Toronto Council’s Budget Committee has been working through budget proposals from all departments and agencies in recent days. On January 19, it was the TTC’s turn.
Normally this step in the slow march to Council approval is simply a rehash of material presented at the TTC Board. However, in light of the return to greater restrictions on public gatherings, there has been a drop in ridership significant enough that the operating budget has been updated. This article reviews the changes.
Ridership, measured as a percentage of pre-pandemic levels, has been trending up through the fall, but has dropped off again since the move to close or restrict many activities.
The fall also shows up in average bus occupancy numbers.
When the TTC set its 2022 operating budget, the drops shown above were not yet reflected in the stats.
Their projection for 2022 ridership fell in a band based on the experience to date with system recovery, but this has now been modified. The TTC now aims to be back to the low end of its projected demand by Q3 2022. This will create a shortfall in revenue compared to budget of about $100 million.
The revised and original operating budget proposals are shown below.
The original version is in a somewhat different format from the TTC’s budget presentation at their Board.
The columns of interest are the “2022 Budget” in the revised version, and the “2022 Recommended Budget” in the original.
Total City Funding excluding COVID
The additional $100 million has been added to the City’s list of items for which it seeks provincial and federal assistance.
Provincial Gas Tax
In normal years, the City divides the provincial gas tax share it receives from Ontario between the operating and capital budgets, with $90 million going to operating and the rest to capital. In 2020, because of the extraordinary strain on operating revenues, all of the provincial gas tax went to operations. The City plans to return to the standard practice of splitting this revenue between the two budgets in 2022.
The province recently announced that the total gas tax funding for municipal transit would be $375.6 million. Of this, $120.4 million is a “top up” to the share that would have flowed to municipalities under the usual formula of two cents/litre, but for reduced fuel consumption during the pandemic.
Toronto will receive $185.1 million.
Without the one-time top-up, this is a revenue stream that can fluctuate with the economy and with changes in the mix of fuel efficient and electric vehicles across the province.
Covid vs non-Covid Budgets
An intriguing issue in the City and TTC’s reported year-end projection is a conflict between the financial situation each of them reports:
The TTC will post an unexpected surplus of about $36 million (revenue including subsidies in excess of actual expenses). This will go into a City reserve fund for transit.
The City reports a shortfall of $75 million for transit-related Covid costs that has not yet been paid by either the provincial or federal government.
I asked the City to explain this, and they replied that, in effect, there are separate budget lines for “normal” operations and costs related to Covid.
The 2021 Operating Budget for the TTC was developed with $796 million in anticipated COVID-19 impacts. COVID-19 related financial impacts across the City were identified and included in Agency and Divisional budgets, while COVID-19 support funding from the Government of Canada and Province of Ontario were consolidated between the various Safe Restart Agreement (SRA) streams and budgeted for corporately by the City. While the TTC has experienced 2021 COVID-19 financial impacts in the form of lost revenue and added costs that has been consistent with the $796 million budgeted estimate, there is $75 million in outstanding funding support to address these COVID-19 transit impacts experienced in 2021, reflected as a revenue/COVID-19 funding shortfall in the City’s budget.
City and TTC staff continue to dialog with our Federal and Provincial counterparts and consistent with commitments in the provincial Fall Economic Statement, expect to receive full SRA funding support for 2021 COVID-19 financial impacts.
Stephen Conforti, Executive Director, Financial Planning Division, City of Toronto by email, January 18, 2022
I asked for a clarification of this, and the City replied:
While there is only one budget for the TTC, COVID-19 support funding for Transit, Shelters, Public Health, Long-term Care, etc. was budgeted separately within the City’s corporate revenue budget. As a result, the net budget for the TTC increased by $796 million in 2021 to account for COVID-19 impacts (lost revenues and added costs), with the offset in the form of expected COVID-19 support funding residing in the City’s corporate revenue budget.
Given that the COVID-19 funding shortfall of $75 million specific to transit costs resides in the City’s corporate revenue budget, the deficit created by this funding shortfall is reflected and reported in the City’s accounts and referenced in TTC variance reporting.
Stephen Conforti, Executive Director, Financial Planning Division, City of Toronto by email, January 21, 2022
What has happened, rather oddly, is that thanks to the downturn in service levels due to both the vaccination mandate and TTC’s service trimming, the TTC’s costs dropped, but ridership stayed strong almost to the end of the year. This predates the effect of the restrictions on ridership seen in the charts above.
The result was that the TTC will not need all of the subsidy draw originally budgeted, and the “surplus” will go into the transit reserve following City policy. Also, a planned draw on that reserve in the 2021 budget will not be needed. The final amount of that “surplus” will depend on the effects of ridership and revenue drops in late December 2021.
For 2022, a draw of $20.7 million is planned on the transit reserve.
In the February 2022 service changes, the TTC will begin to restore some of the pandemic-era service cuts. Many of the affected routes are comparatively short and operate on headways where the removal of one or two buses made a big change in the level of service. At the same time, running times on some routes will be adjusted for reliability including some cases where service is improved by reducing round times.
The total amount of service remains below the budgeted level by 1.8 per cent in light of reduced operator availability.
About 20 crews remain open at each division, and they would be staffed using spare operators or overtime.
Vehicle occupancy standards will be changing for the purpose of planning service levels. I will discuss the TTC’s plans for the timing of service improvements in a separate budget update article to be published soon.
The TTC will be modifying the vehicle occupancy standard in the February board period in preparation for projected increases in ridership in Q2 2022 (50% of pre-pandemic levels) and Q3 2022 (70% of pre-pandemic levels). The vehicle occupancy standard will be adjusted to 80% of pre-pandemic levels or approximately 40 customers per bus in the AM and PM peak periods (measured at the peak point, peak direction, peak hour for each period). In addition, to accommodate this increase in customer demand, service hours are also budgeted to increase in Q2 2022 to 100% of pre-pandemic levels.
There is only one change on the subway. The step-back crewing for One Person Train Operation (aka OPTO) on the Spadina Subway at St. George Station will be changed to a double step-back to give operators more time between trains and reduce delays.
The following changes will occur on streetcar routes:
Streetcar service is restored via Queen to Wolseley Loop at Bathurst Street. It will be further extended to Sunnyside Loop in May.
The travel times on the bus service between Broadview and Humber/Long Branch will be reduced. No buses will be removed from the schedule, and headways will improve.
The temporary extension to Woodbine Loop has been removed.
Four AM bus trippers from Broadview Station that originate from 100 Flemingdon Park have been restored.
Service to Broadview Station will resume with the schedule change in late June. (Presumably this will also see 504 King return to Broadview Station as well, although it is not explicitly mentioned in the TTC’s service change memo.)
Streetcar service is restored over the full route following sewer construction on Coxwell Avenue.
Four AM peak bus trippers from Main Station that originate on 23 Dawes, 24 Victoria Park and 67 Pharmacy have been restored.
The total number of buses operating on streetcar routes has been reduced:
AM peak: From 88 to 83 (net of 8 restored trippers on 505 and 506)
PM peak: From 81 to 66
The TOInview infrastructure project map now includes the reconstruction of streetcar track on Adelaide from Charlotte Street to Yonge Street as a 2022-23 project. This is part of the Ontario Line diversion, but it also will give eastbound service a bypass for events on King and Queen between Spadina and Church. The addition of a southbound track on York Street is not yet listed on TOInview.
The following routes will see changes, most of which are service restorations to fall 2021 levels.
8 Broadview: Schedules changed for reliability. Late evening headway increases from 20 to 30 minutes on all days.
9 Bellamy: Service improvement weekdays during the peaks, midday and early evening.
11 Bayview: An AM peak tripper removed in error in December has been restored.
12 Kingston Road: Service improvements during weekday peaks, Saturday morning, Sunday morning and afternoon.
20 Cliffside: Service improvements during all periods except Monday to Saturday late evening, and Sunday evenings.
22 Coxwell: Running times increased and service reduced during most periods.
23 Dawes, 24 Victoria Park and 67 Pharmacy: Trippers interlined with 506 Carlton restored.
25 Don Mills: AM peak trippers removed. School trips restored.
42 Cummer: Peak period service improvement. 42C Victoria Park service restored.
45 Kipling: Service rebalanced between Steeles and Belfield branches so that matching headways operate on each branch.
50 Burnhamthorpe: Service improvements during all daytime periods and weekday early evenings.
57 Midland: Service improvements weekdays all day except midday, Saturdays except late evening and Sunday daytime.
61 Avenue Road North: Service improvements weekday peak periods and midday.
76 Royal York South: School trips restored.
78 St. Andrew’s: Service improvement during weekday peaks.
100 Flemingdon Park: Four AM peak trippers interlined with 505 Dundas restored.
161 Rogers Road: Service improved during all periods on weekdays, offset by service reductions in some periods on weekends.
168 Symington: Service improved during all periods on weekdays, offset by service reductions in some periods on weekends.
925 Don Mills Express: Weekend operation restored.
600 Run as Directed: Weekday crews reduced. Weekend crews substantially increased. Although this is not explicitly mentioned, weekend subway shutdowns for maintenance and construction will resume in February.
300 Bloor-Danforth Night Bus: Several trippers have been added, especially on Sundays, to deal with crowding on trips in the period before the subway opens.
Details of these changes are in the spreadsheet linked below.
Updated January 13, 2022 at 6:45 am: Sundry typos and scrambled phrases have been corrected. The projection of additional bus requirements for a 70 per cent service increase has been corrected to include spares.
At its recent meeting, Toronto Council endorsed a plan to move the City to Net Zero emissions by 2040. A review of the full plan is well beyond the scope of this blog, but some proposals affecting transit service and operations are very aggressive.
If Toronto is going to be serious about this we need a detailed examination of assumptions, scenarios, cost projection, and plans out to 2040. Where will population and job growth be? How will transit serve them?
Before I get into the report itself, a quotation from former TTC CEO Andy Byford is worth mention.
Andy Byford sums up the role of a transit system:
“…service that is frequent, that is clean, that goes where people want to go, when people want to go there, that is customer responsive, that is reliable, in other words that gets the basics right …”
Too often we concentrate on big construction projects, or a new technology, or a showcase trial on one or two routes rather than looking at the overall system. In particular, we rarely consider what transit is from a rider’s point of view. It is pointless to talk about attracting people to use transit more if we do not first address the question of why they are not already riding transit today. This is an absolutely essential part of any Net Zero strategy.
The reports contain a lot of material, although there is some duplication between them. They contain proposals for short and medium term actions. At this point, Council has not embraced anything beyond the short term plan.
From a transit point of view, that “plan” is more or less “business as usual” and does little to challenge the current status of transit service in the short term. There is hope that electrification of the diesel/hybrid bus fleet might be accelerated, but little sense of what, on a system-wide basis, would shift auto users to transit beyond works already in progress.
A vital point here is that transit has two major ways to affect Council’s Net Zero goals:
Conversion of transit vehicles to all-electric operation will reduce or eliminate emissions associated with these vehicles, depending on the degree to which the electricity sources are themselves “clean”. This is a relatively small part of the City’s total emissions.
Shifting trips from autos to transit (or to walking or cycling) both reduces emissions and relieves the effects of road congestion, including, possibly, making more dedicated road space available for transit and cycling. Emissions from cars are much more substantial than those from transit.
In the short term, the overwhelming focus is on conversion of the existing bus fleet to electric operation, not of expanding service to attract more riders. Improvements to specific routes might come through various transit priority schemes, but these will not be seen system-wide. Based on demand projections, large scale capital works, notably new subway lines, will primarily benefit existing riders rather than shifting auto users to transit.
The short term targets related to transit are quite simple:
Electrify 20 percent of the bus fleet by 2025-26.
This effectively requires that 400 diesel or hybrid buses be converted. The TTC already plans to buy 300 eBuses, and the Board has asked TTC management to look at accelerating this conversion. This target is very low hanging fruit provided that someone will pay for the buses.
Further targets are 50 per cent conversion by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2040.
Looking at the TTC’s likely replacement schedule (discussed in my Capital Budget Follow-Up), they will easily be achieved as much of the existing fleet is due for replacement by the early 2030s. Hybrid buses to be acquired this year will reach end of life in 2034-35.
This is an endorsement of “more of the same” in our transit planning, but no real commitment to making transit fundamentally better so that it can handle many more trips at lower emission rates than today.
Looking further out there are proposals for substantially more transit service and free fares, but these are not fully reflected in projected costs or infrastructure needs.
Some of the proposals for the NZ2050 plan are, shall we say, poorly thought-out:
Convert one lane of traffic to exclusive bus lanes on all arterials.
Many arterials are only four lanes wide and taking a permanent bus lane has considerable effects on how the road would operate. This is a particular problem for routes with infrequent service during some periods of operation.
Increase service frequency on all transit routes: bus by 70%, streetcar by 50%, subway off-peak service increased to every 3 mins.
This represents a very large increase in transit service with effects on fleet size, facilities and, of course, budgets. This would require an increase in the bus and streetcar fleets beyond what is already planned as well as construction of new garages and a carhouse.
Tolls of $0.66/km on all arterial roads.
This would apply only to fossil-fueled cars, and the forecast amount of revenue is less than half of the additional funding transit would require.
No transit fares.
The immediate cost of this would be about $1.2 billion in foregone fare revenue, offset by about ten percent in the elimination of fare collection and enforcement costs.
Shift 75% of car and transit trips under 5km to bikes or e-bikes by 2040.
This is truly bizarre. In effect, transit stops performing a local service for most rides and they are shifted to cycling. The average length of a transit trip is under 10km, and many are shorter. Moreover, trips are often comprised of multiple hops each of which might be quite small. There is a small question of how much uptake there would be in poor weather conditions.
Shift 75% of trips under 2km to walking by 2040.
Even some transit trips are short, and transit, especially with improved service, is the natural place for these trips. It is not clear whether the plan would be to somehow deter transit users from making very short trips just as, indeed, a car driver would.
[Revenue and cost issues are discussed in more detail later in this article.]
With all of the planned investment, transit’s mode share of travel is projected to fall, while walking and cycling would rise considerably in part because of the policy of diverting short trips. It simply does not make sense to push people off of transit just at the point where we are trying to encourage transit use. This part of the plan is laughably incoherent, and is an example of how good intentions can be undermined by poorly crafted policy.
For example, it is less than 5km from Liberty Village to Yonge Street, and if we were to take the proposal seriously, we would expect most people to cycle to work downtown, not take GO or the streetcar services. I look forward to the public meeting where this scheme is unveiled to the residents. If the demand for GO and for the King car is any indication, they do not want to use “active transportation”. Similarly, the planned development at East Harbour is less than 5km from downtown.
Meanwhile, transit electrification itself only eliminates 3 per cent of existing emissions, assuming a clean source of electricity. The subway and streetcar systems already are electrified, and both have capacity for growing demand if only more service were operated.
City Council endorse the targets and actions outlined in Attachment B to the report (December 2, 2021) from the Interim Director, Environment and Energy, titled “TransformTO Net Zero Strategy”.
Councillor Layton moved two amendments:
* Request the Board of the Toronto Transit Commission to identify opportunities to accelerate the Green Bus Program and to request the CEO, Toronto Transit Commission to report to the Board in the second quarter of 2022 on these opportunities.
* City Council request the City Manager, in consultation with the General Manager of the Toronto Transit Commission, to outline in the 2022 Budget proposal options to increase spending on surface vehicles and hiring additional operators aimed at increasing ridership to get us on the path to achieving the TransformTO goals.
The first amendment echoes a request from the TTC Board to its management at the December 20, 2021 meeting. Acceleration of eBus purchases will require additional funding from somewhere, as well as a vendor capable of meeting a larger order. It will also have effects on TTC infrastructure needs for garaging.
The second amendment is more pressing because it speaks to the 2022 Budget process that will launch on January 13. If the TTC is going to ramp up service this year, this must be factored into the budget. A likely problem will be that any growth beyond that now planned will be entirely on the City’s dime rather than supported by other governments. However, we need to understand what could be done, if only to know the cost should a “fairy godmother” show up with some spare change.
Neither the amendment nor the short-term target for 2022-2025 gives any indication of just what is meant by “better” transit service, nor do they distinguish between restoring pre-covid service levels and going beyond that to encourage more ridership.
The points listed above for NZ2050 are excerpted from Attachment C, the technical background report. A casual reader might think that Council has embraced a very expansive view of transit’s role, but they have not.
The tactics from Attachment C are notably absent from Attachment B which refers to them, but actually lists a much more restricted set of transit goals. I have confirmed with City staff that Council has only endorsed Attachment B.
Q: For clarification: There are, broadly speaking, two levels of a shift in the emphasis on transit in the short term plan to 2030 and in the longer term to 2040 and beyond. Reading the Council motion, it appears that Council has endorsed the short term plan (Appendix B), but has not endorsed the more aggressive targets of the longer term set out in Appendix C. Is this a correct interpretation?
A: Yes. City Council endorsed the targets and the actions outlined in Attachment B ‘TransformTO Net Zero Strategy’. Attachment C is a technical backgrounder report that was used to inform the targets and actions that were recommended and adopted.
Email from Steve Munro to Toronto Media Relations, December 29, 2021. Response from Toronto Environment & Energy Division, January 10, 2022.
That is a polite way of saying “we had some really aggressive ideas, but we know enough not to bring them to Council”.
“Transit” vs “Transition”
In the process of reviewing the reports, I searched on the word “transit”, but got hits more frequently on “transition” as there are many other sectors where reduction or elimination of emissions are possible and on a large scale.
According to the most recent greenhouse gas inventory, transportation is the second largest source of GHG emissions, accounting for 36 percent of total emissions with approximately 97 per cent of all transportation emissions originating from passenger cars, trucks, vans, and buses. Gasoline accounts for about 30 per cent of Toronto’s total GHG emissions.
TransformTO: Critical Steps for Net Zero by 2040. p. 30
Here is a pie chart showing the relative contribution of each proposed action in the Attachment C list which is a more aggressive set of changes than Council adopted. Note the small contribution of transit (red) compared with other areas such as personal and commercial vehicles and changes to building energy use.
Another way to look at this is shown in a chart of energy sources and emissions generated by each transportation sector as the full NZ plan is implemented.
Top left: the emissions of urban buses are shown in green. This falls off to zero as the bus fleet electrifies.
Middle left: the decline in diesel (green) is a combination of transit, trucking and a small contribution from diesel-powered autos.
Bottom left: Cars and light trucks are the overwhelming contributors of emissions within the transportation sector.
On the right, the charts are harder to accept at face value because they include the effect of a very large shift of short trips to active transportation. An interesting comparison would be what might happen if autos electrified, but did not lose mode share.
That last point has a knock-on effect because if short trips are not shifted, but are only electrified, they will contribute a substantial demand to generating and charging capacity, not to mention continued auto traffic and competition for road space.
The topics here are a bit scattershot as was the Board debate, but they include:
The Toronto Net Zero 2040 plan and electric buses
The conflict between budget planning timeframes and available funding
The growing backlog in State of Good Repair
Fleet replacement timing issues
Where the money comes from
The need to co-ordinate related projects within the budget
Funding for capital programs
Future subway demand and capacity enhancements
There is always a problem with the complexity of the budget that drops on Board members at most a week before the meeting where it will be approved.
There is no “Budget Committee” at the TTC, and so there is no group within the Board who are primed for the debate and can vouch for management’s work in the same manner as the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee. The Board used to have a Budget Committee, but it languished under an uninterested chair (ironically, a member of Council’s hawkish right) and the current Board is unwilling to recreate it.
This says a lot about how seriously (or not) they take their oversight role. Let a few pencils go missing and the Audit folks will be all over the problem, but billions in capital spending and the underlying policy decisions go with little review. This should be a job for whatever TTC Board is crafted for 2023 after the next municipal election.
I posed a series of questions to TTC media relations to clarify some of the presentation and discussion at the December 20 Board meeting. Here are their answers.
When Does Better Service Resume?
This question was asked before the recent Covid surge and associated rise in absences from work.
Q: There is some confusion in the language used in the Opex report and by various speakers about the point at which 100% of pre-pandemic service would be restored. Variously this has included:
“by Q2” implying a target date at or near the beginning of the quarter
“in Q2” implying a targer anywhere up to June 30
“given the capability based on demand” for Q2 implementation
In your press release, Chair Robinson is quoted:
“The 2022 budget approved today gives us the flexibility to increase service up to pre-pandemic levels, in response to demand, while funding key sustainability and service improvement initiatives – all without raising fares for our riders,” said TTC Chair Jaye Robinson.
This does not even mention a return to full service in Q2.
Which version is correct? Have you budgeted for 100% in Q2, but may not actually operate it depending on demand levels?
As a related note, when the Nov 21 cuts were announced, there was an intention to begin reversing these in January. No service memo for the January Board has been issued yet. Will it be coming out soon and will some of the cuts start to be reversed?
A: We predicted a return to pre-pan levels would begin IN Q2 as demand increases…if it increases by then based on current realities. So the budget allows for that in Q2, not by Q2.
All service planning is being done based on demand AND workforce availability. So we are planning for scenarios. With ridership now back down to 40-ish per cent and Step 2 in effect, we don’t expect an increase in demand.
Email from Stuart Green, Senior Communications Specialist, Media Relations and Issues Management, Corporate Communications, January 6, 2022
Although the point is now rather moot, the original intent was to ramp up through Q2, not by Q2. Much now depends on how quickly the current wave recedes and ridership recovery returns to its former path.
It is now a matter of record that there were no service restorations in January 2022. The mid-February changes have not yet been announced.
Line 5 Crosstown Operating Costs
Q: The full year cost of running Line 5 as cited as $63 million based on deltas in 2022 (startup costs plus initial operation) and then in 2023 (to full year operation).
The statement was made that the TTC will “operate and maintain” the line, but my understanding is that significant chunks of the project will be handled by Crosslinx notably vehicle maintenance, tunnels and station infrastructure.
Could you clarify which aspects of Line 5 Opex are actually included in that $63 million?
The TTC replied:
A: The City, in an Agreement in Principle dated 2016, agreed to receiving 100% Fare & Non-Fare box revenue and in return the City would pay all Operating & Maintenance costs for Line 5. Maintenance costs have already been pre-determined and identified for the next 30 years in the Project Agreement between Metrolinx and CTS. The TTC budget process is identifying the combined operations and maintenance costs for Line 5.
So yes, Crosslinx is doing the work, but the agreement the City signed sees the TTC pay them for it.
Stuart Green, op. cit.
This means that the costs payable to Metrolinx for Line 5 should now be known for the next 30 years, but it is not clear if the TTC actually has these figures. Some enterprising Councillor (or even TTC Board member) might usefully ask for this information so we can see what future cost increases, if any, are baked into the Line 5 agreement.
The Status of Run-As-Directed Buses
Q: Rick Leary cited RAD operations as being 140 buses.
First, based on schedule info, there were 140 crews, not 140 buses, and the maximum RADs in service at any time was maybe 60, not 140.
Second, these buses were also used as subway shuttles and other fill ins for emergencies and were not always available as unscheduled extras on busy routes.
Third, my understanding was that the RAD crews were stripped from the schedules on Nov 21 as a workforce reduction measure.
Are these statements correct, and if not, what is the actual situation?
The TTC replied:
A: Still clarifying with Service planning.
Stuart Green, op. cit.
Answers to questions about the Capital Budget will appear in my pending follow-up on that item from the Board meeting.
The TTC has announced the service changes it plans to implement on January 2, 2022 as well as budgeted service levels through the year.
Originally, it was thought that the November 21, 2021 cuts would be restored in January, but this will be a gradual process beginning in mid-February.
Changes for January include:
501 Queen and 503 Kingston Road Services
Streetcar service on 501 Queen will be extended to Bathurst Street but will remain on King because of construction issues at Charlotte Loop (see below). The division allocation will be changed to Leslie as this route now operates with pantographs while Russell is still using trolley poles pending reconstruction of that yard.
503 Kingston Road service will become slightly less frequent to remove the blending with 501 Queen (a scheme that did not work very well in any event) and to reduce the amount of layover space required on Charlotte Street. The 503 cars will continue to operate with trolley poles and will run from Russell Carhouse.
At Charlotte Loop, construction at King Street will partly block the road and this will reduce layover space available. With only the 503 service using the loop, it will be able to lay over south of Adelaide while the 501 cars travel west to Bathurst and then north to Wolseley Loop.
Streetcar service via Queen to Bathurst will be restored in the mid-February schedules.
The 501 Queen service has operated through to Neville Loop since December 6, 2021, replacing the 501N Coxwell-Neville shuttle bus.
The 501L and 501H west end bus service schedules will not change in January, but in February they will be modified to remove excess running time and long terminal dwells.
At Broadview, the 501 buses have been (mostly) running north to Broadview Station since December 10, 2021. This burns up some of the excess running time and supplements the bus service on Broadview Avenue (water main construction there has still not finished). Southbound trips operate via Gerrard and River from Broadview.
Construction at Wilson Terminal requires a reallocation of bus loading bays including space in the parking lot. The new arrangement is shown below. There are no changes in service levels.
Other Bus Route Changes
All routes at York Mills Station will resume using the regular terminal on December 24, 2021.
21 Brimley will be shifted from McNicoll Division to Malvern Division to balance workforce requirements.
25 Don Mills gained trippers in the AM peak (3) and PM peak (6) in the November 2021 service changed. The PM trippers will be removed in January, and the AM trippers in February.
The 75 Sherbourne construction diversion for water main construction will end, temporarily, for the Winter season, but will resume in early Spring. The weekend evening interline with 82 Rosedale will also resume until construction starts again.
Updated December 23, 2021 at 11:10am: The construction diversion ended on December 22, but the interline will not be restored until January when new schedules go into effect.
The route 600 Run-As-Directed buses will be partly restored as shown in the table below. Note that there is a total of 61 weekday crews, but the number of buses in service varies through the day with 25 in the AM peak, 47 at midday, 36 in the PM peak, 34 in the early evening, 12 late evening, and 2 ovenight. There is only one weekend RAD bus.
The service budget shows the planned level of service for budgeting purposes. As we saw in 2021, not all of the budget headroom was actually used. Here is the plan for 2022.
There is headroom to expand service in February and March to close to the pre-pandemic level (about 186,000 hours/week). This level will be achieved, if the TTC uses all of its budget room, in September 2022.
Note the decline in the budget for construction service late in the year on the assumption that Line 5 Crosstown will finally open and extra service provided to compensate for its construction will not be required.
Details of the Changes
Although there are few changes this month, the revised schedules are shown in the spreadsheet linked below.
In recent years, budget development has been shaped by two factors: the constantly shifting outlook on the city’s economy in a pandemic environment combined with a Board that is predisposed to leave all policy development and analytical work to management. There is little or no advance discussion of budget policy and the entire package lands in the Board’s (and public’s) lap just before the holiday season and at a point where it must be approved to fit into the overall budget process at City Council. In 2022, the situation will be repeated because of the municipal election, and a new TTC Board will find one of its first major decisions will be to approve the 2023 budget.
When Will Full Service Resume?
For some time, TTC policy has been that full service would be provided once ridership hits 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. The system is already at 49 per cent overall, with the proportion varying by mode as shown below.
In these charts, the red line corresponds to the point of fare payment (the location where fare was first charged) while the gray line tracks “boardings” (transfer connections and other trips within the two hour window of fare payment). Note that these are percentages of pre-pandemic values, not absolute values.
The bus network overall is now at 60 per cent, streetcars and subways at about 40. This reflects the difference in areas served and the degree to which employment in bus-served areas does not lend itself to work-from-home arrangements.
More important, however, is that a 60 per cent average will mask times and locations where the value is much higher and much lower. The bus network, if considered on its own, already deserves “full service”, but was the victim of the November 2021 cutbacks and of the staff shortages that already existed. The disconnect between the real world of rider experience and management reports is that service is reduced system-wide even though the ridership loss is driven mainly by the subway. (The streetcar network has comparable percentages to the subway, but a much smaller ridership base.)
Statements about what would trigger a return to full service vary in subtle but important ways.
TTC policy says that a 50 per cent overall return of ridership should trigger 100 per cent service levels.
Actual staffing makes it impossible for this to occur before Q2 2022 even though ridership is likely to hit the 50 per cent mark in Q1.
In the 2022 Budget Highlights, the TTC states that the budget “Restores Pre-Pandemic Service Capacity in Q2 2022”. The operative word here is “capacity”.
In various places, the terms “in” and “by” have been used interchangeably, but they could imply “sometime within the quarter” as opposed to “by the beginning of the quarter”.
The commitment was further qualified by CEO Rick Leary’s statement during the Board meeting that a decision to resume full service would depend on ridership.
Later in the TTC’s press release, Chair Jaye Robinson is quoted: “The 2022 budget approved today gives us the flexibility to increase service up to pre-pandemic levels, in response to demand, while funding key sustainability and service improvement initiatives – all without raising fares for our riders.” This does not even commit to a Q2 return to full service, only that the budget headroom will exist for more service as and when the TTC decides to operate it.
An important caveat is that “full service” does not mean “identical service” because the pre-pandemic schedules no longer reflect today’s riding patterns in locations and times of demand together with a desire for some degree of distancing on vehicles.
As I write this, the planning memo detailing service changes for January 2022 has not been issued, and it is not yet known whether the TTC will even begin to restore some of the November 2021 cuts, a move that only a few weeks ago management claimed would occur.
Updated December 22, 2021: The budgeted hours for the 2022 schedule periods have now been published. See the table below. Note that service that is included in the budget is not necessarily operated as we saw through 2021. By September 2022, the budgeted regular service will be back to the same level as in January 2021 (186k hours/week).
How Much Service Do We Get Today?
CEO Rick Leary was happy to announce that despite the staffing problems, the TTC is fielding 90 per cent of scheduled service. On some days, they manage to hit 95 per cent. However, this is based on a reduced schedule effective November 21. Here are the numbers for the planned regular weekly service hours (excluding additions to cope with construction projects):
November 21, 2021: 165,859
October 10, 2021: 177,798
January 3, 2021: 179,130
January 5, 2020: 185,896
The difference between November 2021 and January 2020 is 11 per cent. However, the TTC is only operating 90 per cent of that scheduled service, and so what is on the street is 149,000 hours per week or 20 per cent below January 2020. Their ability to achieve service looks better when reported against a diminished schedule.
This is not to say that there are no fiscal problems with transit and the City’s ability to pay for better service. However, transparency requires that statistics be clearly reported, not spun to put the best possible light on the system’s performance.
A direct result of schedule cuts due to staff shortages, together with randomly cancelled services, is erratic service including the missing bus problem I have documented in many recent service analyses. Sadly, there was no discussion at all about problems of service reliability at the Board meeting even though the provision of “Safe, Seamless & Reliable Transit Service” is first on the list of 2022 service objectives.
“Customer satisfaction” and “Fiscal sustainability” are two key objectives, but these inevitably collide because service is provided based on available funding, not to hit a quality objective to please riders.
CEO Rick Leary routinely talks about “Run as Directed” buses, or RADs, as his solution to shortfalls in service capacity. He regularly overplays the effect that these have on the system.
A routine claim is that there are 140 RAD buses available to fill in on crowded routes. In fact there were 140 8-hour crews in three shifts with a maximum of about 60 buses at one time.
The RAD buses double as subway shuttles and vanish when part of the subway is not running.
The RAD buses are not trackable through transit smartphone apps, and riders cannot anticipate their arrival.
The RAD crews were cancelled in the November 21 cuts as a workforce reduction measure.
Updated December 22 at 6:00 pm: RAD crews will be partly restored in January 2022. There will be 61 weekday crews in all, but the maximum number of RAD buses at any one time will be 47 (weekday midday). There is only one weekend RAD bus on Saturdays and Sundays.
At a time when TTC ridership is sitting at just under 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, this may not seem the time to ask a question like this article’s title. However, the service effects of an operator shortage are felt across the system and may not disappear soon.
The TTC puts recent service cuts down to vaccine hesitancy among a small group of staff. Leaving aside the internal union politics and the constant skirmishes between ATU and TTC management, there is more going on here.
At its meeting on November 29, the TTC Board received a third quarter financial update, and there was considerable praise for how management has “contained” costs shifting the year-end outlook to one where the TTC will not actually use all of subsidy monies available. In fact, $36 million will go into the City’s transit reserve where original budget projections forecast a draw, not a deposit. That’s money not being spent on transit, and moreover, it sets the bar lower for a starting point in 2022.
A big contribution to that saving is that the TTC is not scheduling as much service as it budgeted, and even then is not staffing at a level where all scheduled service actually gets onto the street. Cancelled runs and missing buses are common, and this problem continues even on the reduced schedules of November 21.
This situation is a complete reversal from past years when anyone who said “give us more service” received a stock two-part reply: we have no buses, and even if we bought more, there is no garage space.
The problem today is not buses – it is operators to drive them.
In this article, I turn the question around and ask how much service the TTC could provide if only they hired enough staff.
The TTC has always owned substantially more buses than it requires to operate service. This is perfectly normal for any transit system, but the gap between what the TTC owns and what it operates widened over the past decade.
The proportion of the fleet that is “spare” (a word embracing many factors) has grown for two related reasons. Buses are more complex than they were a few decades back, and that affects maintenance work. Historically, the TTC aimed for a 18-year bus life cycle, but they are working toward a 12-year cycle to advance retirement of lower-reliability old buses and avoid the cost of major overhauls to keep them running. They have not yet reached that goal, and currently planned bus purchases do not fully achieve this.
One might argue that it says something about the robust nature of older buses compared to what we see today. To some extent, a shorter lifespan target can be a self-fulfilling prophecy when maintenance plans assume that a 12 year old bus will be discarded, and buses in what was once a middle age of 8-10 years are now seen as elderly.
There was a time when a ratio of buses in service to those held aside as spares was between 7:1 and 6:1, or a spare factor close to 15 per cent. By about a decade ago, this ratio fell to 5:1 or a 20 percent spare allowance. Since then, as a deliberate policy, the TTC has allowed it to fall to 4:1. There is no sign yet of a return to a better ratio. Two factors – a younger bus fleet and the benefits of electrification (partial or complete) – are yet to be reflected in the provision for spares. This affects not just capital costs – more buses are needed to provide a given level of service – but also the need for garage space.
In the pandemic era, the number of spares has risen considerably and the ratio is in striking distance of 2:1 thanks to recent service cuts.
If the ongoing cost of operating the TTC falls because of cutbacks, then the challenge to restore funding faces the double hurdles of cost inflation and a return to historic service levels both for operations and maintenance.
Turning back the clock can be difficult if a generous spare ratio becomes a “new normal” and buses can simply be sidelined rather than repaired. Even worse, if capital to buy new buses is plentiful, but operating funds to maintain the fleet are not, garages can fill up with vehicles that are tempting spare parts stores. This happened decades ago in Boston from which TTC CEO Rick Leary hails (but not on his watch).
Unpopular though this could be in some political circles, the TTC should ask the question: what service could we operate with the existing fleet if only we had enough money to hire drivers for all of the buses? Don’t tell Toronto what we “can’t afford”, tell us what would be possible and how much this would cost. This is a perennial problem with the TTC: a failure to advocate for the best we could have.
The agenda for the Toronto Transit Commission board meeting on November 29, 2021, is rather thin considering that the board has not met for some time, and there are major policy issues worth discussing about the system’s future.
TTC ridership continues to run below budget projections, although it has been growing. Recently it has been tracking near budgetary projections, but shortfalls during stay-at-home periods earlier in 2021 have kept the year-to-date total below expectations. Although we are now almost at the end of November, only data to the end of September are reported here.
Another view of ridership is based on “boardings” where each transfer (except between subway lines) counts as a new boarding. In transit parlance, these are “unlinked trips” as opposed to the “linked trips” that have traditionally been associated with individual fares paid. Even that gets tricky with passes including the two-hour transfer.
Relative to pre-pandemic demand, the bus network is at 55%, streetcars are at 42% and the subway is at 38%. Updated data showing recent experience would obviously be useful here to see whether riding has plateaued, or if it continues to grow, especially in light of recent service cuts.
Demand on Wheel-Trans is down substantially compared both to pre-pandemic times and to budget projections.
Bus occupancy has grown steadily over the year. An important point about the chart below is that it is measured trip-by-trip rather than being averaged over all trips on the system. What we do not know, however, is how many of these trips have high loads because the affected bus is running in a gap, and how many are because the service overall has less capacity than required for demand. Also, of course, we do not see the distribution of crowded trips by route or time-of-day.
An important issue here is that as overall demand recovers, the TTC plans to set its crowding targets progressively higher until they reach historical pre-pandemic levels. If service, and hence crowding, are irregular, then some buses will operate well beyond comfortable or attractive levels even as (and if) riders get more used to being in crowds.
Overcrowding was a constant complaint in pre-pandemic times, and Toronto should not aim simply to return to an overstuffed system. However, more service costs money and that is in short supply, even for politicians who are truly pro-transit at budget time.