TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, May 10, 2020

This article is the longer, detailed version of my piece on NOW Toronto’s site looking at pending service cuts on the TTC. Note that some details on the changes has not yet been published by the TTC. I will update this article as more information becomes available.

With the steep decline in riding on the TTC’s system, service cuts are coming to many routes. The cuts are an attempt to preserve capacity for riders to travel safely with far fewer passengers per vehicle than in pre-covid service designs, while trimming TTC operating costs.

The predominant effect across the network is that peak periods are not as “peak” as they used to be, and off-peak periods see service reductions on many routes. The overall scale of the change is evident from the comparison of budgeted and scheduled vehicle hours per week.

The planned amount of service per week, measured in vehicle hours, will be reduced by 15.6% relative to the original service budget. Regular service hours go down 11.8% and the provision for construction goes down much more, 77.3%, reflecting the uncongested roads over which vehicles will travel.

By contrast, the normal summer service cuts amount to about two per cent of regular service, and this would be offset by a rise in construction-based hours (diversions, bus replacements, extra service for congestion). This is a much deeper cut than Toronto riders are used to.

Broken down by mode, the change in hours is greatest on the streetcar system at 20.7%, then the subway at 15.7%, then buses at 10.2%. There is no change in SRT service.

Another way to look at this, at least for peak periods, is the number of vehicles scheduled during the two peaks. Both the bus and streetcar fleets fielded for service will decline by about 20%.

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TTC Plans Service Cuts and Layoffs (Updated)

Updated April 27, 2020 at 11:10 am: A modified and expanded version of this article appears on the NOWToronto website.

In response to a steep fall in ridership, the TTC plans to implement service cuts and reduce its staff complement by layoffs.

Service capacity will be reduced to match demand, taking into account the need for physical distancing by riders. Many of the changes have already occurred as the TTC dealt with staff shortages from illness and quarantine, but this will make the changes official within the schedules. These include reduced service levels and the end of many peak period services. The 14x and 9xx series of express services have already been discontinued, along with the 508 Lake Shore Tripper. Other cuts are likely such as “school trippers” for which there are no students, and the rush hour bus extras on streetcar routes.

Full details of service changes to take effect on the Victoria Day weekend will be released by the TTC on May 4, according to TTC spokesperson Stuart Green. Service will be maintained “at roughly 70-80 per cent of regular levels” according to the TTC’s news release. “Particular focus remains on servicing priority routes within the bus network in a way that allows for good physical distancing.”

The May schedules are traditionally a point where the first wave of summer cuts are implemented (those related to post-secondary institutions), and the second wave normally comes at the end of June. The reduction in service allows for a greater proportion of vacations in the summer months, but with layoffs, the drop is clearly going to be more than Toronto normally sees during this season.

About 1,000 transit operators and 200 non-union staff positions will be affected by the layoff. According to a letter from CEO Rick Leary to all staff, “The TTC will be working to establish a compensation and benefits arrangement for employees to minimize negative impacts as a result of the layoffs.”

Other changes to address the budget crunch brought on by lost fare revenue include “pausing” all non-union salary increases, reducing overtime, reviewing all vacant positions, and going without the usual summer seasonal hiring.

On the capital side of the budget, all “non-essential” projects will be delayed, but the TTC has not published a list of what this entails.

Combined with other savings such as utilities and fuel thanks to the reduced level of operations, the TTC expects to reduce its ongoing losses by $25 million per month from the current level of $90 million.

It is no surprise that the Amalgamated Transit Local 113 is not happy with this situation. Carlos Santos, president of Local 113, wrote to his members:

This is the “thank you” our members get for sacrificing themselves day in and day out for putting their families and themselves at risk. No doubt, this feels like a punch to the gut after all the hard work our members are doing to keep Toronto moving throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Almost 30 of you have tested positive for COVID-19. You deserve better than today’s announcement. The federal and provincial governments need to step in and provide emergency relief funding for the TTC.

This speaks to the heart of the issue: the level at which governments other than the City of Toronto itself will act to support transit through this difficult time. Even with the decline in economic activity and travel, the need for physical distancing by riders dramatically lowers the capacity of transit service, and this drives up the cost per ride substantially. The question is what is the appropriate balance between keeping a transit at a level that actually serves the many who still require it, and reining in costs. Even at only 20 percent of its normal demand, the TTC carries hundreds of thousands of trips per day and these cannot be replaced easily or economically by other modes. For many, many Torontonians, travel is built on transit.

One substantial problem for the TTC in reviewing potential service cuts is that the subway network has a considerable, fixed cost regardless of how many riders it carries. Infrastructure must be maintained and kept safe, and standby technical staff must be available to handle a wide variety of problems. Operators driving the trains are only part of the total needed for all aspects of subway operations.

That has implications for surface routes which are always the poor cousins of transit service. Whether the cuts will fall disproportionately there as they did in past recessions remains to be seen.

TTC Repeats Penalty-Free Offer for Monthly Pass Cancellation

The TTC is repeating its offer, first made in mid-March, for monthly pass subscribers on Presto to cancel their subscriptions without penalty. This must be done by April 22 when the automatic renewals for May will kick in.

A still-outstanding question is whether the TTC will offer partial refunds for the March passes which most riders were unable to use after many businesses and other activities were curtailed or closed. According to TTC spokesperson Stuart Green, this matter has not been decided yet.

TTC Service in the 1950s

My collection of Scheduled Service Summaries has been updated with scans of three versions from 1954, 1956 and 1959.

Of interest among these is the expansion of the suburban bus network, and the very high level of service on routes in the “old” City of Toronto. The Yonge Subway existed between Eglinton and Union, but all other transit was surface routes with streetcars and buses.

Open the page linked above, and scroll down to the bottom. Note that this page is included under the “Reference Material” navigation tab if you are looking for it in the future.

King Street Update: March 2020 Part I

This is the first of three articles updating information in my series of posts last fall [Part I, Part II, and Part III] with data to March 31, 2020.

In the first part of this series, I will review service reliability from the point of view of travel times across the “pilot” area between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets. In the second part, I will turn to reliability from the point of view of headways consistency and service gapping. Finally, I will turn to service capacity.

As I have worked through the data, I cannot help having the sense of looking back at a very different city, one that had busy streets full of transit riders. This will return, eventually, but it will be a long climb that has much more to do with scientific advances in disease control than transportation planning.

The effect of the city’s shutdown is evident in data for March 2020 as traffic and riding disappeared, and so, to some extent, did service.

Service changes during this period affecting the King Street corridor included:

  • November 25, 2019:
    • The 14x Express routes were shifted to King Street from Richmond and Adelaide Streets to use a less-congested path through the core area.
    • Two Christmas extras were added on 504 King between Charlotte Loop (Spadina) and the Distillery.
    • Service on 503 Kingston Road was improved by the consolidation of 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road as one route.
  • January 2020:
    • 508 Lake Shore operated, for a time, with buses in place of streetcars due to a shortage of vehicles.
  • Mid-March 2020 (reduced riding and staff availability):
    • 504 King service declined.
    • 503 Kingston Road service was cut back to a shuttle between Bingham Loop (Victoria Park) and Woodbine Loop (at Queen).
    • 508 Lake Shore and 14x Express routes ceased operating because they are peak period trippers.

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TTC Asks Riders to Time Shift (Updated)

Updated April 1, 2020 at 10:30 am:

This morning, the TTC announced extra service on several routes to address crowding. The list below is taken from the Twitter feed of Stuart Green, TTC Media Relations, who describes this as a work in progress.

The first set of numbers below were in Green’s original announcement, but they have changed over the course of the morning with a total of 71 buses added as of about 7:40 am. By 10:30, that number rose to 89. The second set is taken from TTC service alerts. These numbers have been changing hourly as vehicles are shifted from route to route as needed. For current details, follow @TTCHelps on Twitter.

Route 7:00 am 10:30 am
300 Bloor-Danforth Night 5
320 Yonge Night 4
29 Dufferin 4 5
35 Jane 6 13
37 Islington 3 3
39 Finch East 4 21
41 Keele 4 12
44 Kipling South 2 5
52 Lawrence West (Airport) 2 7
96 Wilson 4 8
102 Markham Road 4 8
117 Alness-Chesswood 2 2
119 Torbarrie 2 1
123 Sherway 2 2
165 Weston Road North 3 2

Supervisors will direct additional buses to where they are most needed.

The TTC now asks riders to shift any non-essential trips until after 8 am.

Original post:

The TTC asks early morning riders to shift their travel, if possible, due to congestion on several routes before 7 am. Riders are requested to shift non-essential trips after 7:30 if possible.

The affected routes are:

  • 29 Dufferin
  • 35 Jane
  • 41 Keele
  • 44 Kipling South
  • 96 Wilson
  • 102 Markham Road
  • 117 Alness-Chesswood
  • 119 Torbarrie
  • 123 Sherway
  • 165 Weston Road North

The location of these routes and the time period of the crunch says something about the drop in riding by classic commuters, but shows the need for transit in areas well away from the core.

TTC Changes Fare Collection, Trims Service – But What of the Future?

Updated March 28, 2020: The TTC has changed its policy for Wheel-Trans and now only accepts payment by Presto. See the March 27 update for Wheel-Trans.

The TTC implemented several changes to its fare policies and service in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Their focus is on protection of workers and passengers by physical distancing and eliminating most interaction between them.

Fares & Fare Collection

All bus passengers will board and leave via the rear door except for riders who require the access ramp at the front door. Operators will keep their protective barriers closed, and the fare boxes will not be available.

On buses except for Wheel-Trans, the TTC will not accept cash, tokens or tickets and will not issue paper transfers. Only Presto will be accepted. Streetcar and subway riders can use fare machines.

The TTC asks that riders pay with Presto “where available”, but it is unclear whether riders without cards will ride free. The Star’s Ben Spurr quotes TTC spokesperson Stuart Green:

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said riders who don’t have Presto will be asked to pay when they arrive at their destination if they’re headed to a subway station.

He declined to answer directly when asked whether riders who don’t have Presto and don’t pay will face a fine from transit officers, but said the “focus of fare inspectors right now is on customer service and education.”

Updated March 24 at 2:12 pm: An exchange on Twitter:

But how does one board a bus if cash is not being accepted?

@TTCHelps: You can just walk on. No one will stop you. We’d like you to pay your cash fare at a connecting station or streetcar if possible.

A well-known problem with Presto is that places where riders can obtain one and load money are much thinner on the ground that the old TTC ticket agent network, particularly in the suburbs where bus transportation dominates.

The deadline for cancelling the auto-renew on monthly or 12 month passes on Presto has been extended to 11:59 pm, Friday, March 27. The TTC will waive cancellation fees, although Presto might still issue an automated warning email.

Service Changes

Because weekday ridership has dropped by over 70 per cent, the TTC is reviewing its resource requirements. The following routes no longer operate, and their vehicles will be reallocated where needed.

  • All 900-series express bus routes, except for the 900 Airport, 903 Kennedy-Scarborough Town Centre, and 927 Highway 27.
  • All 140-series Downtown express routes.
  • The 176 Mimico GO bus and 508 Lake Shore streetcars.

The 503 Kingston Road route had been cut back to a shuttle between Queen & Kingston Road and Bingham Loop at Victoria Park. The extra service it provides on Queen and King Streets is not needed. An obvious future change would be to run the evening/weekend configuration of the 22A Coxwell Bus during all hours. This sort of tweak will no doubt be repeated in other parts of the system.

Regular service will continue every 10 minutes or better on most of the affected routes, for now.

Vehicle arrival predictions will be out of whack until the online schedules are updated to match the revised services.

A full list of changes is on the TTC’s website.

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The Importance of Transit in a Changing Travel Landscape

My latest for NOW Toronto.

As ridership drops on the TTC, just as on transit systems across the world, there will be a temptation to make big cuts, but then to fall behind in the recovery when the crisis passes.

This is also a time to rethink the design of public spaces, streets especially, and the balance between all users and types of travel: cars and transit, cyclists and pedestrians.

Starving the Bus Network for Service

My recent article for NOW Toronto, TTC Bus Service Losing Ground, reviewed the problem of passenger congestion on TTC bus routes and the long-standing failure of service to keep up with the rising population and employment in Toronto. This article presents the details and the wider context.

When Transit City was proposed back in 2007, the TTC expected that over the course of its implementation a large number of buses would be replaced by an LRT network that would, by today, be substantially complete. In turn, this would reduce the need for new bus storage and maintenance facilities because the growth would occur in suburban LRT barns at the Mount Dennis yard on the Eglinton line, on Finch near Highway 400, and on Sheppard East at Conlins Road.

One new garage was planned in Scarborough, although the project was delayed by Mayor Rob Ford. The garage on McNicoll will finally open late in 2020. However, the demand for storage space at existing overcrowded garages simply means that McNicoll will be full the day it opens and the TTC will be back in a situation where fleet expansion requires garages to have more buses than they were designed for. A ninth bus garage sits in the long term plans with a 2031 opening date, but there is no funding for it and the TTC has yet to identify a potential property. They will remain short of garage space for the coming decade.

This creates an odd sort of response to requests for more service: we have no place to store the buses. That, of course, is a chicken-and-egg situation where the TTC (and the City) can avoid the cost of providing more service by claiming that they couldn’t run more buses if they wanted to. Unfortunately, this does not accelerate the provision of more garage space, and the service vs storage deadlock remains.

The amount of service the TTC fields every day is affected by several factors:

  • the size of the fleet
  • the average capacity of a bus
  • the average age and reliability of the fleet
  • the proportion of the fleet needed for maintenance spares
  • the number of buses required to supplement the streetcar network
  • the number of buses reserved for extra service, especially to handle subway emergencies
  • the budget for service

As the TTC migrated from a fleet of high-floor to low-floor buses, the capacity of vehicles dropped by about ten percent. This meant that more buses were required to provide the same level of service, a process that occurred gradually until late 2015 when the last of the high-floor buses were retired. Conversely, low-floor two-section articulated buses can carry about 50% more passengers than a standard bus. These vehicles began to appear in the TTC’s fleet in 2014, but they make up less than 10% of the fleet today. The only planned expansion is for the TTC to buy 68 more in 2021.

Older buses tend not to work as reliably as young ones, and if a fleet is not regularly replaced, a higher proportion of it can fall into those “twilight years” when maintenance needs are higher and buses are more likely to fail in service. The TTC used to keep its buses for about 18 years and overhauled them twice during their lifespan. The argument for this was that the overhauls were cheaper than simply buying a new bus.

However, the bus building industry no longer produces vehicles with a long intended lifespan, and 12 years is a more common retirement age. This also avoids the need for that second overhaul to keep an older bus on the street.

The TTC has shifted to a 12 year replacement cycle for buses, and took advantage of federal “stimulus” funding to replace many older vehicles that otherwise would have remained in service. This gets over the one time “hump” of changing to a shorter life-cycle, but it also accelerates the need for ongoing spending because the annual replacement rate is now 50% higher – about 180 buses per year, rather than 120. This budget effect is compounded by the shift to more expensive hybrid or all-electric vehicles.

The newer generation of buses is also more technically complex, and a larger proportion of the fleet is required for spares to ensure that maintenance is preventative, fix-before-break work rather than gambling that a bus will continue to run even after it should have come into the shop for a check-up. A few years ago, the TTC changed its maintenance practices so that buses cycled through routine inspection and repair more frequently with the aim of reducing in-service failures. This had the desired effect, but at a cost of taking a larger maintenance pool from the fleet than in past years.

Finally, new buses often go through retrofit programs during their warranty period, and this further increases spare requirements if there is a sudden influx of new buses in a short time period.

That’s just the story on the maintenance side, but there is also the dreaded line whenever service is discussed: “subject to budget availability”. In other words, even if there are enough buses to improve service, there may not be the operating budget dollars (and the drivers this would pay) to actually field more vehicles.

Both the streetcar and subway networks make demands on the bus fleet.

It is no secret that the TTC has had problems with both its old and new streetcar fleets, but the biggest problem now is that growing demand on the streetcar routes exceeds the capacity of the new streetcar fleet.

  • When there were too few streetcars to operate that network, buses substituted to make up the difference.
  • Traffic congestion continues to worsen leading to slower service.
  • Construction projects shut down parts of the streetcar network from time to time.

At various times over recent years, there have been buses running on portions of Carlton, Dundas, Queen, King, Kingston Road and Bathurst. Some of these cases have been complete replacements while others are on portions of lines affected by construction.

With the streetcar shortage, construction work provided a rationale to bus a route and free up vehicles, but this grew beyond beyond construction season to semi-permanent replacements.

During the summer, the TTC has surplus vehicles and streetcar substitutions do not affect the availability of buses on bus routes.

Long-running projects (such as the water main reconstruction on Dundas) and route conversions due to a shortage of streetcars (such as on Kingston Road) are another matter. These take buses away from the bus network during the peak season. That said, the number of buses involved has been overplayed in some circles primarily as a way of carping about the Bombardier cars or about streetcars in general.

Subway shuttles place their greatest demand on the bus fleet when emergencies occur during the peak period. There are some vehicles at each garage that are “run as directed” buses, but these are nowhere near enough to make up for losing a busy part of the subway system. If there is a peak period shuttle, it requires not just the spare buses but vehicles and operators “borrowed” from other routes.

There is always a balancing act between having enough spare buses and staff to drive them for most emergencies, and the cost of having unused resources that are always a target for the budget hawks looking for “waste” in the TTC.

All of these factors affected and constrained the growth in bus service over the past decade, and will continue to do so without a significant change in TTC planning and funding policy.

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