TTC Aims Too Low For Future Service

As the TTC ponders the future of transit service through a 5 and 10 year outlook, they seek public input on where transit should be going in the years ahead. The focus of this plan is the surface route network which is too often overlooked in the debates, political gamesmanship and pitched battles about rapid transit expansion. The City and Province routinely debate expansion projects with multi-billion dollar price tags, but invest little in the surface system that is essential to transit’s overall success.

There are 1.2 million people using the TTC’s surface transit (bus and streetcar) network every day. That’s 70% of the 1.7 million total number of people who take the TTC each day. [TTC website]

Many targets for improvement are included in the TTC’s work, but the basic provision of more and better service does not get the attention it deserves. For many years, thanks to tax-fighting limits on TTC growth going back to Mayor Ford and beyond, the TTC’s surface fleet grew slowly if at all. Fleet growth has gone, in part, to increasing the pool of spare buses for maintenance. Much scheduled service growth has been directed to replacing streetcars with buses and making allowance for slower traffic speeds and long-running construction projects such as the Crosstown.

AM Peak Service Buses Streetcars
April 2015 1508 202
April 2019 1606 158

For many years, the fundamental problem facing any call for better service is “we have no buses, we have no streetcars” compounded by “we have no garages”.

The political situation, historical and current, does not excuses total inaction. There are issues both inside and outside of the TTC that deserve debate: the relative importance of transit, motorists and other users of road space; the management of service so that riders receive something close to the quantity and quality advertised in schedules. However, there is no “magic bullet” that will improve transit painlessly without extra cost, management effort and realignment of transit’s political importance for more than big construction projects and photo ops.

The Plan will be developed in consultation with customers and stakeholders and:

  • Identify key opportunities to improve transit services
  • Evaluate and prioritize network-level service improvements
  • Outline a five-year service-focused business plan

The Plan will also continue the TTC’s corporate focus on preparing transparent, multi-year plans and will:

  • Set the foundation for future annual service plans
  • Identify and link service-related operating and capital cost requirements
  • Bridge the gap between the TTC’s near-term planning with long-term City and Provincial plans [p 1]

These are laudable goals, but there is a challenge for both TTC staff and for the Board: does the political will exist to produce a plan that aspires to a stronger role for transit complete with the costs and trade-offs this will require, or is Toronto afraid to contemplate anything beyond “business as usual” planning?

This is not simply a question of buying vehicles and building more garages, but of recognizing that the compound effect of population growth and more service will drive up costs faster than inflation. When the political goal is to limit fare, subsidy and tax increases, the TTC is challenged to maintain the existing service, let alone improve to address latent demand and the widespread sense that transit is not “The Better Way”.

The transit wish lists among existing riders and those who use other modes is not the same for obvious reasons. Riders want a better travel environment and service, while non-riders want fast, cheaper ways to get around. However, both groups agree on five targets: reliability, crowding, wait time, trip duration and affordability. That list says something about the quality of what is now on offer.

Far too often, calls for better transit meet with the response “we can’t afford it”, and this precludes even a study to determine what might or might not be possible. That was the strength of the Ridership Growth Strategy of March 2003. That study provided a menu of possible system improvements together with costs and potential benefits. Simply having that menu told us all what might be done should resources become available. Without such a strategy, asking for transit changes is akin to walking into a restaurant where your dinner order must await a study to find out what might be available.

In August 2014, the TTC report Opportunities to Improve Transit Service in Toronto proposed several changes many of which are now in place, most recently the two-hour transfer.

The 2019 work will “… focus on near-term improvements that can be delivered within five years that enhance the TTC’s core-competency, mass transit …”. [p 1]

Five “opportunities” for improvement are:

  1. Improve surface transit schedules
  2. Prioritize transit on key surface transit corridors
  3. Enhance the customer experience at key surface transit stop areas
  4. Provide new connections with new higher-order transit services
  5. Accelerate integration with regional transit agencies and complementary modes of transport [p 2]

A troubling omission in this list is explicitly the provision of better transit service. Improving schedules and providing transit priority can bring better efficiency to provision of transit, but there is no actual goal to increase transit capacity. “Customer experience” at major stops will improve, but there is nothing here about their experience once on board a vehicle.

The TTC’s Corporate Plan includes five critical paths including “Move more customers reliably”. However, it also includes “Transform for financial sustainability”. These are competing goals especially when just keeping the lights on may require decisions to cut or constrain growth plans.

This competition is made explicit by two sections side-by-side in the report.

The Plan will continue the TTC’s corporate focus on preparing transparent, customer-facing, multi-year plans that:

  • Set the foundation for future annual service plans that will outline, in-detail, service improvements for the upcoming year;
  • Identify and link service-related operating and capital cost requirements over a five-year period which will provide the public, the TTC Board and elected officials with a transparent blueprint; and
  • Bridge the gap between the TTC’s near-term transit planning with long-term population and employment growth projections, rapid transit plans and the Official Plan.

The Plan will also strive to be realistic in the actions it identifies to ensure what is being planned can be delivered. This includes planning within the constraints of the TTC Operating Budget and Capital Budget. As such, the Plan will be developed noting the following key financial assumptions over the next five-years:

  • Operating Budget: The TTC 2020 Operating Budget will increase to account for the annualized cost associated with implementing new service in 2019 only. Between 2021 and 2024, multiple funding scenarios will be prepared to account for a range of possible funding scenarios from a -1% to +1% change in the Operating Budget.
  • Capital Budget: The availability of fleet including buses, streetcars and subway trains and facilities will generally align with the TTC Capital Investment Plan, noting that vehicle requirements across all modes are predominantly unfunded and any new procurement for buses, streetcars and subway trains cannot be achieved beyond 2021 based on current available funding. [pp 3-4]

If the opening premise is that costs will grow by at most 1%, then “we can’t afford it” becomes a filter that will screen out options before they even reach the discussion phase. To put this in context, the two-hour fare was estimated to have a $20 million effect on the TTC’s operating budget. That is over 1% of the gross budget of $1.9 billion, and over 3% of the $622 million operating subsidy. A two-hour fare would be knocked off of the table if a 1% filter decided which options were even considered, let alone proposed for implementation.

It is telling that the two-hour fare was finally introduced in part as an inducement for riders to switch to Presto, but the comparable change in operating cost for opening the Vaughan subway extension was never an issue during budget debates.

The gaping hole in this report is an aspirational view of transit. What might it look like if only there were the will to make it better? If there is a cost, at least let everyone know what it might be and what will be needed to bring about improvement.

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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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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)

TTC 2019 Fleet and Capacity Plans Part II: Streetcars and Buses

Streetcars

There are several related projects in the 2019-2028 Capital Budget and in the 2019-2033 Capital Investment Plan. These include:

  • Completion of the 204 car Flexity order now in progress
  • Purchase of 100 additional cars for growth and expansion
  • Renovation of Russell Carhouse for maintenance of new streetcars
  • Major renovation of Harvey Shops for maintenance of new streetcars, and as the operating carhouse for (at least) 512 St. Clair

Allocation of the New Flexity Streetcar Fleet

As I write this on March 20, 2019, the TTC has received cars 4400-4535 from the Thunder Bay plant and 4572-4573 from Kingston. Of these, prototype 4401 is at Bombardier for production refits, and a pool of four to six cars will be out for major repairs for the next few years.

CEO Rick Leary has stated on a few occasions that the buses now on streetcar routes will come free for service on the bus network by year end when all new cars have arrived, and that all of the legacy CLRV/ALRV (standard sized and two-section articulated cars respectively) will also be retired this year. This directly contradicts his own Capital Investment Plan which shows that buses will still be required into the mid-2020s when, in theory, a further order of 100 streetcars would arrive.

However, even assuming that Bombardier does deliver the last of its order up to car 4603, there will not be enough new cars to cover service on all of the lines. The table below compares service as it existed back in 2006 before the new cars were ordered, the TTC’s plans for Flexity implementation in 2013, the current schedule requirements, and the number of streetcars needed if all routes return to rail operation.

The numbers above are divided into six sets:

  • The 2006 AM peak service requirement for all streetcar routes assuming that there are no construction projects underway. This is a blend of sources to avoid diversions and substitutions.
  • The actual service in March 2019 (current).
  • The streetcar service operated a few years ago on routes that now have full or partial bus operation.
  • A hypothetical March 2019 service assuming that the five routes now with buses (511 Bathurst, etc) were operated using streetcars.
  • The TTC’s June 2013 deployment plan for the new cars.
  • A hypothetical March 2019 service assuming current Flexity service for routes that have already converted such as King, and the 2013 deployment numbers for routes that have not.

For the purpose of this discussion, the ALRV fleet is assumed to have been retired even though, officially, schedules still call for five of them to run on 501 Queen. In practice these, and some CLRV runs, are operating with Flexitys.

The total fleet requirement including spares at 20% would be 216 cars, and this is 12 more than the TTC will actually have without allowing for a half-dozen cars undergoing major repairs. This means that it is impossible to operate the streetcar system without either trimming service or leaving buses on some routes. When there are construction projects that block streetcar service (such as the work by Toronto Water now underway on Dundas), there would be enough cars operate the rest of the network. Otherwise, the most likely candidates for buses are the perennial targets, the Kingston Road services 502/503.

Some routes – King, Spadina and St. Clair – have more service today than the 2013 deployment plan provided, but this means that there are not enough cars to handle the rest of the network as originally planned. Service improvements on the streetcar system are limited to the added capacity that Flexitys will provide on routes still using old cars (e.g. Queen), but there is no headroom from 2020 onward.

Expanding the Fleet

In the 2018 Capital Budget, the TTC planned to acquire 60 more streetcars in 2019-20 for ridership growth, and 15 in 2020-21 for new Waterfront service. In 2019, this has changed to a larger order in the mid-2020s. However, the budget is inconsistent in its presentation of needs and timing.

The chart below is adapted from the fleet plan as it appears in the budget. (The copy I have is in black and white muddying some details depending on colour.) This shows a proposed purchase of 95 cars in 2025-28. It is already out of date because the CLRV and ALRV fleets will be retired sooner than planned. This creates a shortage that prevents full return to streetcar service at the end of 2019 when the Flexity deliveries are supposed to be complete.

Projections out to 2043 show a very substantial increase in the streetcar fleet to almost double the planned fleet in the early 2020s. That’s a lot more streetcar service than we have today. However good this might look, it does not address the challenge that there are not enough cars for the lines and service levels today, and this will not change in the near future.

A few pages later in the budget is a project to purchase 60 new cars which clearly shows the need for 60 cars starting in 2020, with even more in the future. Of particular note is the text about the effect of deferral on service. This project description is obviously out of date, but that is a common problem with the budget.

The actual spending has been moved to 2024-27. It goes without saying that whatever the date, this is an unfunded project.

Adding to the inconsistency is the statement in the 15 year Capital Investment Plan that the TTC would purchase “approximately 100 additional streetcars from 2025 to 2028 to meet demand, at a cost of $510 million”. [p. 54]

A further problem lies in the planned renovation of Russell Carhouse to handle Flexity maintenance similar to the work now underway at Roncesvalles. This will take that site out of operation for two years. Without Russell’s capacity, there would not be enough room to accommodate the extra 60 streetcars if they were procured as originally planned.

The TTC is also considering major changes at Harvey Shops which, as currently configured, can only be used for a small number of Flexitys. The scheme is to revise the layout of tracks and service areas, and to make this an operating site for, at least, the fleet needed on 512 St. Clair. This would very substantially reduce the dead head mileage for 512 St. Clair cars that shifted to Roncesvalles Division from the carhouse at Wychwood, only a short distance north of Hillcrest, in 1978. However, this capacity would not be available until 2028, and the Fleet Plan shown above does not include it. That site would also substantially increase storage capacity on the streetcar system because, in another project, the TTC proposes shifting bus maintenance operations to a new as yet unknown location. This is separate from the construction of another bus garage in the 2020s.

All of this assumes that money will be found to pay for the larger fleet and facility changes needed to accommodate it. In the chart below, all figures are in billions of dollars including inflation. Note that the $370 million for the current 204-car purchase is the remaining money to be spent in years that are part of the Capital Investment Plan, not the total project cost.

The TTC clearly has plans to improve and expand the streetcar system, but there is a deadly combination of constrained capacity growth and rising demand which will not be addressed in the short-to-medium term. That drives potential riders away from transit and adds traffic that streets cannot absorb more demand.

Buses

For many years, growth in bus service has been limited because the TTC has no place to put more buses even if they bought them. This allowed TTC management to avoid the basic issue of how much service was really needed, and budget hawks on Council to avoid increasing TTC subsidies to pay for this.

The chart below is adapted from the fleet plan in the capital budget. The first column shows the fleet makeup before 2014 and then shows the procurements and retirements over the period to 2034.

  • The “Net” column is a check on the arithmetic to ensure that the numbers actually net out. There is an error highlighted in red where the TTC claims it will retire more buses than it actually owns. This has only a small effect on the future fleet size (five out of two thousand buses).
  • There are 200 hybrids and 60 electric buses in the 2019 budget, followed by a pause for one year in 2020 when there will be no purchases. This is partly a result of timing pressure to spend federal PTIF dollars within the required window, and partly to provide an evaluation process for the electric buses.
  • Electric bus purchases will begin in earnest in 2021 with the last of the existing diesel and hybrid fleet being retired by 2033.

The projected service requirements have changed since the 2018 version of the plan, and both versions are shown in the chart. Four planned major events will reduce bus requirements:

  • The Eglinton Crosstown LRT opens in 2021 replacing frequent bus services on several routes.
  • The Finch LRT opens in 2023 replacing bus service west of Keele Street.
  • The Scarborough Subway Extension opens in 2026 shifting the termini of many routes to STC station.
  • The planned expansion of the streetcar fleet in the mid 2020s eliminates the need for buses to supplement/replace streetcar services.

The use of articulated 18m buses will increase by 68 vehicles in 2021 if this plan holds. The next round of artic purchase in 2025-26 will replace the 153 diesel artics now in the fleet, but there are no net additions.

With the shift of the bus fleet to electric operation, the TTC plans to convert its garages at a rate of two per year. However, they have not produced a plan that aligns this conversion with the rate at which electric vehicles will replace diesels and hybrids.

Garage space continues to be an issue. The current capacity across seven garages is 1,631 buses compared to a total fleet of 2,012, a shortfall of 381. Even when McNicoll Garage opens in 2020 adding capacity for 250 buses, there will still be a shortfall with system capacity of only 1,881. A ninth garage to add a further 250 spaces is not planned to open until 2031. That garage, like many projects, sits in the “out years” of the capital plans so that it does not contribute to the shortfall in available funding over the 10-year span of the budget.

This puts the TTC and its would-be customers in a long-standing box when looking at service improvements. For another decade, Toronto will be told that there is no room for more buses beyond the current fleet plans. The planned growth in peak service from 2026 onward is under one per cent per year.

TTC management plans to bring forward a service plan later in 2019 which will examine future demand. A vital part of such a report will be to look not just at minimal ridership and fleet growth, but to consider what happens if service improves at a substantial rate. Oddly, there is provision for this in the streetcar fleet plan, but not in the bus plan.

The 15-year Capital Improvement Plan includes construction of a collision centre and heavy overhaul facility for the bus fleet. This would release space now used at Hillcrest allowing it to be repurposed as a new streetcar shops and depot. The engine shops now at Hillcrest would become obsolete with the migration to an all-electric bus fleet.

 

TTC 2019 Fleet and Capacity Plans Part I: Subway (Updated)

Note: At the time of publication (Noon on Monday, March 18, 2019), I await a response from the TTC to several questions on issues raised in this article. When the responses arrive, I will update the article.

Updated March 20, 2019 at 6:40 am: The spreadsheet of major project costs has been revised to show the correct final cost for the Line 2 Platform Edge Doors project. The value under “post 2028” was correct, but the EFC originally contained the value for the Bloor-Yonge project. This change does not affect the text of the article as PEDs were cited only in that table.

The TTC’s Capital Budget and Plan exist in a summary form in reports to the TTC Board and City Council, but there is a much more detailed version commonly known as the “blue books”. These are two large binders packed with information about capital projects.

For years, I have been reading them to sniff out issues that the general reports don’t cover or acknowledge. The 2019 edition became available at the beginning of March, and as I dove into it, many questions began to fill notes especially where there are direct conflicts between materials in the books themselves, and between these details and public statements and reports. Combing through this material may look like the height of transit nerdishness, but there is a crucial underlying issue here.

Cost-cutting politicians, not to mention ambitious transit managers, think that everything can be solved with a quick takeover of ownership and decision-making responsibilities. The temptation is to appear to do much while spending as little as possible. TTC and City practices chronically understate the capital needs of the transit system, and this makes a takeover appear cheaper than it really should be. Couple that with a government and its agency, Metrolinx, where detailed, long-range spending plans never appear in public, and we have a recipe for a system that will crumble from underfunding.

I cannot help but feel that project timings and overall plans for the system have been shuffled around without a thorough review of the effects especially where related plans overlap. Indeed, some project descriptions contain text that does not match the timing implied by the annual budget allocations. TTC management is supposed to be working on consolidated plans for both major subway lines, although the one for Line 2 was promised two years ago when Andy Byford was still the CEO.

A long-standing problem with capital budgets in Toronto, and not just at the TTC, is the overriding concern with the City’s debt ceiling. Toronto sets a target that the cost of debt should not exceed 15 per cent of tax revenue. Originally this was a hard cap for each year in a ten-year projection, but major projects in the near future made this impossible to achieve. Now the target is to stay at or below the ceiling on average. With a bulge in spending, and hence an increase in debt, in the mid 2020s, debt costs go over the line and this is “fixed” only by having years at less than 15% to make the average work out.

For a capital-hungry agency like the TTC there is a problem: future projects have requirements that simply do not fit into the City’s plans. The severity of this shortfall has been understated for over a decade by three simple expedients.

  • Project schedules in the budget are pushed beyond the ten-year mark where the related debt pressure would appear in City projections.
  • Projects are shown “below the line” in unfunded status with a hope that revenue sources such as new subsidies from other governments will appear.
  • Projects are omitted from from the budget completely.

The result is familiar to city-watchers with annual hand-wringing about the sky falling tomorrow, while somehow we manage to pay for today’s projects. In January 2019, the TTC knocked the legs out from this with the publication of a 15 year Capital Investment Plan revealing capital needs far greater than any numbers used in past projections. What had been a ten year, $9 billion plan that was roughly two-thirds funded (i.e. had known or likely monies available) went to a fifteen year, $33.5 billion plan with only one-third funded. This is just for “state of good repair”, and any system expansion sits on top.

In all of this lies a more subtle problem than simple financing. Years of shuffling projects made projected spending fit within City targets, and this served political needs to make key projects appear manageable. Overall planning, including the relationships between line items in the budget, took second place, if it was considered at all.

Capital planning requires a long-term view of the city and its transit system, and decisions made today have effects reaching more than a decade into the future. Toronto continues to suffer from delays in provision of new fleets for the surface system, including the garage space needed to hold a larger bus fleet, that go back at least to the era of Mayor Rob Ford. For years, the standard response to pleas for better transit service is that there are no buses and streetcars to provide more service, and even if we had them, we would have no place to put them. This flows directly from decisions to throttle spending.

Toronto faces the same challenge on its subway where decisions about the timing of spending, even of acknowledging the scope of requirements, limit the ability to address capacity problems.

This is a long article focusing on matters related to fleet planning, although there are related issues with infrastructure and facilities. Key points are summarized first, with details in following sections.

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Effective March 31, 2019

TTC service changes for the schedule period running from the end of March through to mid-May 2019 are comparatively minor.

The reconstruction of King-Queen-Roncesvalles, originally planned to start this spring, has been delayed to 2020. Planned changes in affected streetcar services will not occur, although some revisions to 504 King are expected in May to address service reliability. The schedules for 29/929 Dufferin service have been left as originally designed for this period with all service extended to the Princes’ Gate Loop. This change will be reversed in May.

Construction begins on the CNR bridge over Coxwell Avenue. Half of the underpass will be closed at a time, and this begins with the northbound roadway. 22/322 Coxwell services will divert via Woodbine and Danforth.

Reconstruction of the bus roadway at Jane Station was planned to begin with these schedules, but work has been deferred until May. The new schedules provide for extension of the 26 Dupont and 55 Warren Park routes to Old Mill Station, but they will actually operate to Jane Station pending start of construction. At that time, the 35/935 Jane services will shift to on street loading on Jane Street.

On line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina, the crew relief and break point will move north to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station from Sheppard West Station.

Route 95/995 York Mills will be revised with weekday midday 995 express service added to the schedule. The midday 95B service to UTSC will be replaced with 95C service to Ellesmere Station as in the peak periods.

There are minor changes on several bus routes (see the linked summary for details) to adjust running times and headways.

Updated March 14, 2019: The number of vehicles on 167 Pharmacy North has been corrected in the spreadsheet linked below.

2019.03.31_Service_Changes