Bob Brent Writes

Bob Brent left a very long comment, and I’m putting it in a post of its own.  Please note that I do not intend to do this regularly, and don’t want to encourage people to try to turn this site into their own blog.  However, after some of the [expletive deleted] comments I have received here about my pro-LRT orientation, it’s nice to get some fan mail.

[The bad link in the first paragraph has been corrected.  Note that it goes to a Power Point file, not a PDF.]

I recently presented to the 5th GTA Transportation Summit “Marketing Transit: TTC Case Study. Looking back… to see forward, lessons for the GTTA.” and touched on the issue of GTA RT expansion.

There are several issues that I believe Steve rightly brings up… not as a LRT advocate… but as a rational, objective TRANSIT advocate. Steve’s about as mode-neutral as they come, not that he needs me to defend him!

It’s clear looking back over the past 25-30 years that something is very very wrong with TTC RT expansion planning when serially, the Spadina subway extension, SRT, Downsview Subway extension and Sheppard subway fail to generate the rides projected in internal TTC or TTC-politically-driven EA’s whose outcome are predetermined before they begin.

At the St. Lawrence Congestion Forum TTC Chair Adam Giambrone spoke about building transit “Where people want to ride” or “Where the rides are!” This doesn’t mean build subways or build LRTs or BRTs or add buses… it means build an integrated transit network… or as they said at the recent Moving the Economy summit… “Transportation Hubs” to make effortless mode switches to get you where you wanna go!

These “recent” TTC RT expansion projects all share a common outcome—they apparently weren’t built to where people want to ride, nor where the rides are! Why is this irrationality allowed to persist, generations after the ribbon-cutting politicians who generated them are out of public office?

Subways act as high-speed collectors and distributors for GTA surface routes… both bus and LRT. They’re symbiotic… they need each other to be mutually successful on the scale of the GTA. Build a subway without surface collectors and distributors… and it will languish (see above!) regardless of the number of highrises immediately beside it. For example, the YUS along Allen sucks at Glencairn, but is a going concern at Lawrence and Eglinton West due to the heavy bus traffic despite few highrises nearby.

Steve has often commented in his myriad posts that eastern BD succeeds despite a lack of high-density development due to its network of integrated bus and streetcar “feeder” routes. This network, along with the “holy grail” of transit-based development (something like that) is why Toronto has a 21.9% transit modal share vs. only 3.9% in 905.

This means in Toronto there are almost 4X as many NON-transit as transit trips (21.9:78.1) while in 905 there are over 25X more NON-transit as transit trips (3.9:96.1)—a staggering number and helps explain why congestion is the number one issue in York Region—despite YRT doubling their ridership over the past 5 years!

Despite all the recent TTC RT expansion woes, the bedrock of TTC ridership growth over 60 years is the success of its inter-modal-linked surface/RT network, that makes it cheaper, faster and more convenient than the car for many people, for many of their trips.

As a Vancouver native, I don’t have Steve’s command of Toronto neighbourhoods, let alone individual TTC routes (0/10 or so on Spacing’s Intersection quiz!). I do know the north of the city around the Yonge line to Finch—with its hordes of YRT, ViVA, GO, Brampton and TTC buses that clog this 2 km stretch of Yonge (see GTA bus-only congestion every rush hour at Yonge-Bishop—1 block north of Finch).

When I would advocate within the TTC for extending the Yonge line north from Finch to Yonge or the BD line from Kipling to Sherway Gardens, it always got a cold, if not hostile shoulder. The message was clear… the TTC wanted to keep 85% of Ontario transit capital dollars within Toronto… to heck with 905 riders pounding Yonge or Burnamthorpe (along which, I also worked 4 years) to get to/from the TTC subway.

As Steve mentioned, the TTC’s 2001 RTES study was preordained… its outcome was known in advance—York U first, finish Sheppard-East second—even now 6 years later with the Sheppard subway far below the TTC’s own 2002 gloomy ridership forecasts.

Is GO the answer? I don’t see how, when it runs on track owned by CP and CN—where freight pays the bills, as GO CGM Gary McNeil says. Even sharing track GO is looking for $1B in expansion capital over the next 10 years or so. Imagine the capital cost to run on exclusive GO trackbed—it simply isn’t affordable, let alone have the capacity of a subway to run 1,200 passenger trains every 2min:20sec.

GO really is “Business Class” transit ($5.00 average GO fare vs. $1.72 for TTC) for peak, non-discretionary long-distance inter-regional travel to work or school and back, with little off-peak service compared to TTC and other GTA “local” transit providers.

It’s clear to anyone with a smigeon of common sense and a pinch of analytical ability that something’s fishy with the YorkU/VCC subway that is projected to only carry 30M rides/year at a (conservative) cost of $2B. People seem to have trouble understanding such a large number… just build it they say… and rides will come.

After touring the Transit City LRT Routes all day one recent Saturday,  Budget Chair Shelley Carroll said recently.. “I could see it… the ridership on each of the LRT lines.” Then she added “They say when you build it they will ride, but not with the subway… it will just be there!”

Well, if the Sheppard subway wasn’t built (a bit under $960M budget), we could have bought over 1,250 hybrid buses at full ($750K) cost. Imagine what TTC service could be, across Toronto if the TTC bus fleet were 75% bigger!!! Sophisticated multi-nationals don’t do such simplistic comparions, they ration capital via “CAPEX” financial planning.

As a private sector guy who was Profit & Loss responsible prior to my transit involvement, it’s clear that what is needed is some form of rational capital rationing for transit… let the politicians pitch their favourite routes… but ensure they are subjected to financial scrutinty and discipline, BEFORE they are actually built… with someone’s ass on the line if they don’t achieve ridership targets!

It’s time for the GTTA to start acting as Ontario’s Transit CFO… to fairly ration capital by ridership, amongst all the worthy transit expansion projects on a mode-neutral, system-neutral basis… just as Steve is advocating here!

Steve:  I’m with you almost to the end, Bob, but fear the GTTA will be utterly hopeless at the task you would have it undertake.  Does Rob MacIsaac have more than one canned speech yet and any sense that he knows what he is doing?

11 thoughts on “Bob Brent Writes

  1. Yes, but if you buy the 1250 buses, who would drive them? They’d have to go out and hire 1,000 new operators. Remember, this is capital funding. Bean counters don’t mix the two.

    There is no easy answer here. The problem is that until recently, the TTC said Spadina was their first priority, and an EA was already in the can for that. Why didn’t the TTC say that an Eglinton LRT to the airport was their first priority? How can we blame the upper levels of gov’t when the TTC can’t make up its mind? I remember there was supposed to be an eastern grade separated track curve or Y at Steeles for a future loop to Yonge, with the extension into Vaughan as a radial. This is gone now — their priorities change like the wind.

    What they should do now is pick one of the LRT lines, say Eglinton, and put that at the top of their list, after Spadina, and build it in $450M stages ($150M each). That line is a sure fire bet to get the most riders. There’s no way they’ll ever get the whole network funded.

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  2. Mimmo says “Yes, but if you buy the 1250 buses, who would drive them? They’d have to go out and hire 1,000 new operators. Remember, this is capital funding. Bean counters don’t mix the two.”

    The question then becomes, how many fares does it take to cover the operating costs? Going on the reasonable assumtion, in my view, that more buses = better service = more riders, than you have more people buying metropasses and dropping tokens into fare slots. Steve, how many more riders (on average)would it take to make a extra bus on a route sustainable?

    Steve: This is a bit tricky because it depends on how far we carry each rider. Routes like Wellesley or Coxwell that handle a lot of short trips, have strong bi-directional loads and lots of turnover generate a lot of rides per bus hour (or bus km). However, they are the exceptions. Routes that don’t get the turnover, are strongly directional and have longer average trip lengths probably will never make money. Better service on the surface feeder routes will also generate more riding on the rapid transit system.

    Things get more complicated when you mix in passes because running better service on the system as a whole will, to some extent, mean that existing pass holders will just use it more. They will actually wait for the Queen car rather than walking. They will take more off-peak trips. No new revenue there.

    The cost/benefit analysis of transit needs to look not just at the narrow issue of operating costs and revenues, but at the benefit of having transportation service that people can depend on and on the savings these riders enjoy by not having to drive and park. That’s a personal saving for each rider that never shows up on the TTC’s books, and this is the fundamental premise behind efforts to make the transit system attractive and effective all day long, all over the city.

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  3. As long as there are self serving politicians in power, and an agency with little vision, we are never going to break this cycle of building transit lines where they are least needed.

    I am amazed so many transit supporters are actually supporting this expensive endeavour, and making it into a “subway vs. LRT” issue. It’s not about mode, it’s about value for money. You are not getting value for money with this extension! 2 Billion for a 8 kilometre line to Wal-Mart, and fields! Insane.

    Mr. Brent summed it up perfectly. Anyone with common sense would seriously re-evaluate this project, take a look at the Yonge Corridor, with the hordes of buses, cars, cyclists, and pedestrians, and realize bus lanes are not going to cut it.

    I may be one of few, but I have always believed that for transit to be successful, it has to be visible. Surface Rapid Transit fills that role nicely.

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  4. There are at least two issues here. One is the 416/905 divide. If we want to improve mode share in the 905, then we have to produce quality rapid transit in the 905. Waiting to build something until things are congested is too late.

    Vancouver’s new Skytrain line on Lougheed Highway may seem a boondoggle now, but will seem visionary in 10 years when new developments come on line. Glencairn Station is served by 1 bus that runs very infrequently. Vaughn Centre will be served by many bus routes, including several rapid bus routes.

    The mode doesn’t matter – what matters is speed, which we get from grade separation. Service with an average speed equal to or greater than the freeway with no transfers is needed to improve mode share in York Region. This means that we either need to extend the subway into York Region, or significantly expand GO Train service, or both.

    1250 buses is superficially attractive…but what are we going to run them on? Are they going to be stuck in gridlock on Dufferin or Finch, or maybe on the Don Valley Parkway? In order to be effective they’ll have to be on their own busway, which we’ll have to build.

    Quality transit is expensive.

    The other issue is the TTC’s attitude towards the other operators. Their refusal to coordinate fares and services with the other transit systems, in my opinion,
    in one of the major reasons why transit mode share in York Region (and probably Mississauga as well) is so low. If you want better transit integration, start
    with this attitude problem.

    Steve: The point about 1250 buses was to go to the opposite end of the spectrum. As you say, there are operating costs and traffic congestion issues for such a huge fleet. These obviously become part of any analysis of the capital expenditure, something that seems to have escaped the VCC subway proposal. The information in the EA document is extremely superficial and would be ridiculed if it were not in support of an already done deal.

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  5. City boundaries should be ignored when planning transit in Toronto. They are arbitrary lines drawn on a map and we should be providing good transit service on both sides of them, and for riders crossing them. We should not pursue a protectionist transit policy which aims to ignore riders from outside the City of Toronto. Such a policy will only alienate the suburbs and increase traffic from the suburbs on the Gardiner and the DVP. If a subway or LRT extension is justified along a route based on demand, it should not be opposed simply because it crosses a municipal boundary. Telling people outside the City of Toronto to use GO is pointless because GO is almost useless outside peak hours when travelling in the traditional peak direction, and it is useless for short trips which happen to cross a municipal boundary. It is usually faster to take local buses between Mississauga/York Region/Brampton and Toronto than it is to take GO Transit outside peak hours due to the latter’s frequency of service.

    Personally I would amalgamate the TTC, Missisauga Transit, YRT, Brampton Transit and possibly Durham Transit and integrate bus routes for which there is significant cross-boundary ridership – for example, eliminating the short TTC routes from Kipling to the Missisauga boundary and integrating certain north-south Mississauga Transit routes with Brampton Transit routes. This need not be a full amalgamation – it could simply consist of an organization which coordinates integrated routes with municipal transit authorities and runs an integrated fare structure. I would replace the current fare system (flat fares within a city, but an extra fare for crossing city boundaries) with a zone-based or fare-by-distance scheme which does not penalize short trips across city boundaries. It would be nice to add GO Transit as well, so that a GO Transit trip from Point A to Point B does not cost more than the same trip on local buses.

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  6. Justin — again, the YONGE line can’t be extended northward without a downtown relief line. The increased ridership it would bring would create problems. Please don’t overlook this. A north Yonge extension has never been on the table.

    An eastern BD extension is out because of the SRT and Hazel won’t let the subway near Dixie.

    Since the TTC’s plans for expansion only included subways (until recently), they went with this. Eglinton West wasn’t a top priority for them — neither was Sheppard. It sort of just “happened”. Politically, extending an existing line is much easier than building a totally new one.

    Sheppard is a bit of a paradox, because if it was successful, it would have already overloaded Yonge. You will never see Yonge extended north unless something is done at B-Y or some kind of relief line is built downtown. Back in the 70s or 80s there were huge ads asking all BD passengers to transfer at St. George. It didn’t work, and so Yonge is forever stuck where it is.

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  7. Justin: Exactly. The lesson from the Spadina subway extension is that the politicians (and, by extension, the people who vote for them) are rarely swayed by the logically good idea.

    Most people in Toronto are not excited about LRT, because they don’t really know what it is. On the other hand, they know that subways are fast and reliable, and that all of the cities that Toronto wants to emulate have extensive subway systems. I would suggest that the pro-LRT crowd has been very slow to realize this.

    In fact I still remember when I first heard about the LRT concept, years ago, from a friend in urban planning. My reaction was, “You want to run STREETCARS all over the city? Are you daft?” — thinking, of course, of cars running in mixed traffic, and even of the harbourfront “LRT” which has never really lived up to expectations.

    It was only later, visiting Europe, that I had the “aha!” moment, and I realized what an LRT really was.

    It will likely take decades, and a lot of hard work, to convince the public (and through them, thei politicians) that an LRT is nearly as fast and reliable as a subway, for a fraction of the price.

    That is not to sound defeatist. York U invested decades into persuasion and lobbying, and look where it got them. But before LRT will gain widespread support, a majority of people will need to be disabused of the notion that subways are the only way to go for rapid transit.

    Steve: One point aiding we LRT advocates is that Toronto has more and more people who have either lived in or visited cities with modern, attractive LRT systems, and the question “why can’t we have that here” is turning up more. Yes, it will take time, but having a plan on the table gives us something to work for rather than an abstract pitch that subways are bad.

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  8. Of course it will take time to convince people of the usefulness of LRT, but certainly not decades! In fact, just one great implementation should be all it takes.

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  9. I hope the GTTA will surprise everyone with its success. It may indeed be the GTA’s last chance to integrate transit right, as GTTA Chair Rob MacIssac is fond of saying.

    He is tasked with providing an integrated transit (and funding) plan in a little over a year—a very aggressive timetable—so we won’t have to wait long to see if the GTTA can walk the walk in addition to talk the talk!

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Mimmo: You’re right, the TTC is struggling terribly to service +3% ridership growth and won’t be able to train enough new operators (700 total in 2007) to operate 100 new RGS buses until September.

    The RGS was published in March 2003, so the TTC has had fair warning, but seems to handle adversity (contracting service) better than prosperity (adding service). They are overly cautious to a fault, but let’s not be too hard on them!

    Chronic financial provery creates organizational poverty which creates a dearth of innovation and creativity… ergo no or slow growth! Let’s give the TTC some time to relearn how to handle 3–5% or higher ridership growth, like nimbler, smaller YRT! Heaven knows they’re being pushed pretty hard right now by new TTC Chair Adam Giambrone!

    I’d much rather have the problem of the TTC/Budget Committe/Council struggling to fund operating costs for 1,250 new buses (especially now Steve’s RGS “co-author” Gord Perks is on the BAC) than the present reality: $950M sunk costs wasted on the Sheppard Subway, no one is riding. YorkU/VCC will be deja vu all over again—at twice the cost!

    N.B. David Gunn didn’t want to build or operate Sheppard, but accepted it as a quid pro quo for Mayor Mel Lastman’s support for his cherished “State-of-Good Repair” program of basic subway infrastructure.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Mimmo 2: A northbound extension of YUS from Finch to Steeles would serve both NORTHbound and southbound traffic, and would immensely benefit 416 residents wanting/willing to switch to transit if their trip to/from their 905 jobs were faster; in addition to benefitting southbound travellers—not all whom are travelling through Yonge/Bloor.

    The extension is likely needed if we’re to have a ghost of a chance of dramatically increasing the transit modal split to reduce 416 and 905 traffic congestion. GTA peak travel is like a spider’s web, no longer along radial spokes into/out of the downtown Toronto employment/education hub.

    The TTC suffers from “inbreeding” on this score… they should be doing everything they can to add incremental (905 or 416) ridership and revenue when they have spare capacity, regardless of residency. 905ers make up ≈10% of TTC riders, contributing ≈45M rides and ≈$77M to TTC revenue.

    The TTC once truly acted like the 800-pound transit gorilla, loathed for not “making nice” and integrating service with the smaller GTA transit systems. That, and its most conservative ways frustrated the province, so now we have the GTTA!

    A Yonge north extension would serve an order of magnitude more connecting routes (East Yonge, West Yonge & North Steeles) than the YorkU/VCC route, which will lose all the East Yonge transfers and not have the local transit volume north of Steeles that Yonge does.

    The EA’s should have objectively compared them both as options rather than being gerrymandered (by TTC Staff and GO politicians) in advance of consideration and evaluation of their ridership and financial viability. Yonge north was dismissed without any real consideration in both the 1990-1993 EA’s and the TTC’s 2001 RTES.

    Let me repeat, the historical reason for not building a Yonge subway line north of Finch was virtually 100% political, not technical—to avoid spending “Toronto tax dollars” on 905 residents. “Someone would have to pay the TTC more subsidy!” Hello Spadina, Downsview, SRT and Sheppard!

    Yonge/Bloor has likely been a “choke-point” on the Yonge line ever since BD was built, and I suspect the major historical objection to extending Yonge further north from its original Eglinton terminus.

    The Yonge subway line has always managed to handle and disperse the increased traffic as people adjust their travel times and patterns to suite their desired comfort and convenience level—leading to the unique situation, Steve often notes in his commentary, of almost equal peak and off-peak TTC ridership.

    Increasing off-peak ridership is the only way to explain the TTC’s handling 73M extra rides since 1996 low point.

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  10. re: Andrew’s comment on “one good implementation”

    Dublin’s LUAS system has been so successful that I read yesterday that property developers have been buying up industrial land in the path of a planned northern extension. Their mix of 30m and 40m 70% low floor trams with at-stop ticket machines/POP is now refitting to all 40m to keep pace with demand.

    Total ridership is ahead of projections (which were treated with some scepticism, including by me), not least because of well patronised park and ride at the outer edges. And this is a system that does not have full integration with buses as Toronto LRT will.

    One property consortium is paying to have a spur line constructed to service their development because they realise the value (plus it probably got them planning permission for more density).

    In addition, some of the bridges constructed to carry the lines have added to the architectural quality of the city – I just saw renderings of the latest one to extend into the Docklands redevelopment – it’s important that Transit City LRT is not just efficient and ugly but adds quality to the fabric of Toronto infrastructure.

    It is also a warning not to convert abandoned rail lines to non-transit use without care – one existing line runs in part on a heavy line 50 years abandoned and the aforementioned northern extension to Liffey Junction will also part-run on abandoned track.

    One thing the Irish government did do was take LRT out of the State holding company which runs heavy rail and bus (under different subsidiaries). They created another state agency which subcontracts LRT operations to Veolia. Veolia negotiated a no strike clause with their union, a different union to the other transit services. They adopted standard rather than 1600mm Irish rail gauge which was mildly controversial in some quarters but given that Dublin’s trams were torn up in the 1950s there was no legacy infrastructure to worry about.

    Such a move to sideline TTC would be a “political third rail” in Toronto (not least for the current and previous TTC Chairman) and hopefully this will not be necessary to achieve a similarly popular and successful LRT network.

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  11. Steve,

    I think it’s time to extend an invitation to you to come up and tour the north… see Yonge & Bishop bus-only congestion and travel the YorkU/VCC subway route via ViVA from Downsview.

    I was out and about shopping today… taking 60 Steeles West from Bathurst, on/off the bus three times prior to YorkU and the buses were all busy: 50–60% full—noon on Saturday. to York U.

    ViVA from YorkU to Hwy 7 & Keele was another story: three passengers! I went to a repair outlet, then waited for YRT’s regular Hwy 7 West route (2-hour anyway transfer) and it was about 60% full too; as were several other back and forth YRT trips.

    On the way back to YorkU at 7:00 p.m… ViVA had… yup… three passengers again, southbound. As I looked out at the fallow farmer’s fields, the jarring high-voltage power corridor, the barren industrial wasteland and wondered how the YRT EA justified a subway on 3,000 peak-hour rides, when they can’t even fill an express ViVA bus???

    Steve: The idea that an inspection tour could make a significant change in demand is truly frightening! I might unwittingly trigger two or three new subway proposals!

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