TTC Board Meeting: February 25, 2020

The TTC Board meets on February 25 to discuss several reports and proposals. Among items on the agenda are:

I will add to this article following the Board meeting with additional information from the discussions.

Notable by its absence from the CEO’s Report is any information on route crowding or improved metrics for service quality.

Trials of electric buses are in early days, and Toronto is a long way from seeing an entirely zero-emission fleet. My column this week in NOW Toronto present some of the history of evolving bus technology.

Commissioner Brad Bradford has a Notice of Motion which seeks to link spending on improved transit service to potential funding for new vehicles. While the recently improved City Building Fund provides more money for transit vehicles, this covers only one third of their cost and none of any future increase in operations. Bradford’s motion requests:

The TTC Board request that the TTC Chief Executive Officer, when engaging in negotiations with the provincial and federal governments for funding for the TTC’s vehicle procurement priorities, tie funding requests to the implementation of the TTC’s 5-Year Service Plan and service levels as prescribed by the strategy.

There are two problems with this stance.

First, if the TTC and Council choose not to actually fund the added service, this would imply that the capital funding should not come from other governments. I doubt that is Bradford’s intent, but the real issue is that there is no Council commitment to fund better TTC service. Other factors such as the jump in operating budgets to fund new lines such as Eglinton Crosstown and increased fare subsidies could crowd out spending on service.

Second, the scale of service increases proposed in the Service Plan is quite modest, and it really should be revisited. Sadly, the TTC chose not to include more aggressive options for expansion in the Plan even if only on an aspirational basis. Back in 2003, the strength of David Miller’s Ridership Growth Strategy was that it addressed what Toronto could do for modest increases in spending, but this approach has never been repeated.

Bradford also has a Notice of Motion that seeks to consolidate updates on two reports so that both sides of the revenue protection and enforcement issue can be seen by the Board together.

  • Auditor General’s Report – Review of Toronto Transit Commission’s Revenue Operations
  • Ombudsman Toronto Enquiry Report Review of the TTC’s Investigation of a February 18, 2018 Incident Involving Transit Fare Inspectors

Further discussion of fare issues and Presto are likely at the meeting.

The Child Pass Problem (Updated)

Updated February 15, 2020 at 10:00 am:

Additional information from the TTC has been added to clarify some issues raised here including:

  • How the number of child card taps relates to the number of rides.
  • Which “average fare” is the one used in loss calculations for fare evasion.
  • The discrepancy between full year child card losses and associated citations as compared to the fare evasion study conducted late in 2019.
  • The difference between evasion rates calculated from tap data on Presto machines as opposed to from in-person observations, and the time periods covered by each.

Changes are flagged in the body of this article for readers who have been here before.

Introduction

The TTC’s Audit and Risk Management Committee met on February 11 to discuss three reports of which two dealt in detail with the problems of fare evasion and revenue loss.

Documents related to this are:

Among many areas covered by these reports was the problem of misuse of Presto cards set up for free travel by children by riders who were anything but.

Although this was flagged as a problem when the reports were published in advance of the meeting, the scale and potential revenue loss only came out in the staff presentation to the committee. To complicate the debate, there were two separate and different estimates of the scale of this problem.

The range of fare evasion losses with Child Presto cards ranges widely depending on how one does the calculation. The root of the problem is that there were only 10 million Child Presto taps in 2019.

In one version, a the TTC concludes that 89 per cent of child card taps are not by children. However, the small total number of taps limits the size of the potential revenue loss to about $12 million, well below the total projected losses of $70 million.

In the other version, the TTC claims that one third of all fare evasion is due to Child Presto abuse, but there were not enough child taps in 2019 to account for this level. It is possible that the level of abuse has been growing strongly and was much larger in late 2019 (when the study yielding the “one third” figure took place) than for the year overall.

Updated February 15, 2020:

The TTC confirmed that there are two separate calculations for Child Presto losses that cover two time periods and methodologies.

  • The estimate of $12.4 million loss was based on estimating the number of rides that do not fit with a typical usage pattern one would expect for children, and it is calculated from all-year card usage and the system average fare of $2.25.
  • Statistics for provincial offenses in court showed that about 13% of cases related to Child Presto abuse. This was based on the full year 2019.
  • The 33.7% overall evasion rate for Child Presto use is based on a study in the final months of 2019. This implies a strong growth in the fraudulent use of Child Presto cards.

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Fare Evasion on the TTC

This week’s article for NOW Toronto: Fare evasion storm diverts attention from TTC’s real problems

There are two reports on the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee agenda for Tuesday, February 11 dealing with fare evasion and revenue controls:

These reports contain far more information, and cover more ground than I could fit into the NOW piece, and more details are likely to come out when TTC management presents their reports at the committee meeting.

I will update this article following the meeting.

TTC Service Changes: Sunday, February 16, 2020

The TTC will implement a number of service changes on February 16, 2020, but this is a comparatively minor set including the end of construction and resumption of normal routes for three projects:

  • Davisville Station paving, Lawrence Station paving, and Runnymede Station easier access construction (79 Scarlett Road only).

There will be changes to some services on Don Mills on weekends as the provision for effects of Metrolinx construction is reduced. No other routes are affected, nor is any weekday service.

So-called reliability improvements continue to work their way through the system. The predominant effect is to stretch available buses over longer running times with corresponding reduction in scheduled service levels. Routes affected in this round are:

  • 21 Brimley, 53/953 Steeles East local and express, 54 Lawrence East, 116 Morningside, 129 McCowan North, 505 Dundas, 945 Kipling Express

The peak bus fleet in regular service goes down by 5 in the AM peak and up by 5 in the PM peak, and so this month is a wash in terms of vehicles used. However, the reliability changes mean that buses on the affected routes are scheduled for slower driving speeds and/or longer times for recovery at terminals.

505 Dundas is a particularly odd case because the route is already notorious for having multiple buses taking extended layovers at terminals. The “new” schedule reverts back to October 2018 when running times were even more generous than they are today. Streetcars will return at the next schedule change on March 29, and if they have as generous travel times as the buses, congestion at Broadview and Dundas West Stations will become even worse than it is today.

2020.02.16_Service_Changes

TTC Board Meeting Wrap-Up: January 27, 2020

The TTC Board met on January 27 with a full agenda and several reports of interest including:

Despite its importance, the air quality study report was squeezed out for time and there was no discussion. I will turn to this in a future article with additional information from background reports.

CEO’s Report

The CEO’s Report also received only brief consideration by the Board. Among items of interest:

  • Although year-to-date ridership for 2019 to the end of November was below budget, the trend has been upward since the summer.
  • Presto ridership accounted for 394.2 million of the 484.6 million rides taken during this period, or 81.3%. Now that sales of “legacy” media have ended, the TTC expects that this proportion will grow over 2020.
  • Reliability of the new Flexity streetcars continues to be high based on contracted requirements. The “operational” metric, which includes issues that are beyond the manufacturer’s control, is running at a much lower rate and fell slightly in November. A target for this value will be established through a peer review of vehicle performance.
  • Reliability of the CLRV fleet continued to fall through November reflecting the age of the cars and the limited maintenance that cars near retirement would receive. This could be among the last reports in which the CLRVs appear as part of the fleet and service review.

The usual metrics about service quality (“on time” departure from terminals, short turns, etc.) are in this report, but the CEO advised the Board that these will be revised early in 2020. I will comment on the new charts and metrics when they appear.

Capital Investment Priorities

For details about this report, please refer to my articles:

The version of the report now posted on the TTC’s website includes an amendment to the chart showing how the Flexity streetcar order was funded. The Canadian government of the day, through the “Honourable” John Baird, famously told Toronto to “fuck off” when they sought a federal contribution, although he later apologized. As a fig leaf to hide their embarrassment, federal gas taxes were allocated by the City to this project.

Discussion of the report covered a lot of territory, and some Board members were confused about just which projects were fully funded and which were not. The problem lies in the way the information has been presented. Spending is cited for the ten year capital plan, but in many cases a project’s timelines extend beyond that horizon. There might be “100 per cent” funding for an initial stage of a project, but not for the whole thing. As the chart below shows, the spending on Subway Infrastructure, $3.7 billion from 2020 to 2029, is fully funded, but there is a further $6.5 billion lurking in the unfunded portion from 2030 onward. The degree to which various line items are funded over the full 15 year span varies with the lowest among them, the Line 2 Enhancement, sitting at only 22%.

This gives the short term impression that Toronto is well out of the woods, but in fact we have only reached a clearing.

The distinction between the “fully funded” subway projects and the one third funding allocated to surface vehicle projects was not lost on the Board. Ironically, it is with surface improvements that riders (and taxpayers) can see changes fairly quickly, but the plan is not organized to achieve this.

Some Commissioners argued that a way forward with streetcar purchases should be found, while others were concerned with the bus fleet.

Staff advised that a report on buses including an update on the electric bus test program will come to the March 2020 Board meeting. However, there is no meeting scheduled for that month. I have asked for clarification on this issue.

Councillor Carroll, with an amendment by Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong, moved and the Board approved:

1. That the TTC Board directs the TTC CEO to submit to the May 2020 TTC Board meeting a business case analysis for action on an expedited procurement plan for 20 and up to 60 streetcars included in the revised 2020 Capital Budget.

2. That the TTC Board directs the TTC CEO to report back to the Board by Q3 2020 on a vehicle procurement strategy for implementation to be included as part of the 2021 Capital Budget for the outstanding vehicles identified in the revised 2020 Capital Budget.

The motion originally spoke of only 20 streetcars (the portion funded in the plan), but Minnan-Wong argued against this on the grounds that a small order would have a higher unit cost, and that this would be a de facto sole source purchase. He is hoping for a larger order to attract interest from bidders other than Bombardier, and his amendment expanded the scope of the review to 60.

Councillor Carroll noted that the wording of this motion was worked out in discussions over the past weekend with both the CEO and the Mayor’s Office, and so the ground had been prepared.

The second part of the motion addresses the general issue of vehicle procurement and budgeting, and directs staff to include this in the 2021 Capital Budget. The purpose of this is for the TTC to maintain control of the discussion rather than ceding ground to City staff and Council. Previously, TTC management recommended a longer timeframe with a 2022 target, but this leaves important discussions of system planning, supposedly a crucial issue, in the background for far too long.

A key issue, mentioned by nobody, is that there is money in two City reserves for transit that have not been allocated:

  • The Scarborough Subway Levy, at 1.6% on the property tax, was supposed to finance the City’s share of the Scarborough extension, a project that has been taken over by the Province. It is unclear how this money will be used.
  • The original City Building Fund was to finance the City’s Smart Track contribution to the Metrolinx GO RER program. However, the actual scope of that program may change, and it is not clear that all of the SmartTrack stations will be built. With the three-stop Scarborough subway extension, the need for a Smart Track Lawrence East Station disappears, and the Gerrard Station may conflict with the Ontario Line.

With Metrolinx looking for developer contributions to station projects, it is not clear which Smart Track stations still are viable even with the City contribution.

To underpin calls for federal and provincial support of Toronto’s transit projects, Commissioner Di Laurentiis moved and the Board adopted:

That TTC staff conduct an economic benefit analysis in partnership with appropriate City staff that will identify the specific and broad underlying impetus that a properly funded and maintained Toronto transit system provides to business competitiveness and job creation in the Toronto region specifically, and Ontario as a whole.

The whole package now moves through the City’s Budget Committee to the Council meeting on February 19.

Automatic Train Control Alstom Contract Amendments

The report on the public agenda includes a substantial history of the ATC project on Line 1 Yonge-University including the changes in project scope and timelines. The current project schedule was approved by the Board in April 2019 (See: Automatic Train Control Re-Baselining and Transit Systems Engineering Review in Attachment 2, p 11 of the pdf.)

The current report provides funding for the revised scope, although the dollar value of this is not public.

Commissioner Lalonde moved an amendment that was adopted by the Board:

That staff conduct an extensive lessons-learned review of the Automatic Train Control (ATC) project prior to presenting a business case for the implementation of ATC on Line 2.

While a thorough review of major projects such as ATC are definitely worthwhile, there is a timing issue here. The Line 1 project is not supposed to be fully implemented until September 2022 and this coincides with the point where work on the Line 2 project is supposed to begin (see spending plan in the table above). The review really needs to be underway well before full implementation in order that the Line 2 project is not delayed.

Related issues are the timing of new subway car purchases and construction of a new yard for Line 2 relative to the timing of the Scarborough extension project. This is now pegged at 2029-30 in provincial plans, but there is strong pressure to pull this back closer to the original 2026-27 timeframe. Such a move would have a domino effect on the Line 2 renewal.

Keele Yard Derailment

On the morning of Wednesday, January 22, 2020, subway service on Line 2 was severely disrupted by a derailment at Keele Yard.

Four trains originate from this yard early in the day, and the fourth of these was pulling onto the main line when one axle on the fourth car of the train derailed. The train was already foul of the main line, and it was impossible to maintain service. 116 buses provided a shuttle between Jane and Ossington Stations. This disrupted bus service on other routes as vehicles and operators were redirected to the subway shuttle.

Staff report that preliminary investigation shows that two factors in combination were responsible:

  • Localized wear on rail at a switch
  • A new wheel on the axle that derailed

The wheel, with less wear than would be found on a typical wheel, was able to climb over the worn area in the track rather than following it.

Use of Keele Yard has been discontinued pending a complete review of tracks there and repairs/modifications as needed.

Presto Contract Discussion

The ongoing dispute with Metrolinx over the Presto contract continues, and this was discussed in the morning’s private session. An intriguing tidbit raised by Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong was that the TTC had made a Freedom of Information request to Metrolinx, but this was rejected. If negotiations have reached that level, this process is neither harmonious nor is it likely to be resolved soon.

Now on NOW: Billions for Transit, But What Do We Get?

My article for this week on NOW is up. The topic overlaps with a previous piece on this site TTC Announces Capital Spending Plan For City Building Fund, but more from the background of TTC’s shifting project priorities and the dangers of planning for shared funding with other governments.

Regular readers here will know that I bemoaned the policy change from major renewal of Line 2 to patching up the existing fleet and infrastructure for an extra decade. This change wafted through TTC Board “approval” without any public discussion a year ago, and now TTC management appear to be rethinking their position. The result? A large chunk of the new money in Mayor Tory’s City Building Fund goes to projects that should never have been deferred in the first place.

Of course if there had been a big debate about funding for the existing Line 2, this might just have pricked the balloon that is the Scarborough Subway Extension. Imagine if we said that the extension could not be built until the existing line was brought up to scratch?

Maintenance and renewal versus shiny new builds is an endless story with public infrastructure.

When Better Service Isn’t – Part V: Streetcar Routes

This article continue the series reviewing routes where the TTC alleges that service has improved during 2019. Please refer to the first two parts for introductory information.

This concluding installment in the series reviews the streetcar routes. The comparisons here are different because the roll out of the new Flexity fleet combined with service resiliency changes and the substitution of buses for streetcars on some routes makes a year-over-year comparison only a snapshot of one point in the transition. Instead, this article compares service in January 2015 when the new fleet was fairly small and the network was operated, for the most part with streetcars, to the service in January 2020.

There is now a pervasive problem on streetcar routes with the amount of time allocated to travel plus recovery, to the point that there can be congestion of multiple cars (or buses as in the case of 505 Dundas) at terminals. This represents a waste of equipment by over-allocation of time so that even the worst case trips will not be late. Most are early, and operators get generous breaks as a result.

When contemplating service levels on the streetcar network, remember that all surplus cars were used up in 1997 when the 510 Spadina line opened, and the fleet did not get net new capacity until the Flexitys began to arrive. There is quite a backlog of demand for better service and more capacity as King Street showed.

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When Better Service Isn’t – Part IV: Central Toronto

This article continue the series reviewing routes where the TTC alleges that service has improved during 2019. Please refer to the first two parts for introductory information.

In Part IV, I will turn to bus routes in the “old” City of Toronto, the central portion of the network. As for the streetcar routes, they are a special case because of the effects of the changeover to the new Flexity fleet in recent years. Those will be the subject of Part V.

For reference, here is the map showing routes with supposedly better service.

As on routes throughout what were once “the suburbs” of Toronto, “improvement” is a euphemism where stretching vehicles over longer running times and headways for “resiliency” provides, in theory “better” service, but in fact a reduction in route capacity and longer scheduled waits.

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When Better Service Isn’t – Part III: Etobicoke

This article continue the series reviewing routes where the TTC alleges that service has improved during 2019. Please refer to the first two parts for introductory information.

For reference, here is the map showing routes with supposedly better service.

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When Better Service Isn’t – Part II: The Three Yorks

Updated January 26, 2020: 89/989 Weston were omitted in error from this article and have been added at the end.

This article is the second part of a series on the misrepresentation of service “improvements” in the TTC’s 2020 budget. Please refer to Part I for the introduction to the series.

In this installment, I will review routes broadly speaking in North York, East York and York. Overlaps with other parts of the city are inevitable. For comments on the east-west routes crossing Victoria Park into Scarborough, please see Part I.

As a refresher, here is the TTC’s map showing all of the routes where there were alleged service improvements in 2019.

The issue here is that the vast majority of the “improved” routes actually have longer scheduled headways (the gap between vehicles) in the new schedules than in the old. This provides extra running and recovery time for the worst trips, but more generally simply means that scheduled frequency and capacity go down. The TTC has not reported crowding information to indicate what effect this has on riders. Some of the affected routes are relatively small and may not be at capacity in their “before” schedules, but this tactic is applied across the system including on major routes.

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