Today at the TTC: September 19, 2007

This item is a potpourri of news from the TTC meeting including:

  • New simplified EA Process approved by Queen’s Park
  • Ottawa says “not now” on Transit City funding
  • More pieces of the Waterfront West project
  • Progress on the new streetcar tender plus streetcar survey results
  • Are ridership projections too low?

The Simplified EA Process

On September 6, the Minister of the Environment approved the new “Class EA” process that greatly simplies the studies we will need for many upcoming transit projects.  The major changes in the new process are:

  • An agency no longer has to develop a “terms of reference” for their study with the public and affected agencies or submit it for Ministerial approval.  This will cut one year off of the time for typical studies.
  • Once an EA study is completed, it is merely filed with the Minister for information, but no approval is required.

This puts most transit projects (subway lines must still go through the individual EA process) on the same footing as roads.  However, simplification also reinforces the need for strong public participation and advocacy.  I don’t like to say this sort of thing, but the removal of a formal review process opens the doors to unscrupulous studies that pay lip service to public concerns and, in particular, the whole issue of looking at alternatives.

Ottawa Says “Not Now” on Transit City Funding

Today’s agenda included a letter dated July 12, 2007 in which Lawrence Cannon, the federal Minister of Transport, advises Mayor Miller and Chair Giambrone of Ottawa’s position on additional transit funding.  I will leave out the recitation of all of the spending commitments already in place for various projects, and skip to the important parts:

  • Ottawa thinks Move Ontario is a wonderful initiative and looks forward to working with Ontario on it, but the Minister has not yet received a formal request for funding from Queen’s Park.
  • All funds allocated to Ontario under existing programs are fully committed, however, new funds were included in the 2007 budget. 
  • Ottawa will develop a National Transit Strategy in consultation with governments and the transit industry.  I understand that no consultation with the Federation of Canadian municipalities (FCM) or the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) has acually taken place to date.

Strictly speaking, some of the 2007 money is “new” only to people who think like governments with time-limited funding for schemes that should be open ended.  This includes:

  • Continuing the full GST rebate to municipalities.
  • Extending the gas tax fund to 2014.

Such is the nature of transit funding — we have to keep asking for it over and over again, and programs that we think are permanent may vanish overnight.  This is no way to make long-term spending plans.  Other new money is for a variety of projects that may or may not be for public transit.

The bottom line here is that Ottawa may come to the table, someday, probably with funding promises that will kick in after a future election if only we give that nice Mr. Harper the majority he so desperatly craves.  Meanwhile, we should prepare to fund transit in the GTA from Ontario and local funds, and send Ottawa postcards of the ribbon-cutting ceremonies where the “Canada” logo will be noticeably absent.

More Pieces of the Waterfront West Project

The TTC has approved proceeding with an EA for the Waterfront West line from Park Lawn west to Brown’s Line.  This brings the full “Long Branch” car into the scope of the WWLRT as shown in the Transit City scheme.

On a related note, there is a public meeting on the proposed Park Lawn streetcar/LRT loop scheduled for Monday, September 24 at 7:00 pm at the Polish Alliance Hall, 2282 Lake Shore W., just west of Legion Road.  The page linked here includes the display boards with the loop design presented at a previous meeting in November 2006.

Progress on the New Streetcar Tender / Streetcar Survey Results

The new streetcar tender will be released on October 2007, and the TTC has entered a blackout period where only authorized parties within the organization are allowed to talk to potential bidders.  The intent is to avoid all manner of lobbying and side dealing that would undermine a fair tender.

Of course, nothing prevents the lobbyists from wining and dining their friends on Council who could provide pesky interference with whatever the TTC staff and Commission decide next spring.

A report with details of the process and specifications is available online.

Also online are detailed results from the “My New Streetcar” campaign. 

The most interesting point about the survey was that a major issue for riders was the quality of service.  No surprise here, but the issue of service trumps everything else the TTC does.  Anyone who tries to pretend otherwise is in for a big shock as soon as they talk to riders.

Are Ridership Projections Too Low?

Bob Brent, who contributes comments here from time to time, presented a deptutation detailing the ongoing problem at the TTC of underestimated ridership.  This is not just an academic exercise where the TTC guesses low and is then pleasantly surprised to find a surplus at year end.  The TTC sets its budget for service based on anticipated ridership, and past attempts to bump service beyond this level between budget approvals runs into a brick wall at the City Budget Committee.

For 2007, the TTC now expects to get 461-million rides without allowing for whatever effect the November fare increase might have.  For 2008, the estimate is only 468-million.  They assume some headroom wil be created by the fare impact, but don’t bother to make a counter-adjustment for the planned service improvements that will make service more attractive.  Moreover, 2008 is a leap year, and the net additional day is a weekday — this means that about 1.5-million added rides are simply a calendar effect and the room for growth in the estimate is even lower than it seems.

My suspicion is that if additional funding is found for additional Ridership Growth Strategy improvements, all of this will be swept under the carpet in time for the fall 2008 schedules.  However, we’re not at all sure of funding today, and it’s too early to give up your reserved seat on the roof.

17 thoughts on “Today at the TTC: September 19, 2007

  1. Steve said: “I don’t like to say this sort of thing, but the removal of a formal review process opens the doors to unscrupulous studies that pay lip service to public concerns and, in particular, the whole issue of looking at alternatives.”

    I can’t help but wonder if Blue 22 is somehow involved with this. I’m sure SNC-Lavalin is active in lobbying every once in a while. Blue 22’s alignment was included in MoveOntario’s map as well, with not much in the form of details apart from the coloured line on a map. This smells rather fishy, and I’d imagine Mike Sullivan (chair of the Weston Communicty Coalition that derailed Blue 22 the first time) is not amused at this.

    Steve: This change has been sought by many transit systems in the GTA and both TTC and YRT were the prime architects of getting it in place.


  2. The only reason for hope that this process will actually move along is the move towards transit expansion in Montreal. Giving $$$ to the province of Quebec as part of a national transit strategy might have a spin off for Toronto.


  3. I too was glad to see all the comments on service (which seemed to have an air of “I don’t care what they look like, as long as we get decent service for once!”). In particular I was glad that the report specifically mentioned the fear that larger vehicles would result in frequency reductions: “However, some felt that larger vehicles would imply that there would be less frequent service, which is not desirable.” Unfortunately that wording seems to downplay it as merely a possibility, when it would seem to be more certain than that (at least based on TTC policy and past experience).


  4. I read the new low floor car specs. I don’t understand why it says “The base vehicle for the existing network would be configured for the operation with single cab and single side doors.”

    I thought the new cars would have many doors on a side so that loading would be speeded up.

    Steve: What this refers to is single-ended operation – doors on one side of the car – as opposed to double-ended operation like a subway car.

    Also – what counts as a ride now? More people are using passes – so they use it for shorter trips. For example – from Loblaws at Bathurst and St. Clair, people who now have passes will now take the TTC for a short trip instead of walking home with their groceries because they have a pass and it doesn’t cost anymore. They wouldnt have taken the streetcar/bus if it cost a token.

    If I use a pass to make a trip that has two parts – how does this count as # of riders? Is this one ride or two? (And how would the ride counters know?)

    Steve: There has to be a big discussion about how to charge for fares in the new era of smart cards, and the likely “single fare” would consist of a time-limited pass. You swipe your card to establish the start of a “trip” and it is then good for two hours from that point onward regardless of where you go. A “monthly pass” would allow unlimited riding, and obviously it is easy to construct any variation in between (day passes, weekly passes, etc).

    Any system that attempt to handle more complex fare structures involving zones or distance travelled requires a much more substantial “back end” capacity to track the movement of smart cards, and also needs to deal with exit from the system as well as entry. If the GTTA is smart, they will opt for the simple version described above, but I am sure that the technology freaks (and their lobbyists) would love to see as complex a system as possible.

    A hybrid is also possible for premium fare services such as GO where the system would track entrance/exit for those trip segments. Fare integration with local systems would be handled by recognition that someone who used GO recently (say within the last hour) is entitled to a free or reduced rate on a local system.

    At this point nothing has been decided, and the possible variations go on and on.


  5. Karl, the new Class EA only applies to municipal agencies. It does not apply to GO Transit which is a provincial agency. GO Transit has its own Class EA process.


  6. It’s kind of funny in reference to the TTC report on the streetcars. The survey showed a map of where the responses came from. I was the lone dot in Woodbridge by 7 & Weston with another 1 person from the Martin Grove area. Clearly, transit needs to be taught more to the city of Vaughan or the potential subway extension will be total doom!

    The report states that they are looking to single direction, single side doors? What’s your response to that?

    Steve: Double-ended cars are essential for the new Transit City lines, and I hope that the spec changes when we come to procure the “suburban” fleet.


  7. Would the Class EA process apply to light rail projects with a substantial underground portion, e.g. Eglinton (if built underground as planned), or would it still be subject to the individual EA process?

    Steve: Only a true subway is subject to an individual EA. The Eglinton LRT project will use the Class EA process.


  8. “Steve: Double-ended cars are essential for the new Transit City lines, and I hope that the spec changes when we come to procure the “suburban” fleet.”

    Why are double-ended cars are essential for the Transit City lines?

    Steve: If we use single-ended cars, then any point where there is to be a turnback must accommodate a loop. This has major implications for property requirements, and for underground sections such as Eglinton, it’s a major construction problem. If the cars are double-ended and can reverse just like subway cars, then all that is needed is a crossover or a pocket track.

    Double-ended cars also give the option of left side loading so that cars in both directions can share a common centre platform. This makes stations much cheaper to build as you only need one set of accessibility equipment (escalators and elevators) to serve the common platform, and this platform can be narrower than the combined widths of two side platforms.

    In older, high-floor cars like our current streetcars, having doors on both sides cost floor space for the additional stepwells. However, with a low floor car, there is no stepwell, and the “offside” from the platforms can be used for standee space.


  9. I have read with interest the “people’s” wishes for new street cars. More seats seems to be a major wish and while running double ended cars may make for more flexibility in operating “where there are crossovers”, it does remove five double seats per section or a total of 20 seats per car. The TTC seems to also be leaning to an all low floor vehicle instead of a 70% low floor vehicle and I believe that this is a mistake because:

    a) all the low floor vehicles have longitudinal seating in the three “truck sections” which reduces seating capacity.
    b) it puts in an extra two articulations which are a maintenance problem and areas of reduce seating.

    While the high floor ends do introduce steps they also allow more seating in an area where double double seating will not impede access to the doors. In the all low floor design you would have to put the double double seating in the suspended sections to obtain a similar seating capacity and this would slow down loading and unloading. From my experience the low floor end sections of the Combino cars were underutilized compared to the rest of the car because no one seemed like the longitudinal seating and it was not easy to get to the doors because there were transverse seats before the exits. The end sections also appeared to be quite long, probably to help balance the suspended section, and were mainly wasted space as few people used them.

    In regards to the trolley pole versus pantograph debate could we apply for a “historical or heritage board” recognition for the poles and perhaps tap into some extra funding? I do like the idea of hostler controls though the rear window would have to open so that the operator could guide the pole. Perhaps we could follow Melbourne’s lead and have a couple of historic “dinner trams” that would take you on a tour of Toronto while you ate a gourmet dinner. I would love to do this in a blinding blizzard.


  10. I only asked that question of about the double-ended cars for your opinion, I am 100% for that. Streetcars are slow, and old. LRT is modern and fast. If Toronto’s view is to change, we have to aim for the modern LRT. The report states that Toronto is planning for SINGLE ENDED, Single Sided new LRV’s because many loops exist and there can be more space on the vehicle for operation.

    This makes me wonder if Toronto is proposing to have an Urban Streetcar and a suburban LRT vehicle with multiple unit operation and such?

    If that is the case, they should build the suburban LRT in a standard guage while they are at it.

    Another question is, will junctions be underground or will they be like the current crappy downtown junctions? Example: Jane & Finch or Don Mills and Eglington. I would make both lines go for a short underground section so that track connections in all 4 directions can take place below ground. Driving over a track junction is fine downtown when speeds are low and traffic is calm but in the suburbs it would be terrible when cars are going at 60-70 km/hr.

    But the bigger point is that it would be much much more pedestrian friendly to change lines underground between 2 LRT lines then it is to change 2 lines at ground level. Can you imagine the problems that would arise in trying to go from Finch Westbound to Jane Southbound? Same applies to the Don Mills & Eglinton Intersection.

    Steve: Cars are not going to cross track junctions at speed because these will always exist at or near stops. Having said that, I would not be surprised to see an underground option for Don Mills and Eglinton, but Jane and Finch is another matter. The level of service on the Don Mills and Eglinton lines would probably force an underground station, but I’m not so sure about Jane/Finch.

    A related design issue will be whether we let passengers walk across the tracks underground, or if we segregate movements using a mezzanine. My previous comments about the simplicity of centre platforms come in here because the number of up/down paths is considerably reduced. However, any mezzanine would also make the station much deeper and more expensive.


  11. I think new cars will have to be 100pc low floor if only because of the amount of confusion the Orion VII buses cause people. I think it’s because it seems like the back of the bus has a low ceiling when it’s the front of the bus has a higher one than usual.


  12. I cannot understand why we must choose between 100% low-floor and partial low-floor with interior steps between levels. If the problem we’re trying to solve is loading level at the edge of the doorway then why can’t we simply apply the theory of “low-loading” only? A properly designed “low-loading” vehicle would have a sloping floor rising up from the doorway towards the centre of the car and then a continued gradual rise lengthwise down the car towards the truck location. Substantial level floor area would still be possible, but a long slope would encourage drainage of melted snow in the winter.

    This would prevent a great portion of the technical compromises currently plaguing 100% low-floor LRVs. If, as stated in the latest information from the TTC, we must move to a new fare system that eliminates collection by the driver to accomodate the new vehicle design, then there is no need to have every doorway on the car equally low-loading or step-less. Folks with wheelchairs or strollers or any other large wheeled contraption will be able to board perfectly well at the centre doors where the loading is lowest and smoothest. This also means we don’t have to carve out wide-open aisles throughout the length of the vehicle to facilitate movement of such obstructions outside of an adequate designated area. The problem of wheel wells eating up too much space within the vehicle when the floor is lowered wouldn’t be as much of a problem either as such, especially if the floor is not equally low throughout. There would also be more room under the floor for the major electrical gear. This gear has been moved almost entirely to the roof in low-floor vehicles creating either an open unsightly mess (as in the Boston Type 8) or full-length cowling that bulks-up the roof and makes the vehicle appear much more imposing than it should.

    Please explain to me why this theory is not even being discussed. Surely a very small adjustment to the Bombardier Minneapolis design would accomplish this. If it met the requirements of the Disability Act in the US then it must be adequate here.


  13. Steve said, “There has to be a big discussion about how to charge for fares in the new era of smart cards.”

    While I understand that there is little benefit to the TTC of imlementing smart cards (relative to the cost), there is one substantial feature, if they are implemented properly: the transit user does not have to purchase their daily/weekly/monthly passes up front.

    A swipe of the card deducts the cost of a fare (ideally, at the token/ticket rate!) and gives you two hours of use. Any swipe within the next two hours, and nothing is deducted as the swipe is treated as if you were using a transfer to board. After the two hours, you are charged another fare. No big surprise here.

    The feature that might actually attract some new riders is that swiping would be capped on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. If you actually swiped it during a one-day period enough times when it deducted a fare, the deduction would be capped at the price of a day pass. Not having to decide at the start of the day if you should use a day pass versus single tickets or tokens is a nice benefit. Continuing on in the week, once the price of a weekly pass has been deducted off your card, no further deductions would take place for the week, and the same would hold true for the rest of the month once you have the cost of a monthly pass deducted. You would also be able to get a record (perhaps through a web page) that shows when you actually “bought” monthly and weekly passes for income tax purposes.

    Of course, the system would have to be set up to provide this automatic capping, but I would suspect that it will take benefits like this to make the system worthwhile (meaning, it will attract new riders).

    On a related note, has there ever been consideration to a 30-day pass, that would be good for a month starting on the day of its first use? Some other cities have this, and I was recently asked by some visitors in town for several weeks from one of our overseas offices.

    Steve: At this point, there are no specifics under discussion about fare options, and this is something the entire GTTA will have to debate if we are to have a unified system.


  14. On the issue of whether Jane & Finch should be underground? I was actually thinking it might require more than just that. It’s easy to pretend that there’s NO reason why Finch Ave is 6 lanes from Weston Road to Jane Street. The truth of the matter is, its purpose is to accommodate the heavy traffic that comes from the 12 lane highway 400. I for one, living near to the area can say that its definitely NOT underused.

    Furthermore, if traffic is so high in that stretch from Weston to Jane then it would definitely 100% sure cause the LRT operation to be affected. I would say the best solution is to either elevate or make the LRT underground from Jane St to Weston Road with no stops in between. It might be expensive but if we want to make the service to north-west toronto reliable, we have to make sure it doesn’t get tangled in the highway bound traffic around highway 400. The amount of trucks in that area would surprise you, but they all come from the Finch & Keele area where a large refinery is located.

    From Weston Road and west and Jane St and east it can come to ground level and resume operation. I might have to also suggest the same idea for Eglinton Ave from around Don Mills to Wynford Ave just to make sure LRT service can be reliable without getting caught in traffic but the DVP is not as big as the 400 so I’m not sure if its as necessary.

    These stretches of LRT need to be addressed in this matter or it will cause massive delays to the LRT and it will do the same for vehicle traffic also. It benefits nobody.

    I hope the city of Toronto studies this when they do the EA for Transit City because factors like these cannot be ignored. A truck is always a truck, it can’t carry freight on public transport. There isn’t enough space along Finch or Don Mills to maintain 6 lanes and an LRT route but moreover, the extra offramp traffic lights which would cause further delays.


  15. I would like to make some comments about the METROPASS and fares in general.

    One. I agree TTC fares are high by North American standards. And yes they could be cheaper, and that would attract more people and car drivers out of their cars. That being said, I do want to say that if you sit down and think about it, what seems like really high fares, really is not a bad deal.

    A METROPASS priced at $109.00 works out to $3.63 a day. Not bad for someone who uses transit for most of their trips.

    What about commuters you say. Well even if someone was to work out the METROPASS for Mon-Fri travel, it works out to $5.45 a day. Pretty good deal. Don’t tell me that if you have to pay to park, and include your gas and other car expenses, that it is cheaper to drive.

    It is funny how car drivers have no problem shelling out hundreds of dollars a month for their cars and related costs. Yet having to pay a little extra on the TTC makes them say they will drive. Well you know what, the TTC is still a bargin.

    And on a North American outlook, TTC is not the most expensive. If all the people from the 905 that were complaining here about the idea of paying for parking at Downsview and increased fares were living in Washington DC, you would be. Many American systems not only charge parking, but charge higher fares based on distance. Manyriders on the DC METRO pay over $4.00 one way.

    So yes transit could be made more attractive by being cheaper. But at the cost it is now, transit is still a bargin. And I would rather pay more and have good service, then pay less and have crappy service.

    And that comes to another point. I am upset transit is not getting the funding it needs. But I am fine with paying more for my METROPASS to maintain the service I have, because I value the TTC. I have been to many North American cities and studied their transit systems. And at the end of the day, TTC is the best. The service I receive on my suburban Scarborough street is outstanding. The TTC for some lack of vision, still maintains a great network. And that is why our ridership is the highest per capita in N. A.

    You either want to use transit or not. If 15 cents is going to push you into your car, then go. If you want to be stupid enough to sit in traffic, go ahead.
    But for me, the extra 9 bucks is not a bad deal at all. And I fully stand behind a transit system that I feel is doing the best it can with the resources it has.


  16. Hi Steve,

    Is it known what locations the TTC eyes for the yards for new LRT cars? Are the existing streetcar yards considered to host the new LRT vehicles?

    The yard locations will in part determine which Transit City lines get to be build first.


    Steve: There is a study of this in progress. Almost certainly, there will be new yards for at least some of the new fleet as (a) the new and old fleets have to co-exist and (b) existing carhouses require extensive retrofits to handle any new equipment.

    Clearly, we are not going to run the Sheppard East LRT from Roncesvalles Carhouse.


  17. Re: Meeting about new streetcar loop at park Lawn

    Here’s my concern:

    Service to Long Branch will get worse. I could see the following happening: 1/3 to Sunnyside, 1/3 to Park lawn and only 1/3 to Long Branch (instead of 1/2 we supposedly get now.)

    Steve: I believe that Park Lawn will eventually replace Humber Loop. As for service to Long Branch, it needs to be split off from the 501.


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