Reconstruction of Queen & McCaul

The last of many track projects for the Queen route began on Monday, October 16, and has progressed at a blistering pace. By Wednesday, the old intersection had been removed and a new concrete foundation was poured. By Friday, assembly of the new intersection in the street was nearly complete.

Please see Reconstruction of The Queensway and Humber Loop for updates on that project.

TTC Board Meeting October 16, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on October 16. Among items of interest on the agenda are:

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SmartTrack Update: More Questions Than Answers (October 13 Update)

For the coming three evenings, October 10-12, the City of Toronto, Metrolinx and the TTC will host open houses to present and discuss plans for six new SmartTrack and two new GO Transit stations. Although material for all stations will be part of each event, stations “local” to each site will receive more emphasis than others.

Each meeting will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., with a presentation at 7 p.m.

  • Tuesday, October 10, Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Dr.
  • Wednesday, October 11, Riverdale Collegiate Institute, 1094 Gerrard St. E.
  • Thursday, October 12, New Horizons Tower, 1140 Bloor St. W. (new location)

Note: The location of the Oct. 12 meeting has been changed and it is now across the street from the originally announced site (which was Bloor Collegiate).

Updated October 11 at 10:30 pm: There continues to be confusion about just what “SmartTrack” service will look like, and this is not helped by the City’s presentation. Details can be found in the June 2016 Metrolinx report. For further info, see the update at the end of this article.

Updated October 13 at noon: Metrolinx has confirmed that the Barrie corridor trains will operate through to Union Station, not terminate at Spadina/Bathurst Station as I had originally thought. However, the operational details have not yet been worked out. For further discussion, scroll down to the section on the Spadina/Bathurst Station.

I attended a media briefing that covered the materials to be presented and the following article is based on that briefing which was conducted by City of Toronto staff. Illustrations here are taken from the deck for the media briefing which is available on the City of Toronto’s site. Resolution of some images is constrained by the quality of data in the deck.

[In the interest of full disclosure: A “Stakeholder Advisory Committee” (or SAC) has already been meeting on this, and I was invited to participate, but declined given my concern with a potential conflict between “advisory” and “journalist/commentator” roles. It is no secret that I believe SmartTrack is a deeply flawed concept. Its implementation is compromised by fitting a poorly-conceived election promise into a workable, operational scheme for the commuter rail network. Any “debate” is skewed by the need to pretend that this is anything beyond campaign literature.]

The intent of these three meetings is to conduct the first detailed conversation about these stations with the general public. Early designs appeared in the “Initial Business Case” for the stations, but these have been revised both for technical and for philosophical reasons. Specifically:

  • The City does not want to build traditional GO stations dominated by parking.
  • The interface between the new stations and the transit network (both rapid transit and surface routes) should be optimized.
  • Strong pedestrian and cycling connections are required.
  • Stations should be close to main streets.
  • Stations should support other City objectives such as the West Toronto Railpath and parallel projects such as the St. Clair/Weston study now in progress.
  • Transit-oriented development should be possible at stations.

This is a list that to a typical GO Transit proposal in the 905 would be unrecognizable. GO Transit’s plan ever since its creation has been to serve auto-based commuting first and foremost with ever larger parking structures that poison the land around stations. Local transit was something GO, and later Metrolinx, simply “didn’t do”, and the idea that Queen’s Park might fund strong local transit as a feeder to GO services has been limited to co-fare arrangements.

The situation within Toronto is very different, and there are connecting routes on the TTC that individually carry a substantial proportion of the daily ridership of the entire GO network. Moreover, if GO (or SmartTrack, whatever it is called) will be a real benefit to TTC riders, then the process of getting people to and from stations must not depend on parking lots that are full before the morning peak is even completed.

The new stations will go into existing built-up areas, not into fields with sites determined primarily by which well-connected developer owns nearby property. Residents will be consulted about how these stations will fit their neighbourhoods, how they will be accessed, and what might eventually become of the community and future development.

A big problem facing those who would present “SmartTrack” to the public beyond City Hall insiders and neighbourhood activists is that almost nobody knows what SmartTrack actually is. This is a direct result of Mayor Tory running on a design that could not be achieved, and which has evolved a great deal since he announced it in May 2014. In brief, it is three GO corridors (Stouffville, Lake Shore East and Kitchener) plus an Eglinton West LRT extension, but this differs greatly from what was promised in the election.

Service levels for SmartTrack are described as every 6-10 minutes peak, with off-peak trains every 15, but this does not necessarily match Metrolinx’ announced service plans for their GO RER network onto which SmartTrack is overlaid. The idea that there would be extra SmartTrack trains added to the GO service was killed off in 2016 in the evaluation of possible operating modes for the corridor.

Fares on “SmartTrack” are supposed to be “TTC fares”, but this is a moving target. Voters understood the term to mean free transfer onto and off of SmartTrack trains as part of their TTC fare, but with all the talk of regional fare integration, it is far from clear just what a “TTC fare” will be by the time SmartTrack is operating.

Even that date appears to be a moving target. City Staff referred to 2025 when GO RER would be fully up and running as the target date for “integration”, but Mayor Tory still speaks of being able to ride SmartTrack by 2021 while he is presumably still in office to cut the ribbon.

At the briefing, many questions arose from the media, and the answer to almost all of them was “we don’t know yet”. It is clear that the Mayor’s plan has not proceeded beyond the half-baked stage, and many important details remain to be sorted out.

  • What is the status of Lawrence East Station and how does it fit with the recently announced review of this (and Kirby) stations by the Auditor General?
  • How will an expanded GO/ST presence at Lawrence East co-exist with the SRT which will operate until at least 2025, if not beyond to whenever the Scarborough Subway opens?
  • What are the arrangements for City/Province cost sharing on the stations, especially since Lawrence East was originally to be a GO station, but its future as such is unknown?
  • What will be the cost of the new stations once design reaches a level where the numbers are credible? The range of $700 million to $1.1 billion has not been updated since the matter was before Council.
  • Will all stations on the SmartTrack corridor honour ST fare arrangements regardless of whether this is a city-built station under the ST banner?
  • Why should GO riders who are not on the SmartTrack corridor pay regular GO fares, while those using the ST route have a “TTC fare” for their journey? The most obvious contrast in this case is between the existing Exhibition Station on the Lake Shore corridor and the proposed Liberty Village Station on the ST/Kitchener corridor, but there are many others.
  • What service levels will be provided, and how will they affect projected demand at the stations? Were previously published estimates based on more ST service than Metrolinx actually plans to  operate? How will constraints at Union affect the ability to through-route service between the Stouffville to the Weston/Kitchener corridors?
  • If the City wants more service than Metrolinx plans (assuming it would even fit on the available trackage), how much would Toronto have to pay Metrolinx to operate it?
  • Where are the residents and jobs that are expected to generate ST demand, and how convenient will access to the service actually be considering walking time, station geometry (stairs, tunnels, bridges, etc) and service frequency?

The stations under consideration are shown on the map below. A common question for all of these locations will be that of available capacity on the GO trains that will originate further out in the corridor. Without knowing the planned service design for “GO” trains and “SmartTrack” trains, it is unclear how often, if at all, there will be short-haul ST trains originating within Toronto as opposed to longer-haul GO trains from the 905. The availability of space on trains could affect the perceived service frequency if people cannot board at stations near Union (just as long-suffering riders of the King car complain about full streetcars).

Updated October 10, 2017 at 10:30 pm

After I posted this article, I realized that there was an important part missing, a commentary on the “consultation” process  itself.

A big problem with many attempts to seek public input is that the wrong question is posed, and factors are taken as given when they should be challenged. In the case of SmartTrack, the basic question is “why do we have SmartTrack at all”.

The original scheme was essentially a real estate ploy to make property in Markham and south of the Airport more valuable by linking both areas with a frequent rail service to downtown. Reverse commuters were a big potential market for this service. In the course of becoming part of the Tory election campaign, the focus turned inward, and SmartTrack became the line that would solve every transit problem. The claims about service frequency, fares and integration with other local and regional service were complete fantasies, but they gave the impression that Tory “had a plan” as distinct from the bumbling proposals of his opponent, Doug Ford, and the lackluster efforts of Olivia Chow. Tory even got professionals to declare his scheme a great idea, one giving it an “A+” on CBC’s Metro Morning, but this was for a version of SmartTrack that was unbuildable.

Now, over three years later, we are still faced with the myth that SmartTrack is a real plan, that it is anything more than what GO Transit would have done in the fullness of time. We are, in effect, being asked about the colour of tiles in stations when we should be asking whether the stations should even be built at all. There is no guarantee that service can be overlaid on GO’s existing plans to provide anywhere near what was promised in the campaign – a “surface subway”. Metrolinx has been quite firm on the subject, and going to the frequencies assumed by ST advocates would be well beyond the infrastructure we are likely to see on GO corridors.

The City will conduct its consultations, but the hard question – Why SmartTrack? – will never be asked.

For the October 11 update, please scroll to the end of the article.

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GO/TTC Co-Fares: A Glass Half Full

Today, October 6, 2017, the Government of Ontario announced that there would be a $1.50 co-fare between GO Transit and the TTC. This long-overdue change begins, but does not fully address, problems faced by transit riders who cross the City’s border and faced a full extra fare to ride on two separate transit systems.

Ontario is lowering the cost of commuting for people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) by introducing a 50 per cent discount for PRESTO card users who transfer between GO Transit or the Union Pearson Express (UP Express) and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), in both directions.

Premier Kathleen Wynne was at Union Station in Toronto today to announce that adult, senior and youth/student TTC riders will pay a TTC fare of just $1.50 when they use a PRESTO card to transfer to or from GO Transit or the UP Express. The discount will launch in January 2018, shortly after the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension will begin service to six new stations. For people whose regular commute includes GO/UP Express-TTC transfers, this step towards regional fare integration and more affordable transit options will save about $720 per year. [Ontario government press release]

For some types of trips, this is “good news”, but it is far from the panacea some, notably Mayor Tory, touts:

“Thanks to bold leadership at City Hall and Queen’s Park, we have found a way to give a discount to those who use a mix of our transit systems. Transit will now be more affordable for Toronto residents who ride a mix of the TTC, UP Express and GO Transit to get around the city. This agreement also moves us a step closer to make sure that SmartTrack will cost Toronto residents the same as the TTC. We need to make sure that the transit we are building and maintaining remains affordable.” [From the press release]

The primary beneficiaries of this change will be GO Transit commuters who can now use the TTC to and from a Toronto GO station (most likely Union) for the “city” end of their journeys. That $720/year saving translates to 240 round trips at $3 each. That’s 48 weeks’ worth of travel taking into account at least two weeks of vacation plus an equal number of statutory holidays.

To put this into context, the annual cost of commuting by GO from Oakville to Union is about $3,400. Someone who now uses TTC for their city trip (say from Union to Queen’s Park) would pay $1,440 in TTC fares at $3 each making a total of $4,840 for both systems. The new discount will save about 15%. Conversely someone who now walks from Union has the TTC option at a lower marginal cost than before.

This is a good deal, as far as it goes, for GO Transit riders, but the story is much different for other travellers.

Cross-boundary Travel on Local Bus Systems

Riders from Mississauga, Brampton, York Region and Durham Region transit systems will still pay two fares to cross the boundary to or from Toronto.

This will apply to riders entering the new Spadina subway extension, even if they travel to stops north of Steeles Avenue or to York University, now served directly by YRT buses.

Metropass Users

The discount only applies to riders who pay the full TTC adult fare via Presto ($3.00). Passholders will not receive any discount. This is a benefit to those who use GO a lot, and the TTC less so.

  • Cost of a monthly pass (on discount program): $134
  • Cost of 40 co-fare trips at $1.50 each: $60
  • Cost of 20 full fare trips at $3.00 each: $60
  • Total cost: $120

If the number of TTC-only trips goes up, say to 25, the combined cost ($135) would exceed the value of a Metropass.

Students and Seniors

This group of riders already travels at a reduced fare of $2.05 if they are using Presto. The discount to a $1.50 co-fare does not represent as much of a saving to them as it does to “adult” riders. This will also be true for any new group to whom reduced fares are offered such as ODSP recipients.

TTC-GO Trips Within Toronto

For riders who now attempt to make trips using both services inside Toronto, the co-fare will represent a discount over their current pricing. However, the high cost of travelling by GO will remain a large barrier to people who might move from an all-TTC route to a TTC-GO route.

For example, the monthly cost of travel using Presto from Agincourt to Union Station is $223.25 (based on 40 trips/month). Assuming that a rider will save $60 per month on TTC fares, this would still be an increase of over $160/month to commute from Scarborough to downtown via TTC and GO. That is not exactly the “equal to TTC fare” goal of John Tory’s SmartTrack, and it is unclear just who will step up to pay the subsidy needed to make it so.

Moreover, someone who is already a frequent TTC rider is also likely a passholder, and it may not be worth their while to trade in the capped price of a Metropass to “enjoy” the co-fare available on GO.

Because of inconsistencies in GO fares, the situation at Mimico is different because the monthly GO cost is only $177.70. Even so, this remains a substantial premium over a pure TTC fare, and  puts this option well beyond the means of many TTC riders.

Finally, many GO stations in Toronto are difficult to reach by transit or have only limited service. This is another barrier to “integrated” travel on GO and the TTC.

This co-fare and its subsidy are a beginning, but only a small one, toward the dual goals of reducing cross-border fare premiums and making GO more affordable within Toronto. A small cake and a few balloons may be an appropriate celebration, but hold the champagne.

 

Navigating the TTC’s Ten Year Capital Plan 2018-27

Recently I wrote a piece for the Torontoist site “TTC Budget Woes Deepen” to give an overview of the major issues facing the TTC and the City of Toronto as it goes into the annual round of budget talks facing a huge mound of transit spending.

This article is rather long, and is intended to go into more detail for readers who want to know how the budget works, and how the various reports and tables fit together.

There are three documents containing the initial version of the ten year plan:

Some of the information is not presented in the same format in each report, and this can be confusing even to a veteran budget reader. There are valid reasons for this, in some cases, because different information is excerpted to tell different parts of the overall story. Where this happens, I will try to sort out the numbers.

A major problem with the TTC’s budget and plan is the ever-growing list of “unfunded” projects. There are now at least five groups:

  • Projects that are officially in the “base budget” but for which no funding has been identified ($2.273 billion)
  • New projects that are not in the base, but which are shown in the chart of funding sources as a contribution to the shortfall ($1.05 billion).
  • Changes in scope of existing projects for which there is no funding ($128 million).
  • Additional projects that do not exist in any of the lists ($2.216 billion).
  • Projects listed in the detailed budget, but with spending planned (if it is shown at all) beyond the 2018-2027 plan’s window.

This backlog represents almost as much as the “funded” portion of the budget, and the absence of clear information on the need for, timing and priority of these projects is a huge gap in the information presented to the Commission and to Council. Changes in the timing of any of these projects and/or the need to move them into “funded” status will have a domino effect through the entire TTC and City budgets by bringing costs into years where funding is not now available.

This list does not include any major rapid transit projects such as the Scarborough Subway (SSE), the Relief Line (RL), SmartTrack (a City project separate from the TTC’s budget) or the LRT expansions on the Waterfront West or Eglinton East (once part of the Scarborough “package”). Only the SSE has “funding” in the sense that resources from three governments are earmarked to build it, but this project could still run aground if the costs at 30% design come in higher than the current estimate.

Note: In various places in this article, I quote the TTC’s responses to questions about details of the budget. These were supplied by Brad Ross, Executive Director of Corporate Communications, from TTC staff. Thanks to Brad for this.

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TTC Budget Woes Deepen

Over on the Torontoist site, I have written a commentary on the TTC’s 2018 Capital Budget and ten year plan. Comments should be left there.

In coming days, I will write a tutorial on my own site for those interested in exploring the budget reports and background in more detail.

Where is the Extra TTC Service?

When John Tory became Mayor of Toronto in the 2014 election, he quickly discovered that his transit briefings as a candidate were far from the truth. Service deteriorated under Mayor Ford, and although Tory opposed a plan to increase bus and streetcar service during the campaign, he had a change of heart. The then-new Mayor supported the purchase of more buses and a partial restoration of service standards, notably those affecting off peak service.

What has happened between the start of 2015 and fall 2017?

Over the past three years, TTC ridership growth has levelled off and is dangerously close to slipping into decline. Many factors are cited, including the “do nothing” option of “every other city is losing riders so we’re no different” approach. That is not exactly a call to restore riders’ faith in the TTC.

An important issue is the question of actual service levels. Looking at the service budget and actual operations, one might get the impression that service is growing.

The budgeted service in 2017 is higher than in 2015, but the details are important:

  • The budgeted regular service in 2017 is only slightly higher than in 2015. For September, the budget is 2.1% higher in 2017. However, not all of the planned increase was actually operated in response to the ridership numbers and budget pressures.
  • More than half of the total increase in service hours is due to construction, not to actual improvements.

One can argue that without the extra construction service, riders would have even worse service than they do, but this does not change the fact that regular service has improved very little over three years.

This can be seen in detail in the chart linked below which compares peak headways (the time between vehicles) for the January 2015 and September 2017 schedules.

201501_201709_Comparison

The bus changes summarized in pie form show the breakdown.

 

The total number of buses in service during peak periods is up from 2015, but this is entirely due to substitution of buses for streetcars either for construction projects or to offset the late delivery of Flexity cars from Bombardier.

When the total count of buses in service is adjusted for vehicles running on streetcar lines, the AM peak value is down slightly, and the PM peak is up only by 20 vehicles.

This does not account for extra vehicles dealing with congestion delays on the TYSSE project in 2015, nor the Crosstown project in 2017.

On a route by route basis, there are more routes with service cuts in 2017 relative to 2015, or with no change in peak service at all, than there are routes with better headways. Most streetcar routes have service cuts in both peaks.

This is hardly a system that is actively trying to attract ridership with better service and more capacity.

In coming months, the TTC expects to publish an updated bus fleet plan (October 2017) and a Ridership Growth Strategy (November 2017). A fleet plan requires not just buses, but also garages, operators and maintenance workers. Both of these reports will be vital inputs to the Capital and Operating Budgets. Good intentions alone will not bring more service to TTC routes.

An important component of the fleet plan will be the target spare ratio for vehicles. The TTC has increased this value in past years to ensure that its fleet gets the pro-active maintenance required to field revenue service every day. However, adding to spares makes the fleet larger without changing scheduled service.

Absent the details of coming budgets, it is unclear how much provision, if any, has been made for substantial service improvements. Capital subsidy programs such as Ottawa’s PTIF (Public Transit Infrastructure Fund) may let Toronto buy more buses, but if Toronto Council will not fund the operation and maintenance of the added vehicles, then this is nothing more than a make-work program for the bus builders and a way for the TTC to retire much of its fleet sooner than planned.

There is an inherent dishonesty in many transit funding announcements because they address only the initial cost of provisioning vehicles and building infrastructure, not actually running and maintaining them. The TYSSE alone will add about $30 million (net of new revenue) in costs to the TTC’s budget, and it is far from clear whether they will receive added subsidy, or be forced to trim service elsewhere to handle this. (Part of the increase was already digested in the 2017 budget as startup costs for the new subway, but most of the cost hits in 2018.)

Meanwhile, Bombardier is supposed to ramp up streetcar deliveries this fall reaching 7.5 cars/month by October. As of September 24, the second “September” car, 4446, is about to leave Thunder Bay, and it is clear that Bombardier will not make the target of four cars for this month (ending with 4448). It is hard to believe that they will actually ramp up to a much higher production rate, and this threatens service quality on both the streetcar and bus networks. Even if Bombardier does begin to deliver at the planned rate, there remains the question of whether the TTC will restore streetcar operations on all routes, or continue to retire older cars.

The TTC faces several difficult years in a political environment where added spending on transit operations will be hard to achieve in the face of “tax fighting” politicians. The one product they are selling is service. Without real improvements, not just marketing flim-flam, the TTC will lose political influence and, with that, the funding they so badly require.

Sources:

  • TTC Scheduled Service Summaries (copies available on this site)
  • TTC Service Planning Board Period Memos

Waterfront Transit Reset Phase 2 Update

This article is based on the public presentation held on September 18, 2017 at Harbourfront Centre. A similar presentation will be held in southern Etobicoke on September 26.

The “Waterfront Transit Reset” project was launched by Council at the end of 2015 to review all of the outstanding plans for transit from the Mississauga border to Woodbine Avenue. The first phase of this review reported in July 2016, and that provided the springboard for Phase 2 which will report to Executive Committee on October 24, and thence to Council at its meeting beginning on November 7.

Given the geographic scope, the review has been broken down into segments (and a few sub-segments) to focus on problems particular to locations across the waterfront. The four main segments are:

  • Southern Etobicoke
  • Humber River to Strachan including Parkdale and Exhibition Place
  • Strachan to Parliament including the Central Waterfront and much of East Bayfront
  • Parliament to Woodbine including the Port Lands

The presentation was done west to east, and in a single go without questions. This was something of a marathon for the audience, and I am not sure this was the best approach given the complexity of issues in some areas. As someone who has followed the detail of this study since its inception and participated in consultation sessions, I am quite familiar with the issues and was just getting an update. Those who came to this fresh, as many did, had a lot to take in.

A further problem is that the presentation included no cost estimates, and limited information on issues such as construction effects and complexity that could inform a choice between alternatives. This is particularly true of the review of Union Station. There are no travel time estimates to show what time savings, if any, various options present. Such estimates must exist as they are a critical input to the demand modelling process.

For this article, I will take a different approach and deal with the simpler parts of the study first just to get them out of the way, leaving the knottiest problems to the end.

Updated September 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm:

The presentation file is now available as a PDF. The display boards can be viewed on the project website.

Projected Demand in the Waterfront

The heart of any transportation study is the demand projection for various components under review. The chart below shows the 2041 AM peak hour demands forecast by the City’s planning model.

There is a fundamental difference between the projected demands from the western part of the line and the eastern one. From the west, the demand has the conventional inbound-to-core pattern for the AM peak. At the core and to the east, the peak flow is outbound, south to Queens Quay and east to new office and school developments.

This chart is missing some vital data that would put other parts of the discussion in a better context:

  • It assumes the presence of the Bremner link although this is the least likely to be built beyond an upgraded bus service.
  • There is no screenline west of Bay Street to indicate the demand arriving and leaving to the west right at the portal. With 2,350 going east and 3,700 coming south, this implies a substantial outbound demand to the west. Without the 750 each way on Bremner, these numbers would be higher.
  • The comment about higher demand in the east without the Relief Line does not explain whether the modelled values shown here include that line or not.

It is impossible to evaluate the demand numbers when there is no sense of staging of projects or of networks with some pieces “in” or “out” of the mix.

There is also no sense of the time frame over which the various demands will evolve, only that this is the 2041 end state. Any decision of the order of projects (and indeed their worth relative to other parts of the transit network) must be in the context of changes that are anticipated in the short, medium and long terms. This also begs the question of whether there are changes in the pipeline that will require heroic efforts in building up transit service to avoid short changing growing parts of the city (much as we already see in Liberty Village).

Another factor in any plans for the Waterfront network is the degree to which it serves major entertainment and recreational destinations. This will bring substantially stronger off-peak and seasonal demands that would be found on the transit network as a whole.

Ridership growth on the TTC has been stronger during the off peak period, if only because there has been so little growth in peak service. Strong off-peak demand is good for transit economics because the fixed cost of infrastructure is spread over more hours and riders, but the flip side is that peak riders have more incentive to abandon the TTC.

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Waterfront Reset Public Meetings

My apologies to readers for not posting this sooner.

Waterfront Toronto, the TTC and the City of Toronto are holding two meetings to present the results of work on the “Waterfront Reset” project, a review of the various waterfront transit plans.

After the September 18 meeting, I will post a commentary on the proposals.

Queen/Coxwell Reconstruction

Since the Labour Day weekend, the TTC has been rebuilding the special work at Queen and Coxwell.

This location is interesting because it also includes Coxwell-Queen Loop, with one of the tightest curves on the system, and an exit track that merges into the west-to-north curve.