TTC Overhead Shop Open House

On Saturday, September 23 from 9am to 3pm, the TTC Overhead Shop will hold an open house. This is the chance for fans of celestial hardware, as a friend of mine once called it, to see up close how it’s all put together.

For the more technically minded, here is a TTC paper on the APTA website describing the conversion of trolley pole based overhead for pantograph operation. Thanks to David S. Crawford for the link.

The Next Big Move: (I) Overview

The Metrolinx Board considered its Draft Regional Transportation Plan for the GTHA on September 14, 2017 and approved its release for comment, subject to some last-minute editorial changes. This is an update of the original “Big Move” plan, and it takes the view of transportation needs and networks out to 2041.

The context for this is summarized in a covering report from Leslie Woo, Chief Planning Officer for Metrolinx:

By 2041, over 10 million people will live in the region. We need to plan for a future characterized not only by continued population and employment growth, but also by changing demographics (including an aging population), the changing nature of work, new transportation technologies and services, and the impacts of climate change. In short, we cannot stop. Our plan for moving forward – the Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan – calls for governments to move beyond The Big Move to put people’s needs at the core of planning and operations. This means:

  • Completing delivery of current regional transit projects;
  • Connecting more of the region with frequent rapid transit;
  • Optimizing the transportation system to make the best possible use of existing and future transit and transportation assets;
  • Integrating land use and transportation, and
  • Preparing for an uncertain future.

As the transportation network in the GTHA becomes more extensive and complex, travellers’ expectations will rise and transit infrastructure alone will not be sufficient to meet the needs of a growing region. Transit providers need to broaden the focus to address not just the quantity, but the quality of transit service for travellers. That means making transit more accessible, frequent, reliable, comfortable and convenient. [p 3]

This is a fine, rousing opening statement, but I must say at the outset that for all its many components, the plan falls short in a key element: shifting more travel to public transit. That is not to say that over $40 billion worth of planned investment is without value, but at the end of the next quarter century, transit’s share of the travel market will not have budged much from current levels. Autos with their associated planning focus will remain the dominant mode, especially as one moves further out from major centres such as downtown Toronto.

Just as with the original Big Move, we are running very hard just to stay in the same place. This is a dangerous situation on two counts. First, the political constituency for transit depends on its being valued by a wide cross-section of GTHA citizens. People who don’t use transit regard spending on new construction or operations as something for “them”. They wonder when there will be more roads for “us”. Second, if much of the travel is still not on the transit network, this means that transit has failed to attract its audience. This could be either because one can’t get from “here” to “there”, or because doing so by transit is simply not an acceptable way to make the journey.

There is also a fundamental political and economic problem. Getting agreement that we need better transit, and just what that entails, is hard enough, but governments change, the economy waxes and wanes, and all it takes is one bozo politician with enough clout to bring the whole process to a stop.

This is not simply a case of a streetcar hating mayor, but could be the effect of a “tax fighting” premier who sees his role as making things better for motorists and to hell with transit. Not to mention politicians at all levels playing the electorate for votes by cherry picking transit plans, not by building a network and embracing the need for frequent service beyond their ward or riding. Seeing a proposed new 25-year plan in today’s climate is a real stretch. Should we laugh or cry?

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Metrolinx Board Meeting: September 14, 2017 (Updated)

Updated September 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm: An inconsistency in the opening date for the Finch West LRT between the Capital projects update and the project’s website has been flagged by a reader. Snapshots have been added to this article.

The Metrolinx Board met on September 14 to consider various reports. I have already written about the Fare Integration update, and will devote separate article(s) to the “Next Big Move”, the updated regional plan.

Other items of interest on the agenda included:

Presto Update and Quarterly Report

The roll out of Presto continues and TTC, even with a relatively low take-up rate to date, now accounts for more Presto taps than any other agency in the network. However, this only slightly more than one quarter of all Presto “taps” on a monthly basis (6.6 million for TTC vs about 24m for all systems). As the proportion of Presto-based TTC trips rises, TTC figures will dwarf all other agencies.

Status updates of note:

  • Readers are now performing well, but problems remain with the add value machines. A new generation of machines is now in testing and these will be rolled out across the system in the near future, including on the about-to-open Spadina subway extension to Vaughan.
  • There is no plan to introduce “open payments” (credit/debit cards, etc) on Presto in 2018 because Metrolinx is pre-occupied with the TTC roll out. Something might appear in the following year, but a related issue is that security standards for bank card transactions keep changing and getting tighter requiring ongoing design updates.
  • Presto sales and reload functions in Shoppers Drug Mart stores have been well received.
  • Presto supports “UPASS” programs. These are specific to each institution, not a system-wide standard implementation. Improvements coming in November:
    • UPASS program core functionalities enabled as part of PRESTO Vouchers solution.
    • UPASS program will provide discounted fares to university students in their respective districts through their local transit agency and universities.
    • Students will be able to electronically load discounted passes onto their cards through the PRESTO Customer Website, and universities can add eligible students through the PRESTO Vouchers portal.
  • Presto has negotiated a new agreement with various client agencies. There was no information in the presentation about how willing these agencies/cities were to accept higher service fees to fund the Presto system.
  • Presto is developing a new privacy policy for disclosure of data to law enforcement agencies. Public feedback on their proposals will be sought through a web survey, stakeholder groups and public sessions. The Information and Privacy Commissioner will review management proposals to ensure that they comply with applicable laws. A proposed policy update will come to the Board in December 2017.

Capital Projects Update and Quarterly Report

Metrolinx’ large inventory of capital projects continues, notably the Crosstown LRT, but also expansion of GO corridors.

There was a lengthy discussion of Union Station capacity, and among the information that came out was that Metrolinx is considering a reconfiguration of the station with fewer tracks and wider platforms. This would provide more passenger handling capacity, a key requirement considering the anticipated rise in service on all corridors. A new layout would also imply that services would be “hooked up” east and west of Union rather than terminating there. This would considerably simplify operations. A study of Union’s future requirements will come to the Board in December 2017.

Metrolinx is planning to study the status and appropriateness of Hydrogen technology to their operations:

  • A feasibility study on the use of hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative technology for electrifying GO rail service and the UP Express is underway
  • Ontario is committed to running electrified trains on the GO rail network by 2025. Studying the feasibility of hydrogen rail technology is part of our due diligence to ensure that we choose the appropriate technology.
  • Metrolinx has had discussions with the Germany-based National Organization Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW) to learn directly about early experience
  • Metrolinx is committed to bringing industry leaders together for a symposium later this year to explore the potential application of hydrogen fuel cell technology

This will be useful if only to get a current view of the technology’s maturity and applicability, assuming that there are no Ministerial interests in forcing a conversion on Metrolinx. According to staff, they are operating on the basis that RER will be rolled out with existing electrification technology.

Updated September 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm:

In the Quarterly Report, there is a status table for all of the projects. The Finch West LRT is shown with an In-Service date of 2022.

However, the project’s web page shows a 2021 opening. I have asked Metrolinx to clarify this discrepancy. Thanks to reader Kass Forman for catching this.

2016-2017 Annual Report

The Annual Report includes, under the heading of “Being responsive & accountable”, the following statement [p. vii]:

Metrolinx is:

  • Increasing transparency in its financial, labour, realty, freedom of information, support fleet, information technology and capital projects details, so that Corporate and Administrative Costs are easier to understand.
  • Increasingly relying on evidence-based cost drivers to strengthen the data used to allocate costs to capital and operating programs.

These are fascinating claims considering the degree to which Metrolinx is a secretive organization. Far too many background studies are published, if at all, long after the Board has made a decision and the time for public input which could have been informed by such studies has passed.

“Freedom of Information” should occur naturally (as it would for a municipal agency), not when it is forced on Metrolinx by a formal FOI request from the media.

Easy understanding of costs will be more challenging because of corporate restructuring to amalgamate former divisions (Presto and UPX) into the main body of Metrolinx.

The integration and consolidation of operations under one management structure will deliver core Metrolinx services to customers and allow us to leverage internal learning and skills so we can adapt quickly and respond to our dynamic and fast-changing region. While we will maintain the identities of each service brand externally, we will be looking for opportunities to help our customers and the public understand the connections between each service and product. Beginning next fiscal year, we will report on our consolidated transit operations division, which will combine data and statistics for GO Transit and UP Express. [p. viii]

This will make determination of the profitability or cost of individual segments that have been treated as independent divisions more difficult, along with the degree of cross-subsidy that might exist between various aspects of Metrolinx’ businesses.

I asked Robert Siddall about this during the press scrum after the meeting. Siddall is the Metrolinx CFO, but is also Acting President and CEO pending the arrival of a recently-appointed CEO in October. He replied that with UPX becoming operationally part of GO Transit, it did not make sense to attempt to break it out as a separate cost and revenue centre. He was silent on the question of Presto.

For 2016-17, Presto received $14.8 million in usage fees. Operating costs were not broken out. [See charts on pp 35 and 38 of the report.] Oddly, the Presto update earlier in the agenda treated the negotiation of the client agreement with UPX as if this were a completely separate agency rather than part of GO Transit. The degree to which there are cross-subsidies between GO and UPX trips and Presto is completely hidden.

To Kirby, or Not To Kirby

The line in the Annual Report about “evidence-based cost drivers” is particularly amusing given the situation at both the provincial and municipal levels.

Ben Spurr in the Star has reported on political interference with the stations selected to be part of GO’s coming expansion. Specifically, the Lawrence East and Kirby Stations were originally not to be included in the list recommended to the Metrolinx Board, but this changed after intervention by the Minister of Transportation.

During the press scrum, Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard performed a not-too-elegant dance around repeated questions about just how the change in Metrolinx’ official position on these stations came about. Boiling many answers down to their core, he argued that although the Board had considered the matter of the station list on three occasions, they only actually voted on it once. Moreover, it is Metrolinx’ job, he argued, to provide advice based on information and analyses they have. Such decisions are a combination of technical analysis and art, he said. It was a performance not quite at the level of Swan Lake. [I will leave it to the reader to decide whether Prichard was auditioning for Prince Siegfried or Baron von Rothbart.]

An obvious question here is this: Metrolinx is supposed to give advice based on their expert technical studies (and whatever art they might muster). However, if the Cities of Toronto and Vaughan have new information about development plans for these two station sites, one must ask why Metrolinx staff and consultants did not have this as part of their study. How credible is any plan Metrolinx produces if “new information” can arise with clear political motives to swing decisions?

Fare Integration Update

As I previously reported, Metrolinx has rethought its approach to integration so that it can actually achieve something rather than endless discussion. Specifically, the Board approved:

  1. The Metrolinx Board endorse the step-by-step strategy outlined in the Report and that staff report back on December 14th 2017 on means to advance the strategy which includes:
    • Discounts on double fares (GO-TTC)
    • Discounts on double fares (905-TTC)
    • Adjustments to GO’s fare structure
    • Fare Policy Harmonization
  2. Staff undertake to engage the public and key stakeholders (including municipal elected officials) on advancing the step-by-step strategy
  3. Staff post the consultant’s Draft GTHA Fare Structure Preliminary Business Case

After a long period when Metrolinx was attempting a “big bang” change in fare policy, they are now trying a “step-by-step” approach intended to deal with the most annoying inconsistencies in regional policy without actually tearing the entire structure apart. Although it is clear Metrolinx would like to reach an end-state based on fare-by-distance, they will settle for an interim configuration for “two to five years”, according to Leslie Woo, Chief Planning Officer. Politically, that is equivalent to saying that the matter is deferred sine die.

This would conveniently allow someone in, say, the midst of an election campaign, to promise added funding to cover the cost of bringing the TTC into a consolidated fare system, to rationalize GO transit’s fares, and to sort out some regional inconsistencies such as the TTC’s transfer policies.

If Toronto adopted the two-hour transfer, this would make a seamless cross-border trip simple to implement and administer for Presto users. With the 416/905 barrier out of the way, the “need” to completely reorganize fares would drop substantially, and the political leverage to go “all the way” to fare-by-distance would be reduced almost to vanishing.

One issue came up during the scrum, and it will be thrown into the hopper for December’s report: the integration of UPX fares with the rest of GO. It makes no sense to operate UPX effectively as a short turn service on the Kitchener line while charging different fares. Moreover, integration of UPX trips with the wider GO tariff, including any TTC co-fare, is essential if Metrolinx is to play by the same rules they expect of every other transit agency.

Particularly important to any discussion about alternative fare schemes will be an open revelation of how each arrangement would affect different types of riders. Metrolinx has always been silent on the effect of a distance-based fare and premiums for “rapid transit” (e.g. subway) on long-haul suburban commuters within Toronto. Failure to publish this information puts the “debate” in the ludicrous situation of asking for a faith-based approval rather than one based on actual evidence. This kind of “planning” and “consultation” at Metrolinx must stop if they are to achieve their goals for transparency.

Pantographs Up On Harbourfront

On Tuesday, September 12, 2017, the TTC began operation of its new Flexity streetcars with pantograph power collection on the 509 Harbourfront route. This is a short, comparatively isolated route running entirely with Flexitys where problems, if any, can be ironed out on a small piece of the network. Any off route moves including carhouse trips are done with trolley poles, and the normal changeover point between modes is at Exhibition Loop.

Here is a small set of photos of the route.

Metrolinx Contemplates Regional Fare Integration, Again

As regularly as the seasons come and go, Metrolinx produces new reports on its long-running contemplations for a new regional fare system. Like the seasons, reports come and go, but there is little real progress toward an actual solution.

The root problem has always lain with Metrolinx. Although it bemoans the inconsistencies among fares in regional agencies, Metrolinx itself has clung to one fare model – fare by distance – as the Nirvana to which all should aspire. If there is something to be said for the current report, it is that at last there is a shift it focus and a recognition of two essential issues on the provincial side of the discussion:

  • Metrolinx’ existing fare structure is not purely a fare-by-distance system, but contains many inequities and idiosyncrasies built up over the years. In particular it discriminates against short and medium distance travel, but that is only one of its problems.
  • Integration across the 416 boundary will not occur without some new type of subsidy. Previous attempts to craft a revenue-neutral fare scheme inevitably required pillaging from Toronto (where most of the fare revenue is actually collected) to provide a subsidy for the 905.

The Executive Summary includes the following points from a consultant’s study that led to a Draft Business Case (this document has not yet been posted online):

  • All fare structure concepts examined perform better than the current state, offering significant economic value to the region
  • Making use of fare by distance on additional types of transit service better achieves the transformational strategic vision than just adding modifications to the existing structure, but implementation requires more change for customers and transit agencies
  • More limited modifications to the status quo have good potential over the short term
  • Further analysis has been conducted on other aspects of the fare system such as concessions, products, and loyalty programs
  • Metrolinx and GTHA transit agencies continue to independently make decisions regarding fares that widen the gap that fare integration needs to bridge

At the risk of prejudging the outcome, it is quite clear where this is heading. There will be come sort of “limited modifications” to achieve the “good potential over the short term”, and we may never actually reach, nor need to reach, the end state.

Staff recommend that the Board approve the following:

  1. The Metrolinx Board endorse the step-by-step strategy outlined in the Report and that staff report back on December 14th 2017 on means to advance the strategy which
    includes:

    • Discounts on double fares (GO-TTC)
    • Discounts on double fares (905-TTC)
    • Adjustments to GO’s fare structure
    • Fare Policy Harmonization
  2. Staff undertake to engage the public and key stakeholders (including municipal elected officials) on advancing the step-by-step strategy
  3. Staff post the consultant’s Draft GTHA Fare Structure Preliminary Business Case

Metrolinx argues that an integrated fare strategy would require substantial standardization of fare policies notably the discount structures for concession and loyalty fares and rules regarding the validity of transfers. While the 905 systems use time based transfers, the TTC requires a new fare if there is a stop-over or doubling back on a journey. This and any other “local options” complicates Presto, and as we have seen in the case of the TTC leads to odd behaviours due to the difficulty of mapping trips and “valid” transfers under all circumstances. Although the report does not mention this, TTC management have already indicated tentative support for time-based transfers (this is to be part of a forthcoming Ridership Growth Strategy). The problem lies in the political arena where City Council will have to cough up funding to offset the cost.

Until the study is actually published, we should take the statement that “all fare structure concepts examined perform better than the current state” because an essential part of any new structure would be the elimination of the boundary between TTC and other fares. This does not necessarily endorse any of the alternatives.

Like a dog with a bone, Metrolinx simply will not give up on its preferred alternative:

Fare by distance should be a consideration in defining the long-term fare structure for the GTHA

The question here is what is merely “a consideration” and what is an unchangeable goal across the entire network.

Metrolinx acknowledges that it has to talk to people, and that it simply cannot impose its will on the region.

A formal and inclusive decision making process needs to be put in place to establish the longer-term GTHA fare structure vision

This is a rather odd statement considering all of the study this issue has been through, and the degree to Metrolinx has previously claimed widespread agreement. Moreover, it implies that someone might actually disagree, although the outcome of such a position is unclear. Would Queen’s Park welcome local political input (after demolishing the original Metrolinx that included local politicians) if it provided a way to impose unwanted policies on individual members of the region?

What is particularly galling about this summary is that after all this time we still do not see worked examples of possible fare structures and their effects on various types of trips, on groups of riders and on the revenue streams of each transit agency. Possibly this is in the as-yet unpublished report, but if it isn’t, Metrolinx will effectively admit that the real effects are not as rosy as their claims. The most obvious question any new scheme will encounter is “what’s in it for me” both as positive and negative issues.

Appendix 1 discusses “Key Fare Integration Challenges” and is somewhat more realistic than previous attempts at the topic. First up is the question of “tapping off”, a pre-requisite to fare-by-distance. The report acknowledges that tapping off is not the effortless addition to fare collection procedures:

Emerging technological solutions may allow tap on-only customer experience while maintaining compatibility with fare-by-distance or–zone structures

and

As GO fares require origin/destination information, any regional fare structure requires either:

  • acceptance that different customer behaviours will be required depending on service type,
  • moving all transit to tap on/off, or
  • new technological solutions

Other issues include the handling of cash fares and mobile ticketing.

With respect to distance travelled, there is a notable difference between GO and TTC subway fares because the former are distance based and skewed against short trips, while the latter are flat and provide free transfers to connecting services. The report observes:

As GO fares cannot feasibly be flat, any regional fare structure requires either:

  • acceptance of different approaches to distance based on service type, or
  • moving all services to fare by distance/zones

The problem with this statement lies in the term “service type”. Metrolinx has previously touted the idea of “premium” services that would include all rail-based modes, while leaving buses untouched. This arises from a flaw in a previous study that did not consider “bus rapid transit” because (it is claimed) there were no BRT services when it was undertaken. Such is the quality of Metrolinx “research”.

If we decide that some services should pay a premium fare, the obvious questions is “what is a premium service and why should I pay more for it”? This is easy to argue for GO rail because these are express services with widely spaced stops (although even that model is under attack thanks to SmartTrack and the Minister of Transportation’s love for extra stops), but much harder for subways, let alone LRT and BRT that are a much lower step up from local transit than a GO train.

Each municipality has its own local concession fares often in response to local history or to the perceived value of certain types of discounts. Toronto has free rides for children, while seniors’ and students’ fares vary around the region, and there are different approaches to discounts (if any) for disadvantaged groups. How all of these will be reconciled is a knotty question: does the most generous arrangement get implemented across the board, or do the outliers (e.g. Toronto with children’s fares) drop their concessions? What is the appropriate multiple for loyalty programs such as the Metropass?

Unless Queen’s Park is willing to sever the link between farebox revenue and local service costs by providing subsidies for a more generous (and “integrated”) fare system, this discussion won’t get very far. Indeed, it might still run into problems if municipalities that do not now offer “discount X” get a provincial subsidy when others who provide this out of local funds today are left with that cost.

The whole study of Fare Integration has bumbled along for quite some time without any clear answers, but with an attempt to preserve the status quo from Metrolinx’ point of view. This has wasted a great deal of time when a better-informed conversation might have taken place. With an election coming in June 2018, the current proposal adds to the consultation, but conveniently punts a decision beyond the end of the current government’s mandate.

TTC Service Changes Effective October 15, 2017

The service changes for the October-November period are relatively minor.

On the streetcar network, provisions for construction diversions on 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton end, but for 501 Queen and related routes a new project at McCaul plus the ongoing streetcar shortage leave service in that corridor with temporary schedules:

  • 501 Queen streetcars will operate from Neville to Roncesvalles, but they will divert via Church, King and Spadina for about three weeks during the reconstruction of the intersection at McCaul.
  • 501L Long Branch and 501M Marine Parade bus service continues as it was in September.
  • Bus trippers have been shifted from King to Queen where they will operate between Woodbine and Sunnyside.
  • Kingston Road services 502 and 503 continue to operate with buses.

The 511 Bathurst route continues to operate with buses although the introduction of Flexitys on 512 St. Clair is releasing CLRVs that could be redeployed elsewhere. How quickly streetcars will return to temporarily bused routes remains to be seen.

Although schedules for routes at the Renforth Station (formerly “Gateway”) were altered in September, this facility is not yet complete and routes continue to operate to their former termini.

2017.10.15_Service_Changes

Station Conversion For Presto

Through the fall and winter of 2017-18, the TTC will be converting all remaining stations and entrances to use fare gates and Presto card readers. There are station-specific notices, but for readers’ convenience I have consolidated all of the information here. The first two pages of the following pdf contain the information in textual format, and the remainder is a Gantt chart. The information is current as of September 9, 2017. Stations are in sequence by line. If a station is not shown, either it has already been converted or the TTC has published no information about it.

2017_TTC_Presto_Station_Closings

There are variations on the way the program will roll out depending on the station.

  • Some entrances/stations will not close for this project, but will be converted in stages with access maintained throughout construction for passengers.
  • Some entrances/stations will have only selective late night closings (generally after 11pm), and work will otherwise take place maintaining a pathway for passengers.
  • Some stations/entrances will close completely for some or all of the conversion project. There will be weekend closings for selected stations in the downtown “U” on Line 1 YUS, but many of the secondary entrances will close completely for over a month.

During construction, riders will not be able to purchase fare media from the station collectors while their booths are close.

Even after the shutdown periods, work will continue at some locations for an extended period.

Following the conversion, riders will still be able to pay with all fare media at the main entrance of stations, but the secondary entrances will support either a combination of Metropasses and Presto, or only Presto in some cases. Details are in the linked chart.

Postscript: Notices for the closing of stations on lower Yonge Street include the following info:

During the early and weekend closures subway trains will not stop at the station. Customers should use [nearby] stations to access the subway or board a northbound or southbound 97 Yonge bus.

Of course, the 97 Yonge bus does not run on lower Yonge Street except during weekday peaks when the stations will be open. The TTC has been advised of this and will, in due course, fix the affected pages. No need to kvetch here in the comments.

TTC Service Quality Update for September 2017

As part of the September CEO’s report to the TTC Board, management made two presentations on the evolution of service quality on the surface and subway networks.

For the surface routes, Rick Leary (Deputy CEO and Chief Service Officer) ran through an overview of two sets of statistics: on time performance and the numbers of short turns.

For the subway, Jim Ross (Deputy Chief Operating Officer) reviewed schedule versus actual capacity provided on Line 1 YUS as well as a breakdown of the types of incidents that produce most delays.

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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.

Queensway / Lake Shore / Humber Update

Construction work on The Queensway, Lake Shore Boulevard and at Humber Loop ran into a number of problems and design changes that will affect the date when streetcar service will be restored west of Sunnyside Loop. These include:

  • An unexpectedly high water table south of Grenadier Pond
  • Difficulty in concrete removal for some of the track on Lake Shore
  • Design changes at Humber Loop to address various issues that were not picked up in the original project.

Richard Wong, the Head of Streetcar Maintenance and Infrastructure, advises:

There is a higher than expected water table along the stretch of the Queensway from Ellis Ave to Colborne Lodge Dr.  Construction started to the east of Colborne Lodge and should have progressed westerly towards Humber Loop.

Due to the water table issue, construction proceeded westerly to Colborne Lodge Dr. where it had to be suspended.  To allow engineers time to evaluate the situation and develop a solution, construction then resumed to the west of Ellis Ave and will move westerly to Humber Loop.  Construction between Colborne Lodge and Ellis will resume at the tail end of this project.  In total, there is approximately 2 months of slippage in the schedule for this part of the Queensway project.  This slippage may affect the Q2 2018 commitment of reinstating streetcar service from Roncesvalles to Humber Loop.  TTC staff is working with the contractor to investigate options to recover time.

With respect to the Lakeshore, construction was slow and was expected in the area that is currently being worked on.  This is due to the type of concrete.  Concrete in this area was originally poured in one batch (monolithic pour).  Monolithic concrete requires chipping to break it up.  This method of removing old concrete is time consuming and messy.  As construction continues to move east, TTC expects to move from monolithic concrete to layered concrete.  That is, during TTC’s last track replacement program, concrete was poured in layers and separated by bonding agent.  This allows the concrete to be cleanly milled down to an exact depth.  Milling work is faster and more accurate which will speed up construction time.  At the moment, TTC staff do not anticipate slippage in schedule for this project. [Email of August 30, 2017 via TTC’s Brad Ross, Executive Director – Corporate Communications]

The CEO’s Report in the September 5 Board agenda includes a project status page for surface track work including this project, and some of the remarks on it prompted me to delve further. [See p77 of the report which is p79 in the linked PDF.]

From the project status page:

Anticipated completion for the Humber Loop project has been moved to Q2 2018 due to the following unmitigated risks:

  • condition of Metrolinx bridge struts is unknown
  • unknown condition and location of some utilities
  • several third party approvals are required in order work to proceed

Management Action Plan:

  • alternate track structure design in progress to mitigate deteriorated struts
  • leveraged Executive support to expedite third party approvals
  • work has been phased to allow return of the Queen St portion of the 501 route to Humber Loop by Q1 of 2018

The TTC replied:

There were a number of challenges that resulted in more time needed for the completion of Humber Loop, as it is is directly adjacent to the following infrastructure:

  • CN/GO rail lines
  • Gardiner Expressway
  • Hydro Towers and Vaults
  • Condominium Development

It is also constructed on re-claimed land.  As a result, numerous 3rd party design reviews and approvals were required.  These included:

  • Hydro One
  • Metrolinx
  • City of Toronto (Forestry, Transportation, Water)
  • Toronto & Region Conservation Authority
  • Ministry of Environment

During these reviews and approvals, stakeholders (including internal TTC stakeholders) identified opportunities to combine initiatives during this construction, including:

  • Investigation of the Gardiner Expressway underpass struts (& potential remediation)
  • Reconfiguration of the underpass walkway
  • Inclusion of additional spur tracks to accommodate the new LFLRV lengths
  • Improved landscaping of the loop

Due to the above challenges and opportunities, additional time was added to the construction schedule to ensure we capture all of the requirements. [Email of August 31, 2017 from Brad Ross]

The current status of construction on The Queensway as of August 31 is:

  • Parkside to Colborne Lodge: Track installation completed. Overhead poles in place.
  • Colborne Lodge to Ellis Avenue: Minimal work completed due to water table problems.
  • Ellis Avenue to South Kingsway: Right-of-way grading and pole base installation in progress. Track formerly stored between Windermere and South Kingsway has been moved to the streetcar lanes in front of St. Joseph’s Hospital.
  • Humber River Bridge: The centre span used by streetcars has been rebuilt, but is temporarily hosting all road traffic while the north (westbound) and south (eastbound) spans and approach ramps are under construction. This work has progressed to the point that some concrete placement has been done.
  • Humber Bridge to Humber Loop. Pole base installation in progress.

On Lake Shore, demolition of the track from Dwight Ave eastward has crossed Symons Road which was expected to be the point where there is a transition from monolithic concrete to discrete layers. New track is in place from Dwight to approximately Lake Crescent.

For updated construction photos, please see my article with galleries tracking this work.

The long-suffering riders of the 501 bus service west of Sunnyside will have to deal with this arrangement for several more months and will not see streetcar service until mid-2018. This will all get nicely settled until 2019 when the project to rebuild King/Queen/Roncesvalles will be launched together with construction of a streetcar right-of-way from Parkside Drive to Roncesvalles.