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.