Zero Short Turns Does Not Equal Better Service

For many years, the TTC has had a fetish for reducing short turns, or more accurately, for reducing short turn counts. Together with “on time” stats, this is a primary metric for TTC management, the one they get gold stars for.

When former CEO Andy Byford hired the current CEO Rick Leary, one of his first tasks was to reduce short turns. The result is that the CEO’s report concentrates on two factors to the exclusion of all other measures of service quality.

Here are two pages from the June CEO’s Report for streetcars. There are similar pages for the bus network.

In a recent newsletter to constituents, Councillor Brad Bradford, also a member of the TTC Board, included the following chart to show how the TTC is attacking the short turn problem. Short turns on 501 Queen were the lowest in number among all streetcar routes in early April, and fell to zero on Monday April 15 (along with a big drop on other routes too). This looks good, but as we will see later, has unintended side effects.

Bradford’s newsletter included this text:

We all know the frustration of too many short-turning streetcars, especially during rush hour.  As a member of the TTC Board I’ve been working hard with my colleagues to improve the streetcar service and reduce the number of short-turns.  I’m happy to report that April 2019 had the lowest number of short-turns since 2014, including the 501 streetcar which had ZERO short turns for several days.

Short turns disproportionately affect Bradford’s constituents as they live at the eastern end of the 501 Queen and 506 Carlton routes. However, irregular service which I have documented in numerous articles affects riders along the entire route. Gaps of 15 minutes or more in what is advertised as “frequent service” do not encourage ridership, and the unpredictability of service leaves many people walking or taking alternate modes to the TTC.

Measures of Service Quality

The count of short turns only tells us how many cars did not reach a terminal over the course of the day. It does not tell us:

  • What proportion of the service this count represents. The scheduled service to Neville over the course of a day (6 am to midnight) is about 200 trips with a similar count at Humber. 40 short turns represent about 10% of service assuming they are equally divided between the two terminals.
  • What time(s) of day were most affected. Certain times of the day are disproportionately affected by short turns, notably the hours immediately after the am and pm peaks, and through the evening especially on busy nights in the club district downtown.
  • Whether the short turn was successful in restoring more regular service, otherwise known as “filling the gap” on its next trip. There appears to be little or no management of cars re-entering service from short turns, and they may well reappear immediately ahead of or, even worse, behind a “through” car without reducing the headway. The average headway looks better, but it’s a bunch of two cars with a wide gap, not evenly-spaced service.

Unless one sees a breakdown such as the one published by Councillor Bradford, the numbers in the CEO report are accumulated for all routes over all periods of operation including weekends. This is a very generic average value, and it gives only the most general idea of short turning as a trend, rather than pinpointing problem routes and times of the day.

The other published metric is the “on time departure”. This is something of a misnomer because “on time” is defined as a window from one minute early to five minutes late, in other words six minutes’ grace relative to the schedule. For a route with a five minute scheduled service, three cars could depart close together and be “on time” for the stats.

The TTC does not report on headway reliability and bunching, issues which are at least as important as short turns. A rider on a Queen car bound for, say, Dufferin Street from Yonge does not care if their car gets short turned at Sunnyside, but they do care if no car shows up for 15 minutes or more, and they cannot board the first one in the parade.

If the scheduled times were 12:00, 12:05 and 12:10, the actual departures could be 12:05, 12:07 and 12:09 and fit within their allowed windows. The service is supposed to look like this:

X————X————X————X————X————X————X————X————X————X

But it can look like this and still be “on time”:

—————X—X—X——————————X—X—X——————————X—X—X——————

It would not take long for cars to bunch together as triplets running across the route. However, the on time measurement only applies at the terminals, and what happens after vehicles leave is not reported.

The TTC produced route-by-route statictics for five months, April to August 2018, but they have been missing-in-action ever since.

An important metric is the distribution of headways by time of day. Charts showing this information are published regularly on this site. (See this article about headways at Neville Loop and scroll down to charts showing the range of headways actually operated.)

The TTC would do well to report on the proportion of headways that are less than 50% of the scheduled value, or more than 50% over that value, broken out by by time of day and by location. Situations where vehicles are running very close together (except for the few routes and periods where the scheduled service really is that frequent) should be flagged. This is not a particularly challenging exercise, but potentially quite embarrassing.

As a quick check, I looked at 501 Queen westbound at Yonge on Wednesday May 1. Of the 215 trips crossing Yonge Street, 54 were on a headway of two minutes or less, or one quarter of the service. There were 25 trips on headways ranging from 10 up to 18 minutes, over 10% of the service. Those are all-day values, and the proportions vary by time period. (The eastbound stats are comparable.) Here is a chart of the day’s data. Note that the trend line sits at about 5 minutes for much of the day only slightly above the scheduled headway, but what riders experience is wide gaps followed by at least two cars.

(For those who might argue that this is the fault of a mix of new and old vehicles, 501 Queen and just about every other route in the system has looked like this for years.)

Although there will be more data to digest, the TTC would have a better idea of just what riders face. Exception reporting would quickly flag areas of concern, although from my own experience looking at these data, there would be a lot of “exceptions” until the TTC addresses the problem of service reliability, not just of “on time performance”.

Crowding statistics are produced from time to time, but these rarely are broken down in public reports. This should be a standard part of the CEO’s report. If the TTC does not identify when its service is overcrowded, how can the public or the politicians with responsibility for transit funding and oversight reconcile claimed service provision with rider experiences?

Crowding and headway reliability are linked in that uneven headways lead to crowded vehicles (the “gap” car) and underused capacity. The average load might look good, but the average experience is not. Most riders are on the crowded vehicles and the “average rider” will report an overcrowded trip not to mention the possibility that they boarded the first vehicle to show up with difficulty, if at all.

Vehicle reliability is reported on an overall basis, not for its effect on service. Once a failure causes a delay of five minutes or more, it “counts”, but there is no distinction about the severity of the delay or the actions taken to restore normal service. Delays caused by infrastructure issues or by external events, and again the actions taken to counter their effects, are not reported. There is no metric for how well or poorly service was managed when things went wrong.

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TTC Service Changes Effective June 23, 2019

The TTC will make several changes in its service on June 23. Many of these are the usual summer service reductions, but others will see changes for construction projects, to improve reliability on some routes, and to redeploy the streetcar fleet.

Subway

On 1 Yonge-University-Spadina, the dispatching of trains will change to increase the use of the north hostler track and exit from Wilson Yard (all days), and to restore the full capacity of Davisville Yard following expansion of the carhouse (weekdays).

On 2 Bloor-Danforth, a gap train will be dispatched from Greenwood or Keele Yard in the AM and PM peak as needed to fill service gaps. There will also be the usual summer service reduction on this line.

On both routes, crew procedures at Finch, Vaughan, Kipling and Kennedy will be changed to single step-back operation.

Streetcars

The 501 Queen car will be formally scheduled as a low-floor route entirely with new cars. In recognition of their larger capacity, headways will be widened somewhat, but not on the scale Toronto saw when the two-section ALRVs replaced the CLRVs on a 2:3 ratio with correspondingly wider headways. Although in theory the scheduled capacity remains the same, the actual capacity could fall because new larger cars have already been operating on the shorter CLRV headways. I will explore this in a separate article.

Night service will be improved on 301 Queen to reduce overnight storage needs with the large number of new cars now on the property together with remnants of the old fleet, and the partial closure of Roncesvalles Carhouse for reconstruction. This continues a change introduced on 304 King in May.

CLRVs will continue to operate on the Long Branch segment of the route. This is expected to change to low-floor operation in September. The peak period trippers that run through from Long Branch to/from downtown will be dropped, but will return in the September schedules.

The 511 Bathurst route will revert to streetcar operation. The exact mix of cars will depend on availability and day-to-day decisions about allocation. The service memo shows a small allocation of ALRVs to the route, but these could turn out to be Flexitys instead just as happened on 501 Queen. (Click to expand the table below.)

Leslie & Eglinton

For the summer months, Leslie Street will be closed at Eglinton, and a temporary loop will be created north of the intersection. This will be used by 51 Leslie and by some of the 54 Lawrence East service. Weekdays from 5:15 am to 9 pm, and weekends from 8 am to 7 pm, the Starspray and Orton Park branches will terminate at the Leslie/Eglinton loop, and there will be a separate service running from Eglinton Station to Lawrence East Station via Don Mills & Eglinton. Outside of these periods, the Starspray and Orton Park services will run to Eglinton Station via Don Mills, and a supplementary shuttle will run from Leslie/Eglinton to Lawrence/Don Mills as part of the 51 Leslie route.

All 51 Leslie service will terminate at Leslie/Eglinton.

The 954 Lawrence East Express is not affected.

Service on 34C Eglinton East to Flemingdon Park will be increased slightly to offset changes to 54 Lawrence East.

See the linked spreadsheet for details of the various routes, headways and hours of service.

Lawrence Station

Because of construction at Lawrence Station, part of the bus loop will be closed for paving and the 52/952 Lawrence services will loop via the east side of the station. Service on 124 Sunnybrook and 162 Lawrence-Donway will be extended west and north to Roe Loop on Avenue Road. Transfers between these routes will move to surface stops.

Wellesley Station

Construction at Wellesley Station will complete and the 94 Wellesley will return to its normal operation with its eastern branch terminating there rather than at Queen’s Park.

Royal York Station

Buses were planned to return to Royal York Station on May 24, but the schedules will not formally be revised until August. Interlining of 15 Evans with 48 Rathburn, and of 73 Royal York and 76 Royal York South, will continue until then.

Bay Bus

Service on the 6B short turn at Bloor will be discontinued during the peak period and all buses will run north to Dupont.

Dufferin Bus

All service will terminate at Dufferin Loop rather than at Princes Gates due to frequent summer events that make bus operation through Exhibition Place difficult.

Road Construction in Scarborough

Several routes will be affected by road construction projects.

Danforth Road from St. Clair to Danforth Avenue:

  • 113 Danforth

Midland Avenue from Danforth to Lawrence:

  • 20 Cliffside
  • 57 Midland

Brimley Road from Progress to Huntingwood:

  • 21 Brimley

Huntingwood Drive from Kennedy to Brimley:

  • 169B Huntingwood

20190623 Service Changes

TTC Crowding Quarterly Report Details

The March 2019 TTC CEO’s Report included a small table summarizing crowding statistics on the transit system.

The TTC Service Standards, adopted in May 2017, set out the target loads for each type of vehicle and period of operation.

TTC does not regular produce route-by-route loading or crowding stats, and the Quarterly Crowding Report is an attempt to address the Board’s desire for more information.

The TTC has now provided the details behind the summary report. These reveal where and when the problems exist as well as situations that could be addressed by service redesign.

One important aspect that shows up is that for routes with express and local branches, the crowding situation is uneven between them. Overcrowding might exist on only one branch indicating an inbalance in service levels, or it might be on both branches showing that more service is required overall.

Where a service is only slightly above the standard, the situation is usually “wait and see” whether demand continues to build. For example, a peak bus service with regular-sized vehicles has a standard of about 50 passengers on average over the peak hour. A change of 1 person represents a 2% change in loading.

A major problem for riders, however, is that service is rarely evenly spaced, and some buses will have many more than the standard load. The “average” rider sees a crowded bus even though a half-empty one might only be minutes behind. Telling them that “on average” their bus is not full is cold comfort. Unreliable service is as big a TTC problem as getting the resources to operate the system because it affects the credibility of the transit option all over the city.

Overcrowding on the 501 Queen car is a concern given plans to replace the existing service with all low-floor equipment on June 23. The actual increase in scheduled capacity will be small because although larger cars will serve all trips, they will come much less often (9.2 cars/hour on the new schedule vs 14.1 cars/hour on the existing one). Many 501 Queen trips are already served by the larger low-floor cars, and the new schedule actually represents a decrease in capacity when this is taken into account.

Crowding on the SRT cannot be addressed until 2020 when the fleet rebuild will be complete and the full 7-train fleet is available for service.

In the off peak, many routes are running well over the target seated load standard. The TTC often cites a shortage of vehicles when talking about constraints on better service, but these are all off peak operations when spare vehicles are available. The lack of improvement is more a political issue – staffing and budget – than an operational one. The current city funding crisis will only further limit the TTC’s ability to improve services even when they have vehicles available to do so.

In the chart  below, the periods of operation are abbreviated:

  • MOR: Morning
  • MD: Midday (the interval between weekday peak periods)
  • AFT: Afternoon
  • EE: Early Evening
  • LE: Late Evening (start time varies by route, generally after 9 pm)

On the streetcar system, there are proportionately more route/period combinations that are over capacity than on the bus network. This is a direct result of the long-term shortage of vehicles and the lack of service improvements for many years. Worth noting in this table is that low floor operation is coming to 506 Carlton in the fourth quarter of 2019, and to 505 Dundas in the first quarter of 2020 thanks to the completion of Flexity deliveries. The status of the 502/503 Kingston Road services is still uncertain. 511 Bathurst returns to streetcar operation on June 23, and the 501L Long Branch service will switch to Flexitys in the fall.

Although the table below shows that off peak crowding on the SRT is “to be address by June 2019”, in fact the schedules for June 23 contain no change for Line 3 Scarborough.

The problem with summaries is that crucial details can be left out, and the actual situation riders face can vanish within averages that combine what is good in the system with what is not. Riders ride real routes at specific times, and good performance on other routes and other times don’t do them much good when they cannot get on a vehicle. From a political point of view, it is useful to know where the problems are because the more parsimonious members of Council and the TTC Board often regard transit service as excessive and wasteful.

In an era when there will be many discussion about “efficiency” and varying opinions on what quality of transit service riders deserve, let alone what governments will fund, understanding current demand levels is a crucial part of any debate. Transit routes provide service. Even in areas and at times when specific services are less-used, the vehicles are still part of a wider network. Roads do not disappear overnight when fewer people use them, and transit must strive to serve all of the city, not just the parts that will bring “high productivity”.

Full chart set: QuarterlyCrowdingReport_2019Q1_Details

501 Queen: Low Floor Cars But Wider Headways (Update 2)

Updated May 20, 2019 at 4:40 pm:

Another factor in the travel time conundrum may be related to a “no short turns” edict that went into effect for the second half of April 2019. One effect of this can be that there are often large gaps and associated loading delays which drive up travel time. This will be the subject of a separate article.

Updated May 21, 2019 at 8:45 am:

Charts for detailed changes in eastbound travel from Humber to Neville have been added to this article.

With the June 23, 2019, service changes, the TTC will officially make route 501 Queen a low-floor streetcar route. Concurrent with this change, the number of cars on the route will be reduced during all operating periods. The degree of reduction should be cause for celebration because reduction in cars is nowhere near the ratio of low-floor to CLRV capacity. However, at the same time, the TTC will substantially increase running times during many periods. The combined effect of fewer cars and longer scheduled trips will be much wider headways than are now provided, especially on weekdays.

The number of cars/hour will be cut by about one third on weekdays and one quarter on weekends. This is very much the sort of change Queen Street riders saw when the two-section ALRVs replaced the shorter CLRVs, and the end result, thanks to the lackluster line management, was a loss of 1/3 of the route’s riding. This is precisely the opposite direction the TTC should be moving at a time when there is known demand on the streetcar lines as shown by the King Street Pilot.

When the fact that 501 Queen is already partly served by the larger Flexitys, the capacity on the route will actually be reduced on June 23 compared to what is operating today.

In the peak periods roughly half an hour will be added to the scheduled round trip time from Neville to Humber (from 149 to 176 minutes AM, and from 169 to 205 minutes PM) resulting in much wider headways that would be provided if the Flexitys ran on the same operating plan as the existing service.

TTC management seek to reduce or eliminate short turns with extended running times, but in the process produce a service plan that will be demonstrably worse for all riders. The wider scheduled headways will be compounded by the uneven spacing of cars that is commonly seen on Queen and other routes, and it would not be surprising to see pairs of cars travelling on headways over 10 minutes almost all of the time.

This would be a far cry from the type of service that clearly warrants transit priority on King Street. Any discussion of priority for Queen would first have to ask why the streetcars that are so infrequent would deserve so much road space to be devoted to them.

Such a large change in scheduled travel time raises the question “why”. Is this simply a padding of schedules to minimize short turns and make life easier for operators, or is it a shift to recognize a change on the route? If the latter, what has changed and how have travel times evolved over time.

Looking into the details, what appears is that there has been a build-up in travel times across the route over the past year, and particularly in recent months. Further exploration will be needed to determine what is happening, but the situation is cause for concern when there can be such a large change in travel times and, in turn, a degradation in service frequency.

501 Queen Trippers

The schedule in effect in May-June 2019 includes five tripper cars operating from Russell Carhouse (at Greenwood/Connaught) in both the AM and PM peaks. Three of these provide through Long Branch/Downtown service. In the AM peak the other two provide two round trips between Greenwood and Sunnyside Loop (runs 83 and 84 below). In the PM peak , they make only one trip from the carhouse west to Humber and back to Neville (runs 88 and 89).

The choice of timepoints below may look a bit odd, but these are the ones used in schedules exported by the TTC to NextBus. Glendale is the St. Joseph’s Hospital stop west of Sunnyside Loop. Triller is the first stop east of Roncesvalles.

In the June-July schedule, buses will provide three trips each way from Kingston Road to Sunnyside in both peak periods. These are separate vehicles, six in all for both peaks. These are one-way trips. With the peak design load of a bus being about 40% of a Flexity, this does not represent a substantial amount of service beyond what the streetcars will provide.

Eastbound from Sunnyside:

  • AM: 8:15, 8:20 and 8:25
  • PM: 4:30, 4:40 and 4:50

Westbound from Kingston Road:

  • AM: 8:15, 8:20 and 8:25
  • PM: 4:35, 4:45 and 4:55

The 501L Long Branch service is not affected by the schedule change according to the service memo. I will verify with the TTC that the Long Branch/Downtown tripper streetcars remain in the new schedule.

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Subway Upload I: The Getting Ontario Moving Act

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek introduced Bill 107, the Getting Ontario Moving Act, in the Ontario legislature on May 2, 2019.

This is an omnibus bill amending several other Acts to implement various policies, one of which is the first stage of the “upload” of responsibility for subway extensions and new builds from the City of Toronto. Schedule 3 of the Bill amends the Metrolinx Act. In brief, the amendments provide for:

  • The Cabinet (legislatively known as “The Lieutenant Governor in Council”) may “prescribe a rapid transit design, development or construction project as a rapid transit project that is the sole responsibility of Metrolinx”. For such projects, the City of Toronto and its agencies are barred from taking “further action” on the project, and all of the project’s “assets, liabilities, rights and obligations” can be transferred to Metrolinx. Such projects are known as “sole responsibility projects”.
  • The Cabinet may prescribe that a project is “subject to the Minister’s direction”, and for such projects “the Minister may issue directives to the City of Toronto and its agencies”, and the Cabinet may require that “a specified decision about the project be subject to the Minister’s approval”. Such projects are known as “direction and approval projects”.

These provisions address two separate types of project organization. In the first case, control of and responsibility for a project is transferred completely to Metrolinx. In the second, a project could remain in the City’s hands but be subject to Ministerial direction and approval.

Sole Responsibility Projects

Where a project is declared to be a sole responsibility project, the City of Toronto is barred from undertaking a project “that is substantially similar and in close proximity to” such a project. Why Toronto would attempt to duplicate a provincial project such as the extension of Line 2 in Scarborough is a mystery, but Queen’s Park clearly wants to ensure this does not happen. An exception provides that the Minister “may authorize” the City to undertake work on a sole responsibility project.

The Cabinet may order the transfer of City assets related to a sole responsibility project “with or without compensation”. The list of “assets” is quite extensive and includes real estate. This begs the question of how such property becomes “related” to a project as opposed to simply being property previously owned by the City.

The City is required to participate in this process and “take all such actions as are necessary and practicable to give the Corporation possession of property transferred”.

Direction and Approval Projects

A project could be left nominally under the City’s control, but subject to Ministerial direction, in particular that “a specified decision with respect to the project” could be subject to Ministerial approval. The City is barred from taking action that would arise from a decision without such approval. In other words, the City cannot launch work that could be in conflict with a Ministerial approval that has not yet been granted.

Legal Protection

Many of the amendments address the transition of projects from the City to the Province and preclude legal action against the parties for the implementation of the new regime.

What the Legislation Does Not Address

The legislation is completely silent on matters of capital or operating costs of projects undertaken by or under the direction of the province. Specifically, there is nothing to explain:

  • Any aspect of capital cost sharing that might be sought or imposed by the Province on the City of Toronto or other municipalities for sole responsibility projects.
  • The future operation of projects created under the “sole responsibility” or “direction and approval” regimes.
  • The subdivision of “maintenance” costs between the Province and the City of Toronto or any other municipality.

The “other shoe” still to drop is the question of uploading the existing subway network. This is a much more complex transfer that will be the subject of future legislation.

This is the bare bones of legislation needed to give Metrolinx control over rapid transit construction so that Ontario can “get on with the job” of building transit, but much more is involved in actually doing the work.

Minister Yurek is good at repeating his talking points including the bogus claim that there has been no rapid transit expansion for decades. Taking pot shots at the City for alleged chaos in transit planning is easy, although both Premier Ford and the Conservative Party have rampant amnesia about their own contributions. Now Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario will have to deliver rather than just posturing.

TTC Updates Flexity/CLRV Replacement Schedule

Over past months there has been some inconsistency in TTC statements about the fate of the “legacy” CLRV and ALRV fleets with conflicting information that

  • some legacy cars would survive into early 2020,
  • all of these cars would be retired by the end of 2019,
  • all of the buses now operating on streetcar routes would be available for bus service improvements in 2020.

It is self-evident that these statements cannot all be true.

The situation is now clarified in two reports on the TTC Board’s Agenda for May 8, 2019.

The CEO’s Report includes the following:

On streetcar services, we’ll address crowding through the continued rollout of new high-capacity, low-floor streetcars. Low-floor vehicles are expected to be on all streetcar routes by early 2020.

Supplementary bus service may be used on some routes during the busiest times.

With the continued delivery of new low-floor streetcars, we are advancing their deployment on more routes.

Currently, the 504 King, 509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina and 512 St Clair are fully served with low-floor streetcars. We began deploying these streetcars on the 501 Queen in January 2019. We expect that all service on Queen, between Humber Loop and Neville Park Loop will be operated by low-floor streetcars by early summer.

Subsequent routes for streetcar deployment will be: 511 Bathurst (summer 2019), 501 Queen (Long Branch Loop to Humber Loop, fall 2019), 506 Carlton (late 2019), and 505 Dundas (spring 2020). Low-floor streetcar service on Kingston Road will be introduced in 2020 following a review of streetcar services as part of our Five-Year Service Plan. [pp 11-12]

The CEO’s Report now shows the decommissioning plan for all legacy cars in 2019 as “Projected” [p 39].

The 2019-2023 Accessibility Plan includes:

By the end of 2019, the remainder of the order of low-floor streetcars is expected to be received and the TTC plans to retire all high floor streetcars from regular service. [p 27]

The Five-Year Service Plan mentioned above will not be out until December 2019, but with the Capital Investment Plan now showing spending on a further order of streetcars in the mid-2020s, there will be an extended period where expansion of streetcar capacity will be limited to whatever can be provided with supplementary bus service. From King Street, we know that there is a latent demand for better service on the streetcar network, but actually addressing that will be challenging in the current climate.

Crowding is a problem on all parts of the system, but the political focus is on new subway lines that will not address most of these problems, and certainly not in the short-to-medium term. The CEO’s Report now includes a table showing crowding levels, although on a system-wide basis, not for individual routes.

These numbers should be understood in the context of “periods” as defined in TTC schedules. There are five periods through the day:

  • Weekdays: AM Peak / Midday / PM Peak / Early Evening / Late Evening
  • Weekend: Early Morning / Late Morning / Afternoon / Early Evening / Late Evening

The transition points between these periods vary from route to route depending on local demand patterns.

In the chart below, the combination of routes and periods shows that in the first quarter of 2019, 41 bus routes were overcrowded during 82 periods, but this means the combination of one route and one period. With 82 representing only 4.5% of the total, this means that there are over 1,800 possibilities for the bus fleet.

The methodology of counting weekend days individually yields 15 periods overall for most routes. (Some routes do not operate in the Early AM period on the Sunday schedules.) The reason for this is that there is a common schedule for all weekdays, but separate schedules for each of the weekend days. However, this methodology consolidates the majority of the service (weekdays) into only one third of the period count undervaluing the number of riders affected by weekday problems. Moreover, crowding that varies by day-of-week could be masked by averaging over a five-day period.

There also appears to be a mathematical problem for the subway where 7 periods are claimed to be 13.5% of the total. This implies that there are over 50 subway “periods”, but with only 3 lines and 14 periods per line (no early Sunday service), this is impossible (it is unclear where the SRT fits in here). This chart needs work to improve its content.

Reliability of the new Flexity fleet bounced back from a big dip in January 2019, but the mean distance between failures of 13,223 km is still below last year’s performance and less than half of the contracted target. This does not bode well for any move to extend the existing contract with Bombardier.

CLRV reliability continues to track at under 4,000 km MDBF, and the TTC no longer publishes stats for the ALRVs as they have been out of service over the winter. The May schedule plans show a return of five ALRVs to 501 Queen, but this is tentative and the affected runs might simply show up with CLRVs or Flexitys. The CEO’s report notes:

As this legacy fleet is scheduled to be decommissioned by end of this year, maintenance staff will continue to ensure the vehicles are safe to operate in service. However, technical efforts moving forward are being shifted to the new LFLRV fleet and to providing Bombardier with additional assistance. [p 40]

TTC Service Changes Effective May 12, 2019

The May 2019 service changes bring a number of adjustments across the system:

  • Routes that serve post-secondary institutions have reduced service levels reflecting the lighter demand for summer enrollment.
  • The seasonal extension of 121 Fort York – Esplanade to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach begins, and the 175 Bluffers’ Park weekend service returns.
  • Many routes have “service reliability” adjustments which, for the most part, consist of giving more running time and/or recovery time to buses with slightly increased headways.

Construction projects beginning with this schedule period:

  • Davisville Station paving work will see the 14 Glencairn and 28 Bayview South routes interlined. They will not stop in the station. Also, peak period 97B Yonge service will only serve the southbound stop at Davisville. 11 Bayview and 97 Yonge northbound services will continue to use the station but will change loading spots as the work progresses.
  • Jane Station paving work will displace the 26 Dupont and 55 Warren Park services to Old Mill Station. They will serve Jane Station at on-street stops. 35/935 Jane services will offload in the station, but will load on Jane Street northbound.
  • Constuction work at the Wheel-Trans Lakeshore Garage will close the operators’ parking lot for several months. During this time, service to the garage will remain on 83 Jones, but a new 383 Wheel-Trans Shuttle night bus will operate from Queen and Coxwell west to Leslie and south to Commissioners. The eastbound route will use Eastern Avenue from Leslie to Coxwell.
  • Construction work at Eglinton West Station by Metrolinx will close the station during overnight hours. The 363 Ossington will be cut back to Oakwood and Eglinton and will operate as 363B from 2:12 am which will be the last southbound trip from the station.

Service on the Scarborough RT will be improved by extending the peak period service to 11 am in the morning, and to 9 pm in the evening. There is no change in the peak service level of 5’00” headways due to the ongoing reconstruction of the fleet which leaves only 5 trains available for peak service plus 1 spare.

Peak period service on 72 Pape will be modified by decoupling the 72B Union Station branch from the 72C Commissioners branch. Rather than attempting to operate the same headway on each service, the two will run independently of each other with improved service on the 72C branch and reduced service on 72B to Union.

The last of the old “Rocket” services, 186 Wilson Rocket, will be rebranded as 996 Wilson Express with no change in service levels.

The proportion of 501 Queen service between Neville and Humber operated with Flexity low floor cars will continue to increase, especially on weekends. Actual numbers could be higher than those shown in the schedule. In theory, the schedule provides for five ALRVs on the 501 service, but this is subject to availability. Either CLRVs or Flexitys would be substituted.

504 King service will see changes to the schedule during all periods, although this mainly involves adding running and recovery times, as well as some stretched headways.

  • Peak headways stay the same but with longer times through the addition of 3 cars in the AM and 4 cars in the PM.
  • Early evening service sees the greatest change with a move from service every 6’30” on each branch to every 8’00”. If nothing else, this might placate business owners on King Street who complained that service during this period was excessive.

Construction at Roncesvalles Carhouse has progressed to the point where much of the 504A Dundas West to Distillery service will now operate from that location rather than from Leslie Barns.

The growth of the Flexity fleet, combined with remaining “legacy” CLRVs and ALRVs and construction at Roncesvalles is causing problems for overnight car storage. Service on 304 King will be improved from every half hour to every 15 minutes, and similar changes will occur on other overnight routes in coming months. The reconstruction of old facilities moves to Russell Division in 2020, and so this problem is not going away soon. The TTC is also working on a plan to build a yard for 24 cars at Hillcrest as a base for 512 St. Clair, but this is only in the design stage.

2019.05.12_Service_Changes (Version 2, April 20/19 at 5:40 pm)

61 Questions And Counting (Updated)

Update: Council’s action on this report has been added at the end of the article.

As I write this article on April 17, 2019, it has been three weeks since Toronto learned that Premier Doug Ford’s love for rewriting transit plans would turn Toronto’s future upside down. Ford’s special advisor Michael Lindsay wrote to Toronto’s City Manager Chris Murray first on March 22, and then in an attempt to paper over obvious problems with the provincial position, on March 25.

Just over two weeks later, Ford announced his transit plan for Toronto, and this was followed by the 2019 provincial budget.

A hallmark of the process has been a distinct lack of details about design issues, funding and the future responsibility for an “uploaded” subway system. In parallel with these events, city and TTC staff have met from time to time with Lindsay and his team to flesh out details and to explain to provincial planners the scope of TTC’s needs, the complex planning and considerable financial resources required just to keep the trains running.

On April 9, Toronto’s Executive Committee directed Murray to report directly to Council on the effect of provincial announcements, but his report did not arrive on Councillors’ desks until early afternoon April 16 with the Council meeting already underway.

The report reveals a gaping hole in the city’s knowledge of provincial plans with a “preliminary” list of 61 technical questions for the province. So much for the idea that discussions to date have yielded much information. Click on any image below to open this as a gallery.

 

To these I would add a critical factor that always affects provincial projects: cost inflation. It is rare to see a provincial project with an “as spent” estimate of costs. Instead, an estimate is quoted for some base year (often omitted from announcements) with a possible, although not ironclad, “commitment” to pay actual costs as the work progresses. This puts Ontario politicians of all parties in the enviable position of promising something based on a low, current or even past-year dollar estimate, while insulating themselves from overruns which can be dismissed as “inflation”. The City of Toronto, by contrast, must quote projects including inflation because it is the actual spending that must be financed, not a hypothetical, years out of date estimate from the project approval stage.

That problem is particularly knotty when governments will change, and “commitments” can evaporate at the whim of a new Premier. If the city is expected to help pay for these projects, will the demand on their funds be capped (as often happens when the federal or provincial governments fund municipal projects), or will the city face an open-ended demand for its share with no control over project spending?

Unlike the city, the province has many ways to compel its “partner” to pay up by the simple expedient of clawing back contributions to other programs, or by making support of one project be a pre-requisite for funding many others. Presto was forced on Toronto by the threat to withdraw provincial funding for other transit programs if the city did not comply. Resistance was and is futile.

How widely will answers to these questions be known? The province imposed a gag order on discussions with the city claiming that information about the subway plans and upload were “confidential”. Even if answers are provided at the staff level, there is no guarantee the public will ever know the details.

At Council on April 16, the City Manager advised that there would be a technical briefing by the province on the “Ontario Line” (the rebranded Downtown Relief Line) within the next week. That may check some questions off of the list, or simply raise a whole new batch of issues depending on the quality of paper and crayons used so far in producing the provincial plan. It is simply not credible that there is a fully worked-out plan with design taken to the level normally expected of major projects, and if one does exist, how has it been produced in secret entirely without consultation? The province claims it wants to be “transparent”, but to date they are far away from that principle.

The Question of Throwaway Costs

Toronto has already spent close to $200 million on design work, primarily for the Line 2 East Extension (formerly known as the Scarborough Subway Extension, or SSE). The province claims that much of this work will be recycled into their revised design, and this was echoed by TTC management at a media briefing. However, with changes in both alignment, scope and technology looming, it is hard to believe that this work will all be directly applicable to the province’s schemes.

The city plans to continue work on these lines at an ongoing cost of $11-14 million per month, but will concentrate on elements that are likely to be required for either the city’s original plan or for the provincial version. The need to reconcile plans has been clear for some time:

In order to minimize throw-away costs associated with the Line 2 East Extension and the Relief Line South, the City and TTC will be seeking the Province’s support to undertake an expedited assessment of the implications of a change at this stage in the project lifecycle. The City and TTC have been requesting the Province to provide further details on their proposals since last year, including more recently through ongoing correspondence and meetings under the Terms of Reference for the Realignment of Transit Responsibilities. [p 4]

The city/TTC may have asked “since last year”, but Queen’s Park chose not to answer.

The city would like to be reimbursed for monies spent, but this is complicated by the fact that some of that design was funded by others.

Provincial Gas Tax

As an example of the mechanisms available to the province to ensure city co-operation, the Ford government will not proceed with the planned doubling of gas tax transfers to municipalities. This has an immediate effect of removing $585 million in allocated funding in the next decade from projects in the TTC’s capital program, and a further $515 million from potential projects in the 15 year Capital Investment Plan.

At issue for Toronto, as flagged in the questions above, is the degree to which this lost revenue will be offset by the province taking responsibility for capital maintenance in the upload process. Over half of the planned and potential capital projects relate to existing subway infrastructure, but it is not clear whether the province understands the level of spending they must undertake to support their ownership of the subway lines.

Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF)

City management recommends that Council commit much of the $4.897 billion in pending federal infrastructure subsidies from PTIF phase 2 to provincial projects:

  • $0.660 billion for the Province’s proposed three-stop Line 2 East Extension project instead of the one-stop Line 2 East Extension project; and
  • $3.151 billion for the Province’s proposed ‘Ontario Line’ as described in the 2019 Ontario Budget, instead of the Relief Line South. [p 3]

This is subject to an assessment of just what is supposed to happen both with proposed new rapid transit lines and the existing system in the provincial scheme.

Mayor Tory has proposed an amendment to the report’s recommendations to clarify the trigger for the city’s agreeing to allocation of its PTIF funds to the provincial plan, so that “endorsing” the plan is changed to “consider endorsing”. Reports would come back from the City Manager to Council on the budget changes and uploading process for approval that could lead to the city releasing its PTIF funds to the province.

The Status of SmartTrack

Part of the city’s PTIF funding, $585 million, is earmarked for the six new stations to be built on the Weston, Lake Shore East and Stouffville corridors. The future of these stations is cloudy for various reasons:

  • The Finch East station on the Stouffville corridor is in a residential neighbourhood where there is considerable opposition to its establishment, and grade separation, let alone a station structure, will be quite intrusive.
  • The Lawrence East station on the Stouffville corridor would be of dubious value if the L2EE includes a station at McCowan and Lawrence. Indeed, that station was removed from the city plans specifically to avoid drawing demand away from SmartTrack.
  • There is no plan for a TTC level fare on GO Transit/SmartTrack, and the discount now offered is available only to riders who pay single fares (the equivalent of tokens) via Presto, not to riders who have monthly passes.
  • Provincial plans for service at SmartTrack stations is unclear. Originally, and as still claimed in city reports, SmartTrack stations would see 6-10 trains/hour. However, in February 2018, Metrolinx announced a new service design for its GO expansion program using a mix of local and express trains. This would reduce the local stops, including most SmartTrack locations, to 3 or 4 trains/hour. I sought clarification of the conflict between the two plans from Metrolinx most recently on April 3, 2019 and they are still “working on my request” two weeks later.

Some of the SmartTrack stations will be very costly because of the constrained space on corridors where they will be built. The impetus for Council to spend on stations would be substantially reduced if train service will be infrequent, and the cost to ride will be much higher than simply transferring to and from TTC routes. Both the Mayor and the province owe Council an explanation of just what they would be buying into, although that could be difficult as cancelling or scaling back the SmartTrack stations project would eliminate the last vestige of John Tory’s signature transit policy.

The Line 2 East Extension

The City Manager reports that the alignment of the provincial version of the three-stop subway is not yet confirmed, nor are the location of planned stations. Shifting the terminus north to Sheppard and McCowan and possibly shifting the station at Scarborough Town Centre will completely invalidate the existing design work for STC. This is an example of potential throwaway work costs the city faces.

The design at Sheppard/McCowan will depend on whether the intent is to through-route service from Line 2 onto Line 4, or to provide an interchange station where both lines would terminate. The L2EE would have to operate as a terminal station for a time, in any event, because provincial plans call for the Line 4 extension to follow the L2EE’s completion.

An amended Transit Project Assessment (TPAP) will be needed for the L2EE, and this cannot even begin without more details of the proposed design.

The Ontario Line

Although this line is expected to follow the already approved route of the Relief Line between Pape and Osgoode Stations, the map in the provincial budget is vague about the stations showing different names and possibly a different alignment. This could be a case of bad map-making, or it could represent a real change from city/TTC plans to the provincial version.

A TPAP will definitely be required for the extended portions of the line west of Osgoode and north of Pape. A pending technical briefing may answer some issues raised by the city/TTC including details of just where the line would go and what technology will be used, but the degree of secrecy to date on this proposal does not bode well for a fully worked-out plan.

Council Decision

The item was approved at Council with several amendments whose effects overall were:

  • The City Manager and TTC CEO are to work with the province:
    • to determine the effects of the provincial announcement,
    • to negotiate principles for cost sharing including ongoing maintenance and funding arrangements, and
    • to seek replacement of funding that had been anticipated through increased gas tax transfers to the city.
  • The city will consider dedication of its PTIF funding for the Line 2 extension and for the Relief Line to Ontario’s projects subject to this review.
  • The city requests “confirmation that the provincial transit plans will not result in an unreasonable delay” to various transit projects including the Relief line, the one-stop L2EE, SmartTrack Stations, Eglinton and Waterfront LRT lines.
  • Discussions with the province should also include:
    • those lines that were not in the provincial announcement,
    • compensation for sunk design costs,
    • phasing options to bring priority segments of the Relief Line in-service as early as possible,
    • city policy objectives such as development at stations, and
    • public participation on the provincial plans.
  • The City Manager is to investigate the acceleration of preliminary design and engineering on the Waterfront and Eglinton East LRT using city monies saved from costs assumed by the province.
  • The City Manager is to report back to Council at its June 2019 meeting.

Former TTC Chair Mike Colle moved:

That City Council direct that, if there are any Provincial transit costs passed on to the City of Toronto as a result of the 17.3 billion dollar gap in the Province’s transit expansion plans, these costs should be itemized on any future property tax bills as “The Provincial Transit Plan Tax Levy”.

This was passed by a margin of 18 to 8 with Mayor Tory in support.

TTC Board Meeting April 11, 2019

The TTC Board met on April 11 with a full agenda. Among the items discussed were:

  • The joint City/TTC “omnibus” transit report and the implications of the provincial intent to “upload” the subway system
  • Public Deputations at Board Meetings
  • Presto limited use tickets and the TTC/Presto contract generally
  • The Junction Area Study and proposed route changes
  • Subway Closures for 2019

The Board also discussed Line 1 (YUS) Capacity Requirements, State of Good Repair and Automatic Train Control. This is a complex enough issue to warrant an article in its own right, and I wil publish that separately.

Results of the King Street Pilot

The King Street Pilot report that was presented to Toronto’s Executive Committee on April 9 came before the TTC Board on April 11. There was a short discussion of the possibility of extension of the project further west. This review will be rolled into the surface transit network plan to come to the board in December 2019.

One item that may further complicate the taxi exemption for King Street was a proposal that Wheel Trans contracted vehicles be allowed to operate just like a transit vehicle when carrying Wheel Trans clients. This will come to Council when they debate the issue at their meeting of April 16.

The Board endorsed the report’s recommendations.

In future articles, I will update information about travel times, headways and line capacity on King street with data to the end of March 2019.

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Ontario’s 2019 Budget: Transit Effects in Toronto

The Ontario Government introduced its 2019 budget on April 11. The section on transit and transportation begins with the usual statements about the cost of congestion, and the economic benefit of transit and highways. Transit specifics focus on the recent Toronto subway announcement. Metrolinx/GO continues on its expansion path, but with more emphasis on what has been done than what is to come.

The Subway “Upload”

Ontario reiterated its intention to take ownership of the Toronto subway network, but it is now clear that this will be done in two parts. First will come responsibility for system expansion as announced on April 10 with the existing system assets to follow in 2020. This puts the more complex problem off nominally for a year, but that debate is really underway now with negotiations between the City of Toronto, TTC and province.

By separating the upload into two distinctive parts, the Province can begin building subway extensions and new lines immediately while giving proper due diligence to the state of repair of the existing assets and fulfilling its commitments to consultation under the Terms of Reference.

The Province remains steadfastly committed to the full upload of the TTC subway network. [p. 64]

That “due diligence” is the nub of any transfer. Past provincial statements imply that the cost of life cycle maintenance (major repairs and replacement, items found in the TTC’s capital budget) would shift to the province leaving day-to-day costs to the City of Toronto. The problem lies in the inevitable tug-of-war between transit expansion and state of good repair. Provincial Treasurer Vic Fedeli, speaking on CBC’s Metro Morning, claims that the investment in new transit lines more than offsets gas tax revenue promised by the former Liberal government. However, this leaves a major hole in planned funding for system upgrades.

Gas Tax Transfer

Fedeli claimed that the Gas Tax can only be used for specific type of spending, but this is not true. The money today goes partly to subsidize day-to-day operations and partly to capital for state-of-good-repair (SOGR). Across the province, few cities are building rapid transit expansions, and their gas tax allocation goes to operation and maintenance of existing systems. Fedeli, in parliamentary language, is “badly briefed”.

The gas tax transfer from Ontario to Toronto for 2018-2019 will be $185 million, and this was expected to double in stages over the next four years. This increase has been cancelled in the new Ontario budget.

Beginning in 2019, Ontario will gradually increase the municipal share of gas tax funds up to a total of four cents per litre in 2021-22. Based on the averages from the past 10 years, gas tax funding is estimated to be about $642 million in 2021-22. There will not be any increase in the tax that people in Ontario pay on gasoline.

Year                            2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22

Municipal share (cents/litre)   2.0     2.5     3.0     4.0
Estimated funding (millions)    $321    $401.3  $481.5  $642

Source: Enhanced Gas Tax Program, Ontario Government Backgrounder, January 27, 2017

Note that the dollar funding above is for all of Ontario, not just for Toronto, although it gets the lion’s share due to its size.

The Province will not move forward with the previous government’s proposed changes to the municipal share of gas tax funding. The Province will continue to support municipalities through the existing Gas Tax program and ensure it continues to meet the needs of the people of Ontario in alignment with provincial priorities.

Over the next few months, the government will consult with municipalities to review the program parameters and identify opportunities for improvement. This review will be informed by the goals of responsible planning and a more sustainable government to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent as effectively as possible. [p. 75]

Toronto allocates almost half, $91.6 million, to the TTC Operating Budget, leaving $93.4 million for capital in 2018-2019.

Planned spending based on federal and provincial gas tax transfers is summarized in the city’s 2019 budget papers. This document details the allocation of federal and provincial transfers planned over 2019-2028 with $1.358 billion broken out by TTC budget line. Note that this is less than the total that would have been expected over ten years because the “out years” of the TTC’c capital plan is constrained by city financing plans. Many projects are “below the line” in the budget, especially in the outer five years, and the rise in gas tax funding could have helped to bring some of these projects to approved, above the line status.

About 70% of planned provincial gas tax spending by Toronto is for assets that are subway related. If Ontario transfers responsibility for all of this to the provincial level, then this would offset the loss of expected gas tax. However, that depends on just what budget lines Ontario chooses to take on. When capital subsidies began under the Davis government, there was something of a shell game between Toronto and Queen’s Park over the classification of expenses because “capital” received at least a 50% subsidy while “operations” only got 16%. This sort of thing will bedevil negotiations between the two governments on funding of the uploaded subway system’s SOGR projects.

The table below summarizes the categories listed in the city’s budget and splits them between subway and surface networks. The breakdown is based on my experience in reviewing TTC budgets. Although some adjustment of percentages might be argued, the overall balance will not change much.

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