The Reliable Unreliability of TTC Service

In a recent article, I reviewed the TTC’s Service Standards Update. These standards included targets for headway reliability which are extremely generous and allow the TTC to claim that services operate “to standard” when actual rider experience is less than ideal.

Reliability of service is a top concern for TTC riders, and it has also been identified by TTC staff. Where the problem lies is that the targets offer little incentive to improve or measurement of just how bad the situation really is.

When the TTC talks about reliability, they inevitably trot out excuses about traffic congestion and the difficulty of operating service in mixed traffic. This has been a standard response to issues with streetcar routes for as long as I can remember. However, the typical TTC rider is a bus passenger, and this group has flagged service reliability, frequency and crowding as issues just as important as for streetcar riders.

Regular readers will know that over the years I have published many analyses of route performance looking mainly at the streetcar system, but also at selected bus routes. Recently, I decided to expand this to a number of routes in Scarborough where the quality of bus service often comes up in debates about the Scarborough subway extension, and to revisit some of the routes affected by construction on the Spadina extension which has now pretty much wrapped up. Apologies to readers in Etobicoke because this gives a central/eastern slant to the routes reviewed here, but I have no doubt that route behaviour in our western suburb is similar to that on the rest of the network.

This post may give some readers that dreaded sense of “TL;DR” because of the amount of material it contains. It is intended partly as a reference (readers can look at their favourite routes, if present), and partly to establish beyond any doubt the pervasiveness of the problem with headway reliability facing the TTC. This problem exists across the network, and setting performance targets that simply normalize what is already happening is no way to (a) understand the severity of the problem or (b) provide any measurement of improvements, should they be attempted.

The data here are taken from January 2017. The analysis would have been published sooner but for a delay in receiving the data from the TTC, a problem that has now been rectified. As always, thanks to the TTC for providing the raw material for this work.

Although January is a winter month, the level of precipitation, and particularly of snow, was unusually low for Toronto, and so weather delays do not lead to anomalies in the data.

Toronto Precipitation and Temperatures for January 2017

The TTC’s current attitude to service reliability is to focus on conditions at terminals with the premise that if service leaves and arrives on time, then there is a good chance it will also be in good shape along the route. This is a misguided approach on two counts.

First and most important, there is little indication that service from terminals is actually managed to be reliable, and the “targets” in the standards provide a wide margin by which unreliability is considered acceptable. In particular, it is possible for services to leave termini running as bunches of two or more vehicles and still be considered “on target”.

Second, any variability in headway from a terminal will be magnified as buses travel along a route. Buses carrying larger headways (gaps) will have heavier loads and run late while buses closely following will catch up. The result can be pairs of buses operating at twice the advertised headway, and with uneven loads. Without active management of service at points along a route, the problems become worse and worse the further one progresses away from a trip’s origin. Again, the generous standards allow much of this service to be considered acceptable, and so there is no need, on paper, to actually manage what is happening.

TTC operators are a great bunch of people, overall, but the laissez faire attitude to headways allows those who prefer a leisurely trip across their route to run “hot” with impunity. The worst of them are, fortunately for riders, only a small group. The larger problem is the degree to which irregular headways are a normal situation across the system.

The balance of this article looks at several routes primarily for their behaviour near terminals as this matches the point where the TTC sets its targets, such as they are. To recap the Service Standards:

The TTC standards vary for very frequent (less than 5′), frequent (5′ to 10′) and infrequent (above 10′) services.

  • Very frequent services target a band of ±75% of the scheduled headway.
  • Frequent services target a band of ±50% of the scheduled headway.
  • Infrequent service aims for a range of 1 minute early to 5 minutes late.

The charts which follow look at actual headways, not scheduled values, and it is clear throughout that the typical range of values exceeds these standards.

Continue reading

TTC Service Standards Update

Among the reports to be considered by the TTC Board at its May 18, 2017 meeting is one titled Update to TTC Service Standards.

[Note: Page numbers cited in this article refer to the PDF containing the report as a whole. Individual sections have their own pagination which does not necessarily correspond to the page numbers of the overall document.]

This is something of a misnomer because the report does not actually propose many new standards, but merely consolidates in one place practices that have evolved over past years. Some of those standards are are self-serving in that they codify “business as usual” practices including some “targets” that produce laughably inferior, but “acceptable” service.The report contains no discussion of the potential shortfalls in the standards it asks the Board to endorse. Absent is any sense that things should be better, and that actively understanding and managing how routes operate is required. Better service quality is what riders demand, and a laissez faire approach is the last thing the TTC needs.

The current standards arise from an extended period dating back to the Ford era in which pro-active service improvements based on better standards simply stopped, a sacrifice to the gods of “efficiency” and “saving taxpayer dollars”. The standards have been fiddled with to minimize the worst of Ford’s cutbacks, and more recently to implement revised performance standards intended to lead to better service. The constrained environment in which the TTC still operates is clear:

This update to the TTC service standards took a no cost approach. The updated service standards reflect existing conditions with the goal of continuous improvement over time. [p. 1]

Although leaving standards as they are might be a “no cost approach”, what is missing from this 100-page document is any review of the degree to which the system actually achieves the standards it claims to follow. Recently, the TTC has acknowledged that both the King and St. Clair routes are running 25% above standard thanks to the streetcar shortage and resultant crowding, and of course the large number of buses diverted to streetcar routes could be used to improve conditions on the bus network. However, absent a system-wide view of the shortfall, the TTC Board, City Council and the general public have no idea of just how bad the situation is except, of course, for those riders jammed into vehicles or who give up on the TTC. As to route performance data, the TTC has not published any for two years even though this item is part of their Customer Charter.

Running more service costs money, and yet with fleet constraints, the TTC has been able to keep its demands for added subsidy lower than they might have been otherwise. Only about half of the “investment” in better service announced with great fanfare by Mayor Tory early in his term actually appeared in the TTC budget.

The last system-wide review dates back to April 2008 near the end of Mayor Miller’s term.

The context for “standards” is quite clear in the following statement:

The TTC currently makes use of a number of standards to plan new service and monitor and adjust existing service. These standards have been in place for a number of years and some are updated frequently. For example the TTC applies vehicle crowding standards to define the upper limit of what is an acceptable level of crowding for each type of vehicle at both peak and offpeak times. This standard is often updated based on fiscal realities. [p. 5]

Fiscal realtities may affect what the TTC can afford, but they should not alter what the TTC aspires to be. If there is a shortfall, then the effect of that shortfall should be known. This informs both the decision to make budget cuts (what are the effects) and lays out for future planning where and how much the system should be improved. We have rapid transit plans stretching decades into the future, but don’t know how short Toronto falls in providing day-to-day service on its bus and streetcar network. We have endless touch-feely “customer service initiatives”, but the most important of all – service – falls by the wayside. This is not to downplay good customer service, but riders might be forgiven for taking little comfort in spiffy new maps when the services they illustrate are overcrowded and unreliable.

The report claims that the TTC conducted a peer review of standards in other major cities. None of the information from such a review appears in the report.

Internal discussions among various TTC departments yielded the following observation:

All stakeholders noted that the most important improvement the TTC could make is improving service reliability on all modes. [p. 8]

This leads to revised metrics for productivity and reliability, but it is unclear whether these will actually improve service on the street.

Although the lion’s share of the report deals with a rider survey of attitudes to service quality, I will leave that topic until later in this article so that the nominal purpose of the report, Service Standards, is more than the afterthought it appears to occupy in the TTC’s report.

Continue reading

Toronto’s 2018 Budget and Continuing Transit Austerity

In a report to the City of Toronto’s Budget Committee meeting for May 11, 2017, City Manager Peter Wallace makes two recommendations that will have a major effect on transit planning and operations in Toronto:

  • All spending for the 2018 Operating Budget would be frozen at 2017 levels. For the TTC, this would mean flat-lining the operating subsidy at its current level ($560.8 million for the “conventional” system, and $142.7 million for Wheel-Trans).
  • No new projects would be approved within the Ten Year Capital Budget and Plan until 2027 when there is borrowing headroom available to the City to fund additional works.

If a project is on the favoured list that is tagged for federal infrastructure subsidy, then finding a way to pay for the City’s share would be a priority in budgeting. However, it is not yet clear just which items in the TTC’s long shopping list will attain this status. Those that are excluded have only a faint hope of going forward.

A related problem here is that Toronto does not yet know how much, exactly, it will receive in Federal infrastructure grants, and it is quite likely that the money available will not stretch far enough to cover the entire list. Moreover, Queen’s Park is an uncertain partner because (a) the province feels it is already showering Toronto with money for projects now underway, and (b) the current government is unlikely to survive the 2018 election, and the policies of a successor regime could be hostile to large-scale transit spending commitments for Toronto.

Although there is much focus on Capital projects, the real challenge in the short term will be for the Operating budget. In the City’s report, the “opening pressures” for the TTC budget are substantial:

  • In 2017, $18 million was used from the TTC Stabilization Reserve fund to offset the budget shortfall and some new services. This was one-time money that must be replaced in 2018 and beyond. The reserve fund is now empty and cannot be used as a source to “fix” 2018 problems.
  • TTC ridership is forecast to come in below the budgeted level for 2017, and on a budget-to-budget basis, this represents a loss of $10 million in revenue. When the TTC Board passed its 2017 budget, it also decided that there would be no 2018 fare increase. Quite bluntly, that was a political stunt that simply cannot be implemented without new revenue or cuts to the operating budget. Fare revenue in 2017 is about $1.1 billion, and so each 1% increase would generate about $11 million, less whatever is lost to elasticity (riders lost by higher pricing).
  • The base operating costs of the TTC are forecast to rise by $102 million, not including the operating effects of Capital projects (see below). This covers wage and material cost increases, as well as the cost of any new service (none is currently planned thanks to the ridership situation).
  • The opening of the TYSSE to Vaughan will add $26 million to the TTC’s costs. Most of the riders projected for this line already pay a TTC fare, and so the marginal revenue will be much less than the operating cost. Riders transferring from York Region services to the subway for a journey to York University will not pay an extra TTC fare (this will be implemented via a Presto tap-out).
  • Other increases arising from past decisions (i.e. the full year effects of changes made in the 2017 budget year) add $6 million.
  • With more riders using Presto, fees to that provider will rise by $38 million. In the City Manager’s report, this is offset by a saving of $45 through the elimination of station collectors (about which more below).
  • Elimination of legacy fare gates and other old equipment will reduce costs by $5 million.

In summary:

Lost Revenue
  Stabilization Reserve          $  18 million
  Ridership Shortfall               10
  Subtotal                       $  28 million

Additional Costs
  Maintain Existing Service      $ 102 million
  Open TYSSE                        26
  Eliminate Station Collectors    - 45
  Presto Fees                       38
  Fare gate & other savings        - 5
  Other Increases                    6
  Subtotal                       $ 122 million

Total                            $ 150 million

The savings from Station Collectors arise because, from the City’s point of view, the TTC “Station Transformation Program” constitutes a new “service”, not a continuation of an existing practice. This includes conversion of the Collectors (or an equivalent headcount) into roving Customer Service agents. Indeed, there is reason to believe that the cost of this group of employees might have been included as a saving in the cost justification for Presto (or any other fare card).

I asked the TTC for the breakdown of savings and costs of the Presto transition, and received the following non-answer from Brad Ross:

The short answer from the TTC is that we continue to assess the timing of all of this – moving collectors out of the booth and transitioning to customer service agents, the costs associated continued fare collection and distribution, and the costs we will bear with being 100% Presto-enabled.

The 2018 budget process will flesh all of that out, but we’re not there yet. [Email of May 9, 2017]

That’s a rather odd state of affairs considering that the TTC based its criterion for Presto fees on what they expected to save in fare collection costs. Like so much about Presto, this is a very murky subject.

As for the Station Transformation project, the City Manager’s report states:

It is important to note that the projected 2018 net pressure or “gap” does not account for any additional service investments or priorities approved or identified by Council. For example, the $126 million forecasted pressure for TTC is based on maintaining current service levels. This excludes an additional $59 million identified by the TTC for initiatives such as Station Transformation which would be categorized as a new request and will be considered separately, subject to funding availability. [pp. 12-13]

[Note: The City’s total of $126 million does not match the total shown above of $150 million for reasons that are unclear. I have asked the City to reconcile this.]

One can well argue that the idea of getting rid of all Collectors is unworkable (even GO Transit, an all-Presto system, has station agents), and that the many duties the new Customer Service staff would take on are logically inconsistent (being available at a booth to answer questions and provide general directions, but also roaming the stations). Whatever the intent, the TTC has not yet produced a clear explanation of whether savings on Collectors were part of the justification for paying Presto to handle fares.

In any event, this $45 million is not included in the TTC base budget requirement for 2018 from the City’s point of view. If it is to be approved, that will be an additional expense on top of the other pressures.

Completely missing is any discussion of a Ridership Growth Strategy. Although the TTC tells everyone that ridership is down for various reasons, they also have stated that both the St. Clair and King streetcar lines are currently running over capacity during peak periods. This does not square with the claim that the TTC does not require more service, and suggests that one source of ridership “loss” is the inability of people to actually use the service.

An RGS report was supposed to come before the TTC Board earlier in 2017, but it was held back pending resolution of budget issues. Clearly this problem has not gone away, and yet if the report continues to be hidden, we will have no idea what might be possible and at what cost. Advocacy is not the TTC’s strong suit, and we have no idea of just how badly the system will be crammed thanks to the shortage of vehicles and the lack of sufficient revenue to operate them.

Not to be ignored is the status of Wheel-Trans where demand is growing very quickly thanks to improved eligibility requirements from the province. Freezing the Wheel-Trans subsidy (which provides almost all of its operating funding) will not allow growth, and the TTC could find itself in violation of accessibility targets if the City does not come up with the cash.

On the Capital side, the inability to add projects to the “approved” list could punch a big hole in plans for the Bloor-Danforth Subway’s revival. A collection of projects is to be presented to the Board for the renovation of Line 2 BD including:

  • A new signal system with Automatic Train Control
  • A new fleet replacing the T-1 trains which were built from 1995-2001
  • A new subway yard near Kipling Station

The ATC project is “funded” in the capital budget at an estimated cost of $431 million of which $131 million currently appears under post-2026 spending. Whether money for that is actually available in the City’s financial plans is unclear, but this will obviously be a case of “in for a penny, in for a pound”. The budgetary timing is odd because 1/3 of the total is post-2026 after the new system is supposed to be enabled and the old system decommissioned.

Neither the new fleet nor the new carhouse are funded projects in the budget. However, there is a timing issue for this project and a new fleet because the Scarborough Subway Extension will use ATC signalling, and this forces the issue because there is no point in retrofitting ATC gear to cars that will be at or near retirement age when the extension opens. There will be some cost offset in other budget lines including the SSE because storage for the new Line 2 fleet will be consolidated. (Greenwood’s layout is unsuited to the new unit trains now operating on Line 1 YUS, although it could be reconfigured and used for a future DRL with a track connection via Danforth.)

Another unfunded project is the purchase of an additional 60 new streetcars required to handle growing demand in the early 2020s, plus a further 15 (a placeholder number, probably) for the Waterfront transit project.

Putting any unfunded project “on hold” for 2018 might work as a way to avoid a capital planning crisis before the municipal election, but it will not do for the long term.

During the 2017 budget discussions, City Staff appealed to Council to set its service priorities as an integral part of building the budget:

Staff advised Council that it should first establish its collective vision for the City to determine the level and quality of services it wishes to deliver, determine and prioritize the City-building investments required to achieve this vision and consider the associated expenditures necessary to carry this out. In order to fund this expenditure level and any resultant gap, City Council would have to raise revenues and should look to all of its revenue-generating authorities and tools to do so, including property tax rate increases. This would be especially necessary if Council chose not to reduce its services and service levels. [p. 6]

For 2018, the City Manager warns:

Further expense reductions in 2018 will require strong action and a willingness to both reduce and sustain reductions in service levels if residential tax increases are to be kept at the rate of inflation. As recently made evident in the 2016 and 2017 Budget processes, there has been a reluctance by Council to embrace service level or service model changes; creating a mismatch between service aspirations and revenue generation. [p. 13]

There has been a fair amount of discussion by Council and input from the public (Long Term Financial Plan public consultation) that across the board budget targets do not reflect Council priorities, and therefore, should be differential. The current challenge to establish differential targets is the lack of stated relative Council priorities and implementation plans. A key issue is not that priorities are lacking but rather that there are many – many Council approved strategies, plans and service demand initiatives – some of which have been considered in relation to one another with their respective financial impacts within a priority-setting process that links service and policy planning to the City’s budget process and considered within the City’s financial capacity. [p. 14]

The priorities endorsed by Council for 2017 amounted to cherry picking a few very expensive capital projects, and demanding that staff find “efficiencies” with which to pay for any service improvements, indeed simply to keep the lights on. In the case of the TTC, a bit of last-minute hocus pocus avoided a large funding gap by boosting the assumed revenue from the land transfer tax. That particular hat does not have an endless supply of rabbits.

The overwhelming demand is to keep property taxes at the rate of inflation. That is an interesting concept as the City Manager explores in some detail both by reference to practices in other cities, and in the question of just what level of “inflation” should be used. Toronto has aimed at the CPI with a 2% increase in residential tax rates,but when the rebalancing effects for non-residential are factored in, the overall tax increase was only 1.39% for 2017. Moreover, there is a separate cost index measuring those items typically consumed by a municipal government, not by a private household. The municipal index has been running at over 3%, and it is no wonder that the City is unable to keep up with costs.

In addition to the “regular” property tax increases, there have been special levies to fund transit capital projects. The first, introduced during Mayor Ford’s term, is a 1.6% tax that will fund the City’s portion of the Scarborough Subway Extension. This tax will remain in place as long as needed to pay off whatever that share of the total cost is, eventually. The second, is a 0.5% tax building gradually to 2.5% to fund Mayor Tory’s capital projects. The situation is explained in the report:

Under current Council policy, debt servicing costs cannot exceed 15 percent of property tax revenues in any given year. In 2017, the 15% debt service ratio policy was relaxed to an average of 15% over the 10-year capital plan period as a result of the increased debt capacity made available to fund key capital priorities in 2017. $5.8 billion in new capital investments was made possible by adding $3.3 billion in increased debt capacity, based on the following actions:

  • $134 million debt room made available by better matching cashflow funding estimates to actual project timelines and activities
  • $2.2 billion in debt capacity was added in the latter 5 year years of the capital plan period by adding new projects that filled unoccupied debt room reflective of a 14.75% debt servicing ratio; and
  • $1 billion in additional debt borrowing capacity was made possible with Council’s approval of a 0.5% levy for each of 5 years as a contribution to a capital City Building Fund for transit and housing priorities.

The added debt capacity enabled the City to fund critical, unfunded capital priorities such as the added costs for the Gardiner Expressway Rehabilitation Project, the SmartTrack transit expansion project; Port Lands Flood Protection; the City’s required matching funds for TTC and non-TTC critical state of good repair projects eligible under the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF); Toronto Public Library state of good repair and various transformation and modernization investments.

While this added debt capacity allowed the City to fund key projects included in the $33 billion of unfunded capital projects, doing so has maximized the City’s debt capacity based on its current, yet now relaxed, debt servicing policy. [p. 19]

In brief, if there is to be any new capital borrowing within the next decade for projects that are not already in the “funded” list, then these will require new revenue to service the debt. Even beyond 2026, the debt “mountain” will not recede quickly.

The only glimmer of hope within these recommendations is that:

Priority be placed on completing transit, transportation and social infrastructure projects funded through intergovernmental agreements in order to meet program conditions and deadlines to mitigate risk to the City, and

Should any funding become available, that capital funding priorities be limited to projects that address:

  • Critical State of Good Repair, including energy retrofits
  • AODA Compliance
  • Transformation, modernization and innovation projects with financial benefits
  • High-needs social infrastructure [p. 20]

Notably absent from that list is “rapid transit expansion”, or indeed transit expansion of any kind.

2018 will be a grim year for the City’s budget for all portfolios. Transit might get by, again, through some fiddling with figures, but that will not represent a real commitment to better transit, only to prevent its complete collapse while Councillors and the Mayor are trolling for votes.

TTC Board Meeting April 20, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on April 20, 2017. Items of interest on the agenda include:

  • The monthly CEO’s Report
  • Repair of SRT Vehicles
  • Disposition of Bay Street Bus Terminal

This article has been updated with a commentary on subway and surface route performance statistics presented at the Board meeting. (Scroll down to the end of the CEO’s Report.)

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday May 7, 2017

The May 2017 schedules will bring many changes to bus and streetcar routes across the city. The majority of these fall into three groups: construction-related changes and diversions, seasonal changes mainly related to the end of spring term at post-secondary institutions, and changes in the type of equipment assigned to routes.

Construction and Equipment Type Changes

On 501 Queen, buses will replace streetcars over the entire route from Neville to Long Branch. Two services will operate from Neville with one ending at Park Lawn Loop and the other running through to Long Branch. This restores the route structure as it was before the service west of Humber Loop was split off from the central part of Queen.

The 501L Long Branch buses will operate via Windermere and Lake Shore Boulevard as the 501L Queen bus does now. The 501M Marine Parade service will be replaced by the 501P Park Lawn buses which will operate westbound on the same route as the 501L, but eastbound via north on Park Lawn and east on The Queensway.

The 301 night service will operate as a through bus route from Neville to Long Branch.

To provide enough buses for 501 Queen, streetcars will return to other routes:

  • 504 King will be entirely operated with streetcars, with many runs using ALRVs (the two-section cars) displaced from Queen.
  • 503 Kingston Road will be operated with streetcars, and will be extended west to Charlotte Loop because Wellington Street is under construction. (502 Downtowner will remain a bus operation.)
  • 511 Bathurst will return to streetcar operation initially with ALRVs, but will transition to low-floor Flexity service as new cars become available.

Although 501 Queen will operate with buses through the summer, possibly to Thanksgiving, the planned intersection replacements at Coxwell and at McCaul will not occur during this period as there is too much other work concurrently according to the TTC’s Brad Ross. The dates and service arrangements for these two projects have not yet been announced.

The 505 Dundas car, which as I write this, is about to begin a diversion via Bay, College/Carlton and Church bothways for water main construction, will shift to a longer diversion via Carlton, Parliament and Gerrard beginning in May when the Dundas/Parliament intersection is rebuilt. The 65 Parliament bus will also divert around this work via Gerrard, Sherbourne and Shuter.

Temporary schedules were implemented in March for 510 Spadina and 506 Carlton in anticipation of extra traffic from a Queen diversion that was not implemented (510) and for overhead work on Gerrard that has been deferred (506). These routes revert to their normal schedules in May.

The 514 Cherry streetcar will now be scheduled for all low-floor service, and the weekday midday headways will be widened from 10 to 15 minutes.

In order to avoid unpredictable traffic conditions for Metrolinx Crosstown construction, the evening interlines of routes 5 Avenue Road & 56 Leaside, and of 51 Leslie & 61 Avenue Road North, will be discontinued. These routes will operate independently at all hours.

The schedule for the 34C Eglinton East service to Flemingdon Park will be revised to give operators more layover time at Eglinton Station due to construction conditions.

The bus loop at Royal York Station will be closing for about 18 months for reconstruction, and this will eliminate the loop now used by four routes. Services will be interlined on 73 Royal York & 76 Royal York South, and on 15 Evans & 48 Rathburn. The 315 Evans night service will be extended to Islington Station.

Construction at Coxwell Station has completed, and the interline of 22 Coxwell & 70 O’Connor will cease.

Seasonal Changes

Service will be improved on weekend evenings on 509 Harbourfront. This route is now designated as a low-floor route and will be operated entirely with Flexitys.

A Sunday PCC service will operate as an unscheduled extra on the 509 subject to availability of a car and operator from about noon to 5:00 pm.

Services to many campuses will be reduced to reflect lower demand during the summer term on various routes: 38 Highland Creek, 41 Keele, 44 Kipling South, 188 Kipling South Rocket, 60 Steeles West, 75 Sherbourne, 134C Progress/Centennial, 191 Highway 27 Rocket, 195 Jane Rocket, 196 York U Rocket, 198 UTSC Rocket, and 199 Finch Rocket.

Other seasonal changes affect 92 Woodbine South, 121 Fort York-Esplanade and 165 Weston Road North. Note that the 121 will operate to Cherry Beach during all service hours this summer rather than selected periods as in the past.

A Rose By Any Other Name

In anticipation of the TYSSE opening in  late 2017, the name of Downsview Station will change to Sheppard West. This allows the “Downsview” label to shift to the new “Downsview Park” station.

TTC Service Changes Effective March 26, 2017 (Updated)

Updated March 27, 2017 at 7:50 am: The City of Toronto has deferred the work on Queen that would have required diversion of the 501 streetcar service between Spadina and Shaw to later in the year when the route will be operating with buses.

The TTC plans for service changes in March 2017 are not extensive. They are detailed in the spreadsheet linked below. I have modified the format of this to include not just headways but also running times (including layovers). This was done to clarify situations where adjustments are made to deal with traffic conditions on routes and to show the amount of time added for diversions.

2017.03.26_Service_Changes

Construction Projects

Although diversions and bus replacements are inevitable for track construction projects, the degree to which the TTC and city are content to remove streetcars for construction outside of the streetcar lanes says little for the “transit first” language we often hear. There also appears to be little incentive to complete such projects as quickly as possible.

501 Queen

Construction projects affect sections of the Queen route for all of 2017:

  • Reconstruction of The Queensway right-of-way, the Humber bridge, Humber Loop and track on Lake Shore
  • Sidewalk reconstruction on Queen between Spadina and Bathurst (late March to late summer) (summer)
  • Reconstruction of the intersection of Coxwell and Queen (August)
  • Replacement of the overhead walkway west of Queen and Yonge linking the Eaton Centre to the Simpson’s building (now HBC/Saks)

For the period from March 26 to May 6, Queen cars will divert both ways via Spadina, King and Shaw. Replacement bus service will operate from University to Dufferin (terminating at Dufferin Loop south of King). Night service will operate from Yonge to Dufferin looping in the east via Church, Richmond and Victoria. (Deferred)

During the Queen diversion, running time will be added on 510 Spadina to allow for streetcar congestion and delays making turns at Queen and King. One cannot help wondering where “transit priority” fits in this situation considering that problems with this diversion were quite evident during 2016.

Starting on May 7, the route will be converted to bus operation end-to-end. This will have two branches similar to the streetcar service before 2015. One branch will operate from Neville to Long Branch, while the other will run from Neville to Park Lawn. Buses will run through the construction area from Spadina to Bathurst.

Because so many buses will be required and streetcars now on Queen will be released, streetcars will return to 511 Bathurst, 503 Kingston Road Tripper and the 504 King trippers.

Streetcar service on Queen between Neville and Sunnyside will resume in September, and over the full route to Long Branch in January 2018.

See also Ben Spurr’s article in the Star.

505 Dundas

Three projects affect the Dundas service during 2017:

  • Reconstruction of the intersection at Victoria and Dundas Square (beginning late March)
  • Reconstruction of the intersection at Dundas and Parliament (May-June)
  • Watermain construction between Yonge and Church (late March to October)

Effective with the March schedules, 505 Dundas cars will divert both ways via Bay, College, Carlton and Church.

During the May-June period when streetcars will not be able to operate through the Parliament intersection, a different arrangement will be required, but the details have not been announced.

504 King

Starting with the March 26 schedules, the King bus trippers will be extended north to Dundas West Station to avoid congestion at Sunnyside Loop.

With the May schedules, the Queen turnback at Sunnyside will end, and the bus trippers will be replaced by streetcars.

503 Kingston Road Tripper

With the May schedules, this peak period route will return to streetcar operation, but it will loop downtown at Charlotte Loop (Spadina, Adelaide, Charlotte) because Wellington Street will be under construction.

For the July schedules (mostly in August), the intersection at Queen and Coxwell will be under construction, and so bus operation will return to the 503.

The 502 Downtowner service will remain a bus operation throughout.

506 Carlton

When the March schedules were planned, a diversion was to be implemented between Broadview and Coxwell to allow reconstruction of the overhead over that section of the route. This diversion has been deferred due to the shortage of buses, but the new temporary schedules were already in place for March-April. This will leave 506 Carlton service on its regular route, but with added running time and wider headways. The standard schedule will come back into operation in May.

Continuation of last year’s sidewalk construction and streetscape improvements is likely, but yet to be confirmed, beginning in June between Bathurst and Lansdowne. Service adjustments are yet to be announced.

Route Changes

73 Royal York

The peak period 73A service that now terminates at Dixon Road will be extended north following the same route as the 73C Albion Road service to loop via Knob Hill Drive and Oak Street in Weston. This branch will be renamed as 73D.

121 Fort York – Esplanade

The route will be extended west into Exhibition Place so that operators on the route have access to a washroom (in Exhibition Loop). Running times during certain periods will be adjusted to match conditions on the route.

131 Nugget Express

Two branches of this service operate to supplement the SRT while the fleet undergoes major repairs to extend its lifespan. The 131E runs from Kennedy Station to Old Finch, but the 131F runs only from Kennedy to STC. Due to low ridership the 131F service will be removed. Service on the 131E is unchanged.

The Metrolinx Fetish For Fare By Distance

On Friday, February 17, the Metrolinx Board will consider yet another update in the long-running saga of its attempt to develop an integrated regional fare policy.

It is no secret that for a very long time, Metrolinx staff have preferred a fare-by-distance system in which riders pay based on the distance travelled, possibly at different rates depending on the class of service with fast GO trains at the top of the pile. The latest update tells us almost nothing about the progress their studies, but does reveal that a fourth option has been added to the mix.

fareconcepts

Option 1, modifying the existing structure, simply adds discounts to smooth the rough edges off of the existing zones between service providers. This has already been implemented for GO Transit “co-fares” with systems in the 905, but it is notably absent for trips to and from the TTC. Riders face a full new fare to transfer between a TTC route and GO or any of the local 905 services.

Option 2, a more finely grained zone structure than exists today, would provide a rough version of fare-by-distance, but would still have step increments in fares at boundaries. Note that this scheme also contemplates a different tariff for “rapid transit”.

Option 3 is a “Hybrid” mix of flat fares for local services and fare-by-distance for “rapid transit” and “regional” services for trips beyond a certain length. The intent is to charge a premium for faster and longer trips on services that are considered “premium”.

Option 4 is new, and it eliminates the “flat” section of the Hybrid scheme so that the charge for a trip begins to rise from its origin and there is no such thing as a “short” trip at a flat rate. The rate of increase would vary depending on the class of service.

fareconceptsummary

Ever since Metrolinx began to treat “rapid transit” as a separate fare class, this created an inevitable conflict with the Toronto transit network’s design as an integrated set of routes where subways provide the spine. Riders are not penalized with a separate fare for using the subway because it was built to replace and improve on surface streetcar and bus operations. This is fundamentally different from GO Transit which replaced no significant existing transit services in its corridors, and which was designed as a high speed operation to attract commuters out of their cars.

Continue reading

TTC Surface Ridership and Service: 1976 to 2016

Recent months brought much hand-wringing to TTC meetings where the mysterious decline of ridership threatens the stability of budgets and undermines planned service improvements.

In reality, ridership is not dropping, but for years the rate of increase has been in decline and this caught up with the TTC in 2016 when they overestimated potential growth.  Politically, an optimistic projection is useful because this inflates anticipated revenue, provides the basis for planning service increases, and sets the stage for chest-thumping claims that the disasters of a previous administration have been reversed.

The problem is that when the projections fail, there is a budget shortfall. This is small on the scale of the overall TTC budget, but large in its potential effect on subsidy needs and pressure for more fare revenue.

The debate always looks at recent years and asks why ridership growth that once appeared almost as reliably as the sunrise has fallen off. It is worthwhile, however, to take a longer view and examine how ridership has been changing over decades.

There are two sources of data for this review. Neither is perfect, but at least the numbers exist over an extended period.

  • TTC’s Ridership Analysis spreadsheet available from the City of Toronto’s Open Data Website. This file gives annual breakdowns of the type of fares sold, the location where these are paid, and a subdivision of weekday and weekend riding.
  • TTC Service Plans and related reports for many years included tables of route-by-route performance. These were once published annually, but in the past decade less frequently at least in part because the idea of improving service was not on the Ford-era agenda. Information for 2011, 2012 and 2014 can be found on the TTC’s Planning page. I have been collecting this information for years since its publication originated as an outcome of the Service Standards process established four decades ago. The format changes from time to time, but the basic information remains.

Each of these sources has its challenges.

The Ridership Analysis is based on fare collection at the point of trip origin. If I pay my fare at a subway station, but later transfer to a streetcar or bus, I count as a “subway” rider. In theory, I will be a “streetcar” rider on the return trip and so things should even out, but this breakdown does not reveal the modes used in the course of multi-hop journeys.

Another recent problem is that ridership is assigned by vehicle type in this analysis, not by route. A rider on a 504 King bus counts as a “bus” rider, not as a “streetcar” user.

Passes are a particular challenge because they are only actually counted on entry to a subway station through a turnstile. Passes flashed at operators (including station collectors) leave no trace for the statistics.

The Route Performance figures come from two sources: counts of riders on TTC vehicles, and scheduled service mileage. (Much of the data in this series is stated in miles, and for recent years I have converted kilometres to miles for consistency. The unit of measurement is less important than the trend in service provided.)

Riding counts are not conducted often on busy routes because of the resources required, and it was common to see the same values reported on streetcar routes like 501 Queen for many years in a row. In theory, this should not be a problem once the entire fleet has Automatic Passenger Counters, and assuming that these produce reliable data, but we are years away from that.

Mileage is a standard unit for transit maintenance planning because many aspects of vehicle repair depend on how far the vehicle travels. In practice, some factors are really more time than mileage sensitive, but in a system where most routes operate at comparable speeds, time and mileage are interchangeable. However, a bus garage serving mainly slow inner-city routes will see different performance figures from its fleet because the time-sensitive factors will occur more frequently on a mileage basis.

From the point of view of service, vehicle capacity affects the meaning of “mileage” as a surrogate for the quantity of service. With the shift to low-floor vehicles, about 10% of the fleet capacity has been lost, and so 100 bus miles are not the same as they were two decades ago. There is also, of course, the question of varying mix of vehicle sizes in the bus and streetcar fleet.

The Ridership Analysis gives full year figures, while the Route Performance numbers come from counts conducted on a wide variety of dates. They are daily figures, but they do not represent a single point in time. The Ridership Analysis figures were recently updated to include 2016, but there are no Performance figures after 2014.

Continue reading

How Fast Can The King Car Run? (Updated)

Updated January 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm:

Additional charts:

  • Saturday vs Sunday travel speeds
  • Detailed bus and streetcar speeds
  • Terminal layover times

As part of its TOCore studies, the City of Toronto is contemplating changes to King Street to alter the way it serves many users: cyclists, pedestrians, cars, taxis, delivery vehicles and, of course, transit. Recent media coverage latched on to a scheme to remove at least private automobiles from the street completely. This is only one option, but the focus on the “no cars” scheme, probably the most extreme of possibilities, leads to a polarized debate, hardly the way to launch into a proper study.

The primary beneficiary of a “new” King Street is supposed to be the transit service, but a vital part of any proposals and analysis is the understanding of just how the street and its transit work today.

Recent articles related to this post contain background information that I will only touch on briefly here:

The basic premise behind improving transit on King is that with less traffic in the way, streetcars (and buses) on the route will move faster, and this will allow better service to be provided without additional resources (vehicles, operators) that the TTC does not have, nor have budget headroom to operate even if they were available.

This sounds good, but it presumes that a large portion of the route is mired in traffic congestion throughout at least the peak periods, and, therefore, there are substantial “efficiencies” to be had by speeding up the service.

Continue reading