About That Metrolinx Generator in Mount Dennis (Update 2)

Over some time there have been conflicting stories about the purpose of a backup power generation unit at the Mount Dennis maintenance facility on the Crosstown project. I have heard some rather wild statements from folks at Metrolinx that suggests they might be making things up based overheard water cooler chatter (not that offices tend to have water coolers these days, but it’s the idea that counts).

After the media scrum at last week’s board meeting produced more confusion, I sent in a set of questions for clarification. The boffins at Metrolinx are supposedly working on it. Yes, you. I know you read this site, so in case the memo hasn’t reached your desk, you might want to answer the following:

Regarding the backup generator at Mount Dennis:

I have heard stories both that its purpose is for on site emergency power and for traction power to the main line.

Another variant is that less than full power would be provided in an emergency at least to clear trains from tunnels.

It does not make sense to have one huge generator capable of providing traction power to the entire route. At a minimum, a parallel distribution system would be needed to connect to the standard substation-based feeds along the line.

Also, emergency power requirements are different for traction (750 VDC) and station power (110/220 VAC). Do you really expect me to believe you plan a totally independent power distribution network from Hydro?

Another cockeyed variant is to use the generator to offset peak power demands.

Please provide a detailed technical description of what this generator is expected to power and under what circumstances so that there is a single explanation of this project from Metrolinx.

I await a reply from Metrolinx that is coherent and credible.

Updated September 20, 2016 at 10:40 pm:

Metrolinx has provided the following information about their power generation proposal for Mount Dennis:

Metrolinx is working with Toronto Hydro to explore an alternative to the proposed natural gas powered back up facility near Mount Dennis Station.   An alternative would have to provide the same basic functional requirements as the proposed natural gas powered facility.  It would also be subject to any necessary approvals from the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto. More info is coming in the near future I understand.

The gas-powered facility was proposed in order to provide the ability to maintain service when the power goes out and improve transit resilience, lower the cost of power by eliminating any contribution to peak power demand from the new system, and ensuring it does not contribute to the need for more transmission or generation infrastructure.

The proposal included:

  • a traditional Toronto Hydro electrical grid connection at two locations; and,
  • building an 18 Megawatt backup power facility – six generators – (with capacity to heat the MSF office spaces) in the northwest corner of the MSF site, known as the backup power facility.

CTS [the consortium building the Crosstown line] developed this proposal based on our RFP requirements whereby proponents were asked to design a system to achieve the power needs of the project, which included redundancy. The Energy Matters regime of the Project Agreement drove proponents to make the system as energy efficient as possible and to the extent possible limit peaks during the key hours of peak that challenge the grid. CTS is asked to forecast the following power supply needs for the system and commit to them for the 30-year Maintenance Period,

  • a) Discrete Power Use: the total amount of power needed;
  • b) Transmission Peak Use: the peak amount of power needed at any point in time (i.e. during rush hour); and
  • c) Global Adjustment Peak Use: the peak amount of power needed during the time when Toronto Hydro’s network is a peak capacity.

Each of the above peaks were assigned a $/MW or $/MW-h to determine the overall power costs of the project (that was unique to that proponent’s proposal). This cost was part of the proponents’ bid for the purposes of the financial evaluation. This regime exists to make bidders responsible for energy efficiency of their LRT system because Metrolinx will pay the energy bills for the 30 year Maintenance Period.

The proposal from CTS to responded with a fully capable 18MW power facility with the ability to completely eliminate contribution to peak period on the grid. As a result of the proposal, CTS was able to reduce their evaluation costs for the Global Adjustment Peak Use and their Transmission Peak Use.

The final power supply scenario provided for both a traditional connection to the Toronto Hydro network as well as the self-generating power facility. CTS’ obligations were to provide the power supply and HMQE’s obligations were to determine which power supply to use, i.e., either the backup power facility or the connection to the Toronto Hydro network. There are rules associated with changing of the power supply. CTS also committed to making one of the power generation units a co-generating unit (produces power and captures heat by-product). [Email from Anne Marie Aikins, Senior Manager, Media Relations, Communications & Public Affairs, Metrolinx]

This description begs a few questions:

  • If Toronto Hydro’s capacity is strained, how are we powering new facilities such as the TYSSE and proposed SSE? Does the TTC have to design for an alternative, power self-generation and transmission capability?
  • How does this claim square with statements made during the GO Transit electrification study that at the provincial level, spare power for RER was not an issue at all?
  • What additional capacity will be required to power the extensions to Pearson Airport and UTSC, and can this reasonably be sited at one location, Mount Dennis?

Updated September 22, 2016 at 8:20 am:

The acronym used above “HMQE” refers to “Her Majesty the Queen’s Entity”, a short form for the combined Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario Entity.

The primary purpose of the generator is supposedly for “Bulk Power Disruptions”, that is to say an outage from the provincial supplier, Hydro One. There have only been three such outages since (and including) the major blackout of August 2003. However, other explanations for the generation capacity emerge from time to time.

Crosslinx Transit Solutions (Crosslinks), the winning proponent, proposed an 18MW (six 3 MW engines) natural gas fired power plant to achieve 40% reduction in life-cycle electricity costs, as well as, provide backup power to protect against Hydro One electricity transmission failure (e.g. June 2013 flood at Hydro One Manby Station left 300,000 people without power for days in west Toronto and east Mississauga). Back-up power is required to ensure that LRT trains can be removed from tunnels, and provide emergency ventilation in the event of a power failure. [From the city’s report Update on Metrolinx Proposed Power Plant for Eglinton LRT, p. 3]

In other words the primary function is to reduce electricity costs rather than simply having backup power. There is no business case to show how generating their own electricity would be cheaper for this line than direct purchase from a utility.

Toronto Hydro requires additional distribution capacity for the Crosstown line and will have implemented this by the time it opens. However, this will not, according to Metrolinx, be in place soon enough to allow early testing. That statement does not explain just how much power testing would require as opposed to full operation of the line, nor whether Toronto Hydro is already capable of providing power for the testing phase.

The City’s report also speaks of heat recovery for use on site and by nearby developments. This would only make sense if the generators were operating fairly regularly, not as occasional backup units.

GO Transit’s RER power feeds will come directly from Hydro One and they will not be constrained by local transmission capacity.

Metrolinx has yet to comment on power for the Crosstown extensions, but they have confirmed that the Finch LRT will not include a comparable power facility in its design.

This entire scheme is looking more and more like a noble idea gone wrong. The specifications for this facility are in a section of the Crosslink project contract (“Output Specifications”, Schedule 15) that is completely redacted from the public version. It is intriguing that the contract contemplates the possibility that the cogeneration facility might be dropped from the project (section 20.18).

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, October 9, 2016

October 2016 brings relatively few changes in TTC service. The details are listed in the spreadsheet linked below.


  • One person train operation begins on 4 Sheppard Subway.
  • 506/306 Carlton reverts to its standard routing with streetcar operation following completion of track, water main and streetscaping on the west end of the route.
  • 502/503 services on Kingston Road revert to bus operation due to full streetcar operation on 506.
  • 501 Queen will be cut back to Woodbine Loop with a bus shuttle to Neville during reconstruction of Neville Loop. Normal streetcar service via Queen between Spadina and Shaw will resume.
  • One car will be removed from 505 Dundas during peak and early evening periods, and running times will be shortened accordingly, to reduce queuing of cars at terminals.
  • 510 Spadina schedules reorganized to match actual street conditions. Although on paper this shows as a service cut, the actual service operated has not been as good as advertised.
  • Service on Main Street will be reorganized with 64 Main operating only south from Danforth to Queen. Service north of Main Station will be provided by 62 Mortimer and 87 Cosburn (which is part of the 10 minute network).
  • Schedules on 36 Finch West, 60 Steeles West and 196 York University Rocket will be adjusted to reflect the end of subway construction activities.
  • Service on 91 Woodbine will be reorganized so that the Parview Hills branch is now operated by a separate route 93. All service on the 91 will now operate to York Mills, and the 91B peak service to Lawrence will be dropped.
  • Schedules on 165 Weston Road North reorganized for reliability with additional running time.


Presto: A Botched Opportunity to Market Transit in Toronto?

The TTC is well into its rollout of the provincially-mandated fare card, Presto, across the transit system. Like any new piece of technology there are teething problems, but both the TTC and Metrolinx seem bent on making the implementation as difficult and unfriendly as possible.

As the implementation now stands:

  • All streetcars have Presto readers at all entrances, although their reliability leaves much to be desired.
  • About half of the bus fleet has readers, and this work is expected to complete by year end.
  • Many subway stations have at least a few turnstiles with Presto readers. This too will complete by year end, but installation of new fare gates will continue well into 2017.
  • Some stations have machines to allow riders to reload their Presto cards, but these are scattered around town, and their placement (inside or outside of the fare control area) is inconsistent.
  • Riders can pay the equivalent of token or ticket fares with Presto at adult and senior rates, but the ability use Presto for all trips is hampered by whether readers are available throughout a journey.
  • Metropass users cannot use Presto because the monthly pass function has not yet been implemented, and in any event would be worthless unless all of one’s travel were confined to Presto-enabled vehicles and stations.

The implementation of a new fare collection system, bringing the TTC into at least the latter part of the 20th century, presents a chance to “get it right”, to promote a more attractive fare structure and transit in general. This opportunity has been lost through a combination of factors at the TTC, city and provincial levels. What should be a “good news” story is one of uncertainty and complaints, with more to come.

The Technology

Without question, any transit system that has converted its fare collection from a manual system to an automated one did not achieve this overnight, and perfection in a rollout is a lot to ask. That said, Presto is supposed to be mature enough that we should not be worrying about the basics. Card readers should work well enough that encountering one that’s out of service should be rare, not a common occurrence. Fare calculations should be accurate, theoretically an easy task in such a simple system of Toronto that is bereft of zones and transfer charges. Support systems such as reloading fare value onto the card should have a close to 100% up time, not be down for entire weekends for back-end software upgrades.

Retrofitting the technology to vehicles requires wiring for power and control systems, as well as providing an interface to the on-board GPS units. That is comparatively simple beside the work needed in a subway station where running wiring for power and control circuits to fare gates requires new conduits in concrete floors and, in some cases, upgraded power distribution within the station. The TTC has chosen to use this opportunity to install new fare gates, and this makes the work more complex than simply fitting a Presto reader onto existing turnstiles. More about those gates later.

The central point here is that this is basically a construction project that may take time, but once done should allow the new technology’s installation and operation. That last step, actually “turning on” the new machines, depends on technology working “out of the box”. This has not been the case either with Presto readers or with the new gates. Responsibility for maintaining this equipment is supposed to lie with both Presto (part of Metrolinx) and with the gate vendor, but the TTC is doing this work for the time being. It is unclear how many workmen will have to appear on site when a Presto-enable gate becomes cantankerous and vendors point at each other in the classic “not my problem” standoff.

This is a huge scale-up for the Presto organization both in terms of the number of devices it must support, and the volume of transactions it will have to process. Because Presto has limited attractiveness to TTC riders, it accounts for a very small proportion of fares collected. In May 2016, of the 41.3 million trips taken on the TTC, Presto was used for 1.72 million, or 4.2%. Whether Presto is capable of scaling up to the demand represented by even half of all TTC trips remains to be seen.

Opportunities for a New Fare Structure

When a new fare card was first proposed for the TTC, a big selling point was supposed to be that new and improved fare options could be provided. These include:

  • Shifting to timed fares where an initial “tap” buys two hours of travel with no restrictions on stopovers and transfers.
  • Use of time-of-day based fares with lower charges (or longer travel per tap) at off peak hours.
  • Implementation of equivalent to Day Pass pricing with the total charges in one 24 hour period capped at the value of a pass no matter how many trips were taken, with similar options on a weekly and monthly basis. Riders would not have to decide in advance whether buying a pass was worthwhile.
  • Interagency fares so that the boundaries between the TTC and neighbouring GTA systems could be simplified or eliminated.

Changing the fare structure will almost certainly have a cost because anything that makes travel cheaper for some riders is unlikely to be made up for with increased revenue through greater use. Bumping other riders’ fares to pay for this would be unpopular, and there would inevitably be cries about favouritism and hardship unless the overall change could be seen to be beneficial to most riders.

The TTC has considered a move to timed fares, a function Presto already supports in other parts of the GTA and which has always been available to the TTC, but the penny-pinching politicians who would have to fund this change are more worried about precious tax dollars than improving transit’s attractiveness and usability. The estimated cost for this option is about $20m/year, although there is good reason to suspect that this number has been padded. TTC Chair Josh Colle, and by implication Mayor Tory, did not want to spend this amount as part of the 2016 budget package, and in the constrained environment of the 2017 budget, this is even less likely.

Timed fares have two important benefits. First, they completely eliminate the complex rules about transfers and the need for the Presto software to figure out what is a “legal” transfer. This process is fraught with potential errors and overcharging through a combination of GPS errors (did you actually transfer where Presto thinks you did), and from ad hoc routings for short turns and diversions. One cannot have a transit system where the rule is “always tap on” followed by a list of exceptions most riders cannot be expected to know. The TTC will provide a refund for riders who are overcharged (assuming that they even notice and go to the exercise of retrieving their trip logs online), but even a 1% error rate translates to a huge number of complaints.

The second benefit is linked to the convenience of using the TTC as a service without worry about marginal cost for short hops, something passholders already know about. A common complaint among poverty advocates is that “trip chaining” is very expensive for riders who must do several errands in one set of trips that by TTC rules cost a separate fare for each leg of the journey. Too  much of the underlying philosophy of fares on the TTC (and on GO) is based on the “commuter” trip, not on the frequent user who travels the TTC the same way motorists or cyclists might journey from one stop to another.

Fare capping is already used on GO Transit where beyond a certain number of trips per month, travel is free. The ability to do this for the TTC and to implement it for Day Passes already exists in Presto, and the Day Pass conversion was originally expected to occur midway through 2016. It might be held up because of the limited availability of Presto on bus routes, but the reason might also be that any extension of a “pass” is opposed by some on the TTC Board and in management who regard any pass as “lost revenue” rather than as an inducement for greater system use. The idea that transit systems exist to encourage more riding is utterly lost on those who look only at the “bottom line”, not at the wider benefits transit confers.

If automatic capping is implemented for monthly passes, the number of riders gaining a reduced fare may actually go up because there will no longer be an up-front decision about whether a pass will pay its way. This would increase the proportion of equivalent-to-pass riders to an even higher level (now well over 50% of all trips) than it is today. This phenomenon and the effect of other fare options has not even been discussed in any public TTC report.

Interagency fares are, at least for Queen’s Park and Metrolinx, the holy grail of a new fare system. Riders (and voters) in the 905 will get a simpler and maybe even a cheaper ride into Toronto. However, nobody wants to pay for this, least of all the provincial government where the focus is more on how to get municipalities to pay more for transit. Among the outstanding issues are:

  • Will Presto confer a unified, cheaper fare for travel on multiple agencies, including GO Transit, or will it simply be a way to automate the collection of existing fares on all systems?
  • If some type of “co-fare” is extended to 905-416 trips on local carriers (e.g. York Region Transit/VIVA to TTC), who pays the extra subsidy?
  • Will a “co-fare” be provided between GO and the TTC as it is for GO and the 905-based carriers?
  • How will “Smart Track” and a “TTC” level fare within the 416 be implemented on GO Transit’s rail corridors? By extension, exactly what is meant by a “TTC fare”?

The Dark Side of “Opportunities”

A new fare structure may bring not just “better” fares for riders, but could also include lurking fare increases that have not been discussed as publicly as they should be.

On the TTC, some or all of the discount metropass schemes could disappear under the rationale that the savings through subscription and automatic bank withdrawals would apply to all buyers of “passes” on Presto, and there is no longer a reason to give subscribers one month free out of twelve. Never mind that this is a great loyalty and marketing tool. There are more than a few at the TTC who see this as a chance to get more revenue from this group of customers. (Full disclosure: I have been a Monthly Discount Plan user since this was introduced.) Of course a “twelfth month free” could also be implemented as an automatic loyalty reward just like daily or monthly fare capping. All that is needed is the policy decision, plus the software change needed to implement it.

A major problem for TTC Presto riders today is that there are limited locations where riders entitled to discount fares (seniors, students) can have their Presto accounts set up to charge concession rates. This is supposed to expand with the full TTC rollout, but details are scarce. If you can’t get your card set up for a discount, you pay full fare needlessly, or you stay with “legacy” fares as long as they are available.

The stealthiest of the possible fare change proposals is a move to some form of distance-based fares. Metrolinx has been pushing the idea as part of its “Regional Fare Integration Strategy” for a few years, and shows little sign of relenting on this for the TTC. “Rapid transit” fares would be based on distance travelled, and a fare from, say, Scarborough Town Centre to downtown would cost considerably more than it does today with likely a decrease in short distance fares. Metrolinx is quite selective in its description of “rapid transit” and initially this was only the GO rail and TTC subway networks. However, the description has more recently appeared for future LRT lines, although there is no mention of whether BRT services such as VIVA would fall into this category.

The TTC has assisted with making fare by distance possible because its new fare gates can have readers on both sides so that a “tap out” is needed to leave a station. This has very severe implications for the operation of a system that is designed around a free transfer and full integration between surface and subway routes. The Metrolinx study is still underway thanks to a growing realization at the political level that fare by distance is a land mine just waiting to go off under an already unpopular provincial government.

Presto implementation is expected to add $30 million to the TTC’s costs for 2017 because the savings of the new system will not be fully realized while old and new co-exist. That’s roughly the equivalent of a 1% property tax increase if paid through subsidy, or about a dime on the basic adult fare. In the medium term, Presto fees to the TTC are limited by contract, but we know from other cities that a big jump faces the TTC down the road because Presto simply is not self-sustaining on its current revenue stream. Queen’s Park does not want to indirectly subsidize local transit through its mandatory fare technology, and will claw back gas tax transfers from any municipality that does not comply.

A Marketing Failure: Bad News is Bad for Business

In my role as a “transit advocate”, I get questions both on this site and in person about how Presto will work. People ask me what is happening to the fare structure, and thanks to indecisiveness at TTC, I have to answer “I don’t know”. For a system that is supposed to be widely available in a few months, the absence of details is very troubling.

Even worse is the sense that both the TTC and Metrolinx are setting up for an environment where the transit rider (existing and potential) is a distant secondary consideration to avoidance of new costs and gerrymandering the fare system for political benefit.

The absence of public debate about fare structures and related funding challenges shows that none of the players wants to see these issues brought out in the open.

“Good news” is not made by Ministerial and Mayoral pontification, self-congratulatory statements devoid of actual benefit to transit users. “Lower taxes” is a meaningless term if the cost of using a service those taxes should pay for goes up.

Presto could have been a chance for major improvements in how riders view transit. The convenience of passes could be extended to a wider range of customers. Transfer rules that deter use of transit for short hops could be eliminated. The transit network could be seen as one unit (“seamless” is the favourite term) where fares would not create artificial barriers. New technology could be an improvement over tokens and paper, not as a move to a less reliable and inconvenient payment system.

That’s what a city, a region, a province committed to really selling transit as “the better way” would do. Instead, we get unreliable technology, and a refusal to address the need for extra subsidy to pay for restructuring.

A chance to promote transit with some truly “good news” has been wasted because governments are too cheap to pay for it.

Digging Into Delay Reports

The National Post’s Victor Ferreira has a long article today about TTC subway delays. His post consolidates information from the months of September through November 2015 breaking down the causes of delays and gives a better background of why subway service might be erratic than anything published by the TTC.

Over those three months, there were 1,190 delays lasting more than two minutes, and the total delay time was 7,301 minutes or roughly 6 minutes per delay. This raw statistic does not tell the full story, however, because some delays are trivially short, an annoyance to people on a few trains, while others last longer, shut down sections of lines and affect thousands of riders. That is a level of detail missing in the Post’s article, but likely also in the underlying TTC data. For a “customer focused” organization, some measure of the breadth of a delay’s effect is an obvious metric.

The overwhelming major categories for delay causes are “Customer”, “Mechanical/Infrastructure” and “Crew/Operator” which between them account for about two thirds of all incidents with “customers” contributing just over 300 out of the total. In other words, of the major categories, over half of the delays are due to TTC-side, not customer-side issues. The remaining one third of the total are a mixed bag of problems.

Some of these relate to train speed and operation, although pending changes to the signal system will reduce, then eliminate this problem through a move to new speed control software and, eventually to automatic train control.  This is an important operational issue, but the question remains of just how much time each such delay represents and how many trains (i.e. passengers) were affected. There were only 36 delays cause by an “oversensitive” speed control system in the study period, and so the magnitude of improvement riders might see will be small.

Friday has slightly more delays than other weekdays, but without a breakdown by delay type, we don’t know whether this is primarily due to more operators calling in sick, or because doors prefer to stick just before the weekend. There are also peaks in numbers of delays coinciding with the two daily rush hours, no surprise considering that there are more trains in service to fail, and more riders putting more stress on the system.

A key comment by Mike Palmer, Acting Deputy Chief Operating Officer:

For delays caused by mechanical and infrastructure issues, “money is the quick fix,” Palmer said.

This is the same sort of issue as the broken air conditioning units on Line 2 BD trains this summer. If you don’t spend the money on maintenance, things don’t work. Anyone who owns a car or a house knows this, but for some members of City Council, there is a mythology that boils down to “buy and forget” when it comes to expensive capital assets such as subway infrastructure and rolling stock. The trains on BD are roughly at the midlife period on a 30-year design span, and things that worked perfectly ten years ago don’t today.

Having large fleets of a cars all of a similar vintage can lead an organization like the TTC to forget that maintenance is necessary. For a time, many cars may be in their golden, maintenance-free period. When the time comes to undertake major overhauls, the staff and budget are not in place and budget hawks claim that rising costs are “out of control”.

In recent budget debates, some at the TTC have brought up a long-dormant scheme to install platform edge doors (PEDs) at stations. The total cost of this project is about $1 billion, and neither the TTC nor the City has that kind of spare change available. One factor often mentioned is the ability of such doors to keep garbage, notably newspapers, off of the tracks and thereby to reduce the number of fire delays. However, many fire-related calls (smell of smoke, etc) are the result of electrical issues including overheating of equipment and wiring. A recent major delay at Yonge Station was caused by deteriorated cables, not by newspapers.

The TTC should subdivide its statistics to show which type of delays would actually be addressed by specific types investment and/or procedural changes, and how much better service could be as a result.

Service quality is the TTC’s primary problem because riders do not trust the system to get them to their destination reliably. This requires a high level of consistency in TTC performance where a 90% target may sound good, until one acknowledges that this means one trip in ten (that is to say once a week for a regular commuter) will be affected by a delay of some type. Frequent riders see even more delays, and unreliable service leads people avoid transit as a first choice and use it only when the alternative is even less palatable.

Hunting for John Tory’s $135 Million (Updated)

Updated: Two changes have been added to this article:

  • The TTC has confirmed that they have now entered into a lease for temporary warehouse space.
  • The “subway service resiliency” item was supposed to involve providing more service on Line 1 YUS and Line 2 BD. In fact the service frequency has not changed since January 2015 when this funding was announced, and no trains (i.e. no extra operating costs) were added to the schedules.

Back in January 2015, newly-minted Mayor John Tory summoned Toronto’s media to an outdoor press conference at a windswept schoolyard. The purpose? To announce his mea cupla, that he was wrong in his campaign against added transit funding.

“It was not until the transition period after the election that I was fully able to comprehend and see put in front of me, all the facts as to the scope and extent of transit cutbacks imposed by the previous administration.”

The Mayor would fix this with an infusion of $135 million, restoration of services, and a new fare policy – free rides for children. This “investment” in better transit service comes up time and again when Tory is challenged about his budget policies.

But where did the $135 million actually go? Did all of that money actually find its way to service riders can enjoy? The TTC’s news bulletin outlines the announcement and further details are in the TTC 2015 Operating Budget report. [See pp 6-8 and 14-15]

With budget approval coming in mid-winter and many of the changes planned for mid to late 2015, the initial cost of any improvement is less than the full-year expense. This allows a big promise to come in “year one” without the need to actually spend big money until “year two”. However, that year two money never showed up in the TTC’s budgeted subsidy.

TTC Costs for 2015 Improvements

Item                                 2015 Part   2016 Full
                                     Year Cost   Year Cost
                                       ($ m)       ($ m)

Ten minute network                       3.7        11.3
All door boarding                        3.4         5.6
Reduce off-peak wait times/crowding      3.2         9.9
Subway service reliability               2.8         2.8
All day, every day service               1.7         5.5
Subway service resiliency                1.0         1.5
Express bus network                       .9         2.7
Route and station management reviews      .9         2.0
Expanded blue night network               .8         2.4
Station supervisors                       .8         2.3

Purchase of 50 new buses                13.9        12.0
Leased garage setup                      3.3
Warehouse and interim garage leases      2.5        30.2

Subtotal                                38.9        88.2

Free rides for children                  5.4         7.1

Total                                   44.3        95.3

In 2015, the TTC’s budgeted subsidy rose to fund the in-year cost of the new services except for the free children’s rides which were funded within the overall fare changes. There was no added City subsidy for this policy, despite the Mayor’s taking credit for it.

However, the TTC’s budgeted subsidy in 2016 only increased to $494.6 million, far short of the amount needed to pay the full-year cost of the 2015 changes. On top of this, more improvements were approved for 2016, although the lion’s share of their cost would come in 2017.

TTC Costs for 2016 Improvements

Item                                 2016 Part   2017 Full
                                     Year Cost   Year Cost
                                       ($ m)       ($ m)

Bus service reliability                  2.0         5.8
Subway service reliability               0.9         2.6
Early morning subway service             1.1         3.0
New/enhanced bus service                 1.7         4.9

Total                                    5.7        16.3

For 2017, Mayor Tory proposes a 2.6% reduction in the subsidy. If this is implemented, the 2017 subsidy would drop to $481.7m, only $41.6m more than the level in the last year of the Ford administration. Relative to that year, the City’s “investment” in transit improvements is much less than the announcement might claim.

TTC Operating Subsidy ($ m)           Budget       Change
                                                 From 2014
2014 (Last Ford year)                  440.1
2015 (First Tory year)                 478.9        38.8
2016                                   494.6        54.5
2017 (proposed 2.6% cut)               481.7        41.6

Cumulative total                                   134.9

The TTC faces costs not just for new and improved service, but for inflationary increases and these affect the entire expense budget of $1.7 billion, or $17m for every 1%.

Although the TTC received its subsidy in 2015 including money for the listed improvements, some non-service items did not move forward. There has been no progress on acquiring a leased bus storage facility, and this is responsible for severe overcrowding at existing garages. No mention of this scheme was made during the bus fleet plan presentation at the TTC Budget Committee meeting on September 6. Similarly, the proposed consolidation of warehouse space has not taken place, and it is unclear when any spending related to it will happen.

Updated September 8 at 9:47 am: The TTC’s Brad Ross advises:

“… we have leased a warehouse in the Unilever property for the next 7 years to tide us over while we determine the long term warehouse strategy for the TTC.”

This means that most of the $36m ($5.8m 2015, $30.2m 2016) in proposed “investments” did not actually occur.

The 50 bus purchase that had been timed for 2015-16 was actually completed in 2015, and all of its cost was paid out in that year. This absorbed the shortfall in spending on the proposed leases in 2015, but there is still that $36m unspent from the claimed investments.

Updated September 8 at 10:21 am:

The “subway service resiliency” was supposed to improve subway service:

Subway Service Resiliency: $1.0 million. Two additional peak period subway trains will be added on each of Lines 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina) and 2 (Bloor-Danforth) to improve service reliability.

In fact there has been no change in the scheduled service on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth. On Yonge-University, some “gap trains” (spare trains used for service adjustments) have been converted to scheduled trains, but the total number of trains in service and the scheduled frequency are the same as in early 2015. The recent extension of AM peak short turn service north to Glencairn was accomplished with 3 new trains and 1 reassigned gap train.

Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina
                    Service Trains          Gap Trains
                    Jan/15  Aug/16  Sep/16  Jan/15 Aug/16 Sep/16 
AM Peak Trains         46      48      53      4      2      1
AM Peak Frequency     2'21"   2'21"   2'21"
PM Peak Trains         49      51      51      2      0      0
PM Peak Frequency     2'31"   2'31"   2'31"


Line 2 Bloor-Danforth
                    Service Trains
                    Jan/15  Sep/16
AM Peak Trains         45      45
AM Peak Frequency     2'21"   2'21"
PM Peak Trains         42      42
PM Peak Frequency     2'31"   2'31"

John Tory talks a good, if somewhat repetitive, story about how he rescued the TTC from the Ford-era cuts, but in fact the amount of new money his administration has put into transit operations is quite small. Improvements, such as they are, have been funded at least as much by cutbacks in overall TTC budgets and by fare hikes.

Much of the $135 million exists only as a line in a press release.

TTC Budget Committee Meeting: Capital Budget 2017-26

The TTC’s Budget Committee met for the first time since November 2015 yesterday (Sept. 6) to consider reports on the Capital Budget for the next decade. (Please refer to the article TTC’s 2017-2026 Capital Plan for a detailed review of the reports.)

Budget reports can be long and dull, but this year’s edition was not helped by having all of the material presented by one rambling speaker who cherry-picked points from the presentation for emphasis, and on more than one occasion simply made basic mistakes. This is not a new problem at the TTC, and the time is long overdue for them to find someone who can do this work in a way that (a) inspires confidence that management actually knows what they are talking about and (b) focuses on key areas that require the Board’s attention.

Continue reading

TTC’s 2017-2026 Capital Plan (Updated)

The Toronto Transit Commission’s Budget Subcommittee will meet on September 6, 2016 (its first gathering since November 2015) to consider the preliminary version of the ten year Capital Plan and related reports.

It would be heartwarming to report that all was sweetness and light with transit funding now that the Federal government is back at the table, but alas, the reports suggest that “improvement” is at least as much from creative accounting than it is from added subsidy dollars.

There are four related reports on the agenda, and collectively they show how the TTC is (or isn’t) dealing with its capital funding problems.

Updated September 3, 2016 at 4:00 pm: A table comparing the sources of funding in the 2016-25 and 2017-26 capital plans has been added at the end of this article.

Continue reading

The TIFF Gorilla Returns For 2016

Once again, the Toronto International Film Festival (aka TIFF) will take over King Street between University Avenue and Peter Street for its opening weekend from Thursday, September 8 to Sunday, September 11. Transit riders rank second to this Toronto event, one which is well-connected at City Hall and can elbow aside other users of the street to suit its purpose. Imagine King Kong descending from the CN Tower for his annual visit.

An attempted compromise that would have kept streetcars running on King during the weekday daytimes fell in place of the benefits of the festival. That’s the official story, anyhow.

Several routes will be disrupted by this arrangement:

  • 504 King will be split into two routes with the eastern segment operating to the Church, Wellington, York loop normally the home of 503 Kingston Road Tripper cars. The western segment will use the 510 Spadina route’s short turn loop via Spadina, Adelaide and Charlotte to King. This is a change from 2015 when the western branch of the route turned north on Bathurst Street.
  • 514 Cherry cars will operate as one route bypassing TIFF via Queen between Church and Spadina. This route already has problems staying on schedule, and the diversion will make things even worse at both ends of the line.
  • 504 buses will bypass TIFF via Richmond and Adelaide (WB and EB) between University and Spadina.
  • 304 King night car will be supplemented by a bus shuttle running from Parliament to Spadina.

The full details are on the TTC’s website.

This arrangement is further complicated by the continuing diversion of 501 Queen service between Spadina and Shaw via King for watermain construction on Queen Street.

The TTC notice says that:

Toronto Police will be positioned at key intersections to assist with traffic flow.

I hope so. The complete lack of transit priority signals to assist in diversionary routings is a long-standing problem for the TTC and produces no end of delays at intersections where turns across traffic must happen. This has shown up already in 2016 as queues of Queen cars eastbound at Spadina (to which the King cars will be added).

There are priority signals for turns off of Spadina to east-west streets, but not for turns onto Spadina. The situation is made worse by the number of electric switches that are out of service because it is the switch controllers that tell the signals when an extra phase for turning streetcars is required.

Diversions like this downtown are commonplace. Both the TTC and City of Toronto should do more to provide transit priority assistance for these as part of the standard installation at all major intersections where streetcars have to make turns during these events.

According to the TTC’s Brad Ross, TIFF is paying for most of this arrangement, although the TTC Ambassadors (extra staff to direct riders to the relocated services) will be covered by the TTC. It is unclear how much of the extra service the TTC will operate (and that’s assuming they do actually provide some) will come out of the TTC budget. This sort of thing is an ongoing issue for the TTC which is expected to arrange alternate services as a community benefit, but usually does not receive compensation for doing so. It is one of those hidden costs of doing business for the transit system.

Full disclosure: I am a regular attendee and donor at TIFF, but I do not agree with the degree to which they disrupt transit service on a major downtown route during workday hours.

Metropass Usage Trends

A question often arises about just how Metropass riders use their passes. How many trips do they really take? How much of a “deal” are they getting compared to those who pay by tokens, tickets and cash?

The TTC conducts a rolling survey of passholders on a weekly basis with about 30 riders who keep track of where they travelled. It is a new group every week, and so over the course of a year, the TTC will have about 1,500 separate surveys.

The information recorded by riders is converted back into a trip count (allowing for “normal” TTC transfer rules) to arrive at a trips/week value for each person surveyed. With a small sample set, the values bounce around a lot, but aggregated over time, they can give an idea of what Metropass usage actually looks like. The data is used to calibrate the conversion factor from pass sales to “rides” in the TTC’s regular reports of “ridership”.

With over half of all “rides” now taken with passes, this conversion factor is important, and a small change in the multiplier used can have a big effect on the calculated ridership. Moreover, if Metropass sales fall, the presumed “loss” of rides is at the average for the whole group even though it is more likely that the lost customers will be relatively low users of passes.

Wondering about just what the numbers looked like, I asked the TTC for statistics from their weekly diary surveys spanning January 2015 to June 2016. The raw data are from the TTC, for which much thanks, but I have consolidated and reformatted them for this article. The presentations and interpretation are my own.

The overall numbers for the 18 months are shown in the table below.


This table groups the data by the number of trips reported in the week.

About two thirds of the diaries report between 10 and 19 trips a week, and the overall average is 16.28. Note that the “trips” values shown here are actually calculated from the individual values (i.e. number of diaries times number of trips).

Another way to look at this is to plot the percentage of diaries reporting individual numbers of trips.


Continue reading

Campbell House Move

On March 31, 1972, Campbell House moved from the intersection of Adelaide and Frederick to its present location at Queen & University.

Here is a record of that move.

All photos are by Steve Munro.

Click on a photo to launch the view in full screen mode.