The Metrolinx Fetish for Fare By Distance (III) (Updated)

Updated: This article was updated on February 19 at 6:45 pm to include comments on the things Metrolinx should also be studying, but omitted in their review of incomes and transit use. Scroll down to the end to see the update.

In two previous articles, I have examined the February 2017 update to the Metrolinx Board by staff on Regional Fare Integration, and a June 2016 background study by Steere Davies Gleave [SDG] on fare integration concepts.

This article reviews another June 2016 study by SDG on income equity: GTHA Fare Integration: Income and Transit Use

The context for this study, nominally, is to determine whether a new fare scheme will affect low-income households.

In reviewing potential modifications to the transit fare system across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), the social equity implications of transit fare policy must be considered. Lower-income households rely more on transit for their mobility, are more sensitive to the fare they pay for their transit trips than higher-income households, and, as a result, fare policy choices may impact them more. [p. 1]

However, the selective examination of effects by consultants and, one must assume, at Metrolinx’ direction, focuses on the benefits of a lower fare for “short” trips while playing down the effect on “long” ones.

For the purpose of the analysis, SDG looked at a fine-grained version of census data, “dissemination areas”, where each element contains less than 1,000 people.

[these …] typically exhibit greater homogeneity in the household incomes of their residents than larger geographic units. [p. 2]

Each of these areas would lie within one geographic section of travel surveys (the Transportation Tomorrow Survey which, at the time of writing would have been based on 2011 data), and the transit usage for each dissemination area was taken from the corresponding TTS area’s results. Census data on income was used to assign each census area to one of ten income ranges, and through this to map transportation patterns to incomes.

Note that there was no adjustment to reflect the availability of transit in any of the census areas, and the results merge data across the region. The income groupings are based on dividing a population of 6.5 million into roughly equal groups of 650,000. “Equivalent income” is a value derived from a combination of household income and household size.

fareintegration_incomedeciles_201606

The actual distribution of income shows a familiar pattern with higher incomes along the Yonge Street corridor and in some parts of the 905, notably those well-served by GO Transit.

fareintegration_incomedistribution_201606

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The Metrolinx Fetish For Fare By Distance (II)

Back in June 2016, Metrolinx received two reports from its consultant, Steere Davies Gleave, that give some insight into the work and philosophy to that point on fare by distance schemes that Metrolinx contemplated.

GTHA Fare Integration Concept Evaluation Backgrounder

GTHA Fare Integration: Income and Transit Use

This article reviews the Concept Evaluation report. I will turn to the Income and Transit Use report in a separate post.

At that point, three concepts were under review:

  • A modified version of the existing flat fare system with adjustments to deal with the high premium for cross-border travel to and from Toronto.
  • A zone-based system
  • A hybrid system with flat fares region-wide for “local” buses (including local expresses and BRTs) and distance based fares for subways, SRT, LRTs and GO Transit (rail and bus).

The recently added fourth option, a full fare by distance tariff, was not in the mix.

The breakdown within the “hybrid” option was acknowledged to be incomplete with assumptions such as the placement of BRT and the need for additional classes of service still up for debate.

fareintegrationreferencecases_201606

The starting point for all sample fares was the then existing $3.00 cash fare on the TTC. The exact value is less important than the ratio between that base value and other proposed fares.

For Concept 1, there are only two changes. First, transfers between service providers would include a 50% discount on the second fare. This would reduce the cross-boundary fare from 200% of the base value to 150%. On “regional” service (GO), trips up to 7km in length would charge the base fare, and beyond this a distance based tariff would kick in. This would reduce the high premium now charged by GO for very short trips including those within the City of Toronto.

For Concept 2, the zone structure is built on the 7km screen used in Metrolinx proposals for “local” trips. The chart above is misleading for local trips because the chart shows a base fare of $2.60 with an additional $0.78 per zone, but because the second tier of pricing is set at 15km, it adds two extra zones. The pricing for trips that did not involve GO transit and the ratios to the “flat” fare would be:

Distance Fare Change
0 to 7 km $2.60 13.3% discount
7 to 14 km $3.38 12.7% premium
14 to 21 km $4.16 38.7% premium
21 to 28 km $4.94 $64.7% premium

For Concept 3, “local” services (buses) would retain the base flat fare, but rail modes (plus GO buses) would see an incremental fare for trips beyond 7km. The example shown here is a $3.45 trip (a 15% premium) for a 15km “rapid transit” trip, but there is no specification of how this pricing would scale for longer or shorter journeys.

Longer “regional” trips on GO would change by up to 10% because the longest trip prices (now lower on a distance basis than short trips) would have to be rebalanced to offset the reduced short trip fares.

This all looks quite reasonable from the abstract viewpoint of a “pay for what you use” philosophy, but the effects on riders are not spelled out geographically. The 7km cutoff for zone size and for the onset of distance based fares implies a fare increase for many trips. To put this in context, here are the bounds of a 7km trip from various points within Toronto. Note that these are “crow fly” distances, not trips plotted on the transit/street network.

From North South East West
Queen & Yonge .7km N of Eglinton Ave N/A .8km E of Woodbine Ave Grenadier Pond
Scarborough Ctr Stn .7km N of Steeles Ave S of Kingston Rd W of Meadowvale Rd E of Don Mills Rd
North York Ctr Stn .5km S of Highway 407 S of Eglinton Ave W of Victoria Pk Ave .7km W of Keele St
York University N of Rutherford Rd .5km N of Lawrence Ave Yonge St .2 km E of Kipling Ave
Finch & Kipling .8km N of Langstaff Rd .8km N of Eglinton Ave .7km W of Keele St .4km E of Airport Rd
Six Points Highway 401 N/A Dundas & Bloor Sts .4km E of Cawthra Rd

The “old” City of Toronto is rather compact, and a great deal of it lies within 7km of the core. This is not unlike the old “Zone 1” of the TTC before zone fares were eliminated. The suburbs are quite another thing, and 7km does not get one very far. Scarborough is 15km east-west at Ellesmere, and 13km north-south at McCowan. Cheaper “local” fares might apply to short trips within Scarborough, but not to trips anywhere else in the region. The “crow fly” distance from STC to York University is almost 20km, and to the business district downtown 17km.

With the goal of reducing cross-boundary fares, a whole new set of “long” trips that will pay a substantial premium for travel simply within the “amalgamated” City of Toronto will be created. Indeed, those cross-boundary riders will not see much of a benefit unless they live fairly close to their work locations. Scarborough Town Centre is more than 7km away from most of the area north of Steeles Avenue. Anyone working living in Rexdale but commuting to Markham faces a trip that will not bring the “cheaper” fare for short hops across the boundary. Richmond Hill is more than 7km north of Steeles.

The big savings would actually come to GO customers who now pay a full TTC fare to switch to that system. Their “local” fare would be bundled with their “regional” one at a premium of at most 10% over current fares.

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The Metrolinx Fetish For Fare By Distance

On Friday, February 17, the Metrolinx Board will consider yet another update in the long-running saga of its attempt to develop an integrated regional fare policy.

It is no secret that for a very long time, Metrolinx staff have preferred a fare-by-distance system in which riders pay based on the distance travelled, possibly at different rates depending on the class of service with fast GO trains at the top of the pile. The latest update tells us almost nothing about the progress their studies, but does reveal that a fourth option has been added to the mix.

fareconcepts

Option 1, modifying the existing structure, simply adds discounts to smooth the rough edges off of the existing zones between service providers. This has already been implemented for GO Transit “co-fares” with systems in the 905, but it is notably absent for trips to and from the TTC. Riders face a full new fare to transfer between a TTC route and GO or any of the local 905 services.

Option 2, a more finely grained zone structure than exists today, would provide a rough version of fare-by-distance, but would still have step increments in fares at boundaries. Note that this scheme also contemplates a different tariff for “rapid transit”.

Option 3 is a “Hybrid” mix of flat fares for local services and fare-by-distance for “rapid transit” and “regional” services for trips beyond a certain length. The intent is to charge a premium for faster and longer trips on services that are considered “premium”.

Option 4 is new, and it eliminates the “flat” section of the Hybrid scheme so that the charge for a trip begins to rise from its origin and there is no such thing as a “short” trip at a flat rate. The rate of increase would vary depending on the class of service.

fareconceptsummary

Ever since Metrolinx began to treat “rapid transit” as a separate fare class, this created an inevitable conflict with the Toronto transit network’s design as an integrated set of routes where subways provide the spine. Riders are not penalized with a separate fare for using the subway because it was built to replace and improve on surface streetcar and bus operations. This is fundamentally different from GO Transit which replaced no significant existing transit services in its corridors, and which was designed as a high speed operation to attract commuters out of their cars.

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2017 TTC Budget Smoke and Mirrors at City Hall (Updated)

Updated February 15, 2017 at 9:00 am: Per passenger values for revenue, expenditure and subsidy have been added on both absolute and inflation-adjusted bases.

Updated February 14, 2017 at 1:00 am: Inflation adjusted versions of the charts have been added to this article.

This morning’s Toronto Sun brought an opinion piece from Mayor John Tory about all of the wondrous new spending we would see in this year’s budget, and how our transit system would be better for it. Tory made several claims giving the impression that a great deal is happening, and that spending is just rocketing ahead under his leadership (not to mention TTC Chair Josh Colle).

Tory sets up a straw man argument with this claim:

Now there has been some misinformation out there about the 2017 budget and the TTC so I want to be clear and set the record straight. The 2017 budget does not decrease TTC service and it does not cut any bus or streetcar routes.

That is true as far as it goes, but the Mayor neglects to mention that the budget does not increase TTC service either. Indeed, if the TTC were actually able to use all of its bus fleet on bus routes, rather than making up for the shortfall in new streetcar deliveries from Bombardier, they would not have the budget headroom or staff to drive and maintain the additional service.

Tory continues by listing 10 key things the transit system will do with an added “investment” of $80m in 2017:

  • Running 800 subway cars, 200 streetcars and 1,900 buses to transport 544 million riders this year.
  • Providing funding to carry 1 million more Wheel-Trans passengers than last year.
  • Giving more powers to Transit Enforcement Officers to help keep traffic moving, freeing up police resources for where they’re needed most.
  • Buying 783 new buses.
  • Finishing the rollout of Presto across the system.
  • Upgrading signals on Line 1 so we can run subway trains more frequently and more reliably.
  • Opening the subway extension to York University.
  • Continuing the opening of the subway earlier on Sundays.
  • Keeping the provision for kids to ride free on the TTC.
  • Continuing work on the Scarborough Subway Extension.

Providing essentially the same level of service in 2017 as the TTC operated in 2016 is not an addition, it’s merely keeping the lights on. The budget contains no funding for service increases on the “conventional” system.

Wheel-Trans will see substantial growth in riding over coming years, and about $30m of the new money addresses that growth. Better WT service is long overdue, but don’t let new spending on that part of TTC operations hide the fact that regular bus, streetcar and subway routes will see no change. Indeed, crowding on the conventional system is cited by some advocates as a disincentive for people to move away from WT, or to use the conventional system for part of their journeys.

Added funding for Transit Enforcement is one of the few places where the TTC received funding for a net new service in 2017. However, looking city-wide, this is really only a transfer of duties from the police who get to show a saving in their budget. If we are serious about using transit constables for traffic management, the actual amount of spending needed will be considerably greater, and Toronto will have to take seriously a commitment to “transit first” on the roadways.

The TTC is not buying 783 new buses in 2017. The number is actually a bit over 300 according to the TTC’s 2017 customer charter (see Q4), and these are replacements for old buses that will be retired. They do not represent a net increase in the fleet to provide more peak service. Moreover, they are paid for from the capital budget, not operating, and the $80 million cited by Tory has nothing to do with this purchase.

Finishing the rollout of Presto. Oh dear, oh dear. Wasn’t that supposed to happen in 2016? Will the TTC ever have a serious discussion about fare options, the mix of subsidies and possible revisions to transfer rules, or will they simply operate as if people were still paying with tokens that have morphed into green plastic cards? During the 2017 budget debates, the TTC proposed that various discount fares could be abolished as a way to increase revenue and offset their deficit. This scheme was torpedoed by the Mayor, but the idea is still on the table and will likely resurface for the 2018 budget.

Upgrading signals on Line 1 for more frequent service? Again this is a capital, not operating, expense, and this project will not be completed until 2019 with better service to follow, eventually. That added service would entail a higher operating cost (and subsidy), and Toronto will have to pony up the funding on top of any other increases. None of the $80m has anything to do with this.

Opening the York University extension. Well, yes, although it actually does go to Vaughan, and Toronto is on the hook for paying to operate that line even in York Region. The net cost of this extension, after new fare revenue, is pegged at $7m in 2017 (mainly for startup costs) and a further $23m (for an annual total of $30m) in 2018.

Continuation of “early” Sunday openings on the subway, and associated early service on bus routes, is not an “investment”, but rather a continuation of an established service that nobody, at least until now, ever thought was threatened by budget cuts. This service began at the start of 2016, and so there is no marginal cost (year over year) to continue this in 2017.

Similarly retaining free rides for children does not represent a new cost for the 2017 budget, and hence no new “investment”.

And finally, the Scarborough Subway Extension, whatever one might think of it, is a capital project, not part of the operating budget. The funding allocated to it in 2017 is actually quite small because at this stage only planning and very preliminary design are underway.

Quoting the TTC’s CFO Vince Rodo, Mayor Tory claimed that

“$80 million is by a long shot the largest single year increase we’ve ever had”.

Sadly, that is incorrect on two counts. First, as I mentioned above, about $30m of that increase is for Wheel-Trans subsidy which is normally treated as a separate item when talking about TTC budgets. Conflating the conventional and WT increases makes the benefit look bigger than it really is.

More to the point, however, the statement is simply wrong. The largest year-over-year subsidy increase for the conventional system was between 2008 and 2009 when the subsidy went up by $125.4-million. Why the big jump? 2009 brought in the Ridership Growth Strategy and a commitment to improved transit. This was undone during the Ford era and has only partly been restored under Tory.

The chart below shows the growth in total operating expenses for the conventional system over the past 40 years (blue) together with the dollar value of the operating subsidy (orange) and the percentage of expenses covered by subsidy (red).

Two sets of figures are shown for 2016:

  • The original set are the approved City Budget numbers.
  • The second set is the “probable actual” results reported by the TTC.

Note the drop in projected expenses for 2016 compared with actual results for 2015. This is a result of the cutbacks imposed to rein in costs in the face of less than anticipated revenue. This is the largest year-over-year decline in TTC spending over four decades, and it is not a tribute to the City’s commitment to transit.

There is a very large projected growth in expenses for 2017 relative to the 2016 budget ($67.5m) and even more relative to 2016 probable ($108.9m). However, little of this will show up as additional service on the street. This situation is a bizarre, but not unexpected side-effect of a budget year in which cut-cut-cut is the only topic of interest at City Hall.

TTC management have planned to bring out a “Ridership Growth Strategy” report, but this is on hold due to budget concerns. A constant problem for transit and other budget areas at the city is that we rarely hear about what could be done, and how much this would cost to implement, only that it is time, again, to cut spending in the name of “efficiency”.

One important point about 2015 is that the operating budget included some “capital from current” spending that was stuffed in at the last minute to accommodate Mayor Tory’s announcement an accelerated bus purchase. This shows up as an “operating” subsidy although it really is a capital expense. Ironically, the TTC has never received full funding to actually operate these extra buses.

Sources:

  • 1977-2015: TTC Annual Reports
  • 2016 and 2017 Budget: City Budget passed by Executive Committee
  • 2016 Probables: TTC CEO Report

ttc_19972017_expsubs_v2a

The annual changes in subsidy levels have bounced around over past decades with a big drop for the recession of the early 1990s.

ttc_19972017_deltasubs_v2

The same data with values adjusted for inflation using the Statistics Canada CPI and 2016=1:

ttc_19972017_expsubs_v2a_inflated

ttc_19972017_deltasubs_v2_inflated

When the financial information is stated on a per passenger basis, we can see both the changes in the cost of providing service and in the subsidy each trip receives.

The chart below shows the total passenger count for each year (purple) and the associated per passenger values of revenue, expense and subsidy. Note that “revenue” includes miscellaneous items such as advertising, commuter parking and rentals that collectively amount to about 4% of TTC income.

The passenger count peaked in 1988 at 463.5 million, and then began a decline through the 1990s recession bottoming out in 1996 at 372.4m. The 1988 peak was not overtaken until 2008 with its ridership of 466.7m.

Expenditures per passenger (blue) climbed generally, but they dipped in the late 1990s, the Harris era with provincial funding cutbacks, and the Ford era.

Revenue per passenger (green) has climbed consistently with a few dips corresponding to fare freezes.

Subsidy per passenger (orange) fell through the 1990s bottoming out in 2000, and then grew to a peak in 2009 corresponding with the introduction of the Miller-era Ridership Growth Strategy. The value then fell through the Ford years, but is now back to a record level (without allowing for inflation) in the 2017 budget of $1.01 per passenger.

ttc_19972017_revexpsubs_perpax

When these data are adjusted for inflation, the picture is somewhat different.

Expenditure per passenger has had periods of growth, notably the late 1980s and the first decade of this century with a peak corresponding to the RGS implementation. The value then fell during until recent years.

Revenue per passenger took a big jump at the point where provincial subsidies were eliminated in the 1990s, but the value has only grown slowly over the past two decades when inflation is considered.

The subsidy per passenger bottomed out in 2000 and hit a high in 2009 (RGS), a point from which it has not yet recovered although the numbers have improved since a recent low point in 2013.

ttc_19972017_revexpsubs_perpax_inflated

The charts above are available as a PDF.

TTC Surface Ridership and Service: 1976 to 2016

Recent months brought much hand-wringing to TTC meetings where the mysterious decline of ridership threatens the stability of budgets and undermines planned service improvements.

In reality, ridership is not dropping, but for years the rate of increase has been in decline and this caught up with the TTC in 2016 when they overestimated potential growth.  Politically, an optimistic projection is useful because this inflates anticipated revenue, provides the basis for planning service increases, and sets the stage for chest-thumping claims that the disasters of a previous administration have been reversed.

The problem is that when the projections fail, there is a budget shortfall. This is small on the scale of the overall TTC budget, but large in its potential effect on subsidy needs and pressure for more fare revenue.

The debate always looks at recent years and asks why ridership growth that once appeared almost as reliably as the sunrise has fallen off. It is worthwhile, however, to take a longer view and examine how ridership has been changing over decades.

There are two sources of data for this review. Neither is perfect, but at least the numbers exist over an extended period.

  • TTC’s Ridership Analysis spreadsheet available from the City of Toronto’s Open Data Website. This file gives annual breakdowns of the type of fares sold, the location where these are paid, and a subdivision of weekday and weekend riding.
  • TTC Service Plans and related reports for many years included tables of route-by-route performance. These were once published annually, but in the past decade less frequently at least in part because the idea of improving service was not on the Ford-era agenda. Information for 2011, 2012 and 2014 can be found on the TTC’s Planning page. I have been collecting this information for years since its publication originated as an outcome of the Service Standards process established four decades ago. The format changes from time to time, but the basic information remains.

Each of these sources has its challenges.

The Ridership Analysis is based on fare collection at the point of trip origin. If I pay my fare at a subway station, but later transfer to a streetcar or bus, I count as a “subway” rider. In theory, I will be a “streetcar” rider on the return trip and so things should even out, but this breakdown does not reveal the modes used in the course of multi-hop journeys.

Another recent problem is that ridership is assigned by vehicle type in this analysis, not by route. A rider on a 504 King bus counts as a “bus” rider, not as a “streetcar” user.

Passes are a particular challenge because they are only actually counted on entry to a subway station through a turnstile. Passes flashed at operators (including station collectors) leave no trace for the statistics.

The Route Performance figures come from two sources: counts of riders on TTC vehicles, and scheduled service mileage. (Much of the data in this series is stated in miles, and for recent years I have converted kilometres to miles for consistency. The unit of measurement is less important than the trend in service provided.)

Riding counts are not conducted often on busy routes because of the resources required, and it was common to see the same values reported on streetcar routes like 501 Queen for many years in a row. In theory, this should not be a problem once the entire fleet has Automatic Passenger Counters, and assuming that these produce reliable data, but we are years away from that.

Mileage is a standard unit for transit maintenance planning because many aspects of vehicle repair depend on how far the vehicle travels. In practice, some factors are really more time than mileage sensitive, but in a system where most routes operate at comparable speeds, time and mileage are interchangeable. However, a bus garage serving mainly slow inner-city routes will see different performance figures from its fleet because the time-sensitive factors will occur more frequently on a mileage basis.

From the point of view of service, vehicle capacity affects the meaning of “mileage” as a surrogate for the quantity of service. With the shift to low-floor vehicles, about 10% of the fleet capacity has been lost, and so 100 bus miles are not the same as they were two decades ago. There is also, of course, the question of varying mix of vehicle sizes in the bus and streetcar fleet.

The Ridership Analysis gives full year figures, while the Route Performance numbers come from counts conducted on a wide variety of dates. They are daily figures, but they do not represent a single point in time. The Ridership Analysis figures were recently updated to include 2016, but there are no Performance figures after 2014.

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How Fast Can The King Car Run? (Updated)

Updated January 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm:

Additional charts:

  • Saturday vs Sunday travel speeds
  • Detailed bus and streetcar speeds
  • Terminal layover times

As part of its TOCore studies, the City of Toronto is contemplating changes to King Street to alter the way it serves many users: cyclists, pedestrians, cars, taxis, delivery vehicles and, of course, transit. Recent media coverage latched on to a scheme to remove at least private automobiles from the street completely. This is only one option, but the focus on the “no cars” scheme, probably the most extreme of possibilities, leads to a polarized debate, hardly the way to launch into a proper study.

The primary beneficiary of a “new” King Street is supposed to be the transit service, but a vital part of any proposals and analysis is the understanding of just how the street and its transit work today.

Recent articles related to this post contain background information that I will only touch on briefly here:

The basic premise behind improving transit on King is that with less traffic in the way, streetcars (and buses) on the route will move faster, and this will allow better service to be provided without additional resources (vehicles, operators) that the TTC does not have, nor have budget headroom to operate even if they were available.

This sounds good, but it presumes that a large portion of the route is mired in traffic congestion throughout at least the peak periods, and, therefore, there are substantial “efficiencies” to be had by speeding up the service.

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Where Are My Buses?

A few months ago, I wrote about my search for all of the new money and transit service our beneficent leader, John Tory, had showered on Toronto’s transit riders. The answer, of course, is that the amount delivered is far from what was promised, and that’s before the pending cutbacks of the 2017 budget.

Recently, I was looking at the TTC’s 2016 Customer Charter in preparation for an article about the Five Year Plan (coming soon), and I noticed that a few promises and claims don’t line up with what is actually happening. During a period when TTC ridership growth is minimal and planned service improvements have been deferred, there is a surprising Third Quarter achievement:

We will add service during peak periods to 25 busy bus routes, to reduce crowding and improve travel time.

This prompted some head scratching considering that recent service changes have all been about trimming service, not making major additions, and certainly not to 25 busy routes. After a few emails to and fro with the TTC, there was finally an admission that, oops, those new buses really don’t exist. Or, well, they did, briefly, but they don’t any more.

In January & February 2016, the TTC increased peak bus service on 28 routes using 23 buses thereby achieving the 2016 charter commitment early.

However, since then, an equivalent number of peak service reductions have been made to mitigate the impact of the TTC’s deteriorating and decreasing legacy streetcar fleet and to sustain service in the downtown. In November 2016, the TTC reduced service on 8 routes freeing up 9 buses to reallocate to the 511 Bathurst. And, in January 2017, the TTC reduced service on 13 routes freeing up 20 buses to reallocate to 501 Queen and other streetcar routes.

When we “put the tick” in the box saying we had achieved the improvements we didn’t know how bad things would get with respect to vehicle availability.  We’ll reflect the fact that we had to unwind peak service on some of the same service improvements when we publish our year end charter review. [Email from Deputy CEO Chris Upfold, Jan. 18, 2017]

There’s a bit of creative rewriting of history there, plausible though the explanation might be. First off, it was clear that when the 2016 charter was framed, the TTC knew that it had crowding problems, and planned to address them. Provision for this was in the fall 2016 service plan, but that was killed off when ridership failed to grow as expected through 2016. The improvements cited by Upfold, however, went into operation much earlier.

January & February 2016 – Peak period service increases (+23 AM peak buses)

  • 191 Highway 27 Rocket – peaks and midday
  • 63 Ossington
  • 75 Sherbourne – both peaks
  • 6 Bay – AM peak
  • 21 Brimley – AM peak on 21A (Kennedy Stn-Scarborough Centre Stn)
  • 20 Cliffside – AM peak
  • 25 Don Mills – PM peak
  • 143 Downtown/Beach Express – AM peak
  • 144 Downtown/Don Valley Express – PM peak
  • 125 Drewry – AM peak
  • 111 East Mall – both peaks
  • 195 Jane Rocket – AM Peak
  • 83 Jones – PM peak
  • 12 Kingston Rd – PM peak
  • 44 Kipling South – both peaks
  • 102 Markham Rd – AM peak
  • 46 Martin Grove – both peaks
  • 16 McCowan – both peaks
  • 57 Midland – PM peak
  • 65 Parliament – AM peak and midday
  • 66 Prince Edward – both peaks
  • 134 Progress – PM peak
  • 123 Shorncliffe – both peaks
  • 55 Warren Park – both peaks
  • 94 Wellesley – AM peak
  • 112 West Mall – AM peak
  • 89 Weston – PM peak
  • 11 Bayview – AM and PM peak

Service reductions came on a different list of routes, with some overlaps to the one above. The net effect was a reallocation of service rather than an overall improvement, although it could be argued that routes losing service had capacity to spare under the Service Standards.

November 2016 – Peak period service reductions to mitigate streetcar fleet constraints (-9 AM peak buses)

  • 121 Fort York-Esplanade – AM peak
  • 43 Kennedy – PM peak
  • 129 McCowan North – AM peak
  • 57 Midland – AM peak
  • 133 Neilson – AM peak
  • 124 Sunnybrook – PM Peak
  • 168 Symington – AM peak
  • 68 Warden – AM peak

January 2017 – Peak period service reductions to mitigate streetcar fleet constraints (-20 AM peak buses)

  • 6 Bay – AM peak
  • 14 Glencairn – AM peak
  • 16 McCowan – AM peak
  • 32 Eglinton West – AM peak
  • 38 Highland Creek – AM peak
  • 46 Martin Grove – AM peak
  • 51 Leslie – AM and PM peak
  • 85 Sheppard East – AM peak
  • 102 Markham Rd – AM peak
  • 112 West Mall – AM peak
  • 123 Shorncliffe – AM peak
  • 129 McCowan North – AM peak
  • 190 Scarborough Centre Rocket – AM peak

The situation with delays in streetcar deliveries is a serious one that has been gradually building as the old fleet wears out. However, it is important to take a longer view of the evolution of bus service in Toronto to see how fleet usage has evolved over the years. The charts below, with data taken from the TTC Scheduled Service Summaries, show the total number of buses used during the two peak periods.

  • The blue portion is for buses running on bus routes, and in recent years the green portion is the articulated bus count adjusted by 1.5 for the larger capacity of these vehicles. The top of the blue section represents the buses serving bus routes on an equivalent-to-standard-bus basis.
  • The red sections at the top of each bar are for buses used on streetcar routes.

The AM peak service improved slightly in late 2015 thanks to new buses purchased that year, but the numbers have been falling back.The total AM peak has not been flat since mid-2016, but has been slowly falling. If this were only a case of trading off buses for streetcars, the total would be constant. This shows the effect of service trimming in late 2016.

2005_2017_ampeakbusservice

The situation in the PM peak is different because this period uses fewer vehicles (school and work peaks do not coincide in the PM), and so service is not constrained by the fleet as in the AM.

2005_2017_pmpeakbusservice

As an historic note, the big jump in 2009 was thanks to the Ridership Growth Strategy and the increase in the peak fleet. Even in the Ford years, the TTC managed some service improvements mainly due to years in which a “flat lined” subsidy actually gave the TTC more money because they had run a “surplus” in previous years. (The “next year” budgeted subsidy was higher than the “previous year” actual subsidy draw.)

The number of buses now running on streetcar routes (AM peak) in January 2017 is:

  • 501 Queen: 23 (Queensway/Humber rehabilitation)
  • 502/503 Downtowner/Kingston Rd: 16 (Streetcar shortage)
  • 504 King: 12 (Streetcar shortage)
  • 511 Bathurst: 17 (Streetcar shortage)

Assuming that the 40 new Flexitys promised by Bombardier arrive during 2017, then in theory many of the buses could be freed up for service on their own network. However, the TTC might decide that retiring old streetcars is a more important goal and spread the return of full streetcar operation into 2018. Nothing is certain until we actually see Bombardier’s cars.

For budget planning, however, the City will have to face new costs in 2018:

  • Full year effect of the Spadina Subway extension (estimated at $23 million net of new revenue)
  • Restoration of bus service plus any new express routes and a Ridership Growth Strategy
  • First year cost of the “Fair Pass” subsidy for low-income riders (estimated at $4 million)

Full streetcar service on 504 King (plus complete conversion of 514 Cherry to Flexity cars) will improve capacity on King Street, but much of this is unlikely until 2018 at best. Current plans for Flexity implementation are on 509 Harbourfront, 514 Cherry, 505 Dundas and 511 Bathurst.

The irony in 2017 is that the streetcar shortage is actually saving the city money because the total number of vehicles that would otherwise be in service would be greater. Service cuts on bus routes for fleet availability would not have been needed, and the TTC would be scrambling to find operating dollars to run a full complement of streetcar service plus all of the buses it has available.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, February 12, 2017

Updated January 23, 2017 at 1:00 pm: The 95 York Mills restructuring was omitted in error by me in the original version of this post and the linked spreadsheet. This has been corrected.

The February 2017 schedules bring a relatively small set of changes to TTC operations.

Among them are a number of route restructurings where service is shuffled between the various local and express, where it exists, branches.

  • 199 Finch Rocket will see:
    • more frequent AM peak service on the 199B STC to York University branch, offset by reductions on the other two branches;
    • more frequent midday service on the 199B offset by reduced service on the 199A to Finch Station;
    • slightly more frequent PM peak service on the 199A and 199B services offset by a reduction in service on the 199C to Morningside Heights.
  • 191 Highway 27 Rocket will see improved peak service on the 191C branch to Humber College.
  • 72 Pape’s peak period short turn service 72A to Eastern Avenue extended to become 72C to Commissioners with headway widenings to compensate on both the 72B Union Station and (now) 72C short turn.
  • 24 Victoria Park will see peak period improvement in the 24B Consumers Road branch offset by a slight reduction in 24A to Steeles.
  • 95 York Mills will see better express service to UTSC in the PM peak offset by a reduction on the local branches.

Other significant route changes include:

  • 511 Bathurst bus operation will be changed so that on weekday peaks and midday half of the service will short turn at King Street. This will reduce the cost of operating the replacement bus service on the streetcar route, and will also reduce the peak bus requirement.
  • 52 Lawrence West will be modified so that the 52F service to Royal York loops via Braecrest and returns east on The Westway rather than running north on Royal York and then east on Dixon Road. Schedules at various times will be modified to better reflect actual operating conditions. There will be a slight decrease in PM peak service levels on all branches, with a small increase in the early evenings weekdays.

Service improvements (beyond those involved in the items above):

  • 108 Downsview (Midday weekdays)
  • Various school trips have been rescheduled to better match dismissal times for students

Service trims on various routes continue to reduce vehicle requirements and costs for 2017:

  • 511 Bathurst (as noted above)
  • 504 King (PM peak)
  • 505 Dundas (Midday weekdays)
  • 26 Dupont (PM peak)
  • 15 Evans (PM peak)
  • 46 Martin Grove (PM peak)
  • 37 Islington (Late Sunday evening 37C service on Steeles to Kipling cut back as 37B to Islington)
  • Some operational changes have been made to hook up runs on various routes and address situations where a bus runs into a garage at roughly the same time as another one is scheduled to leave.

There is no announced date for the return of streetcars to 511 Bathurst. This depends on the timing of new streetcar deliveries from Bombardier and the condition of the remaining streetcar fleet. Although some old cars are in the shops for major rehabilitation, many more remain on the street with declining reliability.

Once 509 Harbourfront and 514 Cherry are fully equipped with new cars, the next route to be changed over will be 505 Dundas and then 511 Bathurst. If Bombardier deliveries continue at the late 2016 rate and do not ramp up until April 2017 (as planned), the conversion of 505 Dundas will not start until sometime in the second quarter.

Details are in the linked spreadsheet:

2017.02.12_Service Changes_v2

How Much Service Actually Runs on King Street? (2)

In a previous article, I reviewed the capacity of service provided on King Street over the past few years to see just how much, if any, change there has been in actual capacity as the mix of streetcars and buses changed over time.

This article expands the charts with current data to the end of 2016 and with some historical data going back to December 2006. The periods included are:

  • December 2006
  • November 2011
  • March 2012
  • May 2013
  • July 2013 to January 2016
  • March 2016 to December 2016

Data for route 514 Cherry is included from June 2016 onward when that route began operation.

Methodology:

Vehicle tracking data gives the location of transit vehicles at all times, and therefore gives the time at which each vehicle crosses a screenline where values such as headway (vehicle spacing) and a count of vehicles by hour can be calculated. This is done for every weekday (excluding statutory holidays) in the months for which I have data to produce these charts.

The capacity values used for each vehicle type are taken from the TTC’s Service Standards.

  • CLRV: 74
  • ALRV: 108
  • LFLRV: 130
  • Bus: 51

In the charts linked below, the data are presented in several pages for each location:

  • By count of vehicles separated by type, by hour
  • By total capacity of vehicles, by hour
  • By total capacity across a four-hour peak period span

The most critical part of King Street where service quality and capacity are at issue is the section from Yonge Street west to Liberty Village.

For the AM peak, the capacity is measured eastbound at two locations, Bathurst Street and Jameson Avenue.

[Note: In these charts, the horizontal axis includes labels for every 13th entry based on what will physically fit. The exact days for each point are less important than the overall trend in the data.]

Items of note in these charts:

  • The effect of service reallocation to the central part of the route with the creation of 514 Cherry is evident from June 2016 onward. Cars that formerly operated over the full route were confined to the central portion between Cherry and Dufferin adding capacity there while removing it from the outer ends. However, the running time allocated was insufficient, and after schedule changes to correct this, the actual improvement in capacity on the central part of King was not as great as had been expected with the new configuration.
  • The capacity provided eastbound at Bathurst is only slightly better in 2016 than it was in December 2006 during the key hour from 8 to 9 am. Capacity is improved notably in the shoulder peak hour from 9 to 10 am.
  • Although bus trippers make up for the shortage of vehicles in the streetcar fleet, they do not proportionately replace capacity. The TTC’s characterization of these buses as being an “addition” to the streetcar service is misleading.

For the PM peak, the capacity is measured westbound at Yonge Street. In cases where service was diverted via Queen for construction, the measurement is at Queen and Yonge.

The PM peak period operates with wider headways (fewer vehicles per hour) and has some room for growth before hitting the practical lower bound of two minute headways (30 vehicles/hour) on a busy street in mixed traffic. Over the years, capacity has improved, although with ups and downs along the way. However, a good deal of the total capacity increase fell in the shoulder peak periods.

These charts show the capacity, based on design parameters that do not reflect packed cars, and it is likely that total loads are higher than shown here especially during the height of the peak periods. What these charts do not show, of course, is the latent demand for service that might appear if only there were room for passengers to board.

I have requested vehicle loading data from the TTC to determine how this can be incorporated with the service analysis to demonstrate how ridership and crowding interact with headways and overall capacity. The TTC has not yet replied to the request.

Calculating the Effect of Uneven Headways

Regular readers will be familiar with many analyses published here that review the behaviour of transit service on streetcar and bus routes. One of the more galling parts of a transit rider’s life is the uneven headways (the times between vehicles) for almost all services that make the anticipated wait longer than the advertised average in the schedule.

This article is an attempt to devise a measure of this problem that can be used to show the degree to which actual service deviates from the scheduled value in a way directly related to rider experience. Some of the material is a tad technical, but not overly so. Also, readers should note that this is a first cut, and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

Wait Times Versus Headways

In theory, service is scheduled to arrive at a stop every “N” minutes, like clockwork. Therefore, the average rider will wait half of this time for a vehicle to show up. If buses are supposed to arrive every 5 minutes, then the average wait is 2.5 minutes. But the situation is more subtle than this.

If riders arrive at the stop at a uniform rate, say one each minute, they will not all wait the same length of time. Someone who arrives in the first minute will wait almost the entire headway, 4.5 minutes on average, while someone who arrives within a minute of the bus will wait on average only 0.5 minutes. The five riders who arrived in the five minute headway will have varying wait times, but on average the value will be 2.5 minutes per rider, and a total of 12.5 for the group overall.

    Rider  Wait Time
      1       4.5
      2       3.5
      3       2.5
      4       1.5
      5       0.5
    Total    12.5

The total above is the sum of a simple arithmetic series, and because of the values chosen here, the formula for calculating the total is quite simple. It is the square of the headway in minutes divided by two.

    Total = (N * N) / 2

If the service is “well behaved” with consistent headways, this is just a complicated way of getting to the same result with the average wait being half a headway (5 minutes divided by 2 giving 2.5 minutes). However, when headways are not consistent, the square factor in that formula shows its effect.

Suppose that vehicles are supposed to arrive every 5 minutes, but in fact two vehicles arrive sometime within a 10 minute window on varying headways. These might both be 5 minutes, but they could also be 6 and 4, 7 and 3, etc. In this case, the wait times behave differently. The table below shows how the average wait time for the ten riders accumulating at a stop during a 10 minute period vary depending on the regularity, or not, of the headways.

    First     Wait    Second    Wait    Total    Average
    Headway   Time    Headway   Time     Time     Wait
      5'      12.5'     5'      12.5'    25.0'     2.5'
      6'      18.0'     4'       8.0'    26.0'     2.6'
      7'      24.5'     3'       4.5'    29.0'     2.9' 
      8'      32.0'     2'       2.0'    34.0'     3.4'
      9'      40.5'     1'       0.5'    41.0'     4.1'
     10'      50.0'     0'       0.0'    50.0'     5.0'

It is self-evident that if two buses arrive every 10 minutes, the average wait time is 5 minutes, but this table shows how the values rise for different levels of headway inconsistency in between.

The TTC considers that vehicles that are only slightly off schedule (one minute early or up to five minutes late) are “on time” for purposes of reporting service reliability. The problem with this scheme is that the leeway it allows is very broad for routes that operate frequent service. Indeed, if a bus is planned to come every 5 minutes, two could come every 10 and the service would still be “on time”.

There is also the problem that riders on such routes don’t care about the schedule because it really is meaningless. They only care about reliable service, and a six-minute swing of “on time” values is often wider than the scheduled headway. The result is a meaningless metric of “on time performance”.

For wider scheduled headways, that six minute swing does not represent, proportionately, as much of a potential change in average wait times. Consider pairs of buses on a 20 minute headway:

    First     Wait    Second    Wait    Total    Average
    Headway   Time    Headway   Time     Time     Wait
      20'     200.0'    20'     200.0'   400.0    10.00'
      21'     220.5'    19'     180.5'   401.0'   10.03'
      22'     242.0'    18'     162.0'   404.0'   10.10' 
      23'     264.5'    17'     144.5'   409.0'   10.25'
      24'     288.0'    16'     128.0'   416.0'   10.40'
      25'     312.5'    15'     112.5'   425.0'   10.63'

Although the headways are wider, the percentage in change relative to the scheduled value is smaller, and so both the total rider-wait time and the average wait time don’t shift as much as they do for more frequent service for the same latitude in headway adherence. To get the same effect, proportionately, as in the first example, the two buses would have to arrive together in a 40 minute gap.

Note that these values behave the same way regardless of the assumed arrival rate of passengers provided that this rate does not change. The total rider-wait times would be higher for an arrival rate above one per minute, but the average values would remain the same.

There is also a presumption here that for infrequent services, riders will arrive uniformly over the headway. Where the route is the origin for a trip, riders might be expected to time their trips to minimize waits, although this behaviour can be thrown off if service is not reliable, especially if it is often early. For riders arriving at a bus-to-bus connection or at a subway-to-bus transfer, they are unlikely to be able to fine-tune their trips to just catch a bus. (The exception would be a network with protected, timed transfers, but the TTC does not have any of these.)

Crowding Effects

These values also affect on-board crowding because a vehicle carrying a wider than scheduled headway will accumulate more passengers and will have longer stop service times. It will become later and later, and the vehicle behind will eventually catch up. As with “average” wait times, the “average” crowding level will not represent the actual situation experienced by the “average” rider. Just as more riders wait longer than the planned average when buses do not arrive regularly, more riders are on the more crowded vehicles.

The problem is further compounded because most riders try to get on the first vehicle that arrives lest the second one be short-turned and they are left in a big gap waiting to continue their journeys.

If one were to poll 100 riders distributed between two streetcars, they would not complain about crowding if they were equally distributed and all had a seat. However, if 80 of them were on the first car and only 20 on the second, the average perception of crowding would be that the service was overloaded and that it did not show up reliably.

This is a fundamental split between service as the TTC sees it (on average) and as riders see it (as an individual experience).

Measuring the Difference Between Actual and Scheduled Wait Times

In preparing this article, I have been wrestling with various ways to calculate and display these values in a useful way. There are pitfalls both in the methodology and in the charting of information. The examples below are only one way to present this information, and should not be read as definitive.

Here is the basic premise:

  • Within each hour of the day, vehicles pass by a location on a route, each of them on its own headway.
  • From the headway values, one can calculate the wait time for riders assuming an arrival rate of one/minute. The total of these times divided by 60 gives the average wait per rider over the hour period.
  • The count of vehicles within each hour is easily converted to an average scheduled wait time of one half the average headway.

These values are graphed for the 504 King route for Tuesday, November 1, 2016. A sample page is shown below and the full sets are linked as PDFs.

504_20161101_averageheadways_wb_p1

504_20161101_avgwaittime_wb

504_20161101_avgwaittime_eb

In these charts the solid lines represent the rider wait time in minutes/passenger while the dotted lines are the average that would have applied if all of the service had been evenly spaced over an hour. Each colour shows data for a different hour through the day, and the horizontal positions show various locations along the route. Note that the rider wait times are generally higher than the average times implied by the vehicles/hour.

There are several caveats about this presentation:

  • For the 6:00 am line (red on page 1 of each set), the first headway is assumed to occur from 6:00 am until the arrival of the first vehicle. This will generally understate the headway on which that vehicle is operating.
  • Depending on how badly disrupted the service is, the wait time contributed by the first vehicle passing in any hour may include time accumulated during the previous hour. This causes wait time to be mis-attributed, and it is possible for the rider wait time in the previous hour to be understated. For example, if one car passes a stop at 7:56 and the next one at 8:04, all of the rider wait time associated with the second vehicle will be included in the 8:00 data as will the vehicle in the total count. This effect is generally small enough that it balances out, but it can be more pronounced on wider headways where there are fewer vehicles to smooth out the data.
  • In some cases, a gradual increase in rider wait times is visible along the length of the route showing how service becomes progressively more bunched into pairs.
  • Major delays can result in a large increase in rider wait time because the long gap dominates the calculation, and following cars contribute almost nothing to this value. However, the number of cars/hour could still be at the scheduled level and the “average” wait times are not affected.

For reference, I have also included here the chart of overall service for the day.

504_20161101_chart

There is a disruption of service westbound at Dufferin between 10:00 and 10:30 am. This causes headways west of this point to be bunched, and that bunching is reflected back on the eastward trip from Dundas West as a parade of cars makes its way across the city. Note that nothing was short-turned into the gap eastbound, and it was not until the next westbound trips after 11:00 that service began to be sorted out.

A delay eastbound at Queen & Roncesvalles just after 15:30 shows up as a spike in “3 pm” rider wait times at that location, but most of the gap passes points further east during the “4 pm” interval. This explains the behaviour of the plots for these two time periods.

As I wrote above, this is a first cut at attempting to measure what riders experience versus what the TTC will typically state as its quality of service.

A useful corollary to this would be to examine data from automatic passenger counters on the vehicles, but these have not yet been rolled out fleet wide. This would allow us to tie the service reliability values to crowding conditions on vehicles.

What will not show up, of course, is the number of passengers who simply never get on because they tire of waiting for a vehicle with room on it. At least with detailed counts, we would know how often “full vehicles” actually occur, and especially cases of lightly-loaded ones that are not pulling their weight because they are part of a parade. That is a task for a future round.

If I get any other ideas about how to present this information, I will update this article with additional examples.