Correction November 21, 2020 at 12:17 pm: The mover of the motion to hold a special Board meeting was Chair Jaye Robinson, not Commissioner Shelley Carroll.
Near the end of the recent TTC Board meeting, Chair Jaye Robinson moved that the Board hold a special session to deal with the 2021 Budget. In the midst of the debate, the Board began talking about whether this should be a standard public meeting or if they could meet in camera.
Commissioner Ron Lalonde, chair of the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee, asked whether his committee could meet in camera, a practice he is used to in the private sector. Because the TTC is bound by the City of Toronto Act and its provisions regarding open meetings, the Board and its committees can only go in camera for specific reasons listed in the act to deal with labour relations, security and other sensitive issues.
There is a way to get around this by meeting as a “working group” that does not make any decisions, but can act as a talking shop for management and the Board out of prying eyes. If there are any formal decisions to be made, they are agreed to in private and then reported out to a public meeting for the purpose of a rubber stamp approval.
What might have been discussed, what the positions of Board members and management might be, what options were even considered, even the fact that a meeting will take place, these are all cloaked in secrecy. Members of the public might depute to a public Board meeting before it ratifies any decision, but they will do so with no knowledge of what was actually discussed or the ability to present counterarguments. This is a convenient, but gaping, procedural hole.
The Board may find deputations tiresome, including those from “the usual suspects” (I was a regular among this group until I moved my commentary online), but this misses the whole point about public debate. We are in a period of severe social and fiscal constraints, and the public deserves to know about and have input into decisions on key services such as transit.
If the Board has specific issues it needs to debate in private, and for which the City of Toronto Act provides, then be my guest. As for “working groups”, they have no place in public decision-making. Toronto has a history of decisions that were made under cover, including money changing hands in the City Hall parking garage.
There is good reason to believe that lobbyists routinely talk to TTC Board members and Councillors about matters of public interest. These interactions are documented in the Lobbyist Registry, itself a product of an era in Toronto politics that many have forgotten.
The unseemly “deputation” by an eBus manufacturer that was little more than a sales pitch to the Board was probably only the tip of the iceberg. The stage management of a Board meeting was so lax that we actually got to see how the sausage gets made (to mix a few metaphors). That betrayed both sloppiness and a presumption that bending the rules really didn’t matter. I know that then-CEO Andy Byford was livid about this, but powerless to stop it.
Once upon a time, there were “citizen members” on the TTC Board, and this practice was ended because one of them had his hand in the cookie jar.
The TTC Board would do well to remember its history.
Updated November 22, 2020 at 4:40 pm: For further history of the attempt to have formal meetings of a Budget Committee at the TTC, please see my omnibus article on the board meeting.
A lot of ink (some real, but much virtual) has been spilled in past weeks on the topic of crowding on TTC buses. This was compounded by less-than sympathetic responses from various places, including the TTC inself, suggesting the speakers/writers have no sense of the real world that transit riders inhabit.
Although there has been a recent plateau, ridership has been building through the summer and photos of crowded buses now appear commonly on social media. This co-incides with a second wave of infections and a selective move back to “stage 2” protocols. Just when concerns about personal safety are rising, the TTC gives the impression of shrugging its shoulders. This is not a recipe for confidence in rebuilding transit ridership.
That said, I must confess that I fall midway between camps that cry out for vast increases in transit (possibly with lower fares) and those who wring their hands wondering how we will even pay for what operates today. Trying to take the middle road is not easy.
Here I will attempt to put various issues and options on the table. Whether those responsible for the TTC act on them is out of my hands.
How Full is Full?
During the early days of the Covid recovery period (remember only a few months ago when we thought this was all going away soon?), the TTC produced charts showing demand levels and crowding configurations for its vehicles.
The degree to which they might achieve these levels depended on the overall level of ridership. This chart shows what happens if the TTC attempted to provide distanced service even though demand was low. At a 30% level, the service would have to match pre-pandemic levels to leave enough room for passengers to spread out.
This is not feasible from either a budgetary or operational point of view. The cost is very high, and there is no headroom for growth beyond that 30 per cent line.
Another variation of this chart foresaw a combination of increased crowding and service as ridership grew. On a system-wide basis, we are now at Level 2 with overall ridership at around 40 per cent and this translates to a crowding standard of 25 per bus, about three quarters of a seated load (see chart above).
The problem, of course, is that there is a big difference between system-wide averages and the conditions from route to route, location to location and time of day.
The TTC reported that as of early September demand on the bus system had reached almost half of pre-covid levels. About one quarter of all trips were running at or above the Level 1 standard of 30 per cent capacity, and almost a tenth were running at or above the Level 2 standard of 50 per cent.
The oft-cited figure that 92 per cent of TTC trips are not crowded comes from this chart. What it really means is that only 8 per cent are over the Level 2 standard, but it does not mean that the balance fall at or below Level 1. This distinction has been lost in translation by those who seek to put the best possible spin on the situation.
A major source of confusion has been the question of what would trigger resumption of full service. The chart above shows that 50 per cent demand would require 100 per cent service to provide some degree of distancing, albeit at Level 2, not Level 1 standards.
This was taken by TTC management to mean 50 per cent overall, but as we well know the recovery on many bus routes outpaces the system average. Many bus routes are likely to be well beyond this level before the system as a whole hits that target.
At the September 24 TTC Board Meeting, management made this point, that bus ridership was growing faster and would have to be dealt with but there is little real progress on this so far. The TTC does run some unscheduled extra service (about which more later) and claims that its effect shows up in the slight downturn in early September in the proportion of trips cresting the 50 per cent capacity line.
Almost every ridership study and projection, almost every major infrastructure and scheme looks at peak period, core focused commuting patterns. Huge efforts go into multi-decade plans to deal with growth, but much of these plans obsess on getting people to and from work downtown.
This leaves millions of trips unaccounted for outside of downtown and outside of traditional commuting hours. In the pandemic era, with that “normal” commuting load stripped away, we now see the importance of the local bus service – much of which does not serve downtown – where ridership remains strong. The subway may be quiet and GO Transit almost deserted, but the bus routes carry well, in some cases too well for comfort.
A major group of transit travellers is students, and in particular those at post-secondary institutions who can face much longer trips over a variety of hours than their younger colleagues in secondary and elementary schools. Many are now learning from home, but when they return to in-person classes, their effect on the transit system should be remembered.
In fall 2019, ten universities and colleges, Metrolinx, the City of Toronto and other organizations launched research into post-secondary student travel patterns. Preliminary results from this study have now been published and these are available on the StudentMoveTO website.
This survey, necessarily, reflects “before times”. It tells a lot about student travel patterns and shows how they differ from the classic transit model. This is interesting not just for students, but as an example of a group and their travel demands that are poorly understood and poorly served by core-oriented transit thinking.
Moreover, as a group who, relative to many others, are less likely to use or have access to cars, they show the problems of a so-called regional transit system that provides much less service at the edges than in the network’s core, Toronto.
The survey cast a wide net across the member institutions.
Collectively these institutions represent over 300,000 students and their travel. With a response rate averaging 6 per cent, there were over 18,000 responses with varying participation rates from each college and university.
An important caveat is that those who chose to participate do not necessarily represent the population as a whole, but as with any survey, one works with the data available. Cross-checks on these samples would be interesting (such as using the postal codes of all students to verify their geographic distribution), but that is work for another day.
Of the students who participated, about 40 per cent filled out a travel diary, and this gives us information about the types of trips they made.
It should be no surprise that trips related to education accounted for only 36 percent of total journeys. People do have other things to do with their lives, especially in the much more social pre-pandemic era.
A considerable chunk of the trip pie, 18 percent, consists of work-related trips as many students also have jobs. This might be a secondary demand pattern overall, but it is part of many students’ lives and commuting burden.
The overall location of students and the institutions they attend is shown in the map below.
Some people commute a very long distance to school in much the same way as many commute to work. Post-secondary institutions, however, are not clustered in a few nodes such as King & Bay Streets, but are scattered around the region.
The map above does not show campuses of other institutions that did not participate in the survey. Those located outside of the south-central part of the GTHA have commuting issues of their own.
Millions of dollars will flow to Toronto and other Ontario cities to support their transit systems through the COVID-19 emergency. A total of $2-billion will come from the federal and provincial governments with the first third, $666-million, in 2020.
For the balance, there is a catch. Ontario does not want to dole out subsidies next year without conditions that will affect how transit service is delivered and, potentially, what it will cost to ride.
Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney wrote to Mayor John Tory on August 12 saying that cities will have to “review the lowest performing bus routes and consider whether they may be better serviced by microtransit.” Within the GTHA there will be mandatory discussions about “governance structures” — bureaucratese for who gets to make decisions — and integration of services and fares.
Metrolinx has contemplated fare integration schemes on and off for years, but could never reach a conclusion because funding was not available to reduce the burden of cross-border travel and simplify the regional fare system. This changed, for a time, with a discounted GO+TTC fare, but that ended on March 31, 2020 thanks to a provincial funding cut.
Metrolinx proposed a fare structure where riders would pay based on distance traveled, at least on “rapid transit” lines, but the effect would be to raise fares within Toronto, particularly for longer trips, to subsidize riders coming into the city from the 905 municipalities. That scheme sits on the back burner, but it has never been formally rejected. Even worse, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster is on record musing that transit should pay its own way, a view completely at odds with the social and economic development role transit represents.
Governance brings its own problems. Metrolinx started out as a political board with representatives from GTHA municipalities, but these were replaced by provincial appointees who could be counted on to sing from the government’s songbook. The agency has evolved more into a construction company than a transit operator, and there is little experience with the needs and role of local transit on the board.
Who can cay whether a future consolidated GTHA transit governance model and provincial funding might bring its own service standards lower than those now accepted in Toronto and expected of the TTC, even with its problems?
Microtransit is a recent buzzword born of the assumption that there are efficiencies to be wrung from transit and it would not cost so much if only we would embrace new innovative ways to deliver service. Why run a full size city bus when an Uber or a van would do? Even Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong has chimed in to defend taxpayer dollars against the cost of operating empty buses.
The TTC has service standards that dictate whether transit service should run at all and how much room should be provided for riders. During the pandemic era, these standards were relaxed to reflect the need for social distancing, but reports of crowded vehicles are common. Demand is growing, particularly on the bus network serving widely spread work locations in suburban Toronto.
Barring a major COVID-19 relapse and economic shutdown, transit could be back to a substantial proportion of its former demand by the end of 2021. Microtransit “solutions” that might appear appropriate for the depressed demand today could well be obsolete in a year or two.
The TTC has only thirteen routes that carry fewer than 1,000 riders per day. Five of these are the “premium express” lines, two primarily exist to serve TTC properties, and one is a peak hour shuttle to GO. Even the Forest Hill bus managed to carry 930 a day (in 2018), and that’s a lot of Uber trips.
Financially, offloading riders onto Uber sounds appealing, but this ignores the transfer of costs for vehicles and maintenance, not to mention the low effective wage rate, for Uber operator/drivers. Transit can be a great deal if someone else foots the bill.
An oft-cited example of microtransit is a scheme in Innisfil, Ontario, a town that is about forty percent bigger than Scarborough. Uber provides trips to local residents at a fare of $4 to $6 provided that one travels to or from specific locations. Otherwise, the deal is simply a $4 discount on Uber’s regular fare.
There is a 30 trip-per-month cap which Innisfil Transit implemented in April 2019 “to improve the Innisfil Transit service and make sure everyone can enjoy it”. In other words, to cap the total cost of the service. Low income residents can apply for a 50 percent discount, and they are not subject to a trip maximum.
These are not cheap trips for many riders, and the town’s subsidy for 2019 was about $8.25 per rider for just over 100,000 trips. To put this in a TTC context, the Forest Hill bus carries more than twice the ridership of the entire Innisfil system. [930 riders/day times 300 day-equivalents/year = 279,000]
Critics of buses running nearly empty through Toronto streets miss several key points including:
If demand requires a full-sized a bus for part of the day, there is no point in owning a separate smaller vehicle for the lightly-travelled hours.
No transit route has full vehicles over its entire trip, especially in the counter-peak direction.
Not all trips occur in peak periods, and off-peak service can make a full round trip by transit possible.
Riders who have to book a trip have less flexibility than if a bus just shows up on a reliable schedule.
The Innisfil model does not address a system where an Uber rider might transfer to a main line service to complete their journey and have to pay an additional fare.
In preparing this article, I wanted to understand the details of Minister Mulroney’s proposal to determine what the effect might be for Toronto and other cities, and I posed two questions.
What is meant by a “poor performing” route? What level of demand would determine whether a fixed route or demand-responsive service would be used?
The answer, from Christina Salituro, Senior Manager, Legislative Affairs and Issues Management in the Minister’s office was:
Our government will work with transit agencies across the province to evaluate low volume routes to determine whether there could be microtransit solutions, with the goal being to ensure similar or better service in a cost-effective manner, utilizing the best technologies available.
We also recognize that not every transit agency is the same, which is why we will work in a pragmatic way with agencies.
All proposals are subject to further discussions and engagement with municipalities as we explore a range of options to make transit systems more sustainable in Ontario.
What fare integration model is the government considering? Cross-border fare elimination? Fare by distance? Who would fund any new subsidies related to lower fares?
The government replied:
With the impact that COVID-19 has had on ridership, it is important to ensure we reduce as many barriers as possible to encourage the safe return of riders to public transit.
Transit is key to reducing traffic congestion, particularly in the GTHA.
Our government will be working with municipalities and transit agencies to ensure we are reducing fare and boundary barriers that may prevent some from choosing public transit due to cost, time, or unnecessary transfer.
It would be premature to speculate about the financial impacts of fare and service integration until we do further work with our municipal partners.
These are fine statements about government co-operation, but they give absolutely no sense of what the quid-pro-quo might be for cities to access the remaining $1.33-billion worth of pandemic subsidies.
Should provision of transit service depend on a business model that offloads costs onto vehicle owner/drivers and almost certainly does not pay a good wage compared to a transit company? Should demand-responsive microtransit service be operated by an Uber-like business, or as part of the local transit system in locations that already have one?
There may be a place for microtransit especially in areas of low population and dispersed travel demand, but operating this won’t be cheap for the cities and towns involved.
Microtransit, especially from the private sector, might fit Ontario’s political agenda, but it will not address transit’s much greater challenges to rebuild post-pandemic and to improve its market share for travel.
Streetcar service on Mt. Pleasant Road ended at dawn on Sunday, July 25, 1976. To mark the occasion, a group of transit enthusiasts (or railfans if you prefer) chartered Peter Witt 2766 for an overnight tour around the city. We stopped at many places for photos, something that is only possible in the middle of the night, and then finished up with two round trips on the Mt. Pleasant line before calling it a night.
Here is a gallery of photos from that journey. I have published some of these before, but here is the full set.
Some of what we photographed remains, other views have disappeared or changed substantially.
There are more buildings in the way of the CN Tower than in 1976 and getting a clean shot top-to-bottom is much harder now than it was when the tower was new.
The buildings on Spadina have not changed too much, but it would take almost two decades from the photo here before we would see streetcar service return in 1997.
Bay Street is utterly transformed, now a condo canyon, including the stripped and repurposed Sutton Place Hotel.
The tail track at Bingham Loop that allowed a brief excursion into Scarborough was removed years ago as were spurs and tail tracks almost everywhere else.
The variety store beside Coxwell-Queen Loop disappeared under a condo in the past few years.
Dundas at Trinity-Bellwoods Park
Dundas St opposite the AGO
Dundas St opposite the AGO
Dundas E of Bathurst WB
Spadina & Baldwin SB
Adelaide W of Church EB
Bay and Gerrard SB
King St W at the Bank of Commerce building
Tail track on Kingston Rd E of Victoria Park
Tail track on Kingston Rd E of Victoria Park
Now it was time to venture up to St. Clair for the last runs on Mt. Pleasant. Our first pass took us along St.Clair past the subway station over track used only by the night cars. Up at Eglinton, it was still quite dark although the deep blue of the dawn sky had begun to show. We returned south and west to St. Clair Station and then looped back east to Moore Park Loop where we met the first bus on the new Mt. Pleasant route. Another trip through St. Clair Station brought a meet with the last night car, and then we headed off for the final trip with the line all to ourselves.
As we were posing in front of the coal silos at Merton, a TTC Supervisor came by to chase us off of the line as they wanted to cut off the power. Our operator, Charlie Price, a veteran of many charters, was not too worried about getting back to the carhouse on time.
At Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant, nothing that was on the four corners remains today. A bus loop, currently unused, sits inside a seniors’ building on the northeast corner that once held a gas station and the streetcar loop. The bank on the northwest will return some day as the shell of the main entrance to Mt. Pleasant Station on Line 5 Crosstown. Eglinton Public School on the southwest was replaced with an ugly building whose architects assure me was the product of cost cutting by the Board of Education. The south east corner, formerly a typical 1920s-era row of stores with apartments above, now has a midrise commercial building that, like other developments along Eglinton, added nothing to the local character. It is sad to think that the bank, when it returns, will probably be the most distinguished building there.
At St. Clair and Yonge, even the “modern” towers don’t last forever. Updates and replacements are already in the pipeline.
The subway station had the distinction of being the first to have a restaurant inside of the paid area, a counter-example to the “though shalt not eat in the subway” bylaw that was never implemented. It eventually became a McDonalds.
Moore Park Loop is now a local parkette little changed except for the removal of the streetcar tracks.
Dominion Coal is long gone, and the area between Mt. Pleasant and Yonge along Merton is almost all condos in what was once an industrial area.
The cemetery, founded in 1873 when it was out in the countryside among farms, goes on, an oasis with the city’s best collection of trees.
St. Clair & Avenue Rd EB
St. Clair E of Yonge EB
St. Clair E of Yonge EB
Mt. Pleasant & Eglinton looking N
Mt. Pleasant & Eglinton looking N
Moore Park Loop with the first Mt. Pleasant bus
Moore Park Loop
St. Clair Station.
St. Clair Station
St. Clair & Inglewood looking W
St. Clair & Mt. Pleasant looking W
Mt. Pleasant & Heath NB
Northbound at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery
Northbound at Merton
Northbound at Merton
Mt. Pleasant N of Belsize at the Crest Theatre
Eglinton & Mt. Pleasant looking SE
Eglinton & Mt. Pleasant looking SW
Mt. Pleasant Loop. Last car.
Mt. Pleasant Loop
Mt. Pleasant Loop
SB at the much-loved Dominion Coal towers at the Belt Line bridge
Mt. Pleasant Cemetery SB
Mt. Pleasant Cemetery SB
Last crossing of the bridge at the Avoca Ravine
Updated July 27, 2020: Service east of St. Clair Station to Moore Park Loop continued until October 2, 1976 but only for the St. Clair night car (and occasional daytime cars killing time because they were off schedule). Thanks to Philip Webb for sending me a copy of an article by Mike Roschlau in Rail+Transit, January 1977, with this info.
Updated June 23, 2020 at 1:50 pm: The table of projects has been updated to include anticipated events, notably “financial close” dates, that were included in various project announcements by Infrastructure Ontario. Also Union Station Platform Expansion was described in the original version of this article as closing sooner than originally projected. This has been corrected to show a delay of roughly nine months.
Infrastructure Ontario recently released its Spring 2020 Update for P3 projects under its control including several Metrolinx projects. To date there have been three of these updates:
These updates include information on the project status, the type of procurement model, and the expected progress of each project through the procurement process. This provides “one stop shopping” compared to Metrolinx’ own site. As a convenience to readers, I have consolidated the three updates as they relate to transit projects to allow easy comparison between versions.
Some projects have evolved since the first version, and in particular the delivery dates for a few projects have moved further into the future. The “financial close” dates for some projects, in effect the point at which a contract is signed and real work can begin, has moved beyond the date of the next Provincial election. Whatever government is in power after summer 2022 will have a final say on whether these projects go ahead.
The Ontario Line was previously reported as a single project with a price tag of over $10 billion. In the Fall 2019 update, the intent was to have the financial close in Winter/Spring 2022 ahead of the election. In the Winter 2020 update, this changed to Spring 2022.
In the Spring 2020 update, the project has been split into separate parts to reflect industry feedback about the original scope.
GO Corridor from Don River to Gerrard
South Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations CNE to Don River
Rolling Stock, System Operations & Maintenance
North Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations
The GO corridor work will be done as a conventional procurement by Metrolinx and will be bundled with upgrades to GO Transit trackage.
The financial close for items 2 and 3 above is now Fall 2022, and for item 4 it is Fall 2023.
This means that an actual sign-on-the-dotted-line commitment to the project will not be within the current government’s mandate. Even the so-called “early works” comprising the southern portion of the route from Exhibition to the Don River is not scheduled to close until Fall 2022. The northern portion, from Gerrard to Eglinton will close in Fall 2023. This contract is being held back pending results for the south contract to determine the industry’s appetite for the work.
The southern portion, with a long tunnel through downtown and stations in congested street locations would start first. However, the line cannot actually open without the northern portion because this provides the link to the maintenance facility which is included as part of item 3 above although the actual access connection would be built as part of item 4.
An issue linking all of these projects is the choice of technology which, in turn drives decisions such as tunnel and station sizes, power supply, signalling and maintenance facility design. When the Ontario Line was a single project, Metrolinx could say that this choice was up to the bidders, but now there must be some co-ordination to ensure that what is built can actually be used to operate the selected technology. It is hardly a secret that Metrolinx is promoting a SkyTrain like technology, although which propulsion scheme (LIM vs rotary motors) is not clear. There are well-known problems with LIMs and the power pickup technology used on the SRT, and this would also be a consideration for the outdoor portions of the Ontario Line.
Scarborough Subway Extension
Like the Ontario Line, the Scarborough Extension has been split into two pieces. The first will be the tunnel contract from Kennedy Station to McCowan. This is now in the procurement phase, and financial close is projected for Spring 2021.
The remainder of the project previously had a projected closing date of “Winter/Spring 2023”, but this is now just “2023”. With the tunnel hived off into a separate contract, it is reasonable that the remainder would have a later start date because the tunnel is a key component that must be in place first.
Metrolinx recently published a Preliminary Business Case for this extension. It includes the following text:
Kennedy Station Pocket Track/Transition Section
The Kennedy transition section extends roughly 550 metres from the east side of the GO Transit Stouffville rail corridor to Commonwealth Avenue and will include special track work and a pocket track to enable every second subway train to short turn to suit ridership demand and minimize fleet requirements, as well as lower operating costs. [p 24]
This turnback has been an on-again, off-again part of the project but it is now clearly included as a cost saving measure. With only every second train running to Sheppard/McCowan, the fleet required (as well as storage) would be within the system’s current capacity. This ties in with the timing of the T1 fleet replacement on Line 2 as there are enough T1s to run alternate, but not full service to Sheppard. This would be similar to the arrangement now used on the TYSSE where only half of the AM peak service runs north of Glencairn Station to Vaughan.
Richmond Hill Subway Extension
The Ontario government recently signed an agreement with York Region for the extension of the Yonge line from Finch to Richmond Hill. The status of this project is unchanged with an RFQ to be issued in Fall 2021, an RFP in Spring 2022 and financial close in Fall 2023.
Updated June 3, 2020: A PDF version of the document has been added.
With all of Metrolinx’ recent hype about the Ontario Line and its design, I have been digging into my archives looking at the promises made back in 1972 when Premier Bill Davis announced “An Urban Transportation Policy for Ontario”. This was to be the transit answer to his cancellation of the Spadina Expressway, a new transit network that would bring rapid transit to outlying areas in Toronto, as well as to Hamilton and Ottawa.
There was to be a test track around the CNE grounds linking to Ontario Place. A new technology, trains that would fill the missing link between buses and subways that were far too expensive at the then astronomical cost of $25 to $30 million per mile.
This scheme was doomed from the outset by its dependence on an untried technology (although at the point of the announcement, the Krauss-Maffei magnetic levitation system had not been officially chosen). All that ever happened at the CNE was a small stand of trees near the Princes Gates were felled in anticipation of guideway construction, and a few column footings were built. So much for the brave new world of a transit network.
Oddly enough, buried in the announcement is the following acknowledgement that existing technology could be used, at least as a stopgap:
“As an interim measure it may be feasible to provide express routes through parts of these corridors using existing modes of transportation such as buses or streetcars. When operating in exclusive rights-of-way these facilities are capable of providing intermediate capacity transit facilities.” [p 15]
This was the only time the government acknowledged that a brand new technology was not a pre-requisite for building their network. Within a few years, Davis’ dreams would be dust. The government would resurrect the work on a new TTC streetcar design that was underway in the late 1960s, but was stopped when the focus shifted to Davis’ Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS). Eventually, a less technically complex system that we now know as the SRT in Toronto and Skytrain in Vancouver came along, but the plans were never resurrected on quite so grand a scale.
The announcement itself makes interesting reading with many comments that will be familiar today especially as they relate to the limits of car-based travel and expressways.
Updated April 27, 2020 at 11:10 am: A modified and expanded version of this article appears on the NOWToronto website.
In response to a steep fall in ridership, the TTC plans to implement service cuts and reduce its staff complement by layoffs.
Service capacity will be reduced to match demand, taking into account the need for physical distancing by riders. Many of the changes have already occurred as the TTC dealt with staff shortages from illness and quarantine, but this will make the changes official within the schedules. These include reduced service levels and the end of many peak period services. The 14x and 9xx series of express services have already been discontinued, along with the 508 Lake Shore Tripper. Other cuts are likely such as “school trippers” for which there are no students, and the rush hour bus extras on streetcar routes.
Full details of service changes to take effect on the Victoria Day weekend will be released by the TTC on May 4, according to TTC spokesperson Stuart Green. Service will be maintained “at roughly 70-80 per cent of regular levels” according to the TTC’s news release. “Particular focus remains on servicing priority routes within the bus network in a way that allows for good physical distancing.”
The May schedules are traditionally a point where the first wave of summer cuts are implemented (those related to post-secondary institutions), and the second wave normally comes at the end of June. The reduction in service allows for a greater proportion of vacations in the summer months, but with layoffs, the drop is clearly going to be more than Toronto normally sees during this season.
About 1,000 transit operators and 200 non-union staff positions will be affected by the layoff. According to a letter from CEO Rick Leary to all staff, “The TTC will be working to establish a compensation and benefits arrangement for employees to minimize negative impacts as a result of the layoffs.”
Other changes to address the budget crunch brought on by lost fare revenue include “pausing” all non-union salary increases, reducing overtime, reviewing all vacant positions, and going without the usual summer seasonal hiring.
On the capital side of the budget, all “non-essential” projects will be delayed, but the TTC has not published a list of what this entails.
Combined with other savings such as utilities and fuel thanks to the reduced level of operations, the TTC expects to reduce its ongoing losses by $25 million per month from the current level of $90 million.
It is no surprise that the Amalgamated Transit Local 113 is not happy with this situation. Carlos Santos, president of Local 113, wrote to his members:
This is the “thank you” our members get for sacrificing themselves day in and day out for putting their families and themselves at risk. No doubt, this feels like a punch to the gut after all the hard work our members are doing to keep Toronto moving throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Almost 30 of you have tested positive for COVID-19. You deserve better than today’s announcement. The federal and provincial governments need to step in and provide emergency relief funding for the TTC.
This speaks to the heart of the issue: the level at which governments other than the City of Toronto itself will act to support transit through this difficult time. Even with the decline in economic activity and travel, the need for physical distancing by riders dramatically lowers the capacity of transit service, and this drives up the cost per ride substantially. The question is what is the appropriate balance between keeping a transit at a level that actually serves the many who still require it, and reining in costs. Even at only 20 percent of its normal demand, the TTC carries hundreds of thousands of trips per day and these cannot be replaced easily or economically by other modes. For many, many Torontonians, travel is built on transit.
One substantial problem for the TTC in reviewing potential service cuts is that the subway network has a considerable, fixed cost regardless of how many riders it carries. Infrastructure must be maintained and kept safe, and standby technical staff must be available to handle a wide variety of problems. Operators driving the trains are only part of the total needed for all aspects of subway operations.
That has implications for surface routes which are always the poor cousins of transit service. Whether the cuts will fall disproportionately there as they did in past recessions remains to be seen.
Updated July 2, 2020: The contract award for this work will be before the City’s Infrastructure & Environment Committee on July 9, 2020, and then it will go to Council for approval at its meeting of July 28-29, 2020. This is a complex multistage project stretching over three years.
This includes the reconstruction of the TTC track allowance and platforms, roads, sidewalks; construction of new streetscaping; replacement of watermains, sewer relining; and the rehabilitation of The Queensway bridge over Parkside Drive.
Part of the work is planned for 2020 and was already awarded under another contract. This will not affect streetcar or road traffic.
In order to reduce the overall impact of construction on all road users in the area around Parkside Drive, the underside of the Parkside Drive bridge at The Queensway will, therefore, be completed in 2020 in conjunction with the Dundas/Howard Park and Howard Park (Sunnyside Avenue to Parkside Drive) project. This bridge substructure work includes abutment repairs, recoating structural steel, reconstruction of the TTC stairs and concrete patch repairs to the TTC owned portion of the bridge.
Major works begin in 2021 and these are divided into phases. The TTC has not yet announced the transit service arrangements corresponding to each phase
Stage 1: February 2021 to July 2021
The Stage 1 of construction will be carried out on The Queensway between Parkside Drive and the KQQR Intersection and on Queen Street West between Triller Avenue [one block east of Roncesvalles] and the KQQR Intersection. This work includes watermain replacement, sewer relining, TTC overhead wire removals, TTC track work, road reconstruction and hydro works along The Queensway, the KQQR Intersection, and along Queen Street West; and the rehabilitation of The Queensway bridge at Parkside Drive (outer lanes).
While this work is in progress, access to and from Roncesvalles Carhouse will be available only from the “north gate”. With the intersection closed, the 501 Queen and 504 King services will not be able to operate west of Dufferin Street. How much of the routes are converted to bus operation remains to be seen, but the TTC would be wasting vehicles if they converted two major routes for work that would not affect their entire length. Track replacement is also planned on Queen from University to Fennings (near Dovercourt) in 2021, and so it would make sense to retain streetcars at least on the eastern half of that route, and on King to Dufferin Loop.
Stage 2: July 2021 to April 2022
The Stage 2 of construction will be carried out on The Queensway from Parkside Drive to Sunnyside Avenue and on King Street West from the KQQR Intersection to approximately 100 m south thereof. This work includes watermain replacement and sewer relining on King Street West; TTC track work, road reconstruction and hydro works along The Queensway (Parkside Drive to Sunnyside Ave); reconstruction of the southwest corner of the KQQR Intersection including streetscape work at Beaty Boulevard Park (southwest corner of the KQQR Intersection); TTC overhead wire replacement along The Queensway, the KQQR Intersection and King Street West; and the rehabilitation of The Queensway bridge at Parkside Drive (inner lanes).
From this description, it is unclear which portions of the work will actually extend into 2022, and for what period the intersection will be impassible. That would determine the period during which streetcar service on the west end of Queen and King would have to be suspended.
Stage 3: April 2022 to August 2022
The Stage 3 of construction will be carried out on Roncesvalles Avenue from the KQQR Intersection to Dundas Street West. This work includes watermain replacement, sewer relining, TTC overhead wire removal and replacement, and TTC track work; and road reconstruction on Roncesvalles Avenue from the KQQR Intersection to Harvard Avenue. Stage 3 also includes minor work on Roncesvalles Avenue, from Harvard Avenue to Dundas Street West, to modify the TTC platforms for compliance with the Province’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requirements.
This stage involves Roncesvalles Avenue north from Queen including the North Gate at the carhouse. While this is underway, streetcars would not be able to operate on Roncesvalles, but should be able to use the South Gate.
I have sent a query to the City for clarification of the staging of this project.