Downtown Premium Express Routes Move To King Street

With the schedule change coming on Sunday, November 24, 2019 (for which details will appear in a separate article), the routing of the Downtown Premium Express 14x series will be shifted off of Adelaide and Richmond Streets to the King Street Transit Corridor.

New stops will be created eastbound along King at Peter, Simcoe (west of University), Jordan (west of Yonge), George and Parliament. The one exception will be that the 142 Avenue Road service will stop for unloading only eastbound on King farside at University, the streetcar stop.

New westbound stops will be at George, Yonge, York, and Peter.

All of the stops for these routes will be separate from those used by streetcars to avoid confusion between local and express services.

Services from the east (141 Mt. Pleasant, 143 Beach, 144 Don Mills) will loop via Spadina, Adelaide and Charlotte with a stop southbound on Charlotte at King.

Services from the west (142 Avenue Road, 145 Humber Bay) will loop via Sherbourne, Front and Berkeley with a stop northbound on Berkeley at King.

The 141 Mount Pleasant bus will jog east via Adelaide to George before continuing south to King where there will be an inbound stop. Outbound service will stop on Jarvis north of King.

The 143 Beach and 144 Don Mills services which come through the Richmond/Adelaide interchange east of Parliament Street will turn south from Richmond via Parliament with a stop at King. Outbound services will turn north on Power from King Street to reach Adelaide. (As a matter of historical interest, the original name for the spaghetti junction east of Parliament was the “Duke and Duchess Interchange” after the names of these streets in the old town.)

The 145 Humber Bay service will enter downtown via Adelaide Street from Bathurst, but will turn south to King at Charlotte using the common stop with services from the east. Outbound buses will continue west on King to Bathurst, then turn south.

The 503 Kingston Road bus will continue to operate on King Street looping via York, Richmond and University.

With all of these bus routes and a new set of stops on King, cyclists will find the transitway somewhat more challenging and motorists will have to deal with buses blocking the curb lane at stops. Turning movements at Spadina could be challenging as there is no priority for streetcars when they turn off of King, let alone for buses. This will add to delays that are already a problem at this location.

It is also unclear what the effect of these routes will be on the ambience of the curb lane cafe spaces along King should the operation last into the good weather in 2020, nor how these arrangement would be affected by the TIFF diversions.

There is no end date announced yet for this trial, nor for the outcomes on which it will be measured. I will continue to track the speed of streetcar operations in the corridor to determine whether the additional buses have an effect on streetcar service.

Toronto’s Auditor General Exposes Many Presto Problems

At the TTC Board meeting of October 24, 2019, Toronto’s Auditor General, Beverly Romeo-Beehler presented a detailed report on the problems faced by the TTC with the Presto farecard system.

For clarity: In this article, where text is directly quoted with an indented block and a page citation, these are the words of the Auditor General’s report. Where there is emphasis within a quoted section, this is taken from the original report, not added by me. Otherwise, comments here are my own with, in some cases, paraphrases of the report. Page numbers cited are within the linked PDF of the report, not necessarily the page numbers shown in the document because numbering restarts within it.

This is a long article, but nowhere as long as the 123 page report on which it draws. It begins with an overview and then continues with detailed reviews of various aspects of Presto and of the relationship between Metrolinx and the TTC. The sequence is slightly different from the Auditor General’s report in order to group related sections and comments together.

After the Introduction, the Audit Findings section delves into the detail. There is a lot of detail because there is a lot wrong with Presto. The Auditor General’s report is an indictment of a failed project and bad management primarily from Metrolinx, but the TTC does not go unscathed.

If anything is missing, it is a historical review of how the system came to be in its present state. However, that is beyond the remit of an investigation into whether the TTC is getting what it pays for from Presto, and whether shortcomings affect the revenue the TTC should receive through that system.

TTC management has accepted all of the Auditor General’s findings, and their remarks can be found in Appendix 1 beginning on page 110 of the report pdf.

Summary: TTC accepts all of the Auditor General’s recommendations. Most of the recommendations are consistent with TTC management and actions to date and ongoing efforts to address and resolve the issues as identified in the recommendations.

Metrolinx’ response to the findings are generally positive and acknowledge many shortcomings including missing or broken processes that should be in place by both parties. How well this will be sorted out remains to be seen. Probably the most important part of the letter is the view forward to the next iteration of the Presto system, and the recognition that what we have now can be improved for everyone’s benefit.

As you know, PRESTO is embarking on modernization plans that are enabling us to focus even more on delivering exceptional services. This work will result in new offerings that will remove customer pain points and give them new ways to pay, while offering transit agencies valuable features to drive ridership and fare revenue. Consultations with the transit agencies on new payment forms and other improvements included in the roadmap have been underway throughout the summer, including with TTC, and we look forward to their participation in shaping the future of PRESTO.

We are also preparing to retender our current supplier agreement with a view to opening PRESTO’s ecosystem to more market participants, which we will leverage to improve our overall performance. Recommendations stemming from your audit of the TTC will inform our future approach as we go to market for these services.

As with all reports from the Auditor General, there will be a follow-up in a year’s time to report on the progress achieved on her 34 recommendations.

Introduction

This is “Phase Two” of a detailed study of TTC fare collection that began with a review of fare evasion. I reported on this in February 2019. See Fare Evasion on the TTC: The Auditor General’s Report. That review raised questions about the unreliability of Presto equipment as a source of revenue loss and frustration for riders who could not always pay their fare properly.

A central issue here is the length of time Presto has been in place and the number of unresolved or even unacknowledged issues surrounding the system.

In November 2012, TTC contracted with Metrolinx to integrate and operate the PRESTO fare card on its transit network for 15 years, plus options for renewal. As of the end of 2016, PRESTO could be accepted for fare payment across the entire TTC network.

The Master E-Fare Collection Outsourcing Agreement (Master Agreement) stipulates that Metrolinx manage all PRESTO equipment on TTC’s properties, on board TTC vehicles, and where necessary on the street. This includes the design of the hardware and software, and the installation and maintenance of the machines. In return, Metrolinx is compensated with 5.25 per cent, inclusive of HST, of the gross revenue collected through the PRESTO system on TTC. [pp 33-34]

The Auditor General’s office conducted a field study of Presto equipment, looking at real machines on real buses.

In reviewing the functionality of PRESTO fare equipment, we conducted a bus device audit for two days in June 2019. Over 100 TTC operators representing all seven bus garages drove 168 buses and noted any PRESTO issues during their shift. Of the 330 PRESTO issues noted, nearly 300 (91 per cent) of them were frozen PRESTO card readers.

A frozen PRESTO card reader is when a passenger taps their PRESTO card but the reader is stuck and does not always accept the tap. Not only does this result in revenue loss if the passenger doesn’t tap on another reader successfully, but the device may be captured as “in-service” rather than “out-of-service” in the availability calculation and the availability rate could be overstated for this issue. [p 24]

They also dove into the murky world of contracts between the TTC, Presto and vendors who provide services within the Presto system. The results were not pretty, certainly not with the rosy confidence we often hear from Metrolinx/Presto spokespeople making claims of a robust, near-perfect system. Moreover, there is a wide gap between the services actually provided by Presto and those for which the TTC has contracted and is paying through its service fees.

There is a very long list of findings from the audit, and it reveals a complex web of ownership and responsibilities for provision, operation, monitoring and maintenance of the Presto system. One cannot help feeling that these arrangements grew like an unweeded garden where functions were cobbled together on an ad hoc basis to provide new or extended features. If Metrolinx has any desire to consolidate all of this into a new iteration of Presto (we already have “Presto Next Generation”, and so a new name is really required here), this will not be a simple process. Moreover, as noted by the Auditor General, both Metrolinx and its client transit systems must have a clear set of requirements for any new system rather than taking whatever Metrolinx management thinks they will accept willingly or not.

The appalling status of the entire contract is summarized in one paragraph in which we learn:

PRESTO card readers need to be available greater than 99.99 per cent as per the service level identified in the Master Agreement between TTC and Metrolinx. Given SLAs [Service Level Agreements] have not been set up, what goes into the calculation of the service level has not yet been defined or agreed upon. Metrolinx staff have advised us that “they do not have an agreement with TTC on the device service level commitment calculations, nor the consequences for non-performance”. [p 25]

One might reasonably ask why an SLA is not in place after all these years including a penalty mechanism, but given that it is Metrolinx who benefits from this situation it is hard not to assume that they simply do not want to take the responsibility and potential, publicly identified cost that might go with it.

There is more than a little irony that a report exposing bad project management and a difficult relationship between the TTC and Metrolinx should appear just before City Council was asked to approve a much more complex arrangement for the funding, expansion and operation of the rapid transit system.

The greatest problem between the two parties is the political aversion at the City to “rocking the boat”. The Provincial attitude is that they can more or less act as they please because they have the upper hand on funding and political control. The Liberal government threatened to withdraw Gas Tax funding from the TTC if it did not implement Presto, and the Conservative government was on the verge of stripping responsibility for at least the subway network, if not the entire transit system, from the City. This does not make for a level playing field nor honest, transparent public debates.

Quite bluntly, if Metrolinx were not a government agency with the power to do as it pleases, but instead a private vendor, it would have lost this contract years ago and faced claims for non-performance.

The first recommendation is the need for “Foresight” by both the TTC and Metrolinx. The contract has many unfulfilled requirements, but what does the TTC really want its fare system to look like? What are Metrolinx’ goals for Presto as it evolves? Are the various suppliers of parts of the Presto system delivering what Metrolinx and its clients really need?

Overall, and in our view, there must be a strategic refocussing at the top by both TTC and Metrolinx to tackle what matters most – the shared outcomes of customer experience and maximizing revenue.

For this to work, both parties also need to:

  • Define clear, agreed upon, and formalized outcomes and Service Level Agreement (SLA) targets
  • Seek a win/win for both parties, but acknowledge individual and shared accountabilities and responsibilities in this arrangement – several examples of which are outlined in this report. [p 2]

The second recommendation is the need for “Insight”.

To solve problems you need insight into the root cause. To gain such insight, the right level of information must be analyzed using the right data. Without that, you are solving what you think might be wrong without the evidentiary support to confirm you are addressing the true cause(s) and actual issue(s). [p 2]

One might cynically observe that this statement applies to a lot of what passes for “analysis” and “planning” for transit in Toronto, but that is entirely another article.

The Auditor General noted “fundamental” information gaps:

  • Service level agreements are not in place setting expectations and responsibilities for each party seven years after the contract was signed.
  • Key information that the TTC needs is either encrypted or purged in a short time-frame contrary to the Master Agreement.
  • The current analysis was limited by
    • problems with Presto readers including root cause analysis for frozen machines, problems with the device monitoring tool;
    • accurate monitoring of vending machines on streetcars and regular collection of coins from them to prevent out of service conditions;
    • manual practices for identification of out of service fare gates. [adapted and condensed from pp 2-3]

The third recommendation is the need for “Oversight”. Astoundingly, although the agreement provides for a Joint Executive Committee and an Expert Panel, these either do not exist or have not met for an extended time. One cannot help feeling that the TTC, in the face of an intransigent service provider, has simply given up and treats Presto as “broken as designed”. However, this could also mask resentment of a system forced onto the TTC compounded by little municipal political support to hold a provincial agency publicly to account.

Moreover …

… there needs to be the following to improve oversight of the system as a whole:

  • TTC, PRESTO and all vendors working together as one, sharing information, and diagnosing and solving problems together (e.g. coin collection issue on new streetcar vending machines needs to be resolved together despite all vendors staying within defined responsibilities)
  • Focusing, measuring and monitoring the desired outcomes
  • Controls over PRESTO revenue and assurance provided by PRESTO needs strengthening, including retailer network controls [p 3]

There are 34 recommendations in the report, and I leave it to dedicated readers to peruse the full list.

Looking back to Phase 1 of the study and the ongoing dispute between the TTC and Metrolinx over revenue losses due to Presto, the Auditor General concludes:

We prepared calculations to estimate a range for the overstatement of the PRESTO card reader availability rate and annual revenue loss. Based on the work performed with the information we could obtain, it is our view that TTC’s estimate of $3.4 million in revenue loss for 2018 due to malfunctioning PRESTO fare equipment does not appear to be overstated. TTC’s availability estimates may even be understated given the issues we identified in this report with availability of PRESTO card readers. We are not including revenue loss calculations in this report. It is our view that the information and data gaps identified at this time make it difficult to provide these important numbers with the required level of audit assurance. [p 9]

The two agencies are now going to arbitration over this and other issues, and it will be intriguing to see what effect the Auditor General’s report has on that process. A major problem for quite some time has been that there has been little field work to document how the system is actually behaving or to explore reasons behind the perceived unreliability of equipment. That neither the TTC nor Metrolinx undertook a definitive review says a lot about both organizations, but at least we now have the Audtor General’s work to show the kind of information that is available if only one makes the effort to collect it.

The high level summary of the audit occupies one page [click to enlarge].

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Service Quality on 41 Keele: Fall 2019 Update

At the TTC Board Meeting of September 24, 2019, a motion was introduced by Commissioners Shelley Carroll and Brad Bradford on behalf of Councillor James Pasternak in response to a citizens’ group, Action Keele, who have many requests regarding changes to the service on the 41/941 Keele bus routes. Two deputations from Action Keele, Matt Davis and Paul Grey, spoke to the request:

  • a. Include the #41 Keele bus route on the 10 Minute Network.
  • b. Increase the intervals for the green light facing west, at St. Clair Ave. and Old Weston Rd for easier turning maneuvers.
  • c. Move the Sir William Hearst bus stop further north to avoid extra congestion with vehicles accessing and exiting Highway 401.
  • d. Restrict the right-hand lanes, both northbound and southbound, at the Keele St. and Wilson Ave. intersection, to right turn only lanes, for better access of buses to the stops.
  • e. Add more vehicles to the local (not express) #41 Keele route to facilitate access to the network for individuals facing accessibility and mobility constraints.
  • f. Limit the main #41 Keele bus route to operate between Keele Station and Finch West Station and consider adding a #41B Keele bus route to operate less frequently from Keele Station to Pioneer Station.

Matt Davis noted that these proposals come from riders and staff, and that Action Keele had spent much of the year on surveys. He said that TTC data ranks Keele low on reliability, and riders complain about crowding and long waits.

Grey continued this theme stating that one of the main recommendations is the first, that Keele have 10 minute or better service all of the time. A consistent issue from riders at all stops was the frequency of service. One night of a survey during the coldest part of last winter, they canvassed at Keele and Lawrence where 10 people were huddled inside a shelter anticipating 20-30 minute waits for a bus.

That is not service that attracts riders, but rather drives away any who can afford to avoid it by moving or by getting a car.

Commissioner Carroll, although she presented the motion, was somewhat hostile to the deputants saying that their list of changes may or may not be implemented, and hoping that they understood there were financial impacts to this. Grey replied that there is a certain expertise gained in daily riding and operating on a route, and Action Keele thinks they have done their due diligence to produce helpful recommendations.

Vice Chair Alan Heisey asked staff if items b through d fell under the city’s Transportation Department. They do, and this part of the request would have to be dealt with there, although the TTC could provide an advocacy role as they claim to be interested in transit priority.

As for the service design, staff replied that they would review this route as part of their service plan, that there had been a service reliability improvement in September, and that they would report back. Furthermore, Keele and Lawrence has been identified as a “super stop” in the new plan now under development.

This sounds good, but it is a misleading response.

The service change in September consisted of stretching the running time allegedly so that buses could stay on schedule, but without adding vehicles so that headways actually became noticeably wider (see service history below). The reliability of service remains spotty as a review of vehicle monitoring data shows.

The TTC has a cultural inability to recognize that service does not operate on a reliable headway, and that bunching and gaps will not be fixed simply by padding running times. On routes like Keele where the scheduled service is infrequent, bunching can cause very wide gaps in service even though all of the scheduled trips are operated and few or no buses are short turned.

Commissioner Jennifer McKelvie asked when the five year service review coming back to the board. Staff replied that this will be in December 2019, and will be a “big picture” review to set up the plan for implementation. Changes will come in following years as the multi-year plan is updated. McKelvie was concerned that ad hoc requests from the community for service would be lost in this process.

Commissioner Carroll observed that requests from a local community to the TTC Board are not precedent setting giving the example of the Dufferin bus. Councillors who do not sit on the board historically bring forward concerns this way. Keele has been a problem every term of Council for a long time. Carroll mentioned demand at York University, although she missed the point that there is much demand on the Keele route that is completely separate from the university which now has two subway stations. Carroll emphasized that the Board wants engagement at this level saying “I don’t want to crap over that level of engagement”.

The request was referred to staff for consideration as part of the Service Plan on December 19.

Prologue

This is a long article with a lot of detail intended for those advocating for better service on Keele Street, and to balance TTC claims that it has “improved” service with new schedules in September 2019. Some readers don’t want all this detail, and you can bail out when it gets tedious. I won’t mind.

Several issues common to Keele and other routes are evident here:

  • Service does not leave terminals within the TTC’s 6-minute target, and irregular headways are common even where buses are supposed to be “on time”.
  • Service gets even worse as vehicles move along the route and closely spaced buses catch up to each other leaving wide gaps behind them.
  • TTC only measures service quality at terminals and, therefore, reports only on the best case situation along a route.
  • Service quality varies enormously by time of day and day of the week, but TTC reports only average values thereby burying the poor performance of the worst periods.
  • Express service runs on erratic headways which counter the supposed benefit of a faster trip.
  • Padding schedules with extra running and recovery time does not guarantee reliable service.

Some of 41 Keele’s problems are worsened by the use of articulated buses on wide headways. These vehicles were purchased for frequent routes like Finch West and they are out of place on Keele where they contribute to the very wide headways and the fact that this major route is not part of the Ten Minute Network. Unofficially, I have learned that there are plans to move the artics back to 7 Bathurst and change the 41 Keele local service to use standard sized buses with a concurrent reduction in headways. However, without an attention to service reliability, riders on Keele will still suffer.

To this I must add that TTC’s portrayal of service “improvements” work counter to the goal of both better service and a higher regard for the TTC. Schedule changes that make service worse for riders, not to mention “new” express services that are nothing more than a rebranding exercise, might play well with TTC Board members who do not look at the details. However, real improvements require better management of service on the street, an end to laissez-faire attitudes about bunching and the band-aid “fix” of extended running times, and a recognition that Toronto needs more service, not just tinkering for the sake of appearances.

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A Big Announcement, or a Transit Three Card Monte?

On October 16, the governments at Queen’s Park and Toronto City Hall announced a deal to sort out competing transit plans for the city. The current provincial priority projects are the Ontario Line (Don Mills/Eglinton to Exhibition), Scarborough Subway extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard, Yonge Subway extension from Finch to Richmond Hill, and the Eglinton West LRT extension from Mount Dennis to Renforth.

The main City of Toronto report will be discussed at Executive Committee on October 23, and then at Council on October 29-30.

This article reviews that report with reference to a few parts of its many attachments. I will turn to the technical attachments in a second article. To focus material on each subject for readers, I have grouped related items together or re-sequenced things for emphasis. There are extensive quotations of key material so that readers hear not just my “voice” but that of the report’s authors.

Despite the importance politicians at both levels place on the proposals, the fundamental problem remains that many of the details are cloudy, to be kind. Specifically:

  • The City of Toronto retains ownership of the existing transit system avoiding a complex realignment of responsibilities and governance, but with this comes total responsibility for funding the ongoing state of good repair.
  • A large gap remains between the amount of funding needed to maintain and expand Toronto’s transit system relative to the amounts actually available and committed in budgets at various levels of government.
  • Ontario will build four key projects substantially with its own money, but continued support for transit beyond this is uncertain.
  • Toronto will redirect funding originally earmarked for its share of the key projects to other priorities, notably the TTC’s repair backlog. However, much of that “funding” does not exist as allocations in existing budgets and new money is required from Toronto to pay its share.
  • Cost estimates for the key projects are based on preliminary estimates that could change substantially as the design process unfolds. These estimates are in 2019 dollars and make no provision for inflation. The reports are silent on how the proportion of total spending by each contributor might change over the decade or more of construction.
  • A substantial total of project costs will be born by private sector partners through a “P3” financing mechanism. These arrangement will require future payments for what will be, in effect, a capital lease, but the mechanism for funding this from three levels of government is unclear. The reports are silent on the split between short term borrowing to pay for construction as opposed to long term payments to the P3 financier.
  • Project details as they are known today will change in response to design work and the need to keep costs within the projected level. This will affect alignments and stations, and what we think we are buying could be quite different from what we actually get.

The challenge in all of this is, as always, the question of money. We can watch the hands of politicians and managers at all levels as they shuffle cards on the table. We hope to “find the Queen”, to win in the subway sweeps rather than being taken for suckers who will cheer any plan, but lose every game. It is far from clear whether the proposal is a “good deal” for Toronto, and there are huge future transit costs that are barely addressed.

The whole exercise is a political deal to bring peace, comparatively speaking, to the transit file which was needlessly fouled by Doug Ford’s insistence that he knows more about transit in Toronto than anyone else. Does Toronto take this as its last best chance to preserve some semblance of control over its transit future, or do we keep fighting for a better deal?

There are a lot of holes in this plan and severe implications both for the City’s finances and the future of Toronto’s transit system. Many questions need to be asked and answered, even if the result will be a whole new plan after provincial and municipal elections in 2022.

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How Reliable Are TTC Statistics?

Ben Spurr in the Toronto Star published an article on September 30 about the mis-reporting of vehicle reliability for the fleet of Bombardier Flexity streetcars.

In brief, the TTC reports defects for the new cars on a different basis than for the old ones (the CLRVs and the recently retired ALRVs), and this has two effects:

  • The reliability of the old cars looks worse by comparison to the new ones, and this supports the argument that the old cars should be retired as soon as possible.
  • The new cars have recently crested the performance specification from the Bombardier contract, but this is based on the way the failure rate is calculated.

The September 2019 CEO’s Report contains Mean Distance Between Failure (MDBF) charts for both types of streetcars still in active service. August 2019 saw the new fleet’s reliability go about the 35,000 km MDBF, and CEO Rick Leary reported at the TTC Board meeting of September 24 that the current number was running above 50,000 km.

By contrast, the CLRVs have failed roughly every 4,000 to 6,000 km for much of the past three years with problems more common during the cold months. Note that the scales of the charts below are not the same.

However, according to Spurr’s article, the basis of calculation is different for the two fleets. In the case of the new cars, only failures chargeable against Bombardier’s contracted reliability level are counted while for the old cars any failure counts. This makes a big difference when one considers how many of the in service failures were not included in the calculation for the new fleet.

Spurr writes:

The vehicle contract the TTC and Bombardier signed in 2009 set a MDBF target of 35,000 km. The cars were supposed to reach that figure by the time the 60th vehicle was delivered. That car arrived in January 2018, but the new fleet failed to hit the target then or in subsequent months.

That changed this summer. As Bombardier edged closer to completing its delivery of the 204-car fleet, and the TTC weighed the option of placing an order for additional streetcars with the company, the publicly reported reliability figures shot up.

They showed the cars had an MDBF of 36,500 km in July, and 51,500 km in August, the best the fleet has recorded since the early days of the order. CEO Leary cited that most recent figure at last Tuesday’s meeting as evidence the cars are “performing exceptionally well.”

However, over the same period the unpublished reliability figures didn’t improve. The “legacy” numbers showed an MDBF of just 16,400 km in August, which while much better than the early months of the year, was virtually unchanged from the mark set in May.

The unpublished “legacy” figures are consistently significantly worse than those the contractual numbers.

He goes on to write:

Internal TTC documents reviewed by the Star show that in [August] the new streetcars experienced dozens of delays related to faulty brakes, malfunctioning doors, broken HVAC units, and short circuit warnings. The agency tabulated 43 significant delays during that period, but only 15 were deemed Bombardier’s responsibility and included in the version of the stats that are made public.

That lower delay figure led to the contractual number of the cars running more than 51,500 km without a failure.

Readers can judge for themselves the type of delay that is omitted from the TTC’s reliability numbers from the following table which is compiled from TTC delay reports.

TTC_201908_LFLRV_DelaySummary

There are 56 items in the list and several patterns are immediately obvious:

  • Problems with the power collection system are common including pantograph failures, lost trolley poles or defective shoes, and dewirements snagging poles and/or damaging the overhead.
  • Brake problems
  • Mobility ramp problems
  • Failures early in the morning on cars that are probably just entering service

Many of the problems have nothing to do with Bombardier reliability stats and are not included in the calculation included in the CEO’s Report. If they were, the numbers would not look anywhere near as good.

Something that is evident in reported reliability stats is that there can be large variations in MDBF values from month to month. The TTC does not make huge changes in the mileage operated by its fleet each month, and so the large swings must be due to a relatively low number of incidents. For example, if there were typically 100 incidents per month and this swings up or down by 10%, then the MDBF would not change much. However, if there were typically only 20 incidents per month, a small change in the month-to-month numbers would produce a big swing in the MDBF. This is evident in the Flexity reliability values and in those cited for the subway fleet, notably the newer TR trains on Lines 1 and 4.

Even if all types of failure were counted, the service delay it causes must be five minutes or more. This is a standard adopted from the NOVA group of rapid transit operators and really is more appropriate for rapid transit lines.

An important distinction is that vehicles that run in trains have the capability of “getting home” even if one unit is disabled under most circumstances, and reliability stats for this type of operation will be higher than for single vehicles on a streetcar system. Also, rapid transit lines operate at higher average speeds, and failures that are affected more by hours of service than by mileage are spread over a larger distance operated. This is quite evident in TTC subway stats where the MDBF is much higher than for streetcars.

By contrast, it is difficult to imagine how a bus breakdown can cause a significant service delay except in comparatively rare circumstances, and the five minute delay screen for a chargeable delay makes no sense for the bus fleet.

The question of just how reliable various vehicle types might be is part of a larger issue with the selective, and possibly misleading reporting of statistics by TTC management.

Delays to service, especially on the subway, are caused not just by equipment failures, but by a raft of other subsystems and problems such as signals, track, power supply, fires, passenger assistance alarms and track level incidents. The TTC tracks the various types of delay, but reports on them only rarely in public. This means that sources of service delay that might be under the TTC’s control are not tracked in a report that is routinely seen by the TTC Board, nor is there any tracking of the effects of preventative maintenance or capital works to reduce this type of delay. One obvious example is the new Automatic Train Control system which is now operating on about half of Line 1 YUS, but we know nothing of service reliability on that section, Vaughan to St. Patrick, compared to the old signals still in use from St. Patrick to Finch.

Bus reliability is reported in the aggregate for a fleet that ranges in age from brand new to over twelve years old. The TTC used to keep buses for at least 18 years, but now chooses to replace rather than rebuild old vehicles. Retiring a large tranche of 12-20 year old buses in recent years has had three effects:

  • The average age of the fleet is now quite low, and it will continue to drop. Half of the fleet is less than five years old, but as the “bulge” of new buses ages, the fleet reliability will fall.
  • With many new buses coming on stream, the TTC can keep old buses in service and maintain a high ratio of spares to service requirements. The situation is very different for the streetcar fleet where with the retirement of old cars, the fleet is too small to provide service on all routes with an adequate number of spares for maintenance.
  • The large order of buses soaked up the then-available funding for transit infrastructure as it was the only way Toronto could spend its allocation within the short timeframe dictated by the federal government.

For reasons best known to the TTC, the chart above is clipped at 20,000 km rather than showing the actual variation, and this has been the case since early 2018. It is unclear whether the actual numbers are rising or falling over the past two years. Moreover, the values average the reliability for the entire fleet rather than showing subsets such as diesel and hybrid buses, or buses of varying ages or manufacture. This type of breakdown is vital in understanding fleet planning, not to mention tracking the benefits (or not) of technology changes such as the move to an all-electric fleet which is only just beginning.

The TTC fleet of buses is much larger than its requirement for service. In total, as of the September 2019 vehicle list (taken from the Scheduled Service Summary, last page) shows a total of 2,076 vehicles as compared to a peak service requirement of 1,626 (p. 63 of the same document). This is a generous spare factor of over 27%, or one spare bus for every four in service. It is easy to get very good performance from your fleet with such a high ratio, but this also means that, in effect, the TTC operates one garage worth of spares for every four garages worth of regular service. This is far higher than the target spare ratio for rail vehicles.

In a separate post, I will turn to the question of service reliability, scheduling and the way in which service quality is presented by management to the TTC Board. This is another area where there has been a lot of work to make the numbers “look good” but with detrimental effects on the system.

Questions for the TTC:

I have posed a series of questions to the TTC and await answers from them. This article will be updated when they reply.

1. Has the Flexity reliability number always been quoted on the basis of failures chargeable to Bombardier, or was there a change in the methodology somewhere along the way? To put it another way, was there a change in what counted as a failure that created an artificial improvement in the reported numbers?

2. What is the situation with subway delays and MDBF numbers? Are all failures counted (at least those producing a 5 minute or greater delay) or only those considered to be the manufacturer’s fault? Is the calculation done the same way for the TR and T1 fleets?

3. The NOVA metric which the TTC uses is based on the idea of a failure that causes a delay to service. This only makes sense in the case of rail modes where a car/train failure can block the line. For buses, only a rare and well-positioned failure could actually block service. How is a chargeable failure calculated for the bus fleet?

4. Are numbers available for subsets of the bus fleet (e.g. all buses from the same order, age, technology) so that reliability figures can be compared as they have been with rail modes?

5. The CEO’s Report includes only stats for delays caused by vehicle faults, not from other sources such as infrastructure failure. Why is this info not also tracked in the report so that the effects are clear on a proportionate basis? In particular, there is no tracking of signal failures on various parts of the subway with older and newer technologies.

Summary:

TTC management should report vehicle reliability numbers on a consistent basis for all types of vehicles.

The calculation of service interruption rates should reflect what riders experience, not simply numbers to establish contract performance for suppliers or to artificially enhance the reported performance of some vehicle types.

The reliability statistics for the bus fleet should be broken down by major vehicle groups (manufacturer, propulsion technology, age) to allow meaningful comparisons and to ensure tracking of maintenance/reliability as parts of the fleet age.

The very large spare ratio for the bus fleet should be reviewed to determine whether this size of fleet is actually required, or if more service could be operated if only the TTC would budget for the cost of its operation.

Delays caused by infrastructure issues and other interruptions should be tracked and reported so that their effect on service quality can be seen in comparison to vehicle related problems.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, October 13, 2019

The TTC will make many changes to its services on Thanksgiving weekend, Sunday, October 13, 2019.

These include:

  • The formal introduction of new Flexity streetcars on the 506 Carlton route on a scheduled basis.
  • Implementation of the route changes flowing from the Junction Area Study.
  • Construction at Runnymede Station for the Easier Access Program trigger some route changes and interlining.
  • Many “service reliability improvements” intended to make scheduled trips better match actual operating conditions.

Of particular concern in this round of changes is that a policy adopted by the TTC Board in June 2019 allows schedule changes intended to improve reliability to take precedence over loading standards. Several routes where service is nominally “improved” will also have crowding beyond the Board approved standards. This is caused by a shortfall in the budget which does not provide enough resources, the TTC claims, to operate service at a level that meets the standards. There are no numeric values given and so the degree of overcrowding is not known. The affected routes and time periods are shown in the chart below.

On a related note, a few routes which are now part of the Ten Minute Network will slip beyond that target headway.

The intent is to correct these situations either through the 2020 budget or by reallocation of service from other routes.

(The two charts above are included in the PDF containing all of the schedule changes at the end of this article.)

In response to my query about these practices, Mark Mis, Manager of Service Planning replied:

Q1:

SM: … it was my understanding that the table of crowded routes was going to be published regularly, but nothing has appeared after the first iteration … [earlier this year].

MM: The TTC will be reporting on crowded periods of operation in the CEO Report later in the fall when we have a complete board period of service reliability data. We think it is important to report on both crowding and reliability at the same time.

Q2:

SM: … does this footnote mean that the affected services are being scheduled at over the Service Standards for loading?

MM: The footnote is an internal note in the Board Period memo for record keeping purposes. It indicates a period of operation that is scheduled over the crowding standard because of a change in running time as opposed to demand. This strategy to address service reliability was approved by the Board on June 12, 2019 in the Improvements to Surface Transit Schedules report. This is important to note when you take the response to Q1 into account.

The June 2019 report included the following observations:

An effective transit schedule is comprised of two key components:accurate estimates of demand and cycle time—the time for an operator/vehicle to complete a round-trip. If the cycle time is insufficient, a transit schedule can not be delivered as planned resulting in customers experiencing unreliable service and higher levels of crowding than intended.

Customers value consistent and dependable schedules because it improves their trip planning, reduces wait times and reduces trip durations. This was demonstrated by the King Street pilot. A key outcome of it was more consistent and less variable service which resulted in tremendous increases in ridership. [p. 3]

The TTC is leveraging new technology and applying a new approach to preparing reliable schedules which includes setting cycle time at the 95th percentile of observed travel time along a route in a given period of operation. This is meant to ensure that operators have sufficient time to deliver service as planned and advertised during most of the operating period. [p. 5]

The TTC 2019 Operating Budget includes some funding to improve service reliability and capacity. 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 new schedules will reflect actual operating conditions and will result in more reliable service for customers. [p. 7]

On several routes that already have new schedules, a common observation is that vehicles cluster at terminals because they generally arrive early and/or have long scheduled layovers. Despite this, the vehicles do not manage to depart on a regular headway (time between vehicles) nor do they achieve the “on time performance” goal. The TTC is quite generous with a six-minute window in which a departure is considered “on time”. Service becomes progressively more bunched as cars and buses proceed along their route, and there is no measurement of service reliability other than at terminals.

This begs the question of rejigging the schedules in the first place when service can be so irregular. In almost all cases, the “improved” schedules offer less frequent service because existing vehicle spacings are stretched to give longer trip times. Longer trips may reduce short turns, but this is only one of several possible measures of service quality. See Zero Short Turns Does Not Equal Better Service.

Streetcar System Changes

The 506 Carlton route is now officially a low-floor streetcar service with Flexitys scheduled at all hours. Bus and CLRV trippers will supplement peak services. Further details are in a previous article.

The 505 Dundas route remains a bus operation, but the schedules will change to remove extra running time added for water main construction in the central part of the route. This may relieve the worst of the bunching of Dundas buses now seen at terminals. Riders on the 505 will see improved service, or at least the bunches of buses will come slightly more often than they do today.

Conversion of 505 Dundas to Flexity streetcar operation is planned for the winter/spring after conversion of the overhead on that route for pantograph operation.

Routes 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront will get new schedules with blended services during most off-peak periods at Union Station. Scheduled headways will be the same on each route with the intent that cars will alternate on a regular, reliable basis. The downside to this scheme is that service on 510 Spadina will run less frequently, and layover times, which already cause queuing problems at the terminals are increased. 509 Harbourfront will see less frequent service as a regular seasonal change.

Overnight service on 306 Carlton will change to every 20 minutes, and on 310 Spadina to every 15 minutes to push a few more cars out of the crowded carhouses. It is unclear how long this practice will actually last once the CLRV fleet is retired because capacity will be lost at Russell Carhouse for construction starting in 2020.

Bus Network Changes

Construction of the new mouth of the Don River in the Portlands has progressed to the point that on October 30, 2019, Commissioners Street will be closed between Cherry and Saulter for excavation of the new river. A new Commissioners Street road bridge will cross the river, but at this point there is no money in the Portlands project for a streetcar bridge although provision exists in the plans. This would allow the eventual connection of an extended Cherry Street service east to Leslie Barns via Commissioners.

The route changes from the Junction Area Study will go into effect concurrently with route modifications to accommodate elevator construction at Runnymede Station.

The new route structure, in brief:

  • Route 30 High Park will operate from High Park Station to Runnymede Loop taking over the route number formerly assigned to Lambton.
  • Route 40 Junction – Dundas West will operate from Dundas West Station to Kipling Station with a short turn service to Jane Street.
  • Route 71 Runnymede will keep only its branch to Industry Street in Mount Dennis.
  • Route 189 Stockyards will provide service from the subway at High Park and Keele Stations to St. Clair and Scarlett Road.

Due to construction, no buses will be able to loop at Runnymede Station triggering the following changes:

  • Routes 71 Runnymede and 77 Swansea will be interlined.
  • Route 79 Scarlett Road will loop via Annette, High Park and Bloor Street as shown below.

Seasonal service will end on:

  • Weekend evening service to the Zoo on 85 Sheppard East and 86 Scarborough
  • 121 Fort York – Esplanade to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach
  • 175 Bluffers Park

The details of all changes are in the file linked below.

2019.10.13_Service_Changes

Metrolinx Board Meeting September 12, 2019

The Metrolinx Board met on September 12, 2019, but there was not much of substance on the public agenda. Presentations consisted as much of rehashing old news (including he oft-announced service improvements on GO Transit), but almost no substantive policy discussions.

Links here to the Agenda and Video for the meeting.

Ontario Line Initial Business Case (Video at 23:35)

This report was presented by a team of four from Metrolinx:

  • Mathieu Goetzke, Chief Planning Officer (Acting)
  • Malcolm Mackay, Project Sponsor for the Ontario Line, and until 13 days ago an engineer at TTC with 13 years experience, now transferred to Metrolinx. His previous major TTC projects included the Relief Line and the Union Station second platform.
  • Duncan Law, Head Sponsor for the subway program
  • Becca Nagorsky, Director for Project Planning

As I have already reviewed the Initial Business Case (IBC) in some detail, I will not dwell on that here, but will flag comments during the presentation and discussion of particular interest.

There were two threads on which nobody remarked, but which were significant given the way that the Ontario Line was announced:

  • The project details are far less advanced than the bluster of the original announcement might have indicated, and Metrolinx acknowledges that significant technical challenges remain for the design.
  • Language implying the general incompetence of the TTC to build a “modern” rapid transit line is much reduced if not eliminated from the discussion.

These are welcome changes, but we now face the need to build something because the Premier announced it.

Mathieu Goetzke introduced the presentation saying that although the Initial Business Case (IBC) was published in July, they are now going into more details. The Preliminary Business Case (PBC), the next step in the process, must resolve some issues and Metrolinx needs to “activate all possible levels” to address project costs. (See video at 27:00.)

Duncan Law continued in this vein saying that it was important to recognize that the IBC is an early stage of the project. Both the Relief and Ontario Lines are underpinned by the recognition that more capacity is needed. With roughly 50 per cent of the Ontario Line being at or above grade, there would be cost savings. Moreover, with the line separate from the existing subway system, there is an opportunity for technology change that would not otherwise be possible. There is a big difference in this outlook from saying that the TTC uses out of date technology.

Becca Nagorsky echoed the remark that the IBC is a first phase saying that its purpose is to define the project’s goals that must be preserved through the life cycle of more detailed design. She continued what has become a standard Metrolinx comparison of the original Relief Line project to the Ontario Line considering only the Relief Line South. This works from the assumption that the Ontario Line’s technology change will save so much money that the Relief Line North, as a conventional subway, does not even come into the discussion. This precludes the possibility that future design work might discover that the Ontario Line could be more expensive than originally thought, but by then the idea of going back to a subway project will be difficult, if only for political reasons. (There are parallels with the now-entrenched concept of a Scarborough Subway.)

The capital cost projections include anticipated savings due to “risk transfer” to a private sector partner in a Design-Build-Finance-Maintain (DBFM) P3 arrangement, but as with so many P3 schemes, there is little explanation of how exactly this is achieved. In particular, there is always the possibility that circumstances and designs will change, and the private sector “partner” will not assume this risk.

Note that none of the Benefit-Cost ratios exceeds “1” indicating that any version of the project does not produce a “profit” within the Metrolinx benefit-cost methodology. This came up in discussion a bit later (see below). The important issue here is that a large project such as the Ontario or Relief Line has benefits (and possibly costs) that the methodology does not capture notably the value of increasing resiliency in the rapid transit network by provision of alternate routes, and the enabling of projects such as the Richmond Hill extension that would otherwise overload the system.

A new addition to the discussion is a map showing the supposed benefit of the Ontario Line to residents of low income areas. It is no surprise that the OL (and the full RL to Eglinton that preceded it) benefit low income areas such as Thorncliffe Park and Moss Park, but there is a bizarre problem with the map which shows a reduced access to low-income jobs for residents between the Spadina Subway and the Barrie GO corridor south of Eglinton, far from the Ontario Line, not to mention Flemingdon Park north of Eglinton. There is something wrong here with the underlying model, but nobody at the meeting picked up on this.

Duncan Law bravely observed that “we are trained to challenge how things have been done” and this will lead to cost avoidance in the design (video at 38:00). He noted that early works on the route would be accelerated, although this is a tactic already in place (after much political fighting with Mayor Tory who eventually embraced it) for the Relief Line. At this point, Metrolinx is considering what their options for the OL design are before they take them to the public for comment, and they are still at an early stage.

In other words, they have a line on a map, but even that may change, and they fear alarming the locals with designs that are not yet definitive.

Malcolm Mackay spoke about the early works and the importance of co-ordination with large programs in the corridor to “leverage” contracts and consultants for other projects such as delivery of the (now) six track structure from East Harbour to Gerrard (four GO tracks plus two for the OL). There is also the potential role of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) works where some OL work could be combined with private development. However, it is not clear whether the likely construction timeframes of East Harbour and other projects would mesh with the schedule for construction of the OL.

In a marvellous piece of bafflegab, the presentation notes:

To demonstrate visible progress and to de-risk the schedule, a progressive works program is being contemplated with a ground breaking target of 2020 – 2021. [p 20 of the PDF]

What this means is that if Metrolinx actually undertakes some work soon, there will be political benefits of “progress” (shovels in the ground) and would-be bidders for the larger project will see that it has progressed beyond a political slogan and a line on a map. It is unclear just how much will actually be achieved by 2020 when the requests for qualifications and proposals (see chart below) occur.

Among the potential early works is design work the Don Valley crossing and possible launch sites for tunnel boring machines (TBMs). The decision to place some of the OL at or above grade means that there are more transitions in and out of tunnels than would be the case with an all-underground line, and launch sites at the transitions are required. These have significant effects on their locations as recent experience on the Eglinton Crosstown shows.

Mathieu Goetzke observed that the Queen Street corridor has challenges, but of course that would also have applied to the RL at least as far west as Osgoode Station. There is the larger question of the choice by the RL project of Queen versus a route further south, and again that is both a technical and political decision that is now set in stone.

The Next Steps slide below contains the troubling observation that Metrolinx will work to “understand community engagement” as if somehow Metrolinx has been operating in the dark while the Relief Line project went through its assessment and consultation stages. In a telling, but common, misuse, Metrolinx describes what they will undertake as “fulsome” intending to imply “copious” or “substantial”, but the word can also mean “excessive and insincere”, the fawning behaviour of one who insults by being overly complimentary. Metrolinx and GO before them have a long history of insincere public participation.

Discussion by the Board raised various questions starting with one from Michael Kraljevic who asked how much of the work already done on the Relief Line can be used for the Ontario Line? Mathieu Goetzke replied that work on the Queen Street corridor “feeds in” to the OL project, and Queen is “incredibly complicated”. The northern branch of the OL was built in part on the Relief Line North study. Malcolm Mackay stated that all of the work done so far will still be used giving the example of an underground station where geological information would inform design for a nearby structure. Some strategies that were “not successful” will not be pursued for the OL.

Regarding the construction challenges listed in the IBC, Vice-Chair Bryan Davies asked about “showstoppers” in the project. Duncan Law stated that there are none in the project “at this stage”, and he claimed that the benefit is that we see the risks now. Undoubtedly there will be several challenges, but the team will work through them, he said. The objective is to get people to jobs and home. Integration with GO for local and regional travel is important, Low continued. Environmental Assessment amendments will be required including a review of technical options for the OL. There is a “significant mountain to climb”.

Consultants have been engaged for the EA process, but subways tend to be environmentally positive, said Mackay, Metrolinx claims, and challenges with the elevated sections will be overcome.

These comments really are a dodge of the main question about the ability to reuse work already completed. The basic fact is that the OL alignment diverges considerably from the RL in places, and the detailed RL work, including public consultation, does not reflect the OL plan as it now stands. Again, we hear that this is a complex, challenging project, a rather different characterization than the self-confidence of the line’s announcement.

Director Paul Tsparis asked how the OL project helps to alleviate pressure on Line 1, and how is the TTC helping on that front.

Malcolm Mackay trotted out the usual list of TTC efforts including:

  • Larger trains
  • Painted tiles on the platforms at St. George and Bloor-Yonge to channel waiting passengers
  • Automatic Train Control
  • Bloor-Yonge Station expansion

The reference to larger trains is getting tiresome whoever cites it because the “new” Toronto Rocket (TR) equipment has been operating for some time now, and their extra capacity was long-ago consumed by latent demand. The painted floor directions may have some effect, but the big problem at busy stations is that platforms become totally filled even with a slight delay and this prevents easy exchange of passengers with trains. As for ATC, Mackay despite his years working at TTC, was unsure of the dates when it will be implemented. He also neglected to mention that more service requires more trains and, eventually, more train storage when the TTC exhausts what it now has. If the province takes ownership of the subway, this problem will land in their lap.

This was capped off with an observation that going north to meet the Eglinton Crosstown is a “beautiful addition to relief” to Line 1. Well, yes, many advocates have been saying this for a very long time while others downplayed the importance of continuing north of Danforth. Even Metrolinx flagged the added relief of the northern extension, and this informed support for work on it by the previous provincial government.

Michael Kraljevic asked about the benefit cost ratio where the value is less than one, although the P3 arrangement is alleged to improve that factor. How does this line up against other subway projects?

Mathieu Goetzke replied that it is hard to get a ratio beyond 1 with brand new infrastructure. GO improvements have good numbers because they build on legacy infrastructure. Moreover other modelling techniques would pick up economic development issues that are not included in the Metrolinx model. Phil Verster explained that Metrolinx does not consider benefits outside of purely transit ones, and the wider economic benefits would make every transit business case a good one. A case will always be touch-and-go for tunnels to get to a ratio of 1. Goetzke added that the OL can enable other works [e.g. the Richmond Hill extension].

This is quite an admission for Metrolinx who have wrestled with their business case analysis for some time. In a political climate where projects must at least break even, the benefits that are balanced against costs have a huge influence on the results. This can include both the scope of benefits (how wide a net is cast to capture benefits) and what payback period is used in the calculation. If the scope is too wide, there is a risk that presumed benefits are not entirely due to the project itself. If the timeframe is too long (Metrolinx uses 60 years), there is a financial problem of substantial expenditure in the short term for savings that might or might not accrue over the very long haul. Moreover, a large proportion of the “benefits” do not capture revenue that can be used to pay off project debt, but rather accrue to transit riders in reduced travel time and increased mobility.

These approaches can be defended on the grounds of “city building” and the long term, cumulative effect of having more transit infrastructure. However, the attempt to make any one project “pay its way” can distort how it is evaluated for political reasons.

Footnote: The Metrolinx Blog includes an article which emphasizes that the Ontario Line will not be built on unproven technology. The ghost of the UTDC and the Scarborough RT still haunts provincial decisions.

Ridership Initiatives (Video at 1:13:19)

Metrolinx ridership for the second quarter of 2019 is up 4.1% over the same period in 2018. However, children did not ride free a year ago, and when they are removed from the “before” numbers, the remaining ridership rose by 5.2%. It is worth noting that the TTC attempts to count children even though they ride free on the system, and so ridership numbers for the two systems are not directly comparable, at least on that basis. There is also the challenge of defining a “ride” when trips can involve a series of transfers and the benefit of the two-hour fare on Presto. The whole question of reporting demand on the GTA network needs work, including granularity about when and where people actually travel.

Statistics reported by APTA show commuter rail up 2.1% among reporting agencies, and bus ridership down 1.0%. GO bus ridership is up 4.5%.

A detailed map (PDF) shows the ridership by station across the rail network. There is no data for the bus network where there has been some controversy about which services should be maintained and which should be cut. Moreover the rail network counts do not distinguish by time of day to break out growth, if any, in off-peak travel as GO moves beyond peak period, peak direction commuting service to downtown Toronto.

Ridership growth varies by corridor and station. The high roller is Barrie with a 10.6% growth in the corridor. Kitchener us up 5.6% and Lakeshore East is up 4.8%.

GO is doing a lot of online marketing which they report as being quite successful, and there is an uptake of e-Tickets as a way of purchasing fares. Many of the promotions are for attractions in the off-peak period and for casual users who would be new to the system.

GO regards riders in Toronto as “transit natives”, people familiar with what transit can offer, and markets to them differently than to potential riders in the 905. Whether this is valid all the way out to the 416/905 boundary is hard to say.

The lower base GO fares are driving ridership within Toronto, but there was no discussion of the effect that will occur if the GO-TTC co-fare arrangement ends thanks to lack of funding from Queen’s Park. This has already affected riders on the UPX who no longer get a UPX+TTC discount. All the marketing efforts in the world can be undone by fiscal policies that affect fares and service.

Presto Quarterly Report (Video at 1:28:08)

Director Janet Ecker asked about efforts to minimize TTC criticisms of Presto. From what she is reading, criticisms of the system way off base. She asked how Metrolinx is trying to deal with this.

Phil Verster replied that it is illuminating to see how some comments get headline status and do not reflect what’s happening on the ground. Things are challenging, he said, and Metrolinx continues to work closely with TTC. There are claims that Metrolinx feels are not valid, and they have encouraged the TTC “to put this behind us”, not to go to dispute resolution.

Annaliese Czerny, Executive VP, PRESTO, felt that it was a shame the story is not about new products and better experiences. Verster was optimistic about making progress with TTC to move to a better future – new devices, open payments – and that this will be the story rather than problems. Czerny noted that TTC is an active and positive partner in the process for future developments.

This was the usual positive Metrolinx spin on PRESTO, but it was undone by the TTC when they released their agenda for the Board Meeting to be held on September 24. In it, the CEO’s Report is quite clear that the TTC will pursue arbitration under their PRESTO contract in an attempt to obtain payment of lost revenue due to non-delivery of a working fare system.

With PRESTO readers on every bus, streetcar and fare gate, and with PRESTO fare vending machines and self-serve reload machines at every station, the provincially-led fare card system has given our customers many benefits, but also many challenges.

Over the summer, I met with Metrolinx President and CEO, Phil Verster, to discuss the outstanding claims between the parties and the status of the outstanding deliverables of the contract for the implementation of PRESTO on the TTC. It is clear from our discussions that Metrolinx considers the contract deliverables complete.

So, while these discussions were informative about the positions of each organization, we were not able to reach a common understanding and agreement. We did agree that the next step is to proceed with arbitration, which is the dispute resolution process provided in the contract.

We are working with external counsel to review the process and finalize material and submissions. As we outlined in our report to the Board in June, the TTC does not consider the contract closed. Rather, there are significant deliverables outstanding, including open payment and account-based technology (which includes equipment), equipment to provide PRESTO Tickets on buses and streetcars, an acceptable third-party distribution network and Service Level Agreements for all equipment.

[TTC CEO’s Report at p. 14]

A major problem with Metrolinx’ perception of a “working” system is that they assume that any rider who encounters a fare machine that is out of service will use an alternate just as they would at a GO station. However, on crowded transit vehicles getting to another reader, let alone another fare machine for tokens or cash, can be very difficult and many riders do not bother to try. If they have a Metropass on their card (or a two-hour fare from a previous tap), this really does not matter because they have already paid, but for other riders this represents lost revenue to the TTC. Credit card holders cannot pay at all because this function rarely if ever worked.

Regular riders are familiar with the situation and just shrug when their tap does not register. I personally encounter this problem at least once a week, and see others having the same problems with unresponsive machines even more often. Things may be improving, but perfection is some distance off and Metrolinx has a lot to answer for from the earlier days of their PRESTO implementation.

Metrolinx tests the availability of fare equipment by “pinging” each device (sending a signal to a machine that elicits a response simply saying “I am here”). However, that function takes place at a low level within the hardware and the application software could be hung even though the “ping” gets a positive response.

Metrolinx measures of PRESTO access are likely too rosy because of assumptions about how easily riders can access the machines and about what constitutes a “working” box when tested remotely.

Service Changes Coming to 506 Carlton in October 2019

With the shift to the larger low-floor streetcars, the TTC will begin schedule changes on Sunday October 13 (Thanksgiving weekend) for route 506 Carlton. In many periods of operation, the headways will widen in recognition of the capacity of the new cars, although the change will also bring a capacity increase.

The schedules are designed on the basis that most service will be provided by Flexitys, especially in the off-peak period. This could lead to problems such as those seen on other routes where CLRVs operate on headways designed for larger cars and are badly overloaded as a result. A lot depends on there being enough new cars to fully populate the route.

On the schedules, the only CLRVs remaining in operation will be the 506 Carlton trippers and 511 Bathurst (which is planned to start conversion late in 2019).

The TTC Service Standards set design capacities for vehicles which in theory dictate the level of service a route received. The standard is more generous for off-peak than for peak service.

Peak Off-Peak
CLRV 74 42
Flexity 130 70
Ratio Flexity:CLRV 1.76 1.67
Ratio CLRV:Flexity 0.57 0.60

If service were replaced purely on the basis of scheduled capacity, then there would be about 60% as many Flexitys/hour as on a schedule for CLRVs.

The new service design (click to enlarge, or retrieve PDF version) is shown below.

The change in AM peak and midday headways is from 5’40” (340 seconds, 10.6 cars/hour) to 7’50” (470 seconds, 7.7 cars/hour), a decrease in cars per hour to 72% of current service. This will be partly offset by the larger capacity of the new cars plus the benefit of trippers scheduled during the height of the peak period.

The change in PM peak headways is from 6’00” (360 seconds, 10 cars/hour) to 8’30” (510 seconds, 7.1 cars/hour), a decrease in cars/hour of to 71% of current service.

This change comes on top of wider headways introduced in August in an attempt to improve route reliability by giving streetcars more running time and longer terminal layovers in a bid to cut down on short turns.

The capacity goes up, but the service frequency worsens. This will almost certainly be compounded by the TTC’s inability to maintain even spacing of vehicles as they move across the route. Even though they might leave their terminals somewhat “on time”, this situation quickly deteriorates into bunches and gaps.

There is always a challenge when the TTC substitutes larger vehicles on a route and widens the headway. Laissez-faire route management that might work tolerably on shorter headways falls apart when headways are wider. If two vehicles nominally ten minutes apart actually operate as a pair, then there is a twenty minute gap and the service might as well not exist at all. Equally, the short-turn stats might look wonderful because both cars have time to reach their terminal, but riders see the same gap they would have if one of the cars short-turned.

The TTC has a huge challenge in this regard, but shows little sign of trying to fix the problem preferring to assume that more running time and longer layovers will do the trick.

Continue reading

TTC CEO’s Report: August 2019

Although the TTC Board takes a long siesta through the summer, the CEO produces a monthly report even in months when the Board does not meet. The August 2019 edition was recently posted on the TTC’s site.

This report continues a format established some time ago by CEO Rick Leary in which the focus is on measures of system performance. There is no financial information here, and only summary ridership numbers with no sense of the associated revenue. All of the financial reporting was hived off of the CEO’s report into a quarterly CFO’s report, but we have not seen one of those since April 2019, and that covered the year ending December 2018. One might have expected an update at the July Board meeting, but the abrupt and unexpected departure of CFO Dan Wright in early June appears to have iced the short-lived report.

I spoke with Wright at the Audit & Risk Management Committee meeting the day before he left the TTC, and he gave no indication of his impending departure. We spoke about the problems of counting “rides” in an environment where there is only a tenuous link between fare payment and the actual number of trips (or trip segments) taken.

The TTC has been wrestling with the possibility that ridership has been over-reported for some time, and the situation is further complicated by Metropasses, the move to Presto and the two-hour fare. Just what is a “ride” for statistical purposes? I had planned to follow this up with Wright for an article here, but alas he vanished like so many other senior TTC staff in the past year. The problem is summarized in the CEO’s Report:

Higher PRESTO adoption appears to have affected measured ridership in two ways. First, we now have more precise ridership data compared to counting tokens and weighing paper tickets. Second, more than 25% of our former monthly pass customers have converted to PRESTO pay-as-you-go e-purse each month in 2019, likely to take advantage of the two hour transfer and for some, the TTC/GO discounted co-fare. This would affect measured ridership to the extent that these customers may ride less often than the monthly average of 71 rides per adult monthly pass. [p 25]

Josie La Vita, the Executive Director of Financial Planning for the City of Toronto, replaced Wright on an acting basis pending recruitment of a new CFO, a process expected to take 12-24 months.

The CEO no longer reports financial data on operations or capital projects, and the absence of a CFO’s report leaves a major gap in information available to the TTC Board and Council on the system’s actual performance.

Moreover, riding counts (i.e. vehicle occupancy) are only rarely reported at a route level, and a “crowding report” has not recently seen the light of day. When crowding data are released, they are averaged and this gives no indication of the effects of bunching and gapping on individual vehicle loads. Performance metrics that do appear in the CEO’s Report do not fully describe the service quality actually experienced by riders particularly on surface routes.

Ridership for 2019 to the end of June is reported as 267.8 million as against a target of 271.9m and a 2018 figure of 270.3m (down 1.5% and 0.9% respectively). For the month of June itself, ridership is on target. As the chart below shows, the shortfall in 2019 came primarily in the winter months which were unusually cold. June’s ridership was boosted by the Toronto Raptors Championship Parade without which the number would have been down 0.6% compared to 2018.

Weekend ridership is down, and this is thought to be due to various factors including the number of subway shutdowns. These are not going to end any time soon with the ongoing signalling projects and other infrastructure upgrades, and at some point the TTC cannot treat their effects as unexpected. A follow-on problem for the TTC is the perception by riders that “the subway is always closed” and this can affect ridership as much as the actual shutdowns.

Presto fare card usage continues to increase and by June 2019 the adoption rate reached about 80%. Presto ridership for the first half of 2019 was 214.2 million out of the total reported ridership of 267.8m.

Vehicle Reliability

The fleet benefits from improved preventative maintenance and from the retirement of older vehicles. Before the onset of hot weather, there was a concerted effort to get air conditioning systems in good order, and AC failures were rare even with the particularly hot weather in 2019. (Personally, I never encountered a “hot car” on the subway, a first for several years running.)

On the streetcar fleet, the decline in the proportion of service provided by the nearly 40-year old CLRVs and the disappearance of their ALRV cousins (of which a few are still officially active but never seen in revenue service) contributes to a reduction of in service failures. The Flexity fleet has its ups and downs for reliability, but even running below its target, these cars are much more reliable than those they replace.

On the bus fleet, the retirement of old buses and the recent purchases of hundreds of new vehicles has substantially lowered the average age of a bus and increased the proportion of buses that are “spare” relative to service needs. The fleet is over 2,000 vehicles, but the peak requirement in June was 1,641 including buses used on streetcar lines. This generous spare ratio has benefits in service reliability but also a cost in both capital and in garaging.

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TIFF 2019 To Demolish Downtown Transit Service, Again

Updated Aug. 22, 2019 at 8:05 pm: The TTC has advised that temporary stops for the diversions are still to be finalized. Also, there will be Paid Duty Officers to manage traffic at Spadina, York and Church Streets. Thanks to Stuart Green for the update.

The City of Toronto and TTC have announced various road closures and service diversions associated with the 2019 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

As in past years, King Street will be completely closed to traffic including transit operations from University Avenue to Spadina Avenue. This will begin at 5 am on Thursday, September 5 and continue through to 5 am on Monday, September 9.

Additional ad hoc diversions might occur on both Monday and Tuesday, September 9-10, for “red carpet events” from 3:30 pm onward.

Service arrangements this year are somewhat different from 2018 because there is now the split 504A/504B King service and the soon-to-be-restored 508 Lake Shore.

The primary diversion for almost all services will be:

  • From King to Queen on Spadina, both ways
  • From King to Queen on York, northbound/westbound
  • From Queen to King on Church, southbound/eastbound

Riders wishing to transfer from the subway to an eastbound King car to Broadview Station or to the Distillery should do so at Queen, not at King, or they will have to walk from Yonge to Church from King Station. There will be no eastbound King cars at Osgoode Station. It is not yet confirmed whether the TTC will establish a stop at Queen and York for a walking transfer.

Riders wishing to transfer from the subway to a westbound King car must do so at King or Osgoode Stations. There will be no streetcar service at St. Andrew Station, although there will be plenty of King cars nearby at York Street. Whether a temporary stop will be created at King and York is still to be confirmed.

This service design will see ALL of the King Street services, both ways, operating northbound on York Street giving an extremely frequent service, not to mention the potential for a total bottleneck making the turns east and west at Queen Street.

504A Dundas West to Distillery Service

This service will be broken into two segments:

  • From the west, 504A cars to/from Dundas West will operate downtown via Spadina and Queen east to Church, then loop via Church, King and York.
  • From the east, 504A cars to/from the Distillery will loop downtown via King, York, Queen and Church.

504B Broadview Station Service

The Broadview Station service will use the same loop downtown as the 504A Distillery cars:

  • Westbound on King to York, then north to Queen, east to Church and south to King.

There will be no replacement bus service parallel to King as has been attempted in some past years. Anyone destined for the area between University and Spadina on King will have to walk in from the bounds of the closed area or south from Queen Street. This is of particular concern for anyone going to screenings at TIFF Bell Lightbox which will have no transit service during the diversions.

508 Lake Shore Service

The new 508 Lake Shore trippers will loop downtown via:

  • Eastbound via Spadina, Queen and Church
  • Returning westbound via Richmond and Victoria to Queen, then west to Spadina

304 Night Service

The 304 night cars will divert via Spadina, Queen, Church/York both ways.

A shuttle night bus will operate between Wolseley Loop and Parliament/King bypassing the TIFF district via Adelaide and Richmond Streets.

503 Kingston Road Bus

Not mentioned in the TTC’s announcement is the 503 bus service which consolidates the 502/503 Kingston Road services in September. These buses are supposed to loop via York, Richmond, and University to King including a layover point on York north of King. That area will be thick with streetcar service. It is ironic that the only service that will stop eastbound at St. Andrew Station will be the 503 bus on what is sure to be a “now and then” schedule.

I am a TIFF supporter as a member and donor, and have attended the festival for over three decades. That said, I am disgusted by the gorilla-like behaviour of TIFF in elbowing aside vital transit services on weekdays in Toronto.

These diversions produce severe effects on service not just downtown, but on parts of the King and Queen routes far from the TIFF district. Riders across the city suffer so that TIFF can have its street fair.

Every year we hear that “next year will be different”, but nothing happens.

From the TTC’s diversion announcement:

We encourage you to plan your trip in advance. We thank you for your patience during this important event benefitting Toronto’s economy and international reputation as a world-class city.

A “world class city” would figure out how to integrate its transit service into a major cultural festival.