TTC’s Service Plan 2020-2024: Too Much Gloss, Not Enough Substance?

For much of 2019, TTC staff worked on a five and ten year service plan to address a basic political problem in our city – all of the focus for planning and spending looks to promises of new subway lines, or “better” versions of ones already on the map. While the subway and commuter rail networks may be the spine of Toronto’s transit, the skeleton and muscles are its surface routes of buses and streetcars without which vast areas of the city would be well beyond transit’s reach.

The TTC sought feedback from various stakeholders through public meetings as well as pop-up displays at locations around the city. Full disclosure: I attended and contributed to stakeholder workshops, and have refrained from publishing anything about the discussions because the plan was a work-in-progress. Some ideas found their way into the final report, others were changed or disappeared. Such is the nature of these processes. No, I was not paid to be there. We got free coffee, juice and cookies. People who came were there because they wanted to see a better TTC.

Two documents will be considered by the TTC Board at its December 12, 2019 meeting:

[Note: Both documents are published under the common name of the 5 Year Service Plan. For clartity, page citations refer to the glossy version as “Next Stop”. Note that this PDF is formatted two-up and so the page numbers are not the same as the sheet numbers in the file.]

The report is a mix of two separate items. One is the discussion of the multi-year plan, and another is a review of a grab-bag of service change proposals. Such proposals used to appear in annual reports to the Board and this was the standard conduit for route changes to be evaluated and approved (or not). This is a long-overdue return to a practice that seemed to have ended simply because there was never any money to pay for more service, so why bother to discuss the idea. However, many of the recommended proposals are still “subject to budget”, a constraint that undermines all the fine talk about the importance of transit in Toronto.

Right at the outset I must say that my reaction on reading the report, and especially the glossy version, was of disappointment at a lost opportunity. A theme at workshops, and not just from me, was that the TTC should “aim high”, that small-scale change would make little difference to riders and would have no effect on ridership or the system’s perceived worth. This was a time for advocacy, for a vision (and oh I hate that word) of what transit might be beyond political battles over subway routes.

The TTC has failed to advocate for substantial change. This is not unexpected, nor is it the first time. The political environment, especially for anything that affects operating costs and subsidies, is to spend no more, and if possible to spend less. Any report that shows what might be done, but which puts politicians on the spot to carry the torch for higher spending, or conversely to reject explicit improvements, is on delicate ground. Better to aim low at a target that might, possibly be met so that management and their political masters can get the publicity, the back-patting, the accolades that go with achieving a modest target. The TTC has been down this route before.

Probably the most telling point in the exercise is the cover of the “Next Stop, Even Better” glossy version of the report.

The Express Bus Network is a fraud perpetrated on the TTC Board and riders by management who gave the impression of change while, in fact, delivering almost nothing. The article Express Buses: Real Change or Photo Ops? includes a before-and-after comparison of the express routes showing how little really changed. In a separate article, I will update this with current schedule information.

Almost all of the Express Network is nothing more than existing service (typically the “E” branches of routes) rebranded into the 900-series of Express services. Very little service was actually added, and in some cases there have been declines in service thanks to “reliability” changes in the schedules that stretched headways in order to give more running time at no added cost. Service is erratic, like many other parts of the TTC, to the point where waiting for an express bus to show up would cost more time for riders than they would save through its limited stop operation.

There are plans to add new express routes in 2020, but it is not clear whether these will actually add service or merely be the transit equivalent of a game of Three Card Monte.

Another problem facing the TTC is the inadequacy of service to meet demand, a widespread complaint among riders. There are Service Standards which set out average crowding levels, and the TTC claims to meet these in almost all cases. However, there are many problems:

  • The TTC has not published actual crowding statistics for its routes for some time, and there is no way for the public or the political representatives to monitor how “close to the line” existing service might be.
  • Some recent schedule changes have included pushing crowding beyond standards because the TTC cannot afford to run the service. This is not a question of peak fleet capacity because the TTC has a generous ratio of spare buses to service requirements. However, this can signal a trend which if not reversed will lead to the “standards” having no meaning or force because the real decision is made at budget time. [See page 8 of my recently published table of January 2020 service changes for details.]
  • Riding counts only tell us how many people are on the vehicles, not how many could not board or gave up trying because of crowding and unreliable service. The TTC publishes route-by-route ridership numbers in the City’s Open Data Catalogue, but this file has not been updated since December 2016. It contains no breakdown by time of day, only a full weekday count.
  • Irregular service with wide gaps makes crowding worse for most riders who tend to pack on the first thing that shows up, and can actually cause average load statistics to misrepresent demand because the half-empty following buses in a pack dilute the average crowding numbers. Averages do not show the conditions a typical rider, who is more likely to be on a crowded bus than an empty one, must face. The TTC has no measure of service reliability and its effect on rider experience.

There is no point in having standards if you don’t meet them, and especially if the fact that they are missed is not published in a widely-read document like the CEO’s monthly report. That report hides more than it tells by selective reporting and by averaging that masks the range of values in metrics. For example, we know whether ridership and revenue are tracking relative to budget, but we don’t know which routes have erratic service and overcrowding. These exist and cannot be wished away by a simplistic metrics such as end-of-line on time performance or a count of “short turns”, but the extent of these problems is rarely reported.

The report actually lays out very little detail of what might happen in coming years. There are five-year operating and capital budget projections, but few specifics as to what this spending will mean for riders on the street. Selling spending is hard work at City Hall, even with plans for new taxes because these are (a) often consumed for pet projects and (b) are currently only addressing the backlog in capital “state of good repair” spending, not day-to-day operating costs and subsidies which affect the amount of service riders actually see.

The goal is to increase customer trips by 35 million by 2024. That is on a base of 525.3 million projected for 2019, or a five-year increase of 6.67%. That is not a stunning goal especially with improved rapid transit services to come online during the interval.

Returning to past practice, TTC staff will report annually to the Board on requests for changes in the network requested by, among others, Councillors, community groups and employers, as well as changes triggered by events such as new rapid transit lines or staff-proposed area restructuring (such as the recent updates to routes in the Junction).

There is a backlog of such requests, and the main report contains a long section detailing them. I will deal with this in a separate article. Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, January 5, 2020

The TTC will make several changes to its services in January 2020.

All seasonal changes implemented on December 22, 2019 have been reversed to the November 2019 schedules except where some other change affects a route.

On the streetcar network, the retirement of the CLRV fleet will be complete and service will be 100% accessible on all surface routes. Route allocations to carhouses have been revised with a view, in part, to current and future pantograph operations

511 Bathurst schedules will be adjusted slightly to compensate for the larger vehicles, and streetcar operation will continue until April 2020 when buses will return to the route for construction projects.

505 Dundas will return to streetcar operation in April. The 502/503 Kingston Road service consolidation running with buses will continue for the foreseeable future.

Cars entering service from Leslie Barns via King Street are already running under pans for their journeys to and from 509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina, 511 Bathurst and 512 St. Clair. 505 Dundas will operate under pans when streetcar service resumes in April, and 506 Carlton is expected to switch over in late 2020. No conversion dates have been announced yet for 501 Queen or 504 King.

Implementation of “service reliability improvements” continues on several bus routes with, in most cases, wider headways and no added vehicles. The premise is that if driving plus recovery time covers 95% of actual conditions on the route, short turns should be rare and service will more closely match the scheduled/advertised level. This does not take into account headway irregularity and bunching which can contribute at least as much to the perceived (in)frequency of service as the fact that some drivers could not make their trips in the previously allotted time. The change is particularly striking on 52 Lawrence West.

Another effect of these changes is that many buses make their trips in well under the scheduled time causing bunching at terminals, especially in cases where the recovery time equals or exceeds the scheduled headway.

The eight bus trippers in the AM peak on 506 Carlton will be changed to provide service on other routes (23 Dawes, 24 Victoria Park, 47 Lansdowne and 67 Pharmacy) on their trips to the Carlton route. [Updated December 2, 2019: The origin of these trippers on existing and planned schedules has been clarified in the pdf linked below.]

New trippers on 32 Eglinton West will serve the students from York Memorial Collegiate (Keele & Eglinton, damaged by fire) who have been relocated to Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy (Royal York & Trenholme).

Service will be improved on 300 Bloor-Danforth Night Bus Monday through Friday (Tuesday to Saturday mornings). Buses will be added to the Saturday and Sunday schedules, but the headways will not change. This is a “reliability” improvement that creates recovery times of half and hour and more. Service will also improve during the transition from night to daytime operations, but no details of this were included in the TTC’s service memo.

Planned overcrowding continues with three more routes (45 Kipling, 54 Lawrence East and 95 York Mills) slipping over the approved levels in some periods. These route will also lose their 10-Minute Network status during some periods.

Details of these changes are in the PDF linked below.

2020.01.05_Service_Changes_V2

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday December 22, 2019

The last service changes for 2019 are all seasonal service adjustments for the Christmas and New Year holidays. These will be in place for two weeks with the next changes to occur on January 5, 2020. The details for January are not out yet.

Many routes will drop back to their summer service levels on weekdays between December 23 and January 3.

In anticipation of shopping traffic additional standby service will be provided on the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas, and on Boxing Day.

There are a few cases where the changes reduce running times, and this could affect service reliability. I have asked for comment from the TTC on this, but have not received a reply.

The routes in question are: 16 McCowan, 34 Eglinton East, 47 Lansdowne, 90 Vaughan and 125 Drewry.

2019.12.22_Service_Changes

Analysis of Route 70 O’Connor for October 2019

When I publish route analyses, they are usually of the heavyweights like the King and Queen streetcars, or major bus routes like those on Finch, Dufferin, Keele, or Don Mills.

Back on Saturday afternoon, October 5, 2019, I was watching my Twitter feed, and a message went by from someone complaining “where is my bus?” about 70 O’Connor. I looked at Nextbus and to my amazement, all four of the buses were running in a pack headed eastbound on O’Connor, and there was no service anywhere else on the route. I camped on to the route to see what would happen and this is how they evolved.

  • 3:55 pm: Four buses headed outward on the common section of the route on O’Connor
  • 4:00 pm: Two buses are headed east to Warden Station and two northeast to Eglinton
  • 4:33 pm: All four buses are southbound on Coxwell
  • 4:37 pm: All four buses are at Coxwell Station

To put this in context, here is the section from the TTC’s Scheduled Service Summary which describes the service as it should be on 70 O’Connor. (Click on the table to expand it.)

Before we go any further, there are a few important points here:

  • 70 O’Connor is not the most important route in the TTC’s system, but it serves Toronto East General Hospital and one would hope that this connection to the subway would be reliable. This route carried 7,745 riders per weekday in December 2016, the date of the most recent route-level statistics published by the TTC on Toronto’s “Open Data” site. This puts it in the same league as 6 Bay and higher than the express service to University of Toronto Scarborough.
  • When buses run together for an extended period with no visible effort to space out the service properly, this shows that nobody is “minding the store”. From a rider’s point of view, the long gaps in service are precisely why “TTC” means “Take The Car” when they cannot depend on service to show up. This theme was part of my recent exploration of the 41 Keele bus.
  • Service that operates this erratically will not attract customers, and even worse, a lot of the space in that pack of four buses was probably empty. When the TTC looks at vehicle loads, they do this on an average basis, and will see low utilization, a possible incentive for a service cut.

Making routes like this work properly (not to mention the really big routes that carry tens of thousands daily) is important. This is central to making transit service attractive.

On Saturday afternoon, there are four buses providing, in theory, a combined service every 11 minutes on the common portion of the route, and every 22 minutes on the branches.

After seeing this, I thought, well, maybe it’s an oddity, something must be wrong, and surely the TTC will sort things out. But just for interest, I added route 70 to my request for vehicle tracking data to see how it behaved for the rest of the month, including the parts of October 5 I had not been watching online. The results were not at all pretty, and I let loose a blast on Twitter about the appalling state of service. It struck a nerve and sparked the most activity I have seen on a Tweet of mine for quite some time. Riders, and not just on O’Connor, see bad service every day.

There is a problem with NextBus (the source of all vehicle tracking seen outside of the TTC) in that it only tracks scheduled runs. Applications that use a route-based data feed from NextBus will not “see” any extra unscheduled buses because NextBus does not follow them. However, they should still exist in the TTC’s source data somewhere. The data I use comes from the TTC, not from NextBus, and should at least show all vehicles that are “signed on” to the route, not just the scheduled buses. If an extra is not signed on to route 70, it will not show up in the data I receive for that route.

The TTC’s position is that I do not have the portion of the tracking data showing unscheduled extras (also known as “RADs” or “Run As Directed” buses) that were used to fill gaps on the route due to construction. My response is that this is as much a face saving stance than an examination of the details. It is one thing to have an extra filling in for extra running time caused by construction, but quite another to have all of the scheduled buses in the same place at the same time with no evident attempt to sort out the service. If the TTC does have records of where the extra(s) operated on O’Connor, I would be happy to receive them and blend them into my analysis. After all, the TTC should be doing the same thing itself already.

Here is what I found, at least for the buses reported in the data provided by the TTC.

Updated 5:56 pm November 20, 2019

The CBC posted a story on their site about this today.

Continue reading

A Potpourri of TTC Items

Several items have languished unreported here for a while, and it’s time to push them all out of the door in preparation for the deluge of budget information and the new Service Plan that will come in December. My apologies for not keeping you as up to date as I might have.

The items covered here are:

  • Ridership and revenue
  • Vehicle reliability
  • Service quality (briefly)
  • Automatic train control
  • eBuses (electric buses)
  • Fare evasion

Continue reading

Downtown Premium Express Routes Move To King Street

With the schedule change coming on Sunday, November 24, 2019 (for which details will appear in a separate article), the routing of the Downtown Premium Express 14x series will be shifted off of Adelaide and Richmond Streets to the King Street Transit Corridor.

New stops will be created eastbound along King at Peter, Simcoe (west of University), Jordan (west of Yonge), George and Parliament. The one exception will be that the 142 Avenue Road service will stop for unloading only eastbound on King farside at University, the streetcar stop.

New westbound stops will be at George, Yonge, York, and Peter.

All of the stops for these routes will be separate from those used by streetcars to avoid confusion between local and express services.

Services from the east (141 Mt. Pleasant, 143 Beach, 144 Don Mills) will loop via Spadina, Adelaide and Charlotte with a stop southbound on Charlotte at King.

Services from the west (142 Avenue Road, 145 Humber Bay) will loop via Sherbourne, Front and Berkeley with a stop northbound on Berkeley at King.

The 141 Mount Pleasant bus will jog east via Adelaide to George before continuing south to King where there will be an inbound stop. Outbound service will stop on Jarvis north of King.

The 143 Beach and 144 Don Mills services which come through the Richmond/Adelaide interchange east of Parliament Street will turn south from Richmond via Parliament with a stop at King. Outbound services will turn north on Power from King Street to reach Adelaide. (As a matter of historical interest, the original name for the spaghetti junction east of Parliament was the “Duke and Duchess Interchange” after the names of these streets in the old town.)

The 145 Humber Bay service will enter downtown via Adelaide Street from Bathurst, but will turn south to King at Charlotte using the common stop with services from the east. Outbound buses will continue west on King to Bathurst, then turn south.

The 503 Kingston Road bus will continue to operate on King Street looping via York, Richmond and University.

With all of these bus routes and a new set of stops on King, cyclists will find the transitway somewhat more challenging and motorists will have to deal with buses blocking the curb lane at stops. Turning movements at Spadina could be challenging as there is no priority for streetcars when they turn off of King, let alone for buses. This will add to delays that are already a problem at this location.

It is also unclear what the effect of these routes will be on the ambience of the curb lane cafe spaces along King should the operation last into the good weather in 2020, nor how these arrangement would be affected by the TIFF diversions.

There is no end date announced yet for this trial, nor for the outcomes on which it will be measured. I will continue to track the speed of streetcar operations in the corridor to determine whether the additional buses have an effect on streetcar service.

Service Quality on 41 Keele: Fall 2019 Update

At the TTC Board Meeting of September 24, 2019, a motion was introduced by Commissioners Shelley Carroll and Brad Bradford on behalf of Councillor James Pasternak in response to a citizens’ group, Action Keele, who have many requests regarding changes to the service on the 41/941 Keele bus routes. Two deputations from Action Keele, Matt Davis and Paul Grey, spoke to the request:

  • a. Include the #41 Keele bus route on the 10 Minute Network.
  • b. Increase the intervals for the green light facing west, at St. Clair Ave. and Old Weston Rd for easier turning maneuvers.
  • c. Move the Sir William Hearst bus stop further north to avoid extra congestion with vehicles accessing and exiting Highway 401.
  • d. Restrict the right-hand lanes, both northbound and southbound, at the Keele St. and Wilson Ave. intersection, to right turn only lanes, for better access of buses to the stops.
  • e. Add more vehicles to the local (not express) #41 Keele route to facilitate access to the network for individuals facing accessibility and mobility constraints.
  • f. Limit the main #41 Keele bus route to operate between Keele Station and Finch West Station and consider adding a #41B Keele bus route to operate less frequently from Keele Station to Pioneer Station.

Matt Davis noted that these proposals come from riders and staff, and that Action Keele had spent much of the year on surveys. He said that TTC data ranks Keele low on reliability, and riders complain about crowding and long waits.

Grey continued this theme stating that one of the main recommendations is the first, that Keele have 10 minute or better service all of the time. A consistent issue from riders at all stops was the frequency of service. One night of a survey during the coldest part of last winter, they canvassed at Keele and Lawrence where 10 people were huddled inside a shelter anticipating 20-30 minute waits for a bus.

That is not service that attracts riders, but rather drives away any who can afford to avoid it by moving or by getting a car.

Commissioner Carroll, although she presented the motion, was somewhat hostile to the deputants saying that their list of changes may or may not be implemented, and hoping that they understood there were financial impacts to this. Grey replied that there is a certain expertise gained in daily riding and operating on a route, and Action Keele thinks they have done their due diligence to produce helpful recommendations.

Vice Chair Alan Heisey asked staff if items b through d fell under the city’s Transportation Department. They do, and this part of the request would have to be dealt with there, although the TTC could provide an advocacy role as they claim to be interested in transit priority.

As for the service design, staff replied that they would review this route as part of their service plan, that there had been a service reliability improvement in September, and that they would report back. Furthermore, Keele and Lawrence has been identified as a “super stop” in the new plan now under development.

This sounds good, but it is a misleading response.

The service change in September consisted of stretching the running time allegedly so that buses could stay on schedule, but without adding vehicles so that headways actually became noticeably wider (see service history below). The reliability of service remains spotty as a review of vehicle monitoring data shows.

The TTC has a cultural inability to recognize that service does not operate on a reliable headway, and that bunching and gaps will not be fixed simply by padding running times. On routes like Keele where the scheduled service is infrequent, bunching can cause very wide gaps in service even though all of the scheduled trips are operated and few or no buses are short turned.

Commissioner Jennifer McKelvie asked when the five year service review coming back to the board. Staff replied that this will be in December 2019, and will be a “big picture” review to set up the plan for implementation. Changes will come in following years as the multi-year plan is updated. McKelvie was concerned that ad hoc requests from the community for service would be lost in this process.

Commissioner Carroll observed that requests from a local community to the TTC Board are not precedent setting giving the example of the Dufferin bus. Councillors who do not sit on the board historically bring forward concerns this way. Keele has been a problem every term of Council for a long time. Carroll mentioned demand at York University, although she missed the point that there is much demand on the Keele route that is completely separate from the university which now has two subway stations. Carroll emphasized that the Board wants engagement at this level saying “I don’t want to crap over that level of engagement”.

The request was referred to staff for consideration as part of the Service Plan on December 19.

Prologue

This is a long article with a lot of detail intended for those advocating for better service on Keele Street, and to balance TTC claims that it has “improved” service with new schedules in September 2019. Some readers don’t want all this detail, and you can bail out when it gets tedious. I won’t mind.

Several issues common to Keele and other routes are evident here:

  • Service does not leave terminals within the TTC’s 6-minute target, and irregular headways are common even where buses are supposed to be “on time”.
  • Service gets even worse as vehicles move along the route and closely spaced buses catch up to each other leaving wide gaps behind them.
  • TTC only measures service quality at terminals and, therefore, reports only on the best case situation along a route.
  • Service quality varies enormously by time of day and day of the week, but TTC reports only average values thereby burying the poor performance of the worst periods.
  • Express service runs on erratic headways which counter the supposed benefit of a faster trip.
  • Padding schedules with extra running and recovery time does not guarantee reliable service.

Some of 41 Keele’s problems are worsened by the use of articulated buses on wide headways. These vehicles were purchased for frequent routes like Finch West and they are out of place on Keele where they contribute to the very wide headways and the fact that this major route is not part of the Ten Minute Network. Unofficially, I have learned that there are plans to move the artics back to 7 Bathurst and change the 41 Keele local service to use standard sized buses with a concurrent reduction in headways. However, without an attention to service reliability, riders on Keele will still suffer.

To this I must add that TTC’s portrayal of service “improvements” work counter to the goal of both better service and a higher regard for the TTC. Schedule changes that make service worse for riders, not to mention “new” express services that are nothing more than a rebranding exercise, might play well with TTC Board members who do not look at the details. However, real improvements require better management of service on the street, an end to laissez-faire attitudes about bunching and the band-aid “fix” of extended running times, and a recognition that Toronto needs more service, not just tinkering for the sake of appearances.

Continue reading

How Reliable Are TTC Statistics?

Ben Spurr in the Toronto Star published an article on September 30 about the mis-reporting of vehicle reliability for the fleet of Bombardier Flexity streetcars.

In brief, the TTC reports defects for the new cars on a different basis than for the old ones (the CLRVs and the recently retired ALRVs), and this has two effects:

  • The reliability of the old cars looks worse by comparison to the new ones, and this supports the argument that the old cars should be retired as soon as possible.
  • The new cars have recently crested the performance specification from the Bombardier contract, but this is based on the way the failure rate is calculated.

The September 2019 CEO’s Report contains Mean Distance Between Failure (MDBF) charts for both types of streetcars still in active service. August 2019 saw the new fleet’s reliability go about the 35,000 km MDBF, and CEO Rick Leary reported at the TTC Board meeting of September 24 that the current number was running above 50,000 km.

By contrast, the CLRVs have failed roughly every 4,000 to 6,000 km for much of the past three years with problems more common during the cold months. Note that the scales of the charts below are not the same.

However, according to Spurr’s article, the basis of calculation is different for the two fleets. In the case of the new cars, only failures chargeable against Bombardier’s contracted reliability level are counted while for the old cars any failure counts. This makes a big difference when one considers how many of the in service failures were not included in the calculation for the new fleet.

Spurr writes:

The vehicle contract the TTC and Bombardier signed in 2009 set a MDBF target of 35,000 km. The cars were supposed to reach that figure by the time the 60th vehicle was delivered. That car arrived in January 2018, but the new fleet failed to hit the target then or in subsequent months.

That changed this summer. As Bombardier edged closer to completing its delivery of the 204-car fleet, and the TTC weighed the option of placing an order for additional streetcars with the company, the publicly reported reliability figures shot up.

They showed the cars had an MDBF of 36,500 km in July, and 51,500 km in August, the best the fleet has recorded since the early days of the order. CEO Leary cited that most recent figure at last Tuesday’s meeting as evidence the cars are “performing exceptionally well.”

However, over the same period the unpublished reliability figures didn’t improve. The “legacy” numbers showed an MDBF of just 16,400 km in August, which while much better than the early months of the year, was virtually unchanged from the mark set in May.

The unpublished “legacy” figures are consistently significantly worse than those the contractual numbers.

He goes on to write:

Internal TTC documents reviewed by the Star show that in [August] the new streetcars experienced dozens of delays related to faulty brakes, malfunctioning doors, broken HVAC units, and short circuit warnings. The agency tabulated 43 significant delays during that period, but only 15 were deemed Bombardier’s responsibility and included in the version of the stats that are made public.

That lower delay figure led to the contractual number of the cars running more than 51,500 km without a failure.

Readers can judge for themselves the type of delay that is omitted from the TTC’s reliability numbers from the following table which is compiled from TTC delay reports.

TTC_201908_LFLRV_DelaySummary

There are 56 items in the list and several patterns are immediately obvious:

  • Problems with the power collection system are common including pantograph failures, lost trolley poles or defective shoes, and dewirements snagging poles and/or damaging the overhead.
  • Brake problems
  • Mobility ramp problems
  • Failures early in the morning on cars that are probably just entering service

Many of the problems have nothing to do with Bombardier reliability stats and are not included in the calculation included in the CEO’s Report. If they were, the numbers would not look anywhere near as good.

Something that is evident in reported reliability stats is that there can be large variations in MDBF values from month to month. The TTC does not make huge changes in the mileage operated by its fleet each month, and so the large swings must be due to a relatively low number of incidents. For example, if there were typically 100 incidents per month and this swings up or down by 10%, then the MDBF would not change much. However, if there were typically only 20 incidents per month, a small change in the month-to-month numbers would produce a big swing in the MDBF. This is evident in the Flexity reliability values and in those cited for the subway fleet, notably the newer TR trains on Lines 1 and 4.

Even if all types of failure were counted, the service delay it causes must be five minutes or more. This is a standard adopted from the NOVA group of rapid transit operators and really is more appropriate for rapid transit lines.

An important distinction is that vehicles that run in trains have the capability of “getting home” even if one unit is disabled under most circumstances, and reliability stats for this type of operation will be higher than for single vehicles on a streetcar system. Also, rapid transit lines operate at higher average speeds, and failures that are affected more by hours of service than by mileage are spread over a larger distance operated. This is quite evident in TTC subway stats where the MDBF is much higher than for streetcars.

By contrast, it is difficult to imagine how a bus breakdown can cause a significant service delay except in comparatively rare circumstances, and the five minute delay screen for a chargeable delay makes no sense for the bus fleet.

The question of just how reliable various vehicle types might be is part of a larger issue with the selective, and possibly misleading reporting of statistics by TTC management.

Delays to service, especially on the subway, are caused not just by equipment failures, but by a raft of other subsystems and problems such as signals, track, power supply, fires, passenger assistance alarms and track level incidents. The TTC tracks the various types of delay, but reports on them only rarely in public. This means that sources of service delay that might be under the TTC’s control are not tracked in a report that is routinely seen by the TTC Board, nor is there any tracking of the effects of preventative maintenance or capital works to reduce this type of delay. One obvious example is the new Automatic Train Control system which is now operating on about half of Line 1 YUS, but we know nothing of service reliability on that section, Vaughan to St. Patrick, compared to the old signals still in use from St. Patrick to Finch.

Bus reliability is reported in the aggregate for a fleet that ranges in age from brand new to over twelve years old. The TTC used to keep buses for at least 18 years, but now chooses to replace rather than rebuild old vehicles. Retiring a large tranche of 12-20 year old buses in recent years has had three effects:

  • The average age of the fleet is now quite low, and it will continue to drop. Half of the fleet is less than five years old, but as the “bulge” of new buses ages, the fleet reliability will fall.
  • With many new buses coming on stream, the TTC can keep old buses in service and maintain a high ratio of spares to service requirements. The situation is very different for the streetcar fleet where with the retirement of old cars, the fleet is too small to provide service on all routes with an adequate number of spares for maintenance.
  • The large order of buses soaked up the then-available funding for transit infrastructure as it was the only way Toronto could spend its allocation within the short timeframe dictated by the federal government.

For reasons best known to the TTC, the chart above is clipped at 20,000 km rather than showing the actual variation, and this has been the case since early 2018. It is unclear whether the actual numbers are rising or falling over the past two years. Moreover, the values average the reliability for the entire fleet rather than showing subsets such as diesel and hybrid buses, or buses of varying ages or manufacture. This type of breakdown is vital in understanding fleet planning, not to mention tracking the benefits (or not) of technology changes such as the move to an all-electric fleet which is only just beginning.

The TTC fleet of buses is much larger than its requirement for service. In total, as of the September 2019 vehicle list (taken from the Scheduled Service Summary, last page) shows a total of 2,076 vehicles as compared to a peak service requirement of 1,626 (p. 63 of the same document). This is a generous spare factor of over 27%, or one spare bus for every four in service. It is easy to get very good performance from your fleet with such a high ratio, but this also means that, in effect, the TTC operates one garage worth of spares for every four garages worth of regular service. This is far higher than the target spare ratio for rail vehicles.

In a separate post, I will turn to the question of service reliability, scheduling and the way in which service quality is presented by management to the TTC Board. This is another area where there has been a lot of work to make the numbers “look good” but with detrimental effects on the system.

Questions for the TTC:

I have posed a series of questions to the TTC and await answers from them. This article will be updated when they reply.

1. Has the Flexity reliability number always been quoted on the basis of failures chargeable to Bombardier, or was there a change in the methodology somewhere along the way? To put it another way, was there a change in what counted as a failure that created an artificial improvement in the reported numbers?

2. What is the situation with subway delays and MDBF numbers? Are all failures counted (at least those producing a 5 minute or greater delay) or only those considered to be the manufacturer’s fault? Is the calculation done the same way for the TR and T1 fleets?

3. The NOVA metric which the TTC uses is based on the idea of a failure that causes a delay to service. This only makes sense in the case of rail modes where a car/train failure can block the line. For buses, only a rare and well-positioned failure could actually block service. How is a chargeable failure calculated for the bus fleet?

4. Are numbers available for subsets of the bus fleet (e.g. all buses from the same order, age, technology) so that reliability figures can be compared as they have been with rail modes?

5. The CEO’s Report includes only stats for delays caused by vehicle faults, not from other sources such as infrastructure failure. Why is this info not also tracked in the report so that the effects are clear on a proportionate basis? In particular, there is no tracking of signal failures on various parts of the subway with older and newer technologies.

Summary:

TTC management should report vehicle reliability numbers on a consistent basis for all types of vehicles.

The calculation of service interruption rates should reflect what riders experience, not simply numbers to establish contract performance for suppliers or to artificially enhance the reported performance of some vehicle types.

The reliability statistics for the bus fleet should be broken down by major vehicle groups (manufacturer, propulsion technology, age) to allow meaningful comparisons and to ensure tracking of maintenance/reliability as parts of the fleet age.

The very large spare ratio for the bus fleet should be reviewed to determine whether this size of fleet is actually required, or if more service could be operated if only the TTC would budget for the cost of its operation.

Delays caused by infrastructure issues and other interruptions should be tracked and reported so that their effect on service quality can be seen in comparison to vehicle related problems.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, October 13, 2019

The TTC will make many changes to its services on Thanksgiving weekend, Sunday, October 13, 2019.

These include:

  • The formal introduction of new Flexity streetcars on the 506 Carlton route on a scheduled basis.
  • Implementation of the route changes flowing from the Junction Area Study.
  • Construction at Runnymede Station for the Easier Access Program trigger some route changes and interlining.
  • Many “service reliability improvements” intended to make scheduled trips better match actual operating conditions.

Of particular concern in this round of changes is that a policy adopted by the TTC Board in June 2019 allows schedule changes intended to improve reliability to take precedence over loading standards. Several routes where service is nominally “improved” will also have crowding beyond the Board approved standards. This is caused by a shortfall in the budget which does not provide enough resources, the TTC claims, to operate service at a level that meets the standards. There are no numeric values given and so the degree of overcrowding is not known. The affected routes and time periods are shown in the chart below.

On a related note, a few routes which are now part of the Ten Minute Network will slip beyond that target headway.

The intent is to correct these situations either through the 2020 budget or by reallocation of service from other routes.

(The two charts above are included in the PDF containing all of the schedule changes at the end of this article.)

In response to my query about these practices, Mark Mis, Manager of Service Planning replied:

Q1:

SM: … it was my understanding that the table of crowded routes was going to be published regularly, but nothing has appeared after the first iteration … [earlier this year].

MM: The TTC will be reporting on crowded periods of operation in the CEO Report later in the fall when we have a complete board period of service reliability data. We think it is important to report on both crowding and reliability at the same time.

Q2:

SM: … does this footnote mean that the affected services are being scheduled at over the Service Standards for loading?

MM: The footnote is an internal note in the Board Period memo for record keeping purposes. It indicates a period of operation that is scheduled over the crowding standard because of a change in running time as opposed to demand. This strategy to address service reliability was approved by the Board on June 12, 2019 in the Improvements to Surface Transit Schedules report. This is important to note when you take the response to Q1 into account.

The June 2019 report included the following observations:

An effective transit schedule is comprised of two key components:accurate estimates of demand and cycle time—the time for an operator/vehicle to complete a round-trip. If the cycle time is insufficient, a transit schedule can not be delivered as planned resulting in customers experiencing unreliable service and higher levels of crowding than intended.

Customers value consistent and dependable schedules because it improves their trip planning, reduces wait times and reduces trip durations. This was demonstrated by the King Street pilot. A key outcome of it was more consistent and less variable service which resulted in tremendous increases in ridership. [p. 3]

The TTC is leveraging new technology and applying a new approach to preparing reliable schedules which includes setting cycle time at the 95th percentile of observed travel time along a route in a given period of operation. This is meant to ensure that operators have sufficient time to deliver service as planned and advertised during most of the operating period. [p. 5]

The TTC 2019 Operating Budget includes some funding to improve service reliability and capacity. It is not possible to bring all schedules that actually operate outside of the tolerances of service standards in line with them within existing funding. The new schedules will reflect actual operating conditions and will result in more reliable service for customers. [p. 7]

On several routes that already have new schedules, a common observation is that vehicles cluster at terminals because they generally arrive early and/or have long scheduled layovers. Despite this, the vehicles do not manage to depart on a regular headway (time between vehicles) nor do they achieve the “on time performance” goal. The TTC is quite generous with a six-minute window in which a departure is considered “on time”. Service becomes progressively more bunched as cars and buses proceed along their route, and there is no measurement of service reliability other than at terminals.

This begs the question of rejigging the schedules in the first place when service can be so irregular. In almost all cases, the “improved” schedules offer less frequent service because existing vehicle spacings are stretched to give longer trip times. Longer trips may reduce short turns, but this is only one of several possible measures of service quality. See Zero Short Turns Does Not Equal Better Service.

Streetcar System Changes

The 506 Carlton route is now officially a low-floor streetcar service with Flexitys scheduled at all hours. Bus and CLRV trippers will supplement peak services. Further details are in a previous article.

The 505 Dundas route remains a bus operation, but the schedules will change to remove extra running time added for water main construction in the central part of the route. This may relieve the worst of the bunching of Dundas buses now seen at terminals. Riders on the 505 will see improved service, or at least the bunches of buses will come slightly more often than they do today.

Conversion of 505 Dundas to Flexity streetcar operation is planned for the winter/spring after conversion of the overhead on that route for pantograph operation.

Routes 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront will get new schedules with blended services during most off-peak periods at Union Station. Scheduled headways will be the same on each route with the intent that cars will alternate on a regular, reliable basis. The downside to this scheme is that service on 510 Spadina will run less frequently, and layover times, which already cause queuing problems at the terminals are increased. 509 Harbourfront will see less frequent service as a regular seasonal change.

Overnight service on 306 Carlton will change to every 20 minutes, and on 310 Spadina to every 15 minutes to push a few more cars out of the crowded carhouses. It is unclear how long this practice will actually last once the CLRV fleet is retired because capacity will be lost at Russell Carhouse for construction starting in 2020.

Bus Network Changes

Construction of the new mouth of the Don River in the Portlands has progressed to the point that on October 30, 2019, Commissioners Street will be closed between Cherry and Saulter for excavation of the new river. A new Commissioners Street road bridge will cross the river, but at this point there is no money in the Portlands project for a streetcar bridge although provision exists in the plans. This would allow the eventual connection of an extended Cherry Street service east to Leslie Barns via Commissioners.

The route changes from the Junction Area Study will go into effect concurrently with route modifications to accommodate elevator construction at Runnymede Station.

The new route structure, in brief:

  • Route 30 High Park will operate from High Park Station to Runnymede Loop taking over the route number formerly assigned to Lambton.
  • Route 40 Junction – Dundas West will operate from Dundas West Station to Kipling Station with a short turn service to Jane Street.
  • Route 71 Runnymede will keep only its branch to Industry Street in Mount Dennis.
  • Route 189 Stockyards will provide service from the subway at High Park and Keele Stations to St. Clair and Scarlett Road.

Due to construction, no buses will be able to loop at Runnymede Station triggering the following changes:

  • Routes 71 Runnymede and 77 Swansea will be interlined.
  • Route 79 Scarlett Road will loop via Annette, High Park and Bloor Street as shown below.

Seasonal service will end on:

  • Weekend evening service to the Zoo on 85 Sheppard East and 86 Scarborough
  • 121 Fort York – Esplanade to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach
  • 175 Bluffers Park

The details of all changes are in the file linked below.

2019.10.13_Service_Changes

Service Changes Coming to 506 Carlton in October 2019

With the shift to the larger low-floor streetcars, the TTC will begin schedule changes on Sunday October 13 (Thanksgiving weekend) for route 506 Carlton. In many periods of operation, the headways will widen in recognition of the capacity of the new cars, although the change will also bring a capacity increase.

The schedules are designed on the basis that most service will be provided by Flexitys, especially in the off-peak period. This could lead to problems such as those seen on other routes where CLRVs operate on headways designed for larger cars and are badly overloaded as a result. A lot depends on there being enough new cars to fully populate the route.

On the schedules, the only CLRVs remaining in operation will be the 506 Carlton trippers and 511 Bathurst (which is planned to start conversion late in 2019).

The TTC Service Standards set design capacities for vehicles which in theory dictate the level of service a route received. The standard is more generous for off-peak than for peak service.

Peak Off-Peak
CLRV 74 42
Flexity 130 70
Ratio Flexity:CLRV 1.76 1.67
Ratio CLRV:Flexity 0.57 0.60

If service were replaced purely on the basis of scheduled capacity, then there would be about 60% as many Flexitys/hour as on a schedule for CLRVs.

The new service design (click to enlarge, or retrieve PDF version) is shown below.

The change in AM peak and midday headways is from 5’40” (340 seconds, 10.6 cars/hour) to 7’50” (470 seconds, 7.7 cars/hour), a decrease in cars per hour to 72% of current service. This will be partly offset by the larger capacity of the new cars plus the benefit of trippers scheduled during the height of the peak period.

The change in PM peak headways is from 6’00” (360 seconds, 10 cars/hour) to 8’30” (510 seconds, 7.1 cars/hour), a decrease in cars/hour of to 71% of current service.

This change comes on top of wider headways introduced in August in an attempt to improve route reliability by giving streetcars more running time and longer terminal layovers in a bid to cut down on short turns.

The capacity goes up, but the service frequency worsens. This will almost certainly be compounded by the TTC’s inability to maintain even spacing of vehicles as they move across the route. Even though they might leave their terminals somewhat “on time”, this situation quickly deteriorates into bunches and gaps.

There is always a challenge when the TTC substitutes larger vehicles on a route and widens the headway. Laissez-faire route management that might work tolerably on shorter headways falls apart when headways are wider. If two vehicles nominally ten minutes apart actually operate as a pair, then there is a twenty minute gap and the service might as well not exist at all. Equally, the short-turn stats might look wonderful because both cars have time to reach their terminal, but riders see the same gap they would have if one of the cars short-turned.

The TTC has a huge challenge in this regard, but shows little sign of trying to fix the problem preferring to assume that more running time and longer layovers will do the trick.

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