TTC Board Meeting Update: January 9, 2023

The TTC Board met today to consider its 2023 Operating and Capital budget. To nobody’s surprise, they were adopted as written in spite of numerous public deputations and a few attempts by the Board to tweak the recommendations.

For detailed background on the budgets, see:

In the course of the meeting two fairly standard devices were used to limit debate, although one of them proved to be deeply out of order. I will come to that later in the article.

As is common for meetings where there are many pesky public deputations, the speaking time was limited to three minutes each. Questions were rarely asked for clarification or to draw out more information. Making a deputation at the TTC can be quite disheartening when almost nobody sitting around the table wants to hear you.

The Fare Increase

A thread running through many presentations, and indeed now part of the official line, is that transit is important for people who cannot afford to drive. This creates a political dynamic where transit is a service for the poor while roads are for everyone else. TTC has long benefited from strong “choice” ridership, but the shift to work-from-home has stripped a large population of riders who commute by choice out of their customer base.

Ironically, we are still building transit megaprojects for core-oriented commuting. That tap is very hard to turn off because of the many interests in construction and development. Buses in the poorer suburbs, not so much.

The proposed ten cent fare increase effective Monday, April 3, 2023 for single adult and youth fares was approved, as was a scheme to make about 50,000 more low income people eligible for the “Fair Pass”.

Several deputants as well as Board member Councillor Moise argued that the structure of the fare increase would hurt low income riders disproportionately because they are less likely to afford monthly passes for which there is no increase. This is certainly true for riders who do not travel enough to make a pass worth buying, or who cannot afford to lay out a month’s transit fare in a single payment. As to the Fair Pass, some members of the Board seemed unaware that there is a broad range of “low income” riders who are not poor enough to qualify for this pass.

The issue of fares as a social subsidy is a complicated one, along with the question of how much riders of any class should pay toward the cost of transit. There is supposed to be a Fare Policy Study coming to the TTC Board later in 2023, and this should be the context for a debate on all aspects of the issue. It should receive more than a perfunctory, dismissive debate for an already-decided fare increase.

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TTC 2023 Operating Budget

This article is a deeper dive into the budget for 2023 following up from my first cut on the subject yesterday (January 4).


Updated January 6, 2023 at 2:10pm: Of all the tables included in this article, I realized that I had not included the full budgets showing functional breakdowns, as opposed to individual line items. These have been added at the end.

The annual budget cycle is always a challenge because the document comes to the TTC Board at the last minute before it must be passed and forwarded to Council. This year, the situation was complicated by the election (normally we would see the budget reports in December, not January), and by the new “strong mayor” system in which the Mayor effectively dictates the budget by setting the City’s proposed subsidy ceiling. We have many new Board members most of whom have no experience with TTC budgets, and who will not know “which rocks to look under”.

Even worse, the Mayor’s press conference announcing the budget made no mention of planned service cuts coming in Spring 2023 and gave the impression that this “core service” was defended. That can, at best, be called “misdirection” in the hope that nobody would notice what was happening and focus on the “good news”.

Here, in much more detail than I had time for in the first article, is the budget information distilled from the TTC’s 55-page report.

Key points (the TL/DR version):

  • The City will give the TTC $53 million more in subsidy in 2023 than 2022. This is pitched as being in support of more security, safety and cleanliness on the system, although the cost of those changes is less than 10% of that amount.
  • The same argument is advanced for proceeds from a fare increase (10 cents on single fares for adults and youth/students) projected at roughly $16 million.
  • The effect is that new funding is advertised for a politically unassailable purpose even though it will mainly pay for other aspects of TTC operations.
  • The year-over-year increase in City subsidy is lower than in some past years and should not be seen as a generous windfall. This is in part possible because of underspending in 2022 which leaves headroom for 2023 without as much additional City money as would otherwise be required.
  • The cost of beginning operations on Lines 5 and 6 will eat up over $40 million in 2023 and even more in 2024. At the same time, the TTC proposes service cuts elsewhere that will save about $46 million nominally in the name of matching service to demand. What is actually happening is that most of the network is paying for two new rapid transit lines through service cuts.
  • Crowding standards for off-peak service will be substantially changed to permit more riders on buses, streetcars and subway trains. On buses, the off-peak standard will be only slightly less than the peak standard. Combined with chronic unreliability of service, this will lead to more full buses and will discourage riding during the period when recovery to pre-pandemic levels is strong.
  • Headway maxima will be raised so that rapid transit service could operate as infrequently as every 10 minutes during periods of light demand. For buses and streetcars, there is no guarantee that the existing Ten Minute Network will be preserved.
  • The changes to Service Standards (crowding and maximum headways) are not explicitly listed in the report’s recommendations and would be missed by someone only browsing early pages, a not unusual situation for TTC Board members and Councillors.
  • The TTC has not published any details of planned service changes even though, for April 2023 implementation, they are certainly in the early stages of planning. The TTC and Council were clearly expected to approve the changes sight-unseen, possibly without even realizing they were buried in the budget. TTC management must be forced to reveal the details of what they plan.
  • The budget provides for additional operators who will be used to fill open crews to reduce or eliminate the incidence of service gaps caused by missing buses and streetcars. This is a change and improvement from using “run as directed” vehicles to the extent that operators are available to drive them.
  • Even this austerity service is possible only with additional subsidy of $336 million which the City/TTC will seek from the provincial and federal governments.
  • Ridership recovery is stronger on weekends, and among concession fare groups (seniors, youth, students). This type of riding is less affected by work-from-home.
  • Projections for future budgets in 2024 and 2025 include no provision for additional service beyond that which will be operated in 2023.
  • The TTC claims it will pursue a ridership recovery program, but its budgetary plans suggest that service will remain below 2022 levels for 2023 through 2025. This, coupled with chronic service reliability problems, is not a recipe for winning back riders.
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TTC 2023 Budget: A Bit More Subsidy, But …

Updated January 4, 2023 at 6pm:

  • Change in fares clarified to include 10 cent increase in Youth (Student) fares.
  • Comparative table of budgets amended to update 2022 budget and add 2023 budget numbers.
  • Overview of proposed service changes added.

Where there are substantial changes from the original version, I have retained the old text, but formatted it with strikethroughs so that readers can see what has changed.

There is much more to write about in the Budget Reports, both Operating and Capital, but I will leave that to separate articles.

See: TTC Operating Budget Report

Mayor John Tory announced increased funding of $53 million for the TTC in 2023. To put this in context, the total TTC budget for 2022 was $2.28 billion for the conventional and Wheel-Trans systems. The total TTC subsidy will rise from $905.7 to $958.7 million. This has been presented as a “big thing”, but it is comparable to (even somewhat below) past increases. The City has fairly regularly boosted TTC funding at above inflationary rates.

Tory’s announcement highlighted system safety with:

  • the proposed hiring of 50 more Special Constables adding to an existing complement of about 80, and
  • doubling of the Streets-To-Homes workers assigned to the TTC from 10 to 20.

The budget focuses on four areas:

  • System safety (as above).
  • Service improvements in priority Neighbourhood Improvement Areas and on lines that are overcrowded.
  • Increased cleaning of streetcars on busy routes to counter a rising problem of litter.
  • Fare changes (see below).

On the revenue side, fares will go up for some riders, down for others:

  • Single adult and youth (aka student) fares will go up by 10 cents.
  • Fares for pass holders and seniors will not change (there was no mention of student fares).
  • The “Fair Pass” discount program which allows low-income adults to pay at the senior’s rate will be expanded to make 50,000 more people eligible.

The announcement gave the impression that the $53 million was intended primarily for safety initiatives. However, the 70 new staff must be recruited and trained. Assuming they are on the budget for 9 months, this only eats up a small part of this even allowing for the very high salary of Special Constables. For example, at $100k each, this would only amount to $7 million.

The projected cost of the additional Special Constables, the Streets-to-Homes workers and the streetcar cleaning is $4.4 million. The projected cost of the expanded Fair Pass program is $2.0 million to be funded from the TTC’s budget rather than through the Social Development department.

As for service improvements, the TTC has a habit of putting them off as long as possible to minimize current year budget effects. We do not know whether planned improvements will occur as soon as possible (Spring 2023) or if we must wait until the Fall to see more buses on the street.

From the budget details, we now know that service cuts are coming during some periods on the streetcar, and particularly on the rapid transit network. The overall weekly hours of service will drop in Spring 2023 from the current 95% of pre-pandemic level to 91%.

Defending his record as Mayor, John Tory claimed responsibility for three key TTC initiatives: the Fair Pass, the Two Hour Transfer and Free Rides for Children. Of these, only the last was actually a Tory initiative. Both the Fair Pass and the time-based transfer arose from years of public advocacy that met the usual response “we can’t afford it”, at least until they were deemed politically worthwhile.

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TTC Board Meeting, June 23, 2022

The TTC Board met on June 23 with a fairly modest agenda. This is the second last scheduled Board meeting before the October 2022 civic elections and, unless there is an emergency situation, the current Board will have little to do with transit’s future in Toronto.

This is an unfortunately typical situation in election years. By the time a new Board is in place to discuss key issues with the 2023 budget, fares, service levels and hoped-for subsidies, it will be a new Board presented with whatever plan management devises and with little chance for adjustment.

In a previous article, I wrote about the TTC’s funding crisis, a topic that receives almost no discussion at Board meetings. June 23 was no exception.

The major items on the agenda were:

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TTC Board Meeting Wrap-up: February 8, 2022

The TTC Board met on February 8, 2022. Several hours were spent in private session on items that reported only by name in the agenda. They primarily relate to litigation (one item involves an as-yet unsettled claim regarding a contract for the Spadina Subway extension to Vaughan) and Labour Relations.

This article includes comments on:

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TTC Heads Toward Fare Capping, Flat Fares, No Zones

At its meeting of February 10, 2022, the TTC board will consider a report on the future transit fare structure in Toronto.

In May 2022, TTC management will present a final recommendation for the Board’s endorsement, but this month’s update takes us a considerable way along the road to a new structure transit fares. For the past two years, TTC staff have consulted with interested members of the public while following an overall policy framework approved by the Board.

Source: Advancing the 5-Year Fare Policy, p 15

The evaluation found, to no surprise, that no fare scheme can achieve all of these goals, and in particular “financial sustainability” (for which read “no increase in subsidy”) and any change to make fares more attractive will work at cross-purposes. The idea that somehow new riders can be attracted in sufficient numbers to offset costs is a convenient fiction spouted by those whose real agenda is to cap spending, not to improve transit.

Many fare schemes were considered, and many were discarded for various reasons.

Those that survived to the final round of evaluation were:

  • Free fares
  • Full cost recovery
  • Fare capping
  • Aligning concession fares
  • Removal of the cross-boundary YRT-TTC extra fare
  • Peak/Off-peak pricing
  • Group Travel Discount
  • Reduce the TTC children-ride-free age limit to 5 from 12
  • Set the Senior concession fare to 20% of the Adult fare
  • Remove the Senior concession

Notable by its absence in this list is any form of fare-by-distance or fare zones. These options were dropped because of the inequity they would pose for riders whose trips tend to be long, but whose incomes are not high (residents of the outer part of Toronto).

It is no secret to readers of this blog that I have always supported the flat fare concept not just for its value to long-haul riders, but for its simplicity. Schemes that purport to make riders pay proportionately for their riding tend to increase the complexity and cost without a comparable or better return in making transit attractive. Indeed, the higher fares this would bring drive away the very trips, long journeys, that we do not want shifting to autos while giving a bonus to riders who make shorter hops typically “downtown”.

The fare policy report recommends that the TTC:

1. Continue to support the TTC’s existing fare structure, which includes the flat fare, free two-hour transfer across all modes and the Fair Pass and age-based discounts as the hallmarks of the TTC’s fare policy;

2. Endorse in principle the opportunities related to fare capping and aligning concessions across Fair Pass, Seniors and Youth as detailed in the Comments section of this report to inform the final fare policy recommendations that will be presented to the Board for approval in May 2022; and

3. Direct staff to forward a copy of this report to the Ministry of Transportation to restart discussions on reintroducing the Discount Double Fare (DDF), the TTC-GO Transit co-fare to offset Line 3 closures.

Source: Advancing the 5-Year Fare Policy, pp 1-2
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TTC Fare Policy Town Hall

On February 2, 2022, the TTC will hold an online Town Hall to discuss their soon-to-be-published 5-Year Fare Policy and 10-Year Fare Collection Outlook. Details are on the linked page.

This is part of ongoing consultation about the future of fares in Toronto, and it will inform both a progress report to the TTC Board in February and a Final Recommendation in May 2022.

One important aspect of this study is to look at fares and fare collection without the constraints of any specific system, and of Presto in particular, to determine what a new system should look like. If Metrolinx and Presto can compete on those terms, fine, but the policy will set a bar for all vendors.

It will be interesting to see whether the powers that be at Queen’s Park will let the TTC go with a new system, or like the Liberals did, threaten to withhold subsidies from the TTC if they don’t use the provincial system.

The TTC study is reviewing a range of fare models:

  • Existing fare structure including two-hour transfers
  • Free travel for all riders on all services
  • Full cost recovery by increasing existing fares
  • Remove the cross-boundary fare between York Region Transit and TTC. Riders would pay at the start of their trip on whichever system they boarded and ride for that fare.
  • Fare capping with daily, weekly or monthly caps. This would produce the same effect as a pass, but without the need to purchase one up front. If a rider took more than the “capped” number of trips in a period, the extra trips would be free.
  • Peak/off-peak pricing with higher fares for trips beginning during the peak period.

At the December 20, 2021, TTC Board Meeting, staff tipped their hand on a preferred option – fare capping. This option is simple to understand, and it extends the benefits of discounted travel to frequent riders without the challenge of deciding in advance and paying for a pass.

Other options under review include:

  • A review of concession fare groups and pricing
  • A loyalty program to reward frequent riders
  • Group travel discounts

From previous consultations, the TTC has learned five key points from riders:

  • The 2-hour transfer is considered to be “equitable and inclusive” for all riders
  • Age based concessions and the Fair Pass discount should be retained
  • Discounts should be extended for more riders for equity reasons
  • A single cross boundary fare would make this type of travel more affordable
  • Changes to the fare structure “require equity and access to continue to be foundational”

The political challenge will be to have a new fare system embraced by Toronto and participating GTA municipalities. Nothing is free, especially “free” transit, and there will no doubt be a robust debate about where funding for cheaper fares or extended discounts will come from.

The most important factor in any study like this is that options are all on the table rather than being excluded from the outside with a blanket “we can’t afford it” statement. That, among other excuses, helped to prevent the implementation of the monthly pass years ago, and worked against the two-hour transfer more recently. The decision on what we can “afford” is not management’s to make by filtering options in a study, but for politicians to decide based on where they want to spend tax dollars.

This study appears to be keeping the options open rather than settling on a “solution”.

There is a link on the TTC’s page to register for the Town Hall.

Toronto Contemplates Net Zero Plan

Updated January 13, 2022 at 6:45 am: Sundry typos and scrambled phrases have been corrected. The projection of additional bus requirements for a 70 per cent service increase has been corrected to include spares.

At its recent meeting, Toronto Council endorsed a plan to move the City to Net Zero emissions by 2040. A review of the full plan is well beyond the scope of this blog, but some proposals affecting transit service and operations are very aggressive.

If Toronto is going to be serious about this we need a detailed examination of assumptions, scenarios, cost projection, and plans out to 2040. Where will population and job growth be? How will transit serve them?

Before I get into the report itself, a quotation from former TTC CEO Andy Byford is worth mention.

Andy Byford sums up the role of a transit system:

“…service that is frequent, that is clean, that goes where people want to go, when people want to go there, that is customer responsive, that is reliable, in other words that gets the basics right …”

Andy Byford on CBC Sunday, December 21, 2021

Too often we concentrate on big construction projects, or a new technology, or a showcase trial on one or two routes rather than looking at the overall system. In particular, we rarely consider what transit is from a rider’s point of view. It is pointless to talk about attracting people to use transit more if we do not first address the question of why they are not already riding transit today. This is an absolutely essential part of any Net Zero strategy.

The reports contain a lot of material, although there is some duplication between them. They contain proposals for short and medium term actions. At this point, Council has not embraced anything beyond the short term plan.

From a transit point of view, that “plan” is more or less “business as usual” and does little to challenge the current status of transit service in the short term. There is hope that electrification of the diesel/hybrid bus fleet might be accelerated, but little sense of what, on a system-wide basis, would shift auto users to transit beyond works already in progress.

A vital point here is that transit has two major ways to affect Council’s Net Zero goals:

  • Conversion of transit vehicles to all-electric operation will reduce or eliminate emissions associated with these vehicles, depending on the degree to which the electricity sources are themselves “clean”. This is a relatively small part of the City’s total emissions.
  • Shifting trips from autos to transit (or to walking or cycling) both reduces emissions and relieves the effects of road congestion, including, possibly, making more dedicated road space available for transit and cycling. Emissions from cars are much more substantial than those from transit.

In the short term, the overwhelming focus is on conversion of the existing bus fleet to electric operation, not of expanding service to attract more riders. Improvements to specific routes might come through various transit priority schemes, but these will not be seen system-wide. Based on demand projections, large scale capital works, notably new subway lines, will primarily benefit existing riders rather than shifting auto users to transit.

The short term targets related to transit are quite simple:

  • Electrify 20 percent of the bus fleet by 2025-26.
    • This effectively requires that 400 diesel or hybrid buses be converted. The TTC already plans to buy 300 eBuses, and the Board has asked TTC management to look at accelerating this conversion. This target is very low hanging fruit provided that someone will pay for the buses.
  • Further targets are 50 per cent conversion by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2040.
    • Looking at the TTC’s likely replacement schedule (discussed in my Capital Budget Follow-Up), they will easily be achieved as much of the existing fleet is due for replacement by the early 2030s. Hybrid buses to be acquired this year will reach end of life in 2034-35.

This is an endorsement of “more of the same” in our transit planning, but no real commitment to making transit fundamentally better so that it can handle many more trips at lower emission rates than today.

Looking further out there are proposals for substantially more transit service and free fares, but these are not fully reflected in projected costs or infrastructure needs.

Some of the proposals for the NZ2050 plan are, shall we say, poorly thought-out:

  • Convert one lane of traffic to exclusive bus lanes on all arterials.
    • Many arterials are only four lanes wide and taking a permanent bus lane has considerable effects on how the road would operate. This is a particular problem for routes with infrequent service during some periods of operation.
  • Increase service frequency on all transit routes: bus by 70%, streetcar by 50%, subway off-peak service increased to every 3 mins.
    • This represents a very large increase in transit service with effects on fleet size, facilities and, of course, budgets. This would require an increase in the bus and streetcar fleets beyond what is already planned as well as construction of new garages and a carhouse.
  • Tolls of $0.66/km on all arterial roads.
    • This would apply only to fossil-fueled cars, and the forecast amount of revenue is less than half of the additional funding transit would require.
  • No transit fares.
    • The immediate cost of this would be about $1.2 billion in foregone fare revenue, offset by about ten percent in the elimination of fare collection and enforcement costs.
  • Shift 75% of car and transit trips under 5km to bikes or e-bikes by 2040.
    • This is truly bizarre. In effect, transit stops performing a local service for most rides and they are shifted to cycling. The average length of a transit trip is under 10km, and many are shorter. Moreover, trips are often comprised of multiple hops each of which might be quite small. There is a small question of how much uptake there would be in poor weather conditions.
  • Shift 75% of trips under 2km to walking by 2040.
    • Even some transit trips are short, and transit, especially with improved service, is the natural place for these trips. It is not clear whether the plan would be to somehow deter transit users from making very short trips just as, indeed, a car driver would.

[Revenue and cost issues are discussed in more detail later in this article.]

With all of the planned investment, transit’s mode share of travel is projected to fall, while walking and cycling would rise considerably in part because of the policy of diverting short trips. It simply does not make sense to push people off of transit just at the point where we are trying to encourage transit use. This part of the plan is laughably incoherent, and is an example of how good intentions can be undermined by poorly crafted policy.

For example, it is less than 5km from Liberty Village to Yonge Street, and if we were to take the proposal seriously, we would expect most people to cycle to work downtown, not take GO or the streetcar services. I look forward to the public meeting where this scheme is unveiled to the residents. If the demand for GO and for the King car is any indication, they do not want to use “active transportation”. Similarly, the planned development at East Harbour is less than 5km from downtown.

Meanwhile, transit electrification itself only eliminates 3 per cent of existing emissions, assuming a clean source of electricity. The subway and streetcar systems already are electrified, and both have capacity for growing demand if only more service were operated.


The Council motion reads, in part:

City Council endorse the targets and actions outlined in Attachment B to the report (December 2, 2021) from the Interim Director, Environment and Energy, titled “TransformTO Net Zero Strategy”.

Councillor Layton moved two amendments:

* Request the Board of the Toronto Transit Commission to identify opportunities to accelerate the Green Bus Program and to request the CEO, Toronto Transit Commission to report to the Board in the second quarter of 2022 on these opportunities.

* City Council request the City Manager, in consultation with the General Manager of the Toronto Transit Commission, to outline in the 2022 Budget proposal options to increase spending on surface vehicles and hiring additional operators aimed at increasing ridership to get us on the path to achieving the TransformTO goals.

The first amendment echoes a request from the TTC Board to its management at the December 20, 2021 meeting. Acceleration of eBus purchases will require additional funding from somewhere, as well as a vendor capable of meeting a larger order. It will also have effects on TTC infrastructure needs for garaging.

The second amendment is more pressing because it speaks to the 2022 Budget process that will launch on January 13. If the TTC is going to ramp up service this year, this must be factored into the budget. A likely problem will be that any growth beyond that now planned will be entirely on the City’s dime rather than supported by other governments. However, we need to understand what could be done, if only to know the cost should a “fairy godmother” show up with some spare change.

Neither the amendment nor the short-term target for 2022-2025 gives any indication of just what is meant by “better” transit service, nor do they distinguish between restoring pre-covid service levels and going beyond that to encourage more ridership.

The points listed above for NZ2050 are excerpted from Attachment C, the technical background report. A casual reader might think that Council has embraced a very expansive view of transit’s role, but they have not.

The tactics from Attachment C are notably absent from Attachment B which refers to them, but actually lists a much more restricted set of transit goals. I have confirmed with City staff that Council has only endorsed Attachment B.

Q: For clarification: There are, broadly speaking, two levels of a shift in the emphasis on transit in the short term plan to 2030 and in the longer term to 2040 and beyond. Reading the Council motion, it appears that Council has endorsed the short term plan (Appendix B), but has not endorsed the more aggressive targets of the longer term set out in Appendix C. Is this a correct interpretation?

A: Yes. City Council endorsed the targets and the actions outlined in Attachment B ‘TransformTO Net Zero Strategy’. Attachment C is a technical backgrounder report that was used to inform the targets and actions that were recommended and adopted.

Email from Steve Munro to Toronto Media Relations, December 29, 2021. Response from Toronto Environment & Energy Division, January 10, 2022.

That is a polite way of saying “we had some really aggressive ideas, but we know enough not to bring them to Council”.

“Transit” vs “Transition”

In the process of reviewing the reports, I searched on the word “transit”, but got hits more frequently on “transition” as there are many other sectors where reduction or elimination of emissions are possible and on a large scale.

According to the most recent greenhouse gas inventory, transportation is the second largest source of GHG emissions, accounting for 36 percent of total emissions with approximately 97 per cent of all transportation emissions originating from passenger cars, trucks, vans, and buses. Gasoline accounts for about 30 per cent of Toronto’s total GHG emissions.

TransformTO: Critical Steps for Net Zero by 2040. p. 30

Here is a pie chart showing the relative contribution of each proposed action in the Attachment C list which is a more aggressive set of changes than Council adopted. Note the small contribution of transit (red) compared with other areas such as personal and commercial vehicles and changes to building energy use.

Based on Section 7: Low-Carbon Actions pp 52-56 in the Net Zero Technical Report

Another way to look at this is shown in a chart of energy sources and emissions generated by each transportation sector as the full NZ plan is implemented.

  • Top left: the emissions of urban buses are shown in green. This falls off to zero as the bus fleet electrifies.
  • Middle left: the decline in diesel (green) is a combination of transit, trucking and a small contribution from diesel-powered autos.
  • Bottom left: Cars and light trucks are the overwhelming contributors of emissions within the transportation sector.
  • On the right, the charts are harder to accept at face value because they include the effect of a very large shift of short trips to active transportation. An interesting comparison would be what might happen if autos electrified, but did not lose mode share.

That last point has a knock-on effect because if short trips are not shifted, but are only electrified, they will contribute a substantial demand to generating and charging capacity, not to mention continued auto traffic and competition for road space.

Net Zero Technical Report, p. 91
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TTC 2022 Operating Budget: Board Meeting Follow-Up

Updated December 22, 2021 at 6:00 pm: The TTC has published the budgeted service hours through to December 2022. This information has been added to the section “When Will Full Service Resume?”

This article is a continuation from TTC 2022 Operating Budget picking up additional information from the Board meeting of December 20, 2021.

In recent years, budget development has been shaped by two factors: the constantly shifting outlook on the city’s economy in a pandemic environment combined with a Board that is predisposed to leave all policy development and analytical work to management. There is little or no advance discussion of budget policy and the entire package lands in the Board’s (and public’s) lap just before the holiday season and at a point where it must be approved to fit into the overall budget process at City Council. In 2022, the situation will be repeated because of the municipal election, and a new TTC Board will find one of its first major decisions will be to approve the 2023 budget.

When Will Full Service Resume?

For some time, TTC policy has been that full service would be provided once ridership hits 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. The system is already at 49 per cent overall, with the proportion varying by mode as shown below.

In these charts, the red line corresponds to the point of fare payment (the location where fare was first charged) while the gray line tracks “boardings” (transfer connections and other trips within the two hour window of fare payment). Note that these are percentages of pre-pandemic values, not absolute values.

The bus network overall is now at 60 per cent, streetcars and subways at about 40. This reflects the difference in areas served and the degree to which employment in bus-served areas does not lend itself to work-from-home arrangements.

More important, however, is that a 60 per cent average will mask times and locations where the value is much higher and much lower. The bus network, if considered on its own, already deserves “full service”, but was the victim of the November 2021 cutbacks and of the staff shortages that already existed. The disconnect between the real world of rider experience and management reports is that service is reduced system-wide even though the ridership loss is driven mainly by the subway. (The streetcar network has comparable percentages to the subway, but a much smaller ridership base.)

Statements about what would trigger a return to full service vary in subtle but important ways.

  • TTC policy says that a 50 per cent overall return of ridership should trigger 100 per cent service levels.
  • Actual staffing makes it impossible for this to occur before Q2 2022 even though ridership is likely to hit the 50 per cent mark in Q1.
  • In the 2022 Budget Highlights, the TTC states that the budget “Restores Pre-Pandemic Service Capacity in Q2 2022”. The operative word here is “capacity”.
  • In various places, the terms “in” and “by” have been used interchangeably, but they could imply “sometime within the quarter” as opposed to “by the beginning of the quarter”.
  • The commitment was further qualified by CEO Rick Leary’s statement during the Board meeting that a decision to resume full service would depend on ridership.
  • Later in the TTC’s press release, Chair Jaye Robinson is quoted: “The 2022 budget approved today gives us the flexibility to increase service up to pre-pandemic levels, in response to demand, while funding key sustainability and service improvement initiatives – all without raising fares for our riders.” This does not even commit to a Q2 return to full service, only that the budget headroom will exist for more service as and when the TTC decides to operate it.

An important caveat is that “full service” does not mean “identical service” because the pre-pandemic schedules no longer reflect today’s riding patterns in locations and times of demand together with a desire for some degree of distancing on vehicles.

As I write this, the planning memo detailing service changes for January 2022 has not been issued, and it is not yet known whether the TTC will even begin to restore some of the November 2021 cuts, a move that only a few weeks ago management claimed would occur.

Updated December 22, 2021: The budgeted hours for the 2022 schedule periods have now been published. See the table below. Note that service that is included in the budget is not necessarily operated as we saw through 2021. By September 2022, the budgeted regular service will be back to the same level as in January 2021 (186k hours/week).

How Much Service Do We Get Today?

CEO Rick Leary was happy to announce that despite the staffing problems, the TTC is fielding 90 per cent of scheduled service. On some days, they manage to hit 95 per cent. However, this is based on a reduced schedule effective November 21. Here are the numbers for the planned regular weekly service hours (excluding additions to cope with construction projects):

  • November 21, 2021: 165,859
  • October 10, 2021: 177,798
  • January 3, 2021: 179,130
  • January 5, 2020: 185,896

The difference between November 2021 and January 2020 is 11 per cent. However, the TTC is only operating 90 per cent of that scheduled service, and so what is on the street is 149,000 hours per week or 20 per cent below January 2020. Their ability to achieve service looks better when reported against a diminished schedule.

This is not to say that there are no fiscal problems with transit and the City’s ability to pay for better service. However, transparency requires that statistics be clearly reported, not spun to put the best possible light on the system’s performance.

A direct result of schedule cuts due to staff shortages, together with randomly cancelled services, is erratic service including the missing bus problem I have documented in many recent service analyses. Sadly, there was no discussion at all about problems of service reliability at the Board meeting even though the provision of “Safe, Seamless & Reliable Transit Service” is first on the list of 2022 service objectives.

“Customer satisfaction” and “Fiscal sustainability” are two key objectives, but these inevitably collide because service is provided based on available funding, not to hit a quality objective to please riders.

CEO Rick Leary routinely talks about “Run as Directed” buses, or RADs, as his solution to shortfalls in service capacity. He regularly overplays the effect that these have on the system.

  • A routine claim is that there are 140 RAD buses available to fill in on crowded routes. In fact there were 140 8-hour crews in three shifts with a maximum of about 60 buses at one time.
  • The RAD buses double as subway shuttles and vanish when part of the subway is not running.
  • The RAD buses are not trackable through transit smartphone apps, and riders cannot anticipate their arrival.
  • The RAD crews were cancelled in the November 21 cuts as a workforce reduction measure.

Updated December 22 at 6:00 pm: RAD crews will be partly restored in January 2022. There will be 61 weekday crews in all, but the maximum number of RAD buses at any one time will be 47 (weekday midday). There is only one weekend RAD bus on Saturdays and Sundays.

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TTC CEO’s Report: August 2021

Updated August 26, 2021 at 3:00 pm: The TTC has advised that the planned implementation of the 128 Stanley Greene bus has been deferred, contrary to information in the CEO’s Report. See the discussion under the 2021 Service Plan heading for more information.

Although there is no TTC Board meeting in August, the monthly CEO’s Report provides an update on TTC operations. Here are some points of interest and clarifications from the TTC on questions I sent about the report.

This article looks at ridership trends, the 2021 Service Plan status, service reliability and vehicle reliability.

Ridership, Revenue and Crowding

As Toronto reopens, ridership has started to grow, and as of the start of July had surpassed the level of early April when the stay-at-home order choked off the last attempted restart. The system as a whole reached 35 per cent of pre-covid levels. Buses still have the most boardings (44 per cent of pre-covid), but growth is stronger on the subway and streetcar networks in recent weeks. The TTC expects that this trend will continue through the summer and fall as in-person participation in school, office and other activities picks up.

Fare revenue is running well below historical levels thanks to the low ridership, and is also below the budgeted level because a stronger recovery was forecast in late 2020 when the budget projections were struck. The shortfall is part of the overall budgetary gap that the City faces in 2021 with pandemic-related costs.

As ridership picks up, so will bus crowding although the effect varies by route, location and time-of-day. The TTC does not break out this information in detail, but the data below show a clear trend into early July. An important consideration here is that the TTC’s recovery plan allows for greater crowding once the overall level of ridership crests 50 percent of historic values.

There simply are not enough buses and streetcars to accommodate twice the current riding level (i.e. a return to about 70 per cent overall) at current crowding levels. That said, the TTC’s fleet is substantially larger than its day-to-day requirement including provision for service and maintenance spares. There is room for growth in the total service operated provided that a way is found to pay for it. This will be an important issue going into the 2022 budget discussions.

In the chart below it is important to remember that these are all-day, all-system numbers. Many trips that are counter-peak, or offpeak, or on routes that tend not to accumulate large numbers of riders, are included in the total. A figure of 7 percent may not look like much, but the value is diluted by counting many trips that would never be crowded anyhow.

The issue, which the TTC does not report, is the proportion of trips on busy routes and times that are crowded. This results in a disconnect between rider complaints and reported average crowding levels. A basic aspect of transit is that when loads are not even, more people are riding on crowded buses than those that are nearly empty. The perceived level of crowding will always be higher than the average, but riders cannot board an “average” bus trip especially if that trip occurs on a route or at a time when they do not travel. Such is the inherent problem of reporting average values.

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