An Invitation to Dinner

At the recent meeting of the TTC Board, Vice-Chair Alan Heisey proposed that the TTC and Metrolinx Boards should meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual interest. Such a meeting took place a year ago, but despite the best intentions at the time, nothing further came out of this. As Heisey said “It’s not as if we don’t have things to talk about” citing fare integration, Presto, the Crosstown project and SmartTrack. Using fare integration as an example, with some discussion already afoot about just what this entails, it will be better to have these discussions earlier rather than later, said Heisey. The TTC should be in front of discussions on how an integrated system will be structured in Toronto.

Heisey went on to mention that at a recent meeting of the Toronto Railway Club, of which he is a member, he learned things about the Crosstown contract he did not know such as that the operation of the Mount Dennis yard will not be done by the TTC, and that although the TTC is supposed to be operating the line, the company delivering the project would really like to do this work. This is the sort of information Heisey hopes would come out in a joint meeting, and he proposes that the TTC host the event (as Metrolinx did in 2016).

It is no secret that far more information is available outside of formal Board meetings at both TTC and Metrolinx than one ever hears on the record. Those of us who attend Metrolinx meetings regularly know that “information” is thin on the ground at these events where the primary function appears to be telling the staff how wonderful they are and luxuriating in the ongoing success of everything Metrolinx, and by extension the Government of Ontario, touches. “Seldom is heard a discouraging word” could be the Metrolinx motto.

Indeed the TTC has become infected with a similar problem recently where whatever new award(s) they manage to win take pride of place at meetings while serious discussion about ridership and service quality await reports that never quite seem to appear. Budgets do not offer options conflicting with Mayor Tory’s insistence on modest tax increases. Getting an award for the “We Move You” marketing campaign is cold comfort to people who cannot even get on a bus or train because there is no room.

Oddly enough, when TTC Chair Josh Colle contacted his opposite number at Metrolinx, Rob Prichard, the word back was that such a meeting might have to await the appointment of a new CEO. The position is now held on an acting basis with the departure of Bruce McCuaig to greener pastures in Ottawa. That is a rather odd position to take. Is Metrolinx policy and strategy so beyond discussion that without a CEO, they cannot have a meeting? How is the organization managing to push trains out the door, let along host an almost endless stream of photo ops for their Minister?

Commissioner De Laurentiis agreed that there are many issues, and warmed to the idea, but suggested an information sharing/exchange session as opposed to a formal meeting. She concurred that the type of information Heisey is gathering “accidentally” should come the Board’s way formally.

Vice-Chair Heisey noted that he was told he could not see the Crosstown’s Operating Agreement because it was confidential. For what they’re worth, here are a few handy links:

These do not include the operating agreement for the line because, I believe, it does not yet exist beyond a draft format and the intention is not to formalize it until a few years before the line opens in 2021. However, aspects of the proposed agreement are certainly known to TTC staff. Whether their interpretation matches Metrolinx’ intent is quite another issue.

Other topics for a joint meeting suggested by Commissioner Byers included Accessibility, and the working relationship between Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario including the topic of risk transfer.

For those who have trouble sleeping, the Crosstown agreement makes interesting, if tedious, reading. One section deals for pages on end with the contractual arrangements between Metrolinx who will procure and provide the fleet, and the project provider who must test, accept and operate (or at least maintain) the cars. This is a perfect example of the complexity introduced by multi-party agreements with the 3P model. Each party must define at length its roles and responsibilities where a consolidated organization would deal with the whole thing in house. Of course some would argue that this simply shows how keeping parts of the overall procurement within Metrolinx adds layers of complexity that a turnkey solution might avoid. That’s a debate for another day, but an important part of any future project design.

Chair Colle observed that just because you invite someone over to your house, they don’t necessarily accept, and the TTC could find itself without a dance partner. Heisey replied that we should invite Metrolinx to dinner and tell them what the menu will be. Dinner invitations are often accepted. Colle observed that any one or two of the suggested items could “keep us well nourished”.

Mihevc added to the list by suggesting both the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects. That should be an amusing discussion considering that Metrolinx and City Planning have gone out of their way to be agnostic on the subject of Sheppard East’s technology considering that there are Councillors and (Liberal) MPPs who would love to see a subway extension there, not LRT. Both Boards, not to mention their respective management teams, would go to great lengths to avoid implying any sort of commitment beyond the next announcement of another GO parking lot or a long-anticipated subway extension’s opening date.

The biggest problem with the Metrolinx-TTC relationship is the province’s heavy-handed approach whereby any move away from the “official” way of doing things will be met with a cut in subsidy. Indeed, despite increasing outlays from Queen’s Park on transit, they keep finding more ways to charge Toronto for their services. The City gets more money on paper for transit, but spends some of it to buy provincial services in a monopoly market. Even if Metrolinx invites Toronto to dinner, they will expect the City to foot the bill.

As a public service, if only to forestall imminent starvation of the TTC Board, the balance of this article explores some of the issues raised by Commissioners.

The video record of the TTC debate is available online.

[For readers in the 905, please note that this is a Toronto-centric article because it deals with issues between the TTC and Metrolinx. Municipalities outside of Toronto have their own problems with the provincial agency, not least of which is its undue focus on moving people to and from Union Station.]

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TTC Updates Flexity Roll Out Plan (Updated)

The TTC has issued an updated plan for implementation of the new Flexity streetcars.

This is taken from a Briefing Note that details recent revisions to the plan plus details of the service to be operated on 512 St. Clair once it is fully converted to the new cars.

As of mid-2016, plans were somewhat different for the conversion of routes to the new cars:

  • By the end of 2016: 510 Spadina, 509 Harbourfront, 514 Cherry, 511 Bathurst, 505 Dundas and 501 Queen (part)
  • By the end of 2017: 501 Queen (complete) and 504 King
  • By the end of 2018: 512 St. Clair and 502 Downtowner (part)
  • During 2019: 502 Downtowner (complete), 503 Kingston Road and 506 Carlton

The 512 St. Clair line has moved up in the sequence with conversion beginning in September 2017 and finishing (assuming Bombardier’s deliveries stay on schedule) in February 2018. This route is now overcrowded and needs more capacity. The only way this can be provided is with more and/or larger cars.

The planned service level will use fewer cars, although they will be much larger than those now in service on St. Clair, with the result that greater capacity will operate on the route. The scheduled capacities shown below are based on 74 passengers/car on the existing CLRVs and 130/car on the new Flexitys.

It is worth asking here how many other TTC routes are in this condition, and why a report detailing the degree of the shortfall was not an essential  part of the budget when Toronto was told that the TTC’s planned service was adequate to meet demand.

What does exist in the Capital Budget (albeit in the detailed “Blue Books” which are issued after the budget is finalized) is the fleet plan. Although the timing of route conversions has changed, what remains constant is the planned peak vehicle requirement for each route.

In the table below, the CLRV and ALRV figures are the PM Peak scheduled service for various dates when these routes were operating entirely with streetcars and with no diversions.

Date CLRV ALRV Flexity Capacity Ratio
501 Queen / 508 Lake Shore Mar 2016 6 33 34 1.1 (*)
502 Downtowner Sept 2015 7 8 2.0
503 Kingston Road Sept 2015 6 6 1.8
504 King May 2017 33 7 24 + ALRVs (*)
505 Dundas Jan 2017 19 19 1.8
506 Carlton Jan 2017 29 24 1.5
509 Harbourfront May 2017 8 N/C
510 Spadina May 2017 16 N/C
511 Bathurst Sept 2016 11 11 1.8
512 St. Clair May 2017 22 18 1.4
514 Cherry May 2017 9 N/C

Notes:

  • The actual capacity change on Queen will be greater than 1.1 because many of the “ALRV” runs are now operated with the smaller CLRVs although there has been no adjustment in the schedule to reflect the reduced capacity of the route.
  • The capacity change for King will depend on how many of the 30 ALRVs that will be overhauled for service until 2024 are assigned to this route. The fleet plan indicates that these ALRVs will have to be replaced in a future order. If the TTC were to operate 24 Flexitys plus 20 ALRVs, this would add approximately 65% to the route’s capacity. Other gains might be obtained through transit priority measures now under study, but the actual quantity remains to be seen.

The total of Flexitys in the table above is 177 vehicles which, allowing for 15% spares (a relatively low level for the TTC which uses a higher number for its bus fleet) brings the total to the 204 vehicle fleet now on order. A five percent increase in the spare factor is equivalent to 10 more cars.

Additional cars will be needed to handle ridership growth, replacement of the ALRV fleet, and new routes in the Waterfront. The Fleet Plan provides for 15 Waterfront vehicles, but this number was based on a smaller version of the LRT network than may eventually be built considering the Unilever site development and plans for the Western Waterfront line.

The Fleet Plan notes that the 264-car combined capacity of Leslie, Russell and Roncesvalles will be exhausted by 2027 when a new carhouse will be required. This would not likely be a large facility and could be more of a satellite storage yard. The TTC will have to begin thinking about its need for more streetcars and storage within this decade.

TTC Board Meeting April 20, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on April 20, 2017. Items of interest on the agenda include:

  • The monthly CEO’s Report
  • Repair of SRT Vehicles
  • Disposition of Bay Street Bus Terminal

This article has been updated with a commentary on subway and surface route performance statistics presented at the Board meeting. (Scroll down to the end of the CEO’s Report.)

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Reconstruction of The Queensway and Humber Loop

Through the spring and summer of 2017, the TTC will be rebuilding all of the track and overhead on The Queensway from the beginning of the right-of-way east of Parkside Drive to Humber Loop, and the loop itself.

This project also includes the reconstruction of the bridge over the Humber River which will be done in three stages:

  1. March to June: Work will take place in the middle of the bridge; TTC tracks and deck will be removed.Bearings on the bridge will also be replaced. A new bridgedeck will be constructed including waterproofing and paving.
  2. June to September: Work will take place on both the north and south sides of the bridge, with traffic moving to the centre of the bridge. New sidewalks, parapet walls, light poles and metal railings will be constructed. A new bridge deck will be constructed including waterproofing and paving.
  3. September to December: Work will consist of installing replacement TTC streetcar tracks. TTC will reinstate overhead electrical wiring to support service when it resumes. The top layer of asphalt will be installed along with permanent road lane markings.  [From City of Toronto Construction Notice, March 3, 2017.]

This post will be a repository for photographs of the construction work as it progresses.

Reconstruction west from Humber Loop on Lake Shore Boulevard to Dwight Ave (the point where Lake Shore straightens out for its run west to Brown’s Line) will follow later in the year.

The segment east of Parkside to Roncesvalles is planned to be rebuilt and reconfigured as reserved transit lanes during a project in 2019 that will also include replacement of all special work at Queen/King/Roncesvalles including the carhouse entrances.

April 18, 2017

Following up on comments regarding both the track construction planned for Lake Shore Boulevard, and the trees on The Queensway, I asked the TTC’s Brad Ross for further information.

The Lake Shore track is comparatively recent and would not be due for replacement for a decade at least, and that under heavier service wear than service west of Humber Loop will ever see. It turns out that there is problem with electrolysis of the rails.

In 2002 TTC rehabilitated the entire track structure on Lake Shore Blvd West between Humber Loop and Symons Street due to state of good repair – end of life cycle of the rail and concrete.

Due to accelerated galvanic corrosion to the base of the rail we are now undertaking a rail replacement only project between Humber Loop and Symons Street. The top 150 mm of concrete will be removed to expose the existing rail and fasteners for replacement, and new top concrete will be placed. The occurrence of premature corrosion of the rail will be addressed with the construction of a new sub-station inside the Humber Loop this year.

In addition, we will be undertaking state of good repair – end of life cycle track replacement from Symons Street to Royal York Road, and from Royal York Rd to the west side of Dwight Avenue, which were last rehabilitated in 1998 and 1996, respectively. [Email from Brad Ross, April 18, 2017]

With respect to the trees, the project description on the TTC’s site states:

Tree line along streetcar r-o-w on The Queensway

269 deciduous trees on the narrow turf boulevard along the north and south side of the streetcar r-o-w will be removed. While the majority of the trees are in good condition, they are in the path of construction and will be affected by construction work/activities. All 269 trees will be replaced in the same general areas where they were removed with similar trees – a variety of native species having a tolerance to road conditions. Another 28 existing trees will be protected during construction.

Brad Ross adds:

We worked closely with City Forestry to ensure the right species were planted.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday May 7, 2017

The May 2017 schedules will bring many changes to bus and streetcar routes across the city. The majority of these fall into three groups: construction-related changes and diversions, seasonal changes mainly related to the end of spring term at post-secondary institutions, and changes in the type of equipment assigned to routes.

Construction and Equipment Type Changes

On 501 Queen, buses will replace streetcars over the entire route from Neville to Long Branch. Two services will operate from Neville with one ending at Park Lawn Loop and the other running through to Long Branch. This restores the route structure as it was before the service west of Humber Loop was split off from the central part of Queen.

The 501L Long Branch buses will operate via Windermere and Lake Shore Boulevard as the 501L Queen bus does now. The 501M Marine Parade service will be replaced by the 501P Park Lawn buses which will operate westbound on the same route as the 501L, but eastbound via north on Park Lawn and east on The Queensway.

The 301 night service will operate as a through bus route from Neville to Long Branch.

To provide enough buses for 501 Queen, streetcars will return to other routes:

  • 504 King will be entirely operated with streetcars, with many runs using ALRVs (the two-section cars) displaced from Queen.
  • 503 Kingston Road will be operated with streetcars, and will be extended west to Charlotte Loop because Wellington Street is under construction. (502 Downtowner will remain a bus operation.)
  • 511 Bathurst will return to streetcar operation initially with ALRVs, but will transition to low-floor Flexity service as new cars become available.

Although 501 Queen will operate with buses through the summer, possibly to Thanksgiving, the planned intersection replacements at Coxwell and at McCaul will not occur during this period as there is too much other work concurrently according to the TTC’s Brad Ross. The dates and service arrangements for these two projects have not yet been announced.

The 505 Dundas car, which as I write this, is about to begin a diversion via Bay, College/Carlton and Church bothways for water main construction, will shift to a longer diversion via Carlton, Parliament and Gerrard beginning in May when the Dundas/Parliament intersection is rebuilt. The 65 Parliament bus will also divert around this work via Gerrard, Sherbourne and Shuter.

Temporary schedules were implemented in March for 510 Spadina and 506 Carlton in anticipation of extra traffic from a Queen diversion that was not implemented (510) and for overhead work on Gerrard that has been deferred (506). These routes revert to their normal schedules in May.

The 514 Cherry streetcar will now be scheduled for all low-floor service, and the weekday midday headways will be widened from 10 to 15 minutes.

In order to avoid unpredictable traffic conditions for Metrolinx Crosstown construction, the evening interlines of routes 5 Avenue Road & 56 Leaside, and of 51 Leslie & 61 Avenue Road North, will be discontinued. These routes will operate independently at all hours.

The schedule for the 34C Eglinton East service to Flemingdon Park will be revised to give operators more layover time at Eglinton Station due to construction conditions.

The bus loop at Royal York Station will be closing for about 18 months for reconstruction, and this will eliminate the loop now used by four routes. Services will be interlined on 73 Royal York & 76 Royal York South, and on 15 Evans & 48 Rathburn. The 315 Evans night service will be extended to Islington Station.

Construction at Coxwell Station has completed, and the interline of 22 Coxwell & 70 O’Connor will cease.

Seasonal Changes

Service will be improved on weekend evenings on 509 Harbourfront. This route is now designated as a low-floor route and will be operated entirely with Flexitys.

A Sunday PCC service will operate as an unscheduled extra on the 509 subject to availability of a car and operator from about noon to 5:00 pm.

Services to many campuses will be reduced to reflect lower demand during the summer term on various routes: 38 Highland Creek, 41 Keele, 44 Kipling South, 188 Kipling South Rocket, 60 Steeles West, 75 Sherbourne, 134C Progress/Centennial, 191 Highway 27 Rocket, 195 Jane Rocket, 196 York U Rocket, 198 UTSC Rocket, and 199 Finch Rocket.

Other seasonal changes affect 92 Woodbine South, 121 Fort York-Esplanade and 165 Weston Road North. Note that the 121 will operate to Cherry Beach during all service hours this summer rather than selected periods as in the past.

A Rose By Any Other Name

In anticipation of the TYSSE opening in  late 2017, the name of Downsview Station will change to Sheppard West. This allows the “Downsview” label to shift to the new “Downsview Park” station.

Has John Tory Discovered Life After SmartTrack?

With all the flurry of transit funding and construction announcements lately, Mayor John Tory added his own contribution with a media statement at that busiest of stations, Bloor-Yonge. What prompted such a high-profile event? Rumour has it that Queen’s Park plans to fund the Richmond Hill subway extension in its coming budget, and Tory wants to be sure he defends the existing downtown system against overloading from the north.

(See coverage in The Star and The Globe & Mail)

Specifically, Tory wants to ensure that funding will be available for:

Building new transit lines including the Eglinton East LRT, waterfront transit and the downtown relief line

This is brave stuff, our Mayor rallying his city to the barricades [cue inspirational and very-hummable anthem here] were it not that Tory himself is responsible for much of the confusion and misdirection in transit plans today. His election campaign promoted “SmartTrack”, a single city-wide project that would solve every problem and magically be funded through taxes on new development the line would bring. A “surface subway” would speed riders from Markham to Mississauga via downtown with frequent service at TTC fares. Nothing else (except for a politically unavoidable subway in Scarborough) was needed, certainly not better bus and streetcar service to fill all those spaces in between major routes.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned. SmartTrack has dwindled to a handful of new GO stations to be built on the City’s dime, some of which Metrolinx might have built anyhow, and a few in locations of dubious merit beyond their soothing effect on local politicians. With the demise of a scheme to run GO trains along Eglinton from Mount Dennis to the Airport district, the Eglinton West LRT extension is also on the table, but it stops short of its necessary end, the airport, because Toronto lopped off the outside-416 segment to reduce the cost. Whether Mississauga and/or the airport authority itself will contribute to the LRT remains to be seen.

Tory discovered that surface routes suffered under his predecessor, and vowed more money for buses. Toronto bought the buses, but money to actually operate many of them is harder to come by. The only thing that saved the TTC from widespread service cuts in 2017 was a last minute City budget fiddle to bump the expected revenue from Land Transfer Tax.

Meanwhile in Scarborough, SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension vie for the same pool of riders, and it is only the comparatively infrequent GO service that preserves any credibility for the subway extension. Planners who once argued that an east-west line through the Town Centre precinct would better serve future development now compliantly endorse the supposed benefit of a single new north-south station between McCowan and the shopping mall.

Mayor Tory might now think of both ST and the SSE as “done deals”, although there’s a lot of ground to cover before the final cost projections and approvals by Council. Those extra GO stations and the express subway might still cost more than the preliminary estimates shown to Council, but there’s no more money coming from Queen’s Park. Indeed, the two governments cannot agree on how to calculate inflation in the provincial “commitment”, and Toronto thinks more money is on the table than is likely to be available. After all, Tory is in no position to tell a funding government how much they will pay out. Even those numbers are subject to change if the Liberals lose control of Queen’s Park to the Tories, as seems very likely in 2018.

Then there’s Ottawa and Trudeau’s huge infrastructure program, just the thing a politician who is desperate to make everything seem affordable could wish for. Except, of course, that the infrastructure pot isn’t bottomless. Once it is divvied up across the country, Toronto’s share is well below the level John Tory hoped to spend with his shiny new Liberal red credit card. Holding press conferences about the need for projects won’t change the amount of money available, and the federal program requires that municipalities, even big irresponsible ones, must set priorities. Tory’s plans also require Queen’s Park to come in with funding equal to the Fed’s contribution at a time when provincial budgets are tapped out, and Toronto’s ongoing game of holding down taxes rather than pay for its own services and infrastructure plays poorly beyond the 416.

What does the Mayor do? John Tory, the man who had a one-line plan to solve everything, now looks to a world beyond SmartTrack.

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How Many SmartTrack Stations Will Survive? (III) (Updated)

This is the third and final installment in my review of the Metrolinx Initial Business Cases for new GO Transit (and SmartTrack) stations.

Part I reviewed stations on the Stouffville and Kitchener corridors.

Part II reviewed stations on the Lake Shore and Barrie corridors.

Updated March 24, 2017 at 11:00 am: Additional information including replies to some of the questions I posed to Metrolinx and a report of GO Transit’s current ridership added at the end of this article.

Regular readers here will not be surprised at my skepticism regarding the methodology found in Metrolinx reports to perform comparative evaluations of projects. Much of the information is presented at a summary level, important details are omitted, and the underlying assumptions for some calculations are dubious. That said, these reports are the documents Metrolinx relies on to justify its decisions. Understanding how their methodology works is an important part of any critique of the outcome.

What these calculations do not consider is the political context where the “value” of a station is more strongly linked to its perceived delivery on a campaign promise, or to give the impression that transit service will substantially improve where the station is located. This is quite different from how the new facilities will actually affect the transit network or improve the lot of transit riders.

Most of the proposed stations actually do not fare well in the evaluations, although that could well be due to pessimistic projections of the effect of added stops on other “upstream” users of affected GO Transit routes. The evaluation process is very sensitive to the ridership estimates, and if the underlying assumptions change, then so do all of the outcomes.

The new stations to be funded by the City of Toronto have approved as a package, and the detailed IBC reports were not available to Council at the time. A smaller set of stations might make more sense from a financial or planning perspective, but they were sold as a package that is unlikely to be broken up unless some projects prove to be unexpectedly difficult or costly.

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How Many SmartTrack Stations Will Survive? (II) (Updated)

In the first part of this series, I reviewed the Metrolinx “Initial Business Case” reports for proposed stations within the City of Toronto on the GO Stouffville and Kitchener corridors. This article continues with the Barrie and Lake Shore East corridors. (No new station is planned for the Milton or Richmond Hill corridor.)

In a third article to follow, I will review the overall methodology of these studies and the implications for the viability of the station proposals.

Updated March 21, 2017 at 6:51 pm: The Metrolinx study of stations at the Don River on the Lake Shore corridor does not include the effect of proposed employment at the Great Gulf “East Harbour” site. Therefore the ridership projections and comparative evaluations of stations are based on a situation where this major proposed node does not exist. I have added a relevant quotation from the study to illustrate this.

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Scarborough’s New/Old Transit Map

In all the talk about the Scarborough Subway and SmartTrack, there has been much less discussion of how the surface route network will be adjusted around the new lines. In preparation for Council’s upcoming debate on the SSE, the TTC has produced a map of the proposed bus network following the subway opening. Here are the current and proposed maps for comparison (click to expand).

Many of the routes on this map are unchanged from the current network which is already built around the Town Centre and Kennedy stations.

What is quite striking, however, is the complete absence of services dedicated to existing GO and potential future SmartTrack stations that are supposed to be an integral part of a future Scarborough Network. Inclusion of connecting service to those stations would presume, of course, that ST will actually operate as advertised with frequent service and free transfer to and from TTC routes. There is also no Eglinton East LRT to the UTSC campus.

Looking at the map, and the degree to which “all roads lead to STC”, shows the effect of having a major “mobility hub” in the middle of Scarborough. If that’s where you want to go, there is a bus route to take you there. Other travel patterns can be more challenging, especially if the peak service hours are designed for downtown-bound commuters.

Rearranging the network to feed into SmartTrack would require some work, and it is unclear if multiple hubs could actually co-exist. However, SmartTrack is planned to open five years before the SSE, and will trigger its own interim changes. Without really intending to, the TTC has given us a view of Scarborough transit that is uncomfortably closer to what might actually be built than many, certainly Mayor Tory and his circle, would care to admit.

Meanwhile, the SSE does not bring the same degree of change to the surface transit network as might occur in other areas because STC is already a major transit node. Indeed, the TTC could introduce new and revised routes long before the subway opens in 2026.

[The information in this article is taken from a compendium report in the TTC’s upcoming Board Meeting agenda at pp. 129-130. Routes and names shown are, at this point, only proposals and are subject to refinement.]

Proposed Changes
9 Bellamy Warden Stn to STC Unchanged
16 McCowan Warden Stn to STC Unchanged
21 Brimley Kennedy Stn to STC Unchanged
38 Highland Creek Rouge Hill GO to STC Unchanged
39A Finch East Finch Stn to Morningside Hts Branch rerouted and extended
199 Finch Rocket Finch W Stn to STC Unchanged
42 Cummer Finch Stn to Morningside Hts Extended
43B Kennedy via Progress Kennedy Stn to STC Unchanged
53 Steeles East Finch Stn to Morningside Hts East end loop revised
53E Steeles East Express Replaced by 253 Steeles Rocket
253 Steeles Rocket Pioneer Village Stn to STC New route
54 Lawrence East Science Ctr Stn to Starspray Base route unchanged
154 Lawrence East Kennedy Stn to UTSC Orton Pk service replaced and extended
254 Lawrence East Express Science Ctr Stn to Starspray via Kennedy Stn Replaces 54E express. Link to Kennedy Stn added.
57 Midland Kennedy Stn to Steeles Loop at Steeles revised
85 Sheppard East Don Mills Stn to Rouge Hill GO Supplemented by 285 Sheppard E Rocket
285 Sheppard East Rocket Don Mills Stn to UTSC via STC New route
86 Scarborough Kennedy Stn to Zoo Unchanged
93A Ellesmere East STC to Kingston Rd Replaces 95A York Mills east of STC. Route number already in use by 93 Parkview Hills.
93B Ellesmere East STC to Conlins Rd Replaces 95A York Mills east of STC and 116A Morningside Conlins Loop
95 York Mills York Mills Stn to STC Partly replaced by 93 Ellesmere East and 295 York Mills Express
295 York Mills Express York Mills Stn to UTSC via STC New route
102 Markham Rd Warden Stn to Steeles North end loop structure simplified
202 Markham Rocket Warden Stn to Centennial College New route
116 Morningside Kennedy Stn to Steeles Extended to Steeles & Markham Rd. Service via Guildwood replaced by 153.
153 Kennedy Stn to Beechgrove New route replacing 116 Guildwood service
129 McCowan North STC to Steeles Express service provided by 253, 199 and 285 Rockets
130A Middlefield STC to Steeles Route and loop from McNicoll to Steeles revised
130B Middlefield STC to Tapscott Route consolidates existing peak period loops of 42, 53, 102, 134
131 Nugget STC to Old Finch Service to Kennedy Stn replaced by subway
132 Milner STC to Hupfield/McClevin Unchanged
133 Neilson STC to Morningside Hts Unchanged
134A Progress STC to Finchdene Unchanged
134B Progress STC to McNicoll Discontinued, partly replaced by 130B
134C Progress STC to Centennial College Unchanged
169 Huntingwood Don Mills Stn to STC Unchanged

How Many SmartTrack Stations Will Survive? (I)

On March 16, 2017, Metrolinx released a series of studies dating from July 2016 containing the “Initial Business Case” reviews of proposed new GO Transit stations. The list came from an earlier process in which Metrolinx began with every conceivable location for new stations on the planned Regional Express Rail (RER) network  and winnowed this down to those that were, broadly speaking, workable. The New Stations Analysis from June 2016 explains this process and the outcome, the choice of whether a station is “in” or “out” of the network, is summarized in the following map:

I asked Metrolinx why the detailed reports on each station were only released now rather than concurrently with the Board report.

Q: … the station analysis reports were only released [March 16, 2017] although they are dated July 2016. Moreover, the Board considered a report on this subject in June 2016 but the detailed reports have not been summarized nor presented to the Board publicly at this or any following meetings. Why has it taken so long for these reports to be published?

A: Upon approval from the Board last June, we engaged with our municipal partners and other stakeholders to finalize the documents. Metrolinx requested formal confirmation of funding from municipalities by November 30, 2016. Once that was received, we worked to get the business cases posted as soon as we could.

If one reads only the summary report presented to the Metrolinx Board, one might have the impression that many of these stations show a positive benefit for the network. However, the detailed reports tell a different story and beg the question of how Metrolinx planning staff got from the business cases to the conclusions in the Board report.

The posted reports are dated over six months ago, and their date does not reflect more recent work, if any, with “municipal partners and other stakeholders”. Whether this is only an editorial oversight, the basic issue is that the case made in the station analyses is not as rosy as the one presented in the summary report to the Board.

A key issue here is that many of the stations form part of Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack plan, and a Metrolinx report throwing cold water on their effectiveness would run contrary to the claims made for SmartTrack’s potential. One might ask whether the Board was misled about the potential harm the SmartTrack stations could bring to GO/RER’s goals.

As reported in both the Globe & Mail and the Star, many of the new stations are projected to have a negative effect on the network. The analyses can be summarized in a few points:

  • Any new station adds travel time to a GO Transit corridor.
  • Demand models are sensitive to travel time, and they predict a loss of ridership if trips are slower.
  • New stations could bring new riders, but these are not necessarily sufficient to offset the loss of longer trips which are the raison d’être of the GO network.
  • New riders from stations close to Union make shorter trips at lower fares leading to a net revenue loss even without considering the SmartTrack proposal to charge “TTC fares” for travel within Toronto.
  • The loss of longer trips drives up the modelled use of autos for commuting compared to what would have happened without these stations. This has a compound effect through the business case analysis because many factors depend on reduced auto mileage.

There are three fundamental issues here. First is the problem of repurposing the regional GO/RER network to provide local service within Toronto. Although SmartTrack as proposed in John Tory’s election campaign included very frequent service, what is actually to be implemented is considerably less ambitious thanks to constraints (both physical and financial) on GO’s investment in additional capacity. Planned peak period services are:

  • Stouffville (Scarborough) corridor: 7 trains/hour with an average headway of 8.6 minutes
  • Kitchener (Weston) corridor: 6 trains/hour with an average headway of 10 minutes
  • Lake Shore East corridor: 11 trains/hour with an average headway of 5.5 minutes

The only corridor to receive service at the level foreseen for SmartTrack is the Lake Shore, and this is applicable only to stations from Danforth (at Main) to Don (at or near the Great Gulf East Harbour development). This higher service level results from the combination of trains on both the Lake Shore East and Stouffville corridors serving these stations. Any new ridership due to SmartTrack has to fit within capacity planned for GO/RER.

Second is a problem of assumptions in the modelling. In all cases, a new station is seen as slowing down GO service, but a major benefit cited for GO/RER electrification is the ability to serve more stations with no increase in trip times over diesel operations. The business case models assume a 1.8 minute delay for each additional stop, and this translates to ridership loses for the long-haul travellers whose trips are affected. However, this analysis does not take into account the possibility that new, electrified service would be implemented concurrently with the new stations thereby eliminating the delays.

Depending on the corridor and the degree of electrification, some trains could remain with diesel power, typically those running to the outer ends of routes beyond electric territory. These long trips would suffer more delay than the shorter electric-propelled ones. However, if the diesel trains run “express” past some or all of the new stations, the resulting service levels will be less attractive to riders, and the wait for a train to Union from an inside-Toronto station would be a substantial portion of the total trip.

I asked whether electrification had been taken into account:

Q: In the studies, there is a reference to the extra time needed to serve a new station on the line, and in the case of Lawrence East this adds 5% to the upstream travel time. Has this number been adjusted to reflect operating characteristics of electric trains? One important point in the electrification study was that these trains could sustain more stations with the same running times as existing diesel trains having fewer stops.

A: Electrified vehicles were assumed in the calculation of delay time.

This does not address the issue that if stations are added concurrently with electrification, there may be no change in travel time and still possibly a net improvement.

Also:

Q: For corridors with multiple proposed new stops, there is the question of the cumulative upstream effects which, I suspect, are not additive.

A: The business cases analysed stations individually and independently. Effects of adding multiple stations to a line would be cumulative, creating trade-offs between end-to-end trip time and the journey time of individuals taking advantage of new stations. This limited the total number of stations that could reasonably be added to a corridor.

That last comment is telling in that it effectively says there is a point where making a route more “local” is counterproductive. This is no surprise, except possibly to SmartTrack advocates.

A related issue acknowledged in the studies, but apparently not in the modelling, is that other factors will influence the choice between driving and taking a GO train – increased road congestion, the difficulty of obtaining parking at one’s destination, and a reduction in car ownership levels over coming decades. A large component of the negative analysis for some stations arises from a ridership loss than may not materialize.

The third problem is the proposed “TTC fare” on SmartTrack services, and the parallel efforts by Metrolinx to change the TTC fare structure for “rapid transit” services to more closely match its own fare-by-distance model. Demand studies for the Scarborough transit network have shown that a TTC fare (defined as the current flat fare with free transfers between routes) combined with very frequent service (12 trains/hour) contribute substantially to potential ridership for SmartTrack. Without these, less demand migrates from the TTC network to GO/RER.

To put these issues another way, there is little point in adding stations to the GO network if the combination of location, service level and fare attracts little ridership inside Toronto, while extra travel time for trips originating outside of Toronto drives riders back to their cars. That said, I believe that the unattractiveness of GO as an alternative to TTC would be a more serious effect than the anticipated ridership loses because other factors would affect a decision by long-trip commuters to move away from GO.

Indeed, if capacity on GO services were compromised with large volumes of short-distance riders, this could be as much of a deterrent to GO ridership as the extra time spent at inside-Toronto stations. The Business Case reports do not address network capacity issues because they review each station proposal in isolation except where station catchment areas overlap.

Almost all recent controversy between Toronto and Queen’s Park centres on capital subsidies for a number of projects, and operating costs are left for another day. However, the position of GO and SmartTrack in the network is intimately linked to operating costs as this will affect the sharing of incremental expenses for new station operation, pressures for additional capacity and service, and fare subsidies by Toronto to bring GO fares down to “TTC” levels.

The current studies do not address the relationship of SmartTrack to existing GO stations and the question of whether “TTC fares” will be available at Milliken, Agincourt, Kennedy, Danforth, Bloor, Weston and Etobicoke North stations, let alone stations on other GO corridors within Toronto. Why should a rider from a SmartTrack station travel downtown for a “TTC fare” while those at Rouge Hill, Cummer, York University, Kipling or Long Branch be forced to pay on the GO Transit tariff?

How much is Toronto, a city that refuses to properly fund its own transit system, prepared to subsidize travel on the GO network within its boundaries?

Station Reviews

The following sections review each of the proposed stations on the GO network as presented by the corresponding Interim Business Case report, grouped by corridor.

Toronto Council has agreed to fund eight stations, six of which lie on the “SmartTrack” corridor from Scarborough (Stouffville line) through Union Station to Weston. Two stations are part of the Barrie corridor.

Several scenarios were used to evaluate the stations, although not all options were considered in each case because local circumstances ruled them out.

Beyond the question of demand models and potential for ridership gains or loses discussed above, other factors appear commonly through these station reviews. Notable among them is the difficulty of attracting new riders to stations on the rail corridors within Toronto. These lines tend to lie in industrial districts well away from major residential or job markets. They are dependent on walk-in trade, to the extent that any exists, as well as connections from TTC routes. Unlike the typical 905-area GO station, the new sites within Toronto will not be surrounded by acres of parking and cannot depend on park-and-ride as their primary source of traffic. This makes the combination of service frequency, speed and fares even more important if GO/RER is to provide a credible alternative to or supplement of the TTC network.

A recurring problem with the reports is that selective data such as daily gains or loses of riders are sprinkled in the text, but the consolidated numbers are given only for a 60-year evaluation period. Where changes are reported, they are not given in context relative to the base numbers of projected riders, nor, as mentioned earlier, with any reference to the available capacity on each corridor. All of the financial effects (hard and soft) flow from these ridership numbers, but it is unclear how they were derived or how alternate assumptions might affect them. To avoid repetition, I will not mention this for each study, but statements regarding ridership, revenues and costs should be treated with caution.

I have asked Metrolinx for additional data on existing and projected demands so that these can be compared with the effects reported from the station modelling exercises. I will add this information when it is available.

Finally, there is an odd viewpoint about what constitutes a “nearby” station in several of the studies where the distance from a potential station to residential density is seen through the eyes of a suburban driver, not as by a city resident who measures trips in blocks, not kilometres. This is especially troubling when access to a station would require going out of one’s way or a difficult walk where where local geography interferes with a “crow fly” access path.

This article deals with stations in the Stouffville and Weston corridors. In a second installment I will turn to the Barrie and Lake Shore corridors.

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