Bathurst Street Track Construction 2014

The last major track project for 2014 on Toronto’s streetcar system is underway on Bathurst Street. During the first phase which began October 20, Wolseley Loop just north of Queen Street will be replaced. The second phase will run from November 3 to 20 for the replacement of the intersection at Dundas Street.

The 511 Bathurst car has been operating with buses since the schedule change on October 12. Diversions for the work are:

Phase One

  • 511 buses operate southbound via Dundas, Spadina and Richmond to Bathurst; northbound via Adelaide, Spadina and Dundas.

Phase Two

  • The 511 diversion is extended north to College and Spadina.
  • The 505 Dundas car diverts both ways via Spadina and College to rejoin its normal route at Lansdowne. There will be no service on Dundas Street between Spadina and Lansdowne.

The 310 Bathurst Night Bus will follow the same diversions as the 511 daytime service.

Wolseley Loop Construction

These photos were taken on October 23 as the new loop was taking shape.

Looking north on Bathurst across the loop entrance.

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Northeast into Wolseley Loop. Off-street loops on corners like this one are now quite rare in the TTC system. Many loops have shifted into subway stations or been lost as the network contracted.

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“Guerilla gardens” pop up on bits of public property around Toronto courtesy of the neighhbours.

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Looking east into the loop. This has one of the few remaining “old style” operator’s washrooms (the small green building in the corner).

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Saw-cutting the end of existing rails to make a clean face for welding to the new track.

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Posted in Bathurst Car, Transit | 15 Comments

Why I Voted For Olivia

On the first day of the Advance Poll, I was down at City Hall queued up to cast my vote, and it went to Olivia Chow.

Why Olivia? Just for starters, she is the only candidate talking about the quality of transit service, not simply pie-in-the-sky plans for rapid transit lines we might build some day, if only a whole army of Tooth Fairies descends on Nathan Phillips Square.

Full disclosure: I was asked to advise about better bus service back at the start of the campaign, but what I advocated and what wound up in the platform were quite different. Chow’s platform was rightly criticized as being inadequate to the problem, and this was compounded when the TTC started shooting holes in her proposals. I can just imagine how a Tory or a Ford would have reacted to a city agency undermining their campaigns, but Chow just soldiered on and even bought a chunk of the TTC’s position.

Olivia Chow believes in LRT lines even in the teeth of a brigade of Scarborough politicians who convinced their voters that only subways are good enough, and not just for Scarborough but for all of Toronto. I agree with Olivia, and fully expect that one or two election cycles from now, people will be wondering where all those promised transit improvements are.

Riders will still be out in the cold waiting for a bus that never shows up or a jammed streetcar because a Tory or Ford mayoralty means more of the starvation diet for the TTC, more cutbacks in the name of watching taxpayer dollars. Earth to Mayor’s Office: transit riders pay taxes too, and we also pay a good chunk of the cost to run the TTC.

Olivia Chow also believes in subways, where they are justified, notably on a Relief Line, whatever pseudonym we use to disguise construction south of Bloor Street from the jealous suburbs. Indeed that whole suburbs vs downtown fight is a political creation brewed up not to benefit the city, but to pit factions against each other with the eventual result that nothing gets done.

Olivia isn’t just about transit, although that’s one big plank in her platform. I’m not going to walk through every portfolio here, but the common thread is that Olivia cares about the city, about all of the people who live here, and about making Toronto better for everyone.

The advocates of strategic voting caution that I am wasting my vote, that a true blue anti-Ford vote has to go to John Tory. There are several reasons I won’t go down that path.

First off, lest anyone think I am soft on the Fords, I believe that they are a blight on Toronto that must be expunged. Yes, people voted for Rob and they will vote for Doug, in many cases because they don’t see anything better on the ballot. They’re entitled to their view.

Toronto does not need four more years of a pitched battle among Council factions and the Mayor’s Office. It won’t be smiles all around, but we certainly should not be facing rampant incompetence and bullying in our city leadership, let alone the need for Council to seize control of the Mayor’s powers.

Second, John Tory can be a nice guy, friendly, he chats with lots of people, but he can also be maddeningly thick on basic issues. His classic radio interview starts with a long, error-filled polemic which the hapless guest spends valuable time trying to correct.

On the transit file, he has one answer, SmartTrack, that will solve everything. It doesn’t matter where you live, or what your travel plans might be, SmartTrack is the ticket. Heck, it might even be a solution to world peace. In fact, most of SmartTrack is cribbed from the Metrolinx “RER” plan, and the one significant add-on is a poorly considered, unbuildable fantasy on Eglinton West. For funding, see “Tooth Fairy” above. What has become clear as the campaign wore on is that Tory’s “experts” more or less made up the plan on the back of an envelope, notwithstanding their glossy literature. They don’t have the detailed answers anyone with an $8-billion plan should be more than willing to provide.

Tory’s standard response to criticism is that this is just naysaying, a preference to carp and obstruct rather than believing in Toronto’s future. Well, John, wrapping yourself in the flag is an old trick, but it’s a poor response especially to people like me who want to improve transit plans generally regardless of who is Mayor. If you assume that you are right and everyone else is not just wrong, but can be ignored as disloyal to the cause, well, that’s no way to build a collegial environment at City Hall.

I do not play golf, other than mini-golf in my now-distant youth. It did not qualify as a career-advancing move.

I am a strong supporter of the arts both as an essential part of the city, an industry deserving of support in its own right, and for the benefits arts can bring not just to the big-ticket “high culture” companies, but to neighbourhoods across the city. Even in his arts platform, Tory drags in SmartTrack claiming that resentment for arts spending downtown is caused by the fact people can’t get there as consumers. He is silent on whether SmartTrack will provide better access to golf courses so that the deprived among us can build better business networks.

Tory may talk a good line about communication and co-operation across the political aisle, so to speak, but the ability to compromise or to even consider alternatives during the election is notably absent. If we have a Tory administration, I hope it’s not just Rob Ford policies with Rosedale manners. We need a mayor who really will work with Council, not dictate an agenda that brooks no dissent, criticism, or improvement.

John Tory will probably be Mayor, but I am convinced he has more than enough votes to defeat Doug Ford without my help.

Olivia Chow should have as strong a showing as possible. There’s an outside chance she could win, but placing second would show Toronto that Ford isn’t even good enough to be second choice. She is my candidate, my first choice for Mayor.

Posted in Elections, Urban Affairs | Comments Off

SmartTrack: That Pesky Curve in Mount Dennis (Updated)

Updated October 17, 2014 at 4:15pm:  Information from Metrolinx about the revised design for the Air Rail Link spur line from the Weston subdivision to Pearson Airport has been added.

John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal has been roundly criticized by various people, including me, on a number of counts. When one looks at the scheme, it is the technical issues — the degree to which SmartTrack will crowd out the Metrolinx RER scheme (or simply take over its function), the question of capacity at Union Station, the route along Eglinton from the Weston rail corridor to the airport. But the biggest challenge is the link from the rail corridor to Eglinton itself.

Let’s get one issue out of the way up front. Writing in the Star on October 6, Eric Miller states:

And it’s interesting to note that very little criticism deals with the basic merit of the proposal as an addition to Toronto’s transit network. The design logic to address major commuting problems is self-evident; analysis to date indicates high ridership and cost-recovery potential that is expected to be confirmed by more detailed post-election studies; and it is modelled on successful international best practice.

Criticisms have, instead, focused on the line’s “constructability” where it meets Eglinton Avenue W. and on Tory’s proposed financing scheme. As already briefly discussed, however, the constructability issue is truly a tempest in a teapot. And with respect to financing I would suggest that all three mayoral candidates and most of the popular press still have this wrong.

In fact, constructability and the technical issues are precisely what could sink this proposal. Dismissing this as a “tempest in a teapot” is a neat dodge, but it is the academic equivalent of “you’re wrong because I say so”. Many who support Tory’s campaign see criticism of SmartTrack as the work of naysayers who, like so many before us, doom Toronto to inaction.

This is tantamount to saying we cannot criticize the plan because doing so is disloyal to the city’s future. Never mind whether the plan is valid, just don’t criticize it.

Miller’s comments in his op-ed piece (linked above) also don’t line up with statements in the “Four Experts” article of October 9 where he and others talk about what SmartTrack might do. Miller is much less in agreement that SmartTrack could achieve what is claimed for it. Should we dismiss his comments as being irrelevant or counterproductive? Of course not.

This article deals with the challenge of getting from the rail corridor to a point under Eglinton Avenue West at Jane Street, the first stop on the journey west to the airport. To put all of this in context, it is vital to look at the details of both the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (including amendments) and at the Metrolinx Georgetown South project in the rail corridor.

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Posted in A Grand Plan, Eglinton LRT, Elections, GO Transit, Transit | 86 Comments

Olivia Chow’s Lost Momentum on Transit

That I would prefer Olivia Chow, of the three major candidates, win the Toronto mayoralty is no secret. All the more disappointing that her campaign has aimed low playing to the “no new taxes” mentality of the Ford years rather than showing ambition for what the city could have if only someone had the leadership to actually pay for it.

My comments, as with those on the Tory and Ford programs, are on the Torontoist site.

Updated October 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm:

The Chow campaign objected to an original remark I had made:

… missing from her proposal is the substantial capital funding needed for stopgap repairs to old buses, and to permanently increase capacity by purchasing additional vehicles and adding more garage space. Moreover, Chow’s plan is silent on the streetcar network, where service has not improved much in 20 years.

Details of a capital funding plan were included in an early September announcement about a proposed bump in the Land Transfer Tax. Unfortunately, Chow took the TTC’s August proposals for service improvements uncritically and simply plunked down $184-million that would purchase:

  • The missing half of the funding for McNicoll Garage ($100m).
  • 10 additional streetcars (part of the proposed 60-car add on, $60m).
  • 40 additional buses ($24m).

Most of this money would not in fact allow Chow to provide the service improvements she proposed, but would simply backfill holes in the TTC’s long-range capital plans. 40 buses won’t go very far especially with a peak service of over 1,500, and with a delivery date out  in 2018.

The most disappointing part of this? Chow could have demanded that the TTC be more responsive and show what it could do. It’s hard to imagine a mayor Tory or Ford putting up with a shrug and “we can’t do it” as an answer from staff, especially when alternatives should be on the table at least for discussion.

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Streetcars Return to Queens Quay

After a two-year absence, streetcar service returned to Queens Quay today with the 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront routes resuming their normal operation.

Construction has not yet finished — there are sidewalks still to be finished, a bit of roadwork, the construction of the new bikeway and pedestrian area on the south side, and finally the trees — but that will all be finished for spring 2015.

For those who could not make it down to the waterfront on a fine Sunday morning, and for my out of town readers, here is a sample of views along the line.

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Posted in Spadina Car, Transit, Waterfront | 34 Comments

Who Subsidizes The TTC? (Updated)

Updated October 11, 2014 at 12:45 pm:

This article and accompanying charts have been updated to include data from 2010-2013. (A further update was added on October 13 to show the breakdown of declining reserve funds.)

We hear a lot from every government about how much money they shovel out the door to support transit in Toronto, but it is useful to look at just how much they are spending, where it goes, and most importantly whether there are ongoing increases in funding levels.

2000_2013_Subsidy_Summary

There are ten charts in the file linked here:

The first two show operating subsidies in two formats: one with the values stacked to show the total subsidy received by the TTC each year, and one with lines tracking the level of subsidy from each source. In both cases, the section labelled “Ontario” (in red) is for special “one time” subsidies while the gas tax is shown separately.

The gas tax subsidy devoted to operations has remained flat at $91.6-million since it began in 2006. This tax actually arrives at the city in a lump sum for capital and operating, and the city has chosen to dedicate the same amount each year to operating.

Since 2009, the city has absorbed all of the increased operating subsidy of the TTC, although there has been a notable clawback in the Ford years.

The next two charts show capital subsidies in the same two formats. Again, the lion’s share of the subsidy is now borne by the city. The next largest chunk is Ontario subsidies other than the gas tax. These are important because this large share of the overall capital program will dwindle as projects end. Of $301-million in Ontario subsidy for 2013, the breakdown was:

  • $71.6-million from gas tax
  • $58.6-million from the “Quick Win” reserve, primarily for the subway resignalling project
  • $3.6-million from the Ontario portion of the Canada Strategic Infrastructure reserve
  • $145.3-million from the Spadina subway extension fund
  • $21.5-million for the new streetcar program
  • $0.6-million for residual costs on the Transit City program early in 2013.

Over 2/3 of the total provincial capital subsidy in 2013 actually came from reserves, funds that were set up with money from Queens Park years ago when times were good and held in trust by the city.

The amount of Ontario gas tax has fluctuated from year to year between roughly $69- and $75-million depending on the total tax given to Toronto less the $91.6m reserved for the operating subsidy.

Contributions by the Canadian government in 2013 of $257-million were made up of:

  • $154.4-million from gas tax
  • $3.5-million from the Canadian Strategic Infrastructure Fund
  • $99.1-million for the Spadina subway extension

The federal gas tax amount given to Toronto has not changed since 2010. Contributions from CSIF are winding down, and the subway funding is project-specific.

The “Other” category of capital subsidy is almost entirely money from York Region for its share of the Spadina extension.

The fifth chart tracks payments from various sources. In some cases these values are the same as those in the Capital Subsidy chart, but in others the amounts can vary because some money travels to or from reserve accounts.

Those reserve accounts have been dwindling since 2008. When times were good, governments, and especially Queen’s Park, were happy to shovel money out the door as a “current expense” to reduce their surplus, such as it might be, and to sequester the money in accounts outside of the government’s books. Of several funds that were created, the only ones that still have any money in them are the CSIF reserve ($15.3m) and the “Quick Wins” reserve ($133.9m) at the end of 2013.

(The negative reserves accumulating to 2006 were accounts receivable for funding programs that had been announced by Ottawa and Queen’s Park, but not actually implemented. The TTC recouped this money in 2007.)

The reserves are charted in two ways: as total amounts by source government, and as individual amounts within each reserve fund.

The reserves shown on this chart do not include the Spadina Subway fund because money for that project is handled differently by each government. Some made a lump sum payment into a trust managed by the City of Toronto, while others pay-as-you-play making contributions as the project progresses.

Spending on the Spadina subway extension is shared between Toronto, York Region, Queen’s Park and Ottawa based on an agreed formula. The federal contribution is capped, and it is unclear what will happen if the project exceeds its total budget.

Transit City spending was subsidized by Metrolinx up until early 2013 to a total of $248m. Part of this will be the sunk costs of work on the SRT replacement that may be chargeable to Toronto as part of the settlement of the Scarborough Subway project. The remainder relates to the Eglinton, Sheppard and Finch lines. These are now completely Metrolinx projects, and this item should disappear in the 2014 financial statements.

The Low Floor LRV (streetcar) project is funded 1/3 by Queen’s Park, and the amounts shown as revenue are the Ontario share.

A few common threads run through these numbers:

  • Gas tax revenues at both the provincial and federal levels have been static more or less since these subsidies were introduced.
  • Reserves created mainly before the financial crisis of late 2008 are now substantially depleted and nothing has replaced this source of funding.
  • The responsibility for operating and capital funding (except for project-specific accounts such as the Spadina subway extension) falls overwhelmingly on the City of Toronto.

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Posted in Finance, Transit | 17 Comments

Getting Ready For Streetcars Returning to Queens Quay

After many delays, the Queens Quay reconstruction project will be completed to the point that streetcars can return on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, October 12, 2014.

Years of utility construction, rebuilt sidewalks and a completely new trackbed for streetcars are almost over. When the project finishes in 2015, Toronto will finally see more than beautiful presentations and websites, we will see the street as the designers intended.

Updated October 8, 2014

Test car 4164 ran to Union Station on October 7.

Photos from Harold McMann:

View from 4164 eastbound at Lower Simcoe and Queens Quay:

Oct 07, 2014/Toronto, ON:   TTC. EB #4164. Queens Quay at Simcoe St. First car to Union, testing track & overhead structure.

Union Station Loop:

Oct 07, 2014/Toronto, ON:   TTC.  #4164. Union Station Loop. First car to Union, testing track & overhead structure.

Photos linked from a comment by “Thomas”:

Approaching Lower Simcoe Westbound

West of Lower Simcoe

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Posted in Transit, Waterfront | 79 Comments

The Ford Family Subway Plan

Over on the Torontoist website, I have posted a review of Doug Ford’s transit platform. Please leave any comments there.

For those who are wondering, a critique of Olivia Chow’s platform will follow later this week.

Posted in A Grand Plan, Elections, Transit, Urban Affairs | 1 Comment

Measuring and Reporting on Service Quality

On September 30, 2014, the TTC’s Bloor-Danforth subway suffered a shutdown from just before 8:00 am until about 3:00 pm on the segment between Ossington and Keele Stations. The problem, as reported elsewhere, was that Metrolinx construction at Bloor Station on the Georgetown corridor had punctured the subway tunnel. While the weather was dry, this was not much of a problem because, fortunately, the intruding beam did not foul the path of trains. However, rain washed mud into the tunnel to the point where the line was no longer operable.

In the wake of the shutdown, there were many complaints about chaotic arrangements for alternate service, although any time a line carrying over 20k passengers per hour closes, that’s going to be a huge challenge. The point of this article is not to talk about that incident, but to something that showed up the next day.

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[Click to enlarge]

According to the TTC’s internal measure of service quality, the BD line managed a 92% rating for “punctual service”. This is lower than the target of 97%, but that it is anywhere near this high shows just how meaningless the measurement really is.

The basic problem lies in what is being measured and reported. Actual headways at various points on the line and various times of day are compared to a target of the scheduled headway plus 3 minutes. This may look simple and meaningful, but the scheme is laden with misleading results:

  • On the subway during peak periods, service is “punctual” even if it is operating only every 5’20″, or less than half the scheduled level. Off-peak service, depending on the time and day, could have trains almost 8 minutes apart without hurting the score.
  • There is no measurement of the actual number of trips operated versus the scheduled level (in effect, capacity provided versus capacity advertised). Complete absence of service has little effect because there is only one “gap” (albeit a very large one) after which normal service resumes.
  • There is no weighting based on the number of riders affected, period of service or location. A “punctual” trip at 1 am with a nearly empty train at Wilson Station counts the same as a train at Bloor-Yonge in the middle of the rush hour. There are more off-peak trips than peak trips, and so their “punctuality” dominates the score.

An added wrinkle is that the TTC only includes in its measurements periods of operation when the headway is unchanged. With the service being so often off-schedule, it would be difficult to say just what the value of “scheduled headway plus 3″ actually is at specific points along the route during transitional periods.

All the same, we have a measurement that has been used for years in Toronto and it gives a superficially wonderful score. Sadly, the formula is such that falling below 90% would require a catastrophic event, and some silt in the tunnel does not qualify.

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Posted in Service Cost and Quality, Transit | 17 Comments

SmartTrack Reviewed

My review of John Tory’s transit plans, notably SmartTrack, has just gone up on the Torontoist website. Please leave any comments there.

A separate article by David Hains about Tax Increment Financing appears there as Part Two.

Posted in A Grand Plan, Elections, Transit, Urban Affairs | Comments Off