Advice to new TTC Commissioners

On December 8, the TTC Board held its first meeting of the 2022-2026 term. Members of two significant subcommittees were to be appointed, so CodeRedTO provided some advice to TTC Commissioners on their work over the next four years. An edited version of our Executive Director’s remarks is below.

 

I have three points I’d like to make with you related to committee membership and the broader subject of your role in TTC governance. Membership in the Audit & Risk or the TTC-Metrolinx committees will require careful and diligent work. I want to share some areas of concern that you may encounter.

My first point is about summaries and averages, and how reporting can hide risks.

In the CEO’s Report we see buses were on time only 79% of the time in October, and streetcars only 58%, but those are averages, which means some routes had much worse performance. It also states that 1.9% of all trips didn’t happen. This is equivalent to turning off the entire TTC for seven days a year. If we combine those absences with vehicles bunching together due to lack of line management, riders could easily be stuck waiting 30-40 minutes for a route listed in the “ten minute network.”

So I encourage you to dig into the details of topics, and find root causes. If you don’t know what’s behind the summary, you are missing out.

Similarly, 2022 revenue is not following the projected pattern, and 2023 will be a year of significant budgetary challenges. You will struggle to protect our city’s economic mobility sometimes. The Eglinton Crosstown was supposed to open this year, but obviously it hasn’t – Line 5 being late is actually saving the TTC money – but shifts like this present large risks. The TTC spends over $1.4 billion per year on operations, and even more on capital, but during the previous term the TTC Budget Committee was actually dissolved. I implore you to pay close attention this term. It is important for our city that you understand these numbers to address future risks.

My second point is on governance.

The final report of the Ottawa LRT Public Inquiry called out significant gaps in governance on that project, and both city staff and the mayor were identified as having directly misled council. I bring this up because the same conditions identified in Ottawa are common here in Toronto. Monitoring how Metrolinx impacts the TTC is a big, important role.

Councillor Holyday, when you and I met in 2015, we spoke about SmartTrack, which was then supposed to open in 2021: a new fleet of trains, on new tracks and in a tunnel, with 22 new stations. Since then it’s shrunk to just 5 new GO platforms which won’t open until at least 2026, but it’s still costing the city over $1.4 billion. A TTC board which is informed and diligent, and a leadership team which is careful and detailed, is required to ensure we avoid this sort of project evaporation and delay in future.

Councillor Burnside, when you and I met, you expressed strong concerns about how politicized transit was, and the lack of predictable operations funding for the TTC, and the risks those pose. I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you about the last eight years: it hasn’t gotten better. As Chair, it will be vital to guide this board and all of council on how to use this strong tool for Toronto’s continued recovery and growth. Too often council is trapped in misunderstandings of how transit is funded, or how transit should be better prioritized to move more people to schools and jobs.

My final point is on staff turnover. A strong team is key to managing risk.

From 2019 to today, the TTC has lost almost half of its leadership team. 25 names on the public-facing org chart have changed. This is approximately double the churn rate of US private sector executives. Why? Dig into that sort of stuff too. This loss of institutional knowledge is a significant risk to decision quality.

I ask that you not take the approach of previous boards and look only for good news messages on each topic. Ask the hard questions. The TTC cannot afford to spend the next four years relearning previous lessons, and repeating avoidable mistakes.

Thank you for your time.

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