Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Yet more on transit

Mr. James Bow has raised some interesting questions in regards to my post a few days ago.
Firstly, I should emphasize that it is to be expected that two different transit systems - in different cities, with different geographies etc. - will have different cost structures. The absolute costs are less of an issue that the trend - i.e. the change in relative performance over time.
2nd, I don't believe there is any one factor that explains the difference or the trend.
So let's look at a few elements:

Farebox recovery

I don't believe that "farebox recovery" is a significant factor in operating costs on a per passenger basis. A lower fare can attract ridership incrementally - but it doesn't change the walk-vs-transit-vs-auto choice for the vast majority of potential customers.
Based on the 2006 budgets, the % of operating costs covered by 'autonomous revenue' is actually closer than a decade ago:

STM (Montreal): 60%
TTC: 76%

The subsidy per rider for 2006:
STM $0.76
TTC: $0.56

If you do the math, you'll see that a good deal of the difference in the autononous revenue % is due to the lower cost per passenger at the STM.

(I'm using the TTC budget numbers showing $1,038 billion of operating budget - which is different than numbers I saw earlier which were about $20 million higher.)

Metro/Subway vs Surface transit

Mr. Bow asks "Are more Montrealers as a proportion of the overall transit system taking the Metro than Torontonians taking the subway (fewer personnel per passenger)? "

Well, this may explain part of the trend. Based on the 2006 STM budget - which has all kinds of great statistics - from 1997 to 2006, the STM has seen a not insignificant swing to Metro service:

1997 - 2006
Metro KM run (Vehicle-km) + 3.7%
Bus KM run (Vehicle-km) -2.4%

Overall KM of service is very stable - but the Metro cars are larger and move at roughly twice the speed - so the passenger moving capacity has increased by more that at first glance.

It should ne noted that in 1998, the STM radically revamped how it scheduled surface operations. There was a once time drop in service hours on the surface routes - which believe it or not - coincided with a noticeable increase in ridership. My take is that the STM shifted capacity to routes with ridership potential. Interlining was implented to enable assymetry in service between peak direction and non-peak direction.

Wage levels:

Do TTC operators make substantially higher salaries than those in Montreal?

I haven't looked at this. I'd need to look at total compensation costs. Payroll taxes in Quebec are higher - much of which is born by the employer.

Packing levels:

Does Montreal pack their passengers in more tightly than Toronto (which I can believe; STCUM's buses were always packed whenever I took them).

The only data I have shows that the boardings per hour on the STM and TTC service routes are about the same - about 80 boardings/hour. This doesn't tell us if riders stay on longer on one service or teh other on average.

Average length of passenger trip

Or do Torontonians travel further on the TTC's surface transit than Montrealers do?
I don't have any particular data on this. The average commute (all modes) in Montreal is slightly shorter in Montreal - but I don't know if this is true of transit rides. Will the Metro being proportionately larger than the Subway here - the average STM passenger trip may not be any shorter than here in Toronto on the TTC, as the speed of the Metro makes longer trips more attractive. However, I haven’t seen any statistics either way.

Impact of commuter train service in the transit mix?

Hard to say. There's less overall AMT train service that GO service. How many Torontonians take Go from Long Branch or Kipling vs Montrealers who ride in on the AMT line from the West Island. I have no idea. The Kipling parking lot is pretty full when I've seen it. Not sure if this is mainly for the GO train or the subway.

Either way, I don't see that as a significant factor in the trend.

Some other factors

Here are some other sources:

1. The STM has focused a good deal of capital spending on new buses - whereas the TTC has had to spend on rebuilding chunks of streetcar track. Newer buses mean the STM has lower maintenance and better fuel efficiency.
2. Obvious from various reports, the TTC is getting eaten alive by the operating costs of streetcars - especially maintenance. Likely, this has just gotten worse over the decade.

Well - someone should stud this in detail. BTW - when I suggested to Howard Moscoe that he take a look at how the STM operates, he stopped replying to my emails.

My feel is that the STM’s philosophy is to focus very hard on efficiency - realising that operating costs ultimately deplete the financial and political reserves for strategic improvements. Consider the surface transit priority initaive I wrote about a few weeks back:

I don’t see this at the TTC - I just see a culture of entitlement. Howard Moscoe embodies this culture.

Perhaps the STM brass realises that Quebec is broke - and they aren’t going to be awash in easy cash any time soon.


James Bow said...

I appreciate your responses. Lots of food for thought there.

I don't think that the streetcars themselves could make up the difference between the cost per passenger of the TTC versus the STCUM. The capital budget for the track renewal program this year, for instance, is $42 million, out of a total capital budget of $570 million. Further, that $42 million is at least 80% above what it would normally be, since the TTC essentially started doubling the pace of its track and overhead wire renewal program to make up for maintenance deferred during the eighties and the nineties. By 2008, when most of the extra trackwork is complete, the number should drop.

Streetcar maintenance costs are probably higher now as the CLRVs reach the end of their design life. I don't have numbers there, but given the $42 million figure for track and overhead, I can't think it would be *that* high. Though, I agree, it would be better to replace our CLRVs with lighter, more off-the-shelf models like the Skodas of Portland, rather than prolong the life of these heavyweight vehicles.

James Bow said...

One other thing to consider, given how much age increases the maintenance costs of equipment, is how much older the Toronto subway is versus the Montreal subway. The oldest parts of Toronto are about a decade older than the oldest parts of Montreal.