Missing Riders, Uber and the TTC

It is impossible to browse the news online or in print without seeing an article about transit ridership. Will people ever go back to work in office buildings? Has work-from-home destroyed transit demand? What is the future of cities in general and our town, Toronto?

I am not going to attempt to peer into that crystal ball as there are too many possible futures. However, I want to throw out a few ideas that should be part of any debate or prognostication.

The transit market is not a monolith, not in Toronto and certainly not from city to city, system to system. There are different markets each with its own demand patterns and riders, and recovery of these markets will not all happen at the same time.

The TTC has a particularly broad reach in that, in “before days”, there was strong demand not just for downtown commuter trips, but around the suburbs. Many types of jobs do not have the work-from-home option. They are keeping us fed, alive, and supplied with an unending delivery of goods we once picked up from a local store.

Moreover, many trips are not “work” trips but are for other purposes.

  • School trips for all ages are an important market, and these are often overlooked as part of transit demand.
  • People make trips for shopping and other personal errands on the TTC, especially if they do not have a car (or if the only one in the family is being used by someone else).
  • Finally, there are leisure trips, broadly speaking, for outings to sports events, theatre, movies, an afternoon on the beach or a walk through the cherry blossoms.

Office commuting will resume when employers and employees feel safe gathering together. Yes some prefer working at home, at least some of the time, but others are just as happy to escape to the alternate universe of their work space and colleagues. There were already moves to reduce the space per office worker and design more for “hotelling” to make better use of expensive space, but there is still a demand for office space, at least in the core area. The creation of new space may halt or slow for a time, but “downtown” still has its allure.

We have already seen that workers in critical industries and in many settings where there is no online alternative are straining the transit service despite claims that crowding is rare.

School traffic is not going to disappear either, but it will return under different circumstances and at a different pace. Much depends on when it is really safe to resume gatherings on that level, based on actual health science, not on political pressure to reopen at whatever cost.

The last to return will be the leisure trips because here has to be something “there” to generate the traffic.

This affects the TTC in a different way from GO Transit which is almost entirely dependent on one market: downtown commuters. GO’s future is tied to these riders much more than is the TTC’s largely because it is the only market they pursued for most of their existence. They are highly dependent on parking lots and personal cars for “last mile” feeder service.

GO has tried to market itself for off peak traffic and group travel, but that demand is trivial. It is viewed as a loss-leader to get potential new customers onto GO who would try weekday service after they use it on the weekend. Of course, someone bringing their family in for a ball game might not actually work downtown, and GO has little service to other destinations.

GO’s daily ridership dropped much further than the TTC’s and it remains in single-digit percentages of its former level with some trains carrying loads that would fit on a bus.

The TTC is different as its stats show. Ridership (equivalent to fares paid, or “linked trips” in planning parlance) are at 25-30% of former levels across the system, with higher values in some areas. The budget plans for a growth to about 50% by fall 2021, but whether this is achieved depends a lot on the perceived success of the vaccination campaign and a big drop in future infection rates. In the first quarter of 2021, the TTC expected to see the first glimpse of a recovery but, thanks to political bungling, we got a third wave of infections and another “lockdown”.

That hoped-for growth starting in September may turn out to be wishful thinking, and that does not bode well for a transit system that cannot be kept on financial life support forever. The 2022 budget assumes a fairly healthy growth in demand, although not back all the way to pre-pandemic levels.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

“Boardings” or “unlinked trips” count each leg of a journey separately. Any transfer between vehicles (except on the subway) counts as a new boarding. While all modes suffered a downturn through the fall and winter, the bus network did best of the three showing its relative importance to riders who continue to be on the TTC.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

Crowding complaints come overwhelmingly on the bus routes, in part because there are so many more of them. The bus fleet has automatic passenger counters that can report real stats, but these are not yet widely available on the streetcar fleet.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

In the near future, the TTC will provide a crowding level feed to two apps: Rocketman and Transit App. This will allow riders to see how crowded approaching buses are, although it will of course do nothing to prevent a bus, once boarded, from filling up later. This information, however, will make an interesting adjunct to real time and historical tracking analysis because it will allow crowding and service reliability to be compared.

The TTC’s analysis above fails to show the real situation riders face because it lumps every bus trip on every route all day together. Many routes are never crowded. Routes with chronic bunching might only be crowded on the “gap” bus. Routes with highly directional demand will have a lot of lightly-loaded counterpeak trips. Having “only” 5% of trips show up as “crowded” will understate the degree of the problems when and where they actually exist.

Moreover, there are more riders on a crowded bus than on an empty one, and so the “average” experience will be that more people to see crowding. A good analogy might be that someone trying to board the subway southbound at Bloor in the AM peak as opposed to eastbound at Broadview at the same time will have a very different experience of subway crowding. The same is true for bus routes.

With route level crowding stats, the TTC should be able to provide “hot spot” reports rather than simply averaging the entire system.

Clearly they are doing some of this already because service plans for coming months, including the May schedule changes, will reduce service on some less-loaded routes to be redeployed on other busy routes.

An important improvement would be to include the hot spots/hot time list in the Daily Customer Service Report so that riders can compare their experience with what the TTC thinks happened. The next challenge is to make the service run reliably, a frequent topic on this blog.

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TTC Service Changes: Sunday, May 9, 2021

The May schedules will bring many changes across the TTC network including:

  • Streetcar network changes due to construction projects
  • Route reorganizations in Downsview and Scarborough
  • Many service reductions due to reduced pandemic-era riding
  • Some service improvements to address crowding

Updated April 10, 2021 at 9:35 pm: References to “117 York University Heights” in the spreadsheet of detailed changes have been corrected to route “107”.

Streetcar Changes

Construction continues at the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles intersection. Phase 1 now underway is planned to run through August 2021. In Phase 2, work will shift to other parts of the intersection. The full project is planned to run through late 2021.

The only schedule change in May for this project is to give the Roncesvalles 504G shuttle additional running time.

The central-west Queen reconstruction includes conversion of overhead west from Parliament Street for pantograph operation as well as track replacement from University to Fennings (west of Dufferin). The 501 Queen streetcar service will divert via Parliament to King and will loop at Spadina via Charlotte Street. The 501L/P Queen bus service will be extended to Broadview Avenue.

The 503 Kingston Road service which also loops at Spadina & King will be adjusted so that headways and service blend with the 501 Queen service.

Water main reconstruction on Broadview between Danforth and Gerrard will require a bus shuttle until late in 2021. A 504D King shuttle will operate from Broadview Station to Front & Parliament via King. This will replace both the 504 King and 505 Dundas streetcar service north of Gerrard.

All 504 King service will run between Dufferin and Distillery Loops. Service west of Dufferin will continue to be provided by the 504Q shuttle between Shaw and Triller. Service east of Parliament will be provided by the 504D shuttle.

All 505 Dundas service will terminate at Broadview looping via Parliament and Gerrard.

Reconstruction of the overhead for pantographs on the east end of 506 Carlton as well as construction work at Main Station will be complete, and streetcar service will resume over the full route from Main Station to High Park Loop.

Weekday service on 510 Spadina will all terminate at Queens Quay Loop. Riders bound for Union Station will have to transfer to 509 Harbourfront. Weekend and overnight 310 Spadina service is unchanged.

Streetcars from 512 St. Clair running out of service via Bathurst southbound will no longer loop through Bathurst Station to avoid blocking the road and sidewalk when the platform is occupied by a 511 Bathurst car. 512 cars entering service will continue to run through the loop northbound.

The resulting streetcar network is shown in the map below.

Service Reorganizations

Two service reorganizations will occur in May.

In Scarborough, the 116 Morningside service will be consolidated so that all trips operate to Finch. The branch to Conlins Road will now be served by an extension of the 905 Eglinton East Express route.

In Downsview, the 107 St. Regis and 117 Alness-Chesswood routes will be combined as one route 107 York University Heights as shown in the map below.

Service details are in the spreadsheet at the end of the article.

Service Reductions and Improvements

The list of changes for May includes many routes under the heading of pandemic-related service reductions. This is also a time of year when seasonal effects would normally trigger reductions across the system.

Routes with service improvements:

  • 35 Jane M-F peaks
  • 92 Woodbine South weekends (seasonal)
  • 96 Wilson M-F peaks improved; early evening service blended with 165 Weston Road North
  • 102 Markham Road service improvements and reallocation from 102A Centennial branch to 102B Steeles branch
  • 119 Torbarrie new midday service
  • 121 Fort York-Esplande extensions to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach (seasonal)
  • 126 Christie Sunday/Holiday service adjusted to be consistent with weekday schedules
  • 165 Weston Road North service improved; early evening service blended with 96 Wilson
  • 175 Bluffers Park (seasonal)
  • 509 Harbourfront M-F (seasonal)
  • 510 Spadina M-F service consolidated to Spadina Avenue
  • 924 Victoria Park Express weekday peak service restored
  • 927D Highway 27 Express M-F peak service to Steeles
  • 929 Dufferin Express: articulated vehicles replace standard length buses
  • 989 Weston Express weekday peak service restored

Routes with service reductions:

  • 1 Yonge University weekends
  • 512 St. Clair M-F
  • 6 Bay M-F
  • 7 Bathurst M-F
  • 11 Bayview M-F peaks
  • 23 Dawes AM Peak
  • 24 Victoria Park M-F early evening
  • 32 Eglinton West (weekday running times reduced due to less Line 5 construction delay)
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 38 Highland Creek M-F early evening
  • 52 Lawrence West M-F midday and late evening
  • 60 Steeles West M-F midday and early evening
  • 63 Ossington M-F St. Clair 63B short turn trips reduced
  • 66 Prince Edward M-F peak service on 66B to Lake Shore reduced
  • 71 Runnymede M-F peaks
  • 73 Royal York M-F
  • 75 Sherbourne M-F (seasonal)
  • 76 Royal York South M-F
  • 88 South Leaside M-F peaks
  • 94 Wellesley M-F
  • 100 Flemingdon Park M-F AM peak and midday
  • 106 Sentinel M-F peaks and midday
  • 109 Ranee M-F PM peak
  • 113 Danforth M-F peaks
  • 129 McCowan North M-F
  • 134/913 Progress M-F
  • 900 Airport Express weekends
  • 927C Highway 27 Express to Humber College (seasonal)

Routes with revised schedules for reliability

The effect of reliability changes varies from route to route. Usually, the change involves adding running time without adding buses so that scheduled service becomes less frequent. In some cases, running times are trimmed to reflect changing traffic conditions such as the wind-up of construction projects

  • 14 Glencairn
  • 26 Dupont
  • 29 Dufferin
  • 32 Eglinton West
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 86 Scarborough
  • 116 Morningside
  • 127 Davenport
  • 929 Dufferin Express
  • 941 Keele Express

For details of service plans and changes, please see the spreadsheet linked below.

2021.05.09_Service_Changes_V2

TTC Service Changes Sunday, March 28, 2021

March 28, 2021, will see revenue service begin from the TTC’s new McNicoll Garage. This will entail the reassignment of many routes between all garages as the TTC rebalances it fleet and service to relieve crowding and minimize dead-head times.

There are few service changes associated with this grand shuffle. The primary effect is that garage trips at the end of peak periods will change to reflect the shift of some routes to a new home in northern Scarborough.

For example, north-south routes that formerly had transitional peak-to-evening service southbound will go to evening service levels sooner because buses will dead head to McNicoll rather than making a southbound trip before running back to Eglinton or Birchmount Garage.

  • 17 Birchmount
  • 43 Kennedy
  • 57 Midland
  • 68 Warden
  • 129 McCowan North

The short-turn point for 39 Finch East and 53 Steeles East off-peak garage trips will change so that buses do not double back on themselves. These trips will be shortened to end at Kennedy rather than at Markham Road. Trips on 39C to Victoria Park will end at McNicoll & Victoria Park rather than at 480 Gordon Baker Road.

The 45 Kipling and 945 Kipling Express move from Queensway to Arrow. Trips to the garage after the AM and PM peak will no longer make southbound trips. Trips at the beginning of the PM peak will no longer travel north from Queensway.

The old and new garage assignments are at the end of this article for those who are interested.

Fleet utilization continues to be well below system capacity. In January 2020, the total AM peak buses in service was 1,625. In March 2021, it will be 1,527. This does not include buses used in Run As Directed (RAD) service. Although the TTC now has an additional bus garage, its capacity is not included in the table below.

For comparison, here is the January 2020 (pre-pandemic) table.

The number of buses used on streetcar routes continues to be high. These vehicles are included in the counts above, and represent additional capacity available for bus routes when the construction projects now underway finish. 506 Carlton will return to all-streetcar operation in May, but other routes will be affected by construction for much of 2021 notably at KQQR and on Broadview north of Gerrard (starting in May).

Here is the streetcar peak service table. Note that there is an error in the afternoon peak “base going into Mar 2021” column where the streetcar total should read 127, not 142.

Construction Projects

During the construction of McNicoll Garage, all trips on 42 Cummer were operated as 42A to Middlefield. This will continue, and the 42B and 42C services will remain suspended. An eight month long water main project on Cummer will require that westbound service divert via Leslie, Finch and Bayview. New farside stops will be added southbound on Leslie at Cummer, and westbound on Cummer at Bayview to serve the diversion.

At the King, Queen, Queensway, Roncesvalles intersection (KQQR) construction work will block transit service beginning on March 31. This will affect all services that pass through this busy location.

  • 501 Queen buses (501L Long Branch and 501P Park Lawn) will operate via King and Dufferin Streets to route. The official east end of the route will remain at Jarvis Street. In current operations, many runs have been extended as far east as River because the schedule is very generous in anticipation of construction traffic delays that have not yet materialized. Buses are also taking extended layovers at Long Branch Loop because they arrive early.
  • The 504 King west end shuttle will be broken into two parts.
    • A 504G King shuttle will operate between Dundas West Station and Roncesvalles Carhouse (entering and leaving via the North Gate).
    • A 504Q King shuttle will operate between Triller and Strachan. The west end loop will be via Dufferin, Queen and Triller. The east end loop will be via Duoro and Strachan. This is a change from the current shuttle terminus at Shaw.

Operation of the 506 Carlton bus shuttle will be officially changed to use the loop that was informally implemented almost immediately after this service began in January. All buses will loop via Gerrard, Sherbourne and Parliament. Full streetcar service will resume on 506 Carlton with the May 9, 2021 schedules.

Miscellaneous Route Changes

Weekday scheduled round-trip travel time on 1 Yonge-University-Spadina will be shortened from 161 to 154 minutes in recognition of time savings with Automatic Train Control. This will address some of the train queuing problems at terminals. Headways will also be widened slightly to reflect lower demand.

43C Kennedy service to Village Green Square will be modified so that all trips begin and end there. Half hourly service will be provided northbound from Kennedy Station from 6:30 to 8:30 am, and from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. Southbound service will leave Village Green from 5:58 to 8:28 am, and from 3:30 to 6:30 pm.

The Amazon Fulfillment Centre at Morningside & Steeles will be served by two routes:

  • 53B Steeles service to Markham Road will be extended via Passmore to the cul-de-sac at the site. This operation is already in place.
  • 102 Markham Road service will be routed north on Markham Road, east on Select Avenue, south on Tapscott Road, east on Passmore Avenue to cul-de-sac, west on Passmore Avenue, north on Tapscott Road, west on Steeles Avenue, to south on Markham Road. This route will be changed when the the intersection of Steeles & Morningside fully opens later in 2021.

Trip times on 167 Pharmacy North will be standardized so that the weekday and Saturday schedules are the same. The first trips will run northbound from Don Mills Station and southbound from Pharmacy Loop at 5:30 am. Service at all times will be on the half-hour (:00 and :30).

Articulated and regular buses will shuffle between routes:

  • Three artics now used on 60 Steeles West will be changed to standard buses. The artics will return in late May.
  • Most runs on 89 Weston will switch from artics to standard buses. In late May, all 89 Weston local buses will be standard-sized, but the 989 Weston Express service will resume.
  • Six standard buses now used on 929 Dufferin Express will be changed to artics.

310 Spadina night service will be cut to half hourly. This route was missed in January when other night services reverted to a 30 minute service (previously every 15 or 20 minutes).

Details of the changes and service plan comparisons are in this spreadsheet.

Revised Garage Assignments

TTC Transit Expansion Update

At its February 10, 2021 meeting, the TTC Board receive a long report entitled Transit Network Expansion.

The raison-d’être for the report is to obtain the authorization to increase staffing by 34 positions that would be funded by Metrolinx, but would be part of the TTC’s stucture. Many aspects of projects underway by Metrolinx depend on TTC input and acceptance because they affect lines the TTC will operate and, at least partly, maintain. A new Transit Expansion Assurance Department within Engineering & Construction. The authorization include provision for temporary expansion beyond 34 should this be required.

This move is intriguing because it implies Metrolinx has accepted that it cannot build new lines completely on their own without TTC input, especially when they will operate as part of the TTC network.

The report also requests authorization for:

[…] the Chief Executive Officer, in consultation with the City Manager, City of Toronto where applicable, to negotiate a Master Agreement and/or other applicable Agreements with the Province and/or any other relevant provincial agency for the purposes of the planning, procurement, construction, operations, and maintenance of the Subway Program, in accordance with Board and City Council direction, and to report back to the Board on the results of such negotiations. [pp. 2-3]

There is a great deal more involved in building and operating transit projects than holding a press conference with little more than a nice map. Now comes the hard part of actually doing the work. Whether Metrolinx will negotiate in good faith remains to be seen, but the TTC and Toronto appear to be less willing to hide Metrolinx’ faults in light of the Presto screwups.

Another recommendation has a hint that all is not well with consultations, as that should be any surprise to those who deal regularly with Metrolinx.

Request Metrolinx to conduct meaningful engagement with the TTC’s Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT) as part of the Project Specific Output Specification (PSOS) review and design review for all projects within the provincial programs. [p. 3]

The operative word here is “meaningful”. ACAT has already complained of difficulties with Metrolinx including such basics as poorly designed elevators on the Eglinton Crosstown line that cannot be “fixed” because they have already been ordered.

Right from the outset, the TTC claims to have a significant role, a very different situation from the days when Metrolinx claimed it would be easy for them to take over the subway system.

The TTC continues to play a key role in the planning, technical review, and implementation of all major transit expansion projects in Toronto and the region. These include the Toronto Light Rail Transit Program and the provincial priority subway projects, referred to collectively as the “Subways Program”: the Ontario Line; the Scarborough Subway Extension; the Yonge North Subway Extension; and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. [p. 1]

In support of the staffing request, the report goes into great detail on many projects:

Two projects are not listed among the group above, but there is a description buried in the section on Bloor-Yonge expansion.

  • Overall subway system capacity and service expansion
  • Any discussion of the Line 2 renewal project

There is no discussion at all about renewal and expansion of surface service. This is just as important as new lines, but it is not seen as “expansion” with the political interest and funding that brings. Yes, this is a “rapid transit” report, but the core network of subway lines dies without the surface feeder routes, and many trips do not lie conveniently along rapid transit corridors.

The map below shows the location of most of the projects, but there are some odd inclusions and omissions.

  • The RapidTO bus corridors are not included.
  • City-funded GO stations at St. Clair/Old Weston, Lansdowne, King/Liberty, East Harbour and Finch/Kennedy are shown.
  • GO funded stations at Woodbine Racetrack, Mount Dennis, Caledonia and Park Lawn are shown.
  • The planned improvement at between TTC’s Dundas West and GO’s Bloor station is not shown, nor is any potential link between Main and Danforth stations.
  • SmartTrack stations are shown, but there is no discussion of how GO or ST service would fit into the overall network.

The following two maps have attracted a lot of attention, although they do not tell the full story. Much as I am a streetcar/LRT advocate, the presence of the entire streetcar network here is misleading, especially in the absence of the RapidTO proposals. Some of the streetcar lines run in reserved lanes, although thanks to overly generous scheduling some of them are no faster than the mixed-traffic operations they replaced (notably St. Clair). However, most of these routes rank equivalently to the bus network in terms of transit priority. If we are going to show the streetcar lines, why not the 10-minute network of key bus route?

The map is also distorted by having different and uneven scales in both directions. The size of downtown is exaggerated while other areas are compressed.

For example, the distance from Queen to Bloor is, in reality, half that of Bloor to Eglinton and one quarter of Eglinton to Finch. It is also one quarter of the distance from Yonge west to Jane or east to Victoria Park. For comparison, the TTC System Map is to scale, and it shows the city in its actual rectangular form.

This map gives an impression of coverage, but masks the size of the gaps between routes as one moves away from the core. Bus riders know all about those gaps.

By 2031, the network is hoped to look something like this. No BRT proposals are shown, but we do see the waterfront extensions west to Dufferin, and east to Broadview (East Harbour). Also missing are the GO corridors which, by 2031, should have frequent service and (maybe) attractive fares. They are (or should be) as much a part of “Future Rapid Transit” as the TTC routes.

This map is trying to do too much and too little at the same time. It also reveals a quite selective view of “regional” transit.

I am not trying to argue for a map that shows every detail, but it should exist (a) in scale and (b) in formats with overlays showing major parts of the network and how they relate to the overall plan. When people concentrate on the pretty coloured lines, they tend to forget the other equally important parts of the network.

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TTC Board Meeting: February 10, 2021

The TTC Board met on February 10 with a thicker-than-usual agenda including:

  • A review of the Five Year Corporate Plan Status & CEO’s Report
  • A report on liquidated damage provisions within the contract for additional streetcars
  • Proposed asbestos removal projects at St. Patrick and Queen’s Park Stations
  • An update on the Presto contract with Metrolinx, and on the TTC’s pursuit of information on a possible replacement system from other vendors
  • An update on the Fair Pass program

The Board spent considerable time on the proposed shutdown of the SRT. Please see my original article Bye, Bye Scarborough RT on this issue which has been updated to reflect their debate and decision.

The Transit Network Expansion report also deserves its own article and will be reviewed separately.

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Will the TTC See Any Federal Transit Subsidies?

On February 10, 2021, the federal government announced a $14.9 billion plan for transit infrastructure over the period 2021-2028. Spending would start at a relatively low level with $5.9 billion spread over the first five years, but would then ramp up to $3 billion annually in what is supposed to be a permanent program.

The ink was hardly dry on the announcement when there were great huzzahs! from various circles that finally these was going to be federal money in transit. Suspicious soul that I am, I went looking to the backgrounder with more details, but came up dry.

For as long as anyone can remember, there has been a huge problem with the difference between announcements, “commitments” and actual spending. Following the money can be like a game of Three-card Monte where you’re never sure if there was a Queen on the table to begin with. The gullible marks believe that they can follow the Queen and are astounded when she is not there.

Before Toronto starts to spend billions, it is important to understand two things:

  • This is a national program. Assuming that the pot is divided based on population, Ontario will get about 40% of this or $6.36 billion over eight years. Toronto proper (as opposed to the GTA or the Census Metropolitan Area) is about 20% of Ontario. This leaves the City with about $1.27 billion. This would build a few subway stations at current prices.
  • The feds usually defer to the provinces in allocating funding, and so Ontario would control which projects were favoured. Queen’s Park could choose to spend all of Toronto’s share on “Ontario” projects built within the City, notably the Ontario Line and the Scarborough Subway Extension.

Rummaging around in Infrastructure Canada’s website, I came upon an interesting pie chart for an earlier program, the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, or ICIP for short. Although about $6.8 billion is earmarked for Ontario, $6.12 billion is unallocated. The basic problem is that the feds cannot approve spending if the province does not make an application.

A not-uncommon problem with funds like this is that they don’t really exist until something is approved, and if they are not spoken for by a drop-dead date (usually the end of a fiscal year), the funding evaporates. Note that according to this chart the cutoff date for intake of projects was in October 2019, and only 16 applications with a value of $651 million are awaiting review.

This led me to download the project list to see where the approved money went. Here is a subset of all projects with an approved value of $1 million or more in descending order. The list includes all projects under the five headings above although the lion’s share of the funding is in the transit group. It also includes two projects funded through the Infrastructure Bank (which is a separate source) for completeness.

The largest allocation is to the GO Transit ON-Corr (formerly RER) program, followed by the Ottawa LRT Stage 2. These are the only two items above $1 billion.

Toronto rapid transit projects are not well represented on this list. The only substantial amount ($333 million) is allocated to the Finch West LRT. Smaller amounts for design work are allocated to the Relief Line, SmartTrack, Eglinton West and Eglinton East. There is a lot of money for GO expansion.

I wrote to Infrastructure Canada asking for clarification of the relationship between various programs and to determine whether any of them overlapped such as funding this week’s announcement with unspent money from an earlier program.

I asked:

  1. Is any of the $14.9 billion already earmarked for previously announced projects such as the Scarborough Subway?
  2. What is the status of the unallocated $6.12 b in the ICIP? Is it still available, over and above the $14.9 b, to fund projects?
  3. Does this announcement have any effect on the federal gas tax which flows to provinces now in support of transit projects?

In reply to the first question, Infrastructure Canada replied (in an email of February 12, 2021) that the $15.9 billion is all new money.

1. The announcement for a permanent public transit funding made on February 10, 2021 provides $14.9 billion for public transit projects over eight years, which includes permanent funding of $3 billion per year for Canadian communities beginning in 2026-27. This funding is separate from funding currently available under integrated bilateral agreements in place with provinces and territories, and will complement the efforts of the Canada Infrastructure Bank.  

In the first five years, $5.9 billion will be made available starting in 2021 to support the near-term recovery of Canadian communities by:

Building major public transit projects and provides dedicated planning funding to accelerate future major projects.

Supporting the deployment of zero-emission vehicles and related infrastructure, complementing the work of the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

Meeting the growing demand for active transportation projects, including by building walkways and paths for cycling, walking, scooters, e-bikes, and wheelchairs.

Helping Canadians living in rural and remote areas travel to and from work more easily and access essential services, by working with rural, remote, and Indigenous communities to identify and create transit solutions that meet their needs.

This is new funding for public transit. Further details on the near-term funding announced on February 10, will be shared in the coming months.

The funding announced also delivers on the government’s commitment to provide $3 billion annually in permanent support for public transit. This funding will become available in 2026.

Over the coming months, the government will seek to facilitate partnerships between all orders of government, Indigenous communities, transit agencies, and other stakeholders to develop an approach to permanent public transit funding that offers the greatest benefits to Canadians.

With respect to the unallocated ICIP funds:

2. Under the existing Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, which is delivered through bilateral agreements, provinces and territories are responsible for submitting their infrastructure funding priorities to the federal government for funding consideration and approvals.

The unallocated funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program continues to remain available to Ontario communities for their funding priorities.

Infrastructure Canada continues to work with the Government of Ontario on their priority transit projects.

As for the gas tax allocated to provinces:

3. The recent announcement for permanent public transit funding has no bearing on the federal Gas Tax Fund or communities’ allocations under the Fund.

As part of COVID-19 response efforts, the Government of Canada delivered its full annual federal Gas Tax Fund allocation early this year to provide $2.2 billion quickly to local communities so they have the resources available to start projects now that will create jobs and help revive local economies.

It is good to know that funding from other sources is not affected, but equally important to note that Ontario is still sitting on (in the sense that the money is not yet applied for) $6.12 billion in ICIP, an amount close to all they will received under this week’s announcement over the next eight years.

Infrastructure Canada concluded by saying:

Infrastructure plays a vital role in promoting economic growth, creating jobs and improving our quality of life. This is why we continue to work closely with the Province and ask that Ontario prioritize its projects and submit complete funding applications in a timely manner, so that we can get investment funds moving and get Ontarians working this construction season.

Hint. Hint. Ontario. Apply for this money so that we can actually get people to work.

There is a basic problem with stimulus programs because the desire is to spend as soon as possible to get the effect of new money flowing to jobs. The big projects like new subway lines are still in the design stage, and much construction will not begin for several years. Indeed, Toronto once faced a problem where it could not spend all of its allocated stimulus funding, and the TTC soaked up this money by making a huge purchase of buses. This sort of ad hoc spending does not establish priorities based on need, but simply on the speed at which cash can be shovelled out the door.

There may be $6.12 billion looking for a home, but spending it soon will be a challenge.

The bottom line in all of this is that the federal announcement’s heart is in the right place, but the money that will come to Toronto and the GTHA is small compared to our needs. Every bit helps, but the danger now is that with an announced program, the federal taps will be turned off.

A Review of Fare Structures

This article has four parts:

  • An introduction and overview of the history of fares in Toronto, particularly on the TTC.
  • A short discussion of technology especially as it relates to Presto.
  • A review of various schemes for building a tariff and charging fares.
  • An overview of the fare systems in several major cities.

The TTC’s fare structure review is now underway. See: 5-Year Fare Policy and 10-Year Fare Collection Outlook. Recently, I wrote about their rider survey: A Curious Study of Fare Options. Other proposals float to the surface from time to time including those from the Toronto Region Board of Trade and Metrolinx. Both of these would shift Toronto to some form of zones or fare-by-distance in a bid to “integrate” the city transit system tariff with those of surrounding regions.

Lurking in the background is Metrolinx, an organization not exactly noted for sensitivity to local concerns. After beginning some years ago with work on a “transformational” change that would have robbed riders within Toronto to fund lower 905/416 cross-border fares, Metrolinx backed off. However, they are now back at “transformational” planning which could impose a fare-by-distance scheme on the entire GTA.

In particular, we do not know whether this will be a truly collaborative design and reflect the input of local transit agencies, or will be imposed by fiat from Queen’s Park making any work the TTC and others do now irrelevant.

This article will not propose a new scheme. That would imply I somehow have access to stone tablets with the One True Word on the subject, and that I am already wedded to one scheme in spite of the plethora of ways one might calculate and charge fares. There are many variables and issues such as the level of subsidy available, the scope of a unified system, and the goals transit is supposed to achieve.

We cannot simply propose a new scheme without debating these underlying issues, and anyone who avoids the policy debate is leaving out the most important, foundational part of a study.

This article is intended to tell some of Toronto’s history, and to look at the many options for constructing a new tariff.

Fares are a sensitive topic, and the details bring out more of the “dark side” about how each type of riders would be affected, and what the implementation and operating costs and procedures would entail. A common problem is that proponents of new schemes inevitably present their “solution” in sunnier terms than detailed review might justify.

The fundamental question of any fare system must answer is this: what are we trying to achieve? Transit has many goals, but actually paying for itself is not the only one. There are economic issues (social equity, mobility), development issues (transit enabling and/or requiring density of jobs and housing), and environmental issues (trip diversion from autos, reduction of road-building). Some of these have a quantifiable value, others have soft benefits and costs such as avoided personal expenditures and the value of commuting time.

There is no one “right” way to charge fares without also being very clear about which of these goals are important, and how the tariff will address them. Benefits and penalties are inherent in any fare scheme, and these should be recognized, not papered over to “sell” any model.

Some goals will produce conflicting results. For example, if we wanted to shift people out of cars, there would be good, inexpensive transit reaching into the commuter shed well beyond downtown. This could involve free parking, reduced fares on (or subsidies to) local transit for “last mile” links, and a lower fare-per-km than a strict fare-by-distance model might otherwise bring. All of this would confer benefits on (usually) affluent commuters in the name of an environmental good, while placing a relatively higher cost on transit for shorter trips. Such conflicts are inevitable and they require openly and honestly balancing the goals of the fare system.

A vital question separate from how one builds the tariff is what proportion of system revenue should come from fares, and what from the public purse? This is directly related to service quality because the amount of revenue, wherever it might come from, affects the level of service that can be provided. If transit agencies are fighting for every dollar, then any move that might affect their revenue stream will be resisted. Conversely, riders will not take kindly to fare increases if they do not also see better service.

The complexity of the tariff in any city has a lot to do with the maturity of the technology used and the political decisions about how much riders will pay. Every city’s fare structure has a long history affected by geography, political organization, technology and business climate. “Our way” of doing things makes sense, or at least is an accepted practice, in each location, the result of decades of evolving trade-offs.

The Evolution of Toronto’s Fare Structure

In Toronto the two primary fare structures are flat fares and zones as a rough version of fare-by-distance.

Flat fares are charged for local travel in the City itself (aka the “416”), and in the regions around Toronto (primarily the “905”). There are free transfer arrangements within each region, but not across the 416/905 boundary. That is the motivation for a lot of talk about “unfair” transit fares. (There are no remaining zone fares in the 905’s transit network.)

Local fares include various schemes to make transit more attractive:

  • cheaper fares for riders who make many journeys (e.g. passes or their equivalent),
  • cheaper fares for specific classes of rider (seniors, students, children, low-income),
  • simplification of transfer rules to eliminate penalties associated with trip chaining (multiple short journeys).

Toronto’s fare structure evolved together with its history. The original single fare within what was then Toronto was a condition of the franchise granted to the Toronto Railway Company in 1891. As the city expanded and with the creation of the Toronto Transportation Commission in 1921, the single fare zone covered what we now think of as the “old City”. Service beyond was operated on a few radial lines with their own fares (such as the line to Lake Simcoe, later cut back to Richmond Hill), and by some suburban bus companies. Remember that most of what we now think of as the “inner suburbs” was then farmland and a collection of small towns.

With the creation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954 (itself still a cluster of former towns and cities), the renamed Toronto Transit Commission’s service territory expanded to roughly its present boundary. Zone fares applied outside of the old City and fragments of the inner suburbs that were blended into the “Central Zone” to simplify the layout. Suburban zones 1-5 covered the territory beyond the old City, although there was not much of a network there in 1954.

Map courtesy of Transit Toronto

By the early 1970s, the suburban zones had been collapsed so that Zone 1 was the old City (formerly the Central Zone) and Zone 2 was everything else within Metropolitan Toronto. Zones 3 and beyond were for a few outside-Metro services such as buses to Richmond Hill, Woodbridge and Port Credit, remnants of the former radial railways. Special tickets provided a cheaper cross-boundary fare than two individual adult tickets (33 cents vs 40 cents in the example below), but there was still a premium for that crossing.

With the TTC needing greater subsidies to operate into a much-expanded suburban area, politicians and riders were annoyed that they contributed to the TTC through their taxes, but paid a higher fare when crossing the boundary with the old City. The situation was further complicated by the subway’s growth beyond Zone 1 with its 1968 extensions pushing that zone further out, provided one did not transfer to a bus route. The physical layout of several stations once in Zone 2 reflects provision for fare lines that no longer exist.

Zone 2 vanished on January 1, 1973 and ever since, travel across the entire City of Toronto has been based on a single, flat fare with free transfers. Monthly passes were introduced in 1980. The two-hour transfer, in effect a limited-time pass, replaced the complex rules for transfer validity in 2018. This brought Toronto into line with transfer rules in many 905-region agencies.

The intent was to encourage multi-hop trip chaining, but an unlooked-for side effect was a fare increase on those riders whose trips actually take more than two hours. I will return to this later in the article.

For more details, please see Transit Toronto’s A History of Fares on the TTC.

Map courtesy of Transit Toronto

GO Transit, operated since 1967 by the province of Ontario, always used a zone-based fare structure that is nominally distance based, but which has many idiosyncrasies that built up over years as their network evolved. Co-fares are provided between GO and local systems in the 905, but their purpose is to lure riders onto transit rather than driving to GO’s extremely large inventory of parking. There is a point where building more parking simply is not a viable way to build demand. Moreover, parking addresses only one type of rider – the classic suburb-to-downtown commuter with their own vehicle.

Over the years, GO’s fare structure, although nominally distance-based, has been gerrymandered for various, changing goals including:

  • cheaper trips for long-haul riders,
  • cheaper trips for short-haul riders,
  • cheaper trips for “frequent flyers”,
  • free parking,
  • reduction of the cost to riders of transfers between GO and local transit, and
  • reduction of the cost to the public purse of supporting co-fares for transfers.

It is self-evident that these changes cannot address the same goals.

There are built-in assumptions to any fare structure, and similar issues, albeit with different solutions, can be found in many cities:

  • Is the transit system and any zones or distance-based fare organized around trips to and from a core area?
  • What is the granularity of zones or of distance increments, and are they a holdover from the complexity of fare calculations in the era before GPS and smart cards?
  • How long is one “trip” in time or space? When should a new fare be charged?
  • Are transfers free, or provided as a surcharge, or simply not available between some or all routes and modes in a network?
  • What is the relative cost of single fares and various discount levels?
  • Who is entitled to how great a discount?
  • Is the regional (usually rail) network truly integrated in the local fare structure, or is it separate?
  • Do fare calculations require some form of “tap off” to establish trip length?
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TTC Service Changes Sunday, February 14, 2021

There will be few service changes in February 2021 in anticipation of the reassignment of bus services with the opening of McNicoll Garage at the end of March.

Weekday service will be trimmed in response to passenger demand on the following routes:

  • 2 Bloor-Danforth
  • 509 Harbourfront
  • 510 Spadina
  • 512 St. Clair

The 9 Bellamy and 913 Progress Express routes will be changed to operate via Progress Avenue. Bellamy buses will no longer serve stops on McCowan Road, Corporate Drive and Consilium Place (these are served by other routes).

The service changes are summarized in the table linked below.

2021.02.14 Service Changes (ver 3)

The project list has been updated to reflect construction on various parts of the streetcar system as announced by the TTC. This includes:

  • Overhead and station construction work on the east end of 506 Carlton.
  • Overhead reconstruction on various parts of 501 Queen.
  • The King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles project.
  • Reconstruction of Dundas West Station Loop including expansion of streetcar platforms.

Between the construction projects and the reduced streetcar service, the peak scheduled streetcars now number only 126 (AM) and 127 (PM). Out of a fleet of 204 cars, this leaves a lot of room for “maintenance spares”. We must hope that when the TTC puts the entire network back together again late in 2021 that they will have enough working cars to operate it.

In spite of the considerable surplus of streetcars, there are still bus trippers scheduled on 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton.

The bus fleet will operate at less than capacity with a scheduled peak service of 1,520 vehicles compared to the garage capacity of 1,675 and a fleet size of over 2,000. Run-as-directed (RAD) buses are not included in this total, although there are fewer of them now that “regular” service levels have been restored on many routes.

The project list also includes some items for 2022 from the City of Toronto’s map of planned construction work, TOInview. This includes:

  • Completion of the KQQR project from Queen to Dundas (stop modifications).
  • Reconstruction of Broadview Station Loop. The status of a proposed expansion of streetcar platforms is not yet known.
  • Track construction on College from Yonge to Bathurst, and at the intersection of Church & Carlton. Whether the TTC will add curves in the southeast quadrant here to simplify diversions is not yet known. In a previous project at Broadview & Gerrard, the “institutional memory” forgot that there were plans to add a north-to-west curve, and a once in 25 year opportunity was missed.
  • Replacement of the intersection of King & Shaw.
  • Reconstruction of Adelaide Street from Charlotte to Yonge. It is not yet clear whether this will only involve the removal of long-inactive track or the restoration of Adelaide as an eastbound bypass for King and Queen service between Spadina and Church.

A Curious Study of Fare Options

Updated January 29, 2021: The reference to Metrolinx fare integration studies has been updated to include a link to their late 2017 Draft Business Case and to my commentary on it.

The TTC has a study underway to look at future fare options that will lead, in about a year’s time, to a Five Year Fare Policy and Ten Year Outlook.

The study includes a questionnaire seeking feedback about what people would like to see in a new fare system. Curious fellow that I am, I took the study to see what questions might be posed, and whether there was any inherent bias in the options offered.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the list of things I might prioritize as a new way to spend fare revenue.

What is mind-boggling is the presence of four topics that are clearly part of the capital, not the operating budget, and which are never funded from the farebox:

  • Accessibility: New elevators, etc.
  • New vehicles
  • Critical repairs: All items shown in the list above are capital repairs.
  • Extending routes or building new ones: With the exception of bus routes where there is little infrastructure, these are substantial, multi-year commitments of capital often with subsidies from other governments.

Of particular note here is that the dollar value of each type of work is not shown, and so a respondent has no way to know what the effect on fares would be if these items were charged to fare revenue.

For example, in the 2020 Budget year, before the pandemic slashed ridership and revenues, the anticipated farebox take was $1.25 billion. This is less than the total capital spending, some of which is not yet funded, in each year for the coming decade. A big rise in fares would be required to make a substantial contribution to capital.

To put this in context, a five per cent fare increase (taking the adult Presto fare from $3.20 to $3.36 with proportionate increases in other fares) would generate about $62.5 million per year (with no allowance for lost ridership due to the higher cost).

The City’s property tax bill for 2021 includes a 1.5 per cent increase for John Tory’s City Building Fund, and this tax will increase at an additional 1.5 per cent each year to 2025. The new revenue it will generate in 2021 is estimated at about $50 million. This fund is intended to underwrite over $7 billion worth of the City’s share of various transit and housing projects. Most if not all of the projected funding is already allocated.

Is the TTC considering fare increases that would help fund the Capital Budget, and if so, how much do they hope to raise? What type of projects might be funded out of this new revenue stream?

Even more critically, what operational improvements such as better service would not be funded because fare revenue was paying for things like new signal systems and vehicles?

Two other topics also beg the question of just what riders are expected to pay for out of the farebox:

  • Fare Equity
  • Fare and Service Integration (Regional)

These are noble goals, but they should be funded from general revenues as City and Provincial priorities, not by taxing riders with a fare increase.

Many riders complain today that service in parts of the network is crowded and unreliable, but the TTC claims to be operating service at close to historic levels. Moreover, the classic TTC claim is that service levels are bounded by the size of the fleet. Both of these are not entirely true.

  • Because the traditional peak periods have yet to return on most routes, service operates at lower than historic levels.
  • The total scheduled peak vehicles (see table below) is well below the size of the fleet.
    • In the case of the streetcars, this is partly due to construction projects and to major vehicle overhauls that take advantage of reduced vehicle needs during 2021.
    • In the case of the buses, the requirements include the replacement of streetcars on some routes, but these vehicles will become available as construction projects wind down later in 2021. Even allowing for this, the fleet is substantially bigger than would be needed for industry-standard maintenance allowances.
Source: TTC Scheduled Service Summary, January 3, 2021

The bus fleet now numbers over 2,000 vehicles, and there are 204 streetcars. Buses required to substitute for streetcars are:

  • 501 Queen: 46
  • 504 King: 19
  • 505 Dundas: 8 (*)
  • 506 Carlton: 22 (*)
  • Total: 95

(*) Of the 30 buses on Dundas and Carlton, 12 of them also serve as trippers on bus routes.

The primary constraint on running more service is the provision of staff and the associated budget (or subsidy) to run more of the buses more of the time. There is some headroom for more “peak” period service, and outside of those few hours a day, there is much capacity for better service if only Toronto had the will to fund it. If new money is found anywhere for transit, that is where it should go. “Service” is what riders pay for.

Notable by its absence from the survey is any mention of a new fare system based on the distance travelled. Various proposals have floated from quarters such as Metrolinx and the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

Although Metrolinx has not shown its hand publicly, they are still set on imposing a distance-based model on the GTHA to entrench their view of how fares should be calculated. This fits nicely with the prevailing political wisdom of “user pay”, but it utterly ignores other policy goals for transit and the long-standing fare structures in local transit systems.

In the Metrolinx view, rapid transit lines are considered as “premium” services and should attract a higher fare just as GO trains do today. Short trips would pay a flat rate, but at roughly 10km, fares would increase proportionate to distance travelled. The two-hour transfer would almost certainly disappear. Such a scheme would make long trips within Toronto more expensive, and reinstate the penalty on a series of short-hop trips or “trip chaining”. The goal? Subsidize cross-border trips to and from the 905 regions.

Metrolinx presented three schemes back in early 2016, and prepared to launch public consultation, but that was short-lived. I wrote about this situation at the time:

A big problem in Metrolinx fare proposals was their hope for a “zero sum” solution where new revenues (from riders lured to transit by cheaper fares, and higher fares charged to some existing riders) would offset losses (from cheaper rides for some existing riders, and lost ridership from fare increases on some trips).

[Added January 29, 2021] By late 2017, Metrolinx published a Draft Business Case for fare integration exploring various alternative fare structures, and I reviewed this in The Bogus Case for Fare Integration. In this report, Metrolinx at least acknowledges that there are two options: one is the zero sum arrangement of 2016, and the other requires “investment” (read “subsidy”) to offset new, lower fares for those who are penalized by the existing arrangement.

In due course, work on this appeared to stop, but it has not been forgotten.

The Board of Trade’s scheme uses a zonal system that is designed to allow trips inside Toronto, as well as short trips across the 416/905 boundary, to be taken for one fare, while longer trips (e.g. inner 905 to central Toronto) would pay more, although less than today’s completely separate fare on each side of the boundary. In this scheme too the two-hour transfer would probably disappear.

The fundamental problem here is that none of this is discussed in the TTC’s fare study. One of the most important questions riders might be asked is not even in the survey, nor is there any discussion of what various potential new fare schemes would do to riders’ day-to-day costs.

The TTC risks conducting a grand study without discussing a critical effect of “regional integration”. The problem is compounded by muddying the question of fares with potential support for capital projects and policy options that should not be funded from day-to-day operating revenue.

Does the TTC Board, and behind them the City of Toronto, have a hidden agenda to stiff riders for the cost of system and fare policy improvements? Or is this simply a case where nobody is paying attention?

Measuring and Reporting on TTC Operations: Part I

The TTC reports on its overall performance through the monthly CEO’s Report. This document is rarely discussed in detail at Board meetings, and often is the underpinning for “good news” about how well the TTC is doing, not about how it could be even better.

Regular readers here know that I often despair over the quality of the metrics used in this report. A few months ago, during a Board meeting, CEO Rick Leary mentioned that the metrics in his report were to be updated. This article is the first in a series discussing of what might be done to improve things. Future articles will review practices in other major North American transit systems, as well as the state of TTC service seen through a more rigourous reporting standard.

The pandemic era fundamentally changed the environment where the TTC operates. Ridership is down, but demand for reliable service is as strong as ever because social distancing is a new requirement. In past years, riders might complain about crowding, but this could be fobbed of with the usual excuses that things were not too bad on average – in any event, we could not improve service because either we had too few vehicles or too little budget room to operate more.

Plans were always tailored to available subsidy funding and the on-and-off-again political desire to “improve” transit by freezing fares. In spite of repeated requests from some TTC Board members, staff would never produce an aspirtional budget showing how much it would cost to plan for overall service improvement beyond a minimal level. That was the approach in the Ridership Growth Strategy, now almost two decades old, and hard fought-for in its time.

Today, a crowded bus represents more than an inconvenience – riders see crowding as a safety issue in this pandemic era.

Looking ahead in 2021 and beyond, there is a potential for resurging transit demand at a time when government support for emergency funding could wane. This could force cutbacks just at a time when transit needs to at least hold its own, if not improve.

The TTC reports superficial measures of its service that do not tell us much about rider experiences even though that is the “shop window” of the transit business. Far too few data are reported at a granular level where the variation in experiences is evident. Little data is available online for review, and much of that is not up to date.

The Tyranny of Averages

Riders do not consume “average” service. Getting to work on time, on average, is not an option. Riders have to assume that the service will be bad and build padding to compensate into their plans.

Riders usually board the first vehicle that shows up after an indeterminate wait compounded by potential crowding. Even if they allow for irregular service, they have no control over whatever shows up day-by-day. Both the physical environment and the need to be somewhere on time can add anxiety to their journey.

Many routes and trips are not crowded, considered on an all route, all day basis, but some are. A major problem here is how we count things.

If we count crowded buses, we might find that, over the day, ten percent of vehicles are crowded. However, there are more passengers on those buses and so the experience of crowding affects proportionately more riders. The same applies to long waits before a trio of buses appears at a stop. The “average” service might match the scheduled buses/hour, but the true experience is of a long wait followed by a crowded journey.

This is the basic reason why management can claim that “on average” service is pretty good, even in these difficult times, while riders complain bitterly that it is not. Service metrics are needed to reveal the variations, how often and how badly the TTC misses its targets, as well as the number of affected riders.

Big Data vs Big Reports

Over the decades, the CEO’s Report (formerly the Chief General Manager’s Report reflecting the position’s earlier title) varied in volume and complexity. This depended on the interests of the then-sitting Board and the style of the then-current management. For a time, it included detailed project status reports on everything from major subway construction all the way down to routine system repairs, but with no interpretive summary to flag problem areas.

Only the most dedicated would read every page, and the report accomplished its objective of appearing to inform while overwhelming with raw detail. Much more information was available about capital project status than day-to-day operations.

At the other extreme, performance data are consolidated to a level where Board members can digest them, but with a loss of detail.

In our time of Big Data, there is a danger of information overload. Readers who follow my route performance analyses know of the volume of charts and data published here, and those are only the tip of a very large iceberg. Nobody would read a monthly description of every route.

The point should not be to read all of the detail, but to have a summary that flags problem areas with the detailed information as a backup. If the same problems show up every day, they are systemic issues, not ones caused by occasional disruptions. The Board should know about them and about what management is doing to correct and improve affected areas. This is Management 101.

From an accountability viewpoint, riders and politicians are interested in their route, in their wards, but those responsibile for the entire system should be able to verify that overall behaviour is not consolidated beyond recognition into a meaningless average. This requires two important changes in how performance data are presented:

  • The granularity of analyses in time and space (e.g. by route and location) must be sufficient that it can be related to the experience of a rider making a specific trip at a specific time.
  • Exception reporting of problem areas should flag these for action and be tracked in overviews like the CEO Report, but the detail should be available online on a timely basis.

Those points as written are aimed at service reliability, but can easily apply with modifications to areas such as equipment and infrastructure.

Why Do We Measure?

The reasons for measuring things are summed up in this quotation from an extensve report on the subject that is now close to two decades old:

Agencies collect … measures to help identify how well service is being provided to their customers, the areas where improvement may be needed, and the effects of actions previously taken to improve performance. In these cases, agencies use performance measures to help provide service as efficiently as possible, monitor whether agency and community goals are being met, and—over time—improve service so that it attracts new riders. Changes in policy, procedures, and planning can result from an understanding and appraisal of certain measures.

… [D]ecision-making bodies, such as transit boards and funding bodies, need to have access to accurate information to help them make decisions on where and when service should be provided and to support actions designed to improve performance. The public is also interested in knowing how well service is being provided and may need convincing that transit provides a valuable service, for them, for someone they know, or for the community as a whole.

Performance measurement data provide transit agency management with objective assessments of current circumstances, past trends, existing concerns, and unmet needs.

A Guidebook for Developing a Transit Performance-Measurement System, Transportation Research Board, 2003, p. 4

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that I have not mentioned financial issues like fares, subsidies, cost control and “efficiency”. Too many transit discussions start with the question “how can we reduce costs” before asking “what quality do we want and are we providing it”. However, if the publicly reported data are spotty and do not address specifics rather than general averages, any political discussion of funding will be hobbled.

What might be “efficient” transit service depends on our goals, and use of that term typically implies that there is some way to do more with less, and that we should aim lower. “Good service” may not be viewed as a public good in some political circles except when the time comes to woo voters.

Finally, we must beware of metrics that allow management to “game the system” by hitting easy targets, or by measuring and reporting in a way that puts them in the best possible light.

Objectivity is another aspect of reliability. Those involved in developing measures, obtaining data, and analyzing performance should not permit their self-interests to affect the accuracy of the results. Performance measures should not be selected on the basis of which measures will make the agency look good and avoided where those performance measures make an agency look bad. Rather, selection of performance measures should be based on how accurately and fairly those measures assess agency performance and whether they can be used as a tool to measure goal achievement.

TRB, op. cit., p. 13
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