TTC Aims Too Low For Future Service

As the TTC ponders the future of transit service through a 5 and 10 year outlook, they seek public input on where transit should be going in the years ahead. The focus of this plan is the surface route network which is too often overlooked in the debates, political gamesmanship and pitched battles about rapid transit expansion. The City and Province routinely debate expansion projects with multi-billion dollar price tags, but invest little in the surface system that is essential to transit’s overall success.

There are 1.2 million people using the TTC’s surface transit (bus and streetcar) network every day. That’s 70% of the 1.7 million total number of people who take the TTC each day. [TTC website]

Many targets for improvement are included in the TTC’s work, but the basic provision of more and better service does not get the attention it deserves. For many years, thanks to tax-fighting limits on TTC growth going back to Mayor Ford and beyond, the TTC’s surface fleet grew slowly if at all. Fleet growth has gone, in part, to increasing the pool of spare buses for maintenance. Much scheduled service growth has been directed to replacing streetcars with buses and making allowance for slower traffic speeds and long-running construction projects such as the Crosstown.

AM Peak Service Buses Streetcars
April 2015 1508 202
April 2019 1606 158

For many years, the fundamental problem facing any call for better service is “we have no buses, we have no streetcars” compounded by “we have no garages”.

The political situation, historical and current, does not excuses total inaction. There are issues both inside and outside of the TTC that deserve debate: the relative importance of transit, motorists and other users of road space; the management of service so that riders receive something close to the quantity and quality advertised in schedules. However, there is no “magic bullet” that will improve transit painlessly without extra cost, management effort and realignment of transit’s political importance for more than big construction projects and photo ops.

The Plan will be developed in consultation with customers and stakeholders and:

  • Identify key opportunities to improve transit services
  • Evaluate and prioritize network-level service improvements
  • Outline a five-year service-focused business plan

The Plan will also continue the TTC’s corporate focus on preparing transparent, multi-year plans and will:

  • Set the foundation for future annual service plans
  • Identify and link service-related operating and capital cost requirements
  • Bridge the gap between the TTC’s near-term planning with long-term City and Provincial plans [p 1]

These are laudable goals, but there is a challenge for both TTC staff and for the Board: does the political will exist to produce a plan that aspires to a stronger role for transit complete with the costs and trade-offs this will require, or is Toronto afraid to contemplate anything beyond “business as usual” planning?

This is not simply a question of buying vehicles and building more garages, but of recognizing that the compound effect of population growth and more service will drive up costs faster than inflation. When the political goal is to limit fare, subsidy and tax increases, the TTC is challenged to maintain the existing service, let alone improve to address latent demand and the widespread sense that transit is not “The Better Way”.

The transit wish lists among existing riders and those who use other modes is not the same for obvious reasons. Riders want a better travel environment and service, while non-riders want fast, cheaper ways to get around. However, both groups agree on five targets: reliability, crowding, wait time, trip duration and affordability. That list says something about the quality of what is now on offer.

Far too often, calls for better transit meet with the response “we can’t afford it”, and this precludes even a study to determine what might or might not be possible. That was the strength of the Ridership Growth Strategy of March 2003. That study provided a menu of possible system improvements together with costs and potential benefits. Simply having that menu told us all what might be done should resources become available. Without such a strategy, asking for transit changes is akin to walking into a restaurant where your dinner order must await a study to find out what might be available.

In August 2014, the TTC report Opportunities to Improve Transit Service in Toronto proposed several changes many of which are now in place, most recently the two-hour transfer.

The 2019 work will “… focus on near-term improvements that can be delivered within five years that enhance the TTC’s core-competency, mass transit …”. [p 1]

Five “opportunities” for improvement are:

  1. Improve surface transit schedules
  2. Prioritize transit on key surface transit corridors
  3. Enhance the customer experience at key surface transit stop areas
  4. Provide new connections with new higher-order transit services
  5. Accelerate integration with regional transit agencies and complementary modes of transport [p 2]

A troubling omission in this list is explicitly the provision of better transit service. Improving schedules and providing transit priority can bring better efficiency to provision of transit, but there is no actual goal to increase transit capacity. “Customer experience” at major stops will improve, but there is nothing here about their experience once on board a vehicle.

The TTC’s Corporate Plan includes five critical paths including “Move more customers reliably”. However, it also includes “Transform for financial sustainability”. These are competing goals especially when just keeping the lights on may require decisions to cut or constrain growth plans.

This competition is made explicit by two sections side-by-side in the report.

The Plan will continue the TTC’s corporate focus on preparing transparent, customer-facing, multi-year plans that:

  • Set the foundation for future annual service plans that will outline, in-detail, service improvements for the upcoming year;
  • Identify and link service-related operating and capital cost requirements over a five-year period which will provide the public, the TTC Board and elected officials with a transparent blueprint; and
  • Bridge the gap between the TTC’s near-term transit planning with long-term population and employment growth projections, rapid transit plans and the Official Plan.

The Plan will also strive to be realistic in the actions it identifies to ensure what is being planned can be delivered. This includes planning within the constraints of the TTC Operating Budget and Capital Budget. As such, the Plan will be developed noting the following key financial assumptions over the next five-years:

  • Operating Budget: The TTC 2020 Operating Budget will increase to account for the annualized cost associated with implementing new service in 2019 only. Between 2021 and 2024, multiple funding scenarios will be prepared to account for a range of possible funding scenarios from a -1% to +1% change in the Operating Budget.
  • Capital Budget: The availability of fleet including buses, streetcars and subway trains and facilities will generally align with the TTC Capital Investment Plan, noting that vehicle requirements across all modes are predominantly unfunded and any new procurement for buses, streetcars and subway trains cannot be achieved beyond 2021 based on current available funding. [pp 3-4]

If the opening premise is that costs will grow by at most 1%, then “we can’t afford it” becomes a filter that will screen out options before they even reach the discussion phase. To put this in context, the two-hour fare was estimated to have a $20 million effect on the TTC’s operating budget. That is over 1% of the gross budget of $1.9 billion, and over 3% of the $622 million operating subsidy. A two-hour fare would be knocked off of the table if a 1% filter decided which options were even considered, let alone proposed for implementation.

It is telling that the two-hour fare was finally introduced in part as an inducement for riders to switch to Presto, but the comparable change in operating cost for opening the Vaughan subway extension was never an issue during budget debates.

The gaping hole in this report is an aspirational view of transit. What might it look like if only there were the will to make it better? If there is a cost, at least let everyone know what it might be and what will be needed to bring about improvement.

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Ontario’s Transit Plans: Details Emerge in City Report

When Premier Doug Ford announced his new transit plan in April as part of his first budget, there was plenty of hype about provincial transit investment, but few details about what would be built or how far design had progressed beyond doodles on bar napkins. Four projects comprise the Ford plan:

  • The “Ontario Line” from the Science Centre at Don Mills & Eglinton to Ontario Place replacing Toronto plans for the Relief Line
  • The Richmond Hill extension of Line 1 Yonge
  • The Scarborough Line 2 Danforth extension to Sheppard & McCowan with at least three stops rather than the one in the current Toronto plan
  • A modified plan for the Eglinton West LRT extension with underground construction for part of the route east of Martin Grove
  • Extension of the Sheppard subway east to McCowan to meet the northern end of Line 2

Information about these proposals came more from rumours than from specifics, notably from Metrolinx, the agency charged with planning and delivery of the scheme.

Staff from the City of Toronto and the TTC have been meeting with their provincial counterparts, and details begin to emerge in a staff report to Toronto’s Executive Committee.

The Ontario Line concept proposed by the Province is at an early stage of design. [p 5]

This is not a “shovel ready” project, nor is the revised Scarborough subway, in spite of claims that the Ontario line can be open by 2027. That is very much a political date based on the need to have relief capacity in place before new demand is added to the Line 1 Yonge route from the Richmond Hill extension. The government, knowing the votes available in York Region, needs to show progress on that extension, but actually operating it would totally overload the subway system without substantial diversion of ridership to a relief line.

Previous studies by Metrolinx foresaw a drop in ridership at the Bloor/Yonge choke point provided that a new line went at least to Eglinton rather than stopping at Danforth. This is not news, but the political change lies in recognition that a line to Eglinton is not some future, “Phase 2” option, but an essential part of reducing demand on Line 1. Whether the construction timing and possible opening dates for the Ontario and Richmond Hill lines can be achieved is quite another matter. In a political context, the important date is 2022, the next Provincial election. By that time, visible “progress” will be needed to shore up support for the government, but the target dates will be far enough off that the inevitable slippage will not yet be evident.

Public Consultation

In parallel with the technical work on provincial plans, the City of Toronto has launched a public participation campaign about the shift in responsibilities for transit between the municipal and provincial governments. This is all a bit vague at present because the details of what Queen’s Park actually intends remain rather vague. The government has given itself the power to take over projects completely or in part, and to seize Toronto assets with or without compensation. However, the financial details are murky including the problem of expected contribution to capital projects by other governments and the as-yet unaddressed question of cost sharing for day-to-day transit operations which includes a substantial component of running maintenance, not just driving the trains.

The City will bring a wider range of issues than a few new lines before the public for comment. Four public meetings are planned over the coming month:

Thursday, June 13, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Father Serra Catholic School
111 Sun Row Drive, Etobicoke

Thursday, June 20, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
North York Memorial Community Hall
5110 Yonge Street, North York

Saturday, June 22, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Scarborough Civic Centre
150 Borough Drive, Scarborough

Thursday, June 27, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
City Hall, Council Chamber
100 Queen Street West, Toronto

Although one might despair that the Ford government cares about or will listen to concerns by Toronto citizens, this consultation will be important if only to gauge overall public feeling. The challenge will be to conduct real consultation without having sessions hijacked by Ford Nation supporters.

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Subway Upload I: The Getting Ontario Moving Act

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek introduced Bill 107, the Getting Ontario Moving Act, in the Ontario legislature on May 2, 2019.

This is an omnibus bill amending several other Acts to implement various policies, one of which is the first stage of the “upload” of responsibility for subway extensions and new builds from the City of Toronto. Schedule 3 of the Bill amends the Metrolinx Act. In brief, the amendments provide for:

  • The Cabinet (legislatively known as “The Lieutenant Governor in Council”) may “prescribe a rapid transit design, development or construction project as a rapid transit project that is the sole responsibility of Metrolinx”. For such projects, the City of Toronto and its agencies are barred from taking “further action” on the project, and all of the project’s “assets, liabilities, rights and obligations” can be transferred to Metrolinx. Such projects are known as “sole responsibility projects”.
  • The Cabinet may prescribe that a project is “subject to the Minister’s direction”, and for such projects “the Minister may issue directives to the City of Toronto and its agencies”, and the Cabinet may require that “a specified decision about the project be subject to the Minister’s approval”. Such projects are known as “direction and approval projects”.

These provisions address two separate types of project organization. In the first case, control of and responsibility for a project is transferred completely to Metrolinx. In the second, a project could remain in the City’s hands but be subject to Ministerial direction and approval.

Sole Responsibility Projects

Where a project is declared to be a sole responsibility project, the City of Toronto is barred from undertaking a project “that is substantially similar and in close proximity to” such a project. Why Toronto would attempt to duplicate a provincial project such as the extension of Line 2 in Scarborough is a mystery, but Queen’s Park clearly wants to ensure this does not happen. An exception provides that the Minister “may authorize” the City to undertake work on a sole responsibility project.

The Cabinet may order the transfer of City assets related to a sole responsibility project “with or without compensation”. The list of “assets” is quite extensive and includes real estate. This begs the question of how such property becomes “related” to a project as opposed to simply being property previously owned by the City.

The City is required to participate in this process and “take all such actions as are necessary and practicable to give the Corporation possession of property transferred”.

Direction and Approval Projects

A project could be left nominally under the City’s control, but subject to Ministerial direction, in particular that “a specified decision with respect to the project” could be subject to Ministerial approval. The City is barred from taking action that would arise from a decision without such approval. In other words, the City cannot launch work that could be in conflict with a Ministerial approval that has not yet been granted.

Legal Protection

Many of the amendments address the transition of projects from the City to the Province and preclude legal action against the parties for the implementation of the new regime.

What the Legislation Does Not Address

The legislation is completely silent on matters of capital or operating costs of projects undertaken by or under the direction of the province. Specifically, there is nothing to explain:

  • Any aspect of capital cost sharing that might be sought or imposed by the Province on the City of Toronto or other municipalities for sole responsibility projects.
  • The future operation of projects created under the “sole responsibility” or “direction and approval” regimes.
  • The subdivision of “maintenance” costs between the Province and the City of Toronto or any other municipality.

The “other shoe” still to drop is the question of uploading the existing subway network. This is a much more complex transfer that will be the subject of future legislation.

This is the bare bones of legislation needed to give Metrolinx control over rapid transit construction so that Ontario can “get on with the job” of building transit, but much more is involved in actually doing the work.

Minister Yurek is good at repeating his talking points including the bogus claim that there has been no rapid transit expansion for decades. Taking pot shots at the City for alleged chaos in transit planning is easy, although both Premier Ford and the Conservative Party have rampant amnesia about their own contributions. Now Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario will have to deliver rather than just posturing.

TTC 2019 Fleet and Capacity Plans Part III: The TTC Responds

In the first two installments of this series, I reviewed plans for the subway system and the surface bus and streetcar networks. These reviews triggered many questions which I sent off to the TTC.

We have all been a little pre-occupied with other matters recently, and it took a while for the TTC to reply. Thanks to Stuart Green and the staff at TTC who pulled this together.

Each question is formatted with two or three sections:

  • My original question
  • The TTC’s reply
  • My observations on the reply, if any

The text has been lightly edited for formatting purposes.

Apologies to readers seeing this post with no background. It is based on information in two previous articles as well as a general review of the TTC’s Capital Budget detailed briefing books, known as the “Blue Books”. This article covers a variety of issues some of more interest to general readers than others. If you need clarification, please leave a comment.

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61 Questions And Counting (Updated)

Update: Council’s action on this report has been added at the end of the article.

As I write this article on April 17, 2019, it has been three weeks since Toronto learned that Premier Doug Ford’s love for rewriting transit plans would turn Toronto’s future upside down. Ford’s special advisor Michael Lindsay wrote to Toronto’s City Manager Chris Murray first on March 22, and then in an attempt to paper over obvious problems with the provincial position, on March 25.

Just over two weeks later, Ford announced his transit plan for Toronto, and this was followed by the 2019 provincial budget.

A hallmark of the process has been a distinct lack of details about design issues, funding and the future responsibility for an “uploaded” subway system. In parallel with these events, city and TTC staff have met from time to time with Lindsay and his team to flesh out details and to explain to provincial planners the scope of TTC’s needs, the complex planning and considerable financial resources required just to keep the trains running.

On April 9, Toronto’s Executive Committee directed Murray to report directly to Council on the effect of provincial announcements, but his report did not arrive on Councillors’ desks until early afternoon April 16 with the Council meeting already underway.

The report reveals a gaping hole in the city’s knowledge of provincial plans with a “preliminary” list of 61 technical questions for the province. So much for the idea that discussions to date have yielded much information. Click on any image below to open this as a gallery.

 

To these I would add a critical factor that always affects provincial projects: cost inflation. It is rare to see a provincial project with an “as spent” estimate of costs. Instead, an estimate is quoted for some base year (often omitted from announcements) with a possible, although not ironclad, “commitment” to pay actual costs as the work progresses. This puts Ontario politicians of all parties in the enviable position of promising something based on a low, current or even past-year dollar estimate, while insulating themselves from overruns which can be dismissed as “inflation”. The City of Toronto, by contrast, must quote projects including inflation because it is the actual spending that must be financed, not a hypothetical, years out of date estimate from the project approval stage.

That problem is particularly knotty when governments will change, and “commitments” can evaporate at the whim of a new Premier. If the city is expected to help pay for these projects, will the demand on their funds be capped (as often happens when the federal or provincial governments fund municipal projects), or will the city face an open-ended demand for its share with no control over project spending?

Unlike the city, the province has many ways to compel its “partner” to pay up by the simple expedient of clawing back contributions to other programs, or by making support of one project be a pre-requisite for funding many others. Presto was forced on Toronto by the threat to withdraw provincial funding for other transit programs if the city did not comply. Resistance was and is futile.

How widely will answers to these questions be known? The province imposed a gag order on discussions with the city claiming that information about the subway plans and upload were “confidential”. Even if answers are provided at the staff level, there is no guarantee the public will ever know the details.

At Council on April 16, the City Manager advised that there would be a technical briefing by the province on the “Ontario Line” (the rebranded Downtown Relief Line) within the next week. That may check some questions off of the list, or simply raise a whole new batch of issues depending on the quality of paper and crayons used so far in producing the provincial plan. It is simply not credible that there is a fully worked-out plan with design taken to the level normally expected of major projects, and if one does exist, how has it been produced in secret entirely without consultation? The province claims it wants to be “transparent”, but to date they are far away from that principle.

The Question of Throwaway Costs

Toronto has already spent close to $200 million on design work, primarily for the Line 2 East Extension (formerly known as the Scarborough Subway Extension, or SSE). The province claims that much of this work will be recycled into their revised design, and this was echoed by TTC management at a media briefing. However, with changes in both alignment, scope and technology looming, it is hard to believe that this work will all be directly applicable to the province’s schemes.

The city plans to continue work on these lines at an ongoing cost of $11-14 million per month, but will concentrate on elements that are likely to be required for either the city’s original plan or for the provincial version. The need to reconcile plans has been clear for some time:

In order to minimize throw-away costs associated with the Line 2 East Extension and the Relief Line South, the City and TTC will be seeking the Province’s support to undertake an expedited assessment of the implications of a change at this stage in the project lifecycle. The City and TTC have been requesting the Province to provide further details on their proposals since last year, including more recently through ongoing correspondence and meetings under the Terms of Reference for the Realignment of Transit Responsibilities. [p 4]

The city/TTC may have asked “since last year”, but Queen’s Park chose not to answer.

The city would like to be reimbursed for monies spent, but this is complicated by the fact that some of that design was funded by others.

Provincial Gas Tax

As an example of the mechanisms available to the province to ensure city co-operation, the Ford government will not proceed with the planned doubling of gas tax transfers to municipalities. This has an immediate effect of removing $585 million in allocated funding in the next decade from projects in the TTC’s capital program, and a further $515 million from potential projects in the 15 year Capital Investment Plan.

At issue for Toronto, as flagged in the questions above, is the degree to which this lost revenue will be offset by the province taking responsibility for capital maintenance in the upload process. Over half of the planned and potential capital projects relate to existing subway infrastructure, but it is not clear whether the province understands the level of spending they must undertake to support their ownership of the subway lines.

Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF)

City management recommends that Council commit much of the $4.897 billion in pending federal infrastructure subsidies from PTIF phase 2 to provincial projects:

  • $0.660 billion for the Province’s proposed three-stop Line 2 East Extension project instead of the one-stop Line 2 East Extension project; and
  • $3.151 billion for the Province’s proposed ‘Ontario Line’ as described in the 2019 Ontario Budget, instead of the Relief Line South. [p 3]

This is subject to an assessment of just what is supposed to happen both with proposed new rapid transit lines and the existing system in the provincial scheme.

Mayor Tory has proposed an amendment to the report’s recommendations to clarify the trigger for the city’s agreeing to allocation of its PTIF funds to the provincial plan, so that “endorsing” the plan is changed to “consider endorsing”. Reports would come back from the City Manager to Council on the budget changes and uploading process for approval that could lead to the city releasing its PTIF funds to the province.

The Status of SmartTrack

Part of the city’s PTIF funding, $585 million, is earmarked for the six new stations to be built on the Weston, Lake Shore East and Stouffville corridors. The future of these stations is cloudy for various reasons:

  • The Finch East station on the Stouffville corridor is in a residential neighbourhood where there is considerable opposition to its establishment, and grade separation, let alone a station structure, will be quite intrusive.
  • The Lawrence East station on the Stouffville corridor would be of dubious value if the L2EE includes a station at McCowan and Lawrence. Indeed, that station was removed from the city plans specifically to avoid drawing demand away from SmartTrack.
  • There is no plan for a TTC level fare on GO Transit/SmartTrack, and the discount now offered is available only to riders who pay single fares (the equivalent of tokens) via Presto, not to riders who have monthly passes.
  • Provincial plans for service at SmartTrack stations is unclear. Originally, and as still claimed in city reports, SmartTrack stations would see 6-10 trains/hour. However, in February 2018, Metrolinx announced a new service design for its GO expansion program using a mix of local and express trains. This would reduce the local stops, including most SmartTrack locations, to 3 or 4 trains/hour. I sought clarification of the conflict between the two plans from Metrolinx most recently on April 3, 2019 and they are still “working on my request” two weeks later.

Some of the SmartTrack stations will be very costly because of the constrained space on corridors where they will be built. The impetus for Council to spend on stations would be substantially reduced if train service will be infrequent, and the cost to ride will be much higher than simply transferring to and from TTC routes. Both the Mayor and the province owe Council an explanation of just what they would be buying into, although that could be difficult as cancelling or scaling back the SmartTrack stations project would eliminate the last vestige of John Tory’s signature transit policy.

The Line 2 East Extension

The City Manager reports that the alignment of the provincial version of the three-stop subway is not yet confirmed, nor are the location of planned stations. Shifting the terminus north to Sheppard and McCowan and possibly shifting the station at Scarborough Town Centre will completely invalidate the existing design work for STC. This is an example of potential throwaway work costs the city faces.

The design at Sheppard/McCowan will depend on whether the intent is to through-route service from Line 2 onto Line 4, or to provide an interchange station where both lines would terminate. The L2EE would have to operate as a terminal station for a time, in any event, because provincial plans call for the Line 4 extension to follow the L2EE’s completion.

An amended Transit Project Assessment (TPAP) will be needed for the L2EE, and this cannot even begin without more details of the proposed design.

The Ontario Line

Although this line is expected to follow the already approved route of the Relief Line between Pape and Osgoode Stations, the map in the provincial budget is vague about the stations showing different names and possibly a different alignment. This could be a case of bad map-making, or it could represent a real change from city/TTC plans to the provincial version.

A TPAP will definitely be required for the extended portions of the line west of Osgoode and north of Pape. A pending technical briefing may answer some issues raised by the city/TTC including details of just where the line would go and what technology will be used, but the degree of secrecy to date on this proposal does not bode well for a fully worked-out plan.

Council Decision

The item was approved at Council with several amendments whose effects overall were:

  • The City Manager and TTC CEO are to work with the province:
    • to determine the effects of the provincial announcement,
    • to negotiate principles for cost sharing including ongoing maintenance and funding arrangements, and
    • to seek replacement of funding that had been anticipated through increased gas tax transfers to the city.
  • The city will consider dedication of its PTIF funding for the Line 2 extension and for the Relief Line to Ontario’s projects subject to this review.
  • The city requests “confirmation that the provincial transit plans will not result in an unreasonable delay” to various transit projects including the Relief line, the one-stop L2EE, SmartTrack Stations, Eglinton and Waterfront LRT lines.
  • Discussions with the province should also include:
    • those lines that were not in the provincial announcement,
    • compensation for sunk design costs,
    • phasing options to bring priority segments of the Relief Line in-service as early as possible,
    • city policy objectives such as development at stations, and
    • public participation on the provincial plans.
  • The City Manager is to investigate the acceleration of preliminary design and engineering on the Waterfront and Eglinton East LRT using city monies saved from costs assumed by the province.
  • The City Manager is to report back to Council at its June 2019 meeting.

Former TTC Chair Mike Colle moved:

That City Council direct that, if there are any Provincial transit costs passed on to the City of Toronto as a result of the 17.3 billion dollar gap in the Province’s transit expansion plans, these costs should be itemized on any future property tax bills as “The Provincial Transit Plan Tax Levy”.

This was passed by a margin of 18 to 8 with Mayor Tory in support.

Planning for Line 1 (YUS) Growth

At its meeting of April 11, the TTC Board considered several reports that bear on the question of future demand and capacity on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina.

Also discussed were the planned subway closures in 2019 which I covered in a previous article, and a contract amendment to the ATC signalling consultant to cover extending the implementation period for the Line 1 project.

This segment of the meeting contained far more technical material than we usually see at the TTC Board, but it was long overdue, especially with a large contingent of new Board members in 2019. Too many Board debates touch only the surface of issues without an appreciation for what is “under the covers” within this large organization, the largest single entity within the City of Toronto and its agencies.

Who Watches the Watchers?

A troubling aspect surfaced regarding the status of the Automatic Train Control (ATC) project and the question of why its delivery date will be so much later than originally planned. Some of this gets murky because of discussions earlier in the day in a private session, but there were two clear outcomes:

  • There is a clear implication that information about the status of the ATC project was withheld from the Board who have only recently come into knowledge of what is actually happening.
  • The Board wants an oversight/audit function to ensure that what management tells the Board about projects is actually credible.

On the second point, Commissioner Ron Lalonde moved, and the Board approved.

That the CEO of the TTC implement a function independent of the project management that would review major project implementation and report quarterly to the CEO and to the TTC Board on the status of major projects and on their compliance with TTC project management policies.

This is an astounding motion in that it effectively says nobody in management can be trusted to do their jobs and report accurately to the Board. One might reasonably ask why the CEO himself is not subject to such oversight, considering that the situation from which this motion arises clearly was the product of the previous CEO’s term. That “Transit System of the Year” award would be rather tarnished if the organization were provably misrepresenting its accomplishments.

The complaint, as raised by Vice Chair Alan Heisey, was that the Board had been told repeatedly that the ATC project was on time and on budget, only to find that it was not. He cited a November 2017 status chart from the CEO’s Report showing “green” status for the project. In fact, this status continued into the March 2018 report which was the last one published in that format. The set from November 2016 to March 2018 appears below (click on any item to open as a gallery).

Throughout the six versions of this dashboard, the ATC project remains at an estimated cost of $563 million and a completion date of Q4 2019. Only the to-date expenditure and percent completion rise (from $266m to $381m, 47% to 68%), albeit with an anomalous lack of progress between November 2016 and March 2017 which show the same values. Note that the percentages are of spending versus final cost and they do not necessarily reflect the proportion of the work that is finished. For example, as I write this, only 40% of Line 1 is under ATC control (Vaughan to Dupont) with a further extension south (to St. Patrick) pending in May.

Reports on the status of major projects vanished from the CEO’s Report after March 2018, and these were eventually replaced as part of a quarterly report from the Chief Financial Officer. The first of these reports, in January 2019, flagged a schedule and budget problem with the ATC project.

Schedule reassessment: An operational review concluded that the required closures for Phase 3, the significantly longest continuous phase, were overly disruptive to customers. The multiple closures required would have shut down all subway service from St. Clair to St. Clair West stations. To mitigate this impact on our customers, a revised plan divides the area into three sub-Phases 3A, 3B and 3C. The project team is reviewing the schedule with the contractor to develop a mitigation plan.

For operational reasons it was necessary to advance Phase 6 (Wilson Yard) and implement it prior to both Phases 1 and 3. This Phase was extremely complex, requiring it be divided into 3 manageable sub-Phases which had schedule impact. These changes will delay the project scheduled completion date to 2021. [pp 16-17]

The idea of subdividing phase 3 was already being discussed for exactly the reasons stated above before 2018, and this was hardly news. Other extensions to the completion date arise from timing on competing projects (about which more later in this article). The need to reschedule Phase 6 was obvious from the moment the TYSSE to Vaughan opened and operations at Wilson Yard became a choke point on loading and unloading service from the line.

By the April CFO’s report, there was a further source of delay:

An operational review concluded the implementation of Automatic Train Protection (ATP) on maintenance workcars and Line 4 TR trains is required for efficient travel speeds in ATC areas to work zones and maintenance facilities.

The project team has reviewed the impact of these changes and performed a schedule reassessment. The revised project in-service completion date is 2022. [pp 18-19]

A consultant’s review of the ATC project by Transit Systems Engineering found that the ATC project itself was well-run, but that a combination of focus on getting the line ready for TYSSE opening in late 2017 together with a failure to fully appreciate other works that ATC and the planned capacity increase would trigger push out the completion date for the project. TSE did not criticize management of the ATC project itself, and indeed recommended that this team remain intact because of their knowledge and experience. It is ironic that a report dated January 13, 2019 makes this recommendation a month after the former ATC Project Director left the TTC to join Andy Byford in New York City.

The TSE report states:

… the installation of the ATC system would appear to be on-schedule and on-budget to meet the revised delivery date of Q3 2021 at an overall cost of $663M. [p 6]

This is different from the 2022 schedule now presented to the Board, and the changes noted in the April CFO’s report must have been “discovered” after the TSE review. I put that in quotation marks because a project to make the maintenance fleet ATC-compatible already existed in the 2017 Capital Budget, and the project remains in the 2019 version.

On the subject of keeping the Board informed, I really cannot avoid mentioning the management decision taken during the election interregnum in 2018 to rebuild rather than replace the T1 trains now used on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth. This has pervasive effects on other project schedules including:

  • delay of ATC implementation on Line 2 and the service improvements this could bring,
  • the future of Greenwood Yard and its availability for the Relief Line,
  • the timing of Kipling Yard (the Obico property) and
  • the choice of signalling on the Scarborough extension.

None of this was brought to the Board’s attention, and it was “approved” as one of many items buried within the Capital Budget with no explicit analysis or “heads up” for the Board.

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TTC Board Meeting April 11, 2019

The TTC Board met on April 11 with a full agenda. Among the items discussed were:

  • The joint City/TTC “omnibus” transit report and the implications of the provincial intent to “upload” the subway system
  • Public Deputations at Board Meetings
  • Presto limited use tickets and the TTC/Presto contract generally
  • The Junction Area Study and proposed route changes
  • Subway Closures for 2019

The Board also discussed Line 1 (YUS) Capacity Requirements, State of Good Repair and Automatic Train Control. This is a complex enough issue to warrant an article in its own right, and I wil publish that separately.

Results of the King Street Pilot

The King Street Pilot report that was presented to Toronto’s Executive Committee on April 9 came before the TTC Board on April 11. There was a short discussion of the possibility of extension of the project further west. This review will be rolled into the surface transit network plan to come to the board in December 2019.

One item that may further complicate the taxi exemption for King Street was a proposal that Wheel Trans contracted vehicles be allowed to operate just like a transit vehicle when carrying Wheel Trans clients. This will come to Council when they debate the issue at their meeting of April 16.

The Board endorsed the report’s recommendations.

In future articles, I will update information about travel times, headways and line capacity on King street with data to the end of March 2019.

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Ontario’s 2019 Budget: Transit Effects in Toronto

The Ontario Government introduced its 2019 budget on April 11. The section on transit and transportation begins with the usual statements about the cost of congestion, and the economic benefit of transit and highways. Transit specifics focus on the recent Toronto subway announcement. Metrolinx/GO continues on its expansion path, but with more emphasis on what has been done than what is to come.

The Subway “Upload”

Ontario reiterated its intention to take ownership of the Toronto subway network, but it is now clear that this will be done in two parts. First will come responsibility for system expansion as announced on April 10 with the existing system assets to follow in 2020. This puts the more complex problem off nominally for a year, but that debate is really underway now with negotiations between the City of Toronto, TTC and province.

By separating the upload into two distinctive parts, the Province can begin building subway extensions and new lines immediately while giving proper due diligence to the state of repair of the existing assets and fulfilling its commitments to consultation under the Terms of Reference.

The Province remains steadfastly committed to the full upload of the TTC subway network. [p. 64]

That “due diligence” is the nub of any transfer. Past provincial statements imply that the cost of life cycle maintenance (major repairs and replacement, items found in the TTC’s capital budget) would shift to the province leaving day-to-day costs to the City of Toronto. The problem lies in the inevitable tug-of-war between transit expansion and state of good repair. Provincial Treasurer Vic Fedeli, speaking on CBC’s Metro Morning, claims that the investment in new transit lines more than offsets gas tax revenue promised by the former Liberal government. However, this leaves a major hole in planned funding for system upgrades.

Gas Tax Transfer

Fedeli claimed that the Gas Tax can only be used for specific type of spending, but this is not true. The money today goes partly to subsidize day-to-day operations and partly to capital for state-of-good-repair (SOGR). Across the province, few cities are building rapid transit expansions, and their gas tax allocation goes to operation and maintenance of existing systems. Fedeli, in parliamentary language, is “badly briefed”.

The gas tax transfer from Ontario to Toronto for 2018-2019 will be $185 million, and this was expected to double in stages over the next four years. This increase has been cancelled in the new Ontario budget.

Beginning in 2019, Ontario will gradually increase the municipal share of gas tax funds up to a total of four cents per litre in 2021-22. Based on the averages from the past 10 years, gas tax funding is estimated to be about $642 million in 2021-22. There will not be any increase in the tax that people in Ontario pay on gasoline.

Year                            2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22

Municipal share (cents/litre)   2.0     2.5     3.0     4.0
Estimated funding (millions)    $321    $401.3  $481.5  $642

Source: Enhanced Gas Tax Program, Ontario Government Backgrounder, January 27, 2017

Note that the dollar funding above is for all of Ontario, not just for Toronto, although it gets the lion’s share due to its size.

The Province will not move forward with the previous government’s proposed changes to the municipal share of gas tax funding. The Province will continue to support municipalities through the existing Gas Tax program and ensure it continues to meet the needs of the people of Ontario in alignment with provincial priorities.

Over the next few months, the government will consult with municipalities to review the program parameters and identify opportunities for improvement. This review will be informed by the goals of responsible planning and a more sustainable government to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent as effectively as possible. [p. 75]

Toronto allocates almost half, $91.6 million, to the TTC Operating Budget, leaving $93.4 million for capital in 2018-2019.

Planned spending based on federal and provincial gas tax transfers is summarized in the city’s 2019 budget papers. This document details the allocation of federal and provincial transfers planned over 2019-2028 with $1.358 billion broken out by TTC budget line. Note that this is less than the total that would have been expected over ten years because the “out years” of the TTC’c capital plan is constrained by city financing plans. Many projects are “below the line” in the budget, especially in the outer five years, and the rise in gas tax funding could have helped to bring some of these projects to approved, above the line status.

About 70% of planned provincial gas tax spending by Toronto is for assets that are subway related. If Ontario transfers responsibility for all of this to the provincial level, then this would offset the loss of expected gas tax. However, that depends on just what budget lines Ontario chooses to take on. When capital subsidies began under the Davis government, there was something of a shell game between Toronto and Queen’s Park over the classification of expenses because “capital” received at least a 50% subsidy while “operations” only got 16%. This sort of thing will bedevil negotiations between the two governments on funding of the uploaded subway system’s SOGR projects.

The table below summarizes the categories listed in the city’s budget and splits them between subway and surface networks. The breakdown is based on my experience in reviewing TTC budgets. Although some adjustment of percentages might be argued, the overall balance will not change much.

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Ontario Announces Toronto Subway Plan

On April 10, 2019, Premier Doug Ford announced his government’s intentions to expand transit in Toronto. The plan includes:

  • The “Ontario Line”, a rebranded and extended version of the Relief Line, will run from Don Mills and Eglinton to Ontario Place.
  • The Yonge North Extension from Finch Station to Richmond Hill Centre
  • The three-stop version of the Scarborough Subway Extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard with stops at Lawrence East and Scarborough Town Centre
  • Extension of the Sheppard Subway east from Don Mills Station to connect with the SSE at McCowan and Sheppard
  • Extension of the Eglinton Crosstown west from Mount Dennis to Pearson Airport

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Toronto’s Omnibus Transit Report: Part III

This is the third and final part of my review of the transit reports that will be before Toronto’s Executive Committee on April 9, 2019, and at Council a week later.

In part one, I reviewed the financial issues presented in the reports together with the Scarborough Subway Extension, now known as the Line 2 East Extension (L2EE).

In part two, I turned to SmartTrack, the Relief Line and the Bloor-Yonge station expansion project.

This article reviews the streetcar/LRT projects as presented in the current set of reports.

Relevant documents include:

  • Main report: Toronto’s Transit Expansion Program – Update and Next Steps
  • Attachment 1: A status update on all projects
  • Attachment 3: Waterfront Transit Network – Union Station-Queens Quay Link and East Bayfront Light Rail Transit. [Note: The properties of this attachment were incorrectly set by the authors. Although it really is Attachment 3, it appears on browser tabs as if it were Attachment 2 for the Scarborough Extension.]
  • Attachment 4: Eglinton East LRT
  • Attachment 5: Eglinton West LRT

Much of the LRT network still at some stage of design or construction is a remnant of the Transit City plan announced in 2007. Pieces have have fallen off of that network proposal, notably in Scarborough, but also a few key links that would have knitted the network together allowing sharing of carhouse and maintenance facilities. Confusion about the planning, ownership and funding scheme for parts of the network complicates the situation further.

Although the province has announced that it wishes to take over “the subway”, the boundary is unclear because a previous government decided to take over at least part of the Transit City LRT network, notably the Eglinton/Crosstown and Finch West routes. The Ford government prefers to put as much transit underground as possible, but if Toronto wants to extend an existing route (for example on Eglinton East), the city’s preference will be for surface construction to keep cost within its ability to fund projects.

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