TTC Board Meeting October 16, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on October 16. Among items of interest on the agenda are:

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GO/TTC Co-Fares: A Glass Half Full

Today, October 6, 2017, the Government of Ontario announced that there would be a $1.50 co-fare between GO Transit and the TTC. This long-overdue change begins, but does not fully address, problems faced by transit riders who cross the City’s border and faced a full extra fare to ride on two separate transit systems.

Ontario is lowering the cost of commuting for people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) by introducing a 50 per cent discount for PRESTO card users who transfer between GO Transit or the Union Pearson Express (UP Express) and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), in both directions.

Premier Kathleen Wynne was at Union Station in Toronto today to announce that adult, senior and youth/student TTC riders will pay a TTC fare of just $1.50 when they use a PRESTO card to transfer to or from GO Transit or the UP Express. The discount will launch in January 2018, shortly after the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension will begin service to six new stations. For people whose regular commute includes GO/UP Express-TTC transfers, this step towards regional fare integration and more affordable transit options will save about $720 per year. [Ontario government press release]

For some types of trips, this is “good news”, but it is far from the panacea some, notably Mayor Tory, touts:

“Thanks to bold leadership at City Hall and Queen’s Park, we have found a way to give a discount to those who use a mix of our transit systems. Transit will now be more affordable for Toronto residents who ride a mix of the TTC, UP Express and GO Transit to get around the city. This agreement also moves us a step closer to make sure that SmartTrack will cost Toronto residents the same as the TTC. We need to make sure that the transit we are building and maintaining remains affordable.” [From the press release]

The primary beneficiaries of this change will be GO Transit commuters who can now use the TTC to and from a Toronto GO station (most likely Union) for the “city” end of their journeys. That $720/year saving translates to 240 round trips at $3 each. That’s 48 weeks’ worth of travel taking into account at least two weeks of vacation plus an equal number of statutory holidays.

To put this into context, the annual cost of commuting by GO from Oakville to Union is about $3,400. Someone who now uses TTC for their city trip (say from Union to Queen’s Park) would pay $1,440 in TTC fares at $3 each making a total of $4,840 for both systems. The new discount will save about 15%. Conversely someone who now walks from Union has the TTC option at a lower marginal cost than before.

This is a good deal, as far as it goes, for GO Transit riders, but the story is much different for other travellers.

Cross-boundary Travel on Local Bus Systems

Riders from Mississauga, Brampton, York Region and Durham Region transit systems will still pay two fares to cross the boundary to or from Toronto.

This will apply to riders entering the new Spadina subway extension, even if they travel to stops north of Steeles Avenue or to York University, now served directly by YRT buses.

Metropass Users

The discount only applies to riders who pay the full TTC adult fare via Presto ($3.00). Passholders will not receive any discount. This is a benefit to those who use GO a lot, and the TTC less so.

  • Cost of a monthly pass (on discount program): $134
  • Cost of 40 co-fare trips at $1.50 each: $60
  • Cost of 20 full fare trips at $3.00 each: $60
  • Total cost: $120

If the number of TTC-only trips goes up, say to 25, the combined cost ($135) would exceed the value of a Metropass.

Students and Seniors

This group of riders already travels at a reduced fare of $2.05 if they are using Presto. The discount to a $1.50 co-fare does not represent as much of a saving to them as it does to “adult” riders. This will also be true for any new group to whom reduced fares are offered such as ODSP recipients.

TTC-GO Trips Within Toronto

For riders who now attempt to make trips using both services inside Toronto, the co-fare will represent a discount over their current pricing. However, the high cost of travelling by GO will remain a large barrier to people who might move from an all-TTC route to a TTC-GO route.

For example, the monthly cost of travel using Presto from Agincourt to Union Station is $223.25 (based on 40 trips/month). Assuming that a rider will save $60 per month on TTC fares, this would still be an increase of over $160/month to commute from Scarborough to downtown via TTC and GO. That is not exactly the “equal to TTC fare” goal of John Tory’s SmartTrack, and it is unclear just who will step up to pay the subsidy needed to make it so.

Moreover, someone who is already a frequent TTC rider is also likely a passholder, and it may not be worth their while to trade in the capped price of a Metropass to “enjoy” the co-fare available on GO.

Because of inconsistencies in GO fares, the situation at Mimico is different because the monthly GO cost is only $177.70. Even so, this remains a substantial premium over a pure TTC fare, and  puts this option well beyond the means of many TTC riders.

Finally, many GO stations in Toronto are difficult to reach by transit or have only limited service. This is another barrier to “integrated” travel on GO and the TTC.

This co-fare and its subsidy are a beginning, but only a small one, toward the dual goals of reducing cross-border fare premiums and making GO more affordable within Toronto. A small cake and a few balloons may be an appropriate celebration, but hold the champagne.

 

Metrolinx Board Meeting: September 14, 2017 (Updated)

Updated September 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm: An inconsistency in the opening date for the Finch West LRT between the Capital projects update and the project’s website has been flagged by a reader. Snapshots have been added to this article.

The Metrolinx Board met on September 14 to consider various reports. I have already written about the Fare Integration update, and will devote separate article(s) to the “Next Big Move”, the updated regional plan.

Other items of interest on the agenda included:

Presto Update and Quarterly Report

The roll out of Presto continues and TTC, even with a relatively low take-up rate to date, now accounts for more Presto taps than any other agency in the network. However, this only slightly more than one quarter of all Presto “taps” on a monthly basis (6.6 million for TTC vs about 24m for all systems). As the proportion of Presto-based TTC trips rises, TTC figures will dwarf all other agencies.

Status updates of note:

  • Readers are now performing well, but problems remain with the add value machines. A new generation of machines is now in testing and these will be rolled out across the system in the near future, including on the about-to-open Spadina subway extension to Vaughan.
  • There is no plan to introduce “open payments” (credit/debit cards, etc) on Presto in 2018 because Metrolinx is pre-occupied with the TTC roll out. Something might appear in the following year, but a related issue is that security standards for bank card transactions keep changing and getting tighter requiring ongoing design updates.
  • Presto sales and reload functions in Shoppers Drug Mart stores have been well received.
  • Presto supports “UPASS” programs. These are specific to each institution, not a system-wide standard implementation. Improvements coming in November:
    • UPASS program core functionalities enabled as part of PRESTO Vouchers solution.
    • UPASS program will provide discounted fares to university students in their respective districts through their local transit agency and universities.
    • Students will be able to electronically load discounted passes onto their cards through the PRESTO Customer Website, and universities can add eligible students through the PRESTO Vouchers portal.
  • Presto has negotiated a new agreement with various client agencies. There was no information in the presentation about how willing these agencies/cities were to accept higher service fees to fund the Presto system.
  • Presto is developing a new privacy policy for disclosure of data to law enforcement agencies. Public feedback on their proposals will be sought through a web survey, stakeholder groups and public sessions. The Information and Privacy Commissioner will review management proposals to ensure that they comply with applicable laws. A proposed policy update will come to the Board in December 2017.

Capital Projects Update and Quarterly Report

Metrolinx’ large inventory of capital projects continues, notably the Crosstown LRT, but also expansion of GO corridors.

There was a lengthy discussion of Union Station capacity, and among the information that came out was that Metrolinx is considering a reconfiguration of the station with fewer tracks and wider platforms. This would provide more passenger handling capacity, a key requirement considering the anticipated rise in service on all corridors. A new layout would also imply that services would be “hooked up” east and west of Union rather than terminating there. This would considerably simplify operations. A study of Union’s future requirements will come to the Board in December 2017.

Metrolinx is planning to study the status and appropriateness of Hydrogen technology to their operations:

  • A feasibility study on the use of hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative technology for electrifying GO rail service and the UP Express is underway
  • Ontario is committed to running electrified trains on the GO rail network by 2025. Studying the feasibility of hydrogen rail technology is part of our due diligence to ensure that we choose the appropriate technology.
  • Metrolinx has had discussions with the Germany-based National Organization Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW) to learn directly about early experience
  • Metrolinx is committed to bringing industry leaders together for a symposium later this year to explore the potential application of hydrogen fuel cell technology

This will be useful if only to get a current view of the technology’s maturity and applicability, assuming that there are no Ministerial interests in forcing a conversion on Metrolinx. According to staff, they are operating on the basis that RER will be rolled out with existing electrification technology.

Updated September 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm:

In the Quarterly Report, there is a status table for all of the projects. The Finch West LRT is shown with an In-Service date of 2022.

However, the project’s web page shows a 2021 opening. I have asked Metrolinx to clarify this discrepancy. Thanks to reader Kass Forman for catching this.

2016-2017 Annual Report

The Annual Report includes, under the heading of “Being responsive & accountable”, the following statement [p. vii]:

Metrolinx is:

  • Increasing transparency in its financial, labour, realty, freedom of information, support fleet, information technology and capital projects details, so that Corporate and Administrative Costs are easier to understand.
  • Increasingly relying on evidence-based cost drivers to strengthen the data used to allocate costs to capital and operating programs.

These are fascinating claims considering the degree to which Metrolinx is a secretive organization. Far too many background studies are published, if at all, long after the Board has made a decision and the time for public input which could have been informed by such studies has passed.

“Freedom of Information” should occur naturally (as it would for a municipal agency), not when it is forced on Metrolinx by a formal FOI request from the media.

Easy understanding of costs will be more challenging because of corporate restructuring to amalgamate former divisions (Presto and UPX) into the main body of Metrolinx.

The integration and consolidation of operations under one management structure will deliver core Metrolinx services to customers and allow us to leverage internal learning and skills so we can adapt quickly and respond to our dynamic and fast-changing region. While we will maintain the identities of each service brand externally, we will be looking for opportunities to help our customers and the public understand the connections between each service and product. Beginning next fiscal year, we will report on our consolidated transit operations division, which will combine data and statistics for GO Transit and UP Express. [p. viii]

This will make determination of the profitability or cost of individual segments that have been treated as independent divisions more difficult, along with the degree of cross-subsidy that might exist between various aspects of Metrolinx’ businesses.

I asked Robert Siddall about this during the press scrum after the meeting. Siddall is the Metrolinx CFO, but is also Acting President and CEO pending the arrival of a recently-appointed CEO in October. He replied that with UPX becoming operationally part of GO Transit, it did not make sense to attempt to break it out as a separate cost and revenue centre. He was silent on the question of Presto.

For 2016-17, Presto received $14.8 million in usage fees. Operating costs were not broken out. [See charts on pp 35 and 38 of the report.] Oddly, the Presto update earlier in the agenda treated the negotiation of the client agreement with UPX as if this were a completely separate agency rather than part of GO Transit. The degree to which there are cross-subsidies between GO and UPX trips and Presto is completely hidden.

To Kirby, or Not To Kirby

The line in the Annual Report about “evidence-based cost drivers” is particularly amusing given the situation at both the provincial and municipal levels.

Ben Spurr in the Star has reported on political interference with the stations selected to be part of GO’s coming expansion. Specifically, the Lawrence East and Kirby Stations were originally not to be included in the list recommended to the Metrolinx Board, but this changed after intervention by the Minister of Transportation.

During the press scrum, Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard performed a not-too-elegant dance around repeated questions about just how the change in Metrolinx’ official position on these stations came about. Boiling many answers down to their core, he argued that although the Board had considered the matter of the station list on three occasions, they only actually voted on it once. Moreover, it is Metrolinx’ job, he argued, to provide advice based on information and analyses they have. Such decisions are a combination of technical analysis and art, he said. It was a performance not quite at the level of Swan Lake. [I will leave it to the reader to decide whether Prichard was auditioning for Prince Siegfried or Baron von Rothbart.]

An obvious question here is this: Metrolinx is supposed to give advice based on their expert technical studies (and whatever art they might muster). However, if the Cities of Toronto and Vaughan have new information about development plans for these two station sites, one must ask why Metrolinx staff and consultants did not have this as part of their study. How credible is any plan Metrolinx produces if “new information” can arise with clear political motives to swing decisions?

Fare Integration Update

As I previously reported, Metrolinx has rethought its approach to integration so that it can actually achieve something rather than endless discussion. Specifically, the Board approved:

  1. The Metrolinx Board endorse the step-by-step strategy outlined in the Report and that staff report back on December 14th 2017 on means to advance the strategy which includes:
    • Discounts on double fares (GO-TTC)
    • Discounts on double fares (905-TTC)
    • Adjustments to GO’s fare structure
    • Fare Policy Harmonization
  2. Staff undertake to engage the public and key stakeholders (including municipal elected officials) on advancing the step-by-step strategy
  3. Staff post the consultant’s Draft GTHA Fare Structure Preliminary Business Case

After a long period when Metrolinx was attempting a “big bang” change in fare policy, they are now trying a “step-by-step” approach intended to deal with the most annoying inconsistencies in regional policy without actually tearing the entire structure apart. Although it is clear Metrolinx would like to reach an end-state based on fare-by-distance, they will settle for an interim configuration for “two to five years”, according to Leslie Woo, Chief Planning Officer. Politically, that is equivalent to saying that the matter is deferred sine die.

This would conveniently allow someone in, say, the midst of an election campaign, to promise added funding to cover the cost of bringing the TTC into a consolidated fare system, to rationalize GO transit’s fares, and to sort out some regional inconsistencies such as the TTC’s transfer policies.

If Toronto adopted the two-hour transfer, this would make a seamless cross-border trip simple to implement and administer for Presto users. With the 416/905 barrier out of the way, the “need” to completely reorganize fares would drop substantially, and the political leverage to go “all the way” to fare-by-distance would be reduced almost to vanishing.

One issue came up during the scrum, and it will be thrown into the hopper for December’s report: the integration of UPX fares with the rest of GO. It makes no sense to operate UPX effectively as a short turn service on the Kitchener line while charging different fares. Moreover, integration of UPX trips with the wider GO tariff, including any TTC co-fare, is essential if Metrolinx is to play by the same rules they expect of every other transit agency.

Particularly important to any discussion about alternative fare schemes will be an open revelation of how each arrangement would affect different types of riders. Metrolinx has always been silent on the effect of a distance-based fare and premiums for “rapid transit” (e.g. subway) on long-haul suburban commuters within Toronto. Failure to publish this information puts the “debate” in the ludicrous situation of asking for a faith-based approval rather than one based on actual evidence. This kind of “planning” and “consultation” at Metrolinx must stop if they are to achieve their goals for transparency.

Metrolinx Contemplates Regional Fare Integration, Again

As regularly as the seasons come and go, Metrolinx produces new reports on its long-running contemplations for a new regional fare system. Like the seasons, reports come and go, but there is little real progress toward an actual solution.

The root problem has always lain with Metrolinx. Although it bemoans the inconsistencies among fares in regional agencies, Metrolinx itself has clung to one fare model – fare by distance – as the Nirvana to which all should aspire. If there is something to be said for the current report, it is that at last there is a shift it focus and a recognition of two essential issues on the provincial side of the discussion:

  • Metrolinx’ existing fare structure is not purely a fare-by-distance system, but contains many inequities and idiosyncrasies built up over the years. In particular it discriminates against short and medium distance travel, but that is only one of its problems.
  • Integration across the 416 boundary will not occur without some new type of subsidy. Previous attempts to craft a revenue-neutral fare scheme inevitably required pillaging from Toronto (where most of the fare revenue is actually collected) to provide a subsidy for the 905.

The Executive Summary includes the following points from a consultant’s study that led to a Draft Business Case (this document has not yet been posted online):

  • All fare structure concepts examined perform better than the current state, offering significant economic value to the region
  • Making use of fare by distance on additional types of transit service better achieves the transformational strategic vision than just adding modifications to the existing structure, but implementation requires more change for customers and transit agencies
  • More limited modifications to the status quo have good potential over the short term
  • Further analysis has been conducted on other aspects of the fare system such as concessions, products, and loyalty programs
  • Metrolinx and GTHA transit agencies continue to independently make decisions regarding fares that widen the gap that fare integration needs to bridge

At the risk of prejudging the outcome, it is quite clear where this is heading. There will be come sort of “limited modifications” to achieve the “good potential over the short term”, and we may never actually reach, nor need to reach, the end state.

Staff recommend that the Board approve the following:

  1. The Metrolinx Board endorse the step-by-step strategy outlined in the Report and that staff report back on December 14th 2017 on means to advance the strategy which
    includes:

    • Discounts on double fares (GO-TTC)
    • Discounts on double fares (905-TTC)
    • Adjustments to GO’s fare structure
    • Fare Policy Harmonization
  2. Staff undertake to engage the public and key stakeholders (including municipal elected officials) on advancing the step-by-step strategy
  3. Staff post the consultant’s Draft GTHA Fare Structure Preliminary Business Case

Metrolinx argues that an integrated fare strategy would require substantial standardization of fare policies notably the discount structures for concession and loyalty fares and rules regarding the validity of transfers. While the 905 systems use time based transfers, the TTC requires a new fare if there is a stop-over or doubling back on a journey. This and any other “local options” complicates Presto, and as we have seen in the case of the TTC leads to odd behaviours due to the difficulty of mapping trips and “valid” transfers under all circumstances. Although the report does not mention this, TTC management have already indicated tentative support for time-based transfers (this is to be part of a forthcoming Ridership Growth Strategy). The problem lies in the political arena where City Council will have to cough up funding to offset the cost.

Until the study is actually published, we should take the statement that “all fare structure concepts examined perform better than the current state” because an essential part of any new structure would be the elimination of the boundary between TTC and other fares. This does not necessarily endorse any of the alternatives.

Like a dog with a bone, Metrolinx simply will not give up on its preferred alternative:

Fare by distance should be a consideration in defining the long-term fare structure for the GTHA

The question here is what is merely “a consideration” and what is an unchangeable goal across the entire network.

Metrolinx acknowledges that it has to talk to people, and that it simply cannot impose its will on the region.

A formal and inclusive decision making process needs to be put in place to establish the longer-term GTHA fare structure vision

This is a rather odd statement considering all of the study this issue has been through, and the degree to Metrolinx has previously claimed widespread agreement. Moreover, it implies that someone might actually disagree, although the outcome of such a position is unclear. Would Queen’s Park welcome local political input (after demolishing the original Metrolinx that included local politicians) if it provided a way to impose unwanted policies on individual members of the region?

What is particularly galling about this summary is that after all this time we still do not see worked examples of possible fare structures and their effects on various types of trips, on groups of riders and on the revenue streams of each transit agency. Possibly this is in the as-yet unpublished report, but if it isn’t, Metrolinx will effectively admit that the real effects are not as rosy as their claims. The most obvious question any new scheme will encounter is “what’s in it for me” both as positive and negative issues.

Appendix 1 discusses “Key Fare Integration Challenges” and is somewhat more realistic than previous attempts at the topic. First up is the question of “tapping off”, a pre-requisite to fare-by-distance. The report acknowledges that tapping off is not the effortless addition to fare collection procedures:

Emerging technological solutions may allow tap on-only customer experience while maintaining compatibility with fare-by-distance or–zone structures

and

As GO fares require origin/destination information, any regional fare structure requires either:

  • acceptance that different customer behaviours will be required depending on service type,
  • moving all transit to tap on/off, or
  • new technological solutions

Other issues include the handling of cash fares and mobile ticketing.

With respect to distance travelled, there is a notable difference between GO and TTC subway fares because the former are distance based and skewed against short trips, while the latter are flat and provide free transfers to connecting services. The report observes:

As GO fares cannot feasibly be flat, any regional fare structure requires either:

  • acceptance of different approaches to distance based on service type, or
  • moving all services to fare by distance/zones

The problem with this statement lies in the term “service type”. Metrolinx has previously touted the idea of “premium” services that would include all rail-based modes, while leaving buses untouched. This arises from a flaw in a previous study that did not consider “bus rapid transit” because (it is claimed) there were no BRT services when it was undertaken. Such is the quality of Metrolinx “research”.

If we decide that some services should pay a premium fare, the obvious questions is “what is a premium service and why should I pay more for it”? This is easy to argue for GO rail because these are express services with widely spaced stops (although even that model is under attack thanks to SmartTrack and the Minister of Transportation’s love for extra stops), but much harder for subways, let alone LRT and BRT that are a much lower step up from local transit than a GO train.

Each municipality has its own local concession fares often in response to local history or to the perceived value of certain types of discounts. Toronto has free rides for children, while seniors’ and students’ fares vary around the region, and there are different approaches to discounts (if any) for disadvantaged groups. How all of these will be reconciled is a knotty question: does the most generous arrangement get implemented across the board, or do the outliers (e.g. Toronto with children’s fares) drop their concessions? What is the appropriate multiple for loyalty programs such as the Metropass?

Unless Queen’s Park is willing to sever the link between farebox revenue and local service costs by providing subsidies for a more generous (and “integrated”) fare system, this discussion won’t get very far. Indeed, it might still run into problems if municipalities that do not now offer “discount X” get a provincial subsidy when others who provide this out of local funds today are left with that cost.

The whole study of Fare Integration has bumbled along for quite some time without any clear answers, but with an attempt to preserve the status quo from Metrolinx’ point of view. This has wasted a great deal of time when a better-informed conversation might have taken place. With an election coming in June 2018, the current proposal adds to the consultation, but conveniently punts a decision beyond the end of the current government’s mandate.

Station Conversion For Presto

Through the fall and winter of 2017-18, the TTC will be converting all remaining stations and entrances to use fare gates and Presto card readers. There are station-specific notices, but for readers’ convenience I have consolidated all of the information here. The first two pages of the following pdf contain the information in textual format, and the remainder is a Gantt chart. The information is current as of September 9, 2017. Stations are in sequence by line. If a station is not shown, either it has already been converted or the TTC has published no information about it.

2017_TTC_Presto_Station_Closings

There are variations on the way the program will roll out depending on the station.

  • Some entrances/stations will not close for this project, but will be converted in stages with access maintained throughout construction for passengers.
  • Some entrances/stations will have only selective late night closings (generally after 11pm), and work will otherwise take place maintaining a pathway for passengers.
  • Some stations/entrances will close completely for some or all of the conversion project. There will be weekend closings for selected stations in the downtown “U” on Line 1 YUS, but many of the secondary entrances will close completely for over a month.

During construction, riders will not be able to purchase fare media from the station collectors while their booths are close.

Even after the shutdown periods, work will continue at some locations for an extended period.

Following the conversion, riders will still be able to pay with all fare media at the main entrance of stations, but the secondary entrances will support either a combination of Metropasses and Presto, or only Presto in some cases. Details are in the linked chart.

Postscript: Notices for the closing of stations on lower Yonge Street include the following info:

During the early and weekend closures subway trains will not stop at the station. Customers should use [nearby] stations to access the subway or board a northbound or southbound 97 Yonge bus.

Of course, the 97 Yonge bus does not run on lower Yonge Street except during weekday peaks when the stations will be open. The TTC has been advised of this and will, in due course, fix the affected pages. No need to kvetch here in the comments.

So You Want A TTC Fare Freeze in 2018

In his continuing program of bribing the electorate with promises that the City cannot afford, Mayor Tory has asked the TTC to bring forth a 2018 operating budget containing no fare increase. This would come, of course, just in time for his re-election campaign where Tory could brag about all the transit wonders he has bestowed on our fair city.

Fare freezes are simplistic approaches to a “transit policy” not unlike fantasy subway maps and promises that tax increases will be held at no more than inflation. Can’t fit it all into the budget? There must be efficiencies, cost cutting that will solve problems, because as we all know public agencies like the TTC are rife with fat just waiting to be trimmed. That’s a great story, and it plays to the wing of Council whose only concern is to be re-elected for keeping taxes down.

The reality is not quite what it is made out to be.

TTC faces a shortfall in its budget for 2018 thanks to increasing costs and expansion of its subway service. The degree of this shortfall has probably been understated. There is no provision for improved service (net of the subway extension) because ridership is expected to remain fairly static. The cost increases cannot be wished away with an appeal to make the TTC more “efficient” both because of their scale, and the many cuts that have been made in recent years responding to subsidy constraints.

Several projects-in-progress are expected to bring efficiency savings to the TTC in future years, but not in 2018. Moreover, some “savings” are really an ability to do a better job with existing resources, not to cut costs.

“Fare equity” means different things to different people, and can be argued from viewpoints that trigger quite different outcomes.

“Poverty reduction” is a key strategy for City Council, but much more as a talking point than a real, financial commitment. TTC fares are part of this strategy, but there is a danger this will get lumped into overall transit costs rather then be recognized as a need for dedicated, separate funding in the City budget.

The inherent economic value of simply having good transit service at an acceptable price rarely enters the discussion even though billions in tax revenue and development opportunities hinge on transit’s existence.

Policy discussions consistently avoid complex issues regarding fare discounts and service quality, and there is little understanding of the menu of options available should Toronto and the TTC choose to pursue them. As in so many past years, the TTC enters its budget cycle in crisis mode – how will we find all the money – having studiously avoided the details of its budget and of revenue options.

Perish the thought that the TTC might actually suggest or even advocate for new fare and service policies without first getting the Mayor’s blessing and staging a press conference to announce his decision.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday June 18, 2017

The TTC’s June 2017 schedule changes bring the summer schedules with cutbacks in service on many routes. The effects of lower than expected ridership numbers, fleet and budget pressures show up in the following comment in the covering memo for details of pending changes:

The total number of weekly hours of regular service planned for the June board period will be approximately 2,600 hours below the level specified in the planned 2017  Service Budget for June (August 3, 2016 version). This is a result of current bus and streetcar fleet limitations as well as deeper summer cuts than originally budgeted for.

To put this number in context, the budgeted hours were 175,410 compared to the schedule hours of 172,807, a reduction of about 1.5%.

Scheduled hours to deal with construction-induced delays and diversions are also down from a budget of 38,022 to actual of 24,365 over the first half of 2017. This translates to savings partly in the Operating Budget (costs the TTC absorbs itself), the Capital Budget (service operated to deal with projects like the TYSSE) and recoveries from other parties.

At some point, the fleet limitations will cease to be a valid explanation for service levels, and the TTC will face increased costs simply to operate the service its own standards dictate. Worth watching for will be the fall 2017 schedules and the degree to which the summer cuts are actually restored. TTC’s recent mixed messages complain of lower ridership while observing that service on some major routes is well below the level of demand.

2017.06.18_Service_Changes

Streetcar Diversions

The rider challenge for this summer will be to figure out where all of the streetcar services are actually running.

  • 501 Queen continues with bus operation over the entire route due to various construction projects. Streetcars will return to parts of the route in stages through the fall, but will not operate over its full length from Neville to Long Branch until January 2018.
    • Streetcar service resumes between Connaught (Russell Carhouse) and Roncesvalles in September.
    • Streetcar service will return to Neville in mid-October, but there will be a diversion around trackwork at McCaul & Queen until late November.
    • Streetcar service resumes west of Roncesvalles in January 2018.
  • 502 Downtowner remains as a bus operation at least until mid-fall.
  • 503 Kingston Road Tripper will continue with streetcars in June/July, but will revert to bus operation thanks to construction at Coxwell & Queen later in the summer. Construction on Wellington requires a continued extension of the route westward to Spadina.
  • 505 Dundas will continue its diversion via Bay, College, Carlton and Church around water main and track construction east of Yonge Street until October.
  • 506 Carlton will have two diversions. Bus shuttles will cover the gaps.
    • In the east, for June/July, overhead work requires a diversion via Queen between Coxwell and Broadview/Parliament (EB/WB).
    • In the west, completion of City roadwork begun, but botched by the contractor in 2016, triggers a diversion via Bathurst and Dundas until October.
  • 504 King, 509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina, 511 Bathurst, 512 St. Clair and 514 Cherry remain on their regular routes with streetcar operation.

504 King

Some of the peak period trippers now operated on King are being removed because of the “on-going delivery of new Low Floor streetcars”. The line is still scheduled as CLRV operation although many ALRVs, freed up from 501 Queen, now operate there at all hours. The real question, of course, will be what will happen in the fall when streetcars return to Queen and the ALRVs are not available for King. Moreover, current plans are for the Flexity cars to go next onto 512 St. Clair, and it is unclear just how the growth of the new fleet removes the need for trippers.

This ties into plans for a King Street transit priority scheme to go into effect late in 2017. It will be counterproductive for the TTC to cut back in service on 504 King just when better priority might be provided.

Keele Yard

The yard east of Keele Station (originally named “Vincent Yard” after the former Vincent Loop) has not been used for revenue vehicles for many years, but the shift of all of the T1 fleet to Line 2 BD has forced the use of all available storage. The TTC will shift four trains to Keele Yard, with remaining capacity (the yard extends underground beside Dundas West Station and can hold eight trains) to be used by work cars. Moves to and from the yard will occur at the beginning and end of service providing added maintenance time in the overnight break in service.

This yard is in a residential neighbourhood, and with its long inactivity the TTC is aware of the potential for disturbing the neighbours:

Morning service train preparations and noise control

Each night, four trains will typically return to Keele Yard at around 2 – 2:20 a.m., when crews will run system checks to ensure the trains are safe-ready for morning service. The trains will then leave the yard between about 5:45 – 6 a.m. Currently, the first westbound train is scheduled to travel past Keele Yard at 6:01 a.m. Local residents are likely to hear two short horn sounds – required for safety – whenever a train is about to move inside the yard, as well as the sound of trains moving. Efforts to minimize noise will include ongoing noise monitoring, regular reminders to staff at Keele Yard to keep noise to a minimum, sounding subway horns only when necessary for safety and ensuring that the warm-up periods of subway workcars parked on outside storage tracks is kept to a minimum.

Subway workcars will generally leave Keele Yard shortly before the four passenger trains arrive at the yard for the night, and workcars will return to the yard minutes before the passenger trains leave the yard for morning service. Workcar storage in the yard will fluctuate depending on scheduled work in the west. [From TTC Notice]

Presto Effects

A new section has been added to the service memo listing changes that will require new Presto transfer definitions. For June 18, this section reads:

506/306 CARLTON – streetcar diversion/shuttle bus operation requires customers transferring between cars and buses for through travel

There are many cases where Presto cannot deal with legitimate transfers, and the TTC expects operators and riders to know how the rules vary from route to route. Even their own web site is inconsistent on this point:

On the main Presto page, they say:

Transfers using PRESTO

If you have a PRESTO card you no longer need a paper transfer. This is because a transfer is applied to your PRESTO card when you first tap onto a card reader. The transfer for your one-way continuous journey is valid for two hours from the first time you tap your card on a reader. Standard transfer rules apply.

More extensive descriptions of bus-to-other mode transfers are on the bus Presto page. Again, the rule is that no transfer is required.

But on a completely different page, the general one for bus routes, the TTC tells riders of an exception:

PRESTO card customers require a paper transfer on the following routes.

Transfers must be shown to station staff when entering Union or Royal York stations and to operators when boarding these buses. Please make sure you obtain a paper transfer at the start of your trip.

15 Evans
121 Fort York
72 Pape
48 Rathburn
73 Royal York
76 Royal York South

This information does not appear on the pages for the individual routes, nor does it appear on the pages describing fare rules.

An Invitation to Dinner

At the recent meeting of the TTC Board, Vice-Chair Alan Heisey proposed that the TTC and Metrolinx Boards should meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual interest. Such a meeting took place a year ago, but despite the best intentions at the time, nothing further came out of this. As Heisey said “It’s not as if we don’t have things to talk about” citing fare integration, Presto, the Crosstown project and SmartTrack. Using fare integration as an example, with some discussion already afoot about just what this entails, it will be better to have these discussions earlier rather than later, said Heisey. The TTC should be in front of discussions on how an integrated system will be structured in Toronto.

Heisey went on to mention that at a recent meeting of the Toronto Railway Club, of which he is a member, he learned things about the Crosstown contract he did not know such as that the operation of the Mount Dennis yard will not be done by the TTC, and that although the TTC is supposed to be operating the line, the company delivering the project would really like to do this work. This is the sort of information Heisey hopes would come out in a joint meeting, and he proposes that the TTC host the event (as Metrolinx did in 2016).

It is no secret that far more information is available outside of formal Board meetings at both TTC and Metrolinx than one ever hears on the record. Those of us who attend Metrolinx meetings regularly know that “information” is thin on the ground at these events where the primary function appears to be telling the staff how wonderful they are and luxuriating in the ongoing success of everything Metrolinx, and by extension the Government of Ontario, touches. “Seldom is heard a discouraging word” could be the Metrolinx motto.

Indeed the TTC has become infected with a similar problem recently where whatever new award(s) they manage to win take pride of place at meetings while serious discussion about ridership and service quality await reports that never quite seem to appear. Budgets do not offer options conflicting with Mayor Tory’s insistence on modest tax increases. Getting an award for the “We Move You” marketing campaign is cold comfort to people who cannot even get on a bus or train because there is no room.

Oddly enough, when TTC Chair Josh Colle contacted his opposite number at Metrolinx, Rob Prichard, the word back was that such a meeting might have to await the appointment of a new CEO. The position is now held on an acting basis with the departure of Bruce McCuaig to greener pastures in Ottawa. That is a rather odd position to take. Is Metrolinx policy and strategy so beyond discussion that without a CEO, they cannot have a meeting? How is the organization managing to push trains out the door, let along host an almost endless stream of photo ops for their Minister?

Commissioner De Laurentiis agreed that there are many issues, and warmed to the idea, but suggested an information sharing/exchange session as opposed to a formal meeting. She concurred that the type of information Heisey is gathering “accidentally” should come the Board’s way formally.

Vice-Chair Heisey noted that he was told he could not see the Crosstown’s Operating Agreement because it was confidential. For what they’re worth, here are a few handy links:

These do not include the operating agreement for the line because, I believe, it does not yet exist beyond a draft format and the intention is not to formalize it until a few years before the line opens in 2021. However, aspects of the proposed agreement are certainly known to TTC staff. Whether their interpretation matches Metrolinx’ intent is quite another issue.

Other topics for a joint meeting suggested by Commissioner Byers included Accessibility, and the working relationship between Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario including the topic of risk transfer.

For those who have trouble sleeping, the Crosstown agreement makes interesting, if tedious, reading. One section deals for pages on end with the contractual arrangements between Metrolinx who will procure and provide the fleet, and the project provider who must test, accept and operate (or at least maintain) the cars. This is a perfect example of the complexity introduced by multi-party agreements with the 3P model. Each party must define at length its roles and responsibilities where a consolidated organization would deal with the whole thing in house. Of course some would argue that this simply shows how keeping parts of the overall procurement within Metrolinx adds layers of complexity that a turnkey solution might avoid. That’s a debate for another day, but an important part of any future project design.

Chair Colle observed that just because you invite someone over to your house, they don’t necessarily accept, and the TTC could find itself without a dance partner. Heisey replied that we should invite Metrolinx to dinner and tell them what the menu will be. Dinner invitations are often accepted. Colle observed that any one or two of the suggested items could “keep us well nourished”.

Mihevc added to the list by suggesting both the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects. That should be an amusing discussion considering that Metrolinx and City Planning have gone out of their way to be agnostic on the subject of Sheppard East’s technology considering that there are Councillors and (Liberal) MPPs who would love to see a subway extension there, not LRT. Both Boards, not to mention their respective management teams, would go to great lengths to avoid implying any sort of commitment beyond the next announcement of another GO parking lot or a long-anticipated subway extension’s opening date.

The biggest problem with the Metrolinx-TTC relationship is the province’s heavy-handed approach whereby any move away from the “official” way of doing things will be met with a cut in subsidy. Indeed, despite increasing outlays from Queen’s Park on transit, they keep finding more ways to charge Toronto for their services. The City gets more money on paper for transit, but spends some of it to buy provincial services in a monopoly market. Even if Metrolinx invites Toronto to dinner, they will expect the City to foot the bill.

As a public service, if only to forestall imminent starvation of the TTC Board, the balance of this article explores some of the issues raised by Commissioners.

The video record of the TTC debate is available online.

[For readers in the 905, please note that this is a Toronto-centric article because it deals with issues between the TTC and Metrolinx. Municipalities outside of Toronto have their own problems with the provincial agency, not least of which is its undue focus on moving people to and from Union Station.]

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TTC Board Meeting April 20, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on April 20, 2017. Items of interest on the agenda include:

  • The monthly CEO’s Report
  • Repair of SRT Vehicles
  • Disposition of Bay Street Bus Terminal

This article has been updated with a commentary on subway and surface route performance statistics presented at the Board meeting. (Scroll down to the end of the CEO’s Report.)

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Metrolinx Board Meeting Wrapup February 17, 2017 (Updated)

The Metrolinx Board met on February 17 with the following items, among others, on their public agenda.

  • Presto Update
  • Regional Express Rail Update: Level Crossings
  • Fare Integration
  • Bombardier LRV Delivery

Updated: Replies from Metrolinx to questions clarifying their process for grade separation prioritization have been added to this article.

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