How Much Will $15-billion Buy Us? (Updated)

Updated July 7, 2014 at 9:10am: The table of project costs has been corrected to place some BRT project costs in the first wave, and to include their “next wave” spending that was omitted in error in the original version. Thanks to Divyesh Mistry for catching these errors.

Ontario’s budget will be re-introduced on July 14, and it is expected to include $15-billion for transit projects in the GTHA over the next ten years. What, exactly can we expect to see from this spending? Is there room for additional projects? Will projects once proposed by Queen’s Park or Metrolinx fall off of the table?

From the budget website’s description of the infrastructure plans:

Proceeds from the dedicated fund for the GTHA would be invested exclusively in public transit priorities that address congestion and improve mobility throughout the region. Proceeds would be used to build priority projects included in Metrolinx’s regional transportation plan, The Big Move, and for other potential projects that support economic development and improve mobility, such as the East Bayfront Light Rail Transit (LRT) project on Toronto’s waterfront. This would build on the first wave of projects, such as the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line and Union Pearson Express, and the Bloor-Danforth subway extension in Scarborough.

The government recognizes continued expansion towards two-way, all-day GO Transit rail service as a priority. GO Transit improvements on all corridors would include additional track, grade separations, improved signalling, station improvements and additional fleet, which are all building blocks towards two-way, all-day service. In addition, analysis is underway on a proposal to electrify the GO rail system to deliver service at intervals as frequent as 15 minutes.

The Big Move identifies additional GO service as critical to developing the regional rapid transit network, and all-day, two-way express rail service as part of the solution.

The Province has asked Metrolinx to begin work immediately to examine opportunities to move GO service towards a regional express rail, providing fast and frequent electrified service on all corridors at intervals as frequent as 15 minutes. This would represent a game-changer in how people move about the region, and enhance ridership and efficiency on GO Transit and other projects that connect to the network as well.

The Province will work with Metrolinx and municipalities on how best to prioritize transit investments through the use of rigorous business-case analyses. These analyses will help prioritize Next Wave projects that could be accommodated within the Province’s dedicated fund for the GTHA and provide the best value for Ontarians.

Beyond the existing GO network, priority projects within the GTHA would be drawn from the Next Wave of Metrolinx projects included in The Big Move.

Cost estimates for every project are not publicly available, but we can get a good sense of the financial situation by looking at the snapshots for major projects listed on the Metrolinx site.


We have heard many times how Ontario has committed $16b to transit for the GTHA, and the “First Wave” contains the projects that money will fund. Published project cost estimates total $15.172b of which $12.766b comes from Queen’s Park.

The most important point about this list is that over half of the money has not yet been spent, and some projects have not even gone beyond the stages of preliminary design and Transit Project Assessment.

That unspent amount represents future spending that must be funded from somewhere, but there has been no discussion of exactly where or how this will be done beyond an assumption that it will come from general revenues.

Notable by its absence from the list is Presto for which a cost estimate has not been published. This project came in for criticism by the Provincial Auditor in 2012.

When we come to the Next Wave, the total estimated cost is $22.6-billion, although two major projects – the Relief Line and the Richmond Hill extension – will at best be started, but certainly not completed during the 10-year window for the next $15b commitment.

The Next Wave includes some electrification projects, but certainly not the complete GO network, nor a system-wide rollout of 15-minute service, a scheme well beyond Metrolinx ambitions when the Next Wave was announced. Note how the budget language refers “expansion towards” and “building blocks” that will lead to service “as frequent as 15 minutes”. This is not the same as quarter-hourly service on all lines, all day.

Regardless of what we actually get, the current “commitment”, one that was discussed quite clearly at the recent Metrolinx Board meeting, was to provide just that: a full buildout of an electrified frequent service network within ten years. This will require substantial additions to spending plans, and will inevitably elbow aside other projects.

Queen’s Park and Metrolinx owe us, the voters and the would-be riders on their network, a clear statement of just what they hope to build with the funds earmarked for the GTHA.

I wrote to Metrolinx seeking clarification on some issues. Here are my questions and their replies:

1. Of the First Wave projects, is the $16b all money that is separate from whatever might come from the IS (or whatever equivalent might be in the budget)?

Yes, the $16 billion worth of current transit projects referenced in our communications is separate and apart from recent provincial announcements.

2. Can you reconcile the $14.7b number with the $16b overall claim for the first wave, notably the missing amount for Presto?

The $16 billion figure refers to an estimated investment in capital projects completed or underway since 2008. Projects included in the $16 billion figure are primarily construction projects with shovels in the ground and as such, PRESTO, Smart Commute and other non-construction programs were not included. While many of the 200 construction projects completed or underway are part of the $16 billion figure, our website only features fact sheets for major projects. The figure also includes many supporting GO Transit projects, such as platform extensions and station upgrades, which play a transformative role in forming a solid foundation upon which to expand GO service across the GTHA.

3. For the Next Wave projects, how much of the total spend is expected to be within the 10-year window of the budget’s $29b?

A significant portion of the anticipated provincial spending will be spent within the next 10 years. Environmental assessments, planning work and an examination of operational needs will more precisely determine the timing of cashflow. We will be reporting our anticipated timelines for new projects at our September board meeting.

4. For financial planning, is there any intent that Metrolinx would produce a project-level projection that will show capital requirements and the degree to which funding has been committed (and from what pool)?

This is part of our 10-year financial planning process, which represents confidential advice to the government and is not available to the public.

This statement confirms that the two pools of funding (first and next waves) are actually separate, and important distinction especially if future budgets attempt to pay for “first wave” work out of revenues nominally earmarked for the “next wave”. That next wave will include some money from the “outside of GTHA” pool of $13.9b (portions of the GO network beyond the Metrolinx planning area), but the lion’s share of that funding should go to other parts of Ontario.

In general, the budget page slips back and forth between projects that are in the first and next wave pools, and projects that have been independently funded such as the Waterloo and Ottawa LRTs and the provincial share of the Toronto streetcar project. Figuring out just how much is to be spent on transit, when and from which funding pool, can be quite a challenge.

The absence of a consolidated list even for Metrolinx – something they consider as confidential information for the government – is troubling. By contrast, the 10-year capital project list including annual cash flows and funding sources is part of the public record for the TTC and informs much debate about the budget shortfall and the growing backlog of work.

Missing from the proposed budget is any mention of the 25% municipal share in the “Investment Strategy” proposed by Metrolinx. Queen’s Park seems content to repeat over and over the support via gas tax revenue:

Ontario provides significant ongoing funding for municipal transit systems across the province by sharing two cents per litre of provincial gas tax revenues. Since 2004, the Province has committed more than $2.7 billion in gas tax funding. This program is now a guaranteed source of funding for eligible municipalities to improve and expand their transit services.

It is now 2014, and that $2.7b doesn’t amount to much on an annual basis spread over the entire province for a decade. Moreover, the revenue stream is not indexed, and that two cents is worth less and less each year with growth, if any, coming from increased consumption that is no longer a sure thing.

Transit infrastructure will be a centrepiece in the coming budget, one that will almost certainly pass the now-majority Liberal legislature. The level of support is worth celebrating, but the party should be restrained, not wild jubilation that Santa Claus has arrived with an overflowing bag of goodies.

$15-billion sounds like a big number, but it is only $1.5b per year over 10 years, still less than the $2b/year spend proposed in the original 2008 Big Move. Metrolinx always quotes projects for a base year with inflation to come, but it is not clear whether the budget will do the same. That $15b could be a hard number that will buy considerably less than the uninflated prices in the Metrolinx catalog.

Queen’s Park owes us many answers on transit funding and financing, not least of which is transparency in their plans rather than assertions of confidentiality.

Posted in A Grand Plan, Beyond 416, Finance, GO Transit, Transit | 58 Comments

Metrolinx Board Meeting June 26, 2014 (Corrected)

Correction July 1, 2014: In the original version of this article, I attributed a comment to Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard regarding the sharing of information between bidders on rapid transit projects, and expresssed my surprise that this did not match the process I was familiar with from my own public sector experience. In fact, the remark was with regard to sharing information about questions to Metrolinx from candidates in the municipal election.

The procurement process does include sharing of information via addenda to Requests for Information issued to all bidders as mentioned in the Rapid Transit Quarterly Report. I regret this error and frankly cannot understand how I scrambled two very different topics together.

However, the process for dealing with candidate questions at Metrolinx is completely different from that followed by the City of Toronto. Where Metrolinx preserves confidentiality about questions a campaign might ask, the City posts responses to any query online so that no candidate has the advantage of professional advice not available to others. The basic premise is that the staff works for Council, not for an individual member or candidate.

As a public agency, Metrolinx should be providing information to everyone. The discussion (which starts at about 21:10 of the meeting video) emphasizes that Metrolinx has no part in the election, and yet the confidentiality of information exchanges could offer an advantage to a campaign that is unknown to other candidates.

Original Article  from June 29, 2014:

The Metrolinx Board met on Thursday, June 26 in a quite celebratory air. With the provincial election out of the way and the return of a pro-transit Liberal majority to Queen’s Park, Metrolinx sees a rosy future for transit expansion. They wasted no time telling anyone who would listen about the great work now at hand.

Among the items of interest were reports on:

Another burning question about the recently announced funding is just how much money is on the table, especially how much is new money as opposed to funds earmarked for specific projects like RER or previously announced/expected for projects in the “Next Wave” of Metrolinx undertakings. It didn’t take the assembled media long to notice that the GO RER scheme would gobble up much of the $15b earmarked for transit in the GTHA. I will return to this in a separate article.

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Posted in A Grand Plan, Beyond 416, Commuter Rail Electrification, Downtown Relief Line, Finance, Finch West LRT, GO Transit, Scarborough RT/LRT/Subway, Sheppard East LRT, Transit | 81 Comments

TTC Board Meeting June 24, 2014

The TTC Board met a light agenda and little inclination to debate. As events at City Hall wind down toward the October election, there are no major decisions, and Commissioners in the Karen Stintz camp have succeeded in blocking any significant policy discussions until 2015. This leaves the Commission and Council going into the election and next year’s budget process without background information that could be useful in quick implementation of a policy shift in the post-Ford era at City Hall.

If it is any consolation, Stintz currently is polling at 3%, below the “don’t know” category.

Items of interest on the agenda include:

Details on the debate and actions taken, if any, follow the break.
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Posted in Fares & Fare Collection, Finance, Scarborough RT/LRT/Subway, Service Cost and Quality, Subways, Transit | 72 Comments

King & Sumach: Connecting to Cherry Street (Update 9: June 25, 2014)

Last year, the TTC built new track on Cherry from Eastern Avenue south to the rail corridor that, eventually, will host a new streetcar service in spring 2016. Why so long you ask? The south end of the line sits in the Pan Am Games’ Athletes’ Village and won’t be ready for service for two years even though most of the track will already be in place. The opening will co-incide with the period when purchasers of condos (originally used as athletes’ quarters) will start moving into the neighbourhood.

The connection north to King is now under construction starting from the King & Sumach intersection.

New photos will be added to the end of this article as the project progresses.

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Posted in King Car, Transit, Waterfront | 63 Comments

Queens Quay Reopening for Streetcars Delayed Again (Update June 24, 2014)

Updated June 24, 2014 at 11:35 pm with additional info from the TTC. Please scroll down to the end of the article.

Updated June 19, 2014 at 11:15 am: Waterfront Toronto has replied to my query about the status of the Queens Quay project. This has been added to the end of the article.

In what is becoming a distressingly common TTC tactic, the first sign of delays to the Harbourfront streetcar’s return has again appeared buried deep in the monthly CEO’s Report in the TTC Board’s meeting agenda.

The report now shows two separate dates for resumption of service to Queens Quay:

Queens Quay Union Stn to Yo Yo Ma Lane
Jul 29/12 – Oct 11/14
Waterfront Toronto
Queens Quay Reconstruction

Spadina Ave. and Queens Quay including Loop
May 13/13 – Aug 30/14
Platform Upgrades & Track Replacement

[See table on page 21]

I wrote to the TTC’s Brad Ross about this slippage, and also asked whether another factor was the planned opening date for the second platform at Union Station (which provides access to the Union Station Loop). He replied:

QQ may well be ready, but then again it may not. As you can appreciate, we had to schedule service as bus in case it wasn’t ready.

Union second platform is to open this summer. I don’t have a specific date to share yet.

What astounds me here is that the trackwork on Queens Quay is nearly complete, except for the section west of Spadina which is not required for restoration of streetcar service to Union Station.

When I pressed Ross further on the issue of opening east from Spadina, he replied:

Our track and overhead staff do not have a high level of confidence of readiness. We have made clear to WT in the strongest terms possible, our desire to have QQ back.

I will pursue this issue with Waterfront Toronto to get their side of the story.

Updated June 19, 2014:

Waterfront Toronto replies:

We are working collaboratively with TTC to substantially complete the construction of both the Spadina Loop and the streetcar corridor on Queens Quay by the end of June to give TTC crews the time they need to commission the line. To date, we have completed over 90% of the construction and have begun installing TTC poles along the corridor. Unfortunately, due to a collapsed telecommunications duct bank in the roadway west of Spadina (which is now repaired), reconstruction of the streetcar corridor in that block has been delayed by approximately two weeks. While we are working diligently to provide TTC crews the time they need to commission the line in that area, we fully respect their Service Planning process and the decision to have buses available to serve customers on the 509 Harbourfront line through September. We are pleased that the TTC will resume the 510 Spadina streetcar service to the newly rebuilt Spadina Loop as of August 31 and that we are on schedule to deliver the fully revitalized Queens Quay next June.

Updated June 24, 2014 at 11:35 pm:

Today I spoke with TTC CEO Andy Byford who advises that a major problem for the TTC is not the completion of the track, but the availability of poles on which to string the overhead. This is a particular problem at Queens Quay and Spadina where even getting the loop open for August 31 may be a challenge.

From various Waterfront Toronto construction reports, I know that work west of this intersection has been delayed first by the unexpected collapse of a Bell duct, and also while work was put on hold so the area could be used for staging of new track panels. That said, it is difficult to believe that WT cannot get the new poles installed promptly now that the intersection construction is largely complete. I will follow this up with WT for further info.

Posted in Spadina Car, Transit, Union Station, Waterfront | 25 Comments

Reconstruction of Dundas & Spadina

The TTC and Toronto Water will be rebuilding their infrastructure at Dundas & Spadina this summer.

Here are the preliminary plans for TTC service as supplied by Brad Ross:

  • July 14-28: Water main work in the intersection. 510 Spadina will run with buses over its entire route. 505 Dundas cars will divert both ways via McCaul, College and Bathurst.
  • July 28-August 11: Track work. 510 Spadina will be split into two routes. The northern section will run to Baldwin looping via College, Huron and Baldwin to Spadina. The southern section will run to Sullivan and will simply make a U-turn at that intersection.
  • August 11 onward: Bus operation will continue on 510 Spadina while reconstruction at Spadina Station Loop for new streetcars continues. The 505 Dundas car will return to its normal routing.

August 31, 2014 is the start of the next schedule period, and at that time new streetcars will make their debut in service on 510 Spadina running south to Queens Quay Loop. As previously reported here, service to Union Station is not expected until the next set of schedules on Thanksgiving weekend.

Posted in Dundas Car, Spadina Car, Transit | 9 Comments

A Father of LRT Speaks in Waterloo

On June 11, Dr. Vukan Vuchic spoke in the Council Chamber of the Waterloo Region Council on the subject of medium capacity transit modes. Dr. Vuchic has been around transportation issues for decades. He organized the first Transportation Research Board Light Rail Conference in 1975 in Philadelphia, an event that became a series of 12 such meetings, the last in 2012.

Dr. Vuckic’s presentation (just over an hour long) covers a lot of historical ground going back to the early days when “LRT” as a mode distinct from “streetcars” – the missing link between bus systems and full-scale subways or rapid transit – started to gain popularity. Vuchic’s speaking style isn’t breezy. He could cover his material faster (and probably with less text on the Powerpoints running behind him), but he gives us the history of transit evolution over four decades.

This is not an all LRT, all the time, presentation, and it gives fair credit to the importance of buses at the core of transit systems. The point, as always, is to use the right mode for each implementation.

Posted in A Grand Plan, Beyond 416, Kitchener-Waterloo, Transit | 89 Comments

Building the Connection to Leslie Barns (Updated June 22, 2014)

Utility work to replace nearly century-old infrastructure beneath Queen & Leslie is now complete, and construction of the new intersection can begin.

An update [pdf, 4mb] from the Community Office shows some of the recent work and details the staging of what is to come for the balance of 2014. Information is included about the Queen/Broadview reconstruction planned for late June through July.

Information about Leslie Barns in general can be found at the TTC’s Leslie Barns project page.

June 22, 2014

Streetcar service has resumed on Queen between Broadview and Coxwell with the completion of the intersection at Leslie. This will continue until Monday, June 30 when reconstruction of the intersection at Broadview will require that streetcars divert via Gerrard for about three weeks.


Looking west on Queen across Leslie.


Utility work continues on Leslie south from Queen and the remainder of the track connection will not be installed until fall 2014. This view looks north across the intersection.

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Posted in New Streetcars, Queen Car, Transit | 49 Comments

TTC Service Changes for June 22, 2014 (Update 2)

Service changes to be implemented on June 22 include a large number of seasonal cutbacks in service on a par with what was done in 2013. There is an unusually large amount of construction underway around the city and this is reflected both in adjusted schedules and in a much higher than budgeted number of hours for construction-related service. This activity is one of the constraints on service growth for 2014.

Updated June 18, 2014: With the reopening of Cherry Street south of Mill Street, the 172 Cherry bus will resume its normal routing through the Distillery District (via Parliament, Mill and Cherry) on Saturday, June 21.

29 Dufferin will be formally scheduled as an articulated bus route on weekdays. Although there will be fewer vehicles than at present, the reduction is smaller than the relative size of the vehicles giving an increase in route capacity. This may be offset by service reliability as happened already on 7 Bathurst.

The Queen and King streetcar routes will divert around track construction at Broadview & Queen from June 30 to July 25.

501 Queen cars which are now diverting both ways via Broadview, Gerrard and Coxwell will alter their route to divert via Parliament, Gerrard and Coxwell.

504 King cars now diverting both ways around the Don Bridge constuction via Parliament and Queen will alter their route to divert via Parliament and Dundas.

501/502 bus replacement service on Queen will divert both ways via Pape, Dundas and River. As with the diversion service already in operation for the Queen & Leslie track work, these buses will loop downtown via Church, Richmond and Victoria. There will be no 503 Kingston Road Tripper service to York & Wellington.

2014.06.22_Service_Changes (Updated June 13, 2014)

Posted in Dufferin Bus, Queen Car, Service Cost and Quality, Transit | 12 Comments

An Interactive Display of Boston Subway Performance Data

For those who can’t get enough of charts showing the behaviour of TTC routes, I highly recommend a visit to Visualizing MBTA Data, a project of Mike Barry and Brian Card at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

In their article, they show data for the movement of trains, for headways and for trip times between points, not to mention station usage counts. All of this can be explored interactively to view specific sections of the network.

(For more details about their project, please see this handout from a recent presentation.)

As they note, the idea of plotting train movements goes back to the 19th century. I certainly didn’t invent it. The biggest challenge has been to take masses of data from the TTC and convert them to a format that is digestible and illustrates various factors of transit operations.

An encouraging note: the TTC is now doing some of this type of analysis itself, and this will inform work on improved scheduling and better monitoring of service quality.

Posted in Beyond 416, Service Analysis, Transit | 7 Comments