Getting from here to there
The second meeting of the Toronto Budget Club has concluded. As always, our friends at Budgetpedia supplied us with some budget documents from City Hall related to our theme: public transportation and the TTC. But after printing off the documents, I was a bit apprehensive. With so many frustrations, concerns, and questions about the TTC, how would we narrow down our discussion?
So we looked at the current events. John Tory recently welcomed the news of a $5B injection of transit funding from the Feds by stating that we “now we have to move forward and see what the provincial budget does.” So what really are the costs behind what the TTC needs to become the public transportation system it dreams of? To answer that question, let’s look at some of the elements.
On November 21 last year, the TTC Budget Committee presented to the Board the 10 Year 2017–2026 Capital Budget Plan.
You read that correctly, $9.44B over the next ten years. That number includes the purchase of 420 more Toronto Rocket Subway cars (new subways currently operating on Yonge-University Line) — $25M, Low Floor Buses (currently operating on Dufferin St) — $1.01B, and 204 more Flexity Outlooks (new streetcars currently operating on Spadina) — $611M. It also includes infrastructure projects such as the McNicoll Bus Garage — $172M, accommodations to the TR/T1 Rail Yard — $341M, along with track replacements, bridge and tunnel repairs, fire ventilation upgrades, roofing and paving upgrades, IT assets, and more. It does not include the $705M Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension, or the $3.56B Scarborough Subway Extension (more on this later). For all your budget nerds, this capital budget is extremely well detailed in the Appendices of the Capital Budget.
Oh, the Operating Budget *deep breath*. Transporting an estimated 544M riders via 800 subway cars, 260 streetcars, and 1900 buses, the current operating budget for the TTC is $1.8B, with over 70% ($1.3B) going towards paying the 14,000 staff it employs. But as the TTC Budget Committee states:
The Operating Budget’s outlook forecasted 2017 was going to be a challenging year…due to a series of pressures from 2016 approved service priorities. COLA adjustments, the implementation of PRESTO, the opening of the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension, increasing in maintenance costs partly due to vehicles coming off warranty, energy costs, and escalating accident claims costs.
Compounded with Tory’s Approved Net Operating Budgets pressure of -2.6%, the TTC is left with $215M in reductions. This has been addressed through several measures including reducing energy costs — $12M, reducing contracted services — $6M, and reductions in the workforce, overtime, and employee benefits — $13M. And with user fares totaling 69% ($1.3B) of the Operating Budget, the TTC has increased fares by $0.10 which is expected to generate $28.7M.
PRESTO is an e-purse payment system built designed by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, GO Transit, and OC Transpo to be integrated across the GTHA (similar to the Oyster Card in London UK). In 2009, the Ontario Government awarded US consulting biz Accenture the $25M contract to develop the fare system (don’t forget Accenture, we’ll get back to them). With PRESTO being under the ever watchful eye of ONGov, most of the budget specifics didn’t show up under the TTC reports. Here’s a quick breakdown of PRESTO related items which landed in the City Budget:
- PRESTO & New Faregate maintenance — $14.5M
- The reduction of 471 positions resulting from the implementation of PRESTO — 413 Collectors, 1 Funds Control Supervisor, and 57 Legacy Fare Collectors
- Wheel Trans PRESTO fees — $68,800
- PRESTO fee was reduced by $16M with a delayed phase out of the Metropass
- With PRESTO eliminating the need for Collectors, all stations will now provide Customer Service and $1.9M is required to train individuals to be Customer Service Agents
Whether you’re a regular PRESTO card user, or just use the umbrella pass, it’s no secret that the roll out has been plagued with issues. In fact, all the way back in 2012 the ON Auditor General slammed Accenture, the American company that built and operates PRESTO. And while other systems, like Montreal’s OPUS card, use technology standards (like this one) to ensure multi-sourcing of needed parts, Accenture build PRESTO to use technology designed and produced by one company (and don’t even get us started on Washington, D.C.). Oh, and if you’re thinking “at least we’re getting brand new technology”, check out Hong Kong’s Octopus Card, which you can even use to buy Slurpees at 711.
If Toronto is a topic of interest in your news aggregate, you have seen the flurry of reports, Council meetings, public events, articles, and other news surrounding the proposed development of the Scarborough Subway Extension. If not, click here.
I think one of the reasons the subway has been a point of extreme conflict in the transit conversation is because it perfectly encapsulates the common problem with how Toronto handles moving it’s citizens around; lack of strategy. The Scarborough Subway Extension is a $3.35B one stop line bringing residents from the Scarborough Town Centre to the downtown core of Toronto. This cost has grown by $150M, and no longer includes the original promise of an accompanying LRT line that would replace the aging Scarborough RT (see picture above). With that unfortunate turn of events, it’s no wonder there is endless debate over subways vs LRTs and subways vs LRTs vs BRTs, heated debate on the City Council floor, Auditor General investigations, and opinions here, here, here, here, and here.
TTC CEO Andy Byford says by the end of this year Torontonians will enjoy the “utopian journey of the future on the TTC.” But if Byford and Tory want residents to leave their cars to get onto public transportation, they will need to look much further into what the future of transit is. And with Perth Australia offering free transit in certain zones, Vancouver BC running driverless SkyTrain across the region, Moscow Russia’s Metro boasting 206 of the most beautiful stations in the world, or our neighbours in Innisfil partnering with Uber to offset their transit needs, Toronto has a lot of transit utopia to catch up with.