The Ontario government is announcing a huge program of transit improvements and funding. Details are available on the Premier’s website.
Note to those who come to this item after about 10:30 on June 15: Many comments were posted earlier today before I had added my own review of the announcement. They reflect the developing level of information (there are still some gaps) as well as some gentle urging that I get on with writing about this.
Whether it’s just an election promise or a real plan for transit improvements in southern Ontario, Queen’s Park’s announcement today raises the bar very high. Not only will Ontario fund 2/3 of the cost of transit capital works, the sheer number of lines and services, including several nobody ever thought to see in print, sets this apart from all previous announcements.
There have been a few.
Bill Davis killed the Spadina Expressway, started major provincial subsidies of transit, but was sidetracked into developing transit technology rather than building transit lines.
David Peterson, desperate to be re-elected with a majority government, announced a network of lines back in the days when planning consisted mainly of drawing new subway lines on the map of Toronto. The voters thanked him for his efforts and elected Bob Rae.
Bob Rae inherited Peterson’s plan and seized on it as a way to appear pro-transit without actually having to think about it, and give a shot in the arm to the ailing construction industry. They actually managed to start the Sheppard and Eglinton West lines.
Mike Harris was prepared to kill the Peterson/Rae projects as a huge waste of money, but relented on the Sheppard line to keep Mel Lastman happy.
Now we come to Dalton McGuinty who like Peterson is facing an election, but who has not made the fatal mistake of going to the polls early and presuming on the good will of the electorate. Lately, I hear that McGuinty’s office gripes about not getting credit for all of the wonderful transit funding they have announced. Small wonder: A project here, a project there, no sense of sustained funding for future years, and an expensive bauble to show the good burghers of Vaughan just how much we love them.
All that has changed. Today’s announcement shows that Queen’s Park plans to be in the transit funding business in a big way for well over a decade. This is a huge commitment for the Liberals, and telling us in November that they’re having second thoughts is not an option.
As with any announcement, the question must be “have they picked the right projects”?
Given that every project that has ever been in anyone’s plans, and a few that took me by surprise, are in the list, it’s hard to say that they’ve picked too few or picked poorly. One huge plus is that they are not, for the most part, dictating technology choices. The last thing we need is a repeat of the OTDC/UTDC fiasco.
The flip side, however, is that the plan is oddly unbalanced over the region. Whatever was already on the books is in the initial list. I hope that the GTTA who, according to a footnote, would review all of this, may make some small adjustments here and there. For example, there is LRT only in Mississauga and Toronto even though an argument can be made to expand the network into York Region. Maybe that’s phase 2.
Just as with Transit City (about which endless debates swirled on this site second-guessing proposals and working through the complexities of design), there will be time to fine tune, to see where alternatives might fit better together, to talk about the program’s goals for 2025, 2030 and beyond.
The announcement has notable gaps including:
- Several of the components are already in progress including GO improvements and the Spadina/VCC subway. Will Ontario now fund 2/3 of their cost?
- How will infrastructure and vehicles for existing operations be funded? Who will pay for Toronto’s new streetcar, subway cars and buses?
- Where do the LRT lines not included in Transit City fit in all of this specifically the eastern waterfront and Kingston Road proposals?
- What plans are there for operating subsidies? Will Queen’s Park leave this to municipalities as a tradeoff for all of the capital funding? This would not help systems with small operating budgets today, and would constain their ability to expand service without taking a big hit on the local tax base.
The news release says that this 12-Year plan will deliver 52 rapid transit initiatives. I wonder why 52? Many of the projects listed are actually segments of lines, not independent projects, and this inflates the number of distinct routes. I hope that McGuinty doesn’t get too hung up on the actual number but concentrates instead on the concept of a network of transit services: local and regional, bus and rail.
Making people think about networks is vital as we saw with Transit City. The debates instantly changed about “my line” and “your line” to “our network” as politicians all over Toronto saw the benefits of a unified system.
For just a moment believe that at least a good portion of this will actually be built. Indeed, because so much of this is drawn from existing and planned schemes and has the relatively low implementation cost of commuter rail, buses on reserved lanes and LRT, there is a fighting chance we will see real benefits quickly. This will increase demand for more and a self-sustaining boom in transit construction and funding may result.
Let’s look at the various parts of this scheme to see how they fit together.
GO Rail Improvements
- Third tracks added from Port Credit to Oakville, Burlington to Hamilton and Union to Scarborough.
- Capacity expansions from Union to Milton, Union to Georgetown, Union to Bradford, Union to Richmond Hill and Union to Stouffville.
- Service extensions from Oshawa to Bowmanville, Bradford to Barrie, Richmond Hill to Aurora Road, Stouffville to Uxbridge.
- New GO rail service on the CPR line from West Toronto through the central Don Valley via Agincourt to Pickering and Seaton.
- New GO rail service from Union to Bolton.
- Electrification of the GO Lakeshore route (aka SuperGO).
Some track construction is already underway to allow better GO service, but some of the extensions and new lines lay more in the realm of railfans’ dreams than actual plans until today.
One thing missing from the details (at least those available when I started to review all of this) is the hours and frequency of service on the proposed new and extended routes. If more than a few peak trains a day operate on this network, we will finally have a true regional commuter rail system in Toronto that will allow people to travel, at least in those corridors, much as Torontonians now do on the subway system — without having to plan their trips around schedules. Additional service on these lines would also relieve some of the pressure for additional subway construction into the core because the demand from outlying parts of the 416 and from the inner 905 will have a good alternative in GO rail services.
Crosstown service via the CPR’s line through North Toronto Station (the LCBO palace at Summerhill) will provide a fast connection through the city bypassing Union Station. An obvious connection for this line would be with the new link to the airport. Indeed, I feel that through-routing this line to the airport would be more valuable than a connection to Union because of the large catchment area for a cross-city line. Maybe we could have both! (More about the airport later.)
This network will exhaust the inventory of rail corridors into Toronto, and it will place major demands on Union Station. GO already had planned for a doubling of ridership, but their planning horizon was further away than 2020. Other potential pressures at Union arise from future LRT network connections serving the waterfront.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for GO and Others
- GO BRT from Oakville station to Mississauga via Hwy 403
- Mississauga Transitway from the City Centre west to Winston Churchill and east to Renforth, connecting to …
- GO BRT link from Renforth to York University (via hydro corridors judging from the map)
- GO BRT on Hwy 427 from Renforth to Hwy 407, connecting to …
- GO BRT on Hwy 407 from the 401 to York University (obviously with a dodge south or a connection to the subway extension) and continuing east on the 407 to Yonge Street in Langstaff and Markham Road
- GO BRT from Highway 407 in Markham via Markham Road to Hwy 401, then east to Pickering GO station.
This network encircles the 416 and the inner 905 with BRT on most of the major highways. This will come at some cost to highway capacity as there isn’t room to expand in all cases, and road expansion should be a last resort, not the assumed way any BRT will be implemented. Again we are missing details of the implementation on each segment of highway.
The important point here is that Ontario plans to build a network, not bits and pieces of BRT wherever they can be squeezed into existing corridors. This has big implications for bus services whether they are operated by GO, the local agencies or some future amalgamated GTTA bus company.
The one big problem is that these will be regional services, not local services. They will be great for travel between major centres, but people still need to get to these trunk routes on their neighbourhood bus systems. Unless these are properly funded and expanded, the regional network will not meet its potential.
At the other end of the scale, what happens when the 407 corridor (or highway 7 itself as a local street) become candidates for an LRT line? How far away from that decision are we? That’s a knotty question for the GTTA.
- Transit City in its entirety: Eglinton (Renforth to Kennedy), Scarborough RT extension to Sheppard, Sheppard LRT (Don Mills to Morningside), Finch LRT (Hwy 27 to Yonge), Don Mills LRT (Steeles to Danforth), Jane LRT (Steeles to Bloor), Malvern LRT (Kennedy Station to Malvern), Waterfront West (Long Branch to Union).
- Subway extensions: Spadina to Vaughan Centre, Yonge from Finch to Hwy 7.
- Yonge busway from Finch to Steeles (TTC, VIVA, YRT and GO)
- VIVA: Markham Centre to Don Mills Station, Yonge from Steeles to Newmarket, Highway 7 from Hwy 50 to Cornell.
- Durham rapid transit (unspecified technology) on Hwy 2 from Oshawa to Pickering
- Brampton Acceleride: Queen Street from Main to Hwy 50
- Mississauga LRT: Hurontario from Lakeshore to Queen Street (Brampton), Dundas from Hurontario to Kipling Station
- Hamilton rapid transit (unspecified technology): King/Main Streets from Eastgate Mall to McMaster University, James/Upper James from Rymal Road to King Street
- (Not part of the 52, but included in a footnote) Ontario will also fund at the same 2/3 rate the rapid transit plans now in stage 2 of the EA process for Kitchener Waterloo. This scheme has eliminated all technologies except BRT and LRT from further consideration.
For the TTC system, I am ecstatic to see funding for Transit City. Not too long ago we had the excitement of that plan’s launch and a major shift in transit thinking for Toronto, but the nagging question of who would pay lurked in the background. The strategy behind Transit City was twofold:
- Show Torontonians that we could build a transit network that didn’t just serve one small corner of the city, that we could do it quickly and that we could do it at a reasonable cost.
- Show any funding partners a proposal that would have immediate political return and would allow projects to move into design, construction and operation without bankrupting everyone involved.
I think it worked. Indeed, it was the same strategy that led to the Ridership Growth Strategy. Don’t tell us what you can’t do, don’t prejudge the political decision about funding, show us what could be if only the will to act were there. We still need a bit more of a push on RGS especially for service improvements in years to come, but we are moving in the right direction. MoveOntario changes the landscape for the GTA and beyond just as Transit City did for Toronto.
I am particularly glad to see the Yonge subway extension included in this package. For decades, we have discussed subway lines that are little better than Toonerville Trollies to various politicians’ back yards. Now, finally, we will build a subway line where there is already heavy demand. The Yonge extension will be an anchor for future bus and, someday, LRT services in York Region.
As for VIVA, the announcement is unclear about what is being funded. Expanded service? More vehicles? BRT upgrades?
The Mississauga LRT proposals have been around for many years, but I doubted to ever see them built. There’s always the issue of an orphan line, of being the first new rail service in a sea of cars and buses. With Transit City announced in Toronto, the Mississauga lines are no longer alone and I must wonder how long it will take for Transit City to grow a branch south to Kipling Station.
Hamilton and Kitchener are big surprises. Kitchener is well along on their studies, but the last time I remember seeing any plans for rapid transit in Hamilton it involved GO Urban. To Waterloo Region’s great credit, they rejected various technologies that involved elevated guideways as being unsuitable for the type of service they proposed and the physical impact an elevated would have on the city. Let’s see where Hamilton goes on this.
Last but not least is the connection from Union Station to Lester B. Pearson Airport. Although the announcement does not say this explicitly, this is not Blue 22, and that scheme is now dead. The airport service will be run as a branch of GO Transit although access to the airport will be an interesting bit of construction.
This is another situation where the GTTA can fine-tune MoveOntario’s schemes.
- If GO Rail will enter the airport, then service should be provided not just to Union, but to the CP North Toronto line and east to Agincourt and beyond. This will provide a truly regional access to the airport far superior to a Union Station shuttle.
- The Eglinton West LRT must have a branch north into the airport. This will provide a connection for local travellers in west central Toronto.
- The Finch West LRT must make a good connection with the airport service.
MoveOntario is a huge plan to reshape transit in southern Ontario and it shows the magnitude of commitment and spending needed to begin the move to a transit-focussed transportation system. I say “begin” because this network, large though it is, does not address all of the travelling needs of the region especially the relatively poor local services in the 905 systems. Unless we have some way to magically transport people to the many new regional lines, we will have GO’s problem of providing parking lots at an unimaginable scale.
Transit systems should not have provision of parking as their first goal, and only with good local feeder services can a network of regional services, whatever their technology, succeed.
We also must have serious discussions about fare structures. With SuperGo, we will have something approaching a subway in the Lakeshore corridor, and the overall network will have a mix of local and express services. How do we charge people to use this network? What is the appropriate level of subsidy? Do we sell in bulk with monthly passes, or do we construct a byzantine zone or distance-based structure that penalizes people for using transit more?
With MoveOntario, Queen’s Park has shown a strong desire to get back into transit funding and to change the way people travel around the GTA. Ottawa should come on board, but we will have to wait for another day (or maybe another election) to see where they stand.
I still don’t quite believe that I am sitting here with a massive plan for rail transit including LRT on my desk. I hope that Queen’s Park really understand that the modes they are supporting: commuter rail, BRT and LRT show that there is a range of options that can provide transit improvements at reasonable cost. Each mode has its place, and we don’t have to go hunting for transit’s “missing link”.
Thirty-five years of lost momentum, lost opportunities for transit growth are over.
Now, we build.