Jane’s Walk 1: The Early Days of the Streetcar System

Before I start to write about individual parts of the streetcar system, here’s a bit of historical background.  Today, people see only the network downtown, small one compared with the size of Toronto, not to mention the GTA, but the system was much larger before the combined effects of automobiles, suburbanization, expressways and subways.  This is not going to be an exhaustive history (much has been written on this including books cited at the end), but will give a taste of what was once in our city.  I will bring in more details when I write about neighbourhoods and their streetcars.

Please be sure to read the string of comments that has accumulated at the end of this post.  Many readers have added information that I had left out in the interest of space, or had simply not known of before.

Streetcars have been around in Toronto for a long time especially if you count the horse car days.  The Toronto Street Railway was granted a 30-year franchise in 1861, and began its operations with a short line in the oldest part of the city running to the St. Lawrence Hall and Market, the City Hall before the “old” City Hall of the 1890s still standing at Queen & Bay.  The Market Gallery (now showing an exhibit from the Spadina Expressway battle) was the original Council Chamber, although only the shell of the building remains. Continue reading

The Spadina Subway: In For A Penny …

The Toronto Executive Committee Agenda for April 30 contains an intriguing report titled Spadina Subway Extension — Update.  This sets out details of the proposed agreement between the City of Toronto, the TTC and York Region for the construction and operation of the line to Vaughan Corporate Centre.

You can read the whole thing at your leisure, but here’s what caught my eye:

  • The subway line will be built, owned, operated and maintained by the TTC.  The land on or under which it sits will be owned by the TTC or on long-term lease.
  • Surface facilities including bus transfers and passenger pickup/dropoff areas will be built and maintained by York Region.
  • The TTC will set service and fare levels for the subway, will control retail leasing in the stations, will take all revenues and will be responsible for capital maintenance.

The estimated operating cost of the line in York Region is about $9-million per annum, and the TTC expects to recover “up to 80% from fares and other revenue”.  This is a very optimistic projection considering ridership levels claimed in York Region’s own Environmental Assessment report, and obviously it assumes an extra fare for service north of Steeles Avenue.  Alas, there report contains no material to support this claim.

The TTC seeks a Provincial startup subsidy “until such time as the subway reaches full ridership”.  Does this mean until the subway is literally full, or that it has met some projected level of riding, and if so what level?

What is extremely troubling here is that Toronto and the TTC propose to sign on to an arrangement whereby the TTC could wind up subsidizing the operation in York Region if revenue projections fall short and/or if Queen’s Park doesn’t cough up an operating grant.  The absence of any financial or ridership data in this report leaves me wondering just how this financial sleight-of-hand comes about.

This is an ideal arrangement for York Region who don’t risk ongoing costs of subsidizing the subway if it doesn’t meet expectations.  They get the benefit of the development, such as that may be, without chancing a raid on their budget to pay for empty subway trains.

By the time the VCC line opens, there will no doubt be some kind of fare union, if not an amalagamation between the Toronto and York Region transit systems.  Will there still be separate fares north of Steeles?  Will the TTC’s revenue projections be realistic in that sort of environment?

These are serious questions, but I doubt we will see much from our Executive Committee on Monday.  Despite recent moves to snatch a few dollars from the Spadina Subway trust fund, I doubt anyone at City Hall wants to dig too deeply into the financial assumptions of this project. 

How does the TTC expect to recover 80% of operating costs, let alone pay for future capital maintenance?  How much service will be cut in Toronto to run trains to the fields of Vaughan?  Does anyone know?  Does anyone care?

Jane’s Walk

Friday, May 4th will be Jane Jacobs’ birthday, and in her honour on Saturday, May 5th there will be many walks around neighbourhoods in the city.  You can read all the details at the event’s website.

In 2005, I received the Jane Jacobs Prize in recognition of decades of work as a transit advocate in Toronto, especially for my part in saving the streetcar system and urging that Toronto make better use of this mode of transport.  It took a long time, but with Transit City there’s some hope we may see an LRT network in the suburbs.  Better late than never.

Jane’s Walk arose from the combined desire of the prizewinners to do something in Jane’s memory, something that would be informal, that would not turn into a nightmare of publicity and organization, something that people could all do in their own way.  Her love of neighbourhoods and of observing the city around us made the choice obvious — walks through neighbourhoods conducted by people who know and love them.

When we started talking about this, I was asked about a “walk” (well, a ride) of the streetcar system.  This brings serious problems both because it’s impossible to visit all the places I would go in only 90 minutes, and the last thing the TTC needs is a crowd of people showing up at random locations all trying to pile into the Saturday afternoon service.  I spend enough time griping about service quality, and would never live it down if the TTC could trace a string of delays to my tour group.  Chartering a streetcar is expensive, almost verges on the territory of “formal tour”, and has the tiny problem that you can’t visit places the streetcars don’t run any more.

My contribution to Jane’s Walk will be a series of pieces here suggesting places you might like to visit in a trip around the city that are mostly related to the streetcar system.  I don’t know yet how many there will be, and some may be written after May 5th has come and gone.  The advantage of a self-conducted tour is that you can do it any time!  Originally, I had thought of linking my writing to the actual walks planned by others, but the way they are shaping up we would miss parts of the city completely.

All of these will be filed here under the topic “Jane’s Walk” and you will be able to pull them up at any time from the menu in the sidebar.

The Mysterious GTA Pass [Updated]

[This piece has been updated to correct information about the tax deductibility of weekly passes.  Some comments in this thread will reflect the original version of the post that didn’t include take this into account in price comparisons.] 

Cynthia Cheng wrote to me recently:

I know plenty of people who don’t even realize that GTA passes exist and are paying two or more fares to get to and from work, school, etc. I am sure that if enough people know about it, then perhaps we’ll have monthly passes rather than weekly and perhaps more outlets would sell them. Do you know why this is?

A while ago, I had written about the demise of the GO/TTC Twin Pass thanks to GO-Transit’s refusal to pay its share of the $10-subsidy built into the pass.

There is, however, a GTA Pass that costs $43/week.  The only place it seems to be advertised in Toronto is on a pulldown on the TTC website for the various types of fares and passes.  It is not on the TTC fare card, nor is it on the VIVA farecard.

I had lots of time to contemplate this today while I languished in Don Mills Station waiting 22 minutes for the nominally 15-minute headway on the 190 Rocket to STC.  In vain did I search for any mention of the GTA pass on TTC or VIVA displays.

According to the web page, I can even buy one of these mystery passes at Don Mills Station.  The only problem is, I cannot do this in the bus loop, but at the collector’s booth which is somewhere else, I am sure, but not on the path I take from the Sheppard Subway train to the buses.  [In one of the comments below, directions to this booth were provided.]  I could also do this at STC station where the bus/RT interchange actually passes through the same space as the collector’s booth.

But would I want to buy this pass?  What does it offer me?  If I am a 10-trip-a-week person, my TTC fares at ticket rate would cost $21, compared with $30 for a TTC weekly pass.  That pass is tax deductible only if I buy 4 a month, and there is no bulk buy discount because, obviously, if I wanted that I would be in the Metropass Discount Program.

Meanwhile, over in Mississauga, I could pay $22 for 10 tickets or $23 for a weekly pass.  This means that a GTA pass equals the combined cost of 10 trips at ticket rate on the TTC and Mississauga Transit, and I can get a combined pass for the TTC and other GTA systems for only $13 more than a TTC-only weekly pass.

If we were pricing things the same way for monthly passes, the equivalent cost would be $143 assuming no discount for bulk purchase, but eligible for a tax refund of roughly $21 for a net cost of $122.

As things stand, I can pay $172 for four weeks’ worth of GTA passes, or buy a monthly pass for both systems.  The after-tax cost of the weekly passes is $146.20.  This is cheaper than buying monthly passes for the TTC and Mississauga Transit separately, about $166 net of the tax rebate, or $159 if I buy TTC passes on the discount program.

The situation is comparable for other GTA systems combined with the TTC.

This is a good example of how fare structures can be bastardized depending on what one is trying to achieve, not to mention the marketing issue that this is an almost unknown type of fare.  Given the discount, I’m not surprised they hide it!

Integrating fare systems where there are existing deep discounts for certain types of usage will be a real challenge.  Once we eliminate the artificial barrier between the 416 and 905, what should the fare be?  What should passes cost?

Keeping Riders Informed

David Cavlovic sent the following note:


With regards to yesterday’s tragic accident, I’ve been hearing the usual complaints that the TTC provided poor information and guidance to the shuttle buses.  Since I now live in Ottawa, it’s kinda hard to personally verify this, though I suspect it to be true.

All day, people were told, at least by the media, to head over to the Spadina line instead.  I’m sure the TTC said to do the same.  If they did, was there any attempt at running shuttle services between the two lines along with the 80+ buses used between York Mills and Eglinton/Davisville, and if not why not?

Surely they didn’t expect the public to crowd onto already over-filled local services connecting the two lines?  Would it not have been more effective to take ten buses from the Yonge shuttle and uses them for the various possible east-west shuttles?

If you have first hand experience with yesterday’s events and service changes, and want to comment, this is the place.

Spam Filtering

A new spam filter has been added to this site.  If you have Javascript enabled, you should see no change in the behaviour when leaving comments.  If it is shut off, you will get a challenge to do something to prove you are human, not a robot.

Please note that not all comments that people leave are approved for visibility by everyone else.  I keep them all, and some become ideas for future threads.  If you think that you have left a truly cogent comment and I have missed it, please send me an email (using the Webmaster link at the bottom of the page) so that we can figure out where your comment is going.

With luck, this change will eliminate the need for me to wade through piles of messages flagged as spam looking for the one or two that are from real people, but which triggered the old filter based on content.

Passes, Smart Cards, Fare Zones and the GTTA

I received the following note from Miroslav Glavic:

I am reading Metropass Triumphs! and I have a question or two, and a few more…

I personally think there should be ONE transit agency for the GTAH (up to Barrie, then east to Oshawa and west to Hamilton).

Smart cards are nice, I love my metropass, when I want to go to SQ1 (I live in Scarborough), I have to get out my metropass (which I love and have been getting for years now), then get out the change and pay.  One card would be nice, I go to Seneca College, Seneca@York campus, I can use my ONE CARD (ID card) in all of their campuses, take out book in all the campuses libraries and so forth.  Something like that for the GTAH would be nice.

Now to the non-universal fares…

Let’s say we go to the Toronto Zoo and after a day of visiting the animals (my favourite is the Gorillas, what’s yours?), I go to Fairview Mall, you go to the airport, we both put [in] $2.75.  Do you think it’s fair that it is the same fare?

In London, I went from Heathrow station to Charing Cross (via Picadilly Circus station), I went through most of their fare areas).

What if you went from Don Mills Station to Victoria Park Avenue/Sheppard?  Do you think it is fair to pay $2.75 to go 5 stops? (or 1 direct stop with the 190).  You can go from Don Mills Station to anywhere in the city for $2.75.

What if the TTC had fare zones? (yes it would get people a while to get adjusted), by the way London has a monthly pass as well.

Let’s go back to the example about the Zoo, what if to Fairview Mall it was $3.00 then to the airport was $6.00?.

The way it works in London is that you put the ticket/card (like a smaller metropass, made out of paper/cardboard material), and out it comes from the other side, imagine like the reader for metropasses, then when you get out from your end station you do the same, I guess it will deny you exit or something like that.  I am sure there is a way to implement this to use on buses and streetcars.

The TTC would have get a lot more money which it needs.

I am using cash fares for my examples, but there would still be one price for metropasses.

Steve:  I don’t go to the Zoo, but have dropped in on the Royal Winter Fair where my favourites are the swine.

The use of cash fares skews the argument badly.  One huge advantage of the Metropass is that people don’t pay individually for each trip they take.  Saying that it’s unfair that a ride two stops on the subway costs the same as a ride to the airport misses the point that with a pass, the fare is not charged for either trip, but for transit usage in general.  One big reason I posted Metropass Triumphs! is that we now have more than half of TTC rides taken by people who don’t have to think about reaching into their pocket for change or resenting the cost of individual trips.

Turning to Zone Fares, Toronto had them until 1972 when they were eliminated by the suburban members of Metro Council.  Their argument was that suburban taxes paid to support the TTC, and suburban riders should pay the same amount as their city counterparts.  Any attempt to re-introduce zones, at least within the 416, would meet with strong opposition and would, I feel, be counterproductive.  With a flat fare Metropass, we make the system appealing wherever one is travelling, and it is simple to administer.  Zones just complicate things and undo some of the benefits of the flat fare. 

The claim that the TTC would get much more revenue means that, one way or another, someone pays more for their trip.  On a zone basis, long trips are penalized, and yet it is these very trips that are the most difficult to attract to transit.  How would the good folks of Vaughan or the students at York U feel if we told them that their brand new subway was going to be in Zone 2 or 3, and that it would cost extra to come downtown?  “We spend billions to build this thing and now you want us to pay an extra fare?”

I am already on record as opposing zone fares even if we extend the fare structure to the entire GTA.  Yes, that will cost money, but it will save us a fortune on expensive fare collection technology and on endless squabbling about where the fare boundaries should be.  The option of a premium fare for GO Transit still remains because it is a fundamentally different class of service, but at least the same pass would be valid on local systems at both ends of the trip.

The current estimate of implementation costs for the TTC is in the range of $140-million, with an ongoing maintenance and support cost of $10-million or more for a the GTA Smart Card system.  Do we really need to spend this much money to replace a system that works today?

What, exactly, is the supposed benefit of a Smart Card?  If the purpose is to allow us to divvy up fare revenue among GTA agencies, isn’t that a bureaucratic exercise, a matter of turf protection, rather than of providing good transit service?  I am not advocating elimination of local transit operators, but must ask if there were already one big transit system, would concerns about revenue sharing and division even exist as a justification for Smart Cards?

Metropass Triumphs!

An important statistic came out quietly at the TTC meeting this week:

This year, for the first time, more than half of all adult rides will be taken using the Metropass.  Tickets, tokens and cash share the remainder.

Metropass usage is up almost 25% over 2006 thanks to its new transferability and tax deductibility.  The pass now has broad appeal to regular transit users rather than only for the heavy users who make numerous personal trips in additional to regular work trips via TTC.

Advocates for a new unified “smart” farecard should take note:  the Metropass is hugely popular as an “all you can eat” way of purchasing transit services.  Any new fare structure that eliminates this option, or attempts to rebalance the pass pricing upward, will meet stiff opposition. 

Moreover, elaborate fare schemes requiring detailed tracking of passengers and some form of fare-by-distance calculation are doomed on at least two counts.  First, they will incur substantial additional cost to track rides and reconcile fares.  Second, if the resultant charges don’t lie in the realm of current pass pricing, they will destroy the very incentive to transit use the Metropass represents — no marginal cost for any trip and no need to plan trips to minimize transfer or stopover charges.

The one downside to Metropass growth is that the average fare per trip is falling.  This is not surprising, but the rate of shift to passes means that total revenue is at best level if not slightly down despite continued growth in demand.  This will lead eventually to an important debate about how we “sell” transit service.

The historic model of one fare for each trip is meaningless, now, for a majority of rides.  Transit will be a bulk service purchased the same way people pay for many utilities, paying for its availability, not for the amount consumed.  Service and budget planning will also be affected, and we should return to the era when decisions about service quantity were based on demand, not on running as little as possible to get by.

Connecting the Waterfront West LRT to Union Station

With the EA about to get underway for the WWLRT section from Dufferin to Sunnyside, it’s time to think again about how this line will reach Union Station.

Current plans known to those who follow the issue but not widely publicized assume that the WWLRT will get from Duffferin to Union as follows:

  • A connection along the north edge of Exhibition Place will link up with the existing streetcar loop under the Gardiner Expressway.
  • For the short term, WWLRT cars would run east via the existing 509 Harbourfront route to Union Station Loop.
  • Longer term, a new partly surface and partly underground route would run along Bremner Boulevard and connect into the Bay Street tunnel just south of the railway viaduct at the north edge of the Air Canaad Centre.  Bremner is now under construction west from Spadina to Bathurst where it will meet Fort York Boulevard just south of the Front Street bridge.
  • It is unclear whether a connection would be made via Fort York from Fleet to Bathurst to avoid operation through the Bathurst/Fleet intersection and to eliminate turns at Bathurst/Bremner.

This line suffers from piecemeal planning and it needs to be rethought in the context of changing circumstances and its larger role as part of Transit City.  Several issues remain to be addressed:

  • The planned terminus at Park Lawn is totally inappropriate now that the LRT line is intended to run all the way to Highway 27.  Park Lawn Loop is itself a replacement for the original, abandoned Legion Road scheme that was itself seen as a way of eliminating Humber Loop.  Existing and possible future development on Lake Shore make Park Lawn a nonsensical place to end service.
  • Liberty Village did not exist when the WWLRT was first proposed.  Indeed, the line was intended more to serve development of the Exhibition and included a major terminal at Ontario Place.  This was abandoned due to that agency’s desire to retain its gigantic parking lot rather than have good transit service.  The original Exhibition Loop disappeared under the National Trade Centre.  There was never any plan to serve the area north of the CNR tracks because it was all industrial and the King car was considered to be adequate.  This is no longer the  case.
  • The Front Street Extension refuses to die, and is still proposed as an off-ramp to the Gardiner.  This too is nonsensical as all that is really needed to serve Liberty Village is a local road north of the railway west to Dufferin.  Such a road could include an LRT right-of-way, and this could provide a good service through Liberty Village and other developments east to Bathurst thereby relieving the King car.
  • The Bremner approach to Union Station needs to be presented for public comment and integration in discussions about transit services in the Union Station/Waterfront precincts.  Despite the scheme for a new loop at Union, I have serious doubts that even the expanded loop will handle the combined demands of the Queen’s Quay services (east and west) and the WWLRT. 
  • If the WWLRT doesn’t use the existing Union Station Loop, is there an alternative scheme through the railway corridor?  What happens if Blue 22 is finally abandoned and we consider an LRT approach down the Weston rail corridor into Union?  Could this be shared with the WWLRT?

We are faced with a patchwork of plans from decades of incremental schemes for new transit services in the waterfront, and we risk building a half-baked WWLRT rather than something that will really provide a strong east-west link from Etobicoke through Swansea, Parkdale, and Liberty Village to downtown.

A serious, detailed review of our options is essential. 

You Too Can Work For Nothing! Help A Consultant!

I received a voicemail the other day from a well-known consultant whose identity I will protect out of consideration for his venerable reputation in these parts.  He had an intriguing question that went something like this.

In looking at all of the various options for transit in Scarborough for the Mayor’s plan [Transit City] and the RT, what three existing LRT systems elsewhere should we use as examples of what could be built in Toronto?

While it is somewhat flattering to be asked, one would hope that the assembled community of engineers, planners and hangers-on to the transit industry hereabouts might have some ideas about answering this question themselves.  Has the capability of our consultant friends dropped so low that they have to ask the advocates, the fans, the “foamers” (as an article in today’s Globe describes us), for information about the state of the art?

Let us take pity on these poor folk.  They have been designing highways and subways and BRT systems for decades, and we can’t expect them to become LRT experts overnight.  They will need rehabilitation, they will need to spend a lot of time looking at photos, they will have to go on fantrips at 3 o’clock in the morning.  These things take time.

Meanwhile, you, YES YOU, can help these unfortunate souls.  You don’t even have to send me one dollar a day, you can do this pro bono!

Thinking of the various types of LRT implementation we would like to see in Toronto, please nominate your best examples of systems elsewhere.  What works on Finch won’t work on Eglinton or on the Waterfront, but I’m sure you can rise to the challenge.

Don’t leave those poor consultants starving!