Last week Toronto Mayor John Tory made headlines when he released a 10-point plan to tackle congestion on the TTC. This was largely in response to a series of problems on the TTC in previous weeks that resulted in significant delays for transit riders, and saw Bloor-Yonge Station reach such high congestion levels that TTC officials were seriously contemplating shutting down and evacuating the station for safety reasons.

Since most of the 'solutions' proposed for congestion, such as constructing the Relief Line, are still at least a decade away from fruition, it's certainly welcome to see attention paid to shorter-term solutions that address a present-day problem.

Many of the problems the TTC faced a couple weeks ago were the result of failures of both the physical tracks and the 1950s era signal system. It should be noted that the TTC had created a $1.2 million plan to tackle signal, track, and traction power reliability back in early 2017. Funding for this program was voted down by Council almost exactly one year ago, who instead opted in favour of a random drug and alcohol testing program for TTC employees. The vote was 18-26, with Mayor John Tory voting against it.

The Feb 15, 2017 Council vote on the TTC's signal, track, and traction power reliability program, image via @GraphicMatt

There was also a second vote just last month where the City's budget committee voted down a $3.2 million plan to tackle crowding on the TTC.

With those votes as the backdrop for Tory's 10-point plan, one could easily state that the new plan is just putting a proactive PR spin on what is essential a reactive plan, a desperate effort to make up for lost time when it comes to managing ever-increasing TTC ridership and a growing backlog of repairs to an aging system. When one also examines the plan in greater detail, as we'll do below, one can see this plan as a smorgasbord of things the TTC has outright rejected as unfeasible, and things that the TTC will be/are already undertaking anyway.

To-Do Immediately:

1) Add two trains to Line 1, allowing the TTC to move 2,400 more people.

Based off of this TTC Report that was submitted to Council on January 18th, two additional trains were added to Line 1 in November 2017, representing a $3.2 million increase in the operating budget. It's unclear whether this line item in Tory's plan is in fact that, or if he is asking the TTC to add two new trains on top of what was just added a few months ago.

The opportunities to add new trains to Line 1 are limited in the short-term, however. The TTC's Automatic Train Control (ATC) upgrades aren't due to be complete on the entire line until late 2019. At that time "it is planned that the scheduled service interval on Line 1 will be improved from its current 2 minutes and 21 seconds to 2 minutes."

Figure from the Jan 18th TTC Report showing demand vs capacity on Line 1, image courtesy of the TTC

2) Make adjustments to overnight maintenance schedules.

It's unclear how simply adjusting overnight maintenance schedules is going to improve crowding during peak periods. The main issue for the TTC's maintenance is the State of Good Repair (SOGR) backlog. According to a December 2016 Staff Report, the 2018 SOGR backlog for the TTC is projected to be $65 million.

It gets worse, however. Despite the City spending $5.660 billion to address the SOGR backlog through the 10-Year Capital Plan, "the SOGR backlog as a % of asset replacement value will increase from 0.1% in 2017 to 3.1% in 2026." This represents a jump from a $23 million backlog in 2017 to a $482 million backlog in 2026.

Given those grim numbers, it's clear that just shifting overnight maintenance schedules around won't solve the problem. Without additional funding for more workers and the projects they'll need to work on, the situation will continue to deteriorate.

The City's SOGR backlog, by program, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

3) Do more proactive checks on operating equipment, especially during periods of extreme cold. 

A worthy goal, to be sure. It's fairly obvious that this line item is aimed primarily at the streetcar fleet. Given that many of the streetcars on the road are 30+ years old, are past their scheduled retirement point, and are being metaphorically (and occasionally literally) held together by duct tape, this is somewhat of a difficult situation for the TTC to deal with. If it's too cold for a 30+ year old vehicle to run, it ain't gonna run.

This situation does have a natural resolution though. Once Bombardier gets back on track with its delivery schedule, and (hopefully) completes the streetcar order by the end of 2019, the current cold-weather headaches for the TTC will be retired from service, duct tape and all.

4) Add more platform staff at Yonge/Bloor and St.George stations to manage crowding. 

The TTC has not specifically recommended more staff, though it has recommended that "additional passenger information displays and enhanced wayfinding... be implemented to encourage customers to use the entire length of station platforms."

Still, it does certainly help to have a human there directing traffic, so this suggestion is certainly welcome.

5) Improve the monitoring system at the Transit Operations centre allowing staff to react faster to problems. 

While not directly relating to the monitoring system, the January 18th TTC Report recommends the re-introduction of Gap or Run-as-Directed trains, which "are empty trains that are introduced into service from time to time when there is a disruption to service. These trains can alleviate overcrowding conditions on the southbound platform at Bloor-Yonge, especially during delay incidents on the north Yonge portion of the line." These trains would give the Transit Operations centre greater flexibility when responding to a situation.

It was unclear whether this item is in response to a specific TTC budget request, or simply a general statement included by the Mayor.

The TTC's Transit Control Centre, image courtesy of Metroland Media

To-Do in the Coming Weeks and Months:

6) Enhance communications with riders via system-wide announcements. 

A very useful idea. The TTC currently does a pretty good job of notifying customers of delays via social media platforms like Twitter. Just one problem with that though: only the stations are equipped with Wi-Fi, and most sections of subway tunnel are still cell phone dead zones. If you're unlucky enough to be on a delayed train that's between stations, updates via Twitter are wishful thinking.

Simply notifying passengers of a delay isn't enough, however. What is needed to improve the service is the ability to direct riders to potential detour options depending on their location within the system. If a rider is eastbound on Line 2 at Christie and there's a delay on Line 1 at St George, notifying them that getting off at Spadina and using the Spadina Streetcar to get downtown would be useful information.

7) Study possible options for lower fares during off-peak hours.

This is one item where Tory's plan and the TTC's plan actually agree. The January 18th TTC report states that "differential pricing to encourage demand away from the peak hours has been approved by the TTC Board, and a policy needs to be developed. With PRESTO at every station, and soon at every entrance of every station, this strategy is plausible. Some fare policies may also reduce demands during the critical time periods and are recommended for further study."

The big question however will come down to revenue. Given how much the TTC is reluctant to sign onto Metrolinx's Fare Integration strategy due to potential loss of revenue from 905 Agency to TTC transfers, any fare policy that reduces fare revenue will likely need to be offset by increased Council funding, as was the case with the two-hour transfer policy.

8) Use "enhanced" express bus service to relieve overcrowding on the Yonge Line during peak hours.

Interestingly, Tory has included this item in his plan despite the TTC recommending just a few weeks earlier that this option not be pursued. Their January 18th report states that in order for express buses on Yonge "to be truly effective, dedicated lanes along Yonge Street and a much larger fleet of articulated buses would be required. Unfortunately, this is still an unattractive option as the trip times would be considerably longer than we can achieve on the subway already."

It's unclear whether Tory included this option in his plan despite the TTC's position, or if he just went ahead and prepared his plan without consulting them. Either way, there is little chance that Council will approve dedicated transit lanes on the downtown section of Yonge St, so this item is likely DOA.

Yonge Street's significantly slower 97 bus, image courtesy of Transit Toronto

9) Mayor Tory will meet with the minister of transportation and the premier on how they can help ease overcrowding.

While communication is certainly a good thing, this situation cannot be rectified with communication alone. With elections upcoming this year for both levels of government, there is sure to be a fair amount of political gamesmanship at work. At the end of the day though, fixing this situation will require funding, specifically new funding. The question of "from who" is likely where this discussion will break down.

10) Tory will chair monthly meetings with senior city, TTC and Metrolinx officials to check in on transit expansion projects such as the Downtown Relief Line.

The last thing that transit planning in the GTHA needs is more cooks (politicians) in the kitchen. Tory's newfound advocacy for the Relief Line is admirable (even if he did just spend the last 4 years promoting SmartTrack, his not-nearly-as-effective Relief Line alternative that Metrolinx was going to build as part of GO RER anyway), but please leave the day-to-day planning decisions to the professionals actually working on these projects.

You can join the discussion on the TTC's crowding issues by visiting our forum thread, or by leaving a comment below.