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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Effective March 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019.03.31_Service_Changes

TTC Operating Budget 2019: Part II – Revenue and Expenses

This article continues my examination of the TTC’s 2019 Operating Budget which began with a review of the proposed fare increase.

Understanding the budget can be challenging because it presents the TTC’s status in a manner that does not directly align with actual experience. Every year, the new budget is prepared showing the changes from the previous one, but in fact operations during any year rarely produce the budgeted numbers by year-end.

Factors such as shifts in energy prices, unexpected changes in labour legislation, and extraordinarily bad weather can combine to throw off the final results. Depending on circumstances, this can have various results.

  • If the budget is running tight because of unexpected expenses or farebox revenue falling below projections, service increases planned for late in the year could be deferred, or some maintenance might be put off to the following year.
  • Expenses may be high in one account, but lower in another, and collectively these could offset each other.
  • Revenue may run higher than expected and planned service improvements might be deferred with the combined effect of creating a “surplus”. This is not unusual when budgets are crafted with room to handle in-year variations. It also sets a base for the following year’s budget higher than might otherwise be available.

On a total budget of $1.9 billion, a few percent one way or another is to be expected. However, two percent, or $38 million, is equivalent to more than 1% on the property tax if this were a shortfall to be covered by the City. A further problem is that from the Council’s point of view, only the “net” budget matters because that is the part which the City pays for. This magnifies swings in the budget so that a 1% change at the gross level becomes a 3% change at the net level assuming other revenue (mainly fares) comes in as expected. By year-end, any shortfall cannot be made up from the farebox, and the City would have to absorb it all.

This budgetary math creates a situation where there is strong pressure to keep the subsidy requirements below budget and, ideally, to “give back” unused subsidy to address other City funding requirements. The TTC may aim to improve service and operate according to standards, but this is all “subject to budget”.

These are budget-to-budget numbers and they show a 3% increase in the requested subsidy from $741 million to $763 million. The “conventional” system goes up by $25 million, but this is offset by a reduction in the Wheel-Trans subsidy caused by lower-than-projected growth during 2018 relative to the budget.

2018 Probable Results

Some context for the 2018 numbers is available in the CFO’s Financial Update for the third quarter of 2018. Although revenue is lower than projected, expenses are even lower requiring less subsidy than the budget foresaw. This will eliminate the draw from the Stabilization Reserve leaving these funds available for use in the 2019 budget.

The TTC’s goal is to preserve improvements that affect customer service, and this is achieved by whittling away at expenses behind the scenes. “Efficiency” is always a watchword, but there is a point where there is nothing left to cut without harm to the organization. In 2019, the TTC has again managed to find cost savings, although some of these have external causes and/or are one time changes that cannot be sustained in future budgets.

Through all of this, there is only minimal discussion of service improvements simply to keep up with the Board-approved Service Standards.

As I reported previously, the TTC’s scheduled service on the bus network only increased from 1,560 to 1,582 vehicles between the November-December 2017 schedules and their 2018 equivalent. The Express Bus Network added about 30 buses to affected routes, but this means that service elsewhere at best held steady.

The January 2019 CEO’s Report shows that the TTC is attempting to address overcrowding and has made some progress since 2017, at least on paper.

Riders in the real world might beg to differ, especially in recent days where system reliability coupled with increased demand has given transit a very black eye.

The TTC’s Service Budget includes provision for a roughly 2.8% increase in 2019.

Although the TTC reports on route reliability, the most recent report is for August 2018. This measures “on time departures” from terminals which do not represent the service most riders see along major routes. As I have discussed in other articles, the “standard” which is measured has so much slack in it than the bunched service commonly seen by riders falls within the allowable “on time” standard.

If the TTC is going to improve its credibility with riders, not to mention get better utilization out of its fleet, it must address service reliability by doing more than reporting a meaningless index.

As for crowding, the TTC has not published route-level riding and crowding statistics for a few years, and there is no tracking data to show the state of the system.

Continue reading

Express Buses: Real Change or Photo Ops?

Among the accomplishments listed by CEO Rick Leary in his recent presentation to the TTC Board was the implementation of an Express Bus Network. With the exception of one route, all of this is now in place.

Despite the attention this receives as an “accomplishment”, the fact is that almost all of this network is nothing more than a rebranded version of the “E” branches on various routes it replaced. The list linked below shows the history of express service headways including the “before” values for affected routes.

20182019_ExpressNetworkService

The only new services are on 902 Markham Road, 929 Dufferin, 937 Islington, 952 Lawrence West, 984A Sheppard West (to Weston), 985B Sheppard East (to Meadowvale) and 989 Weston. Most of these are peak only additions. That was the intent of the Express Bus Network Study in the short term.

The real challenge for the TTC and for Council will be whether they will build on this as the study proposes for 2019 and following years. This includes both additional service and transit priority measures.

New and improved services were proposed in the study. Many changes listed for future years have already been rolled out. Some of the new services were obtained by removing buses from existing local branches of the routes. What remains are the changes that require the TTC to operate more service.

Transit priority measures include both traffic signal priority (something that benefits both local and express buses) as well as “queue jump lanes” at selected locations. Whether any of these will be built soon, if at all, remains to be seen.

There is a larger issue in that many routes that do not include express service also encounter traffic delays. The focus should not simply be on the express routes, but on the network as a whole wherever there are bottlenecks.

TTC Updates Junction Area Route Study (Corrected, With Map)

In May 2018, I reported on a proposed set of route changes in the Junction area. TTC management has revised their proposals and plans to take a report to the Board in spring 2019 aiming for a fall implementation.

They are seeking a final round of input on their new scheme through a survey.

Updated: The original version of this post included some incorrect routing information because of the absence of a visible map on the TTC’s website. Thanks to Sean Marshall who pointed out that the map was “there”, but hiding in a file format that did not display in a browser session. A .jpg version is included below.

The updated proposal includes these changes:

  • Route 40 Junction, which now operates between Dundas West Station and Runnymede Loop via Dundas would be renamed 40 Dundas West. It would have two branches: 40B would terminate at Jane looping via Jane, St. Clair and Runnymede, and 40A would run to Kipling Station replacing service now provided by 30 Lambton.
  • Route 71 Runnymede now operates with two branches: 71B operates north to Mount Dennis, and 71A east on St. Clair to Gunn’s Loop. The branch to Mount Dennis would remain, but the service on St. Clair would be replaced.
  • A new 189 Stockyards route would operate from High Park Station east to Keele, then north and west to Scarlett Road via St. Clair. This would replace the 71A St. Clair branch of Runnymede.
  • The 30 Lambton bus would operate only to Runnymede Loop instead of to Kipling, and it would retain its summer-only extension south into High Park.

Route 79 Scarlett Road is not affected.

TTC Service Changes Effective February 17, 2019

The TTC service changes for mid-February 2019 include few major revisions to service, but much tweaking of vehicle allocations and headways. Where there are small improvements, these are usually offset by small cuts in a process the TTC describes as “rebalancing” so that vehicle hours are allocated where and when they are needed on routes.

The major revision in streetcar service that was expected in February for the King-Queen-Roncesvalles project will not be implemented until the end of March.

Items of note in the February changes include:

  • One PM peak gap train will be added on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina for a total of two trains.
  • 7 Bathurst will switch from articulated to standard bus operation on weekdays to free up vehicles for a capital repair program on the artic bus fleet. The replacement standard-sized bus service will provide less capacity than the service now operating. At the same time, running times will be increased to compensate for expected delays and diversions at Forest Hill Station (Bathurst & Eglinton) construction which will also affect 33 Forest Hill.
  • 32 Eglinton West will have longer scheduled running times and wider weekday headways to compensate for construction delays along Eglinton.
  • 512 St. Clair will have wider headways and a substantial increase in recovery time. This is an odd situation considering that St. Clair operates entirely on protected lanes. The new recovery times are longer than those allowed on any of the mixed-traffic streetcar routes most of which are longer than the 512. I will review the operation of the St. Clair route on a before-and-after basis later this year.

2019.02.17_Service_Changes_v3

TTC Board Meeting: January 10, 2019

The January 10 meeting of the TTC Board was primarily an organizational one with introduction of new members, plus a few management presentations on Board responsibilities and an overview of the system today.

Alan Heisey was re-elected as Vice-Chair of the Board continuing a role he has held ever since May 2015. This position is earmarked for so-called “citizen members” who are not also Councillors.

Most Board members, speaking of why they wanted to be at the TTC, cited an interest in transit and its role, but one, Councillor Karygiannis, was quite brief in saying “Sheppard Subway”. It will be ironic if Premier Ford is successful in taking over subway planning and construction because this project will no longer be one for the TTC or City Council to approve or build. Subway parochialism is alive and well at the TTC.

The Board discussed revisions to its meeting procedure including a proposal from the Vice-Chair that public deputations be limited. Anyone wishing to speak on multiple agenda items would get only five minutes in total, not five minutes per item. The idea has been referred to staff for review. Because any change in the meeting procedure would amend a bylaw that must obtain Council approval, this cannot take effect immediately.

The idea arises from frustration with a few regular deputants who address multiple reports, sometimes contentiously. However, it would be a short step from this scheme to one in which organized groups were only given five minutes in total rather than for each member wishing to address the Board.

A related procedural problem is that some reports where debate and action should be the order of the day, notably the CEO’s regular update, are classified as “Information” items. This hogties not just public deputations who can speak only to reports where the Board will approve some action, but even Board members who cannot make motions. The very report which should be the focus of each month’s review of operations and plans is insulated from substantive debate, criticism and action by the Board which is supposed to provide strategic guidance and policy.

At a time when “transparency” is the watchword and the sense that governments and their agencies should listen more, not less, to the public, this is a counterproductive proposal. If TTC Board  members don’t want to hear deputations, they should get themselves appointed to the Metrolinx Board where self-congratulation is the primary order of business and pesky members of the public sit quietly in the gallery if they bother attending at all.

CEO Rick Leary presented a system overview “Advancing to the Next Level”. This goal will be a real challenge for the TTC where just making do with existing resources has hamstrung real growth and improvement on the transit system. This presentation contains substantial errors of fact about the degree to which service has improved from 2017 to 2018. As an introduction for the new Board, it implies that the past year has been better than actual experience. TTC management spends too much time “polishing their halos” and this gets in the way of substantive discussion about real system needs.

Continue reading

Challenges Ahead For The 2019 TTC Board

January 10, 2019 brings the first meeting of a new TTC Board with a new crop of Councillors and a new Chair while, for now, three non-Council or “citizen” members carry over from 2018.

Jaye Robinson, formerly Chair of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure, was appointed as the new Chair of the TTC replacing Josh Colle who did not stand for re-election. She will be joined by Councillors Brad Bradford, Shelley Carroll, Jim Karygiannis, Jennifer McKelvie, and Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Of these, only Carroll and Minnan-Wong have sat on the TTC Board before, and two members, Bradford and McKelvie, are new to Council in this term. The geographic distribution of members is unusual in that none of them represents a ward west of Yonge Street.

Three citizen members remain pending a review of these appointments by Council: Alan Heisey (who was Vice-Chair in the previous term), Joanne De Laurentiis and Ron Lalonde.

The first meeting includes housekeeping activities of selecting a Vice-Chair (who must be picked from the citizen members) and setting up the Audit & Risk Management Committee. Two previous committees will be disbanded in the interest of reducing the call on Councillors’ time:

  • Human Resources and Labour Relations: The TTC is at the beginning of a four year labour contract and does not foresee the need for a standing committee to deal with these matters. Any related matters would be brought either to the full Board, or to a committee struck for the purpose.
  • Budget: Although the TTC had a Budget Committee in the past term, it hardly ever met. For the new term a two-member “Working Group” is proposed, and this means that any budget meetings will take place in private except when the finished product comes to the Board for approval.

Also on the agenda for January 10 are:

  • “Richard J. Leary, CEO will give a presentation to the Board about the TTC, its accomplishments, challenges, vision and next steps.” [This presentation is not yet online.]
  • “Brian M. Leck, TTC General Counsel and John O’Grady, Chief Safety Officer will give a presentation to the Board about Member Legal, Safety & Environmental Responsibilities.”

The legal background emphasizes the Board’s role in providing oversight, general direction and strategy, as opposed to micromanagement of the system. However, this does not make for a completely hands-off arrangement as the Board has specific responsibilities and liabilities under legislation notably relating to worker safety and the environment.

Sadly, there is no legislative requirement to ensure high quality transit service.

The Board will meet again on January 24 with a meatier agenda including the Capital and Operating budgets. They are both huge documents, and the Board is unlikely to understand how their components fit together.

With the increased workload for members of the 2019 Council, moves are afoot to trim agendas and shift decisions to lower levels. In the case of the TTC:

In order to manage the number of items being presented to the Board for consideration while simultaneously seeking opportunities to improve decision making efficiency, it is recommended that staff begin to review options where delegated authority from the Board to staff is feasible. [TTC Board Governance at p. 5]

Staff will report on this in the next few months, but it is important that changes do not stifle public debate and that new “policy” does not appear out of thin air from a delegated responsibility.

Important Board roles are strategic planning and oversight of management. For the past two terms, TTC Boards have been less than engaged with overall strategy and the potential future of transit in Toronto. There are the inevitable debates about a few subway lines, but the larger question of the TTC’s purpose goes unanswered. One might argue that Council (or at least the Mayor and his allies) don’t want ideas that will add to costs getting a full airing at the TTC.

The political direction might well be to limit growth in fares and subsidies, but this should not prevent the Board from engaging in “what if” discussions to gauge the possibilities and implications for service levels, fare structures and technology, and large scale planning for system growth and maintenance.

One past example of TTC advocacy was the August 2014 “Opportunities” report produced by former CEO Andy Byford and staff. It contained many proposals including the Two Hour Fare which has only recently been implemented. The 2018 Ridership Growth Strategy contains many principles, but is lighter on specifics.

We cannot, as a city, understand what transit might do if the agency and Board charged with this are content to avoid discussions of what transit could be if only we had the will to pursue a more aggressive outlook on system improvement. The Board needs to actually do its job – be informed and make strategic plans for transit even if, in the short term, we cannot “afford” some options.

This will be a difficult term for the TTC Board who must wrestle with the proposed provincial takeover of the subway system, but this should not divert attention from several major issues affecting the transit system.

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Effective January 6, 2019

Correction: In the list of new express services, I included 25 Don Mills when this should have been 86 Scarborough. Don Mills is part of the Pape Avenue water main project.

The TTC plans several service changes in January 2019, but most of these are minor and involve slight adjustments in running times and headways while keeping vehicle assignments the same as in the fall 2018 schedules.

The rebranding of Express Bus routes continues with 45/945 Kipling, 53/953 Steeles East and 86/986 Scarborough. In most cases the new schedules are identical to the old ones with only a renumbering of former “E” and “F” branches into the 900 series. Afternoon peak headways on 953 Steeles East Express will be widened slightly to provide more running time with the same number of buses.

Water main construction on Pape north of Danforth will affect the 25/925 Don Mills and 81 Thorncliffe Park services. In some cases, the only schedule change will be to shift recovery time to scheduled driving time. In others, there will be minor changes to headways.

The 501 Queen car will begin to see Flexity low floor cars in weekday service depending on availability. The only scheduled ALRVs will be five peak period trippers, three of which will restore the direct-to-downtown trips to/from Long Branch arriving/leaving Yonge Street in the peak period. (Details in the file linked below.)

The 503 Kingston Road Tripper service, which has been operating to the Charlotte Loop at Spadina due to construction on Wellington, will switch to bus operation and will resume its Church-Wellington-York loop downtown. An end date for this change has not been set.

The 510 Spadina service will be revised so that the official recovery point for the 510A service to Union Station is near the south end of Spadina, not at the route termini. Internal schedules will be adjusted so that they reflect the scheduled location of cars properly. This, in turn, will allow vehicle arrival predictions to be more accurately calculated by NextBus and related apps.

The 511 Bathurst service will remain a bus operation pending availability of streetcars later in 2019.

The 512 St. Clair car will return to Roncesvalles Carhouse as its base of operations as construction has progressed to the point that part of the yard is available for vehicle storage. Trips to/from the route will be via King and Bathurst for the January-February period, but will shift to Roncesvalles, Howard Park, Dundas and Bathurst in mid-February when reconstruction of the King-Queen-Roncesvalles intersection begins. That project will trigger bus shuttle operations on the west end of 501 Queen and 504 King and the restoration of streetcars elsewhere on the network. Details have not yet been announced.

2019.01.06_Service_Changes

TTC Service Changes Effective November 18, 2018 and December 23, 2018

The TTC will only make a few changes to its schedules for the November and December board periods.

November 18, 2018

Express Service Rebranding

Five routes will be rebranded into the new 900-series of Express routes. In all cases there is no increase in service, only a change in the route number.

  • 41E Keele express becomes 941
  • 95E York Mills express becomes 995
  • 131E Nugget express becomes 903, and will interline with 131 “local” service between STC and Old Finch.
  • 188 Kipling Rocket becomes 944 Kipling South Express.
  • 192 Airport Rocket becomes 900.

It will be interesting to see how long the 192 route number will live on in TTC maps to confuse the tourists.

Construction Changes

Work at Bathurst Station will be complete and the bus routes will resume their normal platform assignments.

Work at Kennedy Station will be complete to the point that routes normally on the north side of the bus terminal can use their regular bays.

Service Changes

One additional gap train will be scheduled on 1 Yonge University during each of the peak periods to fill service gaps.

Service on 505 Dundas (still operating as a bus route) will be rescheduled to remove some of the excessive running time with reduction of scheduled vehicles in some cases, and service improvements in others, notably Saturday evenings.

Service on 511 Bathurst (also still operating as a bus route) will return to the split version with a short turn at Front Street.

81 Thorncliffe Park will be changed so that it circles Thorncliffe counterclockwise at all operating hours rather than changing direction at 3 pm. The official “end of the line” will be moved out of the loop to Thorncliffe and Overlea so that passengers do not sit part way around the loop while the bus waits for its time. This will improve transfer connections with other routes on Overlea.

Weekday Run As Directed service will be reallocated as weekend Standby and Service Relief for the November-December shopping season including Sunday, December 23 (which is technically part of the next schedule period).

Other minor changes are listed in the details linked below.

December 23, 2018

For the two week holiday period, the usual arrangements will apply with many routes reverting to summer schedules.

No subway construction buses will be scheduled as there are no planned shutdowns during the holidays.

Late night service will be operated on most routes on New Year’s Eve. There has not yet been announcement about a sponsor for free service.

[The table linked here was corrected at:

  • 11:15 pm on October 20, 2018 to reflect that the Keele express buses terminate at Finch West, not at Pioneer Village, and at
  • 10:00 pm on October 21, 2018 to specify (a) articulated buses on the 41 Keele local service and (b) to include “before” figures that had been omitted.]

2018.11.18_Service_Changes