TTC Asks Riders to Time Shift

The TTC asks early morning riders to shift their travel, if possible, due to congestion on several routes before 7 am. Riders are requested to shift non-essential trips after 7:30 if possible.

The affected routes are:

  • 29 Dufferin
  • 35 Jane
  • 41 Keele
  • 44 Kipling South
  • 96 Wilson
  • 102 Markham Road
  • 117 Alness-Chesswood
  • 119 Torbarrie
  • 123 Sherway
  • 165 Weston Road North

The location of these routes and the time period of the crunch says something about the drop in riding by classic commuters, but shows the need for transit in areas well away from the core.

TTC Changes Fare Collection, Trims Service – But What of the Future?

Updated March 28, 2020: The TTC has changed its policy for Wheel-Trans and now only accepts payment by Presto. See the March 27 update for Wheel-Trans.

The TTC implemented several changes to its fare policies and service in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Their focus is on protection of workers and passengers by physical distancing and eliminating most interaction between them.

Fares & Fare Collection

All bus passengers will board and leave via the rear door except for riders who require the access ramp at the front door. Operators will keep their protective barriers closed, and the fare boxes will not be available.

On buses except for Wheel-Trans, the TTC will not accept cash, tokens or tickets and will not issue paper transfers. Only Presto will be accepted. Streetcar and subway riders can use fare machines.

The TTC asks that riders pay with Presto “where available”, but it is unclear whether riders without cards will ride free. The Star’s Ben Spurr quotes TTC spokesperson Stuart Green:

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said riders who don’t have Presto will be asked to pay when they arrive at their destination if they’re headed to a subway station.

He declined to answer directly when asked whether riders who don’t have Presto and don’t pay will face a fine from transit officers, but said the “focus of fare inspectors right now is on customer service and education.”

Updated March 24 at 2:12 pm: An exchange on Twitter:

But how does one board a bus if cash is not being accepted?

@TTCHelps: You can just walk on. No one will stop you. We’d like you to pay your cash fare at a connecting station or streetcar if possible.

A well-known problem with Presto is that places where riders can obtain one and load money are much thinner on the ground that the old TTC ticket agent network, particularly in the suburbs where bus transportation dominates.

The deadline for cancelling the auto-renew on monthly or 12 month passes on Presto has been extended to 11:59 pm, Friday, March 27. The TTC will waive cancellation fees, although Presto might still issue an automated warning email.

Service Changes

Because weekday ridership has dropped by over 70 per cent, the TTC is reviewing its resource requirements. The following routes no longer operate, and their vehicles will be reallocated where needed.

  • All 900-series express bus routes, except for the 900 Airport, 903 Kennedy-Scarborough Town Centre, and 927 Highway 27.
  • All 140-series Downtown express routes.
  • The 176 Mimico GO bus and 508 Lake Shore streetcars.

The 503 Kingston Road route had been cut back to a shuttle between Queen & Kingston Road and Bingham Loop at Victoria Park. The extra service it provides on Queen and King Streets is not needed. An obvious future change would be to run the evening/weekend configuration of the 22A Coxwell Bus during all hours. This sort of tweak will no doubt be repeated in other parts of the system.

Regular service will continue every 10 minutes or better on most of the affected routes, for now.

Vehicle arrival predictions will be out of whack until the online schedules are updated to match the revised services.

A full list of changes is on the TTC’s website.

Falling Revenue & Future Cuts

The TTC reported a loss of $14 million in revenue for last week, and the number has increased since to $20 million. Sustaining this would require massive increases in subsidies at a time governments are stretched to cover health care and income support costs. There is also the inevitable “why should we pay for Toronto” political attitude that ignores Toronto’s contribution to provincial finances.

Although service levels must allow for physical distancing, further transit cutbacks are inevitable. This could also trigger a vicious cycle where transit becomes unattractive to all but those who have no choice to use it.

Depending on the money available to the TTC, the network could be fundamentally changed in various ways:

  • Severe cuts or elimination of peak service on many routes if demand will fit, allowing for safe distancing between passengers, in off-peak levels.
  • Reduction of subway service and possible shutdown of portions of routes during certain periods.

TTC ridership is running at somewhere between 20 and 30 per cent of normal levels, although this will not be evenly distributed across routes and time periods. Should the TTC drop back to a lower service level akin to Saturday or Sunday service? What should be the service standard for crowding given the need for a 2 metre distance between riders? Can the Ten Minute Network be maintained, and what happens to other routes?

The subway is a special challenge because keeping it open has a considerable base cost independent of service levels. Maintenance workers must be available to keep the track, signals and electrical power supply in condition and fix them when, as always happens, things go wrong. Tunnels and stations have their own systems including ventillation, pumps to deal with ground water, escalators and elevators for accessibility, and of course all of the infrastructure to collect fares.

About one third of the TTC’s operating budget goes to the subway and of that, at least one third are the fixed costs independent of service, probably more. The staff driving trains are only a small part of the total complement who make the subway system run. Signals must work even if there are only a handful of trains on the line. Open stations must be staffed, and even if hours were cut back, their systems must work reliably for passengers when they do.

There are hard practical and political decisions to be made about which services will run, where and how often, not to mention where transit fits in the pecking order of essential services.

Closing the Subway to Accelerate Capital Programs

This is an example of how everything in a transit system is linked together, and one cannot “solve” a perceived problem without considering how one change triggers many others.

Former TTC Chair Adam Giambrone suggested in social media that the subway could be shut down and this would allow state of good repair work such as ATC signal upgrades to be accelerated. He claimed that articulated buses running every 3 minutes or so could replace the subway. But it’s not that simple.

The TTC currently fields about 100 artics. If we are taking safe distancing of passengers and the operator seriously, a maximum capacity would be little more than half a seated load or 25-30 people. On a three minute headway, that translates to only 600 passengers per hour.

The night bus service probably indicates the speed a bus service could attain at best case assuming there is little competing traffic on the streets. The existing 320 Yonge bus operates every 3’30” and requires 26 vehicles to cover its distance from Queens Quay to Steeles. Better service and higher capacity would require more vehicles, and of course the subway network is more than just Yonge Street.

The artics, of course, would come from other routes where they would be replaced with lower-capacity standard buses.

Finally, it is not clear that the technical staff exist to accelerate programs like the ATC upgrade, nor how safely a larger workforce could be deployed. Track and other repairs have their own cadres of skilled workers, and one cannot simply expand the pace of their work. The subway infrastructure itself must remain operational if only for work and test trains.

Service Reliability

At a time of crisis, it will seem churlish to mention this, but if transit service is to be cut, the TTC absolutely must address the problem of service reliability.

If ten minutes headways become a “good” service, and less important routes run less often, then it is essential that “on time” means just that.

The TTC makes a limited attempt at service regularity and monitors on time departures from terminals with a standard that allows wide variation and bunching. There is almost no headway management along routes.

Riders should not face the combined effect of wider headways and irregular service, but that, sadly, is what we are likely to see because the reporting metrics are designed to make management look good while hiding the true quality of service.

Staffing

The schedules for March 29 are all set to go with the crews having been signed up weeks ago, but the TTC is already dealing with staff shortages leading to the service trimming outlined above. The next change comes in mid-May when we are likely to see much more extensive effects of the lost revenue coupled with whatever extra subsidy appears (or not).

System maintenance and management are also affected. Buses don’t get out on the street without regular maintenance, and the pro-active fix-before-break could be a casualty. If that happens, the problem snowballs as buses fail more often.

Streetcars may not be everyone’s favourite vehicle, but they have the advantage of size and an isolated operator cab. Any move to “simplify” the system by moving to an all-bus operation would be counterproductive.

Whither the TTC?

Toronto faces a deep reduction in transit riding for many months until it is safe again for people to be out-and-about even on a limited basis. The travel demands which transit serves will take even longer to fully return, and some may simply disappear.

It is ironic that only weeks ago we were still debating the merits of various transit expansion plans, how much service we should run, and how subsidies should be divided between better service and reduced fares. That sort of debate is almost quaint today, but when life returns to “normal”, these questions will remain.

Meanwhile stay safe, and thank everyone who is providing those services we all need.

The Importance of Transit in a Changing Travel Landscape

My latest for NOW Toronto.

As ridership drops on the TTC, just as on transit systems across the world, there will be a temptation to make big cuts, but then to fall behind in the recovery when the crisis passes.

This is also a time to rethink the design of public spaces, streets especially, and the balance between all users and types of travel: cars and transit, cyclists and pedestrians.

Starving the Bus Network for Service

My recent article for NOW Toronto, TTC Bus Service Losing Ground, reviewed the problem of passenger congestion on TTC bus routes and the long-standing failure of service to keep up with the rising population and employment in Toronto. This article presents the details and the wider context.

When Transit City was proposed back in 2007, the TTC expected that over the course of its implementation a large number of buses would be replaced by an LRT network that would, by today, be substantially complete. In turn, this would reduce the need for new bus storage and maintenance facilities because the growth would occur in suburban LRT barns at the Mount Dennis yard on the Eglinton line, on Finch near Highway 400, and on Sheppard East at Conlins Road.

One new garage was planned in Scarborough, although the project was delayed by Mayor Rob Ford. The garage on McNicoll will finally open late in 2020. However, the demand for storage space at existing overcrowded garages simply means that McNicoll will be full the day it opens and the TTC will be back in a situation where fleet expansion requires garages to have more buses than they were designed for. A ninth bus garage sits in the long term plans with a 2031 opening date, but there is no funding for it and the TTC has yet to identify a potential property. They will remain short of garage space for the coming decade.

This creates an odd sort of response to requests for more service: we have no place to store the buses. That, of course, is a chicken-and-egg situation where the TTC (and the City) can avoid the cost of providing more service by claiming that they couldn’t run more buses if they wanted to. Unfortunately, this does not accelerate the provision of more garage space, and the service vs storage deadlock remains.

The amount of service the TTC fields every day is affected by several factors:

  • the size of the fleet
  • the average capacity of a bus
  • the average age and reliability of the fleet
  • the proportion of the fleet needed for maintenance spares
  • the number of buses required to supplement the streetcar network
  • the number of buses reserved for extra service, especially to handle subway emergencies
  • the budget for service

As the TTC migrated from a fleet of high-floor to low-floor buses, the capacity of vehicles dropped by about ten percent. This meant that more buses were required to provide the same level of service, a process that occurred gradually until late 2015 when the last of the high-floor buses were retired. Conversely, low-floor two-section articulated buses can carry about 50% more passengers than a standard bus. These vehicles began to appear in the TTC’s fleet in 2014, but they make up less than 10% of the fleet today. The only planned expansion is for the TTC to buy 68 more in 2021.

Older buses tend not to work as reliably as young ones, and if a fleet is not regularly replaced, a higher proportion of it can fall into those “twilight years” when maintenance needs are higher and buses are more likely to fail in service. The TTC used to keep its buses for about 18 years and overhauled them twice during their lifespan. The argument for this was that the overhauls were cheaper than simply buying a new bus.

However, the bus building industry no longer produces vehicles with a long intended lifespan, and 12 years is a more common retirement age. This also avoids the need for that second overhaul to keep an older bus on the street.

The TTC has shifted to a 12 year replacement cycle for buses, and took advantage of federal “stimulus” funding to replace many older vehicles that otherwise would have remained in service. This gets over the one time “hump” of changing to a shorter life-cycle, but it also accelerates the need for ongoing spending because the annual replacement rate is now 50% higher – about 180 buses per year, rather than 120. This budget effect is compounded by the shift to more expensive hybrid or all-electric vehicles.

The newer generation of buses is also more technically complex, and a larger proportion of the fleet is required for spares to ensure that maintenance is preventative, fix-before-break work rather than gambling that a bus will continue to run even after it should have come into the shop for a check-up. A few years ago, the TTC changed its maintenance practices so that buses cycled through routine inspection and repair more frequently with the aim of reducing in-service failures. This had the desired effect, but at a cost of taking a larger maintenance pool from the fleet than in past years.

Finally, new buses often go through retrofit programs during their warranty period, and this further increases spare requirements if there is a sudden influx of new buses in a short time period.

That’s just the story on the maintenance side, but there is also the dreaded line whenever service is discussed: “subject to budget availability”. In other words, even if there are enough buses to improve service, there may not be the operating budget dollars (and the drivers this would pay) to actually field more vehicles.

Both the streetcar and subway networks make demands on the bus fleet.

It is no secret that the TTC has had problems with both its old and new streetcar fleets, but the biggest problem now is that growing demand on the streetcar routes exceeds the capacity of the new streetcar fleet.

  • When there were too few streetcars to operate that network, buses substituted to make up the difference.
  • Traffic congestion continues to worsen leading to slower service.
  • Construction projects shut down parts of the streetcar network from time to time.

At various times over recent years, there have been buses running on portions of Carlton, Dundas, Queen, King, Kingston Road and Bathurst. Some of these cases have been complete replacements while others are on portions of lines affected by construction.

With the streetcar shortage, construction work provided a rationale to bus a route and free up vehicles, but this grew beyond beyond construction season to semi-permanent replacements.

During the summer, the TTC has surplus vehicles and streetcar substitutions do not affect the availability of buses on bus routes.

Long-running projects (such as the water main reconstruction on Dundas) and route conversions due to a shortage of streetcars (such as on Kingston Road) are another matter. These take buses away from the bus network during the peak season. That said, the number of buses involved has been overplayed in some circles primarily as a way of carping about the Bombardier cars or about streetcars in general.

Subway shuttles place their greatest demand on the bus fleet when emergencies occur during the peak period. There are some vehicles at each garage that are “run as directed” buses, but these are nowhere near enough to make up for losing a busy part of the subway system. If there is a peak period shuttle, it requires not just the spare buses but vehicles and operators “borrowed” from other routes.

There is always a balancing act between having enough spare buses and staff to drive them for most emergencies, and the cost of having unused resources that are always a target for the budget hawks looking for “waste” in the TTC.

All of these factors affected and constrained the growth in bus service over the past decade, and will continue to do so without a significant change in TTC planning and funding policy.

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TTC Service Changes: Sunday, March 29, 2020 (Corrected)

The TTC has several changes planned for the schedules going into effect on March 29.

Updated March 5, 2020 at 10:20 pm: Incorrect information was in the original description of the 163 Oakwood route. It will operate from Ossington Station to Lawrence West Station, not from St. Clair as the southern terminus as I had originally described it. Thanks to reader Joseph (who got there first) and others for spotting this. I am not quite sure where that idea came from, but both the article and the detailed list of changes below have been updated.

Updated March 6, 2020 at 10:55 pm: Incorrect naming of the 109 Ranee branches corrected. Thanks to reader Steven for spotting that.

2020.03.29_Service_Changes_V3

Streetcar/Bus Mode Changes

The most significant change is the restoration of streetcar service on 505 Dundas after a long absence due to watermain construction and the shortage of streetcars. The new service plan represents an increase in capacity primarily in the off peak periods. The change in headways will be most noticed during the peak periods where there will be 6.9 new streetcars/hour in the AM, and 7.7 cars/hour in the PM as compared to 16 buses/hour AM and 15 in the PM. Of course the buses tend to travel in packs of two or three, and so the waits for service could be more comparable than the raw schedules suggest especially if the TTC manages to maintain proper vehicle spacing on these much wider headways.

Changes during off-peak periods are not as substantial, and the net effect will be an increase in capacity on this route

A related problem is that the TTC has extended the travel times for streetcars substantially over the bus times in some cases (and the bus schedules were themselves adjusted in Mid-February 2020). This could leave many streetcars with a lot of excess time at terminals where it is now common to see several buses laying over because they are early. I will publish an analysis of actual travel times for both bus and streetcar operations as data become available.

Service on Dundas will be supplemented by four bus trippers in each direction during the period from 8 to 8:30 am.

With 505 Dundas switching back to streetcars, the 511 Bathurst route changes to bus operation for various construction projects including work on the bridge over the rail corridor at Front, utility and track work from Front northward, and track work from Dundas to just north of Wolseley Loop (north of Queen). According to the TTC service change memo this will persist through all of 2020 implying that the streetcar service to the CNE will be provided only on the Harbourfront line this year. I have asked the TTC for service details, but they have not responded.

Keele Station Construction

The bus loop roadway at Keele Station will be under construction until mid-October 2020. During this period all services that normally terminate here will be redirected.

  • The 41 and 941 Keele services will be extended south to Howard Park looping via Bloor, Parkside, Howard Park, Roncesvalles and Bloor back to Keele.
  • The 89 and 989 Weston services will be extended west to High Park Station Loop.
  • The 30 High Park and 80 Queensway services will be interlined.

Eglinton West Station Construction

The bus loop at Eglinton West Station (to be renamed “Cedarvale”) will close for work on the Crosstown project. This will trigger several changes:

  • The 32D Eglinton West to Emmett service will be extended east to Eglinton Station.
  • The 63 Ossington and 109 Ranee routes will be reorganized into three segments.
    • 63B Ossington buses will run between Liberty Village and St. Clair (Oakwood Loop).
    • 163 Oakwood buses will run between Ossington Station and Lawrence West Station.
    • 109 Ranee buses will run between Lawrence West Station and Neptune (the street, not the planet).
  • The 51 Leslie and 56 Leaside buses at Eglinton Station will be shifted south to make room for a bay for the 32D service.

Passengers on the 32 Eglinton West bus will make connections to and from the subway from on street stops in what is already an area poorly set up for pedestrians. How this will operate with all of the additional foot traffic after March 29 remains to be seen.

Reliability Improvements

The TTC continues to “improve” routes by adding to running time and widening headways. Their claim is that they are just matching actual conditions, but what happens is that they aim for almost worst case situations (95th percentile) causing most vehicles to run early and bunch at terminals. From a rider’s point of view, service is less frequent most of the time.

Changes planned for March 29th affect:

  • 23 Dawes: Buses will run less frequently in all weekday periods except the AM peak. Off peak service is not affected.
  • 37 Islington and 937 Islington Express: Buses will run less frequently during the peak periods and midday weekdays. Evening service is not affected.
  • 111 East Mall: Buses will run less frequently during all weekday periods.
  • 161 Rogers Road: Buses will run less frequently during all weekday periods.

In one case, on 7 Bathurst, the TTC is clawing back excessive running time. During peak and weekday midday periods, there will be one bus less on the route, but scheduled headways stay the same. During the evening the number of buses and headways are unchanged, but some scheduled driving time is converted to make “recovery” time even longer than it is now.

Streetcar Carhouse Allocations

Due to trackwork at Roncesvalles Carhouse, there will be no access to the “North Gate” exit onto Roncesvalles for at least the remainder of 2020. Some services will be shifted among carhouse to allow for the reduced capacity at Roncesvalles.

  • All 501 Queen Humber-Neville service will operate from Russell Carhouse.
  • All 505 Dundas service will operate from Leslie Barns.
  • Some 506 Carlton service now operating from Leslie Barns will shift to Russell Carhouse.
  • Two of the five 508 Lake Shore trippers will operate from Russell Carhouse.

Crowding Standards

The TTC continues its practice of scheduling services at crowding levels above the board-approved standards. This occurs in some cases due to vehicle shortages, but more commonly because of budget pressures that do not allow provision of service at the level the standards would require.

New periods of scheduled crowding added on March 29 are:

  • 37 Islington weekday early evenings
  • 111 East Mall AM peak

TTC management are supposed to be reporting regularly to the Board on routes that exceed crowding standards, but this report has not yet appeared.

TTC Board Meeting: February 25, 2020

The TTC Board meets on February 25 to discuss several reports and proposals. Among items on the agenda are:

I will add to this article following the Board meeting with additional information from the discussions.

Notable by its absence from the CEO’s Report is any information on route crowding or improved metrics for service quality.

Trials of electric buses are in early days, and Toronto is a long way from seeing an entirely zero-emission fleet. My column this week in NOW Toronto present some of the history of evolving bus technology.

Commissioner Brad Bradford has a Notice of Motion which seeks to link spending on improved transit service to potential funding for new vehicles. While the recently improved City Building Fund provides more money for transit vehicles, this covers only one third of their cost and none of any future increase in operations. Bradford’s motion requests:

The TTC Board request that the TTC Chief Executive Officer, when engaging in negotiations with the provincial and federal governments for funding for the TTC’s vehicle procurement priorities, tie funding requests to the implementation of the TTC’s 5-Year Service Plan and service levels as prescribed by the strategy.

There are two problems with this stance.

First, if the TTC and Council choose not to actually fund the added service, this would imply that the capital funding should not come from other governments. I doubt that is Bradford’s intent, but the real issue is that there is no Council commitment to fund better TTC service. Other factors such as the jump in operating budgets to fund new lines such as Eglinton Crosstown and increased fare subsidies could crowd out spending on service.

Second, the scale of service increases proposed in the Service Plan is quite modest, and it really should be revisited. Sadly, the TTC chose not to include more aggressive options for expansion in the Plan even if only on an aspirational basis. Back in 2003, the strength of David Miller’s Ridership Growth Strategy was that it addressed what Toronto could do for modest increases in spending, but this approach has never been repeated.

Bradford also has a Notice of Motion that seeks to consolidate updates on two reports so that both sides of the revenue protection and enforcement issue can be seen by the Board together.

  • Auditor General’s Report – Review of Toronto Transit Commission’s Revenue Operations
  • Ombudsman Toronto Enquiry Report Review of the TTC’s Investigation of a February 18, 2018 Incident Involving Transit Fare Inspectors

Further discussion of fare issues and Presto are likely at the meeting.

TTC Service Changes: Sunday, February 16, 2020

The TTC will implement a number of service changes on February 16, 2020, but this is a comparatively minor set including the end of construction and resumption of normal routes for three projects:

  • Davisville Station paving, Lawrence Station paving, and Runnymede Station easier access construction (79 Scarlett Road only).

There will be changes to some services on Don Mills on weekends as the provision for effects of Metrolinx construction is reduced. No other routes are affected, nor is any weekday service.

So-called reliability improvements continue to work their way through the system. The predominant effect is to stretch available buses over longer running times with corresponding reduction in scheduled service levels. Routes affected in this round are:

  • 21 Brimley, 53/953 Steeles East local and express, 54 Lawrence East, 116 Morningside, 129 McCowan North, 505 Dundas, 945 Kipling Express

The peak bus fleet in regular service goes down by 5 in the AM peak and up by 5 in the PM peak, and so this month is a wash in terms of vehicles used. However, the reliability changes mean that buses on the affected routes are scheduled for slower driving speeds and/or longer times for recovery at terminals.

505 Dundas is a particularly odd case because the route is already notorious for having multiple buses taking extended layovers at terminals. The “new” schedule reverts back to October 2018 when running times were even more generous than they are today. Streetcars will return at the next schedule change on March 29, and if they have as generous travel times as the buses, congestion at Broadview and Dundas West Stations will become even worse than it is today.

2020.02.16_Service_Changes

When Better Service Isn’t – Part V: Streetcar Routes

This article continue the series reviewing routes where the TTC alleges that service has improved during 2019. Please refer to the first two parts for introductory information.

This concluding installment in the series reviews the streetcar routes. The comparisons here are different because the roll out of the new Flexity fleet combined with service resiliency changes and the substitution of buses for streetcars on some routes makes a year-over-year comparison only a snapshot of one point in the transition. Instead, this article compares service in January 2015 when the new fleet was fairly small and the network was operated, for the most part with streetcars, to the service in January 2020.

There is now a pervasive problem on streetcar routes with the amount of time allocated to travel plus recovery, to the point that there can be congestion of multiple cars (or buses as in the case of 505 Dundas) at terminals. This represents a waste of equipment by over-allocation of time so that even the worst case trips will not be late. Most are early, and operators get generous breaks as a result.

When contemplating service levels on the streetcar network, remember that all surplus cars were used up in 1997 when the 510 Spadina line opened, and the fleet did not get net new capacity until the Flexitys began to arrive. There is quite a backlog of demand for better service and more capacity as King Street showed.

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When Better Service Isn’t – Part IV: Central Toronto

This article continue the series reviewing routes where the TTC alleges that service has improved during 2019. Please refer to the first two parts for introductory information.

In Part IV, I will turn to bus routes in the “old” City of Toronto, the central portion of the network. As for the streetcar routes, they are a special case because of the effects of the changeover to the new Flexity fleet in recent years. Those will be the subject of Part V.

For reference, here is the map showing routes with supposedly better service.

As on routes throughout what were once “the suburbs” of Toronto, “improvement” is a euphemism where stretching vehicles over longer running times and headways for “resiliency” provides, in theory “better” service, but in fact a reduction in route capacity and longer scheduled waits.

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