Keeping the Sheppard Subway Running

In another thread, Mimmo Briganti commented on the TTC’s revelation that we wouldn’t save anything by closing the Sheppard line.

So it turns out that closing the Sheppard subway would only save $300,000?  Total idiots!!  Why do they go out spreading such stupid PR when they don’t even have their numbers straight?  That $10M figure they quoted was supposed to be NET (after the replacement buses were added).

If this new figure is accurate, doesn’t it destroy your argument against the Spadina extension?  If the capital cost of the extension is paid for by the senior levels of gov’t, and the operating cost ratio (subway vs. # of buses) is similar to Sheppard, isn’t it peanuts to run the extension on a cost per passenger basis?

I don’t get it — these numbers just don’t add up!

I agree that the numbers just don’t add up, but there isn’t enough detail in the report and I have been too busy with other matters to try to work through an “alternative” estimate.  Alas, we still don’t have an estimated cost to operate the Sheppard line itself, only a claimed delta.

Going from a claimed $10-million annual saving to zero shows a huge error in estimating techniques and undermines the credibility of all of the TTC’s service and cost based proposals.  This has happened regularly at the TTC, but never on such a spectacular scale.

Note that the $300K figure is for closing the Sheppard and Spadina (north of St. Clair West) lines only on weekends.  There is no cost estimate for a full closure.  Of course, you can’t really close the Spadina line operationally because it provides access to Wilson Yard.  Sheppard at least could be mothballed, but you don’t get savings from that unless you close it 7×24.

The average weekday ridership on the Sheppard Subway, at 43,000 trips, is matched only by the Dufferin bus, and that route (a) is longer, (b) has good bi-directional demand, and (c) has good all-day demand.  The Sheppard riders are much more concentrated in space and time and would require a very frequent peak bus service.

As for the Spadina line, we must be absolutely certain that the capital costs will not block other deserving projects from being funded.  Otherwise we could sink every penny of provincial or federal grants into one line but still not have capital available to expand the rest of the system.

The TTC also published a cheerleading report yesterday about why the Spadina extension project must go ahead.  I will turn to that report in a separate post.

18 thoughts on “Keeping the Sheppard Subway Running

  1. The intent of any subway line is to show how vital it is to the network. Closing any subway line, no matter how underused it is defeats that purpose. The Sheppard line was intended to be the precursor of a new subway corridor that was supposed to stretch from Downsview in the west and Scarborough Town Centre in the east. (Side note, I believe that if there is any extension to York University, it is better suited by the Sheppard, rather than Spadina subway, it gives Yonge Subway riders better access to the University instead of switching two subway lines).

    Closing this line in any form stunts that momentum that was intended for the complete Sheppard line. Any closure would ensure that the Sheppard subway forever remains a Stubway, which would further be criticized by others against the TTC.

    Closing Spadina by shutting it off at St. Clair West during weekends doesn’t make any sense either. I feel the ridership on this route is finally coming on to its own especially since you have the Yorkdale Mall right next to it and hordes of passengers filling this station. Even if you do, how can one expect to get from St. Clair West station to other stops on this line? The road from St. Clair West to Downsview isn’t necessarily a straight line and I’m pretty sure you need some shuttle buses to pick up the slack. So how will they be routed?

    TTC cheerleading the Spadina extension? During the last meeting with riders, I spoke with Gary Webster and he says that he is not in favour of the Spadina extension…….

    Steve: The great shame in this so-called analysis is, of course, that we are comparing buses against subway with no mention of LRT, and also the area to be served is constrained by the existing subway alignments and turnback points. If we were building LRT from scratch we would do it differently.

    My issue with Spadina is that if, as claimed, York U is the centre of the universe, it would have also made a good major destination on an LRT network in the northern 416 and southern 905. Yes, people going downtown would have to change at Downsview Station, but with all the money we would save on subway construction, we could build a much larger LRT network serving non-core oriented demand. Alas the time for this is long past, but that’s a thumbnail of my outlook.

    The cheerleading report, which I will deal with elsewhere, does not even mention the existence of Transit City in its discussion of network connectivity.


  2. Curiouser and curiouser. I do look forward to the broader analysis of the Spadina extension – my sense is this project is one of a few large capital ones that really don’t make quite as much sense as some others.


  3. Thanks for putting this into a separate post.

    From $10M to a negative? Now they’re saying the subway is CHEAPER to operate? How much more incompetent can the TTC get? Here’s the quote from the report …

    “Ridership on all three lines is high enough that the replacement bus service required to replace the subway is so great that the operating cost savings from closing the subway would be less than the increase in operating costs for the replacement bus service.”

    So they considered closing and extending the Spadina subway at the same time. Are these people bipolar?


  4. Another thing to consider is the fact that the Sheppard line replaced a number of buses that now operate to Don Mills station. The cost savings of closing the line would be offset somewhat by the cost of operating several new buses on Sheppard between Don Mills and Yonge Street. On the other hand, with the Spadina extension, what TTC bus routes does it replace? Portions of 107 Keele North? 106 York University? How does that compare?


  5. Having read the report, I had to laugh. It’s as if the subway will completely Toronto’s traffic problems, and every driver in York Region will use the subway. I personally do not see how this subway will promote new housing. Isn’t the area around York U. pretty built up? I highly doubt new residential area will be built in the VCC. It is full of industry, and big box retail


  6. Let’s suppose the Spadina extension to Vaughan brings in another 30,000 daily riders. The point is this: according to the TTC’s new figures w.r.t. closing Sheppard, servicing those 30,000 new Spadina riders with buses (or streetcars) instead of the subway will cost just as much (or maybe even slightly more with buses) — and this is probably due to the increased number of drivers required to operate buses/streetcars with the equivalent capacity of 2 operators manning a 6-car subway train.

    So, with these new operating stats, and given that the Spadina money would not have been given to us for any other transit purpose, Steve really doesn’t have a leg to stand on when he opposes Spadina (from a financial perspective, not a philosophical one).

    Now, if these new TTC numbers are wrong … well then, the whole argument falls apart.

    Steve: The argument has already fallen apart. The TTC is only looking at marginal operating costs, and the sunk capital cost of the Sheppard line (including its rolling stock) are treated as “free”. If we had never built it, we would not be paying roughly $50-million annually to service the capital debt, but that number does not show up on the TTC’s books and isn’t included.

    If we are talking about a brand new line, we are talking about the appropriate use of capital.


  7. Here are some interesting comments made by Gary Webster:

    “So it would cost us the same money you save closing Sheppard putting the buses on,” said Webster after Wednesday’s emergency TTC meeting.

    How did things change so dramatically between July and September?

    “Clearly we were wrong,” Webster admitted. “We don’t save any money by the closure of Sheppard.”

    Webster added that, based on the numbers, there likely wouldn’t be any circumstance in which Toronto’s newest length of subway tunnel would be shut down – even if the fiscal crisis that precipitated this year’s TTC fare hike continues, and Toronto Council doesn’t pass new taxes on land transfers and vehicle registration.

    In that case, he said the system would look at other measures.


  8. James Bow said: “On the other hand, with the Spadina extension, what TTC bus routes does it replace? Portions of 107 Keele North? 106 York University? How does that compare?”

    Well, for one thing, you missed the 196 York University Rocket. For anyone on this site who has not done so, I strongly encourage you to go up to Downsview and see the 196 in operation, as I do daily to get to work. The buses run on a 2 minute frequency all day long, and are almost always packed pulling away from the station, especially during rush hour. If there’s any kind of delay in the schedule, the line can extend all the way from the 196 stop (at the mid-south end of the station) almost to the Viva stop (at the north end). It’s the same story southbound from York to Downsview.

    I don’t know what that costs the TTC to operate, but if the Sheppard subway is cost-effective on the grounds of bus replacement, then surely the subway to York is at least close. (However, if it were up to me, the subway would be stopped at York and would never see Vaughan, or even Steeles).

    As for the Stephen Cheung’s comment: “I believe that if there is any extension to York University, it is better suited by the Sheppard, rather than Spadina subway” — maybe, but the 196B runs express all the way from York to Sheppard-Yonge Station; it’s only stop between Downsview and Sheppard-Yonge is Bathurst. Yet it runs less often than the 196A (Downsview only) and, from what I can see, it is less used.


  9. I sympathize with the sentiment that a lot of the costs of the subway lay in keeping the subway open, but it seems to me nobody ever talks about reducing the frequency of the subway during certain periods. For example, after 10 PM have trains every 10 minutes instead of 6. Say it’s 90 minutes round trip on the Bloor line; given recovery time, allow for 100 minutes. Every 10 minute service means 10 trains are required; every 6 minute service means 17 trains are required. Just a quick and dirty estimate suggests you could save 7 trains * 4 hours * operating cost per hour (say $300) * 365. That would be about $3 million a year savings just for the Bloor line, at really very little impact to the passenger. We’re talking about major things like closing whole subway stations, while ignoring little changes.

    Steve: There are 20 trains in operation now late night on the BD line. Cutting service has been tried before and it resulted in a quite noticeable problem with crowding as it is common to have standees today up to midnight especially late in the week. Your statement about “very little impact” is not valid.

    The marginal savings would be the crew costs and a small amount of energy saving. All other costs (stations, infrastructure, etc) would remain in use along with their associated support staff. The savings would be much lower than your estimate for BD, although we could obviously extend this to other lines.


  10. I’m still not sure about the line from Steeles West to VCC but i can say that an extension from Downsview to Steeles West is a justifiable one. Like said, the amount of traffic going to York University on those shuttle buses is a sight to see of its own. Its actually sad the TTC couldnt pay York Region to have a fare agreement of some sort so that people can take VIVA from Downsview to York University. (An Agreement similar to the one in place for TTC buses north of steeles, with this one being in reverse).

    Steeles West will have a parking lot of about 3,000 spaces which is enough to close or greatly reduce the spots at Wilson and Downsview and turn them over to development or, personally for Downsview i would like to see more open space to keep in nature with its “open area” feeling you get in that area in contrast to the crowded, congested, areas around it that have high rises and other such things.

    Steeles West, Finch West or Finch Subway station parking lots can NEVER be developed because they are in Hydro Corridor lands and as a result they would remain empty if they were not parking lots. That argument does not cut it in this situation, sorry. Steeles West is necessary because York University does not want any buses terminating at their current congested campus. Also it is in close proximity to 407 and 400 (Closer then Finch West is to 400) so its vast parking lot is justifiable. The Closest GO Train station to the area is York University which has 0 parking spots or proper transit. Next up, Rutherford Go Station.

    As a result, the vast parking lot planned for Steeles West will actually be used quite well and why would that be a problem for Toronto? Its not in toronto, its in Vaughan!

    If the extension is cut down to Steeles West, that would be fine, but not building the extension at all would be foolish. The extension is diagonal and it would make a trip from Downsview to York University faster then ANY MODE that currently exists. Even a Car that is going over speed and getting every light GREEN cannot beat the speed of a diagonal subway line for the same distance. Currently no diagonal road exists. Same goes for the bus routes or any potential LRT route. The Subway is the fastest route.


  11. Steve said:

    If we had never built it, we would not be paying roughly $50-million annually to service the capital debt, but that number does not show up on the TTC’s books and isn’t included.

    Yes, but we won’t be paying this on Spadina — the province and the feds will. Does anybody know if the extra rush hour trains needed for Spadina are being paid for by the province? Was that included in the price tag?

    If so, this is a real freebie, and we shouldn’t kick a gift horse in the mouth.

    Steve: Most of the capital debt for Sheppard is carried by Queen’s Park. It doesn’t matter who pays for a line, this is money that is not available now for construction of other possibly more useful additions to the transit network. How long do you think it will take for Ottawa to say “don’t ask for more for Transit City, we already paid for your subway extension”?

    Also, there is still quite a debate brewing over the original plan that almost slipped through for the City of Toronto via the TTC to absorb ALL of the additional cost of operating the extension north of Steeles Avenue. It was claimed to be a break-even proposition, but the numbers depended on charging all the students bound for York U with a separate TTC fare to ride the subway from the connecting YRT/VIVA/GO services. If you cook the books, you can make anything profitable, at least until you actually have to start operating it for real passengers.

    As for the trains, I believe, but am not certain, that money for them is included in the project. There is always a lot of creative accounting where car purchases are involved because sometimes they are buried in new line costs and sometimes in the base TTC budget. In any event, the cars would be part of a future order, not the current set contracted to Bombardier, given that the line won’t open tomorrow.

    Any business contemplating a capital investment looks at return, at long term costs and at the benefits (increased market share, reduced operating costs) to determine whether they should take plan “A”, “B” or “none of the above”. I am constantly fascinated by arguments from people who want to apply rigourous financial controls and value-for-money audits on the public sector who are happy to watch billions shelled out for projects where even the thought of looking at alternatives raises virulent opposition.

    There is no question that subways play a vital role, but we cannot build them to the ends of the earth. At some point, a different, less capital intensive technology is needed so that we can have a wider network rather than a handful of lines. We can debate whether this should be LRT or BRT, but the issue remains the same — we cannot provide a one-seat ride from everywhere in southern Ontario to Union Station, and subway lines have to end somewhere.


  12. Andrew: One of the reasons to send a Spadina subway extension all the way to Vaughan instead of stopping at the York campus is that the campus is actually quite badly suited to function as a regional transit hub.

    The university common is already severely overcrowded with TTC, GO and VIVA/YRT buses, making any significant expansion in regional bus service through it impossible. As well, anytime there’s bad weather or particularly heavy rush traffic on Keele, I know from experience that the GO services experience massive delays in getting out of the campus and back up to the 407. At rush hour during bad weather, it can take more than 40 minutes to get from a GO stop on the common to the 407, a trip segment that can be accomplished in less than 5 minutes off-peak.

    I’d imagine that much of GO’s 407 service would ultimately be routed through one of the two Vaughan stations (probably the Highway 407 Transitway stop, which would seem to have little other purpose) instead of through the York campus. If that’s a correct assumption, this would give the top end of the subway extension an extra revenue kick, even if student commuters might grumble about the extra fare.

    Steve: Please see my remarks in a previous reply about the “extra fare” issue. I very much doubt that by the time the line opens, we will still have a zone boundary at Steeles Avenue, but instead will have some sort of regional fare mechanism implemented through the Presto smart card. Leaving aside the fact that University students will probably get a hefty discount on their fares, any projection that presumes a separate subway fare is invalid.


  13. Besides, the only benefit to closing the Sheppard line would be that someone getting on at Eglinton station in the morning could get a seat.

    The thing with the Spadina line, other then this idiotic Sheppard West station that will make Bessarion look like St. George, is that it was built, and went along with, basically to not piss Sorbara off, assuming, dumbly, that keeping him happy would mean good things for the city. For those of us who believe this to be untrue, all it’s gotten is a subway into Vaughan, which is absurd for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it will terminate in a mall owned by Sorbara et al.

    The thing both Sheppard and Spadina north have in common is this regrettable, predictable story that the subways being built have zero to do with common sense and good planning, and everything to do with politics and legacies.

    This, among other reasons, is why I don’t believe Toronto is a real city. The absence of a real Premier or Mayor since amalgamation solidifies this claim.

    Steve: I am not sure what would qualify as a “real Premier”. Bill Davis? David Peterson? As for Mayors, we have only had two since amalgamation, and the first of those was a hopeless buffoon who got the job to buy off his opposition to the disappearance of his precious North York. David Miller’s flaw is that he isn’t strong enough and has tried to achieve by concensus what should be achieved by flat out campaigning over the heads of the opposition to the public at large.

    The old City of Toronto didn’t do badly over the years, but the agenda at Queen’s Park and at the old Metro was to destroy that hotbed of opposition to suburban-dominated policies.


  14. Joseph C said [about the Spadina extension], “Currently no diagonal road exists. Same goes for the bus routes or any potential LRT route. The Subway is the fastest route.”

    I disagree – this is a location where LRT would be ideally implemented on the same diagonal right of way that a subway would be. Even if some or all of it were to be underground between Downsview and York U, it would still be more economical and appropriate than a full subway.

    The disadvantage of having to change at Downsview is offset by the future interlining possibilities with other LRT operations at Finch, Jane, or in York Region.


  15. @Calvin Henry-Cotnam: It is the tunneling that makes HRT so much more costly than LRT in this city. Since you can’t run a T1 through intersections with traffic lights, nor right in front of people’s front lawns since they’re noisy, you have to tunnel, unlike LRT, which can share roadspace if needed or appropriate, and has acceptable noise levels. Putting LRT underground makes its cost much closer to that of a subway, although the biggest difference would be in the stations. Tunnels and rails, electrical and lighting systems, HVAC (including fire fighting provisions) and signal/communications systems, as well as their associated maintenance, are not that different at the end of the day, although LRT would be somewhat cheaper (maybe about 1/5th savings on the capital infrastructure? Peanuts in anycase). Not really much of an argument for being more economical.

    This is why Eglinton being LRT instead of subway between Jane and the Don is simply a political cop-out (and a miscalculated one at that, since the MoveOntario proposal would have given us anything we wanted as it is typical election-time drivel) and a sham (as far as it being “way cheaper” is concerned, that’s a lie for the underground portion). Not against transit city in total, some of it is certainly fabulous (Morningside, WW, Jane), but Eg (Jane-Don only) and Sheppard (west of Agincourt GO only) not being HRT is clearly a mistake. This city builds subways in the wrong places (we need them along Eglinton, not in Vaughan).

    As for LRT interlining to Downsview, as far as transfer patterns would be concerned, it’d be much simpler to have the terminus of the subway at York U (not Steeles West, I say scrap it, although a busway between York U and 407 would be something I’d support – if VIVA wants to run LRT into York U from the north, let them, but on their dime). This also keeps the network simpler to operate since that removes pesky branch-servicing, and improves reliability of service is the area of the two corridors (instead of three corridors in the case of branched interlining with LRT to Downsview).


  16. Hi Steve,

    Regarding the Eglinton corridor, are there any estimates of the max. capacity of the underground portion of planned LRT versus a “true subway”? Can the underground LRT handle same volume of commuters, or at least 70-80% of a subway volume? If so, then it beats subway as transfers at Jane and Don are not needed with all-LRT solution.

    Btw, a similar dilemma will arise at some point for the Don Mills LRT – Downtown link.

    Steve: The capacity limits arise from a combination of factors.

    Train length (and hence station length) combined with minimum reasonable frequency dictate how many people can be carried. Both of these factors will be a function of the surface part of the line where the trains will need to interact with traffic at cross streets, stations will occupy space in the middle of the road and pedestrian traffic to the stations will interfere with auto traffic.

    However, if the idea is to eventually convert at least the inner part of the line to full subway, the future capacity is really a function of station size which can be protected for in the initial design much as we have on Sheppard where the stations can be extended to six-car train lengths, not that this route will ever need them.

    In any LRT network design there will always be tradeoffs. The question is whether we should spend money now for capacity that may not be required for 30 years, or design in such a way that upgrading is relatively easy to accomplish. There simply isn’t enough money to build a network of subway lines on that scale, and we get the benefit of LRT — yes, at a lower service quality than a full subway, but also at much lower cost.


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