Reader Comments About the RT and Subways (Updated)

A batch of reader comments on the technology debates.

Paul writes:

Do those who want to stick Scarborough with an orphaned streetcar line or, worse yet, with “improved GO rail services”, actually live in Scarborough?

Replacing the RT with streetcar technology would neither speed up travel nor eliminate the inconvenient transfer at Kennedy.

Relying on GO would impose time and convenience penalties because commuters would have to reach a GO station (these are not conveniently located, and do not have great bus access), wait for the train (frequency would be limited, no matter how much we might “improve” GO), and then travel onward from Union Station.

It’s very easy for people who live in the urban core and enjoy the high levels of service provided there to say that Scarborough should make do with less. Don’t forget the size of Scarborough’s population, the importance of Scarborough’s current property tax contribution, or the fact that Scarborough property owners shouldered a disproportionately high property tax burden (relative to the core) for decades.*

In any case, the test of success for transit is not just its ability to attract riders from the dense urban core (an easy problem, already solved), but also its ability to attract riders from the rest of the city (a difficult problem, not yet solved).

It’s time to prioritize funding for a subway extension in Scarborough.  Fast, direct subway service and a revised feeder bus network would reduce travel time and increase convenience.  A patchwork — fundamentally the same as what we have today — has no hope of making public transit the mode of choice in Scarborough.


* Of course, in those days of assured provincial operating and capital subsidies, property tax was not so important to transit.

Steve:  There are several overlapping issues here.  The first and most important is that we can get a lot more transit for our investment by building commuter rail and LRT than we can with subways.  A subway, by the way, is probably the most core oriented investment we could make for reasons I have discussed elsewhere.

I will be the first to admit that I live at Broadview and Danforth, and worth at Scarborough Town Centre.  The complaints I’ve heard from people at meetings re the RT is that they have to wait interminably for buses, and they are overcrowded when they arrive.  A subway will not fix this.

Moaz writes:

I agree with your thoughts about the SRT replacement, and especially with the idea of creating a new LRT network in Scarborough.

TTC should consider building two separate lines:

An LRT along Eglinton Ave. E.

An LRT running north along the Stouffville rail line, to Agincourt (Sheppard Ave.) and points further north (eg. Finch Ave, Steeles Ave.)

These LRT lines could meet at Kennedy Station. Service to STC would come about by an LRT connection.

I think that the TTC should abandon the ICTS technology and forget about the SRT alignment from Ellesmere to STC. Why not remove the track technology and stations and redo it as an elevated pedestrian and bike path.

Steve:  Personally, if we were going down this route, I would prefer to just demolish the elevated and make a nice park along Highland Creek, something that was in the original LRT plans.

Manny writes:

I firmly believe that we should start to think about LRT networks, as soon as possible, and other forms of transportation for the entire G.T.A.  Subways are simply too expensive and costly at the present time.

However, do you not feel that the goal should be to complete the Sheppard subway line to Scarborough Centre or at least a hub in Scarborough to have another option for transit users?  Regardless of the fact that an LRT would have been a good option for Sheppard, do you not feel they should at least go further then Don Mills?

You can then simply connect to the Sheppard line and the BD at Kennedy using LRT type vehicles, which would hopefully spur an entire LRT network for transit riders with LRT lines on the old SRT, Eglinton Ave. and even the remainder of Sheppard (if the subway on Sheppard is not completed).

I feel that the money being tied up in the Spadina extension is a bad idea and can be better used for the entire system.  An LRT would be a better solution for York University and the Finch West corridor.  In any case, since VIVA will have an LRT at some point, why is money being funneled to go to York region? 

The TTC needs to concentrate on having a vital network for Toronto.  By doing so, with a network of LRTs across the city, is this not a better option for everyone?  As much as I love subways, I think it is sad to see so much funds going to only the Spadina extension, when those same dollars could be used to create an extensive network of LRT systems.

Steve:  Getting the Sheppard Subway to STC would cost over $1-billion by the TTC’s estimate.  Think of the LRT network we could build for that money.  If it’s good enough for the York U crowd to transfer at Downsview to an LRT, it’s good enough for the Sheppard East folks too.  Somewhere is always going to be “the end of the line” for the subway, and there will always be someone who wants to spend a billion or so for just one more extension.  This crowds out available capital and colours network planning.

We need to start from the premise that we are building an LRT network.  If we find there is some component that really makes sense as a subway due to passenger demands that cannot be handled any other way, and only then, should we include a subway extension in the plan.

Aman writes:

As for having five carriages in Calgary’s LRT:

I don’t think Calgary needs it for a long time, actually we don’t even need 4 carriages yet (but we will need it soon); having five carriages are not unheard off,  Salt Lake City uses five carriages on their TRAX trains.

Remember Calgary’s LRT is completely isolated from traffic (even in Downtown, regular cars cannot run on 7th ave).  But Calgary isn’t as big as Salt Lake so we don’t need 5 carriages.  And to do so we will need improve the situation at 36th ave and move the LRT in downtown underground.  Speaking of Downtown, actually a tunnel is already dug out underneath the 8th avenue street mall.  You can access the tunnel through a tunnel in the City Hall Parking lot, there is also rumoured to be access in the Bankers Hall building (I haven’t see it yet).  All the tunnel needs is stations and tracks.

Steve:  This is intriguing considering that the reports on Calgary Transit’s website talk about an 8th Avenue option as being very expensive.

Now as for Scarbrough, if the City of Toronto is to build a LRT it shouldn’t simply be a connection at Kennedy Station, because it has the same problem as there currently is with Scabrough RT.  The LRT has to build in such a fashion that it goes directly from Scarbrough into downtown.  I think if you pick the right LRVs (such the Avanto LRV, which Ottawa is buying), the LRT could run on some of the current Streetcar Tracks.  I heard that Toronto is closing off of a road (I think it was King street) to use it as a Streetcar only road.  You could run the new Scabrough LRT on that road.  That way there is no need to switch trains and it would show the benefits of a LRT to others in Greater Toronto.  But remember to plan it properly otherwise you get a situation like 36th Ave in Calgary.

Steve:  Running a Scarborough LRT all the way into downtown would make for a very, very long trip.  Also, there is another fallacy in assuming that all of the Scarborough RT riders want to go to the business district (King Street).  They don’t.  Finally, that King Street transit mall proposal is going nowhere because it is very poorly thought out, and the service level there is not high enough to warrant dedicating the street to transit.

Now as for the Subway, I think Toronto should continue to expand it, but the LRT could be a great supplementary addition to Toronto Transit System.  The LRT could be used to run around in areas were there isn’t as the ridership available to justify all out subway, such as finishing of the Network 2011 plan.  As well you could connect to the rest of the GTA via this new LRT.

Matt L. writes:

I was at the Scarborough meeting and found it interesting that Councillor Thompson didn’t really argue for a subway; he argued against settling for “second-best”.  To me, the only way to get a real debate going is to propose an alternative that can’t be accused of short-changing Scarborough.

So what else could $1.2 billion buy?  The SRT to LRT conversion, plus — a very rough guess — 35 km of street median LRT lines. That’s enough for 4 major routes (those who know Scarborough better might choose others):

  • An “extension” of the converted SRT to Malvern. Instead of terminating at McCowan, trains could run to Finch and Neilson (serving e.g. Progress Avenue, the Centennial College Progress campus, and Neilson Road through the heart of Malvern).
  • A similar extension along Ellesmere, from McCowan to Morningside (U of T/Centennial College).  Presumably trains on the SRT part of the route would alternate between Malvern-bound and UTSC-bound.
  • The Eglinton East LRT route in the “Building a Transit City” report, which runs from Leslie or Don Mills to Guildwood GO station.
  • The LRT connection from Don Mills Station to Scarborough Centre (same report), mostly along Sheppard.

Maybe my costs are way off, or maybe there are better routes. But even a rough guess starts to show how the subway might be second-best, and a wider LRT network could do more, in Councillor Thompson’s words, to “transform Scarborough”.

Steve:  This is precisely my criticism of the Soberman report.  It hints at alternatives but doesn’t tell us what they might be.  People know what a subway is, but they don’t have any idea of what an LRT network might be or what it could do.  There’s also the very strong sense that North York and York U will get $2-billion worth of transit while the poor cousin, Scarborough, gets a $500-million trolley line.

[Added items start here] 

Sean writes:

Soberman Report – Wouldn’t it have been outside the scope of the report to devise an lrt network for Scarborough?  Subway fans may ask why a one station extension – to Lawrence and Brimley, as a start – wasn’t examined.  RT fans could demand why hadn’t a Malvern extension or Agincourt Go extension been evaluated.

Steve:  The purpose of the study was to examine the technical issues relating to the replacement of the RT.  This did not stop Soberman from looking at various subway schemes including a Sheppard extension and a new Scarborough subway on a different alignment to STC.  The question I have is why, given Soberman’s clear previous statements favouring an LRT option, and is comments about how much more LRT could be purchased for the same amount of money, he didn’t show that as an option as well.  My gut feeling is that someone in the TTC does not want that sort of information coming out because it threatens the status quo, an all-subway system.

Soberman and company may even agree with your premise, but shouldn’t city council or the transit commission determine how and if it wants a relacement and expansion.  Funds will have to be found no matter which option is chosen.

Steve:  But if people don’t know what the options are, they can’t make an intelligent choice.  Why do we get detailed proposals for subway and busway networks, but not for LRT networks?  We run into the same problem with so-called “alternatives analysis” in Environmental Assessments:  if politicians don’t know that some alternatives are viable, they don’t include them in the terms of reference for future studies.  It’s a subtle and pervasive problem with the process:  we don’t tell people about some options, and then we don’t study these options because people don’t ask for more information.

Calgary LRT – The system is almost a light metro.  I don’t really see what the problem is with the 36th St median NE line.  Motor vehicles are stopped at gates while the trains pass.  If the vehicles want to move faster, they can use Barlow Trail.  The trains have signal pre-emption.

The South Line needs 4 car trains now!  The peak hour passenger levels on this line make the ride into Downtown very uncomfortable.  The Northeast Line is quite different, it has moderate ridership throughout the day with less noticeable spikes in ridership during peak hours.

A tunnel under 8th Ave?  I hadn’t heard of that.  I wondered why they didn’t consider moving the LRT to the 9th Ave CPR line and putting the freight lines into a tunnel.

Aman writes again:

Now I’m not very familiar with that area of Toronto.  But If a Subway is a viable option why is not a LRT to Downtown.  Calgary’s LRT run at 85 kilometres per hour that is the same speed as Toronto’s Subway; so if you buy LRVs like Calgary’s or Ottawas they will make it all the way downtown, no problem.

They need a viable right-of-way to run at 85 kmh.  The only one that exists between Kennedy Station and downtown is the CNR corridor already used by GO Transit.  King Street, suggested in an earlier comment, ends at the Don River about 2 km east of downtown and, as I said, isn’t going to be a transit mall.  There is an issue of scale with your scheme by comparison with Calgary where the rights-of-way come well into the city to connect with the transit mall.  In Toronto, the situation is completely different.

Later Aman wrote:

Oh I forgot to mention, with the exception of 7th ave in Downtown, Calgary’s LRT has right of way.

Steve:  Precisely my point.

And finally he wrote:

From an outsider’s point of view, there are two real problems with Toronto Transit.  An inefficient use of resources, and a huge chunk of the subway is an eyesore.

The Subway being a eyesore is pretty easy, first the subway carriages are not painted (no other city in Canada does that).  It doesn’t save much money and frankly it turns off riders.  Take Montreal for example riding the Metro is not a chore, it is fun to see all different works of at every subway station and admire the architecture put into the subway.  It’s quite amazing.  I’ve also read TTC reports which say parts of the subway have not been pressured washed in 12 years (ah yes the Common Sense Revolution eh?)

Steve:  Lots of cities have unpainted cars and they do quite well, thank you.  Also, our architecture may be uninspired, but you ride the service, not the architecture.  That’s not to say stations should be dull, but if the service through them is lousy, people won’t care about the decor.  The two reinforce each other.

The reference to cleaning is, I believe, to some tunnel areas that were not washed for a long time because of concerns about asbestos that had been used for sound insulation.

Secondly inefficient allocation of resources.  One thing I’ve noticed about Toronto is this; when you get on a subway you have to provide proof of purchase right there.  In Calgary and Vancouver you do not have to do that.  You simply take your proof of purchase and get on the train.  And occasionally you will meet up with a Transit Cop, who will check and see if you do have proof of purchase, if you have one you are free go, if you don’t there is a 200 dollar ticket (in Calgary at least, not sure about Vancouver).  If Toronto uses this method it would make boarding the subway much more convenient and would save the TTC a lot of money and the tickets will generate more revenue which can be to paint and clean the subway, and improve service elsewhere.

Steve:  Proof of payment is an important component in improving our surface transit operations.  The new low-floor LRVs will force this onto the TTC.  On the subway, most of the interchanges between surface and subway (and between subways) is barrier-free.  The only people who walk past a collector are those who are entering the system and paying their fare, or those transferring at a handful of locations where vehicles don’t enter the paid area. 

As we move more and more to passes, the bulk of riders don’t have to be served by a collector.  Whether we will ever get to a completely barrier free subway system, I don’t know.  A transit cop would have a hard time dealing with packed stations and trains during the rush hour.  

Wogster writes:

Personally I think that the York U. line should be built as an LRT that runs along Sheppard W, from Sheppard/Yonge Station, with stations at major Streets like Bathurst, Downsview Station, Keele, Jane, Arrow and Weston Road.

Run another line from Keele subway Station north, which goes into a tunnel just south of York University, it veers West under York, and comes out with two stations one under the southern end of York U and another at Steeles. Of York Region wants they can either continue in tunnel or at ground level, and go as far as they want to pay for.

This would give York better coverage from downtown, in that Students could take Yonge, Spadina or Bloor subways and either the Shep W LRT tranfering at Keele, or take Bloor W to Keele , and the Keele LRT north to York.

Dump the Scarborough RT completely, replace it with…..

An LRT east along Sheppard from Don Mills to Port Union road. Another possibility, would be to dump the Sheppard subway, and run the LRT inside the existing tunnel from Don Mills to Yonge. This would allow LRT trains to run the whole length of Sheppard and save a transfer. LRT cars could be equiped with both trolley poles and collector shoes, and they switch at Don Mills.

Run another line along Eglinton, from Eglinton W. Station (Spadina line) to Kingston Road. With stops at Eglinton (Yonge) and Kennedy (Danforth) stations.

Run a line From McCowen and Steeles south along McCowen then along Danforth Road, to a Subway Station, probably Warden…. Again if York Region wants they can pay to extend it North…..

Wherever a line crosses the subway or another LRT line they interconnect. Where possible we use a dedicated ROW.

The idea is to make the system as flexible as possible.

Steve:  I posted this not to endorse the scheme, but as a jumping off point for a general comment.

Many people draw maps, and it’s one of the easiest ways to spend an evening — haggling over which streets or routes will get what type of service.  The issues here are with the overall philosophy of how we build and run a transit system.  As long as we ignore one important transit mode, we are doomed to proposing networks we cannot possibly afford, and which cannot serve the wider, more-diffuse demand patterns of the GTA. 

Whether Wogster’s network is the “right” one or not, the fact is that LRT technology opens up many more options in network design and plans for future expansion.  For decades, we have been so obsessed with finding enough money for just one subway line, and all our debates have been project-oriented.  Whose line will be built next?  Whose property will be more valuable now rather than later.  We don’t look at the city and region as a whole or design networks of services using buses, LRT, commuter rail and subways as an integrated package.

If the TTC had spent less energy fighting turf wars with the regional transit agencies and GO Transit over the past decades, they wouldn’t be worrying today that their prominence will be eclipsed within the new GTTA.

Richard Leitch writes:

One person wrote: “It’s subway first, then density, not the other way around as CGM Rick Ducharme is arguing recently in the Globe’s Dr. Gridlock and previously stated very forcefully in a John Barber Globe column.”

I understood Rick Ducharme’s concern to be that politicians would push to build a subway then back away from supporting the density needed to provide enough riders to cover the cost.  Gord Perks once said that each Sheppard subway rider is subsidized by $2-$3/trip.  And now residents along the Sheppard line are balking at the proposed density and catching the attention of their city councilors.

If the subsidy is $2-$3/trip, perhaps the TTC should replace week-end and holiday service with buses something like what happened on the University line before the opening of the Bloor-Danforth line.

Steve:  I believe that the TTC’s phrase for this sort of thing is “tailoring service to meet demand”.  Funny that they never apply this to rapid transit schemes or operations.

I think Howard Moscoe criticized York University for selling its land for low density housing — something that would not support well the density requirements of the York U extension.

Steve:  True.  Despite all of the high-rise condo construction everywhere in the city and suburbs, it was claimed that “the marked” wanted low rise single family dwellings.

3 thoughts on “Reader Comments About the RT and Subways (Updated)

  1. Well if you’re going to build an LRT it has to be done right.  Ask Edmonton.  An LRT nowhere does not work.  What Toronto needs to do is build new Rights-of-Way.  In the NW and the NE Calgary built all the ROWs from scratch.  If Calgary can do it, Toronto can as well.  It may take a few years to finish it, but it will be worth it.

    Steve:  Easier said than done.  The inner parts of Toronto are already well built-up unlike parts of Calgary where land acquisition for ROWs was comparatively easy.  New ROWs into the core are particularly difficult.

    I agree with you the LRT shouldn’t simply go into downtown, it does need to go elsewhere.  But if you are building a LRT you need to get people hooked to the idea, and you need some lines which go into the Downtown core.  The new Scarborough LRT should go into Downtown, and then later ones connecting to other parts of the city.

    Steve:  If you look at my proposal in “A Grand Plan” you will see that it includes the following downtown-oriented LRT lines:

    Don Mills
    Waterfront West and East

    Running the SRT all the way to downtown would produce horrendous disruption as well being uncompetitive for people who could simply transfer to the subway.  Downtown Toronto is well-served by transit and we need to concentrate resources on travel demand between the suburbs.  Calgary has no equivalent of this demand and you cannot map the Calgary experience onto Toronto’s travel patterns.


  2. Has there ever been a consideration to switiching the SRT into a Monorail?  The current alignment can be maintained and there would be no worries about station heights and other concerns.  The current ground-level alignment would be fenced off with electrical fencing, the tunnel under the stouville line can be kept and the elevated portion can be maintained with new monorail tracks instead.  If it is in an automatic operation, it will save money in the long run. Most importantly though, it does not have the effects of the harsh winter that Toronto goes through.

    Steve:  The problems with monorails are (a) the capacity is way below the level needed to handle projected demand and (b) any expansion of the line must be built with an elevated guideway and stations.  The second problem is common to rejuvenation of the RT technology and brings us to the ongoing question of network expansion which would be quite intrusive anywhere we could not “hide” the structure on an existing right-of-way as we did with the original RT.


  3. 1)  My impression was that the main reason for the debate was that the RT vehicles will need replacing in the near future.  Replacement vehicles are going to be prohibitively expensive.  We have had discussions about rebuilding the CLRV’s but I have never seen anything about whether the same could be done for the current RT cars.  (Maybe this issue was dealt with some time ago as not feasible?)

    Steve:  The RT cars have already been rebuilt once because structurally they were falling apart.  The CLRV rebuild is not intended to double the lifespan of the cars, only to tide us over until we get a new fleet.  If it were not for accessibility issues, we could probably make them last longer than the planned ten or so years given that we are completely replacing the power control system because you can’t get parts to repair those now in use (they date from very early days of solid state controls).  The CLRVs were much more robustly built than the RT cars as the CLRVs were intended for very high-speed operation on suburban routes (70 mph!).

    2)  GO Train service is infrequent now.  However I would assume that over the next decade we would tap into its full potential.  Also, if there is finally frequent all day service, then I would assume that bus routes would deliver passengers to the stations.  (After the Bloor-Danforth subway reached Etobicoke in 1968 bus routes were altered to bring riders to the three stations instead of making connections with the end of the streetcar routes.)

    Steve:  That is exactly the point I have been making in my network proposals, and it is echoed by Mayor Miller in comments about the importance of using GO for some of the inside-416 demand.

    3)  I think that many residents of Scarborough go through Scarborough Town Centre because, at present, that is the best way to make a connection.  If there was a viable LRT network you would find that travel patterns would change (depending upon where your destination was.)  If you lived north of the 401 a Sheppard LRT connecting with the Sheppard subway could get you to the downtown core.  If you lived south of the 401 various LRT alternatives–Eglinton, Ellesmere, Markham Rd could all get you to Kennedy station.

    (I live in the Lakeshore area of Etobicoke.  Sometimes I take the streetcar to downtown.  Other times I take the bus to the Bloor-Danforth subway.  It depends on the time of day and where in the downtown core I am heading.)

    Steve:  Yes.  This ties in with the fallacy of making everything go through STC whether it makes sense on a larger scale or not.  We don’t need to isolate STC, but many people in Scarborough have to go out of their way through that nexus in the route “grid”.


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