Toronto Budget 2020: More Transit Money, But How Will It Be Used?

The City of Toronto launched its 2020 budget process on January 10, 2020 with a presentation by senior management and a short question-and-answer session with some members of Toronto Council. At this point, the material was quite high level, including some management puffery, but the real meat of the budget lies in the departmental and agency Budget Notes to be discussed at meetings on January 15-17. The TTC budget will be discussed on January 17.

Useful links:

Major Issues

Much has been made of the City Building Fund and its rising property tax levy to finance substantial growth in the TTC and Housing capital budgets. The changes to the TTC’s ten year capital plan between its original launch in December 2019 and the version presented in the January 2020 Budget Note are detailed later in this article. Within those changes are two major categories:

  • It was only one year ago, that TTC management proposed, and the Board approved, a significant change in the timing of Line 2 Bloor-Danforth renewal pushing out the installation of Automatic Train Control, construction of a new yard and purchase of a new fleet by a decade. The new Capital Plan shifts this work back into the 2020s and better aligns with the timing of the Scarborough Subway Extension. It also removes a reliance on older technology whose longevity was uncertain, notably the signal system.
  • The original Capital Plan included no money for new vehicles beyond purchases now in progress. There is a new item for “Vehicles”, but this is not subdivided by mode. Significant spending is budgeted for 2022 and beyond. Expanding any of the fleets also triggers a need for garage/carhouse facilities and there is a substantial increase in the planned spending on facilities.

On the Operating budget, the changes are much more modest because the additional revenue mainly keeps up with inflationary pressures, but does not go beyond for an aggressive expansion of service.

The TTC plans to hire 88 more operators and has budgeted more service hours, but the purpose of this is described differently depending on which part of the budget report and presentation one reads/hears. In December 2019, the Operating Budget and its presentation talked of relieving overcrowding that placed some routes beyond the Service Standards. However, the same addition to the Service Budget is used to handle other factors and the list makes no mention of reduced crowding.

I await clarification from the TTC on this important issue – does the TTC plan to reduce crowding or not? Will they burn up new service hours mainly to pad schedules for better service “resiliency”, or will they actually add service on overcrowded routes?

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Streetcar Service During the CLRV Era

With the retirement of the CLRV fleet on December 29, 2019, this is a good time to look back at how service on the streetcar network has evolved during the lifetime of those cars.

When they first entered service on the Long Branch route in September 1979, the new cars marked a real sign that Toronto was keeping its streetcar system.

Although Toronto decided to keep streetcars in late 1972, there was no guarantee that without renewal of the fleet and infrastructure the system could last very long. The last-built cars in the PCC fleet (the 4500s) dated to 1951 and, despite their simplicity compared to what we now call “modern” cars, they would not last forever. Second hand cars from other cities were older than the most recent “Toronto” cars. They were retired over the years even while the TTC undertook major overhauls on its own, younger fleet.

In 1980, the streetcar service was still dominated by PCCs as much of the CLRV order was still to come, and the ALRVs would not arrive until the late 1980s.

Yes, I know. What are all of those acronyms? Not every reader is a die-hard railfan with all of this information at their fingertips.

PCC: The President’s Conference Car was the product of work by a consortium of street railways to update streetcar design in competition with the rise of the private automobile. This was a large research project, especially for its time in the 1930s, and it produced a totally re-thought vehicle. The TTC was working with Hawker Siddeley on an updated PCC design in the mid-1960s, but nothing came of this thanks to a provincial fascination with new, high-tech transit. A license agreement for updated PCC patents held, in the 1960s, by the Czech manufacturer Tatra was never signed, and work on a new PCC for suburban routes stopped.

PCCs on King Street at Atlantic Avenue

CLRV: The Canadian Light Rail Vehicle. This car was designed partly by the TTC and partly by a provincial agency, the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation (later renamed as “Urban” to remove the explicit local reference). The design, from the Swiss Industrial Group (SIG), was very different from the car the TTC had worked on, but the UTDC needed a viable product after their magnetic-levitation project ran aground with technical difficulties. As a city streetcar, it was overbuilt in anticipation of high-speed suburban operation, notably in Scarborough. That scheme was supplanted by what we now know as the “RT”.

CLRV at High Park Loop

ALRV: The two section “Articulated” version of the CLRV was designed to run on heavy routes, notably the Queen car. These vehicles were never as reliable as the original CLRVs, and they were the first to be retired. At various times over the years, they ran on Queen, Bathurst and King.

An ALRV at “Old” Exhibition Loop

Flexity: This is the generic product name for Bombardier’s low-floor streetcars. It exists in many formats with Toronto’s version being designed to handle tight curves and steep grades. Delivery of the 204-car fleet was almost complete at the end of 2019.

Flexity on King Street at University Avenue

When the TTC decided to keep streetcars in 1972, they were still enjoying a long period of post-war ridership growth with constant expansion into the suburbs of bus and subway lines. Getting new riders was a simple task – just run more service. The downtown streetcar system was still bulging with riders thanks to a stable population and a robust industrial sector.

By 1980, however, the TTC hit something its management had not seen before, a downturn in ridership, thanks to the economic effect of the first Middle Eastern oil war and its effect on energy prices. Although the TTC continued to grow through the 1980s, a mindset of running just enough service to meet demand took over. This would be particularly unfortunate when the ALRVs entered service, and the new schedules merely replaced the capacity of former CLRV/PCC service on wider headways. With cars 50% bigger, the scheduled gap (headway) between cars increased proportionately. This combined with the TTC’s notoriously uneven service to drive away ridership, and the Queen car lost about a third of its demand.

The real blow came in the early 1990s with an extended recession that saw the TTC system lose 20% of its ridership falling from about 450 million to 360 million annual rides over five years. The effect was compounded when Ontario walked away from transit subsidies when the Mike Harris conservatives replaced the Bob Rae NDP at Queen’s Park.

The TTC planned to rebuild and keep a small PCC fleet to supplement the LRVs in anticipation of vehicle needs on the Spadina/Harbourfront line. However, when it opened in 1997 service cuts had reduced peak fleet requirements to the point that the PCCs were not required and the network, including 510 Spadina, operated entirely with CLRVs and ALRVs. This locked the TTC into a fleet with no capacity for growth, a situation that persisted for over two decades and which the new Flexity fleet has not completely relieved.

The combination of rising demand, in turn driven by the unforeseen growth of residential density in the “old” City of Toronto, and of commercial density in and near the core, leaves Toronto with unmet transit needs, latent and growing possibilities for transit to make inroads in the travel market, and a customer attitude that “TTC” means “Take The Car” if possible.

The problem with service inadequacy and unreliability extends well beyond the old city into the suburban bus network, but this article’s focus is the streetcar lines. I have not forgotten those who live and travel in what we used to call “Zone 2”, but the evolution of service on the streetcar system is a tale of what happens when part of the transit network does not get the resources it should to handle demand.

The evolution of service and capacity levels shown here brings us to the standard chicken-and-egg transit question about ridership and service. Without question there have been economic and demographic changes in Toronto over the years including the average population per household in the old city, the conversion of industrial lands (and their jobs) to residential, the shift of some commuting to focus outward rather than on the core, and the shift in preferred travel mode.

Where service has been cut, ridership fell, and it is a hard slog to regain that demand without external forces such as the population growth in the King Street corridor. The lower demand becomes the supposed justification for lower service and what might have been “temporary” becomes an integral part of the system. However, the level of service on any route should not be assumed to be “adequate for demand” because that demand so strongly depends on the amount of service actually provided.

This is a challenge for the TTC and the City of Toronto in coming decades – moving away from just enough service and subsidy to get by to actively improving surface route capacity and service quality.

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The Early Days of the CLRVs

As I write this, it is Christmas morning in 2019, and the TTC’s fleet of CLRVs, now 40 years old, has only a few more days to run in revenue service.

Here is a gallery of photos culled from their early years. There is a preponderance of photos showing construction activities because that is what I tended to focus on in those days. Although the TTC had decided to retain its streetcars and bought a new fleet, track construction techniques had not caught up with the idea that things should be build to last. Untreated ties and rails that were only spot welded at the top, not with a solid top-to-bottom thermite weld, were not the most robust.

This design combined with the vibrations from the original Bochum wheels on the CLRVs led to the quick disintegration of roadbeds leaving the TTC by the mid 1990s with a double-dose of track repairs. Not only did they have to rebuild track that was 20-30 years old, they had a fresh batch that was 10-15 years old. The overall track repair program caught up with this backlog a few years ago for tangent (straight) track, but the adoption of panel-based and properly welded special work (intersections) took longer to get underway. Some major intersections, notably Queen & Roncesvalles, are falling apart leading to slow orders on various parts of the streetcar system. (Ironically, because this is a blanket order, there are slow orders on all special work whether it needs it or  not.)

Back in the 1980s, the CLRVs were brand new, and after many teething problems they became the workhorses of the network as the PCC fleet was gradually retired.

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501 Queen: Streetcars vs Buses November 25-29, 2019

During the last week of November, the first to see streetcars return to The Beach after almost three months’ absence for construction at Kingston Road, the line had a major disruption thanks to a broken rail near Roncesvalles. This rail damaged the track brakes on 22 Flexity cars, and while the TTC searched for the problem, the line was completely switched to bus operation.

Streetcars ran on Monday and Tuesday, November 25-26, and on Wednesday November 27 until midday. Buses ran from the afternoon of November 27 to the end of service on Friday,November 29 (actually Saturday morning).

There have been calls from certain quarters on City Council for a comparison of the operation of both modes. I published an analysis of route 505 Dundas in May 2018. Broadly speaking, it showed that buses outrun streetcars only when there is no traffic in the way and operators can drive as if they are on the suburban streets they are used to.

The substitution on 501 Queen gave an opportunity to compare the two modes over the entire route, not just over a segment running with buses due to construction. This article reviews the data from November 25-29 for 501 Queen.

Methodology

The TTC has two vehicle tracking system, CIS and VISION. The streetcar fleet (and a small number of buses that often run on streetcar lines) is tracked by CIS, while most of the bus fleet is tracked by VISION. The entire system will be on VISION probably in a few years, but for the moment there are two data sources.

Until quite recently, I was unable to obtain finely-grain information about vehicle locations from VISION, but this changed in October 2019. It is now possible to get comparable data tracking vehicles from both systems. This meant that comparable data were available for both the streetcar and bus operations on 501 Queen.

The process for converting data from snapshots with GPS co-ordinates to a format suitable for analysis is described at length in Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data.

In this case, we are interested in three aspects of streetcar and bus behaviour:

  • How long does each type of vehicle take to get from one point on the route to another?
  • What are the speed profiles for each vehicle type along the route?
  • What are the dwell times for each vehicle type along the route?

For the comparatively coarse measurement of travel times between points, the route is divided by screenlines. Tracking when each vehicle crosses a screenline gives both the headways at each line, and the travel times between them.

For fine measurement of vehicle speed, the tracking data are used to calculate each vehicle’s speed as it moved along a route. The route is subdivided into 10m segments, and the speeds of every vehicle passing through that segment in each hour are averaged. This reveals locations where vehicles spend a lot of time stopped or travelling slowly, and of course locations where they move much faster.

For dwell times, the points of interest are those where vehicles are stationary. The “tick” of the clock for tracking data is every 20 seconds, and so the length of a vehicle’s stay at a point can only be calculated to a multiple of that interval. This is a fairly coarse measurement relative to the length of time most vehicles take to serve stops, and the resulting data give only a broad outline of comparative dwell times. Note also that “dwell time” is not necessarily all “stop service time” because vehicles can be awaiting a green traffic signal, or be stuck in traffic at the stop.

The distance scale to which I convert GPS positions is measured in 10m increments. Given that vehicles will not necessarily stop at exactly the same place every time, the charts here give moving averages of dwell times over 30m.

All of the analyses presented here are subdivided into hourly intervals recognizing that a route’s behaviour at 6am is vary different from midday, the two peaks, and the evening. Far too much data presented by the TTC is summarized on an all-day basis, and even on an all-route basis. This masks variations in behaviour by location and time of day, and does not give a detailed picture of what is happening.

Summary

The data reveal various aspects of bus and streetcar operation on 501 Queen, and by extension, on other routes where a substitution might be contemplated. The results for 501 echo those seen in the 2018 article on the 505 Dundas route.

  • Across the entire route, buses travel faster than streetcars, but their performance varies from place to place, hour to hour.
  • On sections of the route where traffic is not free flowing, and where stops are busy, buses do no better than streetcars and during some periods they are worse.
  • Where traffic is free flowing, some of the advantage buses have arises from driving at above the speed limit which is 40 kph within the old City of Toronto, and 50 kph on the Lake Shore section west of the Humber River.
  • The effect of streetcar slow orders at numerous locations is clearly evident in the data.
  • Dwell time for buses appears to be slightly longer than for streetcars. This could be due to loading delays, but in turn that could be caused by the bus service being overwhelmed by streetcar-level demand. (There were complaints about the quality and capacity of the replacement service.) Also, buses lose time getting to and from curbside stops, but this is not necessarily reflected in “dwell times” because they are merely slow, not stopped during these moves.
  • I am unable to comment on service quality with buses because many vehicles were not logged on to VISION with the 501 route number. Therefore, their data do not appear in the extract I received. However, there were enough vehicles to get a sample of their behaviour and determine travel times.

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TTC Capital Budget 2020-2029 and 15 Year Plan (Updated)

Updated December 17, 2019 at 12:00 nn

This item has been updated to reflect actions taken at the TTC Board meeting of December 16 to accelerate decisions on priority projects in light of new funding that will be available through the Mayor’s proposed City Building Fund. The new information is in a postscript at the end of this article.

The link to the “Blue Pages” has been updated to point to a revised version that corrects formatting problems with some amounts in the table, and corrects the names of several budget lines. Among these was a line called “Purch 496 LF 40 ft Diesel Buses”. This has been revised to “Purchase Conventional Buses”. The section on “Buses” within the “Fleet Plan” has been revised to reflect this and include some information from discussion at the meeting

Introduction

At its meeting on December 16, 2019, the TTC Board will consider its Operating and Capital budgets for 2020. The Operating Budget was my subject in a previous article, and here I turn to the Capital Budget and 15 Year Plan. There are two related documents on the TTC’s website:

The TTC has various ways of presenting its capital budget and plans, and navigating these can be tricky for the uninitiated. There are:

  • The 15 Year Capital Investment Plan (CIP)
  • The 10 Year Capital Plan
  • The current year Capital Budget
  • Variations on the budget and plan that do not include “below the line” projects that have no committed funding
  • Estimated Final Costs (EFCs) for projects beginning within the 10 or 15 year window, but stretching beyond

For anyone making comparisons with the opaque budgets and plans at Metrolinx, that agency does not include inflation over a project’s life in cost projections, while the TTC does. The simple fact is that Toronto borrows real dollars to fund projects at then-current prices, not a some years-old notional cost. City financing plans must be based on future year spending at future prices.

The Capital Investment Plan

The Capital Investment Plan was introduced in January 2019 to bring some reality into capital planning that had been absent at the TTC, City and Provincial levels for years. In an attempt to make its future exposure to large capital expenses and possible borrowing look better than it really was, the TTC and City produced 10-year capital budgets that omitted a growing list of critical and expensive projects essential to the health of the system. The CIP pulled up the rug, so to speak, under which all of these had been hiding, and revealed officially what anyone following the TTC already knew – the difference between available funding and needed investment was an ever-deepening hole.

This arrangement suited many parties because the City could make its future debt problems look less intimidating that they really were, and advocates of big spending on new projects did not have to contend with needed spending on repairs and renewal for funding. At the Provincial level, the cost of taking over the TTC, and especially the subway network, looked manageable, but that myth exploded when the real exposure to system renewal costs emerged. Toronto, now happily back in charge of all existing TTC assets, faces the bill for a mountain of projects that Ontario might otherwise have taken off their hands.

The 2019 CIP showed that there was a $33.5 billion investment requirement over the 15 years to 2033, of which over $20 billion had no identified source of funding. A gap that incoming City Manager Chris Murray though was a few billion exploded by an order of magnitude as he noted at a recent speech at the Munk Centre. This was not something that could be fixed with a nip here and a tuck there in the City and TTC budgets.

We must now have faith that the total amount shown in the CIP really is an exhaustive tally of needed spending. However, this could be subject to upheavals such as changes in policy about renewal cycles for equipment, service levels affecting fleet size, technology selections affecting vehicle costs and the timing of major projects paid for by others but affecting the existing network such as the Scarborough and North Yonge subway extensions.

Until quite recently, future spending on TTC capital projects other than rapid transit expansion faced a big downturn in the mid 2020s corresponding to the point where the City’s ability to borrow net new funds crashed into the City’s debt ceiling. In order to maintain a good credit rating and thereby save on borrowing costs, the City limits its debt service charges (interest) to no more than 15% of the revenue stream from property taxes. Other sources of revenue do not count toward this calculation either because they are earmarked (e.g. TTC fares or targeted subsidies from other governments), or because they cannot be counted on to survive as long as the debt they might pay for (government transfers that come and go with a Premier’s whim).

Mayor John Tory has proposed a substantial increase in the City Building Levy, an extra property tax just like Rob Ford’s Scarborough Subway Tax, that will allow the City to borrow $6.6 billion more to cover its share of transit and housing projects. There is a catch, of course, in that we have no idea what other governments might contribute, if anything. Toronto has already burned through its infrastructure stimulus money from Phase I of the federal government’s PTIF (Public Transit Infrastructure Fund), and the Phase II money will go substantially to a few major rapid transit projects as approved by Council. Asking for more effectively opens up the question of better support nationally for public transit, not just for Toronto. As for Queen’s Park, Ontario’s Ford government, not exactly a friend of Toronto, could well say “we are paying for your new subway lines, but you want more”, and dismiss any request. Both Toronto and Ontario are guilty of wasteful spending on big ticket projects while underfunding basic maintenance.

When the 2019 CIP was approved by the TTC Board, it included a recommendation that the Board:

Direct the CEO to begin steps required to prioritize critical base capital needs in advance of the Board’s consideration of the 2020 Capital Budget [Minutes of January 24, 2019, Item 10, point 3]

There is no sign of prioritization among the various projects as an indication of what any new funding, should it appear, would be spent on.

The 2020 CIP includes a recommendation that the Board:

Direct the CEO to update the Capital Investment Plan on an annual basis based on refined cost and schedule estimates as projects progress through stage gates and to prioritize critical base capital needs in advance of the Board’s consideration of the 2021 budget process

The situation with the budget is too critical, and the need for action now by Council and the TTC to identify critical projects that should be first in line for funding cannot be overstated. Without a priority list that identifies the core requirements, Toronto risks losing at least another year to debate and indecision, hallmarks of the City’s transit planning.

In the intervening year, the CIP has grown by about eight percent to $36.1 billion. This is a troubling development because a good chunk of the recently announced “new” money for transit could vanish into supporting cost overruns, not to building and renewing the system.

This growth is summarized in a chart from the TTC’s report. The top portion shows the original CIP presented in January 2019 with $9.7 billion in funded projects and $23.8 billion unfunded.

The bottom portion shows the changes moving forward one year:

  • The project to add capacity at Bloor-Yonge Station has grown by 45% with an additional $500 million above the $1.1 billion shown for this item in the 2019 CIP.
  • SAP ERP is a project to replace legacy IT systems with a modern, integrated suite of software. The added $200 million arises from a combination of scope change and higher estimated cost for the work already committed.
  • ATC resignalling has grown by $900 million due to a scope change in the Line 1 project, and a rise in the estimated cost of Line 2 ATC from $420 million cited in the 2019 CIP. It is not clear whether this includes funding for the retrofit of the T1 fleet that will, under current plans, continue to operate during the ATC era on Line 2, notably on the Scarborough extension (assuming it is built with ATC from day 1, unlike the Spadina Vaughan extension where this was an afterthought). Line 4 has been added to the scope of this project.
  • Lighting in Open Cut refers to the replacement of existing lighting along the above-grade portions of the subway much of which is decades old. This item was included in the 2019 CIP as part of a bundle of subway upgrades, and at a much lower cost.
  • It is not clear from the report just what is involved in the $300 million for “Subway Signal System Alterations” beyond the work under other projects to implement ATC.
  • The last line moves year 2029, originally part of years 11-15, into the years 1-10 column.

This should be a cautionary example that the full cost of maintaining and renewing the system is not written in stone, and increases are inevitable. This also does not include potential changes related to a fleet plan that focuses on replacing vehicles and expansion rather than making do with rebuilds of existing buses and trains.

The original CIP did not include funding for the major expansion projects such as the Scarborough Subway Extension even though in January 2019 this was a City project not yet assumed by Metrolinx. The reason for this is that the major projects have their own, separate budgets and funding streams and, therefore, they were not part of the CIP to begin with. This can lead to confusion when other major projects such as Waterfront Transit show up in the TTC/City project list, even though they are not in the CIP which, therefore, understates total future funding requirements.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, January 5, 2020

The TTC will make several changes to its services in January 2020.

All seasonal changes implemented on December 22, 2019 have been reversed to the November 2019 schedules except where some other change affects a route.

On the streetcar network, the retirement of the CLRV fleet will be complete and service will be 100% accessible on all surface routes. Route allocations to carhouses have been revised with a view, in part, to current and future pantograph operations

511 Bathurst schedules will be adjusted slightly to compensate for the larger vehicles, and streetcar operation will continue until April 2020 when buses will return to the route for construction projects.

505 Dundas will return to streetcar operation in April. The 502/503 Kingston Road service consolidation running with buses will continue for the foreseeable future.

Cars entering service from Leslie Barns via King Street are already running under pans for their journeys to and from 509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina, 511 Bathurst and 512 St. Clair. 505 Dundas will operate under pans when streetcar service resumes in April, and 506 Carlton is expected to switch over in late 2020. No conversion dates have been announced yet for 501 Queen or 504 King.

Implementation of “service reliability improvements” continues on several bus routes with, in most cases, wider headways and no added vehicles. The premise is that if driving plus recovery time covers 95% of actual conditions on the route, short turns should be rare and service will more closely match the scheduled/advertised level. This does not take into account headway irregularity and bunching which can contribute at least as much to the perceived (in)frequency of service as the fact that some drivers could not make their trips in the previously allotted time. The change is particularly striking on 52 Lawrence West.

Another effect of these changes is that many buses make their trips in well under the scheduled time causing bunching at terminals, especially in cases where the recovery time equals or exceeds the scheduled headway.

The eight bus trippers in the AM peak on 506 Carlton will be changed to provide service on other routes (23 Dawes, 24 Victoria Park, 47 Lansdowne and 67 Pharmacy) on their trips to the Carlton route. [Updated December 2, 2019: The origin of these trippers on existing and planned schedules has been clarified in the pdf linked below.]

New trippers on 32 Eglinton West will serve the students from York Memorial Collegiate (Keele & Eglinton, damaged by fire) who have been relocated to Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy (Royal York & Trenholme).

Service will be improved on 300 Bloor-Danforth Night Bus Monday through Friday (Tuesday to Saturday mornings). Buses will be added to the Saturday and Sunday schedules, but the headways will not change. This is a “reliability” improvement that creates recovery times of half and hour and more. Service will also improve during the transition from night to daytime operations, but no details of this were included in the TTC’s service memo.

Planned overcrowding continues with three more routes (45 Kipling, 54 Lawrence East and 95 York Mills) slipping over the approved levels in some periods. These route will also lose their 10-Minute Network status during some periods.

Details of these changes are in the PDF linked below.

2020.01.05_Service_Changes_V2

Farewell To The CLRVs

The TTC has issued a press release with details of the final runs of the CLRV streetcars.

After four decades of service to Toronto commuters, the TTC’s Canadian Light Rail Vehicle (CLRV) streetcars will make their last run on Sun., Dec. 29 – 42 years to the day the first vehicle arrived on TTC property.

Transit enthusiasts will have a chance to win a spot on the final ride.

From Nov. 24 through Dec. 28, CLRVs will operate on 511 Bathurst seven days a week with additional CLRVs deployed as extra service on 501 Queen on weekends only between Roncesvalles Ave. and Greenwood Ave.

On Dec. 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., two CLRVs will run as free service between Bathurst St. and Greenwood Ave. to commemorate the final day of service. The final ride, which is for contest winners, runs from Wolseley Loop at Bathurst St. to Russell Carhouse at Greenwood Ave.

Those wishing to be part of the historic last ride must enter the contest through the TTC’s Facebook and Instagram pages from Dec. 2 to Dec. 6. Ten winners from each platform will be selected at random and each will be awarded a seat for them and a guest on the final CLRV ride on the afternoon of Dec. 29.

The first CLRV arrived on property on Dec. 29, 1977 and entered service on Sept. 30, 1979 on the 507 Long Branch route. The final CLRV was delivered in 1982. In total, the TTC purchased 196 CLRV streetcars, supplemented in 1988 by an additional 52 Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs), which were nearly double the length of the CLRV. The last of the ALRV fleet was officially retired on Sept. 2, 2019.

The fleet is being replaced by 204 Bombardier low-floor streetcars. The retirement of the CLRVs means that every TTC bus and streetcar route will be serviced by accessible vehicles as of Dec. 30.

A Potpourri of TTC Items

Several items have languished unreported here for a while, and it’s time to push them all out of the door in preparation for the deluge of budget information and the new Service Plan that will come in December. My apologies for not keeping you as up to date as I might have.

The items covered here are:

  • Ridership and revenue
  • Vehicle reliability
  • Service quality (briefly)
  • Automatic train control
  • eBuses (electric buses)
  • Fare evasion

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Flexity Reliability Update: October 2019

At the TTC Board meeting of October 24, 2019, there was a staff presentation on the question of streetcar reliability and statistics, as well as a statement by Bombardier about their improvements in quality control. [Links go to the YouTube video recording of the meeting.]

In a previous article I wrote about claims that the TTC was keeping “two sets of books” on vehicle reliability, and that the numbers cited for the Flexity fleet omitted failures that were counted against the “legacy” CLRV and ALRV fleets. The TTC has now produced statistics for the Flexitys distinguishing between failures chargeable against Bombardier’s contract performance, and a broader class of delays including those caused by other factors.

The charts shown in this article were clipped as screen grabs from the meeting video. When I get better resolution versions from the TTC, I will update the illustrations here.

There are several “Key Performance Indicators” (KPIs) tracked by the TTC and Bombardier, and some of these appear in the monthly CEO’s Report. Responsibility for these varies between the supplier, Bombardier Transportation, and the buyer, TTC, as shown in the chart below. Of particular concern was the Operational Reliability Mean Distance Between Failures which is calculated based on all in-service failures and provides a measure much closer to rider experience than Contractual Reliability that tracks supplier-specific faults.

Production of the new cars suffered for roughly the first third of the order because of manufacturing and engineering problems at Bombardier. This was acknowledged in Bombardier’s presentation about which more later in the article. The chart below does not fully show the severity of the problem because a “defect” could range all the way from something cosmetic to a fault in the physical structure. The chart does acknowledge “Major Quality Defects” and this corresponds to the portion of the order with unacceptable welding from Bombardier’s plant in Mexico.

The delivery pattern is shown below with the anticipated completion of the order by December 31, 2019. This could be missed due to subcontractor supply issues at Bombardier.

The blue bars in the chart show the planned repair program to re-weld the frames of the early cars. This project will occur on a rotating basis so that the number of cars removed from the fleet at any one time is small and does not have the same effect it would were all 67 cars deemed unfit for service.

The reliability statistics have been recalculated back to January 2016 to distinguish between vendor-related issues and all others. On the latter basis (the “Operational Reliability”), the MDBF numbers are lower for the new cars. While still better than the legacy fleet, they are not as dramatic an improvement as cited routinely by the CEO as justification for retirement of the old cars.

(Item 2.iii below contains a typo: it should read “worn”, not “warn” with respect to the pantograph carbons. Quality control is not just an issue for manufacturing.)

The chart below shows the contractual method of calculating reliability including month-by-month figures (amber) and a twelve-month average value. The dotted line is a projection showing what must be achieved to meet the contract requirement of one year’s average at 35,000 km MDBF. Although this chart ends at August 2019, Bombardier reported in their presentation that the figure remains well over the target into October 2019.

When the calculation includes failures that are not chargeable to Bombardier, the monthly averages fall considerably with the low points for the new cars not far off the high points for the old ones. To be fair, one factor in the ability to keep the legacy cars’ MDBF as high as it is recently has been the retirement of the least reliable cars in the fleet.

The real challenge will be to see how the Flexitys make out through the winter of 2020, and the degree to which vendor-related problems affect the contractual as opposed to operational reliability statistics.

The table below expresses the data on the basis of failures per vehicle showing that on both bases of measurement, this number is falling as the fleet grows showing that newly delivered cars are not contributing to high failure rates as they were earlier in the contract. This could be due to better reliability of the newest cars, or to the accumulation of a larger number of reliable cars in the fleet overall, or some combination of the two.

Reliability In More Detail

Within the contractual method of calculating reliability, there are four categories of failure, of which the “B” type has the 35,000 km MDBF target. These are described below, and the Bombardier presentation refers to “B” failures on a few occasions.

[Source: TTC]

In the table below, the one on the left side lists a total of 15 failures chargeable under the contractual method, of which only 8 actually caused a delay while the other 7 did not. All 15 are counted in calculating the contractual failure rate. On the right side are the 8 contractual failures causing delay plus a further 35 that are not chargeable to the vendor.

Of particular note is the group of 31 “delays that can be limited/eliminated by improved operational response”. This implies there is work to be done on the TTC’s side in better handling and preventing failures that are at least to some degree under their control.

This is echoed in the October 2019 CEO’s Report:

With respect to the Operational MDBF, there were 28 additional delay incidents contributing to the 16,402 kilometres. These incidents included delays such as communication issues, camera issues and faults that should have been remedied under five minutes due to redundant systems on the vehicle. [p 41]

[Source: TTC]

In my previous article, I included a detailed list of failures/delays that was built from the same source material Ben Spurr used for his article in The Star. This information was sent to a wide audience of politicians and media outlets including this blog. The TTC provided me with an updated version of this list including incidents not covered in the material published before. [Click to enlarge.]

[Source: TTC]

Bombardier’s Mea Culpa

Bombardier appeared at the Board meeting with a message about how their production pace and quality had improved. They were represented by Lee Sander, president of the Americas Division of Bombardier Transportation, and David Van der Wee, COO for that division.

Most surprising was their quite free admission that Bombardier greatly underestimated the complexity of adapting a car they had successfully built in and for the European market to Toronto conditions (use of salt in winter, grades, curve radii and track gauge) and of transferring manufacturing techniques from an experienced plant to their Mexican operations which were the source of many problems.

In the original bid for these cars, the competing proposal from Siemens was 50% higher than Bombardier’s price. Bombardier admits that they lost a lot of money on this contract. To what extent these losses might have been avoided with better project planning and management we will never know. This might show up indirectly in the bid price for any add-on streetcars if Toronto ever gets to the point of calling for quotes on them.

This was clearly a pitch to say “look at what we can do today” as a measure of what the TTC might expect in a supplementary order for streetcars. The problem, however, is that Bombardier’s reputation, and not just for the TTC order, is in tatters thanks to quality control problems of past years. There is little political love for a company that has had so many bailouts, and other vendors hope to cash in on a potential market where the outcome of bids is less influenced by political considerations.

The TTC’s plan to rebuild rather than replace its T1 fleet for Line 2 puts a big hole in what might otherwise have been a considerable vehicle purchase stream through the 2020s. I do not agree with this decision, but for reasons that have nothing to do with sending work to Bombardier. Rather, the TTC is locking Toronto into the existing capacity on Line 2 for over a decade by keeping the T1 trains.

As for new streetcars, the TTC desperately needs more to handle existing and future demand, not to mention potential network expansion in the waterfront, but all of the capital spending is now focused on subway and suburban LRT expansion, not on the existing surface network. Provincial funding cuts will hobble Toronto’s ability to expand service on its streetcar and bus networks for many years.

The Star’s Ben Spurr writes about Bombardier’s presentation here.

Tips for any vendor making a presentation especially to a potentially hostile audience:

  • If you have a slide deck, make sure that it contributes to what you are saying rather than just having a set of beauty shots.
  • Be sure all of the photos are the right way around (one was reversed) and show your product in the best, recent light (pantographs up, please) from your own photos rather than culling them from the internet.
  • Learn to pronounce the names of locations where you have employees correctly before you get here rather than stumbling over them while reading a prepared text (“Etobicoke”).

These gaffes might not have been noticed by everyone, but they speak to attention to detail, something the whole Flexity supply experience lacked.

How Reliable Are TTC Statistics?

Ben Spurr in the Toronto Star published an article on September 30 about the mis-reporting of vehicle reliability for the fleet of Bombardier Flexity streetcars.

In brief, the TTC reports defects for the new cars on a different basis than for the old ones (the CLRVs and the recently retired ALRVs), and this has two effects:

  • The reliability of the old cars looks worse by comparison to the new ones, and this supports the argument that the old cars should be retired as soon as possible.
  • The new cars have recently crested the performance specification from the Bombardier contract, but this is based on the way the failure rate is calculated.

The September 2019 CEO’s Report contains Mean Distance Between Failure (MDBF) charts for both types of streetcars still in active service. August 2019 saw the new fleet’s reliability go about the 35,000 km MDBF, and CEO Rick Leary reported at the TTC Board meeting of September 24 that the current number was running above 50,000 km.

By contrast, the CLRVs have failed roughly every 4,000 to 6,000 km for much of the past three years with problems more common during the cold months. Note that the scales of the charts below are not the same.

However, according to Spurr’s article, the basis of calculation is different for the two fleets. In the case of the new cars, only failures chargeable against Bombardier’s contracted reliability level are counted while for the old cars any failure counts. This makes a big difference when one considers how many of the in service failures were not included in the calculation for the new fleet.

Spurr writes:

The vehicle contract the TTC and Bombardier signed in 2009 set a MDBF target of 35,000 km. The cars were supposed to reach that figure by the time the 60th vehicle was delivered. That car arrived in January 2018, but the new fleet failed to hit the target then or in subsequent months.

That changed this summer. As Bombardier edged closer to completing its delivery of the 204-car fleet, and the TTC weighed the option of placing an order for additional streetcars with the company, the publicly reported reliability figures shot up.

They showed the cars had an MDBF of 36,500 km in July, and 51,500 km in August, the best the fleet has recorded since the early days of the order. CEO Leary cited that most recent figure at last Tuesday’s meeting as evidence the cars are “performing exceptionally well.”

However, over the same period the unpublished reliability figures didn’t improve. The “legacy” numbers showed an MDBF of just 16,400 km in August, which while much better than the early months of the year, was virtually unchanged from the mark set in May.

The unpublished “legacy” figures are consistently significantly worse than those the contractual numbers.

He goes on to write:

Internal TTC documents reviewed by the Star show that in [August] the new streetcars experienced dozens of delays related to faulty brakes, malfunctioning doors, broken HVAC units, and short circuit warnings. The agency tabulated 43 significant delays during that period, but only 15 were deemed Bombardier’s responsibility and included in the version of the stats that are made public.

That lower delay figure led to the contractual number of the cars running more than 51,500 km without a failure.

Readers can judge for themselves the type of delay that is omitted from the TTC’s reliability numbers from the following table which is compiled from TTC delay reports.

TTC_201908_LFLRV_DelaySummary

There are 56 items in the list and several patterns are immediately obvious:

  • Problems with the power collection system are common including pantograph failures, lost trolley poles or defective shoes, and dewirements snagging poles and/or damaging the overhead.
  • Brake problems
  • Mobility ramp problems
  • Failures early in the morning on cars that are probably just entering service

Many of the problems have nothing to do with Bombardier reliability stats and are not included in the calculation included in the CEO’s Report. If they were, the numbers would not look anywhere near as good.

Something that is evident in reported reliability stats is that there can be large variations in MDBF values from month to month. The TTC does not make huge changes in the mileage operated by its fleet each month, and so the large swings must be due to a relatively low number of incidents. For example, if there were typically 100 incidents per month and this swings up or down by 10%, then the MDBF would not change much. However, if there were typically only 20 incidents per month, a small change in the month-to-month numbers would produce a big swing in the MDBF. This is evident in the Flexity reliability values and in those cited for the subway fleet, notably the newer TR trains on Lines 1 and 4.

Even if all types of failure were counted, the service delay it causes must be five minutes or more. This is a standard adopted from the NOVA group of rapid transit operators and really is more appropriate for rapid transit lines.

An important distinction is that vehicles that run in trains have the capability of “getting home” even if one unit is disabled under most circumstances, and reliability stats for this type of operation will be higher than for single vehicles on a streetcar system. Also, rapid transit lines operate at higher average speeds, and failures that are affected more by hours of service than by mileage are spread over a larger distance operated. This is quite evident in TTC subway stats where the MDBF is much higher than for streetcars.

By contrast, it is difficult to imagine how a bus breakdown can cause a significant service delay except in comparatively rare circumstances, and the five minute delay screen for a chargeable delay makes no sense for the bus fleet.

The question of just how reliable various vehicle types might be is part of a larger issue with the selective, and possibly misleading reporting of statistics by TTC management.

Delays to service, especially on the subway, are caused not just by equipment failures, but by a raft of other subsystems and problems such as signals, track, power supply, fires, passenger assistance alarms and track level incidents. The TTC tracks the various types of delay, but reports on them only rarely in public. This means that sources of service delay that might be under the TTC’s control are not tracked in a report that is routinely seen by the TTC Board, nor is there any tracking of the effects of preventative maintenance or capital works to reduce this type of delay. One obvious example is the new Automatic Train Control system which is now operating on about half of Line 1 YUS, but we know nothing of service reliability on that section, Vaughan to St. Patrick, compared to the old signals still in use from St. Patrick to Finch.

Bus reliability is reported in the aggregate for a fleet that ranges in age from brand new to over twelve years old. The TTC used to keep buses for at least 18 years, but now chooses to replace rather than rebuild old vehicles. Retiring a large tranche of 12-20 year old buses in recent years has had three effects:

  • The average age of the fleet is now quite low, and it will continue to drop. Half of the fleet is less than five years old, but as the “bulge” of new buses ages, the fleet reliability will fall.
  • With many new buses coming on stream, the TTC can keep old buses in service and maintain a high ratio of spares to service requirements. The situation is very different for the streetcar fleet where with the retirement of old cars, the fleet is too small to provide service on all routes with an adequate number of spares for maintenance.
  • The large order of buses soaked up the then-available funding for transit infrastructure as it was the only way Toronto could spend its allocation within the short timeframe dictated by the federal government.

For reasons best known to the TTC, the chart above is clipped at 20,000 km rather than showing the actual variation, and this has been the case since early 2018. It is unclear whether the actual numbers are rising or falling over the past two years. Moreover, the values average the reliability for the entire fleet rather than showing subsets such as diesel and hybrid buses, or buses of varying ages or manufacture. This type of breakdown is vital in understanding fleet planning, not to mention tracking the benefits (or not) of technology changes such as the move to an all-electric fleet which is only just beginning.

The TTC fleet of buses is much larger than its requirement for service. In total, as of the September 2019 vehicle list (taken from the Scheduled Service Summary, last page) shows a total of 2,076 vehicles as compared to a peak service requirement of 1,626 (p. 63 of the same document). This is a generous spare factor of over 27%, or one spare bus for every four in service. It is easy to get very good performance from your fleet with such a high ratio, but this also means that, in effect, the TTC operates one garage worth of spares for every four garages worth of regular service. This is far higher than the target spare ratio for rail vehicles.

In a separate post, I will turn to the question of service reliability, scheduling and the way in which service quality is presented by management to the TTC Board. This is another area where there has been a lot of work to make the numbers “look good” but with detrimental effects on the system.

Questions for the TTC:

I have posed a series of questions to the TTC and await answers from them. This article will be updated when they reply.

1. Has the Flexity reliability number always been quoted on the basis of failures chargeable to Bombardier, or was there a change in the methodology somewhere along the way? To put it another way, was there a change in what counted as a failure that created an artificial improvement in the reported numbers?

2. What is the situation with subway delays and MDBF numbers? Are all failures counted (at least those producing a 5 minute or greater delay) or only those considered to be the manufacturer’s fault? Is the calculation done the same way for the TR and T1 fleets?

3. The NOVA metric which the TTC uses is based on the idea of a failure that causes a delay to service. This only makes sense in the case of rail modes where a car/train failure can block the line. For buses, only a rare and well-positioned failure could actually block service. How is a chargeable failure calculated for the bus fleet?

4. Are numbers available for subsets of the bus fleet (e.g. all buses from the same order, age, technology) so that reliability figures can be compared as they have been with rail modes?

5. The CEO’s Report includes only stats for delays caused by vehicle faults, not from other sources such as infrastructure failure. Why is this info not also tracked in the report so that the effects are clear on a proportionate basis? In particular, there is no tracking of signal failures on various parts of the subway with older and newer technologies.

Summary:

TTC management should report vehicle reliability numbers on a consistent basis for all types of vehicles.

The calculation of service interruption rates should reflect what riders experience, not simply numbers to establish contract performance for suppliers or to artificially enhance the reported performance of some vehicle types.

The reliability statistics for the bus fleet should be broken down by major vehicle groups (manufacturer, propulsion technology, age) to allow meaningful comparisons and to ensure tracking of maintenance/reliability as parts of the fleet age.

The very large spare ratio for the bus fleet should be reviewed to determine whether this size of fleet is actually required, or if more service could be operated if only the TTC would budget for the cost of its operation.

Delays caused by infrastructure issues and other interruptions should be tracked and reported so that their effect on service quality can be seen in comparison to vehicle related problems.