough Subway Extension even though in January 2019 this was a City project not yet assumed by Metrolinx. The reason for this is that the major projects have their own, separate budgets and funding streams and, therefore, they were not part of the CIP to begin with. This can lead to confusion when other major projects such as Waterfront Transit show up in the TTC/City project list, even though they are not in the CIP which, therefore, understates total future funding requirements.

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TTC Operating Budget 2020 (Updated)

Updated December 16, 2019 at 5:30 pm

At its meeting today, the TTC Board approved the Operating Budget and fare increase without amendment. There were deputations on the subject of cash fares as well as the proposed expansion of the cadre of fare inspectors to reduce fare evasion. I have added a section at the end of this article address those issues.

Management’s presentation deck, which includes information on both the Operating and Capital Budgets is available on the TTC’s agenda page. It includes charts showing more detail about recent ridership changes, and these are now included in the postscript.

Introduction

The TTC has released its proposed Capital and Operating budgets for 2020. These will be discussed at a special meeting of the Board on Monday, December 16 at 9:30 am in Committee Room 1 at City Hall (across the corridor from the usual room, CR 2, that the TTC Board uses). Note the early start time as there is no private session in advance of the public meeting.

This article primarily addresses the Operating Budget, and I will turn to Capital in a separate piece.

There has been a lot of TTC-related news and reports in the past year including:

  • The TTC’s publication of a 15 year capital project forecast showing that the “cost of ownership” of the transit system is much, much higher than had been revealed publicly in past years.
  • The provincial decision to re-neg on a planned doubling of the gas tax allocation to municipal transit systems.
  • The provincial decision to retain ownership only of new rapid transit lines, and the concurrent removal from TTC’s financial projections of the need to contribute to new lines that the province will own.
  • The TTC’s 5 Year Service Plan and 10 Year Forecast that gazes ahead to how the system might evolve over the next decade.
  • Mayor Tory’s proposed additional levy to increase his City Building Fund, and related statements in the media about how the money this will finance might be used.
  • The 2020 budgets just released.

With proposals and plans popping up from various agencies and political levels, it was inevitable that there are inconsistencies. Most notable is an emerging issue with whether the TTC will buy new vehicles, and at what scale.

The Service Plan shows projected growth in the streetcar, bus and subway fleets, and Mayor Tory speaks of the need for new vehicles as something that the City Building Fund can pay for.

[…] I am proposing to extend the City Building Levy further into the future to raise approximately $6.6 billion to invest directly in our transit system – including new subway cars, new streetcars, station improvements, and signal upgrades – and in building more affordable housing across our city. [Letter from John Tory to Executive Committee, Dec. 11, 2019, p 2]

At its regular meeting on December 12, 2019, the TTC Board heard a deputation from Unifor, who represent the workers at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant, urging that the TTC commit to buying more streetcars while the production line for them is in place, and also reminding the Board that this plant also produced the Toronto Rocket subway trains which the TTC needs more of in coming years.

However, the Capital Budget explicitly notes that there is no money in the “funded” part of the Capital Budget for anything beyond vehicle orders already committed. There are two problems here.

First, projects are only moved “above the line” with official status on the approval of Toronto Council. This policy was implemented years ago to prevent the TTC from committing to projects for which no money was available and/or which did not have support at Council. Second, although the City Building Fund will make more capital available, it has not yet been approved by Council.

Moreover, there is no sense of what either the TTC’s or Council’s priorities for this money will be. The TTC Board has asked management to prioritize its capital projects on more than one occasion, but nothing has come of this. To be fair to management, “priority” is a concept that moves like leaves in the wind in the political environment, and these decisions must, at least in part, be made by politicians who cannot fob off such decisions on staff.

What is needed is a list of “must have” projects that have first call on any available funding after which Council can wrangle over whose pet projects get first crack at the leftovers. Even deciding what is “must have” is fraught with political battles such as whether expansion of the streetcar fleet will doom suburban drivers to forever be stuck on downtown roads rather than driving above sleek new subways, or at least around “flexible” buses.

I will turn to this in more detail in the Capital Budget article, but on the Operating side there is an issue of great concern: all of the new funding that seems to be coming transit’s way is for capital projects, not for day-to-day operations. The TTC’s ability to expand service is constrained by the level of city subsidy the Council thinks is “affordable” in the context of pressure on taxes, on the level of fare increase (if any) that is politically tenable, and the rise or fall in provincial operating subsidy (which comes out of gas tax revenue).

The 2020 Operating Budget projects a rise in subsidy from the City of Toronto and higher fare revenue, but does not really address the backlog in service deficiencies across the network. The Service Plan, released only a week earlier, foresees no significant service improvements until 2021. The Service Plan claims that all services are operating within the Service Standards, while the Budget claims that there is a need for more service to address crowding. This is the hallmark of a policy framework changing on the fly.

There is a ten cent fare increase proposed for March 2020 that would apply across the board to Adult and to most concession fares. This has provoked a common response that fares are already too high and subsidies are too low, and in turn that ties back to the absence of operating funding in the proposed City Building Levy.

However, freezing fares brings new costs year by year, but no new service. Whether fares change or not, the City needs to have a long-overdue debate about its target for “good” transit service that amounts to more than building a subway to every Councillor’s house. A big frustration with higher fares is that riders see every day how service does not meet their needs both in capacity and reliability. Charging more for an inferior product is not good marketing.

The TTC, ever alert to wresting more fare revenue from passengers, plans to hire 50 more Fare Inspectors. It would be amusing to compare the cost and benefits of these employees to the effect of hiring 50 more operators to drive buses and streetcars.

TTC management, possibly at political direction, consistently fails to produce future year plans that show what a “growth strategy” would look like, and they are content with a plan that barely keeps up with population and job increases. More transit will cost more money. We all know that, but we do not know what can be achieved and at what cost. That was the goal of Mayor David Miller’s Ridership Growth Strategy, and more recently the system improvements proposed by Andy Byford over bitter objections from John Tory’s campaign team. If we do not know what could be done, and how this might be achieved, we will never try.

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TTC Board Meeting: December 12, 2019

The TTC Board met on Thursday December 12, 2019 at 1 pm to discuss a variety of issues. Note that there is a special meeting on Monday, December 16, 2019 at 9:30 am to discuss the operating and capital budgets for 2020.

Items on the agenda include:

Also on the agenda was the 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook which I have addressed in separate articles:

There is an update on the discussion at the meeting regarding this plan at the end of this article.

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TTC Annual Service Plan for 2020 (Updated)

This article is the second part of a series on the TTC’s 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook.

Just after I posted the article, the TTC replied to several queries about its content. This article has been updated to incorporate additional information.

See also

Requests for Service and Route Changes

Returning to past practice, TTC staff will report annually to the Board on requests for changes in the network requested by, among others, Councillors, community groups and employers, as well as changes triggered by events such as new rapid transit lines or staff-proposed area restructuring (such as the recent updates to routes in the Junction).

There has been a backlog of such requests, and the report contains a long section detailing them. Unfortunately, it is not indexed nor arranged in route order. For the benefit of readers, I have created a summary sorted by status and route number. Page numbers refer to those within Attachment 2 to the Service Plan.

The requests range from substantial route changes to minor items such as stop eliminations. There has been no filtering on the external support for some of these ideas, and some proposals have more a sense of tinkering by individuals rather than true community input. But they’re all there. Some make it to “recommended” status, subject to funding. Some are on hold pending other changes such as the opening of the Crosstown which will affect many routes. Many are not recommended for various reasons, mainly low potential demand or violation of network design principles to serve a specific locale.

The list contains several entries where the underlying complaint is crowding. Proposals include route changes to redirect riders to other routes as well as the simple request of “run more buses”. The Service Plan does not address crowding levels on a route by route level or even acknowledge this growing problem. It is almost comic for the TTC to trumpet evaluation of new services while failing to deal with shortfalls in the service it runs today.

One proposed change is the extension of the 339 Finch East night bus to serve the Tapscott industrial area. Because so many TTC service changes are done on a “zero sum” basis where resources are shuffled between routes, this will be accomplished by terminating the 365 Parliament night bus which is a poor performing route with other nearby lines serving the same area (Bloor Danforth, Carlton, Queen, King). The 365 Parliament bus gets only 4 boardings per vehicle hour well below the standard of 10. The change will be implemented in 2020, but the specific date has not been announced.

The report notes that performance on the night routes is generally good, although it does not list values for individual routes.

New ridership data for the overnight network shows that ridership on almost all the routes meet TTC service standards – in fact, many routes are showing growth since the expanded network. The only service to not meet the TTC’s service standards is the 365 Parliament overnight service where the boardings per service hour do not meet the minimum threshold to justify the resources spent to provide the service. [Attachment 3, p 8]

On the streetcar night routes headways were improved simply to reduce storage requirement for cars. The 301 Queen, 304 King and 310 Spadina routes operate every 15 minutes, and the 306 Carlton route has 20 minute service. Previously, the headway on all four routes was 30 minutes. It is not clear whether the performance of these routes is such that this level of service should become permanent.

Updates

During the workshops for the Service Plan, there were proposals that did not appear in the final plan. The TTC has now clarified that these will be part of the 2021 plan which will be subject to public consultation and funding.

East Scarborough Route Changes

By comparison, here is the current system map of the area.

These changes include:

  • A new 938 Express bus from STC to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus
  • Extension of 905 Eglinton East Express to take over the Conlins Road loop now served by 116A Morningside
  • A new all-day route 178 from STC to Coronation Drive via Brimley, Brimorton, Orton Park and Lawrence replacing the 54B Lawrence East Orton Park Loop and the 86D Scarborough Coronation Loop
  • Routing all 54 Lawrence East service to Starspray to provide more service east of Orton Park

Stanley Green Service

The list of proposed changes includes a new route to Stanley Green. Here is a map showing the route.

119 Torbarrie and 167 Pharmacy North

Additional periods of operation are planned on these routes in 2021.

Streetcar Network Changes

The plan shows an increase in the size of the streetcar fleet starting in 2022 although the TTC has not yet ordered any cars. The TTC advises that the plan assumes an additional order will be placed with Bombardier. These would be used to increase service on the network, to restore streetcar service to routes operating with buses, and to provide for route changes that would provide more overlap among services.

A proposed route network was shown in the workshops, but it is not in the final report.

The changes include:

  • Route 501A would operate between Neville Loop and Sunnyside Loop.
  • Route 501B would operate between Long Branch Loop and a new Riverside Loop to be built on the land now occupied by a parking lot on Broadview north of Queen. This land is owned by the TTC.
  • The consolidation of routes 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road is permanent.
  • Route 503 would operate between Bingham Loop and Dufferin Loop.
  • Route 504B would operate between Broadview Station and Humber Loop, later to a proposed Park Lawn loop.

Note that this is a draft and only gives an indication of the TTC’s thoughts on what might happen. It is subject to the acquisition of more streetcars, public consultation on the route changes and budget approval.

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TTC Express Bus Services: December 2019 Update

In a recent review of the TTC’s 2020 Service Plan, I was not very kind about the photo of an Express Bus on the cover page considering that many of the “Express” services were little more than rebranding of what already existed. These were not the net addition to the network contemplated by the TTC’s Board when it asked management to create this network. Simply renumbering routes and giving them a common brand is not much of an “accomplishment” worth such prominence.

This article updates a previous review to determine just how much of the Express Network really is net new service. The table linked below compares services as they existed in April 2018 with those scheduled for the November-December 2019 period, and includes the intervening changes to show how service has evolved.

20182019_ExpressNetworkService_201912

The following routes are identical in service levels to what existed in April 2018 before the 900-series routes came into being.

  • 903 Kennedy to STC (SRT bus supplement)
  • 927 Highway 27
  • 944 Kipling South
  • 945 Kipling
  • 986 Scarborough

This list is shorter than it was in the fall of 2018 because, at that time, many running times and headways had not been changed under the rubric of “service reliability”. These changes aim to match scheduled trip time with actual operating conditions, but in many cases this is done by stretching the scheduled interval between buses, not by adding more buses on the same headway.

The TTC claims that this simply gives riders the scheduled service they would have seen anyhow, but this is tough to credit given (a) the variation in TTC headways generally and (b) the fact that almost-worst case congestion conditions do not affect all trips equally, but all trips are scheduled to longer running times and headways. (TTC designs its reliability improvements to the 95th percentile of observed travel times.)

The following routes have less frequent service in December 2019 compared to service offered in April 2018. For details please refer to the PDF linked above. Some changes are as small as 15 seconds, others are over 2 minutes.

  • 924 Victoria Park
  • 925 Don Mills
  • 935 Jane
  • 941 Keele
  • 953 Steeles East
  • 954 Lawrence East
  • 960 Steeles West
  • 985A Sheppard East to STC
  • 996 Wilson

The following route has improved service in December 2019 compared to April 2018.

  • 913 Progress

The following routes have changes for the better and for the worse depending on the period.

  • 900 Airport Express
  • 905 Eglinton East (Note: Service was cut on this route for the summer of 2019, but the fall schedules did not bring a return to the previous level of service.)
  • 939 Finch East
  • 984 Sheppard West (Yonge to Sheppard West Station)
  • 995 York Mills (Less frequent peak service. Midday service added April 2019.)

Seven new routes were created for the Express Network. In all cases, the total of local and express buses was greater than the number of local buses before the change, although local headways were widened.

The following are new routes created for the Express Network have retained their initial service levels.

  • 902 Markham Road: Created September 2018.
  • 929 Dufferin: Created October 2018.
  • 952 Lawrence West: Created October 2018.

The following are new routes whose service has been cut since they were introduced.

  • 937 Islington: Created September 2018. Headways widened for reliability in May 2019.
  • 984A Sheppard West to Weston: Created September 2018. Headways widened for construction and reliability in September 2019.
  • 985B Sheppard East to Meadowvale: Created September 2018. Headways widened for reliability in January 2019 and September 2019.
  • 989 Weston: Created October 2018. Headways widened for reliability in September 2019.

The pattern here is clear in that the majority of the express routes have received widened headways to improve service reliability, according to the TTC.

The TTC publishes neither crowding nor reliability statistics along its routes. Therefore we do not know whether these services can potentially attract riders, or are on the cusp of needing more service, but do not receive it thanks to budget constraints. The 925 Don Mills is already scheduled over the capacity service standard for the AM peak and weekday midday periods.

No improvements to the Express Network appear in the 2020 Service Plan.

The 2021 Plan proposes some improvements, subject to budget considerations, including:

  • Express service on Warden and on Kennedy
  • Extended hours on Steeles East
  • Reroute the 905 Eglinton East via Morningside to replace the 116A service

TTC’s Service Plan 2020-2024: Too Much Gloss, Not Enough Substance?

For much of 2019, TTC staff worked on a five and ten year service plan to address a basic political problem in our city – all of the focus for planning and spending looks to promises of new subway lines, or “better” versions of ones already on the map. While the subway and commuter rail networks may be the spine of Toronto’s transit, the skeleton and muscles are its surface routes of buses and streetcars without which vast areas of the city would be well beyond transit’s reach.

The TTC sought feedback from various stakeholders through public meetings as well as pop-up displays at locations around the city. Full disclosure: I attended and contributed to stakeholder workshops, and have refrained from publishing anything about the discussions because the plan was a work-in-progress. Some ideas found their way into the final report, others were changed or disappeared. Such is the nature of these processes. No, I was not paid to be there. We got free coffee, juice and cookies. People who came were there because they wanted to see a better TTC.

Two documents will be considered by the TTC Board at its December 12, 2019 meeting:

[Note: Both documents are published under the common name of the 5 Year Service Plan. For clartity, page citations refer to the glossy version as “Next Stop”. Note that this PDF is formatted two-up and so the page numbers are not the same as the sheet numbers in the file.]

The report is a mix of two separate items. One is the discussion of the multi-year plan, and another is a review of a grab-bag of service change proposals. Such proposals used to appear in annual reports to the Board and this was the standard conduit for route changes to be evaluated and approved (or not). This is a long-overdue return to a practice that seemed to have ended simply because there was never any money to pay for more service, so why bother to discuss the idea. However, many of the recommended proposals are still “subject to budget”, a constraint that undermines all the fine talk about the importance of transit in Toronto.

Right at the outset I must say that my reaction on reading the report, and especially the glossy version, was of disappointment at a lost opportunity. A theme at workshops, and not just from me, was that the TTC should “aim high”, that small-scale change would make little difference to riders and would have no effect on ridership or the system’s perceived worth. This was a time for advocacy, for a vision (and oh I hate that word) of what transit might be beyond political battles over subway routes.

The TTC has failed to advocate for substantial change. This is not unexpected, nor is it the first time. The political environment, especially for anything that affects operating costs and subsidies, is to spend no more, and if possible to spend less. Any report that shows what might be done, but which puts politicians on the spot to carry the torch for higher spending, or conversely to reject explicit improvements, is on delicate ground. Better to aim low at a target that might, possibly be met so that management and their political masters can get the publicity, the back-patting, the accolades that go with achieving a modest target. The TTC has been down this route before.

Probably the most telling point in the exercise is the cover of the “Next Stop, Even Better” glossy version of the report.

The Express Bus Network is a fraud perpetrated on the TTC Board and riders by management who gave the impression of change while, in fact, delivering almost nothing. The article Express Buses: Real Change or Photo Ops? includes a before-and-after comparison of the express routes showing how little really changed. In a separate article, I have updated this with current schedule information.

Almost all of the Express Network is nothing more than existing service (typically the “E” branches of routes) rebranded into the 900-series of Express services. Very little service was actually added, and in some cases there have been declines in service thanks to “reliability” changes in the schedules that stretched headways in order to give more running time at no added cost. Service is erratic, like many other parts of the TTC, to the point where waiting for an express bus to show up would cost more time for riders than they would save through its limited stop operation.

There are plans to add new express routes in 2020, but it is not clear whether these will actually add service or merely be the transit equivalent of a game of Three Card Monte.

Another problem facing the TTC is the inadequacy of service to meet demand, a widespread complaint among riders. There are Service Standards which set out average crowding levels, and the TTC claims to meet these in almost all cases. However, there are many problems:

  • The TTC has not published actual crowding statistics for its routes for some time, and there is no way for the public or the political representatives to monitor how “close to the line” existing service might be.
  • Some recent schedule changes have included pushing crowding beyond standards because the TTC cannot afford to run the service. This is not a question of peak fleet capacity because the TTC has a generous ratio of spare buses to service requirements. However, this can signal a trend which if not reversed will lead to the “standards” having no meaning or force because the real decision is made at budget time. [See page 8 of my recently published table of January 2020 service changes for details.]
  • Riding counts only tell us how many people are on the vehicles, not how many could not board or gave up trying because of crowding and unreliable service. The TTC publishes route-by-route ridership numbers in the City’s Open Data Catalogue, but this file has not been updated since December 2016. It contains no breakdown by time of day, only a full weekday count.
  • Irregular service with wide gaps makes crowding worse for most riders who tend to pack on the first thing that shows up, and can actually cause average load statistics to misrepresent demand because the half-empty following buses in a pack dilute the average crowding numbers. Averages do not show the conditions a typical rider, who is more likely to be on a crowded bus than an empty one, must face. The TTC has no measure of service reliability and its effect on rider experience.

There is no point in having standards if you don’t meet them, and especially if the fact that they are missed is not published in a widely-read document like the CEO’s monthly report. That report hides more than it tells by selective reporting and by averaging that masks the range of values in metrics. For example, we know whether ridership and revenue are tracking relative to budget, but we don’t know which routes have erratic service and overcrowding. These exist and cannot be wished away by a simplistic metrics such as end-of-line on time performance or a count of “short turns”, but the extent of these problems is rarely reported.

The report actually lays out very little detail of what might happen in coming years. There are five-year operating and capital budget projections, but few specifics as to what this spending will mean for riders on the street. Selling spending is hard work at City Hall, even with plans for new taxes because these are (a) often consumed for pet projects and (b) are currently only addressing the backlog in capital “state of good repair” spending, not day-to-day operating costs and subsidies which affect the amount of service riders actually see.

The goal is to increase customer trips by 35 million by 2024. That is on a base of 525.3 million projected for 2019, or a five-year increase of 6.67%. That is not a stunning goal especially with improved rapid transit services to come online during the interval.

Returning to past practice, TTC staff will report annually to the Board on requests for changes in the network requested by, among others, Councillors, community groups and employers, as well as changes triggered by events such as new rapid transit lines or staff-proposed area restructuring (such as the recent updates to routes in the Junction).

There is a backlog of such requests, and the main report contains a long section detailing them. I will deal with this in a separate article. Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, January 5, 2020

The TTC will make several changes to its services in January 2020.

All seasonal changes implemented on December 22, 2019 have been reversed to the November 2019 schedules except where some other change affects a route.

On the streetcar network, the retirement of the CLRV fleet will be complete and service will be 100% accessible on all surface routes. Route allocations to carhouses have been revised with a view, in part, to current and future pantograph operations

511 Bathurst schedules will be adjusted slightly to compensate for the larger vehicles, and streetcar operation will continue until April 2020 when buses will return to the route for construction projects.

505 Dundas will return to streetcar operation in April. The 502/503 Kingston Road service consolidation running with buses will continue for the foreseeable future.

Cars entering service from Leslie Barns via King Street are already running under pans for their journeys to and from 509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina, 511 Bathurst and 512 St. Clair. 505 Dundas will operate under pans when streetcar service resumes in April, and 506 Carlton is expected to switch over in late 2020. No conversion dates have been announced yet for 501 Queen or 504 King.

Implementation of “service reliability improvements” continues on several bus routes with, in most cases, wider headways and no added vehicles. The premise is that if driving plus recovery time covers 95% of actual conditions on the route, short turns should be rare and service will more closely match the scheduled/advertised level. This does not take into account headway irregularity and bunching which can contribute at least as much to the perceived (in)frequency of service as the fact that some drivers could not make their trips in the previously allotted time. The change is particularly striking on 52 Lawrence West.

Another effect of these changes is that many buses make their trips in well under the scheduled time causing bunching at terminals, especially in cases where the recovery time equals or exceeds the scheduled headway.

The eight bus trippers in the AM peak on 506 Carlton will be changed to provide service on other routes (23 Dawes, 24 Victoria Park, 47 Lansdowne and 67 Pharmacy) on their trips to the Carlton route. [Updated December 2, 2019: The origin of these trippers on existing and planned schedules has been clarified in the pdf linked below.]

New trippers on 32 Eglinton West will serve the students from York Memorial Collegiate (Keele & Eglinton, damaged by fire) who have been relocated to Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy (Royal York & Trenholme).

Service will be improved on 300 Bloor-Danforth Night Bus Monday through Friday (Tuesday to Saturday mornings). Buses will be added to the Saturday and Sunday schedules, but the headways will not change. This is a “reliability” improvement that creates recovery times of half and hour and more. Service will also improve during the transition from night to daytime operations, but no details of this were included in the TTC’s service memo.

Planned overcrowding continues with three more routes (45 Kipling, 54 Lawrence East and 95 York Mills) slipping over the approved levels in some periods. These route will also lose their 10-Minute Network status during some periods.

Details of these changes are in the PDF linked below.

2020.01.05_Service_Changes_V2

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday December 22, 2019

The last service changes for 2019 are all seasonal service adjustments for the Christmas and New Year holidays. These will be in place for two weeks with the next changes to occur on January 5, 2020. The details for January are not out yet.

Many routes will drop back to their summer service levels on weekdays between December 23 and January 3.

In anticipation of shopping traffic additional standby service will be provided on the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas, and on Boxing Day.

There are a few cases where the changes reduce running times, and this could affect service reliability. I have asked for comment from the TTC on this, but have not received a reply.

The routes in question are: 16 McCowan, 34 Eglinton East, 47 Lansdowne, 90 Vaughan and 125 Drewry.

2019.12.22_Service_Changes

Metrolinx Board Meeting: November 22, 2019

The Metrolinx Board met on November 22, 2019 with its usual mixed agenda of private session and public items. This article deals with the following public reports and mainly with the Kitchener and Niagara Falls business cases.

Continue reading