How Much Will The Spadina Extension Cost (II)?

In a previous article, I reviewed the history of the Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE). This project has been widely reported to be both late and over budget, but details only began to emerge on March 20, 2015 when TTC CEO Andy Byford fired two senior members of the engineering staff.

On March 21, 2015, Byford presented a briefing to the media as a preview of a report to be discussed by the TTC Board on March 26, 2015. This report includes both current information on the project and an October 2012 update that was issued when the TYSSE deadline was shifted to fall 2016.

The key points of the briefing were:

  • The earliest possible opening date for the TYSSE to Vaughan is the end of 2017.
  • Relations between TTC project management and the various contractors working on the TYSSE are badly strained, and this cannot be remedied by those now in charge.
  • Byford recommends that the TTC “retain a third party project-management firm as an incentivized project manager” (the terms of the proposed arrangement are confidential pending execution of the agreement).
  • Alternate schemes for continuing the TYSSE project with TTC staff in part or all of this role will extend the period needed to resolve outstanding issues and reach project completion, and will increase total project costs.
  • Additional funding to keep the project active to the end of 2017 of $150-million is required with Toronto paying $90m and York Region paying $60m. Toronto’s share could come from a TTC operating surplus in 2015 (mistakenly cited as “2014” in the report), property sales and/or deferral of projects. There is no word on how York Region might fund its share of the extra costs.
  • The project is subject to many claims by contractors against the TTC, and some counterclaims on the TTC’s part. The eventual value of settling these is unknown, and this is a potential additional cost beyond the $150m. Whether this can be accommodated by the existing project budget remains to be seen.

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How Much Will The Spadina Subway Extension Cost?

The Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) to Vaughan has been much in the news lately thanks to its delayed opening and cost overruns. The line was originally expected to open in 2015, even in early rosy estimates before the Pan Am Games, but now will not be in service until 2017. The project was repeatedly cited (as recently as December 2014’s CEO Report) to be on its budget of approximately $2.6-billion. The exact final cost is not known but has been reported to be up to $400-million more.

To date, the TYSSE project is on budget with a total budget of $2,634 Million. The in-service date is targeted for the fall of 2016 however the project is facing a serious schedule challenge. [CEO’s Report for November-December 2014, p. 29]

The “on budget” statement, which had appeared in all previous CEO reports, vanished with the January 2015 report.

A peer review was conducted by an APTA panel in late 2014 largely to assess schedule and budget challenges. A report is expected at the end of January related to schedule and budget challenges and will make recommendations to mitigate these challenges.

Bechtel Ltd., a consulting firm, was also retained at the CEO’s specific direction to conduct a thorough in depth analysis of the project and likewise is expected to present its findings at the end of January. [CEO’s Report for January 2015, p. 30]

The results of these reviews are to be tabled at the March 26, 2015 TTC Board meeting.

There are two issues in play here. First and most obvious is the question of how a major project can suddenly be found to have budget problems, and why these were not discovered and reported sooner. How much oversight did the TTC Board actually have beyond the one-line monthly assurance that the project was “on budget”? Second is the more general question of the tracking of major projects, and why this is not regularly reported to the Board and through them to City Council and other funding governments.

To learn as much as I could from publicly available sources, I culled through TTC meeting reports going back to the early days of design work on the TYSSE. Tracking a project’s history this way can be challenging for various reasons:

  • Some agendas exist only as a PDF file without links to the underlying reports.
  • TTC procurement policy allows contracts of up to $5-million to be approved by management without a report to the TTC Board. (This is in line with the City of Toronto’s policy.)
  • A monthly report listing all expenditures authorized by management in the $1-5m range was discontinued in March 2012.
  • Changes in the total authorized spending on a line item only appear in public when there is an update involving a large contract change.
  • The CEO’s report tracks variations in capital spending, but this is only against the expected amount for the current year, not for a project overall. Because of various delays, the TYSSE tended to underspend versus plans even though the estimated total cost to completion might actually be rising.

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TTC 2015-2024 Capital Budget: System Expansion Projects

The TTC’s Capital Budget generates much debate over a few items, but there are many, many projects at the detailed level. Understanding those details puts the debate over transit spending, operations and expansion in a better context. This and following articles will look under the covers of the Capital Budget. I will start with the expansion projects because these have seen so much debate, but will turn to the more mundane parts of the budget that keep the wheels turning.

The projects discussed here include:

  • The Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre
  • The Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE)
  • Various Waterfront proposals

Neither the Downtown Relief Line (DRL) nor the Yonge extension north to Richmond Hill is included because these are not yet official projects.

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TTC Board Meeting: July 23, 2014 (Updated)

The TTC board met on July 23 with some items of modest interest on the agenda. This is the second last meeting of the current board before the October municipal election sweeps away at least some of the current crew. Nothing of real substance will happen until the new Council takes office, and a new Mayor attempts to forge an agenda for transit that is more than a simplistic, pandering slogan.

Included in the agenda are:

  • The monthly CEO’s report;
  • A purchase amendment regarding the new TR trainsets to retrofit additional handholds and to provide speakers outside of cars so that riders can hear door closing announcements;
  • The Transit Project Assessment (TPA) for McNicoll Garage (a proposal already contested by the neighbourhood where it will be built);
  • The proposed sale of the Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) used for the Spadina Subway Extension;
  • A proposal from Commissioner Heisey that the City of Toronto seek a change in TTC and Metrolinx governance so that one member would be cross-appointed between each board; and
  • A request from newly minted Commissioner Pasternak for a report on his pet project, the Sheppard Subway extension west to Downsview.

Update: An additional item came in via correspondence: a request for an express bus route from Liberty Village to downtown.

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Neptis Reviews Metrolinx: A Critique (III)

This article is the third section of my critique of the December 2013 review of the Metrolinx Big Move Plan written by Michael Schabas for the Neptis Foundation. It should be read in conjunction with Part I and Part II.

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Metrolinx Contemplates Relief (2)

This article is a continuation of a previous commentary on the Metrolinx Yonge Network Relief Strategy.

On February 14, 2014, the Metrolinx Board considered the presentation on the Yonge Network Relief Study, but little information was added in the debate.  One question, from Chair Robert Prichard, went roughly “shouldn’t this have been started two years ago”, but it was left hanging in the air without a response.  Two years, of course, has brought us a new Provincial Premier and a recognition that her predecessor’s timidity on the transit file wasted a great deal of time.

Moreover, there is a long overdue acknowledgement that Metrolinx cannot simply plan one line at a time without understanding network effects including those beyond its own services.

Originally, I planned to leave the next installment in this discussion until public consultation sessions began, but I have now decided to make some brief comments on the various options that will be on the table.  (See Yonge Network Relief Study, page 11.)

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TTC Board Meeting Wrapup for July 24, 2013

The TTC Board met on July 24, 2013, with a rather threadbare agenda.  The most important item discussed — a proposal for a new Downtown Relief Line on GO corridors — wasn’t even on the agenda.  It was walked in by Chair Karen Stintz, proposed as a report request and voted on with almost no debate near the end of the meeting.

Included in this wrapup:

  • Steeles West Station gets a new name (again)
  • Evaluation of contract bids
  • Bixi and the TTC
  • CEO’s Report
  • Trial Service Changes on 53 Steeles East and 95 York Mills
  • Implementation of New Streetcars (update)

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Development Charges and Transit Expansion

The City of Toronto Executive Committee will discuss the matter of a new Development Charges Bylaw at its meeting on July 3, 2013.  This is a statutory requirement as the current bylaw expires in April 2014, and it must be replaced in order for the city to continue collecting these charges.

Already press reports show a real estate industry apoplectic at the possibility that these charges will double.  With all the concern over a possible softening of the market for new units, the last thing they want is yet more cost added to the purchase price.  However, what we are seeing is a combined effect of the rising population and the exhaustion of surplus capacity in existing infrastructure, notably transit and water.  Much of the new development is concentrated in the central city in former industrial areas that do not possess the infrastructure needed to support their coming new populations.

(Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat observed at the “Feeling Congested” session earlier this week, about 70,000 people will call places like Liberty Village and the waterfront neighbourhoods their new home over the coming decade.)

There is bound to be lively debate, especially from the “no new taxes” brigade on Council, but the simple fact is that the city cannot have new development without some way to pay for the supporting infrastructure and services.  In this article, I will talk only about the transit component which is the single largest piece of the new DCs rising about 150% from the previous level for residential development.  (DCs overall will go up 86% because other categories have lower increases.)

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TTC Meeting Wrapup for June 24, 2013

Aside from the King Street transit lanes and the new streetcar rollout plans (covered elsewhere), there wasn’t much else on the agenda for the TTC Board (as it now styles itself).

One procedural change was that there are no longer any printed agendas for the meeting — reports are available only online.  If you’re not carrying a device that can display them easily, you’re flying blind making sense of the meeting.

CEO’s Report

Ridership for reporting period 4 (mainly the month of April) was 1.1% below budget, but 2.2% above the corresponding period in 2012.  Poor April weather (an unusually cold early spring) was blamed for the shortfall.  For the last twelve months (May 2012 to April 2013), ridership is up 2.4%.

For the year 2013, ridership is expected to be at the budgeted level of 528-million.  However, the average fare is lower than projected because of higher pass usage, and the revenue projections are down by $2.0m.  This is offset net savings in expense lines.  On the entire budget, this is a variation of less than 1.5%.

Yonge subway reliability has fallen due to ongoing issues with TR train reliability, “workforce availability”, passenger-related delays and fires at track level.

There has been no update on problems with the TRs beyond “we’re working on it”, and the time is overdue to ask whether the goals for reliability have been set too high.  Without a detailed report on the situation, there is no way to know whether the trains have chronic, difficult-to-solve problems, or if we can expect some resolution.  (According to minutes of an Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit meeting (ACAT), TTC staff have no prognosis for correction of the TR platform leveling problem that makes trains inaccessible.)

36 of the 70 TR trainsets on order have been accepted for service.  This leaves 34 trains still in the pipeline to hit early 2014, although the last 10 of the trains are intended for the Spadina extension that will not open until 2016.

“Workforce availability” is an odd term to use considering that overall attendance rates at the TTC are supposed to be improving.  Punctuality is affected by a number of factors including the effect of many small delays, but also by extended times required for some crew changeovers.  The TTC needs to sort out which effects are strictly due to staff and which to other factors.

The reliability index for Bloor-Danforth is also dropping, but still runs at a higher level than the Yonge-University-Spadina line.  The TTC does not break out the various sources of delay by line to report which problems exist system wide and which are more prevalent in certain locations.

SRT performance has been quite good since October 2012 when schedules were changed to reflect the actual capabilities of the aging technology.

Surface route performance for both modes is above the rather generous target levels, but we know from the Quarterly Report published earlier in 2013 that overall headway adherence is quite bad on some routes.  This is no surprise to anyone who looks at vehicle monitoring data.

Elevator and escalator availability continues to get a high rating, although, as I understand things, this is based on a once-a-day report of status.  There is no report of the prevalence of outages or their duration.  This is rather like looking out the window, seeing one bus, and deciding that all is well with the transit system.

A few new Sunday shutdowns of the subway have been announced in this report:

  • June 29 from Wilson to Downsview for track installation.
  • July 7, 14 and 28 for beam installation on the Prince Edward Viaduct.  This work is normally done during the night-time shutdown, but a provision for opening the subway later than normal gives more time to complete planned work.

Details will be announced for each planned shutdown.

Change Orders for Design Costs on the Spadina Extension

Four reports requested substantial changes in the contracts for design work at Steeles West, Vaughan Corporate Centre, Highway 407 and York University stations.  The magnitude of the changes attracted questions from the Board.

According to staff, TTC practice is to award design contracts based on interim amounts with change orders issued along the way as required.  A contingency budget line provides funding for these changes.  Some of the costs will be recovered from third parties such as York Region and GO Transit/Metrolinx who asked for design changes in the originally completed plans.  Other costs were incurred to reduce construction expenses and keep stations within the project’s budget.  The degree to which this may have compromised the original designs is unknown.

Oddly, some of the extra costs cited by staff were for activities at Finch West and the new Downsview/Sheppard West stations (changes to suit GO and the Finch West LRT project).  Neither of these was the subject of the four reports on the agenda.

CEO Andy Byford wants to improve the reporting of large project budgets and costs, but does not expect to have a proposed scheme for doing so until fall 2013.

Steeles East Night Bus

The Board approved the proposed extension of the 353 Steeles East route from Middlefield Road to Markham Road effective August 4, 2013.  This extension uses up excess running time in the current schedule and requires no extra buses.

Ossington Bus / Hellenic Home for the Aged

The TTC has been requested to divert the 63 Ossington bus to a home for the aged which is north of Davenport up a steep hill on which seniors have difficulty walking to service on the main street (see map in report).  A decision on the matter has been put off to July 24 to allow for meetings between staff and those requesting the change.

The staff report recommends against this diversion which was requested through Councillors Mihevc and Fragedakis.  Mihevc should know better as a former member of the TTC Board.  Off-route diversions are the bane of transit operations and compromise the benefit of straight routes for passengers.

It is worth mention that this home was built off of the Ossington route some decades ago, but long after the route was established.  The policy decision is whether transit routes should be tweaked to serve such sites, and whether the Board has the political backbone to say “no” when the greater good of the route and the precedent for future requests are at stake.

Bicknell Loop

The property at which the Rogers Road car, originally part of York Township Railways, ended has been declared surplus to TTC requirements.  Buses on this route use the nearby Avon Loop on Weston Road.