At its meeting of July 14, 2022, the TTC Board received a Green Bus Update. By the time a contract is awarded later this year, it will be almost five years since the TTC began this process.
Among the issues not yet resolved are the status of various potential vendors, the degree to which the head-to-head comparison of buses will actually influence product selection, and the financial arrangements in the short and long term for a major shift in bus propulsion technology.
In a recent article, I reviewed route-level ridership data cited in the 2023 Annual Service Plan as well as the 2019-2021 numbers posted on the TTC’s Planning web page.
During debate at the July 14 TTC Board meeting, an issue came up about the unexpectedly poor performance during the pandemic era of 25 Don Mills. This got me thinking about how the “results” could be influenced by when counts were done and particularly on routes that have both express and local branches under different route numbers.
To explore this, I recast the 2019-2021 stats in tables with and without the express 9xx routes consolidated into their local equivalents.
First, here are the stats with the local and express routes separate. The gallery below contains the first set of routes, but the complete list is in the following pdf. The data here are the same as presented in the previous article, but reformatted for easier browsing.
The three express/local routes on these sample pages show the differing effects.
% Recov 2020
% Recov 2021
In all three cases, the express service did not operate in 2020, and so all of the riding, such as it was, occurred on the local route number. This inflated the apparent ridership retention of the local route over the actual level on the corridor considering the two routes as one operation.
The effect was so strong on Dufferin that its local recovery rate went down slightly in 2021 because growing demand on the corridor was not enough to offset the shift of riders back to the express service.
The moral of the story here is that looking at stats in isolation can lead to incorrect conclusions if the underlying network and service plan are not taken into account. This applies to simplistic rankings such as “top 20” and “bottom 20” that can exclude routes with almost identical performance. A better metric would be the collection of all routes above or below a certain recovery rate.
Politicians who fund and, nominally, direct transit systems love easy-to-understand metrics that often hide or even distort what is going on. I will turn to TTC measurement indices and standards in a future article.
The real estate industry, their acolytes and even the affordable housing advocate went into meltdown when the 2022 update to the Development Charges landed at Toronto’s Executive Committee. This proposal was approved recently by City Council, but with a few carve outs such as exempting certain types of housing (up to 4 dwellings on a lot) from these charges.
The main trigger for the uproar was that the new DCs are much higher than those they replaced. With transit being the primary driver of this increase, it is worth understanding how DCs work and what the new charges will and won’t fund.
First, a comparison of the base data for the 2018 and 2022 reports. The tables below are in almost the same format making comparison easy.
The important column is on the right end of both charts “Total DC Eligible Costs for Recovery”. The total in 2018 was $9.3 billion while in 2022 it is $14.7 billion.
Yes, we are still paying for the Spadina Subway which gets its very own line in the table, and the Sheppard line shows up in the details under “Transit (Balance)”. Large increases lie in:
Transit, about $2 billion
Roads, about $1.2 billion
Housing Services, about $1 billion
Parks & Recreation, about $550 million
Some lines go up by a lot proportionately, but the dollar amount is comparatively low. For example, Pedestrian Infrastructure went from $15.7 million to $52.8 million, over triple, but the actual dollars pale by comparison with transit.
A major difference between 2018 and 2022 is the proportion of total costs recovered from subsidies and contributions from other parties.
In the 2018 DC calculation a grand total of $43.5 billion gross was reduced by $14.1 billion to a net value of $29.4 billion.
In the 2022 DC calculation, a grand total of $66.9 billion gross is reduced by $19.8 billion to a net value of $47.2 billion.
The increase in gross figures, 54 percent, is much higher than the increase in recoveries through subsidies and other revenue, 40 percent. This causes a disproportionate growth in the net of 61 percent.
Where Do Those Numbers Come From?
The background study that recommends new Development Charges starts with a list of every capital project in the City. The TTC has the biggest capital budget, even with some major projects taken over by the province, and it therefore generates the biggest part of the DC tithe.
For each project some costs are included and others are excluded. The headings on the charts above show the breakdown:
Net Project Cost: The cost of the project borne by the City after deducting provincial and federal subsidies and contributions by others (for example, York Region’s contribution to the Spadina Subway). (The gross costs for those who are interested are in the detailed tables.)
Replacement: Costs to replace existing infrastructure (such as new buses that replace old ones) are not eligible for DCs because this cost does not address growth, only worn out assets.
Benefit to Existing (BTE) Share: Demand that would rise if the improvements were already in place determines the portion of the benefit that is not due to new development.
DC Reserves: Some groups of projects did not manage to spend all of the money collected for them, and this sits in a carry over reserve offsetting new charges.
Other Development Related: Some costs are deferred to future rounds of DCs as reflecting the value of a project like a new subway line well beyond the five year cycle of DC updates.
The BTE share is calculated from existing and projected ridership (see below).
Looking at the 2022 chart above, of the $47.2 billion in net project costs, only $14.8 billion will be recovered in the current period from DCs. (The gross cost, by the way, is $66.9 billion.) This does not include provincial projects like the Ontario Line and Scarborough Subway which are no longer on the TTC’s books. It also does not include much of the Green Bus plan because that is mostly replacing existing buses, not adding to the fleet for ridership growth.
The TTC Board held its last scheduled meeting of the current term on July 14. Barring an emergency requiring a special meeting, the next regular meeting will follow reconstitution of the Board after the municipal election in the Fall.
Some items on the agenda have already been covered in previous articles:
The CEO’s Report contains many charts purporting to show the operation of the system. Unfortunately some of these hide as much as they tell by giving a simplistic view of the system.
I have already written about the wide discrepancy between actual short turning of vehicles and the reported number. A distortion this major calls into question the accuracy and honesty of other metrics in the report.
In a future article, I will turn to the appropriateness of various metrics, but here are some key areas:
Averages do not represent conditions riders experience. Data that are consolidated across hours, days, locations and routes hide the prevalence of disruptions. Service that is fairly good on average can be terrible for riders who try to use it at the wrong time.
Values for some metrics are reported with capped charts that show only that a target is met, but not by how much it was exceeded. This gives no indication of the room to improve the target value, nor of the variation that could make a higher target difficult to achieve consistently.
Reliability is shown only for vehicles that actually operate in service, but there is no measure of actual fleet utilization and the headroom for service growth using available buses, streetcars and subway trains.
In discussion of the report, Commissioner Carroll noted that the TTC still has a problem with on time performance for streetcars. CEO Rick Leary replied that there is an On Time Performance team who are looking at details including recognition that there are three types of routes: those that run well, those affected by construction and those with other problems.
Carroll replied that people are quick to complain about King Street and wondering why they are still waiting for the 504. The TTC says that construction is the reason, but do they have a strategy to deal with bunching and communicate with riders. Management replied that they have strategies for keeping riders informed during planned diversions, but for unplanned emergencies there are service alerts. Changes are coming and service should improve.
This discussion was frustrating to hear because, first off, the central part of 504 King between Dufferin and Parliament is not affected by construction. Only the outer ends in Parkdale/Roncesvalles and on Broadview have (or had until recently) bus shuttles. As for keeping riders informed, irregular service plagues all routes in the system as I have documented in articles here many times. The problem is line management, or the absence of it.
On another topic, Carroll noted that the TTC seems to have a lower standard for the condition of stations than it does for vehicles, or at least tracks the latter at more detail. Leary replied that a summer blitz using student workers will scrub down all stations to bring the system back to a better quality for riders returning in the Fall.
There will be a small number of changes on July 31 for the schedule period running through to the Labour Day weekend.
Line 2 Service Improvement
Service on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth will be improved during all operating periods, notably off-peak and weekends. This will not fully restore pre-pandemic levels on the route, but should reduce crowding that has become a problem over past weeks.
King & Sumach Track Repairs
The intersection of King and Sumach (the point where the Distillery line branches off) will be rebuilt in an attempt to reduce noise and vibration.
During this work, all 504 King service will operate to Broadview Station via Parliament and Queen Streets. The 503 Kingston Road route will also use this diversion.
A shuttle bus will operate to provide access to the Distllery, and it will also provide coverage for the 506 Carlton line during construction at Church Street (see below).
Church & Carlton Track Repairs
The intersection of Carlton and Church will be rebuilt as part of the regular maintenance program. This work will not include the addition of missing curves in the southeast quadrant.
506 Carlton service will divert around construction via Parliament, Dundas and Bay both ways. A replacement bus service will operate from Spadina Station to the Distillery District. The map below shows a proposed alignment for this service. This is subject to change depending on possible modifications to turn restrictions due to construction at College & Yonge.
Running times on 32 Eglinton West will be adjusted to provide for delays due to the Line 5 Crosstown Extension construction, as well as to restore covid-era service cuts.
A planned reconstruction of the terminal at Kipling Station will require consolidation of loading areas and move of some routes to stops outside of the station. This project has been deferred to 2023, but a schedule change to support this work was already in the pipeline for the coming period. The 40 Junction and 49 Bloor West routes will be interlined.
Route 172 Cherry Beach will shift from “Old” Cherry Street to the “New” street across the future path of the Don River between Commissioners Street and the Ship Channel. Buses will use Old Cherry Street north of Commissioners Street, then jog west to New Cherry Street to cross the new river course.
Route 174 Ontario Place weekend and holiday service was dropped in June due to conflicting activities at the CNE and Ontario Place grounds. This change is now officially in the schedules.
Details of the new service levels are in the spreadsheet linked below.
Reconstruction of Russell Carhouse will begin both to make it fully compatible with the Flexity fleet, to improve the quality of yard paving and convert the overhead system for pantograph operation.
In the first phase of this work, the site’s capacity will be reduced to 28 cars including spares. Only the 504 King service will operate from the yard. Here is the new allocation of routes to the three carhouses.
Note that the maximum number of cars in service is well below the fleet of 204. Bus substitutions on portions of 501 Queen, 504 King and 506 Carlton will continue through the balance of 2022.
As the work at Russell progresses, the capacity of the site will change.
Of particular interest in the restoration of service to the transit network is the fact that recovery has been underway in some locations and times much more strongly than others. This corresponds to the difference in areas where work or study-from-home replaced commuting to an office or school. Maps in the previous article showed the top and bottom 20 routes for ridership relative to pre-pandemic levels in Spring 2020 (the point of lowest ridership) and in Fall 2021. For convenience, they are repeated here.
These ranking are by percentage of pre-pandemic ridership with no reference to absolute numbers. The busiest routes by ridership are shown in the maps below. This presentation inevitably displays the long routes which have a large number of boardings. Short routes like 65 Parliament may have recovered a large proportion of their demand, but the base number is necessarily small because of their smaller service territory.
This shows the danger of looking at absolute numbers out of a context such as riders per route kilometre (in effect, the density of demand), not to mention possible variations in the level of demand and boarding patterns along a long route.
Note: Calculations behind the charts in the original version of this article include a methodology problem. Short turn counts for vehicles crossing two screenlines (such as eastbound on Queen at Coxwell and at Woodbine) were distorted when these events did not occur in the same hour. Other problems included double counting of cars that looped twice at a short turn point (e.g. College Loop), and cars that were entering service via a loop being counted as short turns.
Changes in the text are shown by highlighting of the new version. All charts have been replaced.
My apologies for any confusion, but the charts used here avoid the potential confusion of values shown originally.
One of the many annoyances of trying to use transit service is to discover that your bus or streetcar has been “short turned”, that is to say, will not reach the destination advertised. This might happen before you board so that an arrival prediction turns out to be for a streetcar you can’t use, or as a “surprise” when the operator gets on the PA to announce that Transit Control wants to short turn the car.
This has been a problem for as long as I have been involved in advocacy for better transit service.
TTC Board members and Councillors hear about this problem a lot, and they in turn beat on management to eliminate the practice. This can produce unwanted side effects, notably the padding of schedules so that it is almost impossible, at least in theory, for a car to be late and, therefore, short turns should not be required.
Alas it is not quite that simple. Short turns occur for various reasons including schedule issues, crew change timing, major delays/diversions and “operational problems”, that catch-all phrase covering everything from a stuck door to a plague of locusts. (Some explanations for transit service problems have been with us so long they have taken on an almost Biblical character.)
Meanwhile, the CEO’s Report happily tells us every month that short turns are a thing of the past, that they are so rare that it might not even be worth tracking them as a service metric.
The big drop in the metric in spring 2019 coincides with a point where a “no short turn” edict was issued by the CEO. This is not really practical as there are many bona fide reasons for short turning vehicles, but the numbers obediently went down and have stayed down.
Regular riders, however, might choose to differ in their day-to-day observations.
Since 2019, we have come through the pandemic era when a great deal of traffic congestion and ridership disappeared. For a time, the type of event that would disrupt service was comparatively rare. However, with “normal” conditions returning, service is no longer insulated by these effects.
In my own travels, I routinely encounter streetcars that are not going to their scheduled destinations. Let me be the first to say that I understand the need for short turns, but am rather amazed that the reported counts stay very close to zero. This simply does not match actual experience. A short turn is a short turn, regardless of why it is required.
The question, then, is how to count these events reasonably easily without standing on street corners clipboard in hand. Vehicle tracking data that I already receive from the TTC’s Vision system (and which drives the many arrival prediction apps) provides a simple mechanism.
In this article I will review several common streetcar short turn locations to see what is actually happening.
If readers have specific bus routes and locations they would like to see, please leave your request in the comments.
Note: The charts in this article include a methodology problem. Short turn counts for vehicles crossing two screenlines (such as eastbound on Queen at Coxwell and at Woodbine) are distorted when these events do not occur in the same hour. This article has been replaced with a revised version, but I am leaving the original here for reference.
Service quality and reliability are, as regular readers here know, central to many of my critiques of the TTC.
Whether a route is short or long, busy or not, the TTC seemed incapable of accepting much less addressing service problems. For years, long before the pandemic, riders have complained about long, unpredictable waits and crowded buses, but the answer has always been that things really are not that bad. This is demonstrably not true.
The TTC relies on metrics based on averages, not on individual vehicle behaviour and this masks the wide variation in rider experience. 26 Dupont is an infrequent route with few riders, and it does not figure in the high end of the TTC’s attentions.
We have been through two years where the pandemic and the need to keep something, anything running took precedence. Now, with the hoped-for recovery, the TTC must address long standing problems that predate covid.
Looking ahead to their 2023 Service Plan, the TTC will attempt to deal with this issue as it is essential to improving transit’s attractiveness and luring riders onto the system.