Metrolinx Board Meeting Wrapup: March 3, 2015

The Metrolinx Board met on March 3 for its quarterly gathering. Although there were important issues on the agenda, the debate was as superficial as usual, and the message that “everything is just great” permeated the proceedings.

Things got off to a slow start. The meeting room is relentlessly beige, overlit and unadorned. Windows there are, but when we entered, they were already partly screened and the view, such as it is, simply looks across to rooms and the roof opposite. Not long into proceedings, a further set of screens blocking this view descended lest we be distracted from the worthies sitting at the board table. We might as well have been in the set of an existential play wondering if there actually was a world outside, not a fine, downtown historic building.

The first order of business was a goodbye to retiring director Nicholas Mutton, a genteel fellow who has headed up the Customer Service Committee. Sadly his reports are always pushed to the back of the agenda and are rushed for time, and his presentations rarely get beyond reading a few pages of a short PowerPoint.

Then we had a brief report from Bruce McCuaig, the Metrolinx President & CEO, reiterating events of note since the last board meeting in December. One might forgive the poor directors for being out of touch with recent news given that they meet so rarely and have so little to say. Surely they stay informed on Metrolinx activities and don’t need a recap beyond the most unusual events.

In the remainder of this article, I will discuss:

  • Back-Charging Toronto for Metrolinx Work
  • The Regional Express Rail (RER) Update
  • The Regional Fare Integration Study
  • The Study of the Pearson Airport Area

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Where Should We Put A (Downtown) Relief Line?

The City of Toronto began a series of public meetings yesterday (March 3) to advance the cause of a a new subway line that would relief capacity constraints into downtown.  This round focuses on the question of station locations in the segment from the core area east and north to the Danforth Subway.

It is no secret that I have strongly supported the “Downtown Relief Line” (DRL) for a long time, and yet I could not help being disappointed by the structure of studies now underway and the public participation process. There is a sense of a process that is too low-key, that may give the impression of movement while failing to advance the cause.

In this article, I will review the presentation deck being used in these meetings, the questions being asked of participants, and the shortcomings in the advocacy for this new subway line.

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4405 Arrives On Spadina

Car 4405 made its revenue service debut today, March 2, 2015, on route 510 Spadina joining 4400, 4403 and 4404 already on that line. (4401 and 4402 are prototypes that have yet to be retrofitted for public service.)

I together with all the riders who yearn for improved capacity on the streetcar system look forward to the day that each new car’s delivery is not cause for its own article.

Car 4405 loads northbound at Baldwin Street.

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Northbound at College Street. The slow order signs for the intersection are due to its delicate condition. The special work will be replaced in April 2015.

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Cars 4403 (northbound) and 4404 (southbound) at Willcocks Street.

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TTC 2015-2024 Capital Budget: System Expansion Projects

The TTC’s Capital Budget generates much debate over a few items, but there are many, many projects at the detailed level. Understanding those details puts the debate over transit spending, operations and expansion in a better context. This and following articles will look under the covers of the Capital Budget. I will start with the expansion projects because these have seen so much debate, but will turn to the more mundane parts of the budget that keep the wheels turning.

The projects discussed here include:

  • The Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre
  • The Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE)
  • Various Waterfront proposals

Neither the Downtown Relief Line (DRL) nor the Yonge extension north to Richmond Hill is included because these are not yet official projects.

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TTC 2015 Fleet Plans (Updated)

Updated March 2, 2015 at 9:20 am: This article has been extended with additional illustrations and information from the detailed TTC Capital Budget. The original version was published on January 28, 2015.

Within the TTC’s 2015 Capital Budget, the Fleet Plans give an indication of current thinking on the evolution of TTC service. Now that Toronto appears to have a pro-transit administration at City Hall, the plans are somewhat out of sync with a revived interest beyond “subways, subways, subways”. The details in the plans need review, and this will affect planning in future budgets.

Some policy decisions are evident within the fleet plans, although these have not yet surfaced in public discussions.

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Toronto Regional Relief Public Meetings

The City of Toronto Planning Department will hold four public meetings regarding their Regional Relief study now in progress.

The meetings will be held between 7:00 and 9:00 pm:

  • Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at Calvary Church, 746 Pape Avenue (Pape Station)
  • Thursday, March 5, 2015 at Riverdale Collegiate, 1094 Gerrard Street East at Jones (506 Carlton car of 83 Jones bus)
  • Monday, March 9, 2015 at St. Lawrence Hall, 157 King Street East at Jarvis (504 King car)
  • Thursday, March 12, 2015 at Christ Church Deer Park, 1570 Yonge Street (St. Clair Station)

The focus of the meetings will be station locations and evaluation criteria.

TTC Confirms Streetcar Service Levels With New Fleet

Toronto’s Budget Committee has asked staff for many briefing notes on details behind various programs. Among these requests was for TTC to detail the level of service that would be operated on all streetcar routes after the 204 new Flexitys have been delivered, and how this would be improved with the addition of a proposed 60 car order.

The TTC has responded with a report that details how the cars would be used.

Long–Term Peak Headway Projections for Streetcar Routes

With the initial 204 car order:

  • Peak headways would widen by varying degrees on all routes except 501 Queen where existing AM peak frequency would be maintained using the larger cars. The biggest change would be on the 502/503 services changing from 12′ to 14’30” on each of the routes which, in theory, provide a blended service.
  • Capacity increases in the AM peak would be greater than in the PM peak.

With the additional 60 cars:

  • Peak headways would return roughly to current levels. Capacity, relative to today’s service, would be considerably higher than today, except anomalously, on 501 Queen.

The report notes that additional cars will be needed for routes to serve the waterfront, but gives no indication of the service levels or fleet requirements for these routes. Because the report shows only headways for existing routes, not vehicle allocations, it is unclear how many of the 60 cars go for service improvement and how many for new routes. The percentage improvements on existing routes are high enough that it is possible that cars have been double-counted for this purpose. I will follow up on that issue with the TTC.

Updated at 12:22 pm: At Budget Committee, Andy Byford confirmed that the only “expansion” covered by the 60 cars is the Cherry Street spur south from King Street.

Updated at 3:00 pm: The TTC has confirmed that all of the 60 additional cars would be allocated to “legacy” routes with none reserved for expansion. As to the spare ratio they would design for:

“Spare ratio of 18%. We expect that that we will be able to reduce that when the fleet is settled in and we have confidence in the performance and reliability but, until then, this is our going-in assumption.” [Email from Mitch Stambler, TTC]

The ratio for the streetcar fleet today is about 25% (not including cars out of service due to cold weather) with roughly 200 of the 247 in the fleet scheduled for the AM peak.

Platform Edge Doors: Motherhood or a Vital Addition to the TTC Subway? (Updated)

At its meeting of February 11, 2015, Toronto Council debated a report from the Medical Officer of Health on Suicide Prevention. In response to this report, Council approved the following motion (which is a modified version of one of the MOH’s recommendations):

1. City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission to consider the following improvements to passenger safety and suicide prevention in future budget submissions as the automatic train control project is completed:

a. in the design of stations for all future extensions or new lines include Platform Edge Doors or other means for restricting unauthorized access to the subway tracks by members of the public;

b. retrofit existing stations with Platform Edge Doors or other means for restricting unauthorized access to the subway tracks by members of the public.

Please refer to the update at the end of this article for comment about the content of the debate which is now available online.

During the debate, various claims were made for the benefits of Platform Edge Doors (PEDs) on the advice of TTC staff, notably that it would not be possible to increase subway service from 28 trains/hour to 36/hour without the installation of PEDs.

28 trains/hour is equivalent to a headway of 128.6 seconds, somewhat shorter than the current scheduled level of 141 seconds, but within the capabilities of the existing signal system. 36 trains/hour is equivalent to a headway of 100 seconds which is well below the current infrastructure’s capacity.

This is the first time that the TTC has advanced PEDs not just as a “nice to have” option, but as a pre-requisite to improved subway service. The MOH cites a TTC report on the subject, but does not comment on its technical merit only regarding PEDs as a way to eliminate subway suicides, a noble goal.

The TTC received a presentation on this report in September 2010, but only a two-page covering report is online. (The TTC plans to post the longer version, but as I write this it is not yet online.)

According to this report:

In May 2010, SYSTRA Group (an affiliated company of Paris Metro) was retained to conduct a business case study for the installation of PEDS at TTC subway stations.

The SYSTRA report is not publicly available, but the presentation summary will be posted by the TTC soon. It is not yet on the TTC’s site as I write this article, but was provided to me by the TTC’s Brad Ross and is available here.

PEDs Business Case Presentation Sep 28, 2010

This presentation is misleading in that it combines benefits expected to flow from reduced headways through Automatic Train Control (ATC) and those specific to PEDs. A major benefit of the doors is to keep debris from falling onto the tracks where it creates a fire hazard. However, a separate review of TTC operations by an international consulting group noted that the TTC’s ability to operate its advertised service is compromised by several factors including equipment reliability and passenger illness (some of which is a result of overcrowding). Continue reading

A Few Questions About Scarborough

Toronto Council’s agenda for today, February 10, 2015, contains a series of “Administrative Inquiries” by Councillor Josh Matlow regarding various aspects of transit plans for Scarborough. The City Manager’s response appeared late yesterday, but it was not exactly packed with revelations.

In theory, the inquiry process provides a way for questions to flow directly from a Councillor to City staff bypassing the usual mechanism of committee reports where administration majorities might strangle debate. In practice, the information released might or might not fully address the question.

Mayor Tory’s position is quite clear: the subway debate is over, and Matlow’s questions are simply attempts to reopen the question on matters that are already known and decided. Would that it were so simple. Subway champions should pause in their dismissal of Matlow’s position because the report shows how much we don’t know, or at least are not being told, about the subway project.

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TTC Service Changes Effective March 29, 2015 (Update 2)

Updated February 6, 2015 at 6:10 pm:

A change to service on 1 Yonge-University on weekday evenings was missed in the original version of my condensed version of the changes. This has been corrected.

Updated February 3, 2015 at 11:30 am:

In response to questions raised by the planned changes, I asked the TTC for more details on specific work.

  • At College & Spadina, the platforms used by 506 Carlton will be lengthened, but not widened. They are already wide enough for boarding via the ramps on the Flexities.
  • The 509 Harbourfront route will convert to PoP operation when the Flexities move there at the end of March.
  • Transit signal priority has been or will be restored at various locations on St. Clair:
    • On December 23, 2014, it was restored at Yonge and at Avenue Road.
    • Before March 29, 2015, it will be restored at Deer Park, west of Dunvegan, Russell Hill, Bathurst, Wychwood, Arlington and Caledonia
    • To be completed, but not necessarily by March 29: Ferndale (St. Clair Stn. Loop exit), Christie, Old Weston, Keele/Weston)

The original article from January 31 follows below.

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