Metrolinx Board Meeting: February 7, 2019 (Updated)

Updated February 10, 2019 at 9:00 am: Notes from the Board meeting have been added at the beginning of this article.

Relief Line Business Case

When the agenda was released, the Relief Line report created quite a stir with an apparent shift in Metrolinx’ position on the staging of subway expansion projects. Where “relief” taking precedence over the Yonge north extension only referred to the southern section (Pape to Osgoode), Metrolinx now shows a shortfall in capacity if the northern section (Danforth to Sheppard) is missing from the network.

This prompted a letter from Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham and Chair of the York Region Rapid Transit Corporation Board. The heart of Scarpitti’s objection is that the Metrolinx report uses a mixture of demand models and assumptions to arrive at its conclusion, and that this is out of step with previous studies and approvals.

The Relief Line Business Case Development presentation paints a flawed picture of the ridership modelling work being undertaken by Metrolinx, in conjunction with York Region and City of Toronto staff. The vague and contradictory information being used to update the public on slide 7 regarding Line 1: Ridership Demand and Network Effects has, once again, pitted two critically needed infrastructure projects against one another, namely the Relief Line against the Yonge Subway Extension. This positioning is not supported by the ridership modelling analysis and is at odds with the advice and information presented by Metrolinx at a recent meeting.

On June 25, 2015, Metrolinx released the results of the Yonge Relief Network Study to the Board. Supported by a Stakeholder Advisory Committee and a Peer Review Panel, the Board endorsed the finding that “With the Yonge North Extension, the Yonge Subway will still be under capacity.”

The Relief Line Update uses a blend of data and methodologies to make broad assumptions about future ridership. Each subsequent ridership model claims to have better information, more detail and more sophisticated analysis. Some models include independent findings and more recently, to our objection, some have been relying heavily on market driven employment and population data, contrary to the required obligation of all municipalities to follow the Provincially-mandated “Growth Plan” numbers.

The Relief Line Update being presented to the Metrolinx Board on February 7, 2019 has, according to Metrolinx staff, blended the findings of at least three different models and does not accurately represent any of the individual modelling analyses. Slide 7 suggests that, in 2041, Line 1 will be below capacity and then over capacity when the Yonge Subway Extension is added. This is completely inaccurate – current Metrolinx modelling shared as recent as January 21, 2019 demonstrates that the Yonge Subway Extension adds a relatively minor number of riders to the peak demand location and, in no case, is it the cause of Line 1 becoming over capacity.

The facts are that only 20% of the new riders on an extension of the Yonge Subway line would be headed south of Bloor. Ridership growth on Line 1 is directly related to population and employment growth in Toronto. In fact, models show that ridership on Line 1 will exceed capacity regardless of whether the Yonge Subway Extension is constructed. We believe that by promoting the shift of as little as 10% of people from peak hour travel from the Extension to the Richmond Hill GO Line, and by using fare structure and level of service incentives, that substantial relief on Line 1 can be achieved while the Yonge Subway Extension is being constructed.

Modelling also shows that the majority of riders (80%) on the Yonge Subway Extension are headed to Toronto’s uptown employment centres north of Bloor, including St. Clair, Eglinton and York Mills. Furthermore, the Yonge Subway Extension will also serve a large number of Toronto residents that work in York Region Other initiatives are underway, or should be underway, to alleviate Line 1 capacity problems. Metrolinx’s 2015 study concluded that a number of planned and funded initiatives such as Automatic Train Control, more Rocket Trains, GO Expansion, and the opening of the Line 1 extension to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre will add capacity and offload the Line 1 demand.

These are serious challenges to the professional quality of work presented by Metrolinx planners.

The June 2015 report cited here was the Yonge Relief Network Study and it contains the quotation about the subway remaining under capacity even with the Yonge North extension. However, this depends on a number of factors:

  • The model year is 2031
  • Then-current projections for population and jobs
  • Assumed diversion levels for ridership to TYSSE and GO RER, net of demand added by new projects especially the Crosstown LRT at Eglinton

The reported projected that the volume/capacity ratio would have been 96% (2031) over the peak hour meaning that the super-peak would be above the line. The claim that the subway would still have capacity is “true” only on average and with no headroom for growth. Metrolinx planners should have known better to make that statement in 2015.

Metrolinx staff pointed out:

  • They are modelling for 2041, ten years later
  • The 2016 Census shows that core area employment is growing faster than predicted
  • Modelling now includes factors for latent demand and safety considerations at stations and platforms
  • If there is no alternate relief in place by 2041, the Relief Line North will be required

Staff also reported that although the Relief Line South approved concept (Pape to Osgoode via Carlaw and Queen) has a positive Business Case, the value is only slightly above 1.0. All six of the options were close to 1 and so the distinction between them is not as strong as the simple over/under status in the report might imply. With only a small positive margin, factors such as cost control and encouragement of Transit Oriented Development along the line will be important to maintain the supposed benefit.

CEO Phil Verster argued strongly that building the Relief Line does not preclude building other projects. His concern is to build more transit and build faster. Metrolinx is looking at (unspecified) new technology and innovation from industry to speed up the process. More than one line could be built concurrently, but the critical point is to open them in a sequence that causes the desired redistribution of demand.

Verster admitted that Metrolinx has not done enough to look at the Richmond Hill GO corridor for its potential contribution to relief.

A Board member asked whether the staff have identified a “tipping point” in safety for their studies. There is not a single value, but rather a variation from one location to another depending on local demand, station geometry and passenger flows.

Unspoken through all of this was the years of delay in admitting that a problem even exists, let alone of doing something about it. GO’s ability to provide relief has been downplayed for various reasons including the need to regrade the south end of the line to make it flood-proof, the winding valley route’s limitation of travel speed, and operational conflicts with CN’s freight traffic that limit GO capacity to Richmond Hill. Meanwhile, candidate John Tory’s SmartTrack campaign claimed that his scheme would eliminate the need for a Relief Line, and TTC projections did not raise alarms about capacity and safety issues until the situation at Bloor-Yonge could not be ignored.

“Relief” will not come from any one line or project, but from the contributions of several.

Financing and deliverability studies will be reported in spring 2019 for the Relief Line South, and a preliminary business case for the Relief Line North will be available by year-end.

This entire exchange shows the problems brought on by oversimplified presentation decks for the Board. In their oral remarks, Metrolinx staff displayed a more extensive grasp of the issues and details than contained in the Powerpoint deck.

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$33 Billion and Counting (Part II)

In the first article in this series, I reviewed the Capital Budget and Plan that covers the years 2019-2033 for the TTC. There are three reports on the January 24 Board agenda related to this subject:

This article concentrates on the “Making Headway” report which is a glossy overview of the 15 Year Capital Plan. It is a generally good report, although there are annoying omissions of detail that would flesh out its argument.

This report deals mainly with “state of good repair” (SOGR) projects that involve rejuvenation of existing infrastructure and expansion necessary to handle growing demand. New lines are not, for the most part, included in the report although plans for them are reflected in SOGR planning where they trigger expansion of existing capacity. Leaving out new projects like the Richmond Hill extension may be a political decision, but this means that the context for some recommendations is incomplete. A useful update would be to produce a consolidated plan showing the “new” projects and the time-critical events they trigger (such as fleet expansion or replacement and station capacity issues).

For many years, the TTC, the City of Toronto and its so-called funding partners have been content for the official SOGR backlog to stay out of sight. This has the triple benefit of reducing the projected borrowing TTC projects will require, making the benefit of capital funding the TTC does receive (mainly from gas tax) appear larger than what is needed, and avoiding difficult questions about spending on new projects in the face of a gaping hole for existing maintenance. This must stop, and the “Making Headway” report certainly puts the TTC’s needs in a different, and far more critical, light.

A backlog of deferred maintenance has grown, putting the safety, accessibility and sustainability of our transit system at risk despite the need to move more customers more reliably than ever before. [p. 7]

One cannot help remembering the soothing words of TTC management in the early 1990s when recession-starved governments cut back on transit maintenance, and the TTC said they could get by on the money they received without compromising the system. Then there was the fatal crash at Russell Hill and, bit by bit, Toronto learned just how badly the TTC’s condition had fallen. The CEO at the time (a position then called “Chief General Manager”) went on to become a Minister in the Harris government that slashed provincial transit funding completely. Things appear to be different today with the TTC calling out for better funding, although at a time when the last thing any politician wants to hear is a plea for more spending.

One page should be burned into the souls of anyone who claims to support transit’s vital role:

It is easy for the need to invest in our base transit system to be overshadowed by the need to fund transit expansion. But investing to properly maintain and increase the capacity of our current system is arguably even more important.

Population growth and planned transit expansion projects such as SmartTrack, the Relief Line South, the Line 2 East Extension to Scarborough and new LRT lines on Eglinton and Finch West will add hundreds of thousands more customers to Toronto’s transit network.

The result will dramatically increase pressure on a system already grappling with an aging fleet, outdated signals on key subway lines, inadequate maintenance and storage capacity, and tracks and infrastructure in need of constant repair.

Without the investments outlined in this Plan, service reliability and crowding will worsen, as the maintenance backlog grows and becomes more difficult and costlier to fix. This is the fate now faced by some other major transit systems in North America that allowed their assets to badly deteriorate.

Our customers, our city, our province and our nation can’t afford to let that happen. [p. 8]

This is not the message recent and current leaders in Toronto and Ontario wanted to hear, and they collectively are to blame for the mess we are in today.

Although some items, particularly those in the second decade of the plan, are not fully costed, the items are included to raise awareness that they exist.

Given the scale of the investment required, however, it would be irresponsible to delay conversations about funding until estimates are exact. [p. 9]

There is a mythology about transit assets, particularly subways, that they last a century. This is nowhere near the truth, and those who push such claims as a justification for subways as a preferred mode are flat out liars. Only the physical structure lasts many decades, and even that requires ongoing repair. Components such as trains, track, escalators, electrical systems, signals, tunnels, pumps and station buildings require repair and replacement at regular intervals. The Yonge subway, now over 60 years old, is on its third set of trains, and the Bloor-Danforth line on its second. All of the track has been replaced two or three times. Stations do not have their original escalators, and the ones now in place are coming due for major overhaul or replacement. The list is endless. A subway is not a “build it and forget it” project any more than a new car or a new house.

When the existing system is asked to carry far more riders, more is needed than a new coat of paint. More trains and bigger stations are just a start, and the analogy would be trading up to a family SUV or moving to a bigger house. If Toronto were a stagnant city with little population or job growth, this would be less of an issue, but Toronto is instead a booming area facing problems of growth it cannot serve or chooses not to serve adequately.

The chart below shows how many aspects of a transit system are linked together. We cannot simply say “buy more buses” or “run more trains” and think that every problem is solved. This problem is compounded when any “improvement” we make vanishes into the black hole of deferred maintenance, making up for what we should have done years ago.

Seen from a high level, the $33.5 billion plan breaks down like this:

Of the “funded” portion, about one third depends on assumptions regarding available funds from various sources in the second decade of the plan, and the remainder is based on the current known commitments of various government. This is less than certain with provincial plans to take over ownership of the subway system and responsibility for funding its capital maintenance. Note that in the chart above, 65% of the total is subway related. This would leave Queen’s Park on the hook for $22 billion over 15 years, and that does not pay for system expansion.

(For clarity, some of the spending included above is on works in progress such as the ATC signalling on Line 1 YUS, and the delivery of new streetcars. Only the costs in 2019 and forward are included in the figures here.)

Funding vs Financing

This report deals with the funding needs of the transit system. The distinction is often blurred between getting the money (funding) and paying for it (financing). The distinction is that if you buy a car, somebody (you, or more likely your bank) pays for the vehicle. The dealer and the automaker are happy, but you now have a debt. That’s “financing”. A slightly more creative scheme would be for you to rent the car so that someone else (a leasing company) actually owns it, but this is still “financing”. Real money changed hands somewhere, although the leasing company would get a better price on a fleet purchase, and they have tax write-off opportunities that you probably don’t.

Money could come from outside investors who may simply provide financing secured by future revenues (taxes on new development, for example), or might build or buy and even operate assets on our behalf. But one way or another, we have to pay for them unless new money with no strings attached appears out of thin air. That’s how one-time grants for major projects like subway extensions work. Governments give the TTC money with which to build new lines, but the cost stays on the government’s books and is not a future charge against the transit system. That’s a system the province doesn’t like one bit, and that is why Ontario wants to own and finance projects if only because the accounting looks better without that “gift” to Toronto.

There is a great debate over where we will find $33.5 billion, but there is no way to make that number vanish short of simply not undertaking the projects it will fund.

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$33 Billion and Counting

A political tremour ran through the transit world in Toronto recently with the TTC’s release of a 15-year projection of capital spending requirements at $33.5 billion. This does not include funding for most system expansion projects beyond the already-approved Scarborough Subway.

That number is big, but it’s no surprise to those who have been following TTC budgets for years. A major issue has been that “unfunded” or “below the line” projects don’t get the attention they deserve and are deliberately kept off of the books to reduce the apparent size of the City’s financial problems. Common tactics included omitting projects from the overall budget, or projecting their spending in a period just beyond the rolling ten-year horizon of capital planning.

Transit planning in Toronto and at Queen’s Park is reckless when it downplays the backlog of spending and associated subsidies facing public agencies. New spending and the inevitable photo ops for grinning, back-patting politicians are easier to fit into plans when you can ignore the transit system crumbling in the background.

Several budget reports will be before the TTC Board (and later at City Council) at its next meeting on January 24, 2019.

There is far too much material here to review in a single article, and so I will break this up over multiple posts. Some of the details behind individual projects will not be available until I obtain the full version of the Capital Budget known as the “Blue Books” which expand the line items from the “Blue Pages” into project descriptions and schedules.

A vital part of the new reports is a shift to a longer time frame (15 years) and the inclusion of all projects in the Capital Plan whether they have funding or not. The extent of the problem is quite evident in the following chart. The purple hatched area shows the requirements for coming years while the sold areas show known funding amounts in the medium term and hoped-for income thereafter.

The big drop in the City’s funding share in the early 2020s arises from the lack of borrowing headroom in the overall City budget. A big problem here is the crowding by major projects such as the Scarborough Subway Extension and the Gardiner Expressway rebuild within the overall borrowing plan. Current City policy dictates that the average debt servicing cost should not exceed 15% of City tax revenue over a ten year period. Planned spending in the next few years will eliminate the headroom for additional borrowing. This exactly coincides with the bulge in TTC capital requirements beginning in 2022. To put it another way, if funding continued at 2019 levels across the chart, there would still be a shortfall, but against a much higher base.

Even this chart does not tell the full story because the Capital Plan continues to push major projects beyond the ten-year line, and the financial pressures from system expansion are not fully accounted for here. As things stand today, less than 30% of the ten-year program is funded. Beyond 2028, the level of assumed funding is still well below historical levels.

($ billion) 2019-2028 2029-2033 Total 2019-2033
Funded $6.4 $3.4 $9.8
Unfunded $17.5 $6.2 $23.7
Total $23.9 $9.6 $33.5

System expansion projects will add a further $3.8 billion over the first ten years of the plan:

  • Line 2 Extension (formerly known as the SSE): $3.4 billion (subject to revision when an updated cost report is presented to Council in April 2019).
    • “While the 10-Year Capital Plan includes $3.360 billion in funding for this project (between 2019 to 2028), this project has an overall budget of $3.560 billion. This estimate, which includes $132 million to extend the life of the SRT until the Line 2 East Extension commences operation and a further $123 million to decommission and demolish the SRT, was based on 0% design. The project budget and schedule will be re-baselined in Stage Gate 3 report to City Council in April 2019, factoring in delivery strategy and schedule risk analysis.”
  • Relief Line South: $385 million will be spent in 2019-20 to support early works on this project. Some of this is already funded, but $325 million is being advanced into the current ten-year budget. Of this, the City proposes to provide half and looks to other levels of government for a contribution. The actual RL construction project is a separate entity which is not yet in the budget.
    • “The 10-Year Capital Plan includes funding of $385 million to complete current work only, which includes completing the preliminary design and engineering to between 15% and 30% complete, including developing a project budget and schedule.”
  • Waterfront Transit: The ten-year budget includes only $27 million in 2019-21 for design work on the planned extension from Exhibition Loop to the Dufferin Gate. Design work on any other Waterfront projects, let alone any construction, remains beyond the ten-year window.
  • Spadina Vaughan extension: Outstanding work on this project including close-out costs amount to $60 million in 2019, but this will be funded within the existing project.

[Quotations above are from the 15 Year Capital Investment Plan and 2019-2028 Budget, pp 12-13.]

The Relief Line work includes tasks such as property acquisition, utility relocation and design for the tunnel boring equipment. Now that the line has political support, spending sooner rather than later is on the agenda, and about two years can be shaved from the original project schedule by doing the preliminary work now. This is a major change from the position taken by Mayor Tory during the election campaign, and the need to “do something” as soon as possible is now evident.

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Many Questions About A Subway Takeover

In the melee that passes for Ontario politics, one major issue is the proposed takeover of Toronto’s subway system by Queen’s Park. Such a change, they claim, would allow a great speed-up of system expansion currently hung up at Toronto Council. A good deal of that hang up can be traced to the Premier and his brother’s actions at Council, but such trivialities get in the way of a good stump speech.

The idea that planning should be based on actual evidence is a buzz-phrase heard most commonly when a politician is trying to appear “businesslike” and claims to be applying some sort of intellectual rigour to back-of-the-envelope planning. The uploading proposal sounds good in theory, but this is due in part to poor understanding of transits needs and cost both at Queen’s Park and at City Hall. The scheme surfaced years ago at Council as a simplistic way to cut the cost of transit support in the City’s budget, and the idea moved to the provincial level along with the Ford regime.

A common thread through every proposal is that the true cost of owning, operating and upgrading the subway system is poorly understood, even by members of Toronto Council and the TTC Board whose job it should be to know these things. It is a convenient myth that the subway “breaks even”, and that if only someone would take the cost of expansion and capital maintenance off of the City’s hands, all would be well.

In the interest of informed debate, this article examines the plan, such as it is, and the many issues that have yet to be addressed by its proponents.

Understanding the TTC Budget

A detailed breakdown of the TTC Budgets can be found in:

The TTC’s budget and long-term plans are poorly understood. The TTC Board scheduled Budget and Strategy meetings, but either cancelled them or spent the available time on narrow-focus rather than system-wide issues. At Council, things are even worse because budget debates, crammed with every department’s issues, get only short review. These are usually in an environment hostile to discussions of change except for a few, small topics. The “big picture” is limited to battles over new transit lines while the health of the overall system goes ignored.

For a decade or more, service growth in Toronto was constrained by the size of the streetcar and bus fleets, the physical limits on train spacing on the subway and the capacity of its stations. Much of the recent service growth is outside of the peak period when spare vehicles are available.

On the capital side, the City has a policy that its debt service costs should not exceed 15% of tax revenues. The province mandates a 25% cap, but the City takes a more conservative approach to provide headroom. Originally the cap applied to each year individually, but it is now considered over a ten-year average so that peaks and valleys in debt costs can smooth out for a 15% average. Already, planned borrowing for future years takes up all available room, and additional debt-financed work is possible only with special levies such as the Scarborough Subway tax (1.6%) and the John Tory City Building Fund (building up to 2.5%). (These are both tax increases above the rate of inflation.) If the cost of borrowing goes up, or City tax revenues fall, the 15% line will be only a fond memory.

The problem is compounded by a chronic understatement of transit needs going back at least eight years. When the marching orders are to keep deficits, and hence taxes, down, any proposals for improvement run counter to political goals. “We can’t afford it” becomes a standard response, and options simply go unstudied especially if they are associated with the wrong political faction.

If we don’t know what options will cost, we don’t know what might be possible or what the trade-offs among options would look like.

Even worse, with the Capital Budget, there is a long list of items that are either:

  • approved but not funded (roughly 1/3 of the approved list, about $3 billion worth)
  • “below the line” with neither approval nor funding (over $1 billion)
  • “future consideration” (over $2 billion)

Many of the big ticket items in these lists are subway items such as new and expanded fleets for the two major routes, and capacity expansion at busy stations. Many items in the budget are actually part of a larger project such subway capacity. However, the budget is presented on a departmental basis, and there is no consolidation of related line items. This has two effects: the TTC Board and Council rightly complain when projects appear to grow because approving the first step triggers the need for all that follows, related items are consigned to “funded” or “unfunded” status without regard for their place in the larger scheme.

The problem with these lists is that they are getting longer, especially the second and third group, even though some items form parts of critical system updates. Other projects simply are not on any budget, or are pushed so far into the future that they have no effect on the current ten-year plans. The 15% rule caused important projects related to Line 2 Bloor-Danforth to be pushed into the late 2020s even though some of them are pre-requisites for the Scarborough Subway Extension. (The components of Bloor-Danforth subway renewal and capacity expansion are discussed in detail in an appendix to this article.)

If Ontario takes over responsibility for the subway, they will inherit that long list of projects. For its part, Toronto Council and the TTC Board do not fully understand the implications if Ontario simply chooses not to invest in the existing system because the estimate of a takeover has been low-balled.

The TTC Board is very simple-minded in its deliberations, and avoids going into details. Their focus is on cost containment, not on service, except when someone needs a photo op to announce some relatively trivial change such as an express bus network that adds few new buses.

If Council and the TTC don’t understand their own system and its real needs, how can they fight for it?

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So You Want To Own A Subway (2018 Edition)

Among the many promises made by the Progressive Conservative Party in the run-up to the June 7 election is a scheme to upload the Toronto subway system to the province with the intention of relieving Toronto of this ongoing cost. This was also part of their 2014 campaign, and it is born no doubt from the Ford brothers’ assumption that (a) this could be done cheaply and (b) Toronto would save money overall. The pot is sweetened this time around with the guarantee that Toronto would keep the fare revenue and operate the system. The overall tradeoffs in operating and capital costs are not entirely nailed down.

Oliver Moore in the Globe has written about this proposal wondering whether it is actually workable. The quotes below are taken from his article.

The Tories are framing the upload largely as an accounting exercise, making it easier to find funding and thus facilitating transit construction. The province would pay an estimated $160-million annually for major capital maintenance on the subway network, taking an obligation off city books.

Under the proposal, the Toronto Transit Commission would keep operating the subway, with its board setting fares and the city retaining revenues. Expansion planning would be controlled by the province, although Toronto and Ottawa would be asked to help fund construction.

Note that the proposal is silent on the operating cost of the subway. There is something of a myth that the subway “breaks even”, but this is not true, especially for the more-recently opened segments. It is a matter of record that the Sheppard Line loses money, and the TTC estimated that the operating impact, net of new fares, of the Vaughan extension would be $30 million per year.

If the province builds a new subway line, would Toronto, through the TTC, still be on the hook for paying its operating cost?

Any concept of “breaking even” requires that fares be allocated between surface and subway routes and this is an impossible task. One can propose many schemes, but they all have built-in biases because a “trip” and a “fare” are such different things. The situation is even more complex as an increasing number of riders pay through some form of pass all the way from the yearly Metropass (formerly called the “monthly discount program”) down to the two-hour transfer.

How Much Does The Subway Cost?

The estimated value of an upload to Queen’s Park of $160 million/year is woefully inadequate because the TTC’s capital budget for ongoing maintenance is much, much larger. There is much more to owning a subway than collecting billions in construction subsidies. Despite the frequent claim that “subways last 100 years”, they require a lot of ongoing maintenance and replacement of subsystems. With the exception of the physical tunnel and station structures, a large proportion of the older subway lines has been completely replaced or undergone major overhaul at least once since they opened. Line 1 YUS is on its third generation of trains, for example.

I wrote about this four years ago, and this article is an update of my earlier review.

A big problem arises for anyone taking a superficial look at the TTC’s books because so many projects are not funded, or are not even part of the approved “base budget”. They are “below the line” or, even worse, they are merely “proposals” of future works that might find their way into the official list. Looking only at current, approved funded projects ignores a large and growing list of projects that, for political convenience, are out of sight, the iceberg below the water line.

Slogging through the TTC’s Capital Budget is no fun, but somebody has to do it. You, dear readers, get the digested version of hundreds of pages of reports. Thank you in advance.

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TTC Contemplates Earlier Subway Closing

At the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee meeting of May 29, 2018, staff presented a report entitled Internal Audit Quarterly Update: Q1 2018. That is not the sort of title that would prompt avid late-night reading, but one item within the report sparked a brief conversation between the committee and staff.

There are several issues related to the management of overnight work in the subway which requires a variety of resources including staff, work cars, power cuts and central supervision to keep all of the crews from tripping over each other. One part of the ongoing audit work is to review the systems (many automated, but some manual) used to schedule and track the work plans, but another issue raised was the relatively short maintenance window within which work can be done. Responding to a question, staff advised that they are reviewing the operating hours of the subway to determine whether changing these hours could improve the productivity of overnight maintenance work.

Here are extracts from the report:

Audit Observation #3: Track Level Maintenance Window

TTC’s revenue subway service hours limit the nightly maintenance window, which impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of track level work and exposes subway infrastructure to accelerated deterioration.

Limited Track Level Maintenance Window

Per an international CoMET/Nova benchmark study of “Metro Key Performance Indicators (2016 data)”, TTC ranked fourth amongst 34 participants in terms of subway service density or network utilization – a standardized method that measures operated passenger capacity compared to network size. This KPI reflects the ‘intensity of utilization of the metro network’, which is a function of train frequency, train length and car capacity. The study asserts high train frequency may reflect a good use of fixed infrastructure, but the intense impact on asset utilization should be warranted by ridership demand, i.e., recognizing the need to balance competing objectives of making subway service more available for customers versus the costs associated with accelerated deterioration of subway infrastructure and assets due to an increase in daily use. The study comments that TTC offers relatively high levels of capacity primarily due to larger trains and higher frequencies across its entire, relatively small network.

TTC track level work starts once the system is fully cleared of revenue trains. TTC’s subway system is closed to the public at 1:30am and opens at 6:00am on week days and Saturdays, and at 8:00am on Sundays. However, trains continue to run through the system until approximately 2:30am and re-enter the system at around 5:30am, leaving an average total available daily maintenance window of 180 minutes (300 minutes on Sundays as service preparation starts around 7:30am).

Night shift work typically runs from 10:30pm to 7am, including a 30-minute unpaid meal break. Per discussion with Subway Infrastructure management, track level set-up activities typically start at 2:45am and Transit Control requests crews to complete work and start clearing the track at 5:00am. Work activities expected to be performed out-side of this track level access time period include employee roll-call, safety-talks/briefings, work car preparation, and tools maintenance, etc.

[…]

In a Nova comparison study, “Track Possession Timings ” (2014), it was noted that given TTC’s subway service hours, and taking into account estimated time required for set-up and safety check activities, as well as post work preparation for service, TTC workers’ total available time to work productively at track level was between 30 and 225 mins less than the other ten participants. Further, the average maintenance window of these other participants was almost 2hrs longer than that of TTC.

If the maintenance window was to be increased by 2 additional hours, 5 nights a week, Audit estimates the opportunity for improved productivity by SI’s Track Maintenance and Structure Maintenance Sections alone to be valued at approximately $3.38 million. Such a change would also reduce overtime and potentially the need for weekend closures by these two groups. Based on payroll data, Track Maintenance and Structure Maintenance incurred overtime costs of $4.58M and $1.26M respectively in 2017. Structure Maintenance Management estimates that if the maintenance window was to be extended by 2 hours, 5 nights a week, the annual overtime for this Section could be reduced by 75%, which in 2017, would be equal to approximately $945K. It is reasonable to assume productivity improvements and material overtime savings could be realized by other groups that complete maintenance and capital project work at track level if the maintenance window is extended.

[pp 8-9 of Attachment 3, at pp 27-28 of the document]

Note that the “other ten participants” are not listed nor are the relative service levels of their transit systems mentioned to indicate whether they are valid comparators for Toronto.

A proposed action plan appears a few pages later in the report:

Audit Observation #3 – Management Action Plan Considerations:

To maximize and optimize the track level maintenance window, Management should:

  • Evaluate actual ridership and revenue associated with TTC’s late-night subway service (after midnight runs) to ensure current intensity of service and impact on subway infrastructure (and vehicle) asset maintenance costs are warranted.
  • Conduct in-depth analysis of TTC’s current subway infrastructure asset management approach, resource planning and crewing methods, work car dispatching techniques and work methods to identify opportunities for maximizing productivity and transparency of resource utilization at track level.

This was striking on at least two counts.

First, there is no recognition in the report that closing earlier is anything more than a question of sending trains back to the yard earlier, and no mention of providing replacement service. It is no secret that night buses on Yonge and Bloor-Danforth are very heavily loaded after 2 am and, if anything, more service is needed then. A similar problem occurs during the early part of the day before the subway opens. The auditors also seem to be unaware that there is no night service to replace the University-Spadina subway, and this is difficult (as users of Spadina shuttles know) because the subway does not follow an arterial road like Yonge or Bloor.

If two hours were added to the shutdown period, the amount of bus service required to replace the subway would be substantial, and it is likely that ridership would be lost thanks to the relative inconvenience. Moreover, there would be knock-on effects for users of connecting bus services who would face much longer journeys to their connection points on a surface bus, and who might also face a decline in service thanks to the unattractiveness of the night bus replacement for the subway.

This change could actually trigger a system-wide retrenchment of service hours.

Second, there was absolutely no intimation that anyone at the meeting was aware of just how severe the impacts of this proposal would be on riders, nor was there any attempt to defend their interests. Indeed, the focus is on making the maintenance teams more efficient and saving millions without considering the offsetting costs and potential lost revenue.

Some of the basic assumptions in the text quoted above are wrong, notably a claimed closing time for the subway of 1:30 am. In fact, the closing time varies across the system. There is a scheduled meet of the last northbound, eastbound and westbound trains at Bloor-Yonge at about 1:54 am that has been in place since the BD line opened in 1966. Stations close as these last trains make their way outbound to terminals. One might hope the auditors would check with TTC planners or even simply look at their own website.

The last train eastbound on Line 4 Sheppard does not leave Yonge-Sheppard station until 2:14 am.

It is quite clear to anyone who actually rides the subway late at night that it does not close at 1:30 am across the network. This is only the start of a process that continues until about 2:30 am, and some trains have to return to their overnight storage locations even later. The maintenance window varies depending where one is on the network.

The comment in the report about “accelerated deterioration of subway infrastructure and assets” is a function of the very frequent service the TTC provides across the entire subway system at all hours with trains every 5 minutes or better until almost the end of service. How much extra wear and tear this represents since the subway opened in 1954 might be of interest, but this service level is a matter of TTC Service Standards. One could argue that full service is not required, based on demand, beyond a core portion of the system late at night. However, I dare any politician to stand up and tell suburban Toronto that they will lose their frequent service just because the trains are not full.

Another issue here is that actually running the trains is only part of total subway costs, and unless one can also drop staffing levels associated with stations, security, line supervision and on-call maintainers, the saving of running, say, only half of the service beyond a turnback point such as Eglinton is small. The same consideration applies to running less frequent service generally – the trains are only part of the overall operating cost.

It is important to note that this “accelerated deterioration” is a function of frequent service over long hours, not some side-effect of inefficient maintenance procedures as one might erroneously read the audit report.

I hope that if there is a detailed study, it will take into account the benefits of good late night and early morning service on the subway, not to mention the requirements for substantially improved night bus service. Indeed the existing night service needs improving, but languishes thanks to a combination of indifference and budget restraints.

It is only a few years since the TTC began Sunday service at 8:00 am rather than 9:00 am in January 2016.

In a Nov. 4, 2015, letter to the Board, Mayor John Tory and Chair Josh Colle wrote:

“As a vibrant and growing city, Toronto does not conform to a traditional Monday to Friday schedule … Our businesses are open, our cultural centres are operating and the engines of our economy remain in motion. The people of Toronto should be able to move around this city with ease — seven days a week — and the TTC plays an instrumental role in providing this mobility.”

Early Sunday openings are the latest service improvement to be introduced in recent months, following this year’s expansion of overnight service and all-day, every-day service across the city, implementation of ten-minute-or-better service and reduced off-peak crowding on bus and streetcar routes.

Someone should send a copy of this letter to the auditors who appear to be incapable of making a full evaluation of the effects of their recommendations or even appreciating the seriousness of what they propose. “Efficiency” in one department does not mean better service for the organization and the City as a whole.

Relief Line South Station and Alignment Plans

Detailed study of the southern portion of the proposed Relief Subway Line from Pape & Danforth to Osgoode Station is now underway including public consultation sessions on the design. Two of these have already occurred as I write this on April 29, but one session does remain:

Monday, April 30, 2018, 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Morse Street Junior Public School, 180 Carlaw Ave (south of Queen)

The first session was held near Pape & Danforth on April 23, and it was a packed house because construction of this line will have a major effect on properties along the route through Riverdale. Much of the detailed information is not available online because of the size of the files. This article contains snapshots of station and alignment plans along the route at a resolution sufficient to see the details while staying within reason for online viewing. (All of the illustrations are clickable to see a larger version. Some of them have artifacts of viewing large files at a reduced scale, notably the partial graying-out of some text.)

Commentary on the designs is my own except as noted.

Thanks to the City of Toronto Planning Department for provision of the electronic versions of the plans from which the illustrations here are taken.

For further information, please see the Relief Line South website.

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PTIF Phase 2: The Lottery Win Is Not As Big As It Seems (Updated)

Updated March 16, 2018 at 5:15 pm: The Fire Ventillation Project which includes second exits from several stations was omitted from the list of major projects in the original version of this post. It has been added.

Updated March 16, 2018 at 3:25 pm: The Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure has clarified that the Ontario funding for the Scarborough Subway is separate from the $4 billion in matching dollars shown in the table below.

On March 14, 2018, the Federal and Provincial governments announced the scale of the second phase of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF) to be spent over the next decade. Some of the details are in a backgrounder.

Funding allocations for the Toronto area are summarized in the table below. The amounts are based on transit ridership, not on population, and so Toronto gets by far the largest share of the pie.

Source: Infrastructure Canada Backgrounder

If one believed the ecstatic response of politicians and some media, one might think that all our transit prayers have been answered.

Not quite.

An additional $9 billion is not exactly small change, but Toronto has a huge appetite for transit spending and a daunting project backlog. The new money will help, but with it comes the requirement that Toronto pony up about $3 billion for projects that are not in the city’s long-term budget.

Capital planning for many years understated the infrastructure deficit by hiding projects “below the line” outside of the budget, and even more by leaving important work off of the list completely. The infrastructure deficit is much larger than the TTC reports and city financial plans indicate.

That, in turn, affects the city’s financial planning, subject of a recent report from the City Manager. Despite assurances from city staff that all known TTC costs have been included in their projections, there is a long history of the TTC leaving significant projects out of funding lists to keep their total “ask” down to a politically acceptable number.

Much needed work is not the sexy, photo-op rich stuff of subway extensions, but the mundane business of buying new equipment to replace old cars and buses, and to increase system capacity.

The new plan is to run for ten years. The money will not all land in Toronto’s hands this year, but will be parceled out as projects are approved and actual spending occurs. There is no guarantee that a future government will stick to any commitments especially if the “funded” projects are not the subject of a binding agreement. Toronto has its share of cancelled projects including the Sheppard Subway, cut back to Don Mills, and the Eglinton West Subway (both victims of Mike Harris), not to mention Transit City and the pliable attitude of various governments to the worth of a subway in Scarborough.

Updated March 16, 2018 at 3:25 pm:

Before we even start into the possible projects to be funded, some money is lopped off the top based on a past commitment.

  • Ottawa will provide “up to $660 million for the Scarborough Subway extension project, pending submission and approval”.
  • It is unclear how much of the provincial commitment to the SSE of nearly $2 billion is included in the $4 billion under the new program.

This brings the available federal funding down to about $4.237 billion.

Whether the total available from Queen’s Park is $6 billion ($4b new plus $2b for the Scarborough Subway), we do no know. I have a question in to the Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure to clarify this. They have acknowledged the question, but have not replied as of 11:45 am, March 16.

Update: The Ministry of Infrastructure has clarified how the previous SSE funding fits with the newly announced program:

Ontario is committed to cost-matching federal funding for municipal projects at 33 percent. This equates to $4 billion from the province to match the City of Toronto’s $4.9 billion federal allocation. No previously committed funding for Toronto projects is included in this allocation.

Ontario’s commitment to match this new federal funding at a 33 per cent share is separate from and above the province’s previous commitment of $1.48 billion in 2010 to the Scarborough Subway. [Email from Alex Benac, Press Secretary to the Minister]

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TTC 2018 Capital Budget: (1) Fleet Plans

The TTC’s detailed version of the Capital Budget is known as the “Blue Books” because they are issued in two large blue binders. They are not available online. Over coming weeks, I will post highlights from this material beginning with the fleet plans.

These plans were drawn up in late 2017 as the budget was finalized, and there have actually been changes since that are not reflected here. I will note these where appropriate.

For starters, a review of how all of these capital projects are paid for.

Financing and Funding the Capital Budget

The TTC’s budget process at times looks like a game of Three Card Monte where one is certain that one card is the Queen of Diamonds, but never quite sure where she is. This shows up in various ways:

  • There is a “base program” consisting of projects that have Council approval for inclusion in the ten-year plan. The estimated cost of this program is $9.240 billion, but there is funding shortfall of $2.702 billion.
  • There is an “unfunded list” of projects making up the shortfall. These will migrate to funded status as and when money becomes available.
  • The City requires that the TTC make provision for “capacity to spend” reductions in its projects based on the premise that all of the money in the budgets will not actually be used. This offsets $427 million of the shortfall, although one can argue that this is a polite fiction meant to convey the idea that the funding hole is not quite as deep as it seems. The premise is that not all projects will be spent to their full budgets, and an across-the-board provision will soak up the underspending. In practice, some of this “shortfall” is a question of timing – project slippage that shifts spending to other years – not a question of budgeting too high.
  • Some projects have their own, dedicated funding streams and appear separately from the base program. At present, these are the subway extensions to Vaughan and to Scarborough.
  • Some projects in the base program have funding directed specifically to them. The provincial 1/3 share of the new streetcars is an example. This is separate from provincial money that flows to Toronto from the gas tax.
  • Some projects have timelines associated with the structure of funding programs. Ottawa’s Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF) Phase 1 requires that projects be completed by March 31, 2019 so that the subsidy is expensed, federally, by the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year. PTIF phase 2 has not yet been announced either as to amount or to the timeframe in which spending will occur. These constraints prevent many projects from receiving PTIF money because they do not fit within the prescribed window for spending.
  • Metrolinx projects do not appear on the TTC’s books, but in some cases they can trigger payments from the TTC and/or the City of Toronto. Examples are Presto and SmartTrack.
  • Some transit proposals are not even in the base program, but wait in readiness as “nice to haves”.

“Funding” is the process of paying for projects, while “Financing” is the mechanism by which that money is raised. A “funded” project is associated with revenue from “financing” sources that the City can depend on such as property taxes and committed monies from other governments. Where there is a shortfall, someone has to step up with new money, however they might raise it, or something must be removed (or at least reduced in scope) from the list of funded projects.

City of Toronto contributions to capital come primarily from current taxes (“capital from current” and development charges) and from borrowing. The amount of borrowing available to the TTC each year is dictated by the City’s self-imposed 15% cap on the ratio of debt service costs to property tax revenue. A few major projects in the near future, notably the Gardiner Expressway rebuild, are crowding the debt ceiling, and there are years when little new debt will be issued on the TTC’s behalf. In turn, this affects spending plans at the TTC, and projects are shifted into future years with more borrowing room to get around this.

Other constraints can arise from a program like PTIF which, because it has a sunset date, requires that spending that might otherwise occur some years in the future must actually happen sooner than planned. This, in turn, requires matching funds from the City in years where they might otherwise have been spent on other projects.

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Toronto’s Transit Capacity Crisis

In recent days, Mayor Tory has announced, twice, a ten point program to address crowding on the TTC. The effectiveness of this program is limited by years of bad political decisions, and the hole Toronto has dug itself into is not one from which it will quickly escape.

This article is a compendium of information about the three major portions of the “conventional” (non-Wheel-Trans) system: subway, bus and streetcar. Some of this material has appeared in other articles, but the intent here is to pull current information for the entire system together.

Amendment February 15, 2018 at 5:30 pm: This article has been modified in respect to SmartTrack costs to reflect the fact that over half of the cost shown as “SmartTrack” in the City Manager’s budget presentation is actually due to the Eglinton West LRT extension which replaced the proposed ST service to the commercial district south of the airport. A report on SmartTrack station costs will come to City Council in April 2018. Eglinton LRT costs will take a bit longer because Council has asked staff to look at other options for this route, notably undergrounding some or all of it.

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