Old Wine in Old Bottles

Today the Feds were on hand to announce funding of the Union Station expansion.  Shhh.  It’s a secret.  This contract was awarded at the TTC meeting in April and tendered much earlier.  You were not supposed to notice.  Ottawa is trying to convince Toronto that they love us.

Earlier today, I was on CBC’s Ontario Today show talking about this announcement and its implications for transit in Toronto and surrounding communities.  Here is a precis of my position.

First off, I believe that GO Transit stands to benefit at least as much if not more than the TTC from the restructured mezzanine because this will improve the capacity for flow between the office towers and the railway station.  Demand on the TTC is constrained not just by Union Station itself, but by the fact that it’s not the only place people try to board the subway.  There is actually heavier demand from King and Queen Stations than at Union.

Next, the Harbourfront streetcar loop will get a somewhat improved  connection because the point in the existing link roughly at the bottom of the escalator will be directly on the northbound-to-Yonge platform.  What this project does not do is expand the capacity of Union Station Loop.  That loop was a joke when it was built (TTC engineers claimed it could handle 7,000 passengers per hour) and badly needs expansion.  There are a few schemes for this but the most likely to be built involves moving the platform to the southbound straightaway beside the existing southbound tunnel.  This is an essential part of any waterfront east or west line for which there is no funding.

One big problem with current arrangements is the idea that somehow bringing everyone to the table is a good idea — the city pays 1/3, Queen’s Park pays 1/3 and Ottawa pays 1/3.  It does not work that way.  Under the Martin government, the only projects that qualified for Federal funds were those that addressed the Kyoto accord.  If you wanted to buy a $750,000 hybrid bus, that counted, but buying a $500,000 clean diesel bus did not.  I am not going to get into the arguments about comparative technologies and emissions here, but the huge advantage once enjoyed by hybrid and fuel cell technologies has been eaten away as diesels are forced to get better at controlling emissions in truck engines.  The bus industry has benefitted from that work.

Another problem is that Ottawa’s priorities don’t match Queen’s Park’s which don’t match Toronto’s.  Elections will intervene at one level or another often enough to shake things up and we’re back to square one.  I liked the good old days when Ottawa gave money to Queen’s Park in block grants and transit funding decisions were at least confined to the provincial and municipal levels.  At least we only had to convince two sets of politicians that the spending was worthwhile.

Moreover, with the exception of Mayor Miller’s 100 new buses, we are not actually expanding the fleet or providing more service, only replacing old vehicles with new ones.  Frankly, I’m not sure that the premium for hybrid vehicles is worth it.  Most “new” buses, regardless of their technology, don’t attract new riders, they just keep the ones we already have from being squeezed onto a declining fleet.

Next, when you buy buses, or streetcars, or subway cars, you have to actually run them and this costs money.  Toronto Council has this idiotic idea that transit subsidies should not rise faster than inflation.  They need to learn that if the TTC is getting bigger, that’s a cost over and above inflationary increases in everything else.  If we, as a City, decide that running better transit system is a good idea, that costs money.

We cannot be a Transit City without paying our bills. 

If Stephen Harper wants to support transit, he is going to have to shell out hundreds of millions, no billions more than he has so far.  I don’t see any new money yet, and certainly nothing that would give the TTC and other systems like GO Transit long-term security for budget planning.

If Dalton McGuinty wants to support transit, he is going to have to stop pretending that his “new” funding is so wonderful when it still does not reach historic levels under the last Liberal government, David Peterson’s.

If David Miller wants to support transit, he is going to have to read the riot act to his Budget Advisory Committee and stop letting them sandbag every decent proposal for improved transit service that comes out of the TTC.  If he won’t, then he should concentrate his election campaign on something else.

Toronto is very badly served by politicians who are good at making announcements, but who won’t pay the bills.  As I have discussed elsewhere, we have many studies in progress for new LRT lines and an Official Plan that assumes substantial expansion of transit services.  Nobody knows how we are going to pay for this in an already crowded capital budget.

It’s nice that someone from Ottawa remembers we exist and came to town even if it was for a comparatively small project and very old funding.  When I start to see Federal money flowing to new projects without a thousand strings attached, then I will believe they’re serious.

Meanwhile, it’s time for Toronto and Ontario to get on with building our transit systems.

3 thoughts on “Old Wine in Old Bottles

  1. This is really old wine in old bottles.

    To indicate how old this project is, it was one of the first proposals of the Waterfront Revitalization Corporation.  That entity was created by Prime Minister Chretien, Premier Harris, and Mayor Lastman!

    Steve:  Need I point out how pro-transit that trio was *not*?  Mel got about half a subway, Harris killed transit funding, and Chretien came along for the ride only to show the federal flag on the waterfront.


  2. The EA on the West Don Lands streetcar line is getting underway / being planned (you reported on the first public meeting about it a while ago).  It was clear at that meeting that the TTC intended to bring this line into Union through an expanded Bay Street tunnel – and also hoped to provide for a direct link along Queen’s Quay from Bathurst to Cherry (ie NOT going into Union) if they can deal with a pillar right in the middle of this area [in what would be the “Y” junction under Bay and Queen’s Quay].

    There was not much talk about the expansion of the Union Station streetcar loop at this meeting but it was certainly touched on.

    Do you know if the West Don Lands transit EA will be completed in time for any recommendations it makes to be incorporated into the work on the loop upgrade being planned as part of the Union Station platform work?

    Steve:  The only work on the Union Loop that are part of this project is the direct connection onto new Yonge platform.  Creation of a new loop platform is not part of this project, unless there has a been a big scope change recently.  My understanding is that TTC was desperately trying to avoid talk of the need to expand the loop in this project to keep the cost (originally around $60-million, now risen to $90-million or so) under control.

    One hopes so, though TTC seem to have problems scheduling projects to reduce customer inconvenience.  I can see the loop being closed while the platform work is going on, opening for a few months and then being closed again when the line into West Don Lands is being built. 

    Steve:  Actually, the new platform could be built while the current one remains in service with short outages for the changeover. 

    Rather like what recently happened with the loop; first it was getting new track, then new wires and it will doubtless be closed yet again when the track on Fleet is replaced later in the summer.

    Steve:  I was not impressed with the scheduling on that one although I suspect that the overhead work was deferred until it was warmer.  Generally speaking I don’t think they like to put up wire when it is really cold.  All the same, one wonders why both jobs could not have been done during a single shutdown.

    As for Fleet Street, I believe that job is scheduled for the fall.  An easy way to deal with the loss of Fleet Street would be to through-route the Bathurst and Harbourfront services. 

    No wonder the TTC needs lots of spare buses to provide alternative service!

    Steve:  They plan buses for construction replacements (e.g. St. Clair and Lake Shore), but the two road collapses in North York really hit them hard.  Next year’s big jobs will be St. Clair from Vaughan west, and much of Dundas.  In the latter case, I suspect people will just walk up to College in a reversal of the scheme used when College was closed for reconstruction.


  3. Steve

    Would it be more practical to simply run existing Queens Quay services through to QQE/Portlands and use a travelator or some other method to transfer passengers to Union?  The existing loop system seems to be very inefficient and while the transfer would be annoying it would surely be a big win in capacity terms.

    I’m not hugely familiar with the Bay Tunnel so if there are any resources you could point me to in explaining why this suggestion is absolute insanity that would be great 🙂

    Steve:  A large proportion of the riders on Queen’s Quay east and west are destined for (or orginate at) Union Station.  Forcing them to get off at the foot of Bay Street would impose a huge burden on their trips for little benefit.  Think of the travelator that used to be at Spadina Station.  It was only a small fraction of the distance from Queen’s Quay to Union Station, and if it’s not working, it will be a long walk.  Also, that tunnel is not the warmest place to be in the middle of the winter unless we’re going to heat it.

    As for the design, I think I have drawings of a few proposals in my archives, and I will post them when I dig them out.


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