504 King vs 501 Queen Speed Comparisons (Part II)

This article continues the analysis of transit vehicle speeds on King and Queen Streets downtown over the past two years. The first installment of the article compared travel times between the vehicles on each street at specific times of the day and periods over the course of two years. Here, the same data are arranged to show the evolution of travel times on each street over time both before and after the implementation of the King Street Pilot.

King Street

Westbound

Here is a sample chart showing King Street westbound in the hour from 8 to 9 am.

Three periods in 2017 (January, September and early November) are plotted in “warm” colours (pink, red, orange), while periods in 2018 with the pilot in operation (January, July and October) are plotted in “cool” colours (green, blue and purple). This makes it easy to distinguish the groups of data that belong to the “before” and “after” periods.

As this is westbound data, the chart is read from left to right. A common pattern that shows up here is the different location of low speeds corresponding to stops once the pilot is active with “before” data dipping ahead of the intersection, and “after” data dipping following. The degree to which “after” data also includes a nearside dip indicates how traffic signals can compound the stop service time with farside stops. Note especially the green line which shows data from before the re-activation of Transit Signal Priority (TSP). At Jarvis, for example, there is a decided reduction in nearside delay comparing the blue (July 2018) and purple (October) lines with the green (January) one. There is also an improvement at York Street and at University Avenue.

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Metrolinx, New Stations and the Auditor General (Updated)

The Ontario Auditor General released her 2018 annual report on December 5. Many topics were examined by the AG, but two related to Metrolinx bear examination by anyone concerned with the future of transit planning and management with more responsibility shifting to the provincial level.

This article deals with the station selection process and the controversial recommendations for new stations at Kirby and at Lawrence East. I have written about this process and related issues before:

Updated: Links to Articles & Interviews

The Auditor General appeared on Metro Morning on December 6 speaking about, among other things, the cost of policy changes regarding LRT lines, and the evaluation of potential stations.

Former Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Star claiming “I wasn’t meddling, I was building transit”. This is rich considering the effort Metrolinx went to in revising its evaluation of new stations.

Del Duca was notorious during his Ministry as using Metrolinx as an unending source of profile-building photo ops. He uses the Relief Line as an example of his intervention to get the project going despite early reluctance at the City and TTC level. This is a convenient rewriting of history and, in particular, of the huge difference between an RL ending at Danforth, and the one later evaluated by Metrolinx running north to Sheppard. The RL became popular and scored well once its extent and projected demand produced a significant dent on the Yonge line so that the Richmond Hill subway might be feasible.

A Few Thoughts About the Metrolinx Board

Although the Metrolinx Board meets in public from time to time, the legislation governing this body allows most issues to be debated and decided in private. There is no reason that this will change for the better. The chronologies set out by the Auditor General reveal situations where the Board was advised privately as issues evolved and met publicly only for the formality and patina of respectability conferred by their “approval” of matters already decided.

Throughout the station evaluation process, Metrolinx revised both published analysis and supporting documentation. This obscured the net economic costs estimated in the original business cases, making the results of the business-case analysis—both on Metrolinx’s website and in the published report to the Board—much less clear and transparent. [p. 315]

What is unclear is whether the Board actively participated in directions to staff that would lead to the rewriting of reports and recommendations, or merely chose to avert their eyes from the mechanics of political sausage making.

In any event, the process detailed by the AG throws into question everything that Metrolinx has done. Can anyone trust an organization whose professional opinion is so pliable, and which will defend recommendations, threadbare though they may be, so strongly? This is not just an issue for Metrolinx but for many public agencies involved in transportation planning notably the City of Toronto and the TTC.

To its credit, Metrolinx is developing a standard methodology for Business Case Analysis and will publish this in April 2019. However, the problem remains of just how well this will protect against hidden interference from politicians and their friends.

Metrolinx Business Cases

For many years, Metrolinx has used a methodology to evaluate projects that purports to establish the worth of a scheme, which could be negative, such as a new transit line or a significant change to existing facilities. The framework includes multiple factors examining projects from different points of view.

The Strategic Case looks at how a scheme works within the network and the wider public goals of supporting regional development. Factors include:

  • Ridership projections
  • Revenue and Operating Costs
  • Population and employment served
  • Travel time changes
  • The reach of a new/revised service
  • Effects on greenhouse gas emissions from trips shifted to transit

The Economic and Financial Cases review a proposal from two different monetary viewpoints.

  • The Economic Case measures benefits such as auto operating cost savings, reduced emissions and air pollution, travel time savings, health benefits and reduction of accidents.
  • The Financial Case looks at the cost and revenue estimates to produce a net operating cost as well as a “net financial impact” stating the total revenue over the study period minus the capital and operating costs.

The Deliverability and Operations Case concerns the implementation plan, procurement, operations, maintenance and risk management.

These factors overlap and the calculation machinery includes many assumptions such as future population and employment patterns, fare structures, operating and capital costs, trip diversion rates to transit, and the value of various benefits both to transit riders and society in general. Many of these are not published at a level of detail that would permit an outsider to understand how each factor behaves, and there is considerable leeway to affect the outcome by “twirling the dials” on factors readers cannot easily review.

A big issue with these analyses has been the question of how benefits are valued. For example, if a new transit service attracts people out of their cars, then this reduces the operating cost of those vehicles and produces environmental benefits, but it can also reduce travel time both for new riders and those on existing services. The values assigned to these and other benefits do not accrue to Metrolinx, but to the wider population. These savings, whether they be tangible (lower driving costs) or intangible (the value of time saved) are used to offset the hard costs of actually building and operating a service. While there may be an overall balance, the savings do not pay the bills which must rely on future revenue and subsidy.

A major contribution on the “benefit” side of the analysis is almost always the travel time savings for riders. For example, in the recent GO Expansion BCA, this is the overwhelming contribution to “value” in the analysis. Any factor that increases travel speed affects this measure, and in the case of stations “less is more” is the rule. Fewer stations make for faster trips and that translates to a higher modelled benefit. This has been at the heart of Metrolinx analyses for years and drives a pressure for wider station spacing even on urban lines like the Crosstown project. Adding a station to any route triggers a requirement to find an offset elsewhere such as a stimulus to riding that will drive up total rides even if they are all a bit slower.

A further problem with Metrolinx analyses is that the time period for comparison of costs and effects has grown to a 60-year horizon with the effect that far-distant benefits are shown as potentially offsetting short to medium term costs. This requires assumptions about the future of the transit system, the economy and regional development far beyond a period where anyone can reasonably know what will happen. In an effort to temper this, Metrolinx performs sensitivity analyses by changing factors to see what the effect would be. For example, if a more conservative set of assumptions goes into the model, what happens to the benefits, or does the proposal even fall into negative territory? How “successful” does Metrolinx and the region have to be in order to achieve its goals?

Needless to say, with such a timeframe, most of the readers, let alone authors, of these studies will be long gone before we could challenge their long term validity. The more subtle problem is that showing such long term benefits tends to paper over the fact that in the short to medium term, new facilities (particularly those requiring large capital investments) will not achieve anything near profitability and this shortfall must be financed. I will turn to this in more detail in a review of the Metrolinx GO Expansion BCA in a future article.

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Superlinx: A Big Solution or A Big Con? (Updated)

Updated November 7, 2018 at 1 am: Details of the Environics poll conducted for the Toronto Region Board of Trade have been added to the end of the article. The content does not change my argument here, namely that the specifics of a new agency, its potential benefits or problems, were not presented in detail. The poll only measures a response to a generic scheme for provincial control to the extent that respondents might know about it. Of particular note, the Superlinx proposal came out in fall 2017 and had little media coverage in the period preceding the poll conducted almost a year later.

The Toronto Region Board of Trade published a proposal in November 2017 for the amalgamation of all transit agencies and operations in the “Toronto Corridor”. Ostensibly, this was written as input to the updated Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan aka “The Big Move”. However, the guiding policy framework is clear in the first paragraph of “The Board’s Vision”:

The Toronto Region Board of Trade (the Board) has a vision for a modern transit authority that is best in class globally. This regional transit authority would plan and oversee a system that pays for new lines and superior service enhancements substantially through commercialized transit related assets—not new taxes. This modern transit authority would quickly deploy smart technologies and service features systemwide, thanks to its unified planning and operations platform. It would ensure public transit land is maximized to meet housing and commercial needs. It would plan and fast‐track the delivery of a super regional transit network to meet the needs of Canada’s most populous and economically active region—the Toronto‐Waterloo Corridor (the Corridor). [p. 3]

The key point here is that transit improvements, both capital and operating, would not require new taxes. This is a political holy grail, the “something for nothing” of political dreams in any portfolio. However, at no point does the Board of Trade actually run the numbers to show that this would actually work, that the money available from “commercialized transit assets” would actually pay “substantially” for the transit the Toronto region so desperately needs.

The Board speaks of the “Corridor” with an emphasis on the Toronto-Waterloo axis, but this simply restyles a region made up of what we now call the GTHA into a larger unit, and it includes substantial areas that remain rural where transportation needs and planning policy options are very different from those of the urbanized parts of southern Ontario.

At the time, I did not comment on the scheme, but with the change in government at Queen’s Park and the arrival of dogma as the central driver of policy choices, another look is in order.

On October 31, 2018, the Board of Trade published the result of a survey which claims to show overwhelming support for complete amalgamation of transit systems. Their press release is entitled “Greater Toronto and Waterloo region voters support Superlinx concept”. However, it is by no means clear that their panel is made up of actual voters, only adults. The spin begins before we even get into the substance of the release.

This was duly covered by the media, including The Star and The Globe and Mail.

The Environics poll of 1,000 adults in southern Ontario claims:

The concept of a single regional transit agency funded by the provincial government received support from 79 percent of regional respondents and 74 percent of Toronto respondents.

It is worth noting that the article on Environics’ site, identical to the Board of Trade’s press release except for the title, is not a detailed analysis of the results. It does not include the context in which questions were placed, and so it is impossible to know exactly what people thought they were “supporting”. No margin of error is cited because of the poll methodology, according to Environics. With only 1,000 responses that are further subdivided among seven municipalities, the sample for any one of them will be quite small. The sample size and demographics for each municipality are not included, nor is there any indication of transit usage patterns among the respondents, only car ownership. With the relatively low transit usage outside of Toronto, one can reasonably assume that the poll overwhelmingly reflects the opinion of people who do not use transit as their primary or only means of travel.

Among the measures polled was “satisfaction with the local transit system”, and this ranked second lowest at 59% in Toronto with York Region, at 55%, bringing up the rear. The high, at 71%, was in Peel Region. Ironically, Toronto and York also have the lowest agreement that the “commute has worsened in the past 12 months”. There is widespread support for the concept that “regional transportation systems require a significant overhaul”, but there is no sense of what this might entail. The Superlinx scheme also has strong support, but again we do not know how it was described to respondents.

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Many Questions About A Subway Takeover

In the melee that passes for Ontario politics, one major issue is the proposed takeover of Toronto’s subway system by Queen’s Park. Such a change, they claim, would allow a great speed-up of system expansion currently hung up at Toronto Council. A good deal of that hang up can be traced to the Premier and his brother’s actions at Council, but such trivialities get in the way of a good stump speech.

The idea that planning should be based on actual evidence is a buzz-phrase heard most commonly when a politician is trying to appear “businesslike” and claims to be applying some sort of intellectual rigour to back-of-the-envelope planning. The uploading proposal sounds good in theory, but this is due in part to poor understanding of transits needs and cost both at Queen’s Park and at City Hall. The scheme surfaced years ago at Council as a simplistic way to cut the cost of transit support in the City’s budget, and the idea moved to the provincial level along with the Ford regime.

A common thread through every proposal is that the true cost of owning, operating and upgrading the subway system is poorly understood, even by members of Toronto Council and the TTC Board whose job it should be to know these things. It is a convenient myth that the subway “breaks even”, and that if only someone would take the cost of expansion and capital maintenance off of the City’s hands, all would be well.

In the interest of informed debate, this article examines the plan, such as it is, and the many issues that have yet to be addressed by its proponents.

Understanding the TTC Budget

A detailed breakdown of the TTC Budgets can be found in:

The TTC’s budget and long-term plans are poorly understood. The TTC Board scheduled Budget and Strategy meetings, but either cancelled them or spent the available time on narrow-focus rather than system-wide issues. At Council, things are even worse because budget debates, crammed with every department’s issues, get only short review. These are usually in an environment hostile to discussions of change except for a few, small topics. The “big picture” is limited to battles over new transit lines while the health of the overall system goes ignored.

For a decade or more, service growth in Toronto was constrained by the size of the streetcar and bus fleets, the physical limits on train spacing on the subway and the capacity of its stations. Much of the recent service growth is outside of the peak period when spare vehicles are available.

On the capital side, the City has a policy that its debt service costs should not exceed 15% of tax revenues. The province mandates a 25% cap, but the City takes a more conservative approach to provide headroom. Originally the cap applied to each year individually, but it is now considered over a ten-year average so that peaks and valleys in debt costs can smooth out for a 15% average. Already, planned borrowing for future years takes up all available room, and additional debt-financed work is possible only with special levies such as the Scarborough Subway tax (1.6%) and the John Tory City Building Fund (building up to 2.5%). (These are both tax increases above the rate of inflation.) If the cost of borrowing goes up, or City tax revenues fall, the 15% line will be only a fond memory.

The problem is compounded by a chronic understatement of transit needs going back at least eight years. When the marching orders are to keep deficits, and hence taxes, down, any proposals for improvement run counter to political goals. “We can’t afford it” becomes a standard response, and options simply go unstudied especially if they are associated with the wrong political faction.

If we don’t know what options will cost, we don’t know what might be possible or what the trade-offs among options would look like.

Even worse, with the Capital Budget, there is a long list of items that are either:

  • approved but not funded (roughly 1/3 of the approved list, about $3 billion worth)
  • “below the line” with neither approval nor funding (over $1 billion)
  • “future consideration” (over $2 billion)

Many of the big ticket items in these lists are subway items such as new and expanded fleets for the two major routes, and capacity expansion at busy stations. Many items in the budget are actually part of a larger project such subway capacity. However, the budget is presented on a departmental basis, and there is no consolidation of related line items. This has two effects: the TTC Board and Council rightly complain when projects appear to grow because approving the first step triggers the need for all that follows, related items are consigned to “funded” or “unfunded” status without regard for their place in the larger scheme.

The problem with these lists is that they are getting longer, especially the second and third group, even though some items form parts of critical system updates. Other projects simply are not on any budget, or are pushed so far into the future that they have no effect on the current ten-year plans. The 15% rule caused important projects related to Line 2 Bloor-Danforth to be pushed into the late 2020s even though some of them are pre-requisites for the Scarborough Subway Extension. (The components of Bloor-Danforth subway renewal and capacity expansion are discussed in detail in an appendix to this article.)

If Ontario takes over responsibility for the subway, they will inherit that long list of projects. For its part, Toronto Council and the TTC Board do not fully understand the implications if Ontario simply chooses not to invest in the existing system because the estimate of a takeover has been low-balled.

The TTC Board is very simple-minded in its deliberations, and avoids going into details. Their focus is on cost containment, not on service, except when someone needs a photo op to announce some relatively trivial change such as an express bus network that adds few new buses.

If Council and the TTC don’t understand their own system and its real needs, how can they fight for it?

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Challenges For TTC’s New CEO

Late in 2011, Andy Byford was hired by the TTC as Chief Operating Officer, a role in which he would understudy the then Chief General Manager, Gary Webster. Little did Byford know that he would inherit the top role faster than planned, in March 2012, after Webster was summarily fired for his failure to support the Scarborough Subway Extension at City Council. The term “to be Webstered” entered the Toronto lexicon as a synonym for what happens to those who speak truth to power.

The position of CGM was renamed as Chief Executive Officer in keeping with common use in business. As such, Byford launched a five-year plan to remake the TTC in his image, a process for which Toronto eventually won the American Public Transit Association’s “Transit System of the Year” award in 2017. Although frequently misrepresented, this award was not for the best transit service on the continent, but for the achievement of a management turnaround plan.

In late 2017, Byford became President of New York City Transit Authority, a role he had long dreamed of having, despite frequent claims in Toronto that he wasn’t planning to leave. This opened the TTC’s CEO position, and the former Deputy, Rick Leary, has been Acting CEO since Byford’s departure.

What challenges does the new CEO face? Broadly, these fall into three categories:

  • The political situation at Queen’s Park is in flux with a new Conservative administration headed by a Premier for whom subways answer every question, and who has talked of shifting responsibility for Toronto’s rapid transit network to Ontario from the City of Toronto.
  • Toronto’s Council and Mayor send mixed signals on transit’s importance for the city’s economic prosperity and the good of its citizens, while keeping the TTC hostage to a tax-fighting dogma that demands ongoing restraint in budget and subsidy growth.
  • The long-term effect of policies by all governments has been a wide gap between the funding needs – both capital and operating – and the money the TTC is actually allowed to spend. Many “big ticket” items are special projects like subway extensions, funded in part for their political benefit, but the hole left in day-to-day project funding continues to deepen.

Underlying all of these is a basic question: what is the TTC supposed to be?

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Bombardier Undermines Streetcar Credibility

Updated on July 5, 2018 at 8:00 am: Minor typos corrected. Explanation of replacement service as Flexitys displace older cars clarified.

Over the past day there have been a number of media comments, articles, tweets triggered by the announcement that 67 of Toronto’s new streetcars must return to Bombardier to repair bad welding. This started with an article by Ben Spurr in the Star, with a followup by Spurr and a Globe article by Oliver Moore. I’m sure there are others, but they will do for now.

The problem is described, briefly, in the TTC CEO’s Report released on July 4 as part of the agenda for the Board’s July 10 meeting.

As of June 25, the TTC has 80 Bombardier low-floor streetcars available for service. Unfortunately, we have learned that frame imperfections were found on assembled sections of the 67 vehicles manufactured before 2017 at Bombardier’s facility in Mexico. It is important to note that these welding deficiencies pose no safety threat. Bombardier has agreed to make the required repairs by removing cars from service and sending them to the Bombardier Welding Center of Excellence in La Pocatière, Quebec for repair.

We are working with Bombardier on a repair schedule that will have minimal to no impact on our service to customers. All vehicles will be repaired by the end of 2022.

[From “current issues” on p 6]

There is an inconsistency in the size of the fleet reported by Spurr and repeated by Moore. Although the CEO’s report says they have 80 cars, the number 89 has been used in media reports. This discrepancy is likely due to how Bombardier and the TTC count deliveries. Car 4488 was delivered to TTC Hillcrest today (July 4), and this makes a total of 88 cars in Toronto. (4401 was a prototype and is back at Bombardier for retrofits.) However, the highest car number actually in revenue service, and therefore formally accepted by the TTC, is 4482. This may seem like railfan trivia, but keeping track of just how deliveries are going is an important part of knowing how the roll out of new vehicles is actually progressing day-by-day, not in infrequent updates from the TTC.

The chronology of the problem has also been confused somewhat, and I have to own up to misinterpreting Spurr’s recounting of TTC information until this was sorted out in emails with TTC spokesperson Brad Ross.

  • 2015: TTC and Bombardier identify welding problems at the plant in Mexico where frames for the new cars are manufactured. This was one of the key problems that delayed the early shipments of cars to Toronto. TTC refused to accept cars whose parts would not fit together when they arrived at Thunder Bay for final assembly. In time, this manufacturing problem was corrected, or so it was thought.
  • June 2017 (quoting Spurr): “Company representatives said the problem is a “lack of fusion” in some of the welds on the car’s skeleton, particularly around bogie structures and the articulated portals where different sections of the articulated vehicle are joined. The company says it brought the issue “under control” last June and it won’t be repeated in future deliveries.”
  • October 2017: The TTC becomes aware that repairs would be required according to Ross as quoted by Spurr. One must ask what the TTC’s quality control inspectors were doing in Mexico between June and October.
  • February 2018: 4466, presumably the last car completed with bad parts, is delivered to the TTC. This is a rather long span after Bombardier’s claim that the issue was under control in June 2017.
  • July 2018: TTC and Bombardier announce the need to send the defective cars to a Bombardier plant in Québec which is their “world centre for excellence in welding”. In other words they are giving the job to people who should know what they’re doing.

There is a further inconsistency in that the TTC CEO’s report talks of 67 vehicles manufactured before 2017 in Mexico. This is clearly a typo and the date should be 2018.

If the problem finally escalated to TTC management in October 2017, this was during the Byford era, but there was no report of the problem publicly. If we are to believe tweets from members of the TTC Board, Councillor Mihevc in this case, he was unaware of the need for cars to return to Bombardier until this report broke a few days ago. This begs the question of how much the Board is actually in touch with critical issues on the system they govern.

Teething problems with new equipment are common, although Bombardier has a particularly checkered record in that regard and was dropped from a subway car bid by New York City due to problems with a previous batch of cars. In Toronto, the new TR subway trains continue to have problems, although the worst of these have been ironed out. On subway car orders, riders do not usually see the effect of equipment troubles because the TTC has its older fleet to fall back on, not to mention a generous pool of spare trains, and service gets out to the lines. The streetcar network, starved far too long for new cars, does not have this luxury, and Bombardier’s screwups are in plain sight affecting the transit network.

(One might also recall reliability problems with hybrid buses that could be regularly found parked around the city after going disabled. Again, the full effect is not visible to riders because the TTC maintains a large spare pool to cover for these failures.)

Both Bombardier and the TTC state that the problem is not a safety issue for existing cars, but that over time the poor welds would led to premature failure of cars that are supposed to last 30 years. In a particularly bizarre comment, Bombardier spokesman Eric Prud’Homme is quoted by Moore as saying that this recall spurs interest only because of previous problems with the order and that welding problems are “not uncommon” in the industry. Well, yes, maybe, but when they are on a scale requiring that cars be shipped back to the manufacturer, this is a different problem from minor corrections that can be performed at the customer’s site. And, of course, any retrofit that takes cars out of service reduces the pool available to replace the aging CLRV and ALRV streetcars.

The process is expected to require 19 weeks which is subdivided as:

… 19 weeks total for the repairs: 2 weeks to ship the cars to La Pocatière, 12 weeks for maintenance, 2 weeks to ship back to TO, and then 3 weeks for commissioning. [Tweet from @benspurr]

If the cycle time at Bombardier is 12 weeks (delivery each way and commissioning can take place in parallel with repair work), and there are 17 cycles (4 cars x 17 cycles = 68 cars), then this will take almost 4 years (204 weeks) and will complete in 2022. (I include this detail because the initial impression was that the repairs alone would take 19 weeks, not 12, leading to a mismatch between the proposed end date and the length of the project anyone could calculate.)

If there are only about ten cars out of the fleet at any time (in transit either way, or in commissioning activities when they return), the TTC will get by with the proviso that some of the older cars, likely the smaller CLRVs which although older are more reliable than the ALRVs, will stay in service longer. Ideally, they should be scheduled on peak-only runs so that most of the service is provided by the Flexitys on hand.

Politicians and others with their own agendas have seized on this latest setback to say “maybe we should bus some routes permanently” or just get rid of streetcars. With a hostile government in Queen’s Park, this could be a problem especially if Doug Ford decides to meddle in control of the TTC.

It is important to understand what is possible with the fleet the TTC should have available as well as the planning issues about the streetcar corridors in Toronto.

Buses are now operating on the 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton routes, as well as on a Broadview shuttle replacing a small part of 504 King during track work. Streetcars will return to Carlton in September, possibly with some bus trippers, and likely to Dundas sometime in the fall depending on car availability. 511 Bathurst will revert to bus operation in September because of major construction work on the bus roadway at Bathurst Station, and the 502/503 Kingston Road service will also go back to buses. It should be noted that between them, the peak requirement for streetcars on 502, 503 and 511 is only 28 CLRVs plus spares, and this makes these routes easy candidates for bus substitution because relatively few vehicles are needed for any one route.

The streetcar system has been fleet constrained since the mid 1990s. Ridership losses of the early 90s recession allowed service to be cut back to the point that the 510 Spadina line could open using existing spare cars in the fleet, and the planned rebuild of about 20 PCCs was not required. Since then, there has been no capacity for growing demand, and if anything this has fallen through added congestion on major routes and the gradual decline of fleet reliability and availability. The TTC would like to retire the last of its old cars in 2020, although that may not now be possible.

Toronto is fortunate in that the order for Flexitys represents a considerable addition to potential capacity over the fleet it will replace. The old fleet contained 196 CLRVs and 52 ALRVs. Counting the ALRVs as 1.5 cars, this is the equivalent of 274 CLRVs. The 204 Flexitys counting as 2.0 cars each represent 408 CLRVs. This means that the TTC can improve service capacity rather than simply replacing it one-for-one.

This has been a boon on King Street where the capacity of service provided is now considerably improved even though the number of cars operating has stayed almost unchanged.

The 204-car fleet (or 194 if one takes 10 out of the pool for rotation to Bombardier), can provide service improvements, but it cannot replace the full streetcar service on a 1:1 basis. The table below shows the vehicle requirements for all routes assuming streetcar operation at current service levels, or at a recent level when streetcars were in use. The total cars is 214 which clearly cannot be handled by the Flexity fleet if old cars are substituted 1:1. (Allowing for spares at 20%, the total fleet would have to be 257 cars, and this is roughly the level that an added 60 cars would provide.)

However, that would represent a doubling of capacity on the affected routes, and this is well above what is needed in the short-to-medium term. The tradeoff, if replacement is less than 1:1, is that headways (the time between cars) would widen.

For example, on a 2:3 basis (two new cars for three old ones, a capacity increase of 33%), the fleet requirement would go down by 50 cars (one third of the 153 CLRV/ALRV total below). This would bring the total requirement, just barely, within a 204-car fleet. Headways on affected routes would grow by one third. For example, the peak headway on 511 Bathurst would go from 4.5 to 6.0 minutes. This will inevitably affect ridership just as the replacement of CLRVs by ALRVs did years ago on Queen.

A more generous replacement rate of 3:4 (a capacity increase of 50%) lessens the effect on headways, but requires more cars than are available while maintaining a spare pool of 20%.

An important question is the degree to which additional peak service could be provided by the surviving CLRV fleet, or if bus trippers or replacements are the only viable solution. The smaller the replacement vehicle, the more are required. Moreover, if buses are used, this draws vehicles from an already-strained fleet that cannot meet demands on the bus network.

“Why use streetcars” is a question posed by some. A vital issue for City Planning is that growth in the population and in travel demand will occur disproportionately in the old city and along the streetcar corridors. Service will have to be substantially improved to handle future demand that is expected within the next decade.

The streetcar network once provided considerably more service on some routes than it does today. Demographic shifts and ridership lost to service cuts, not to mention a declining fleet of streetcars, have stretched peak headways in some cases quite substantially. But the capacity is there to carry more riders if only the TTC had the vehicles to operate and the City had the will to fund transit service at higher levels on key routes.  (This is also an issue on the bus network which has its own artificial, budget-driven limitations.)

Ed Keenan, writing recently in The Star, noted that the 506 Carlton car once carried 60,000 riders per day, but has fallen back by 2014, the last year for which the TTC has published ridership stats, to 39,700. In all the hand wringing about the effect of fare systems on ridership, the TTC has lost track of a basic driver of demand: the quality and quantity of service. The infrequent publication of stats does not help in tracking of demand, but even those numbers hide latent demand that simply does not show up out of frustration. The King Street Pilot has shown what can happen when service and capacity improve, and the TTC is proud of their success, but substantial movement beyond King is a political minefield.

Fortunately for Toronto, the streetcar infrastructure is in good shape unlike the situation years back when it declined through less-than-ideal maintenance from which the system has only recently recovered. Likewise, Toronto lost its trolley coaches (electric buses to those too young to remember) in part because the system was allowed to decay by management who wanted rid of this mode and colluded with alternate technology providers to bring this about.

Another requirement for new streetcars waiting in the wings comes from the proposed Waterfront extensions west to Humber Bay and east at least to Broadview. This perennial wallflower project has not attracted funding support, and Waterfront Toronto is reduced to planning for a BRT right-of-way that might, someday, mirror the Queens Quay West design with streetcars.

Toronto’s challenge now will be to decide whether Bombardier can be trusted with an extension to its existing Flexity order (the fastest way to get more cars and build up service), or if a delay to seek bids from other builders is the way to go. In the best political tradition, the Board will consider a recommendation from management that this decision be put off to early 2019 when the financial situation for new streetcars will be clearer.

This brings me to funding from Queen’s Park which is unlikely from an avowed streetcar hater, Doug Ford, now Premier. But, that said, Toronto needs to remember that many capital projects have little provincial money in them, and there is also funding from the Federal government. Toronto needs to decide what it needs, and cobble together funding for its many projects where this can be done. It won’t be easy with competing demands for subway expansion and for the renewal of the existing Line 2 Bloor-Danforth, a great deal of which is “below the line” in the unfunded portion of the City’s capital plans.

Expansion of streetcars or LRT, whatever one might want to call them, has always been an uphill battle in Toronto for various reasons including the idea that streetcars are old fashioned and just  get in the way. Tell that to major cities around the world running and expanding their networks. Toronto needs more capacity to move people on many corridors with easy access to transit, something a few subway lines alone can never achieve. Buses at the density required to replace streetcars will only worsen congestion, not relieve it.

Bombardier, through its ongoing cock-ups with provision of new streetcars, has been no friend to the Toronto system. We must get past this with, if need be, a new supplier of vehicles so that the system can grow. Bombardier’s incompetence should not be used as the justification to retrench and, by implication, eventually dismantle the streetcar network.

 

The Tour Tram Debuts in 1973

Forty-five years ago, on June 24, 1973, Peter Witt car 2766 began operating on the streets of Toronto as the Tour Tram. For that first day, the car was decked out with bunting, Canadian and Ontario flags, a Union Jack and photos of HM Queen Elizabeth whose official birthday was celebrated about a week earlier in mid June.

In a previous article, five years ago, I showed the restoration work at Hillcrest Shops. Now, here are photos from on-street operation in the early days. The photos are arranged geographically around the route rather than by date. At the end of the gallery are a few shots of a Tour Tram diversion on Adelaide Street on its third day of operation.

Throughout these photos there are many buildings that no longer exist and views that are now impossible to take because open spaces have been filled in with redevelopment.

The Sixth Worst City Myth

Recent stories beginning with the Toronto Sun, and followed by other media including Global, CTV and City, latched onto a claim from a recent study that Toronto was the sixth worst city in the world for commuting. The study from UK’s Expert Market blog writer Sean Julliard combines data from several other sites and indices to formulate a commuting index for 74 cities around the world.

Toronto likes to think of itself as a “transit city” while having severe congestion problems that are regional in scope, not simply confined to the core area which is a tiny fraction of the overall territory covered by this study. That ranking intrigued, but did not surprise me, and I set out to determine just how Toronto ranked so low in a rather long list.

Links to both an Excel and PDF version of the scores and their components are available in Julliard’s article.

First off, it is vital to understand just how these scores were compiled. Here are the components:

  • Metro population: This is the regional population, not necessarily the same as the city population. No source is cited for these values, nor is there a guarantee that other factors are drawn from the same geographic scope. For example, the population given for Toronto is almost 6 million (obviously the GTA), but the price of a monthly farecard is based on the undiscounted value of a TTC Adult Metropass.
  • The following four values come from the Moovit Insights compendium of public transit facts and statistics (Toronto page):
    • Average time spent commuting: These are transit commuting times and have nothing to do with traffic congestion except as it might affect transit vehicles.
    • Average time spent waiting for a bus or a train daily: Again, this is a transit value and appears to be a compendium of all wait times on journeys, not just the initial stage of a trip.
    • Average journey distance: This is a transit journey distance. The value shown for Toronto, 10km, lines up with information from other studies. It is slightly higher than the average for the TTC itself because regional commutes are included in the total. This is a one-way value.
    • Proportion of commuters who have to make at least one change during a transit journey.
  • The following value is derived from the Numbeo Cost of Living index (Toronto page):
    • The percentage of a monthly salary represented by the cost of a monthly transit travel card. In Toronto’s case, this is a salary for Toronto proper, and an undiscounted adult Metropass.
  • The following value is derived from the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard:
    • Average hours spent in traffic congestion over 240 days (twelve twenty-day months)

Note that most of these factors refer only to transit with only the final one having anything to do with road congestion. This did not prevent many from reporting on how the study showed Toronto with the sixth worst congestion in the world.

Julliard notes that his composite index was primarily based on two factors:

The final ranking is weighted, with cost and time spent commuting judged to be the most important factors.

He does not explain exactly how much weight each factor is given in the total score.

Toronto ranks high on the transit cost component because of our relatively expensive Metropass. Numbeo notes:

Toronto has 13th Most Expensive Monthly Pass (Regular Price) in the World (out of 444 cities).

As for congestion, Toronto sits at 49th place (with 1st being the worst), and its position is rising (bad) thanks to increased time spent by commuters in traffic.

And so we have a sixth worst ranking on Julliard’s scale because we have rotten traffic and expensive transit.

Traffic Congestion

The INRIX scores rank many North American cities, including Montréal (38th), worse off than Toronto for congestion. Los Angeles tops the list with New York (3rd) and San Francisco (5th) not far behind. On a world scale, we are better off than London (7th) and Paris (12th) among many others.

This is a very different view than presented in media reports based on Julliard’s blog.

Transit Indices

Toronto is almost at the bottom of the list for the average time spent commuting by transit at 73rd place out of 74 in Julliard’s list. This is not surprising with a very high 96 minutes spend on average claimed by Moovit. Remember that this is for a round trip, and so their value for the average one-way trip is 48 minutes. That’s a reasonable number for Toronto. It is worth noting that of the 74 cities, only 24 have values of an hour or less. Others in the 90+ list include: Portland, Miami, Istanbul, Philadelphia, Sao Paulo, Birmingham (UK), Salvador (Brazil), Rio de Janiero, Brasilia, and Bogata.

This also begs the question of the scale of transit service in various cities. It is quite likely that in the overall list, it is physically impossible to spend as much time as in Toronto on commute journeys either because the city regions are smaller, or their transit networks do not reach as far as Toronto’s.

For transit wait time, Toronto is much better off at 41st with a relatively low value of 14 minutes. We may take long journeys, but we spend less time waiting to make them.

Our journeys are comparatively long at 10km reflecting the geography of the GTA’s population and work locations, and we sit at 63rd place in the list.

As for transfers, we rank well down on the list at 69th, and that is a direct result of our transit network’s design. Most riders (73%) have to transfer at least once, and given the size of Toronto, that would be hard to avoid except with massive duplication of routes to provide many more one-seat rides. Only 17 cities in the list have a value under 50%, and they tend to be smaller than Toronto with populations averaging 1.7 million (25% of the GTA value).

Toronto is 62nd on the list for cost of a monthly travel card (a TTC Metropass) as a percentage of monthly income at 6.5%. Montreal has a value less than half of Toronto’s, and most cities in Julliard’s list fall below 5%.

Concluding Thoughts

If you want to complain that the TTC costs too much, especially its monthly pass, that’s a valid point, but it has nothing to do with traffic congestion. Travel distances and times are a direct consequence of a region that has, for the most part, built up around a road network, not around transit. Where once the “old” city with its spine of subways and frequent surface routes dominated the travel market, the city region is now overwhelmingly car-based with sprawling populations and job centres to match. This model “worked” when roads had capacity and the assumption that everyone had a car was taken as read. That is not what Toronto has become, and we now have a crisis in transportation network capacity and in the economic viability of so much travel for work and study taking so much time out of everyone’s day.

The Toronto Sun has even taken up the fight against the streetcar again lumping in the downtown know-it-alls who killed the Spadina Expressway with those who preserved the streetcar system. The fact that the vast majority of the GTHA has never seen a streetcar and manages to be hopelessly congested all the same has escaped them. Toronto being “sixth worst” is yet another reason to drag out this hobby horse.

And, of course, some of the greatest congestion lies on our “express” road network. Unlike downtown Toronto, Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York never faced the prospect of demolishing large residential areas in the name of “progress”. A plan to widen the expressways beyond lands long-ago acquired for their construction might teach folks outside of downtown just what provision of adequate road capacity would mean in their own back yards.

Julliard’s study (really a collection of data, but not a “study” in the sense of a detailed review of how the underlying numbers work and what they reveal) is a convenient jumping off point for lazy politicians (and sadly, I must say, for journalists too), but it has been used without context and with even the data it does include misrepresented. If Toronto had a cheaper transit pass, we would have ranked much better, and there would be no story, but this would have no effect on traffic congestion.

Are there problems in the GTA? Of course there are, and they start with a built form and demand pattern that are extremely difficult (impossible in places) to serve with transit. Once the roads are full, they guarantee congestion, and this will not be solved with a few subways or by getting rid of a handful of streetcar lines in Toronto’s core. The “fix” will take time, and must begin with a recognition that shifting people to transit is hard, expensive work. Simplistic, campaign-driven, vote-buying “solutions” are worthless.

Will Toronto Get More New Streetcars?

Updated June 13, 2018 at 10:00 am: The discussion and actions at the Board Meeting are reported at the end of this article.

Correction June 18, 2018 at 3:45 pm:

The section reporting the debate at the TTC Board meeting originally stated that Acting CEO Rick Leary was waiting to see if Bombardier could ship 20 cars/month by fall 2018 in order to hit the target for contract completion by the end of 2019. This should have read “20 cars/quarter”.

Original Article

Streetcar riders in Toronto are a long-suffering bunch. The size of the fleet has not changed since the mid-1990s despite the addition of a new streetcar line on Spadina in 1997 and the Harbourfront extension to Exhibition Loop in 2000. As the fleet wore out, its reliability dropped, and the now 40-year old CLRVs (single section) and 30-year old ALRVs (two section “articulateds”) are showing their age.

The TTC needed new cars some time ago, and the process of ordering the low floor Flexity fleet goes back to 2006. The first attempt, one that might have brought Toronto new cars about the same size as the ALRVs with a mixture of low and high level floors, was called off when the 100% low floor Flexitys (a design originally for Berlin) became available. That delay, combined with foot-dragging by incoming Mayor Rob Ford, and manufacturing incompetence by Bombardier, has left the TTC with a fleet far below its needs, and new cars straggling onto the property at a glacial rate.

During the past 20 years, population and employment downtown has grown far faster than in other parts of Toronto, and the residential density, once on a downward trend as family neighbourhoods gentrified, is growing. This is not confined to the new south-of-King areas, and is pushing north into the territory of other streetcar lines. The rate of growth is also changing. When the TTC ordered 204 Flexitys, these were expected to handle rising demand through 2027. This date has been revised much earlier to 2020

A major issue for the TTC, and for transit advocates in Toronto, has been the problem of “latent demand”. If the fleet stays the same size or declines, service and capacity follows the same path. The original plan for Flexity roll out onto the streetcar lines focused as much on reducing the number of operators required to carry demand little changed from then-current levels. Now, the TTC acknowledges that growth on streetcar lines went unmet for years.

The 1990s were a critical period because Toronto was coming out of a recession during which the TTC had lost 20% of its ridership, but the streetcar fleet, sized to mid-1990s demand, was unable to expand service as the system recovered. Many of the complaints about “bad streetcar service” come directly from the failure to add capacity as the economy rebounded, and then as the population along streetcar lines began to grow.

Much of the residential growth Downtown between 2012 and 2016 took place south of Queen Street. Almost 50% of all Downtown growth occurred in the King-Spadina and Waterfront West neighbourhoods. The Bay Corridor, King-Parliament and Waterfront Central saw moderate increases accounting for 36% of new residents. As a result of the increase in development in Toronto’s Downtown area, TTC streetcar ridership increased by 20% between 2008 and 2018 which is much higher than what was anticipated back in 2008. Transit mode share across the City has also increased from 23% (2006) to 27% (2016), putting additional pressure on the system.

Recent revision of the projected employment and population growth for Downtown Toronto has introduced higher forecasts which now extend to 2041. The revised estimate of number of new residents in the Downtown is 500% greater than originally projected. The revised estimate of new jobs in the Downtown is 200% greater than originally projected.

The size of the TTC’s streetcar fleet has been unchanged for almost 30 years, during a period of continuously-increasing ridership growth. This has resulted in streetcar capacity, during peak periods, being completely exhausted more than 10 years ago, with no ability to accommodate additional ridership during peak periods. Experience with deployment of the new LFLRVs on the first few streetcar routes has shown that there is an existing unmet, latent demand for peak-travel on the TTC’s streetcar routes. King Street is an excellent example of this. Over the first few months of operation the route experienced an increase of all-day weekday ridership of 16%. There are other factors that have contributed to the ridership increase (such as priority treatments and increased reliability); however, latent demand is one factor driving the ridership increase.

On King Street, the TTC has seen the combined effect of running more capacity (larger vehicles) and more reliable service (the King Street pilot). This number is still constrained by the capacity of service on the street.

On Queen Street, the shuffling of vehicles between routes and the retirement of most of the ALRVs has led, finally, to a schedule that reflects the equipment actually available to operate the route and a net increase in capacity provided, as opposed to scheduled.

Higher-density development is beginning on the Dundas, Carlton and St. Clair routes, and it is spreading away from the central part of the city where the subway is the primary mode.

Future new routes in the eastern waterfront as well as a new link to southern Etobicoke will require even more streetcars.

The TTC projects that by 2033, the peak service requirement will be 287 cars, (345 including spares), equivalent to about 570 (690) CLRVs. At their height, there were only 196 CLRVs and 52 of the larger ALRVs. This is a huge increase in the streetcar system’s capacity, almost to the level of the 745-strong PCC fleet which dominated the system through the 1950s and 60s.

At its meeting on June 12, 2018, the TTC Board will consider a report from staff that summarizes the result of a vendor survey to gauge interest in producing streetcars and proposes the following actions:

Over the coming months, staff will undertake the following:

  1. Request funding approval through 2019 budget process;
  2. Update contract documents based on stakeholder input, contract changes, and lessons learned;
  3. Engage consultant to validate RFI responses (e.g. technical and commercial performance, on-time delivery performance, etc.);
  4. Develop scope and budget for additional maintenance capacity at Hillcrest; and
  5. Report back to the TTC Board in Q1 2019 with recommendations.

The wild card in all of this will be the outcome of the provincial election on June 7, and the degree to which the incoming Premier will support or attempt to sabotage any expansion of streetcar service. Funding arrangements, especially under the federal PTIF scheme, depend on all three levels of government contributing. This effectively gives any one level the ability to veto a project unless there is a change in the rules.

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So You Want To Own A Subway (2018 Edition)

Among the many promises made by the Progressive Conservative Party in the run-up to the June 7 election is a scheme to upload the Toronto subway system to the province with the intention of relieving Toronto of this ongoing cost. This was also part of their 2014 campaign, and it is born no doubt from the Ford brothers’ assumption that (a) this could be done cheaply and (b) Toronto would save money overall. The pot is sweetened this time around with the guarantee that Toronto would keep the fare revenue and operate the system. The overall tradeoffs in operating and capital costs are not entirely nailed down.

Oliver Moore in the Globe has written about this proposal wondering whether it is actually workable. The quotes below are taken from his article.

The Tories are framing the upload largely as an accounting exercise, making it easier to find funding and thus facilitating transit construction. The province would pay an estimated $160-million annually for major capital maintenance on the subway network, taking an obligation off city books.

Under the proposal, the Toronto Transit Commission would keep operating the subway, with its board setting fares and the city retaining revenues. Expansion planning would be controlled by the province, although Toronto and Ottawa would be asked to help fund construction.

Note that the proposal is silent on the operating cost of the subway. There is something of a myth that the subway “breaks even”, but this is not true, especially for the more-recently opened segments. It is a matter of record that the Sheppard Line loses money, and the TTC estimated that the operating impact, net of new fares, of the Vaughan extension would be $30 million per year.

If the province builds a new subway line, would Toronto, through the TTC, still be on the hook for paying its operating cost?

Any concept of “breaking even” requires that fares be allocated between surface and subway routes and this is an impossible task. One can propose many schemes, but they all have built-in biases because a “trip” and a “fare” are such different things. The situation is even more complex as an increasing number of riders pay through some form of pass all the way from the yearly Metropass (formerly called the “monthly discount program”) down to the two-hour transfer.

How Much Does The Subway Cost?

The estimated value of an upload to Queen’s Park of $160 million/year is woefully inadequate because the TTC’s capital budget for ongoing maintenance is much, much larger. There is much more to owning a subway than collecting billions in construction subsidies. Despite the frequent claim that “subways last 100 years”, they require a lot of ongoing maintenance and replacement of subsystems. With the exception of the physical tunnel and station structures, a large proportion of the older subway lines has been completely replaced or undergone major overhaul at least once since they opened. Line 1 YUS is on its third generation of trains, for example.

I wrote about this four years ago, and this article is an update of my earlier review.

A big problem arises for anyone taking a superficial look at the TTC’s books because so many projects are not funded, or are not even part of the approved “base budget”. They are “below the line” or, even worse, they are merely “proposals” of future works that might find their way into the official list. Looking only at current, approved funded projects ignores a large and growing list of projects that, for political convenience, are out of sight, the iceberg below the water line.

Slogging through the TTC’s Capital Budget is no fun, but somebody has to do it. You, dear readers, get the digested version of hundreds of pages of reports. Thank you in advance.

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