TTC Announces Capital Spending Plan For City Building Fund

The TTC has released a report detailing its planned spending of the newly-allocated funds from Toronto’s City Building Fund. This will be discussed at the TTC Board meeting on January 27, and will go to Toronto Council for incorporation in the 2020-2029 Capital Budget.

Major changes in capital spending include:

  • A return to renewing and upgrading Line 2 Bloor-Danforth as a project for the current decade. This work had been postponed thanks to a lack of funding and, until recently, was replaced with a proposed overhaul of the existing T1 fleet aimed at an eventual lifespan of 40 years. Replacement of the 1960s-era signal system with Automatic Train Control (ATC) has also been restored so that new trains, not to mention the Scarborough extension, can operate under modern technology within this decade.
  • Additional funding for capacity enhancement on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina.
  • A large commitment to bus purchases including electric vehicles.
  • Partial renewal of the Wheel-Trans bus fleet.
  • Purchase of 20 new streetcars.

Three quarters of the newly-available funding goes to subway renewal, and even then, the subway projects will require additional money to be completed. Many items in the TTC’s 15 Year Capital Plan remain unfunded, and there are obvious opportunities for generous governments to come to the table and fund aspects of the plan.

Line 2 Renewal

When the TTC deferred the projects associated with Line 2 Renewal, they created a potential collapse of that route thanks to aging vehicles and infrastructure. The T1 trains serving Line 2 were delivered between 1995 and 2001, and replacement of them should have begun in the mid-2020s corresponding to their 30 year design life. The alternative plan to extend this by 10-years depended on an as-yet unproven major overhaul. If the TTC has learned anything from its experience with the streetcar fleet, there are limits to the new life that can be breathed into old equipment especially if the overhaul is more cosmetic than a thorough replacement of technical components.

The other major component of Line 2 Renewal is the replacement of the signal system which dates from the mid 1960’s. If this did not get underway within the coming decade, the TTC could be left with a 65 year old signal system on Line 2 and all of the reliability problems that represents as we know from experience on Line 1. The non-ATC territory on Line 1 dates from the early 1950s (from Eglinton south) to the early 1970s (north to Finch), and problems with this technology are a common source of delays. (ATC will be extended “around the U” from St. Patrick to Queen Station within the first quarter of 2020, and the section from Queen to Rosedale will follow later in the year. Completion to Finch is scheduled for 2022.)

An important factor in plans for Line 2 is the timing of the Scarborough Extension originally planned for 2026, but now pushed out to 2029-30 in Provincial plans. This extension should be built and operated with modern trains and signalling technology, but deferral of the Line 2 Renewal would have meant that the extension to Sheppard would have to be built with provision for co-existence of old and new trains and signalling. This is precisely the sort of plan that complicated the Vaughan extension which, astoundingly, did not include ATC in its original design.

The plan now calls for 62 new trains for Line 2 for delivery between 2026 and 2030. This is a full replacement for the existing fleet and considerably exceeds the 46 peak trains now required for the line even allowing for 20% spares making provision for future growth. There is also the matter of additional trains for the Scarborough extension, although these should be funded by Ontario as part of that project. Whether they actually will be is another matter.

The money allocated from the City Building Fund will only pay for one third ($458 million) of the anticipated cost of the new trains. This is a clear invitation for joint funding from other governments.

The T1 fleet will receive a minor overhaul necessary to extend its life until the new trains arrive.

There is an odd description of this project in the report’s recommendations:

$458 million, representing approximately 1/3 of the 10-year cost for 62 trains, to replace the legacy fleet of T1 trains on Line 2 required for delivery in 2026 through 2030, and which will require an additional $122 million to fund the 1/3 cost between 2030 and 2034. [p 3]

It is not clear whether all of the trains are supposed to arrive in Toronto by 2030 (which would fit with the completion of ATC conversion and opening of the Scarborough extension), or in later years as the funding described above implies. The yearly spending breakdown clearly shows the majority of the spending on new Line 2 trains beyond 2029, and this does not fit with the renewal plans. (See chart at the end of the article.)

The ATC project for Line 2 now lies in the same period as the delivery of new Line 2 trains so that by 2030 the trains, the signals, and the extended subway are all running up-to-date technology.

Line 2 will also require a new carhouse on land that the City of Toronto is acquiring (or may already have bought) southwest of Kipling Station, the old Obico Yard. The plan provides for acquisition and design, but not yet construction which is unfunded.

Greenwood Shops will require changes to host new 6-car trains similar to the TRs now operating on Line 1. Originally, the plan was for this yard to be the carhouse for the Relief Line as well as for some of the work car fleet. The detailed plans for Greenwood are not included in this report.

Other funding for Line 2 includes a variety of projects in the state of good repair category that were previously unfunded, but most importantly the upgrade of the power supply system which needs both modernization and additional capacity for projected extra load from more trains.

Even with all of the new money, there is still a funding gap to complete all of the work that has been identified.

Line 1 Renewal and Upgrades

The existing TR fleet serving Line 1 does not require replacement within the timeframe of the Capital Plan, but more trains are needed to provide additional capacity on the route. The report allocates $165 million to one third of the cost of 18 trains to be delivered in 2026-2027. Again, this is a clear budget provision for other governments to come to the table with funding.

The compete conversion to ATC in 2022 will allow a reduction in round trip time on Line 1 so that the existing fleet can provide slightly more frequent service, but the proposed additional trains will allow full exploitation of ATC’s capabilities.

This, however, triggers capacity problems with stations, notably at Bloor-Yonge but also at major stations downtown where the flow of passengers to and from platforms will increase with more frequent service. As on Line 2, there is a need to upgrade power supply systems both to bring infrastructure up-to-date and to provide added capacity for more frequent service.

Also, as on Line 2, there is a gap between the funding allocated and the total cost of various projects.

Line 1 will require a new subway yard, and the TTC proposes to acquire land for it in York Region and design the facility. Why this is part of the Toronto City Building Fund spending is a mystery.

Line 4 ATC

The plan include provision of ATC on Line 4 Sheppard. The trains there are ATC-capable, but software changes are required for the 4-car consists to move over the rest of the subway system which is designed for 6-car trains. This becomes an issue once ATC on Line 1 extends north of Davisville Yard where Line 4 trains are serviced.

Buses

The plan allocates $772 million to the purchase of buses and associated infrastructure:

  • $686 million for the procurement of 614 of the estimated 1,575 new buses required over the next decade.
  • $64 million for eBus charging stations at garages.
  • $22 million for the purchase of 232 Wheel-Trans buses of the estimated 498 required.

As with the subway projects, the bus projects require additional funding. There is a further problem in that the existing fleet will reach its retirement age, and without full funding, the number of vehicles available for service will drop precipitously as shown in the chart below.

The TTC has not yet published a consolidated plan for the conversion of its bus garages and fleet from diesel/hybrid to full electric operation, and so we do not know what other capital requirements lurk in future years to complete this work.

Streetcars

The report retains the proposal from the 15 Year plan for 60 more streetcars, but as with many other aspects of the scheme, only allocated funding for one third of this project, or 20 cars. As with so much else in the report, this is a clear invitation for participation by other governments.

These 20 cars would take the TTC to the limit of what it can handle with existing carhouses, and so this avoids the need to include funding in the current plan for the renovation of Harvey Shops at Hillcrest as a fourth carhouse. That will be an incremental cost if an order for streetcars rises beyond 20.

20 cars would bring the total fleet to 224 assuming that the warranty repairs on the existing fleet will be completed by the time new cars arrive. This would support a peak service of about 186 cars assuming 20% spares, or 26 cars more than the current peak streetcar service. This would allow full restoration of the streetcar system, but would not leave much room for improved service, and the remaining 40 cars in TTC plans should not be ignored, let alone another 40 projected for growth in the 2030 timeframe.

A related issue here is the status of the Waterfront LRT extensions east to Cherry and south to Villiers Island, as well as west to the Humber Bay. More cars will be required for these extensions and that will add to pressure for carhouse space.

Miscellaneous Subway Infrastructure

The plan includes considerable spending in the second half of the 2020s on state of good repair for subway infrastructure. This relieves a looming problem where the subway could begin to fall apart through lack of maintenance and the attempt to worn-out equipment in service. The plan also accelerates work such as asbestos removal as part of overall efforts to improve subway air quality and as a prelude to structural renewal for the aging tunnels.

Overall Spending Plans

The chart below shows the overall capital plan including the detail of the subway infrastructure spending. This is not the total budget, only those portions paid for through the City Building Fund. The TTC’s shopping list for additional contributions is quite clear with many of these lines only partly funded from the CBF.

Indeed, there is an implicit assumption that many of these works can be launched with the expectation of more funding to come, a lot of which is not even required until after election cycles at all level of government. Will our future masters will be more inclined to fund transit?

TTC Waffles On Reduced Crowding

Following my recent article in NOW, the TTC replied to my request for clarification of their position on crowding and how it would be addressed in their 2020 budget.

The TTC’s Stuart Green emailed on Tuesday, January 21, 2020:

The increase of 89,211 hours is comprised of the initiatives outlined in [the] table on page 18 which are described below the table on page 18.

The comments on page 17 are referencing the fact that some of these hours have been provided to preserve service standards. The crowding standard in this case is an example. No statement was made that there would be a reduction in crowding. The hours for reliability initiatives are being added to address operating needs and thereby preserve existing standards as noted in the Improvements to Surface Transit Schedules report (June 2019). The report indicated that it “is not possible to bring all schedules that actually operate outside of the tolerances of service standards in line with them within existing funding.” The 2019 funding for service reliability was used to maintain a balance between providing a reliable and comfortable service.

Page 17/18 reflect the base budget additions only. Page 22, identifies a further $3.7M investment (classified under new & enhanced). These approximately 39,000 hours are additional to the hours presented in the table on page 18 and are aligned to the 5 year service plan.  The “priority action” from the deck is linked to this specific initiative. These hours will be added in stages throughout the year, primarily in May and September.

With all of these references to other reports, a guide is required to understand what is stated here. It all begins with those 89,211 service hours, part of the increase for 2020 over the 2019 total of 9.45 million hours. Service is budgeted in hours because that is the primary driver of costs, but hours are not affected by inflation allowing service to be planned and measured on a constant basis.

They first show up on pages 17-18 of the TTC’s 2020 Operating Budget Report:

A further $4.8 million and 88 TTC operators are required to deliver an increase in service hours, which is required to adhere to the TTC’s service standards so that no more than 51 passengers are accommodated per bus in peak periods and 36 in off peak periods. To adhere to these standards, an additional 89,211 scheduled operating service hours are proposed for 2020 and is described in greater detail in the Service Budget section below.

The following section includes a table setting out the build-up of the 89,211 hours:

None of the components listed here address bringing service into line with crowding standards. Over half of the added hours simply carries forward 2019 changes into 2020 on a full-year basis, and the next highest component is the provision for the Leap Year. “Operational Flexibility” refers to additional buses that are on standby to deal with gaps and emergencies. There is an offsetting saving due to the full implementation of the new streetcar fleet.

The TTC has previously reported that some routes are operating above its crowding standards, and the TTC acknowledged in 2019 that they could not operate within these standards using existing funding. The text quoted from the budget states that the 89,211 new hours are needed to adhere to the standards. This implies that improvements would correct past problems and limit the effects of ridership growth to stay within the standards. The table shows that in fact the hours would go to other purposes.

The point was reiterated in the presentation deck used at the Board meeting which included the bullet “Delivery of expected service standards” [p 13].

In previous conversations with Stuart Green, he has described this as a problem with editing, but his email is quite explicit that “No statement was made that there would be a reduction in crowding”.

A further 39,000 hours will be added in 2020 at a cost of $3.7 million. The purpose of this is described in the TTC’s Budget Report [p 22]:

Service Reliability

5 Year Service Plan: Improvements to Surface Transit Schedules

To improve on-time performance, which is crucial to customer satisfaction, surface transit schedules will be revised to reflect operating conditions and improve reliability for customers. This is consistent with the plan outlined in the 5 Year Service Plan and 10 Year Outlook, which was presented to the Board on December 12, 2019. In all, 1,000 weekly service hours will be added over the course of 2020 at an estimated cost of $3.7 million and is essential to fulfill our commitment to customers that we will improve service reliability on our bus network.

This is our “truth in advertising” promise – that the TTC’s bus will depart on time according to published schedule. To start, service will be added on 5 of the busiest and most operationally challenging corridors in the City including 29/929 Dufferin, 35/935 Jane, 39/939 Finch East, 37/937 Islington and the 86/986 Scarborough Routes. These improvements will benefit service for 175,000 customers per weekday.

On time performance is not the same thing as route capacity, especially when the TTC only measures this at terminals and does not achieve it even there. The schedule changes often brings wider headways, less frequent service, to routes as the allocated vehicles are stretched over longer scheduled round trips. Combined with gapping and bunching of buses and streetcars, this can make for worse service, not better, but it avoids running more buses and streetcars.

It is not clear whether the TTC expects that 2020 will continue the problem that available resources will not fund service across the network to meet the service standards. CEO Rick Leary has stated that a quarterly crowding report will be coming to the TTC Board this year, but if past experience is any indication, the TTC will report vehicle loads on an average hourly basis without also showing the effects of service gaps. Crowding could be improved with more-reliably spaced service, but there is nothing to indicate that this is part of the overall plan.

What is clear is that the TTC Budget Report claimed that new resources were going to address service standards as their sole purpose, not “some” or “as an example” as the TTC claims. However, only one page later, the same resources were allocated to other changes.

What we do not see is a dedicated, explicit plan to address crowding, nor any estimate of what will be needed to achieve this. New capital funding for a variety of state of good repair projects, not to mention vehicle purchases, brought much rejoicing to the TTC. However, without clear plans and funding to operate more service, riders will not see any improvement in their daily travels.

We’re Not Getting Our Ten Cents’ Worth

My latest for NOW on the subject of the pending fare increase and budget.

TTC’s 10-cent fare hike doesn’t buy much transit

On the subject of just how much new service we will see in 2020, when and where, I repeatedly asked the TTC for this information, and am still waiting as of 8:30 am January 20.

There is a related issue with the TTC’s claims of widespread service improvements in 2019. I will explore this in a future article here.

Toronto Budget 2020: More Transit Money, But How Will It Be Used?

The City of Toronto launched its 2020 budget process on January 10, 2020 with a presentation by senior management and a short question-and-answer session with some members of Toronto Council. At this point, the material was quite high level, including some management puffery, but the real meat of the budget lies in the departmental and agency Budget Notes to be discussed at meetings on January 15-17. The TTC budget will be discussed on January 17.

Useful links:

Major Issues

Much has been made of the City Building Fund and its rising property tax levy to finance substantial growth in the TTC and Housing capital budgets. The changes to the TTC’s ten year capital plan between its original launch in December 2019 and the version presented in the January 2020 Budget Note are detailed later in this article. Within those changes are two major categories:

  • It was only one year ago, that TTC management proposed, and the Board approved, a significant change in the timing of Line 2 Bloor-Danforth renewal pushing out the installation of Automatic Train Control, construction of a new yard and purchase of a new fleet by a decade. The new Capital Plan shifts this work back into the 2020s and better aligns with the timing of the Scarborough Subway Extension. It also removes a reliance on older technology whose longevity was uncertain, notably the signal system.
  • The original Capital Plan included no money for new vehicles beyond purchases now in progress. There is a new item for “Vehicles”, but this is not subdivided by mode. Significant spending is budgeted for 2022 and beyond. Expanding any of the fleets also triggers a need for garage/carhouse facilities and there is a substantial increase in the planned spending on facilities.

On the Operating budget, the changes are much more modest because the additional revenue mainly keeps up with inflationary pressures, but does not go beyond for an aggressive expansion of service.

The TTC plans to hire 88 more operators and has budgeted more service hours, but the purpose of this is described differently depending on which part of the budget report and presentation one reads/hears. In December 2019, the Operating Budget and its presentation talked of relieving overcrowding that placed some routes beyond the Service Standards. However, the same addition to the Service Budget is used to handle other factors and the list makes no mention of reduced crowding.

I await clarification from the TTC on this important issue – does the TTC plan to reduce crowding or not? Will they burn up new service hours mainly to pad schedules for better service “resiliency”, or will they actually add service on overcrowded routes?

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TTC Weekday Ridership From 1976 to 2018

For many years, publication of ridership data has been sporadic, and information on crowding appears even less frequently. A major problem has been the cost of acquiring information on a system-wide basis and staff cuts in the group that once performed this task manually. Even when data were published annually, the values for major routes such as 501 Queen did not change in each year because the resources needed to conduct a count on such a large, busy route were not always available. However, most vehicles now have automatic passenger counters and the amount of data on tap today has increased quite substantially.

Recently, the TTC published data for 2017 and 2018, bringing us more up-to-date than the 2014 tables. Those were more than a little stale, especially in an era when strong growth has been reported anecdotally and is clearly evident with the success of the King Street Pilot.

An important point about these counts: they measure riders who are actually on vehicles, not those who could not board nor those who gave up and took another route or mode. A badly needed companion report is a review of vehicle crowding by route and time of day, not to mention an evaluation of the interaction between uneven service and crowding.

One long-standing problem within the TTC is that there is an ongoing struggle between the very large “operations” side of the organization responsible for running service and the tiny “planning” group who look after things like schedules and riding counts. Operational metrics given monthly in the CEO’s report say almost nothing about service quality especially at a granular level experienced by riders. Simple targets and all-day averages mask what is really happening, and there are no real “standards” for how to measure service and crowding.

These are topics for another day. At least now we have comparatively current ridership data, and we must hope that they will now appear annually to better track the system’s evolution.

A troubling fact about the charts in this article is the number of routes and the areas of the city where riding has been stagnant or in decline for many years if not decades. There are areas of growth, but many of these can easily be linked with specific changes such as a new subway line, the growth of housing to the edges of the city, and more recently the growing population along the waterfront.

This is a system that is doing well in certain places, but has a malaise over many parts of its network. Years of making do with only marginal increases have taken their toll. Any Ridership Growth Strategy would do well to understand this situation, and address how or if those trends can be reversed.

The TTC published route-by-route ridership numbers, among other data, starting in 1976, although from 2006 onward, this did not happen regularly. The practice began in the early days of “Service Standards” when the growing level of political involvement in TTC affairs brought a concern that new and modified routes would arise not because they were the best use of resources, but because their advocates had “friends at court”. A fundamental problem was to compare existing and proposed services, and that required ridership counts.

Service Standards and the methodology behind evaluation of routes have changed over the years. The current version was adopted in May 2017 consolidating existing standards, policies and practices, reviewing standards used by other cities and incorporating information from rider surveys about what matters to them.

In December 2019, some changes were proposed to the existing standards, but these modifications are not yet reflected in the document linked above. See Appendix 3 of the following report for details.

A problem with technical standards is that they are meaningless without understandable, public data. The standards themselves are “board approved”, but this process does not guarantee that those voting to endorse them actually understand the tradeoffs built into the policy. Even worse, without regular reporting on how well the system meets the standards, there is the nagging sense that they exist more as a lofty goal than an actual bar against which riders can judge TTC performance.

Ridership and Boardings

When the TTC reports that it expects to carry 533.5 million “rides” in 2020, this number is a computed equivalent to fares dropped in a now-vanishing farebox. In the old days these were easy to count by processing coins, tokens and tickets. Even with Presto farecards, there is a count of “taps”, but even here the link to “rides” in the traditional sense is not what it was fifty years ago.

As riders moved to passes from single fares, the link between countable revenue and “rides” became less certain. More recently, the introduction of a two-hour fare replacing the byzantine TTC transfer rules allowed “trip chaining” where travel formerly considered as separate rides (each requiring its own fare) could be consolidated into fewer charges against a Presto card or ticket. The riders did not go away, but the ability to count them one by one from fare revenue no longer exists. Even before Presto, the TTC handled Metropass ridership by using rider surveys of travel patterns to determine the typical number of conventional token-based “trips” a passholder would take. This produced a conversion factor to translate between pass sales and “ridership”.

In recent years, the validity of this conversion fell under a cloud as some riders, those for whom a Metropass represented more of a convenience than an actual saving over single fares, migrated away from passes. They represented a paper “loss” falling from over 70 trips/month assumed for a pass to under 50 in single fares, but those 20 trips were rides they never actually took.

Meanwhile, the view of transit service seen by looking at vehicles showed that crowding was an increasing problem and this ran contrary to the revenue-based view that ridership was falling. Budget hawks care only about dollars, not about service or riders, and this remains a problem in an era where year-over-year municipal operating costs are supposed to be held at inflationary levels, but no more. Any new service or extraordinary cost increase is paid for by cutting something else. We will see how the TTC fares on that score when its 2020 budget comes before Council.

For the purpose of looking at demand on a route, the relevant measure is not fares collected, but “boardings”, or what planners call “unlinked trips”. In this view of the transit world, each change between vehicles counts as a new boarding even if no fare is paid. This eliminates the artificial linkage between revenue and measured demand. In the budget, TTC management notes that in recent years boardings were going up even while “ridership” was falling. This is a direct result of the change in how ridership is calculated and, more recently, of the amount of travel a rider can purchase for one fare.

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Streetcar Service During the CLRV Era

With the retirement of the CLRV fleet on December 29, 2019, this is a good time to look back at how service on the streetcar network has evolved during the lifetime of those cars.

When they first entered service on the Long Branch route in September 1979, the new cars marked a real sign that Toronto was keeping its streetcar system.

Although Toronto decided to keep streetcars in late 1972, there was no guarantee that without renewal of the fleet and infrastructure the system could last very long. The last-built cars in the PCC fleet (the 4500s) dated to 1951 and, despite their simplicity compared to what we now call “modern” cars, they would not last forever. Second hand cars from other cities were older than the most recent “Toronto” cars. They were retired over the years even while the TTC undertook major overhauls on its own, younger fleet.

In 1980, the streetcar service was still dominated by PCCs as much of the CLRV order was still to come, and the ALRVs would not arrive until the late 1980s.

Yes, I know. What are all of those acronyms? Not every reader is a die-hard railfan with all of this information at their fingertips.

PCC: The President’s Conference Car was the product of work by a consortium of street railways to update streetcar design in competition with the rise of the private automobile. This was a large research project, especially for its time in the 1930s, and it produced a totally re-thought vehicle. The TTC was working with Hawker Siddeley on an updated PCC design in the mid-1960s, but nothing came of this thanks to a provincial fascination with new, high-tech transit. A license agreement for updated PCC patents held, in the 1960s, by the Czech manufacturer Tatra was never signed, and work on a new PCC for suburban routes stopped.

PCCs on King Street at Atlantic Avenue

CLRV: The Canadian Light Rail Vehicle. This car was designed partly by the TTC and partly by a provincial agency, the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation (later renamed as “Urban” to remove the explicit local reference). The design, from the Swiss Industrial Group (SIG), was very different from the car the TTC had worked on, but the UTDC needed a viable product after their magnetic-levitation project ran aground with technical difficulties. As a city streetcar, it was overbuilt in anticipation of high-speed suburban operation, notably in Scarborough. That scheme was supplanted by what we now know as the “RT”.

CLRV at High Park Loop

ALRV: The two section “Articulated” version of the CLRV was designed to run on heavy routes, notably the Queen car. These vehicles were never as reliable as the original CLRVs, and they were the first to be retired. At various times over the years, they ran on Queen, Bathurst and King.

An ALRV at “Old” Exhibition Loop

Flexity: This is the generic product name for Bombardier’s low-floor streetcars. It exists in many formats with Toronto’s version being designed to handle tight curves and steep grades. Delivery of the 204-car fleet was almost complete at the end of 2019.

Flexity on King Street at University Avenue

When the TTC decided to keep streetcars in 1972, they were still enjoying a long period of post-war ridership growth with constant expansion into the suburbs of bus and subway lines. Getting new riders was a simple task – just run more service. The downtown streetcar system was still bulging with riders thanks to a stable population and a robust industrial sector.

By 1980, however, the TTC hit something its management had not seen before, a downturn in ridership, thanks to the economic effect of the first Middle Eastern oil war and its effect on energy prices. Although the TTC continued to grow through the 1980s, a mindset of running just enough service to meet demand took over. This would be particularly unfortunate when the ALRVs entered service, and the new schedules merely replaced the capacity of former CLRV/PCC service on wider headways. With cars 50% bigger, the scheduled gap (headway) between cars increased proportionately. This combined with the TTC’s notoriously uneven service to drive away ridership, and the Queen car lost about a third of its demand.

The real blow came in the early 1990s with an extended recession that saw the TTC system lose 20% of its ridership falling from about 450 million to 360 million annual rides over five years. The effect was compounded when Ontario walked away from transit subsidies when the Mike Harris conservatives replaced the Bob Rae NDP at Queen’s Park.

The TTC planned to rebuild and keep a small PCC fleet to supplement the LRVs in anticipation of vehicle needs on the Spadina/Harbourfront line. However, when it opened in 1997 service cuts had reduced peak fleet requirements to the point that the PCCs were not required and the network, including 510 Spadina, operated entirely with CLRVs and ALRVs. This locked the TTC into a fleet with no capacity for growth, a situation that persisted for over two decades and which the new Flexity fleet has not completely relieved.

The combination of rising demand, in turn driven by the unforeseen growth of residential density in the “old” City of Toronto, and of commercial density in and near the core, leaves Toronto with unmet transit needs, latent and growing possibilities for transit to make inroads in the travel market, and a customer attitude that “TTC” means “Take The Car” if possible.

The problem with service inadequacy and unreliability extends well beyond the old city into the suburban bus network, but this article’s focus is the streetcar lines. I have not forgotten those who live and travel in what we used to call “Zone 2”, but the evolution of service on the streetcar system is a tale of what happens when part of the transit network does not get the resources it should to handle demand.

The evolution of service and capacity levels shown here brings us to the standard chicken-and-egg transit question about ridership and service. Without question there have been economic and demographic changes in Toronto over the years including the average population per household in the old city, the conversion of industrial lands (and their jobs) to residential, the shift of some commuting to focus outward rather than on the core, and the shift in preferred travel mode.

Where service has been cut, ridership fell, and it is a hard slog to regain that demand without external forces such as the population growth in the King Street corridor. The lower demand becomes the supposed justification for lower service and what might have been “temporary” becomes an integral part of the system. However, the level of service on any route should not be assumed to be “adequate for demand” because that demand so strongly depends on the amount of service actually provided.

This is a challenge for the TTC and the City of Toronto in coming decades – moving away from just enough service and subsidy to get by to actively improving surface route capacity and service quality.

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TTC Capital Budget 2020-2029 and 15 Year Plan (Updated)

Updated December 17, 2019 at 12:00 nn

This item has been updated to reflect actions taken at the TTC Board meeting of December 16 to accelerate decisions on priority projects in light of new funding that will be available through the Mayor’s proposed City Building Fund. The new information is in a postscript at the end of this article.

The link to the “Blue Pages” has been updated to point to a revised version that corrects formatting problems with some amounts in the table, and corrects the names of several budget lines. Among these was a line called “Purch 496 LF 40 ft Diesel Buses”. This has been revised to “Purchase Conventional Buses”. The section on “Buses” within the “Fleet Plan” has been revised to reflect this and include some information from discussion at the meeting

Introduction

At its meeting on December 16, 2019, the TTC Board will consider its Operating and Capital budgets for 2020. The Operating Budget was my subject in a previous article, and here I turn to the Capital Budget and 15 Year Plan. There are two related documents on the TTC’s website:

The TTC has various ways of presenting its capital budget and plans, and navigating these can be tricky for the uninitiated. There are:

  • The 15 Year Capital Investment Plan (CIP)
  • The 10 Year Capital Plan
  • The current year Capital Budget
  • Variations on the budget and plan that do not include “below the line” projects that have no committed funding
  • Estimated Final Costs (EFCs) for projects beginning within the 10 or 15 year window, but stretching beyond

For anyone making comparisons with the opaque budgets and plans at Metrolinx, that agency does not include inflation over a project’s life in cost projections, while the TTC does. The simple fact is that Toronto borrows real dollars to fund projects at then-current prices, not a some years-old notional cost. City financing plans must be based on future year spending at future prices.

The Capital Investment Plan

The Capital Investment Plan was introduced in January 2019 to bring some reality into capital planning that had been absent at the TTC, City and Provincial levels for years. In an attempt to make its future exposure to large capital expenses and possible borrowing look better than it really was, the TTC and City produced 10-year capital budgets that omitted a growing list of critical and expensive projects essential to the health of the system. The CIP pulled up the rug, so to speak, under which all of these had been hiding, and revealed officially what anyone following the TTC already knew – the difference between available funding and needed investment was an ever-deepening hole.

This arrangement suited many parties because the City could make its future debt problems look less intimidating that they really were, and advocates of big spending on new projects did not have to contend with needed spending on repairs and renewal for funding. At the Provincial level, the cost of taking over the TTC, and especially the subway network, looked manageable, but that myth exploded when the real exposure to system renewal costs emerged. Toronto, now happily back in charge of all existing TTC assets, faces the bill for a mountain of projects that Ontario might otherwise have taken off their hands.

The 2019 CIP showed that there was a $33.5 billion investment requirement over the 15 years to 2033, of which over $20 billion had no identified source of funding. A gap that incoming City Manager Chris Murray though was a few billion exploded by an order of magnitude as he noted at a recent speech at the Munk Centre. This was not something that could be fixed with a nip here and a tuck there in the City and TTC budgets.

We must now have faith that the total amount shown in the CIP really is an exhaustive tally of needed spending. However, this could be subject to upheavals such as changes in policy about renewal cycles for equipment, service levels affecting fleet size, technology selections affecting vehicle costs and the timing of major projects paid for by others but affecting the existing network such as the Scarborough and North Yonge subway extensions.

Until quite recently, future spending on TTC capital projects other than rapid transit expansion faced a big downturn in the mid 2020s corresponding to the point where the City’s ability to borrow net new funds crashed into the City’s debt ceiling. In order to maintain a good credit rating and thereby save on borrowing costs, the City limits its debt service charges (interest) to no more than 15% of the revenue stream from property taxes. Other sources of revenue do not count toward this calculation either because they are earmarked (e.g. TTC fares or targeted subsidies from other governments), or because they cannot be counted on to survive as long as the debt they might pay for (government transfers that come and go with a Premier’s whim).

Mayor John Tory has proposed a substantial increase in the City Building Levy, an extra property tax just like Rob Ford’s Scarborough Subway Tax, that will allow the City to borrow $6.6 billion more to cover its share of transit and housing projects. There is a catch, of course, in that we have no idea what other governments might contribute, if anything. Toronto has already burned through its infrastructure stimulus money from Phase I of the federal government’s PTIF (Public Transit Infrastructure Fund), and the Phase II money will go substantially to a few major rapid transit projects as approved by Council. Asking for more effectively opens up the question of better support nationally for public transit, not just for Toronto. As for Queen’s Park, Ontario’s Ford government, not exactly a friend of Toronto, could well say “we are paying for your new subway lines, but you want more”, and dismiss any request. Both Toronto and Ontario are guilty of wasteful spending on big ticket projects while underfunding basic maintenance.

When the 2019 CIP was approved by the TTC Board, it included a recommendation that the Board:

Direct the CEO to begin steps required to prioritize critical base capital needs in advance of the Board’s consideration of the 2020 Capital Budget [Minutes of January 24, 2019, Item 10, point 3]

There is no sign of prioritization among the various projects as an indication of what any new funding, should it appear, would be spent on.

The 2020 CIP includes a recommendation that the Board:

Direct the CEO to update the Capital Investment Plan on an annual basis based on refined cost and schedule estimates as projects progress through stage gates and to prioritize critical base capital needs in advance of the Board’s consideration of the 2021 budget process

The situation with the budget is too critical, and the need for action now by Council and the TTC to identify critical projects that should be first in line for funding cannot be overstated. Without a priority list that identifies the core requirements, Toronto risks losing at least another year to debate and indecision, hallmarks of the City’s transit planning.

In the intervening year, the CIP has grown by about eight percent to $36.1 billion. This is a troubling development because a good chunk of the recently announced “new” money for transit could vanish into supporting cost overruns, not to building and renewing the system.

This growth is summarized in a chart from the TTC’s report. The top portion shows the original CIP presented in January 2019 with $9.7 billion in funded projects and $23.8 billion unfunded.

The bottom portion shows the changes moving forward one year:

  • The project to add capacity at Bloor-Yonge Station has grown by 45% with an additional $500 million above the $1.1 billion shown for this item in the 2019 CIP.
  • SAP ERP is a project to replace legacy IT systems with a modern, integrated suite of software. The added $200 million arises from a combination of scope change and higher estimated cost for the work already committed.
  • ATC resignalling has grown by $900 million due to a scope change in the Line 1 project, and a rise in the estimated cost of Line 2 ATC from $420 million cited in the 2019 CIP. It is not clear whether this includes funding for the retrofit of the T1 fleet that will, under current plans, continue to operate during the ATC era on Line 2, notably on the Scarborough extension (assuming it is built with ATC from day 1, unlike the Spadina Vaughan extension where this was an afterthought). Line 4 has been added to the scope of this project.
  • Lighting in Open Cut refers to the replacement of existing lighting along the above-grade portions of the subway much of which is decades old. This item was included in the 2019 CIP as part of a bundle of subway upgrades, and at a much lower cost.
  • It is not clear from the report just what is involved in the $300 million for “Subway Signal System Alterations” beyond the work under other projects to implement ATC.
  • The last line moves year 2029, originally part of years 11-15, into the years 1-10 column.

This should be a cautionary example that the full cost of maintaining and renewing the system is not written in stone, and increases are inevitable. This also does not include potential changes related to a fleet plan that focuses on replacing vehicles and expansion rather than making do with rebuilds of existing buses and trains.

The original CIP did not include funding for the major expansion projects such as the Scarborough Subway Extension even though in January 2019 this was a City project not yet assumed by Metrolinx. The reason for this is that the major projects have their own, separate budgets and funding streams and, therefore, they were not part of the CIP to begin with. This can lead to confusion when other major projects such as Waterfront Transit show up in the TTC/City project list, even though they are not in the CIP which, therefore, understates total future funding requirements.

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TTC Operating Budget 2020 (Updated)

Updated December 16, 2019 at 5:30 pm

At its meeting today, the TTC Board approved the Operating Budget and fare increase without amendment. There were deputations on the subject of cash fares as well as the proposed expansion of the cadre of fare inspectors to reduce fare evasion. I have added a section at the end of this article address those issues.

Management’s presentation deck, which includes information on both the Operating and Capital Budgets is available on the TTC’s agenda page. It includes charts showing more detail about recent ridership changes, and these are now included in the postscript.

Introduction

The TTC has released its proposed Capital and Operating budgets for 2020. These will be discussed at a special meeting of the Board on Monday, December 16 at 9:30 am in Committee Room 1 at City Hall (across the corridor from the usual room, CR 2, that the TTC Board uses). Note the early start time as there is no private session in advance of the public meeting.

This article primarily addresses the Operating Budget, and I will turn to Capital in a separate piece.

There has been a lot of TTC-related news and reports in the past year including:

  • The TTC’s publication of a 15 year capital project forecast showing that the “cost of ownership” of the transit system is much, much higher than had been revealed publicly in past years.
  • The provincial decision to re-neg on a planned doubling of the gas tax allocation to municipal transit systems.
  • The provincial decision to retain ownership only of new rapid transit lines, and the concurrent removal from TTC’s financial projections of the need to contribute to new lines that the province will own.
  • The TTC’s 5 Year Service Plan and 10 Year Forecast that gazes ahead to how the system might evolve over the next decade.
  • Mayor Tory’s proposed additional levy to increase his City Building Fund, and related statements in the media about how the money this will finance might be used.
  • The 2020 budgets just released.

With proposals and plans popping up from various agencies and political levels, it was inevitable that there are inconsistencies. Most notable is an emerging issue with whether the TTC will buy new vehicles, and at what scale.

The Service Plan shows projected growth in the streetcar, bus and subway fleets, and Mayor Tory speaks of the need for new vehicles as something that the City Building Fund can pay for.

[…] I am proposing to extend the City Building Levy further into the future to raise approximately $6.6 billion to invest directly in our transit system – including new subway cars, new streetcars, station improvements, and signal upgrades – and in building more affordable housing across our city. [Letter from John Tory to Executive Committee, Dec. 11, 2019, p 2]

At its regular meeting on December 12, 2019, the TTC Board heard a deputation from Unifor, who represent the workers at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant, urging that the TTC commit to buying more streetcars while the production line for them is in place, and also reminding the Board that this plant also produced the Toronto Rocket subway trains which the TTC needs more of in coming years.

However, the Capital Budget explicitly notes that there is no money in the “funded” part of the Capital Budget for anything beyond vehicle orders already committed. There are two problems here.

First, projects are only moved “above the line” with official status on the approval of Toronto Council. This policy was implemented years ago to prevent the TTC from committing to projects for which no money was available and/or which did not have support at Council. Second, although the City Building Fund will make more capital available, it has not yet been approved by Council.

Moreover, there is no sense of what either the TTC’s or Council’s priorities for this money will be. The TTC Board has asked management to prioritize its capital projects on more than one occasion, but nothing has come of this. To be fair to management, “priority” is a concept that moves like leaves in the wind in the political environment, and these decisions must, at least in part, be made by politicians who cannot fob off such decisions on staff.

What is needed is a list of “must have” projects that have first call on any available funding after which Council can wrangle over whose pet projects get first crack at the leftovers. Even deciding what is “must have” is fraught with political battles such as whether expansion of the streetcar fleet will doom suburban drivers to forever be stuck on downtown roads rather than driving above sleek new subways, or at least around “flexible” buses.

I will turn to this in more detail in the Capital Budget article, but on the Operating side there is an issue of great concern: all of the new funding that seems to be coming transit’s way is for capital projects, not for day-to-day operations. The TTC’s ability to expand service is constrained by the level of city subsidy the Council thinks is “affordable” in the context of pressure on taxes, on the level of fare increase (if any) that is politically tenable, and the rise or fall in provincial operating subsidy (which comes out of gas tax revenue).

The 2020 Operating Budget projects a rise in subsidy from the City of Toronto and higher fare revenue, but does not really address the backlog in service deficiencies across the network. The Service Plan, released only a week earlier, foresees no significant service improvements until 2021. The Service Plan claims that all services are operating within the Service Standards, while the Budget claims that there is a need for more service to address crowding. This is the hallmark of a policy framework changing on the fly.

There is a ten cent fare increase proposed for March 2020 that would apply across the board to Adult and to most concession fares. This has provoked a common response that fares are already too high and subsidies are too low, and in turn that ties back to the absence of operating funding in the proposed City Building Levy.

However, freezing fares brings new costs year by year, but no new service. Whether fares change or not, the City needs to have a long-overdue debate about its target for “good” transit service that amounts to more than building a subway to every Councillor’s house. A big frustration with higher fares is that riders see every day how service does not meet their needs both in capacity and reliability. Charging more for an inferior product is not good marketing.

The TTC, ever alert to wresting more fare revenue from passengers, plans to hire 50 more Fare Inspectors. It would be amusing to compare the cost and benefits of these employees to the effect of hiring 50 more operators to drive buses and streetcars.

TTC management, possibly at political direction, consistently fails to produce future year plans that show what a “growth strategy” would look like, and they are content with a plan that barely keeps up with population and job increases. More transit will cost more money. We all know that, but we do not know what can be achieved and at what cost. That was the goal of Mayor David Miller’s Ridership Growth Strategy, and more recently the system improvements proposed by Andy Byford over bitter objections from John Tory’s campaign team. If we do not know what could be done, and how this might be achieved, we will never try.

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TTC Board Meeting: December 12, 2019

The TTC Board met on Thursday December 12, 2019 at 1 pm to discuss a variety of issues. Note that there is a special meeting on Monday, December 16, 2019 at 9:30 am to discuss the operating and capital budgets for 2020.

Items on the agenda include:

Also on the agenda was the 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook which I have addressed in separate articles:

There is an update on the discussion at the meeting regarding this plan at the end of this article.

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TTC Annual Service Plan for 2020 (Updated)

This article is the second part of a series on the TTC’s 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook.

Just after I posted the article, the TTC replied to several queries about its content. This article has been updated to incorporate additional information.

See also

Requests for Service and Route Changes

Returning to past practice, TTC staff will report annually to the Board on requests for changes in the network requested by, among others, Councillors, community groups and employers, as well as changes triggered by events such as new rapid transit lines or staff-proposed area restructuring (such as the recent updates to routes in the Junction).

There has been a backlog of such requests, and the report contains a long section detailing them. Unfortunately, it is not indexed nor arranged in route order. For the benefit of readers, I have created a summary sorted by status and route number. Page numbers refer to those within Attachment 2 to the Service Plan.

The requests range from substantial route changes to minor items such as stop eliminations. There has been no filtering on the external support for some of these ideas, and some proposals have more a sense of tinkering by individuals rather than true community input. But they’re all there. Some make it to “recommended” status, subject to funding. Some are on hold pending other changes such as the opening of the Crosstown which will affect many routes. Many are not recommended for various reasons, mainly low potential demand or violation of network design principles to serve a specific locale.

The list contains several entries where the underlying complaint is crowding. Proposals include route changes to redirect riders to other routes as well as the simple request of “run more buses”. The Service Plan does not address crowding levels on a route by route level or even acknowledge this growing problem. It is almost comic for the TTC to trumpet evaluation of new services while failing to deal with shortfalls in the service it runs today.

One proposed change is the extension of the 339 Finch East night bus to serve the Tapscott industrial area. Because so many TTC service changes are done on a “zero sum” basis where resources are shuffled between routes, this will be accomplished by terminating the 365 Parliament night bus which is a poor performing route with other nearby lines serving the same area (Bloor Danforth, Carlton, Queen, King). The 365 Parliament bus gets only 4 boardings per vehicle hour well below the standard of 10. The change will be implemented in 2020, but the specific date has not been announced.

The report notes that performance on the night routes is generally good, although it does not list values for individual routes.

New ridership data for the overnight network shows that ridership on almost all the routes meet TTC service standards – in fact, many routes are showing growth since the expanded network. The only service to not meet the TTC’s service standards is the 365 Parliament overnight service where the boardings per service hour do not meet the minimum threshold to justify the resources spent to provide the service. [Attachment 3, p 8]

On the streetcar night routes headways were improved simply to reduce storage requirement for cars. The 301 Queen, 304 King and 310 Spadina routes operate every 15 minutes, and the 306 Carlton route has 20 minute service. Previously, the headway on all four routes was 30 minutes. It is not clear whether the performance of these routes is such that this level of service should become permanent.

Updates

During the workshops for the Service Plan, there were proposals that did not appear in the final plan. The TTC has now clarified that these will be part of the 2021 plan which will be subject to public consultation and funding.

East Scarborough Route Changes

By comparison, here is the current system map of the area.

These changes include:

  • A new 938 Express bus from STC to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus
  • Extension of 905 Eglinton East Express to take over the Conlins Road loop now served by 116A Morningside
  • A new all-day route 178 from STC to Coronation Drive via Brimley, Brimorton, Orton Park and Lawrence replacing the 54B Lawrence East Orton Park Loop and the 86D Scarborough Coronation Loop
  • Routing all 54 Lawrence East service to Starspray to provide more service east of Orton Park

Stanley Green Service

The list of proposed changes includes a new route to Stanley Green. Here is a map showing the route.

119 Torbarrie and 167 Pharmacy North

Additional periods of operation are planned on these routes in 2021.

Streetcar Network Changes

The plan shows an increase in the size of the streetcar fleet starting in 2022 although the TTC has not yet ordered any cars. The TTC advises that the plan assumes an additional order will be placed with Bombardier. These would be used to increase service on the network, to restore streetcar service to routes operating with buses, and to provide for route changes that would provide more overlap among services.

A proposed route network was shown in the workshops, but it is not in the final report.

The changes include:

  • Route 501A would operate between Neville Loop and Sunnyside Loop.
  • Route 501B would operate between Long Branch Loop and a new Riverside Loop to be built on the land now occupied by a parking lot on Broadview north of Queen. This land is owned by the TTC.
  • The consolidation of routes 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road is permanent.
  • Route 503 would operate between Bingham Loop and Dufferin Loop.
  • Route 504B would operate between Broadview Station and Humber Loop, later to a proposed Park Lawn loop.

Note that this is a draft and only gives an indication of the TTC’s thoughts on what might happen. It is subject to the acquisition of more streetcars, public consultation on the route changes and budget approval.

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