TTC Board Meeting October 16, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on October 16. Among items of interest on the agenda are:

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Is A TTC Bus Technology Gerrymander In The Works?

At its September 5, 2017, Board Meeting, the TTC considered a report recommending the purchase of 440 “clean diesel” buses from Nova Bus, a division of Volvo. This sort of thing would normally sail through because the Board has considered and approved future bus plans at previous meetings. In this particular case, one important aspect of the order is that 325 of the vehicles would be delivered before the deadline for federal PTIF (Public Transit Infrastructure Fund) grants that end on March 31, 2019. A further 115 buses would be procured with the “standard” arrangement for TTC capital financing, but no federal contribution.

This procurement went through a common pattern with an RFI (Request for Information) in October 2016 and an RFP (Request for Proposal) in April 2017. Two proposals were received, one from Nova and the other from Flyer Industries, and both met the technical requirements. The decision to award to Nova Bus was based on pricing (Nova’s bid was $300.5 million while Flyer’s was $345.0 million).

In an unusual move, the Board entertained a last-minute addition to the deputations list, two representatives of a builder of battery buses, BYD. This is a Chinese manufacturer with an office in Los Angeles and, more recently, representatives in Canada. BYD did not bid on this RFP because it specified clean diesel technology which they do not supply.

Their presentation and associated Q&A went on at some length, far moreso than public deputations are normally allowed, and it was quite clear that this was a sales pitch for their product. In any other Board meeting, this would have been stopped as an abuse of process, but this situation was under the charmed support of Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong who is a member of the TTC Board.

Many claims were made for BYD technology and for the scope of the battery bus industry that went largely unchallenged.

In response, TTC management advised that they would be issuing an RFI for alternative technology buses to four supplies, including Nova and Flyer, later in the week, and that they planned to bring back an overview report to the Board in November.

The situation became more interesting with a motion proposed by Minnan-Wong and eventually approved by the Board with only two votes against that would reduce the contract award to Nova to 325 vehicles and pursue the remaining 115 as a potential for a different propulsion technology.

Another wrinkle was added by Chair Colle (one of the two “no” votes on Minnan-Wong’s proposal). The PTIF funds allocated to Toronto were split between the TTC and the City, and the TTC has found projects that can qualify for this funding. However, the City is unable to spend all of its available funding and is looking for projects that could soak up the shortfall. Colle proposes that TTC management report on what projects might be brought forward for this purpose.

During the discussion, there were comments pro and con the TTC’s becoming embroiled in yet another new transit technology. They have already been burned by the Hybrid Bus fiasco, ironically a scheme they were forced into by a combination of environmental enthusiasm at Council and federal subsidies that were only available for “green” technology. A good deal of that federal money went not to additional buses, but to paying the extra cost of the hybrid vehicles. The BYD reps proposed exactly the same thing for their products – yes, they were more expensive than regular buses, but the feds would pay and the TTC could save money in the long run on operating costs. Of course this approach would negate the ability to buy more transit infrastructure with the federal funding, and of course would not apply to any buses bought outside of the PTIF envelope.

TTC management including CEO Andy Byford made the point strongly that it is staff’s job to get service out onto the road, and the 440 bus order was to allow retirement of the oldest and least reliable vehicles. Battery bus technology is evolving quickly, but beyond some large fleets in China, cannot be said to be well-established in North America or Europe.

It is quite clear that there has been lobbying behind the scenes, primarily to the Deputy Mayor, for several months. Below are snapshots from the City of Toronto’s Lobbyist Registry. (Click to enlarge.)

The lobbyist company, Earnscliffe, is well-known. The initial contact by them corresponds to the point at which the TTC issued its RFP for diesel buses in April 2017.

Any company is free to lobby, but it is quite unusual for this to result in a direct presentation to a Board meeting where a contract award is up for approval. We have learned recently how political meddling has influenced advice and decisions at both Metrolinx and the City of Toronto, and this continues a disturbing trend.

Worst of all, the TTC staff report on alternative technology buses will now be under a cloud. Will it be a technically honest report, or will it be spun to suit the position of a well-connected member of the Board? By giving credibility to BYD’s presentation, has the Board placed TTC staff in the unenviable position of debunking claims made by one would-be vendor? Will there be another round of vendor presentations attacking whatever staff brings forward?

Members of the TTC Board just love to think of themselves as progressive, forward thinkers who will embrace potential transit improvements. One Board member, Councillor De Baeaemaeker, even launched into an attack on “clean diesel” by reference to all of the pollution created by exploration, extraction and refining, while carefully avoiding the fact that a great deal of Ontario’s base electrical load comes from nuclear power. That is where overnight charging would come from, but this delicate point was not part of his thesis.

If the TTC invests in electric buses, regardless of the manufacturer, this will require a garage with very different capabilities from any they now own. A substantial power supply will be needed for all of the overnight charging, and repair facilities will have to be attuned to electric, not diesel, vehicles. The TTC does not have any increase in garage capacity in the pipeline beyond McNicoll Garage, already under construction, and it will easily be the early 2020s before there is a garage where a new fleet could be based, assuming that it is a net addition and not simply a replacement for existing buses. (McNicoll, although a new garage, will simply take the pressure off all of the existing garages which are badly overcrowded.)

The irony here is not lost on those of us who followed the TTC through its abandonment of electric buses a few decades ago when beautiful, clean compressed natural gas was a panacea to solve both our diesel woes and TTC management’s distaste for trolley buses.

Battery buses may well have a future in Toronto and in world transit generally, but the way this has been introduced at the TTC leaves a foul taste, a sense that the fix is already in. Toronto’s transit technology choices have been gerrymandered more than once in the past to suit politicians and businesses looking to cash in on new technology. We have had enough of this, thank you.

A Slow Trip to Express Buses (Updated)

Updated June 19, 2017 at 3:30 pm: The TTC has clarified that the hourly costs shown for various routes are net costs, not gross costs, and this addresses my concern that some of these values were understated. The text of this article has been updated where appropriate.

Updated June 20, 2017 at 10:30 am: A section has been added on gross operating costs (the TTC study includes only net costs) to illustrate how these vary from route to route.

The TTC Board recently approved an Express Bus Network Study that proposes several new and enhanced express routes in Toronto. The premise of the study – improving the bus network’s attractiveness and convenience to riders – is a good one addressing the basic function of any transit system. However, thanks to the TTC’s severe constraints on capital and operating funding, the actual implementation of these proposals drags out for the better part of a decade. Bus planning in Toronto is converging with new subways for a lengthy gestation period.

There are three types of “express” route in Toronto:

  • The (mainly) peak period services usually signified by an “E” suffix on the route number. Typically, buses will run express over part of a route stopping only at major transfer points or destinations, and will continue as local service on the outer part of the route. These services are useful for riders who would otherwise face a long stop-and-go trip on a local bus for their entire journey. By carrying the long-distance riders express for part of the trip, the cost of route operations is reduced from that of an all-local service and provides a more attractive service overall.
  • The Rocket services (route numbers in the 18x-19x series) operate for most of the day on weekdays and weekends, and provide a more limited stop service, end-to-end, than the “E” branches. Some are designed around major endpoints such as the 192 Airport Rocket from Kipling Station to Pearson Airport, while others more closely resemble the stopping pattern of “E” services. Unlike the “E” branches, the Rockets do not necessarily duplicate the route of a local service.
  • The five Downtown Premium Express services (route numbers 14x) charge an extra fare for the privilege of avoiding the crowded Yonge subway and the 501 Queen car.

The TTC proposes an interim classification of the first two of these as Tier 1 (Rockets) and Tier 2 (“E” branches) with the intent of coming up with some sort of branding that could be used to market them. Some cities have special bus services with their own names such as Hamilton’s B Line Express and Vancouver’s 99 B-Line. Given that there already is an established name for Tier 1 with a strong Toronto reference, it is hard to understand why a new brand is required. As for the Tier 2 services, riders are well acquainted with the “E” convention (broken in rare cases such as 60F Steeles West).

The first recommendation of this study is that a marketing effort is required to brand these services. That says a lot about where the TTC’s focus has been in recent years – selling the “pizzazz”, to quote a former TTC Chair, while the system gradually declines thanks to penny-pinching by two successive City administrations.

Summary

This is a long article. Here are the highlights:

  • Growth of express services is limited as much by the political question of transit funding as it is by planning and resource constraints within the TTC.
  • The TTC’s bus fleet plan should be thoroughly reviewed to determine how more buses can be made available for service sooner than 2019/20 when McNicoll Garage opens.
  • TTC budgets should reflect a return to full streetcar service on the streetcar lines in 2018 and the redeployment of replacement buses back to the bus network.
  • Express bus routes that were added in 2016 have performed better than expected showing that these are popular services and should be expanded as soon as possible.
  • New Rocket and express routes are proposed in two waves, one for 2019-21 and the second with a tentative date of 2026.
  • Costs and revenues allocated to existing and proposed routes should be verified.
    • Update (text deleted): The costs shown for some routes appear to be in error if the methodology for costing used by the TTC is to be believed. (This issue has been referred to the TTC for comment.)
    • Revenue allocation in a flat fare system can distort the benefit of a route, and the measure of value should be based on usage not on a misleading allocation of fare revenue.
  • Express buses provide a means of carrying riders on a route with a mix of short and long haul demand more efficiently and attractively than an all-local service.
    • Riders on express services travel further than on local services taking advantage of the faster trip between major points on the route. There are fewer riders per bus kilometre because there is less turnover of the passenger load on express services.
    • Express buses cost more per ride than local buses because of their lower turnover (i.e. more riders), but the overall route cost is lower with a mix of services.
    • A proposal by one member of the TTC Board to charge extra for express routes would be counterproductive.
  • The Premium Express buses to downtown operate at a very high cost per passenger, although this needs to be verified in light of the issue with cost calculations. Demand on these routes is relatively light, and they contribute only trivially to reducing demand on parallel services. The TTC proposes to leave them in place at least until 2021, but this should be reviewed even though removing the services will be politically challenging.
  • Transit Signal Priority is not just an issue for an Express network, but for transit in general. It should be pursued on major routes whether or not they include express operations.
  • Route supervision will be essential to maintaining reliable service not just on express routes, but on the transit system overall.
  • The staff proposal to “brand” services continues the TTC’s focus on marketing when what is needed is service. The “Rocket” name is already well-established as a service type in Toronto, as are the “E” express branches of various routes. In a few cases, the “wrong” name is associated with a service (some “rockets” are really just “E” services in terms of their service patterns), but this does not justify a complete rebranding exercise.

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The Fords’ Fascination With Streetcars

At a recent meeting of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC), a motion was approved asking for reports on the comparative cost of streetcar and bus operations on Queen Street. The author of this was Councillor Michael Ford, although it was actually placed by his colleague, Councillor Holyday because Ford is not a member of PWIC.

1.  City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission, upon completion of the construction projects that have resulted in the removal of the 501 Queen Streetcar route from service for Summer 2017, to defer reintroduction of streetcar service for a period of two weeks, to permit the collection of data for the comparison study.

2.  City Council request the General Manager, Transportation Services, in consultation with the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Transit Commission, to conduct a comparison study of the efficacy of streetcar service versus bus service on Queen Street, specifically looking at:

a. Schedule reliability of transit vehicles
b. Delays to other users of the road
c. Collisions at transit stops involving transit vehicles and cars, pedestrians, or cyclists
d. Collisions at transit stops between cars, pedestrians and cyclists not including transit vehicles
e. Ridership satisfaction
f. Fleet maintenance costs
g. Fleet operator and operation costs
h. Incidences of driver assault
i. Incidences of passenger disputes
j. Traffic volumes in peak period and off-peak periods

using bus data collected during the two week delayed streetcar re-implementation period, followed by the subsequent two weeks once they have been re-implemented, in order to get a clear and direct comparison during non-construction periods, and report back to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in the first quarter of 2018.

The request received little debate coming as it did as an add-on motion to a Friday meeting. Nobody from the TTC was present, nor were there any interventions by downtown Councillors or members of the public. PWIC, although it deals with many issues affecting downtown, contains no members from that area thanks to the gerrymandering of committees by Mayor Tory.

An amendment to this motion by Councillor Lee asked the Deputy City Manager to report to Council with additional information such as the cost and feasibility of such a study.

The package passed on a 3-2 vote and the request goes to the July 2017 Council meeting for approval.

My recent series of articles on bus vs streetcar operations on Queen was already “in the works” when this motion was approved, although this request triggered somewhat more urgency to producing them than I had planned.

Part I: A comparison of travel times for streetcars in April vs buses in May 2017
Part II: An historical review of travel times September 2013 to May 2017
Part III: Capacity of service scheduled and operated
Part IV: Comparative operating speeds in May 2017

One important point flowing through these article is that “comparison” can be challenging when the underlying conditions vary. From the analysis I have published, it is already clear that buses tend to fare better than streetcars where traffic is light and demand is low, but they lose this advantage in busy areas. A further problem is that TTC operating practices for each vehicle type differ and buses tend to be driven more aggressively. Streetcars could be too, but in an attempt to manage service, various practices have resulted in streetcars being forced to drive more slowly than actual road conditions dictate. The longer this goes on, the more it is assumed to be an inherent part of streetcar operations, while those of us who have ridden the TTC for some years know what streetcars can actually do given the chance.

The motion proposes that buses stay in operation for two weeks beyond the point that streetcars would have returned (Labour Day weekend) and that data be collected to compare operations. To be fair to the buses, this may not be an ideal period because early September sees much traffic displaced from King to Queen thanks to TIFF. Other planned construction work will disrupt the street: in September, track will be replaced at Queen & Coxwell, and in October/November at Queen & McCaul. Coxwell, at least, is well out of the core an work there will not affect streetcar service (a bus shuttle will run to Neville). There is also the question of whether the TTC will have enough buses to spare for Queen once the summer service cutbacks end in September.

One issue raised by the motion and by some media reports is that riders feel they are getting a faster trip with buses. My analysis shows that for some times and parts of the route this is true, but not for the most congested areas. Moreover, as already noted, we are seeing buses unconstrained by a “go slow” operating policy compared with streetcars that limp along the route to avoid running early. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

We have been down this road before when former Councillor Rob Ford, later Mayor, posed a series of questions to the TTC in 2010. My thanks to Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam for providing the exchange. For the purposes of this article, I have divided up the material so that I can comment on each section, and reordered the sections to provide a better thread in the current context.

It is no secret that I support the retention and expansion of the streetcar network. Although new suburban lines such as 5 Crosstown and 7 Finch West will use the “Metrolinx” Toronto car, whatever it might be, new lines in the waterfront west to Humber Bay and east to the Port Lands will be part of the “legacy” network. Waterfront plans depend on the capacity that an LRT  link to Union Station can bring.

The question of articulated buses as a streetcar replacement comes up from time to time. My response is that there are suburban routes where these are appropriate, but that in the congested core area, streetcars are the best vehicles for traffic conditions and they have the ability to operate underground where needed. Buses might be made to work, but only if Toronto is prepared to devote much more road space and time to transit vehicles. They are not a panacea for suburban motorists fighting their way through traffic in an oversized SUV.

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TTC Board Meeting April 20, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on April 20, 2017. Items of interest on the agenda include:

  • The monthly CEO’s Report
  • Repair of SRT Vehicles
  • Disposition of Bay Street Bus Terminal

This article has been updated with a commentary on subway and surface route performance statistics presented at the Board meeting. (Scroll down to the end of the CEO’s Report.)

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TTC Vehicle Reliability

Delays in the arrival of the new Bombardier Flexity streetcars, together with last summer’s sauna conditions on the Bloor-Danforth subway, make for ongoing concern about the condition of the TTC’s fleet. Statistics in the January 2017 CEO’s Report triggered media reports and a discussion at the recent TTC Board Meeting.

The numbers, although presented in what is supposed to be an “industry standard” format, lead to much confusion for a variety of reasons:

  • The basic standard is that any fault causing a delay of five minutes or greater counts, while all others do not.
    • A fault that might delay a bus or streetcar (doors not working) may not count against the subway because there is so much redundancy.
    • There is no distinction between a fault that represents a severe failure of a component or a minor annoyance that simply caused a long enough delay to be counted. Similarly, the cost and effort needed to repair faults does not contribute to the metric.
  • Faults are reported “per vehicle kilometre”, but many subsystems fail more on the basis of hours in operation (how long has an air conditioner been running), or number of cycles (how many times did doors open and close).
    • For a specific fleet and type of operation, hours and kilometres are interchangeable because the fleet operates at a consistent average speed within its frame of reference.
    • Fleets (or even subsets of fleets) operating under different conditions (average speed, frequency of stops, loads and grades) will not have the same ratio of hourly-based to distance-based faults. Direct comparison of distance-based statistics between these conditions is meaningless. For example, a well known problem in comparing streetcars with buses is that bus routes tend to operate in suburban conditions at relatively high average speeds. When they shift to more congested, densely used routes, their operating characteristics change. (It is self-evident that fuel consumption is affected by route conditions, and operator wages are paid per hour, not per kilometre. Slower buses run fewer kilometres. Time-based wear and tear, and associated reliability stats will rise when expressed on the basis of distance.)
  • Some fleets are a uniform age, while others are diverse.
    • Toronto’s rail fleets have major vehicle groups each of which was sourced as a single large order: The T1 (BD) and TR (YUS) subway car fleets; the CLRV, ALRV and Flexity streetcar fleets; and the SRT.
    • The bus fleet has a wider range of ages and technologies, and so its statistics are the combined effect of vehicles over a range of ages and conditions.
    • For a list of the TTC fleet by type, see the last page of any Scheduled Service Summary such as the one for January 2017. These are available on the TTC’s Planning webpage.

In the figures reported by the CEO, these issues are not explored in detail, but are at best mentioned in a few footnotes. Unsurprisingly, the media and politicians (even transit pundits) can jump to the wrong conclusion about what the stats actually mean.

To ensure that even without taking these factors into account, we are dealing with similar methodologies for each fleet, I asked the TTC whether the same principles apply across the system.

SM: Is it correct that there is a different set of criteria for a “defect” charged to the streetcar fleets and to the subway fleet? Are the criteria used for buses yet another way of measuring defect rates, or are they the same as for streetcars?

TTC: Same principle applies.  In principle, the calculation of MKBD is the same for each mode.   Overall vehicle reliability is dependent upon component and systems reliability. 

MKBD is calculated from the number of chargeable Road Calls and Change Offs (RCCO) during service.  The definition of a chargeable RCCO is any disruption to revenue service caused by a preventable equipment failure.  This definition is applied to all modes of operation.  It should, however, be noted that there are slight differences to the criteria of RCCO for each mode.   For example, a failure to a set of doors on a subway train may not cause a disruption or a delay to service.  Line mechanics may respond to the failure and barricade the inoperable doors. This may happen with no impact to customer or to service. This is due to the fact that subways have multiple sets of doors that customers can enter or egress from. Transit Control, therefore,  may decide not to remove a train from service if one set of doors is inoperable.  For a 40’ bus, however, the option to continue in service with a set of inoperable doors is not an option. Passenger flow on and off the bus will be significantly impacted.  Therefore, in this case … the same equipment failure may be handled differently on buses, streetcars and subways.   Differences in types of equipment, life cycles of these equipment and operating environments will also contribute to the differences in calculating RCCO and MKBD between modes. [Email of January 16, 2017]

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TTC Board Meeting: November 30, 2016

The TTC Board will meet on November 30, 2016 at 1 pm in the Council Chamber at City Hall. This is not a budget meeting, but the agenda contains a number of items of interest.

  • CEO’s Report for November 2016
  • Purchase of Air Conditioning Parts for T1 Subway Cars
  • Purchase of land to expand bus storage capacity
  • Reports related to the Hillcrest Complex including a review of property usage, approval of new equipment for Duncan Shops, and approval of a new Streetcar Way Building.
  • Expansion of Davisville Carhouse
  • St. Patrick Station Easier Access Elevators

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TTC Board Meeting: May 31, 2016

The TTC Board will hold its regular meeting at 1:00 pm on May 31, 2016 in Committee Room 1 at City Hall.

Items of note on the agenda include:

  • The monthly CEO’s Report
  • Purchase of 97 diesel buses
  • Metrolinx response to a request for additional parking in the Kipling Terminal project

The agenda also includes the draft financial statements which I covered in a separate article.

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TTC Board Meeting March 23, 2016

The TTC Board will meet on March 23, 2016 at 1:00 pm in Committee Room 1 at City Hall. The agenda includes many items of interest:

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