The Reliable Unreliability of TTC Service

In a recent article, I reviewed the TTC’s Service Standards Update. These standards included targets for headway reliability which are extremely generous and allow the TTC to claim that services operate “to standard” when actual rider experience is less than ideal.

Reliability of service is a top concern for TTC riders, and it has also been identified by TTC staff. Where the problem lies is that the targets offer little incentive to improve or measurement of just how bad the situation really is.

When the TTC talks about reliability, they inevitably trot out excuses about traffic congestion and the difficulty of operating service in mixed traffic. This has been a standard response to issues with streetcar routes for as long as I can remember. However, the typical TTC rider is a bus passenger, and this group has flagged service reliability, frequency and crowding as issues just as important as for streetcar riders.

Regular readers will know that over the years I have published many analyses of route performance looking mainly at the streetcar system, but also at selected bus routes. Recently, I decided to expand this to a number of routes in Scarborough where the quality of bus service often comes up in debates about the Scarborough subway extension, and to revisit some of the routes affected by construction on the Spadina extension which has now pretty much wrapped up. Apologies to readers in Etobicoke because this gives a central/eastern slant to the routes reviewed here, but I have no doubt that route behaviour in our western suburb is similar to that on the rest of the network.

This post may give some readers that dreaded sense of “TL;DR” because of the amount of material it contains. It is intended partly as a reference (readers can look at their favourite routes, if present), and partly to establish beyond any doubt the pervasiveness of the problem with headway reliability facing the TTC. This problem exists across the network, and setting performance targets that simply normalize what is already happening is no way to (a) understand the severity of the problem or (b) provide any measurement of improvements, should they be attempted.

The data here are taken from January 2017. The analysis would have been published sooner but for a delay in receiving the data from the TTC, a problem that has now been rectified. As always, thanks to the TTC for providing the raw material for this work.

Although January is a winter month, the level of precipitation, and particularly of snow, was unusually low for Toronto, and so weather delays do not lead to anomalies in the data.

Toronto Precipitation and Temperatures for January 2017

The TTC’s current attitude to service reliability is to focus on conditions at terminals with the premise that if service leaves and arrives on time, then there is a good chance it will also be in good shape along the route. This is a misguided approach on two counts.

First and most important, there is little indication that service from terminals is actually managed to be reliable, and the “targets” in the standards provide a wide margin by which unreliability is considered acceptable. In particular, it is possible for services to leave termini running as bunches of two or more vehicles and still be considered “on target”.

Second, any variability in headway from a terminal will be magnified as buses travel along a route. Buses carrying larger headways (gaps) will have heavier loads and run late while buses closely following will catch up. The result can be pairs of buses operating at twice the advertised headway, and with uneven loads. Without active management of service at points along a route, the problems become worse and worse the further one progresses away from a trip’s origin. Again, the generous standards allow much of this service to be considered acceptable, and so there is no need, on paper, to actually manage what is happening.

TTC operators are a great bunch of people, overall, but the laissez faire attitude to headways allows those who prefer a leisurely trip across their route to run “hot” with impunity. The worst of them are, fortunately for riders, only a small group. The larger problem is the degree to which irregular headways are a normal situation across the system.

The balance of this article looks at several routes primarily for their behaviour near terminals as this matches the point where the TTC sets its targets, such as they are. To recap the Service Standards:

The TTC standards vary for very frequent (less than 5′), frequent (5′ to 10′) and infrequent (above 10′) services.

  • Very frequent services target a band of ±75% of the scheduled headway.
  • Frequent services target a band of ±50% of the scheduled headway.
  • Infrequent service aims for a range of 1 minute early to 5 minutes late.

The charts which follow look at actual headways, not scheduled values, and it is clear throughout that the typical range of values exceeds these standards.

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TTC Service Standards Update

Among the reports to be considered by the TTC Board at its May 18, 2017 meeting is one titled Update to TTC Service Standards.

[Note: Page numbers cited in this article refer to the PDF containing the report as a whole. Individual sections have their own pagination which does not necessarily correspond to the page numbers of the overall document.]

This is something of a misnomer because the report does not actually propose many new standards, but merely consolidates in one place practices that have evolved over past years. Some of those standards are are self-serving in that they codify “business as usual” practices including some “targets” that produce laughably inferior, but “acceptable” service.The report contains no discussion of the potential shortfalls in the standards it asks the Board to endorse. Absent is any sense that things should be better, and that actively understanding and managing how routes operate is required. Better service quality is what riders demand, and a laissez faire approach is the last thing the TTC needs.

The current standards arise from an extended period dating back to the Ford era in which pro-active service improvements based on better standards simply stopped, a sacrifice to the gods of “efficiency” and “saving taxpayer dollars”. The standards have been fiddled with to minimize the worst of Ford’s cutbacks, and more recently to implement revised performance standards intended to lead to better service. The constrained environment in which the TTC still operates is clear:

This update to the TTC service standards took a no cost approach. The updated service standards reflect existing conditions with the goal of continuous improvement over time. [p. 1]

Although leaving standards as they are might be a “no cost approach”, what is missing from this 100-page document is any review of the degree to which the system actually achieves the standards it claims to follow. Recently, the TTC has acknowledged that both the King and St. Clair routes are running 25% above standard thanks to the streetcar shortage and resultant crowding, and of course the large number of buses diverted to streetcar routes could be used to improve conditions on the bus network. However, absent a system-wide view of the shortfall, the TTC Board, City Council and the general public have no idea of just how bad the situation is except, of course, for those riders jammed into vehicles or who give up on the TTC. As to route performance data, the TTC has not published any for two years even though this item is part of their Customer Charter.

Running more service costs money, and yet with fleet constraints, the TTC has been able to keep its demands for added subsidy lower than they might have been otherwise. Only about half of the “investment” in better service announced with great fanfare by Mayor Tory early in his term actually appeared in the TTC budget.

The last system-wide review dates back to April 2008 near the end of Mayor Miller’s term.

The context for “standards” is quite clear in the following statement:

The TTC currently makes use of a number of standards to plan new service and monitor and adjust existing service. These standards have been in place for a number of years and some are updated frequently. For example the TTC applies vehicle crowding standards to define the upper limit of what is an acceptable level of crowding for each type of vehicle at both peak and offpeak times. This standard is often updated based on fiscal realities. [p. 5]

Fiscal realtities may affect what the TTC can afford, but they should not alter what the TTC aspires to be. If there is a shortfall, then the effect of that shortfall should be known. This informs both the decision to make budget cuts (what are the effects) and lays out for future planning where and how much the system should be improved. We have rapid transit plans stretching decades into the future, but don’t know how short Toronto falls in providing day-to-day service on its bus and streetcar network. We have endless touch-feely “customer service initiatives”, but the most important of all – service – falls by the wayside. This is not to downplay good customer service, but riders might be forgiven for taking little comfort in spiffy new maps when the services they illustrate are overcrowded and unreliable.

The report claims that the TTC conducted a peer review of standards in other major cities. None of the information from such a review appears in the report.

Internal discussions among various TTC departments yielded the following observation:

All stakeholders noted that the most important improvement the TTC could make is improving service reliability on all modes. [p. 8]

This leads to revised metrics for productivity and reliability, but it is unclear whether these will actually improve service on the street.

Although the lion’s share of the report deals with a rider survey of attitudes to service quality, I will leave that topic until later in this article so that the nominal purpose of the report, Service Standards, is more than the afterthought it appears to occupy in the TTC’s report.

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Toronto’s 2018 Budget and Continuing Transit Austerity

In a report to the City of Toronto’s Budget Committee meeting for May 11, 2017, City Manager Peter Wallace makes two recommendations that will have a major effect on transit planning and operations in Toronto:

  • All spending for the 2018 Operating Budget would be frozen at 2017 levels. For the TTC, this would mean flat-lining the operating subsidy at its current level ($560.8 million for the “conventional” system, and $142.7 million for Wheel-Trans).
  • No new projects would be approved within the Ten Year Capital Budget and Plan until 2027 when there is borrowing headroom available to the City to fund additional works.

If a project is on the favoured list that is tagged for federal infrastructure subsidy, then finding a way to pay for the City’s share would be a priority in budgeting. However, it is not yet clear just which items in the TTC’s long shopping list will attain this status. Those that are excluded have only a faint hope of going forward.

A related problem here is that Toronto does not yet know how much, exactly, it will receive in Federal infrastructure grants, and it is quite likely that the money available will not stretch far enough to cover the entire list. Moreover, Queen’s Park is an uncertain partner because (a) the province feels it is already showering Toronto with money for projects now underway, and (b) the current government is unlikely to survive the 2018 election, and the policies of a successor regime could be hostile to large-scale transit spending commitments for Toronto.

Although there is much focus on Capital projects, the real challenge in the short term will be for the Operating budget. In the City’s report, the “opening pressures” for the TTC budget are substantial:

  • In 2017, $18 million was used from the TTC Stabilization Reserve fund to offset the budget shortfall and some new services. This was one-time money that must be replaced in 2018 and beyond. The reserve fund is now empty and cannot be used as a source to “fix” 2018 problems.
  • TTC ridership is forecast to come in below the budgeted level for 2017, and on a budget-to-budget basis, this represents a loss of $10 million in revenue. When the TTC Board passed its 2017 budget, it also decided that there would be no 2018 fare increase. Quite bluntly, that was a political stunt that simply cannot be implemented without new revenue or cuts to the operating budget. Fare revenue in 2017 is about $1.1 billion, and so each 1% increase would generate about $11 million, less whatever is lost to elasticity (riders lost by higher pricing).
  • The base operating costs of the TTC are forecast to rise by $102 million, not including the operating effects of Capital projects (see below). This covers wage and material cost increases, as well as the cost of any new service (none is currently planned thanks to the ridership situation).
  • The opening of the TYSSE to Vaughan will add $26 million to the TTC’s costs. Most of the riders projected for this line already pay a TTC fare, and so the marginal revenue will be much less than the operating cost. Riders transferring from York Region services to the subway for a journey to York University will not pay an extra TTC fare (this will be implemented via a Presto tap-out).
  • Other increases arising from past decisions (i.e. the full year effects of changes made in the 2017 budget year) add $6 million.
  • With more riders using Presto, fees to that provider will rise by $38 million. In the City Manager’s report, this is offset by a saving of $45 through the elimination of station collectors (about which more below).
  • Elimination of legacy fare gates and other old equipment will reduce costs by $5 million.

In summary:

Lost Revenue
  Stabilization Reserve          $  18 million
  Ridership Shortfall               10
  Subtotal                       $  28 million

Additional Costs
  Maintain Existing Service      $ 102 million
  Open TYSSE                        26
  Eliminate Station Collectors    - 45
  Presto Fees                       38
  Fare gate & other savings        - 5
  Other Increases                    6
  Subtotal                       $ 122 million

Total                            $ 150 million

The savings from Station Collectors arise because, from the City’s point of view, the TTC “Station Transformation Program” constitutes a new “service”, not a continuation of an existing practice. This includes conversion of the Collectors (or an equivalent headcount) into roving Customer Service agents. Indeed, there is reason to believe that the cost of this group of employees might have been included as a saving in the cost justification for Presto (or any other fare card).

I asked the TTC for the breakdown of savings and costs of the Presto transition, and received the following non-answer from Brad Ross:

The short answer from the TTC is that we continue to assess the timing of all of this – moving collectors out of the booth and transitioning to customer service agents, the costs associated continued fare collection and distribution, and the costs we will bear with being 100% Presto-enabled.

The 2018 budget process will flesh all of that out, but we’re not there yet. [Email of May 9, 2017]

That’s a rather odd state of affairs considering that the TTC based its criterion for Presto fees on what they expected to save in fare collection costs. Like so much about Presto, this is a very murky subject.

As for the Station Transformation project, the City Manager’s report states:

It is important to note that the projected 2018 net pressure or “gap” does not account for any additional service investments or priorities approved or identified by Council. For example, the $126 million forecasted pressure for TTC is based on maintaining current service levels. This excludes an additional $59 million identified by the TTC for initiatives such as Station Transformation which would be categorized as a new request and will be considered separately, subject to funding availability. [pp. 12-13]

[Note: The City’s total of $126 million does not match the total shown above of $150 million for reasons that are unclear. I have asked the City to reconcile this.]

One can well argue that the idea of getting rid of all Collectors is unworkable (even GO Transit, an all-Presto system, has station agents), and that the many duties the new Customer Service staff would take on are logically inconsistent (being available at a booth to answer questions and provide general directions, but also roaming the stations). Whatever the intent, the TTC has not yet produced a clear explanation of whether savings on Collectors were part of the justification for paying Presto to handle fares.

In any event, this $45 million is not included in the TTC base budget requirement for 2018 from the City’s point of view. If it is to be approved, that will be an additional expense on top of the other pressures.

Completely missing is any discussion of a Ridership Growth Strategy. Although the TTC tells everyone that ridership is down for various reasons, they also have stated that both the St. Clair and King streetcar lines are currently running over capacity during peak periods. This does not square with the claim that the TTC does not require more service, and suggests that one source of ridership “loss” is the inability of people to actually use the service.

An RGS report was supposed to come before the TTC Board earlier in 2017, but it was held back pending resolution of budget issues. Clearly this problem has not gone away, and yet if the report continues to be hidden, we will have no idea what might be possible and at what cost. Advocacy is not the TTC’s strong suit, and we have no idea of just how badly the system will be crammed thanks to the shortage of vehicles and the lack of sufficient revenue to operate them.

Not to be ignored is the status of Wheel-Trans where demand is growing very quickly thanks to improved eligibility requirements from the province. Freezing the Wheel-Trans subsidy (which provides almost all of its operating funding) will not allow growth, and the TTC could find itself in violation of accessibility targets if the City does not come up with the cash.

On the Capital side, the inability to add projects to the “approved” list could punch a big hole in plans for the Bloor-Danforth Subway’s revival. A collection of projects is to be presented to the Board for the renovation of Line 2 BD including:

  • A new signal system with Automatic Train Control
  • A new fleet replacing the T-1 trains which were built from 1995-2001
  • A new subway yard near Kipling Station

The ATC project is “funded” in the capital budget at an estimated cost of $431 million of which $131 million currently appears under post-2026 spending. Whether money for that is actually available in the City’s financial plans is unclear, but this will obviously be a case of “in for a penny, in for a pound”. The budgetary timing is odd because 1/3 of the total is post-2026 after the new system is supposed to be enabled and the old system decommissioned.

Neither the new fleet nor the new carhouse are funded projects in the budget. However, there is a timing issue for this project and a new fleet because the Scarborough Subway Extension will use ATC signalling, and this forces the issue because there is no point in retrofitting ATC gear to cars that will be at or near retirement age when the extension opens. There will be some cost offset in other budget lines including the SSE because storage for the new Line 2 fleet will be consolidated. (Greenwood’s layout is unsuited to the new unit trains now operating on Line 1 YUS, although it could be reconfigured and used for a future DRL with a track connection via Danforth.)

Another unfunded project is the purchase of an additional 60 new streetcars required to handle growing demand in the early 2020s, plus a further 15 (a placeholder number, probably) for the Waterfront transit project.

Putting any unfunded project “on hold” for 2018 might work as a way to avoid a capital planning crisis before the municipal election, but it will not do for the long term.

During the 2017 budget discussions, City Staff appealed to Council to set its service priorities as an integral part of building the budget:

Staff advised Council that it should first establish its collective vision for the City to determine the level and quality of services it wishes to deliver, determine and prioritize the City-building investments required to achieve this vision and consider the associated expenditures necessary to carry this out. In order to fund this expenditure level and any resultant gap, City Council would have to raise revenues and should look to all of its revenue-generating authorities and tools to do so, including property tax rate increases. This would be especially necessary if Council chose not to reduce its services and service levels. [p. 6]

For 2018, the City Manager warns:

Further expense reductions in 2018 will require strong action and a willingness to both reduce and sustain reductions in service levels if residential tax increases are to be kept at the rate of inflation. As recently made evident in the 2016 and 2017 Budget processes, there has been a reluctance by Council to embrace service level or service model changes; creating a mismatch between service aspirations and revenue generation. [p. 13]

There has been a fair amount of discussion by Council and input from the public (Long Term Financial Plan public consultation) that across the board budget targets do not reflect Council priorities, and therefore, should be differential. The current challenge to establish differential targets is the lack of stated relative Council priorities and implementation plans. A key issue is not that priorities are lacking but rather that there are many – many Council approved strategies, plans and service demand initiatives – some of which have been considered in relation to one another with their respective financial impacts within a priority-setting process that links service and policy planning to the City’s budget process and considered within the City’s financial capacity. [p. 14]

The priorities endorsed by Council for 2017 amounted to cherry picking a few very expensive capital projects, and demanding that staff find “efficiencies” with which to pay for any service improvements, indeed simply to keep the lights on. In the case of the TTC, a bit of last-minute hocus pocus avoided a large funding gap by boosting the assumed revenue from the land transfer tax. That particular hat does not have an endless supply of rabbits.

The overwhelming demand is to keep property taxes at the rate of inflation. That is an interesting concept as the City Manager explores in some detail both by reference to practices in other cities, and in the question of just what level of “inflation” should be used. Toronto has aimed at the CPI with a 2% increase in residential tax rates,but when the rebalancing effects for non-residential are factored in, the overall tax increase was only 1.39% for 2017. Moreover, there is a separate cost index measuring those items typically consumed by a municipal government, not by a private household. The municipal index has been running at over 3%, and it is no wonder that the City is unable to keep up with costs.

In addition to the “regular” property tax increases, there have been special levies to fund transit capital projects. The first, introduced during Mayor Ford’s term, is a 1.6% tax that will fund the City’s portion of the Scarborough Subway Extension. This tax will remain in place as long as needed to pay off whatever that share of the total cost is, eventually. The second, is a 0.5% tax building gradually to 2.5% to fund Mayor Tory’s capital projects. The situation is explained in the report:

Under current Council policy, debt servicing costs cannot exceed 15 percent of property tax revenues in any given year. In 2017, the 15% debt service ratio policy was relaxed to an average of 15% over the 10-year capital plan period as a result of the increased debt capacity made available to fund key capital priorities in 2017. $5.8 billion in new capital investments was made possible by adding $3.3 billion in increased debt capacity, based on the following actions:

  • $134 million debt room made available by better matching cashflow funding estimates to actual project timelines and activities
  • $2.2 billion in debt capacity was added in the latter 5 year years of the capital plan period by adding new projects that filled unoccupied debt room reflective of a 14.75% debt servicing ratio; and
  • $1 billion in additional debt borrowing capacity was made possible with Council’s approval of a 0.5% levy for each of 5 years as a contribution to a capital City Building Fund for transit and housing priorities.

The added debt capacity enabled the City to fund critical, unfunded capital priorities such as the added costs for the Gardiner Expressway Rehabilitation Project, the SmartTrack transit expansion project; Port Lands Flood Protection; the City’s required matching funds for TTC and non-TTC critical state of good repair projects eligible under the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF); Toronto Public Library state of good repair and various transformation and modernization investments.

While this added debt capacity allowed the City to fund key projects included in the $33 billion of unfunded capital projects, doing so has maximized the City’s debt capacity based on its current, yet now relaxed, debt servicing policy. [p. 19]

In brief, if there is to be any new capital borrowing within the next decade for projects that are not already in the “funded” list, then these will require new revenue to service the debt. Even beyond 2026, the debt “mountain” will not recede quickly.

The only glimmer of hope within these recommendations is that:

Priority be placed on completing transit, transportation and social infrastructure projects funded through intergovernmental agreements in order to meet program conditions and deadlines to mitigate risk to the City, and

Should any funding become available, that capital funding priorities be limited to projects that address:

  • Critical State of Good Repair, including energy retrofits
  • AODA Compliance
  • Transformation, modernization and innovation projects with financial benefits
  • High-needs social infrastructure [p. 20]

Notably absent from that list is “rapid transit expansion”, or indeed transit expansion of any kind.

2018 will be a grim year for the City’s budget for all portfolios. Transit might get by, again, through some fiddling with figures, but that will not represent a real commitment to better transit, only to prevent its complete collapse while Councillors and the Mayor are trolling for votes.

A Contrary View of Ontario’s 2017 Budget

With the release of Ontario’s budget for 2017, City Hall launched into predictable hand-wringing about all the things Toronto didn’t get with the two big-ticket portfolios, transit and housing, taking centre stage. Claims and counterclaims echo between Queen Street and Queen’s Park, and the situation is not helped by the provincial trick of constantly re-announcing money from past budgets while adding comparatively little with new ones.

There was a time when budgets came with projections of three to five years into the future, the life of one government plus some promise of the next mandate, but over time the amounts included within that period simply were not enough to be impressive. Moreover, in a constrained financial environment, much new spending (or at least promises) lies in the “out years” where “commitment” is a difficult thing to pin down, especially if there is a change in government.

Toronto has “out year” problems, but it has even more pressing concerns right now, today and for the next few years. Very little in the provincial budget addresses this beyond the authority to levy a hotel tax, and a gradual doubling of gas tax grants for transit over the next five years. These add tens, not hundreds, of millions to a City budget that runs at $12 billion.

The transit tax credit for seniors will cover eligible public transit costs beginning in July 2017 with a refundable benefit of 15 percent. Whether all seniors actually deserve this credit is a matter for debate, but an important difference from the soon-to-disappear federal credit is that Ontario’s is “refundable”. This means that even if someone does not have enough income to pay tax, they can still receive the credit. The devil is in the details, however, and the degree to which this will be available to casual, as opposed to regular transit users remains to be seen. The term “eligible costs” is key. (The federal credit includes restrictions on eligibility.) In any event, a tax credit does nothing for transit budgets because it adds no revenue either directly to the transit agency or to the City which provides operating subsidies.

There are two major problems with both Ontario’s support for transit and Toronto’s politically-motivated budgets:

  • In both cases, the focus is on capital projects, building and buying infrastructure, with little regard for the cost of operating new and existing assets.
  • Past decisions on transportation spending have locked billions of dollars into a few projects for short-term political benefit at the expense of long-term flexibility.

Toronto perennially assumes that there will be new money somewhere to backfill the shortage in its capital budget. The Trudeau economic stimulus plan was the most recent magical relief Toronto expected, but it came with dual constraints: Toronto gets a fixed amount over the life of the program, and Ottawa will not contribute more than 40% to any individual project. Toronto had hoped that Ontario would chip in, possibly at the 30% or even 40% level, leaving the City with a manageable, if challenging, task of finding money to pay its share for the backlog of projects. The Ontario budget is quite clear – Toronto is already getting lots of provincial money and at least for now, there’s nothing new to spend.

Ontario is hardly innocent in this whole exercise having meddled for years with Toronto’s transit plans, most notoriously in Scarborough where the whole subway extension debate was twisted to suit political aims. After leading Toronto down the garden path on the SSE, Ontario has capped its project funding leaving Toronto to handle the cost of its ever-changing plans.

Queen’s Park loves to tell Toronto how much provincial money is already spent for Toronto, if not in Toronto, and the distinction gets blurry. GO Transit improvements, for example, will bring more service into Toronto benefiting the core area business district, but they will also improve commuting options for people outside of the City itself.

Before the fiscal crash of 2008, when Ontario was running surpluses, the typical way to handle project funding was to hive off surplus funds at year end into a trust account. That is how the provincial share of the TYSSE was handled. By contrast, Ottawa operates on the pay-as-you-play basis, and only turns over subsidies after work has been done. Each approach suits the spending and accounting goals of the respective governments. In a surplus situation, one wants the money “off the books” right away, but in a deficit, the spending is delayed as long as possible. Further accounting legerdemain arises by making the assets provincial to offset the debt raised to pay for them.

To put all of this into context, here is a review of projects proposed or underway in Toronto.

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An Invitation to Dinner

At the recent meeting of the TTC Board, Vice-Chair Alan Heisey proposed that the TTC and Metrolinx Boards should meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual interest. Such a meeting took place a year ago, but despite the best intentions at the time, nothing further came out of this. As Heisey said “It’s not as if we don’t have things to talk about” citing fare integration, Presto, the Crosstown project and SmartTrack. Using fare integration as an example, with some discussion already afoot about just what this entails, it will be better to have these discussions earlier rather than later, said Heisey. The TTC should be in front of discussions on how an integrated system will be structured in Toronto.

Heisey went on to mention that at a recent meeting of the Toronto Railway Club, of which he is a member, he learned things about the Crosstown contract he did not know such as that the operation of the Mount Dennis yard will not be done by the TTC, and that although the TTC is supposed to be operating the line, the company delivering the project would really like to do this work. This is the sort of information Heisey hopes would come out in a joint meeting, and he proposes that the TTC host the event (as Metrolinx did in 2016).

It is no secret that far more information is available outside of formal Board meetings at both TTC and Metrolinx than one ever hears on the record. Those of us who attend Metrolinx meetings regularly know that “information” is thin on the ground at these events where the primary function appears to be telling the staff how wonderful they are and luxuriating in the ongoing success of everything Metrolinx, and by extension the Government of Ontario, touches. “Seldom is heard a discouraging word” could be the Metrolinx motto.

Indeed the TTC has become infected with a similar problem recently where whatever new award(s) they manage to win take pride of place at meetings while serious discussion about ridership and service quality await reports that never quite seem to appear. Budgets do not offer options conflicting with Mayor Tory’s insistence on modest tax increases. Getting an award for the “We Move You” marketing campaign is cold comfort to people who cannot even get on a bus or train because there is no room.

Oddly enough, when TTC Chair Josh Colle contacted his opposite number at Metrolinx, Rob Prichard, the word back was that such a meeting might have to await the appointment of a new CEO. The position is now held on an acting basis with the departure of Bruce McCuaig to greener pastures in Ottawa. That is a rather odd position to take. Is Metrolinx policy and strategy so beyond discussion that without a CEO, they cannot have a meeting? How is the organization managing to push trains out the door, let along host an almost endless stream of photo ops for their Minister?

Commissioner De Laurentiis agreed that there are many issues, and warmed to the idea, but suggested an information sharing/exchange session as opposed to a formal meeting. She concurred that the type of information Heisey is gathering “accidentally” should come the Board’s way formally.

Vice-Chair Heisey noted that he was told he could not see the Crosstown’s Operating Agreement because it was confidential. For what they’re worth, here are a few handy links:

These do not include the operating agreement for the line because, I believe, it does not yet exist beyond a draft format and the intention is not to formalize it until a few years before the line opens in 2021. However, aspects of the proposed agreement are certainly known to TTC staff. Whether their interpretation matches Metrolinx’ intent is quite another issue.

Other topics for a joint meeting suggested by Commissioner Byers included Accessibility, and the working relationship between Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario including the topic of risk transfer.

For those who have trouble sleeping, the Crosstown agreement makes interesting, if tedious, reading. One section deals for pages on end with the contractual arrangements between Metrolinx who will procure and provide the fleet, and the project provider who must test, accept and operate (or at least maintain) the cars. This is a perfect example of the complexity introduced by multi-party agreements with the 3P model. Each party must define at length its roles and responsibilities where a consolidated organization would deal with the whole thing in house. Of course some would argue that this simply shows how keeping parts of the overall procurement within Metrolinx adds layers of complexity that a turnkey solution might avoid. That’s a debate for another day, but an important part of any future project design.

Chair Colle observed that just because you invite someone over to your house, they don’t necessarily accept, and the TTC could find itself without a dance partner. Heisey replied that we should invite Metrolinx to dinner and tell them what the menu will be. Dinner invitations are often accepted. Colle observed that any one or two of the suggested items could “keep us well nourished”.

Mihevc added to the list by suggesting both the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects. That should be an amusing discussion considering that Metrolinx and City Planning have gone out of their way to be agnostic on the subject of Sheppard East’s technology considering that there are Councillors and (Liberal) MPPs who would love to see a subway extension there, not LRT. Both Boards, not to mention their respective management teams, would go to great lengths to avoid implying any sort of commitment beyond the next announcement of another GO parking lot or a long-anticipated subway extension’s opening date.

The biggest problem with the Metrolinx-TTC relationship is the province’s heavy-handed approach whereby any move away from the “official” way of doing things will be met with a cut in subsidy. Indeed, despite increasing outlays from Queen’s Park on transit, they keep finding more ways to charge Toronto for their services. The City gets more money on paper for transit, but spends some of it to buy provincial services in a monopoly market. Even if Metrolinx invites Toronto to dinner, they will expect the City to foot the bill.

As a public service, if only to forestall imminent starvation of the TTC Board, the balance of this article explores some of the issues raised by Commissioners.

The video record of the TTC debate is available online.

[For readers in the 905, please note that this is a Toronto-centric article because it deals with issues between the TTC and Metrolinx. Municipalities outside of Toronto have their own problems with the provincial agency, not least of which is its undue focus on moving people to and from Union Station.]

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TTC Board Meeting April 20, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on April 20, 2017. Items of interest on the agenda include:

  • The monthly CEO’s Report
  • Repair of SRT Vehicles
  • Disposition of Bay Street Bus Terminal

This article has been updated with a commentary on subway and surface route performance statistics presented at the Board meeting. (Scroll down to the end of the CEO’s Report.)

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday May 7, 2017

The May 2017 schedules will bring many changes to bus and streetcar routes across the city. The majority of these fall into three groups: construction-related changes and diversions, seasonal changes mainly related to the end of spring term at post-secondary institutions, and changes in the type of equipment assigned to routes.

Construction and Equipment Type Changes

On 501 Queen, buses will replace streetcars over the entire route from Neville to Long Branch. Two services will operate from Neville with one ending at Park Lawn Loop and the other running through to Long Branch. This restores the route structure as it was before the service west of Humber Loop was split off from the central part of Queen.

The 501L Long Branch buses will operate via Windermere and Lake Shore Boulevard as the 501L Queen bus does now. The 501M Marine Parade service will be replaced by the 501P Park Lawn buses which will operate westbound on the same route as the 501L, but eastbound via north on Park Lawn and east on The Queensway.

The 301 night service will operate as a through bus route from Neville to Long Branch.

To provide enough buses for 501 Queen, streetcars will return to other routes:

  • 504 King will be entirely operated with streetcars, with many runs using ALRVs (the two-section cars) displaced from Queen.
  • 503 Kingston Road will be operated with streetcars, and will be extended west to Charlotte Loop because Wellington Street is under construction. (502 Downtowner will remain a bus operation.)
  • 511 Bathurst will return to streetcar operation initially with ALRVs, but will transition to low-floor Flexity service as new cars become available.

Although 501 Queen will operate with buses through the summer, possibly to Thanksgiving, the planned intersection replacements at Coxwell and at McCaul will not occur during this period as there is too much other work concurrently according to the TTC’s Brad Ross. The dates and service arrangements for these two projects have not yet been announced.

The 505 Dundas car, which as I write this, is about to begin a diversion via Bay, College/Carlton and Church bothways for water main construction, will shift to a longer diversion via Carlton, Parliament and Gerrard beginning in May when the Dundas/Parliament intersection is rebuilt. The 65 Parliament bus will also divert around this work via Gerrard, Sherbourne and Shuter.

Temporary schedules were implemented in March for 510 Spadina and 506 Carlton in anticipation of extra traffic from a Queen diversion that was not implemented (510) and for overhead work on Gerrard that has been deferred (506). These routes revert to their normal schedules in May.

The 514 Cherry streetcar will now be scheduled for all low-floor service, and the weekday midday headways will be widened from 10 to 15 minutes.

In order to avoid unpredictable traffic conditions for Metrolinx Crosstown construction, the evening interlines of routes 5 Avenue Road & 56 Leaside, and of 51 Leslie & 61 Avenue Road North, will be discontinued. These routes will operate independently at all hours.

The schedule for the 34C Eglinton East service to Flemingdon Park will be revised to give operators more layover time at Eglinton Station due to construction conditions.

The bus loop at Royal York Station will be closing for about 18 months for reconstruction, and this will eliminate the loop now used by four routes. Services will be interlined on 73 Royal York & 76 Royal York South, and on 15 Evans & 48 Rathburn. The 315 Evans night service will be extended to Islington Station.

Construction at Coxwell Station has completed, and the interline of 22 Coxwell & 70 O’Connor will cease.

Seasonal Changes

Service will be improved on weekend evenings on 509 Harbourfront. This route is now designated as a low-floor route and will be operated entirely with Flexitys.

A Sunday PCC service will operate as an unscheduled extra on the 509 subject to availability of a car and operator from about noon to 5:00 pm.

Services to many campuses will be reduced to reflect lower demand during the summer term on various routes: 38 Highland Creek, 41 Keele, 44 Kipling South, 188 Kipling South Rocket, 60 Steeles West, 75 Sherbourne, 134C Progress/Centennial, 191 Highway 27 Rocket, 195 Jane Rocket, 196 York U Rocket, 198 UTSC Rocket, and 199 Finch Rocket.

Other seasonal changes affect 92 Woodbine South, 121 Fort York-Esplanade and 165 Weston Road North. Note that the 121 will operate to Cherry Beach during all service hours this summer rather than selected periods as in the past.

A Rose By Any Other Name

In anticipation of the TYSSE opening in  late 2017, the name of Downsview Station will change to Sheppard West. This allows the “Downsview” label to shift to the new “Downsview Park” station.

Scarborough Subway Cost Rises Again (II)

After publication of a series reports going to Toronto’s Executive Committee on March 7, there have been many competing claims about just how much the Scarborough Subway is going to cost. Subway advocates prefer the lower number of $3.35 billion cited as the base cost of the subway itself plus an improved bus terminal, while others point out that many elements have been omitted from this number.

I reviewed many of the reports in a previous article, but this post looks beyond the subway itself to other projects that are required for the subway to open. Some of these are unfunded, or are now planned for a date beyond the Scarborough line’s opening, or are simply missing from TTC and City plans.

Previous Cost Estimates for the “Express Subway”

The Scarborough Subway project, as described in all previous reports included the following three items:

  • Construction of the subway from Kennedy Station to STC at a cost of $2.3 billion in 2010 dollars, or $3.315 billion in year-of-expenditure (YOE) allowing for future inflation.
  • Life extension work to keep the SRT operational until the subway opens at a cost of $132 million (YOE).
  • Demolition and removal of the existing SRT structure following the subway opening at a cost of $123 million (YOE).

These values, totalling $3.56 billion, appeared in:

The October 3, 2013 report to Council:

201310_costextimate

A presentation to a Value Engineering workshop by the TTC in September 2016:

201609_ttcprojectcostestimates_vesession

The TTC’s 2017-26 Capital Budget recently approved by Council (click to enlarge):

2017_capbudget

The $3.305 billion cost for the subway itself is intriguing because it has not changed between the 2016-25 and 2017-26 versions of the budget. The detailed views are below. (These are taken from the detailed TTC budget books that are not available online.)

2016 (click to enlarge):

sse_006_2016

2017 (click to enlarge):

sse_006_2017

The major change between the two versions to line item totals is that an allowance for property has been offset by an increase in “fixed facilities”. However, expenditures timings change, and there is no adjustment for inflation. I have asked the TTC for comment on this and related matters.

Item                          2016-2025        2017-2026
                                ($000)           ($000)
Fixed Facilities              $2,458,000       $2,623,000
TTC Installation                                      250
Property                         165,000
Consultants                      398,123          397,297
TTC Engineering                  101,877          102,453
Vehicles                         182,000          182,000
Total                         $3,305,000       $3,305,000

In the 2017 Capital Budget the section for the SRT life extension shows values only to 2023 and the demolition of the SRT structure is in 2025. These timings do not  make sense except in the context of a 2023 opening as described below. It is clear that these two items have not been updated to reflect the later opening date and the added cost this brings for ongoing support of the old system, and inflation in the cost of demolishing and removing it.

From the description of the Life Extension project:

lifeextensionprojectdescription

Additional Costs Not Included in the Current Projected Total

The $3.35 billion cost now claimed for the SSE project does not include several items cited in the City’s reports:

  • Procurement costs through Infrastructure Ontario: $15 million
  • Financing costs of a 3P project, net to TTC: $40 million
  • Public realm improvements (optional): $11 million
  • Platform edge doors (optional): $14 million
  • Increase in “management reserve” for scope changes to the level recommended by consultants: $100 million
  • SRT Life Extension: $132 million
  • SRT Decommissioning and Demolition: $123 million

As noted above, some costs have been estimated based on a 2023 opening for the subway, but without allowances for inflation to a later date.

Planning for Fleet, Signals and Carhouse Space

There are inconsistencies in the timing of various projects related to the Bloor-Danforth Subway that existed in the 2016-25 budget, and still pose major problems for 2017-26. These are all linked to the opening of the SSE which, like the TYSSE extension to Vaughan, will be built with Automatic Train Control (ATC).

  • Resignalling of Line 2 BD with ATC
  • Replacement of the existing T1 subway fleet with new trains capable of ATC operation
  • Construction of a new yard to house the replacement fleet

The TTC plans to resignal Line 2 following completion of Line 1 YUS in 2019. Here is the budget summary for these projects (click to enlarge):

2017_atcsignals

The T1 subway fleet is due for replacement in the mid 2020s, but current plans show this happening substantially after the SSE opens with delivery of prototypes in 2024 and the remainder of the fleet from 2026-2030. This means that a large part of the BD fleet would not be able to operate on ATC, and therefore could not run beyond Kennedy Station.

2017_t1replacement

There is also a provision in the SSE budget (above) for additional trains with funding in 2022-23 of $182 million. This corresponds to the original scheme to open the line in 2023, but not to the current fleet plan. In the table below, six trains are shown as a service addition for the SSE in 2023, but these come from available spares within the T1 pool (even though they cannot run in ATC territory). This would provide an AM peak service with alternate trains turning back from Kennedy Station, and overall BD service at the same level as today (2’20” west of Kennedy, 4’40” to STC). The replacement fleet begins to arrive in 2026 through 2030 including the seven trains funded from the SSE project budget. Full service to STC comes in 2027, but this and an allowance for ridership growth are clearly based on a 2023 SSE opening date.

The fleet plan is out of sync with the opening date for the SSE and its signal system.

2017_line2_subwayfleetplan

The T1 replacement project is on the “City Requested Budget Reductions” list, and does not have any funding within the current ten-year Capital Program. This represents a pressure within the City’s overall capital budget and its “below the line” iceberg of capital projects it cannot afford.

Finally, a new fleet cannot be provisioned without a new yard. This is required both to provide overlapping capacity for new and old trains (unlike Line 1 where Wilson Yard had room for expansion to handle the H to TR fleet changeover). There are also design problems with Greenwood in that the shops were not planned for 6-car unit trains, and major renovation would be required to do this, all within an active shop for the BD line.

The TTC recently authorized the purchase of land near Kipling Station for a new subway yard. However, the actual construction of a yard does not appear in the Capital Budget and there is no provision for this in the TTC’s financial plans. Quite obviously this facility is required before the new trains begin to arrive. If the T1 replacement project moves forward so that the new trains can all be here before the SSE opens in 2026, then the new carhouse must exist by the early 2020s. Considering how long it takes the TTC to get approval for a major new facility, let alone build it, this is a critical project that has not even been discussed in the context of SSE planning.

None of this is news, and the TTC is well aware of the problem. I wrote about this as part of my 2016 budget coverage, and the TTC replied with details of what is really needed. Management plans to bring an overall plan for the renovation of Line 2 to the Board at its March meeting, but this will inevitably produce ripples in the City’s budget. That can be fixed, in part, if some of Toronto’s PTIF money (the federal infrastructure program) goes to accelerating these projects, but this has to be fitted in among the many hopes Toronto has for that funding.

These are not, strictly speaking, “Scarborough Subway costs”, but they are projects triggered by the decision to extend Line 2 BD. Although federal money could be available, the City will have to pony up its share, and this will fall right at a period when it is tight for capital.

Toronto Council deserves to see the whole picture of funding and financing requirements for the SSE and related projects. Too much is hidden either by its unfunded status, or by simple omission from the overall plans. This inevitably creates a crisis when – Surprise! – a project is forced “above the line” because it cannot be avoided. This brings new spending that crowds other works, many having nothing to do with transit, off of the table. This is no way to handle City budgeting.

TTC Service Changes Effective March 26, 2017 (Updated)

Updated March 27, 2017 at 7:50 am: The City of Toronto has deferred the work on Queen that would have required diversion of the 501 streetcar service between Spadina and Shaw to later in the year when the route will be operating with buses.

The TTC plans for service changes in March 2017 are not extensive. They are detailed in the spreadsheet linked below. I have modified the format of this to include not just headways but also running times (including layovers). This was done to clarify situations where adjustments are made to deal with traffic conditions on routes and to show the amount of time added for diversions.

2017.03.26_Service_Changes

Construction Projects

Although diversions and bus replacements are inevitable for track construction projects, the degree to which the TTC and city are content to remove streetcars for construction outside of the streetcar lanes says little for the “transit first” language we often hear. There also appears to be little incentive to complete such projects as quickly as possible.

501 Queen

Construction projects affect sections of the Queen route for all of 2017:

  • Reconstruction of The Queensway right-of-way, the Humber bridge, Humber Loop and track on Lake Shore
  • Sidewalk reconstruction on Queen between Spadina and Bathurst (late March to late summer) (summer)
  • Reconstruction of the intersection of Coxwell and Queen (August)
  • Replacement of the overhead walkway west of Queen and Yonge linking the Eaton Centre to the Simpson’s building (now HBC/Saks)

For the period from March 26 to May 6, Queen cars will divert both ways via Spadina, King and Shaw. Replacement bus service will operate from University to Dufferin (terminating at Dufferin Loop south of King). Night service will operate from Yonge to Dufferin looping in the east via Church, Richmond and Victoria. (Deferred)

During the Queen diversion, running time will be added on 510 Spadina to allow for streetcar congestion and delays making turns at Queen and King. One cannot help wondering where “transit priority” fits in this situation considering that problems with this diversion were quite evident during 2016.

Starting on May 7, the route will be converted to bus operation end-to-end. This will have two branches similar to the streetcar service before 2015. One branch will operate from Neville to Long Branch, while the other will run from Neville to Park Lawn. Buses will run through the construction area from Spadina to Bathurst.

Because so many buses will be required and streetcars now on Queen will be released, streetcars will return to 511 Bathurst, 503 Kingston Road Tripper and the 504 King trippers.

Streetcar service on Queen between Neville and Sunnyside will resume in September, and over the full route to Long Branch in January 2018.

See also Ben Spurr’s article in the Star.

505 Dundas

Three projects affect the Dundas service during 2017:

  • Reconstruction of the intersection at Victoria and Dundas Square (beginning late March)
  • Reconstruction of the intersection at Dundas and Parliament (May-June)
  • Watermain construction between Yonge and Church (late March to October)

Effective with the March schedules, 505 Dundas cars will divert both ways via Bay, College, Carlton and Church.

During the May-June period when streetcars will not be able to operate through the Parliament intersection, a different arrangement will be required, but the details have not been announced.

504 King

Starting with the March 26 schedules, the King bus trippers will be extended north to Dundas West Station to avoid congestion at Sunnyside Loop.

With the May schedules, the Queen turnback at Sunnyside will end, and the bus trippers will be replaced by streetcars.

503 Kingston Road Tripper

With the May schedules, this peak period route will return to streetcar operation, but it will loop downtown at Charlotte Loop (Spadina, Adelaide, Charlotte) because Wellington Street will be under construction.

For the July schedules (mostly in August), the intersection at Queen and Coxwell will be under construction, and so bus operation will return to the 503.

The 502 Downtowner service will remain a bus operation throughout.

506 Carlton

When the March schedules were planned, a diversion was to be implemented between Broadview and Coxwell to allow reconstruction of the overhead over that section of the route. This diversion has been deferred due to the shortage of buses, but the new temporary schedules were already in place for March-April. This will leave 506 Carlton service on its regular route, but with added running time and wider headways. The standard schedule will come back into operation in May.

Continuation of last year’s sidewalk construction and streetscape improvements is likely, but yet to be confirmed, beginning in June between Bathurst and Lansdowne. Service adjustments are yet to be announced.

Route Changes

73 Royal York

The peak period 73A service that now terminates at Dixon Road will be extended north following the same route as the 73C Albion Road service to loop via Knob Hill Drive and Oak Street in Weston. This branch will be renamed as 73D.

121 Fort York – Esplanade

The route will be extended west into Exhibition Place so that operators on the route have access to a washroom (in Exhibition Loop). Running times during certain periods will be adjusted to match conditions on the route.

131 Nugget Express

Two branches of this service operate to supplement the SRT while the fleet undergoes major repairs to extend its lifespan. The 131E runs from Kennedy Station to Old Finch, but the 131F runs only from Kennedy to STC. Due to low ridership the 131F service will be removed. Service on the 131E is unchanged.