Now It’s Time For Ridership Growth Strategy Two (Updated)

[The original version of this post, up to the point where the update starts, appeared as a guest column on the Op Ed page of the Toronto Sun on January 5, 2008.] 

[Updated January 4, 2008 – see end of post for the changes.] 

Here we are in 2008. We’ve survived threatened cutbacks to service and even have hopes of improvements starting in mid-February with more to come through the year. Mayor Miller’s 100 new buses and Mt. Dennis bus garage will operate, eventually. Plans are afoot for a new streetcar fleet and a huge expansion of rail services via Transit City.

Often, people ask why I’m not satisfied with our plans, and the answer is simple: as an advocate, it’s my job to never be satisfied, to always say “you can do better and we want more”. In that spirit, this thread is intended to ask: what should happen after RGS? What should we aim for next?

In a separate thread’s comments, there’s an important issue about Transit City: we need to establish minimum service levels for major surface routes that are much more like subway standards. Today, we run trains every five minutes everywhere even though there are times that half that service would be adequate for the demand. Why? Because part of the allure of a subway is that you don’t have to wait a long time for it to show up. Moreover, a good chunk of the operating cost relates to the stations and infrastructure, and the trains are a comparatively cheap addition once the line exists.

People on Transit City routes, and even on major surface routes that are not part of Transit City need the same sort of guaranteed service quality.

The TTC hopes to implement two RGS changes later this year. First, service will run on all routes whenever the subway is open. If a route exists, it runs 7 days/week, 19 hours/day. Second, no headway will be worse than 20 minutes anywhere. Both of these will fill out the network and get us back to the idea that transit isn’t just something we run when hordes of people want to use it.

However, a next step might be to designate “A-list” routes, major routes where the maximum headway is no worse than 10 minutes.

With new buses finally coming into play in 2008, we will see reduced crowding during the peak period because the TTC will actually meet their own loading standards. Great stuff, but what happens if we set the loading standard so that there is more room for growth on major routes? What happens if we actually try to encourage people to use the system by making it frequent and if not uncrowded, at least less than jam-packed?

By late 2008, it’s possible the TTC and their political masters will be feeling rather pleased with themselves. Press releases will be issued. Similing faces will appear in front of buses and streetcars everywhere. The job will be done.

No, that’s only for starters.  We need the next round of plans on the table before the year is out.

RGS was first proposed when David Miller was still a Councillor, and it’s taken ages to implement with no end of bureaucratic and political interference, not to mention a fiscal crisis or two. While Miller is still Mayor, it would be nice to see a second round of RGS hit the streets so that Toronto can take on the challenge of making transit a better alternative to driving.

We won’t do it overnight, but we will never do it if we stop after one long-overdue effort.

Update: Today I learned that the TTC is working on a scheme for better bus service.  According to Chair Adam Giambrone:

The TTC is developing a Transit City Bus plan that will likely include max 10 minute service to match subway hours at a grid of streets and new separated bus ROW’s.

Some streetcar lines have service worse than every 10 minutes at times.  This should not just be a plan for the bus system.

Examples include Harbourfront (off season), Queen (west of Humber Loop), and evening service on King, Dundas and Carlton on some days. Some of these will probably qualify as part of the “grid of streets”.

Good news if and when we see this plan on the street, but the service has to actually show up.

72 thoughts on “Now It’s Time For Ridership Growth Strategy Two (Updated)

  1. As a follow-up to my last post and one in another thread:

    If urban planners are regularly accessing your website as a research tool for their jobs, why is it that they frequently make truely bone-headed decisions that fly in the face of community opinion and general common sense?

    Another article in today’s Toronto Star mentions the planned re-configuration of the Six Points road interchange in Etobicoke. Local residents are opposed to the changes because none of it makes any sense. I happened across the study document quite a while ago and already came up with exactly the same concerns on my own about how traffic flow is going to be completely decimated by any variation of the proposal.

    So the questions arise, who are these people, where do they get these ideas from, and why on earth are they not listening to the people affected by the changes nor common sense itself??? Choosing which one of six bullets in a six-chamber revolver you get shot with really isn’t much of a choice at all. That’s what the options in most planning consultations feel like. Maybe if they would actually listen they would put the gun down and discover that there are plenty of intelligent and articulate folks out there who can offer an entire ‘barrel’ of thoughful and workable ideas to choose from. I’ll even make it fun for them – I’ll put those ideas on apples, fill the barrel with water, and then they can go bobbing for them! I’ll call it a ‘think-tank’.

    It would seem the only think-tank we’re ever dealing with is a ‘barrel o’ monkeys’! (I could go on all night, but I won’t……)


  2. Now a perspective from the “right”:

    While I personally laud the initiative undertaken for RGS II, I will note that similar efforts have been attempted in York Region as well as in Ottawa in the early 80s, both with disasterous results (this according to conversations with local bus drivers in both areas).

    In both cases, bold ridership plans were made in order to create an incentive for people to take transit. For Ottawa, it meant a case of increased operating times as well as increased frequency, while in York Region, it meant that service on all routes was run clear until midnight, even with hour-long intervals.

    So what happened? The Taxpayers of both areas complained. They complained of empty buses plying the streets and considered it a waste of money. While the improvements to Ottawa transit were simply cut back, the damage to York Region is a lot more severe: frequencies in Markham, Vaughan, and Richmond Hill were decreased and the local routes stopped running after 8 pm. Richmond Hill ceased to run service on weekends (Saturday Service was reintroduced later on). You could say that this ignorance by taxpayers contributed to the preference of the automobile in this region.

    The whole point is that while I respect RGS II (as well as Transit City) and its intentions, be prepared for a possible backlash in which the taxpayers of Toronto wonder why all their “tax money” is being “wasted” on “useless initiatives” like this when they would like their “property tax cut” instead.

    Steve: I agree that we have to avoid over-servicing areas that clearly have no demand. However, a few caveats:

    Hourly service is not “service”. Try telling someone who wants to use the system casually that they have to (a) know the schedule and (b) hope the bus is actually on time.

    My proposal that some routes be placed on an “A list” where the minimum service standard (ie maximum headway) would be better than the system as a whole is intended to deal with situations where, for example, the Finch East bus is more important as part of the core system than the Rosedale bus. We will never get the policy headways down to a good level for trunk routes if we have to run those headways everywhere, every day.

    The important thing is that people can expect reasonable service actually get it almost all of the time.


  3. I just did a little “fact-finding” around the office here and noted the following attitude towards the RGS II plans:

    Most of my co-workers are against it. There are two reasons behind this logic:

    1) Requires funding for this to be a reality. To them, such a “transit plan” means that funding from the province or feds are required to make this a reality. And they do not like the idea of their tax dollars spent on a city which is “leaking money all over the place” (whichever way you interpret it)

    2) They feel that consideration should be given to the Subway Extension to Vaughan (where our office is located). They still believe that the demand for this line far outstrips the benefits generated by RGS II.

    The whole point behind this is simple: RGS II will have a fight on its hands for it to be reality. This similar mentality may explain why it took RGS I so long to materialize.

    Plans geared towards improvements in Public Transit are never a cakewalk. There will always be opposition who will believe public transit is best served when every bus is as full as a sardine tin-can and every subway line goes up to your front door.

    Steve: I am much amused that your cohorts can condemn a proposal even though we don’t actually know what it would consist of, what it could cost (net) and how many new riders it would attract to transit. This is in the best tradition of informed comment on public policy.

    I suggest that we leave the good burghers of Vaughan steaming away in their cars on overcrowded roads. I don’t want another penny of my tax money going to subsidize fat, lazy Vaughnites who expect my transit system to absorb the cost of operating their new subway.

    The sad part of this is that the amount of money needed to make RGS II happen will probably not be very much at all. Far less than the interest on the debt we will incur to build the Vaughan Subway.


  4. Hi Steve and Stephen:-

    Now we’re talkin’! The suburbanites that know how transit should run and be funded. They all of course have their version of the Queen car and Dufferin bus that they can deride from their first hand and extensive public transit knowledge. Be careful who you’re interviewing Stepehen; they may not know of what they speak!

    Of course when the Vaughan subway reaches their happy sleepy hollow those in your office Stepen are going to find every excuse in the book why they won’t ride it. It doesn’t go to my door, it doesn’t have the frequency of my needs. It doesn’t stop at my desk. It costs me money. $2.75 is outrageous. The operator said ‘good morning’ to me, couldn’t the jerk see that I wasn’t in the mood; I’ll never ride that line again with that kind of rudeness. What, I have to wait for a bus to transfer to the sleek and zoomy train?? Should I go on?

    If any of those transit experts did ride it, it would probably be to take their kid on the nice choo choo to the nasty city for their Disney ride and turn around and come right back again for fear of being soiled by the south of Steeles reality. There, see I told ya’ so, they’d say!!

    Mr. D., the suburb phobic transit phial.


  5. In some ways I think the TTC is a good model for LA to base its transit system on. Here are some lessons for LA:

    1) Express buses. LA used to run an extensive network of express buses from everywhere to downtown. Very few are left – really only those that run on dedicated bus ways. Why? Even if they were full (which they mostly weren’t) they still cost so much more than local buses or light rail to operate. Why? There was no passenger turnover. Everyone was going a long distance. Even a premium fare wasn’t enough to cover the difference.

    2) “Rapid” buses. LA runs an extensive network of “rapid” buses. If the TTC operates Finch East express all day it’ll kind of be like that. What happens is that the local service gets cannibalized. A route that could have bus service every 12 minutes instead has a local bus that operates every 30 minutes and a rapid that runs every 20. Is this really better service?

    Once we take care of overcrowding, is there really a large contingent of people who drive right now but would take slow local bus service? I would have to think many of these corridors have about as high a transit share as they are likely to ever get, at least during peak hours.


  6. Without having read all the posts, I would add that the phrase “Ridership Growth Strategy” is scary. What the TTC does NOT need is more riders, it needs fewer riders. I had to wait for 8 trains on the Yonge line to get on one going home from College station Monday, and the subway was broken yesterday. The TTC can’t handle the riders it has now, it does NOT need more.

    To combat this, the first thing that should be done is to steeply raise fares to increase revenue and decrease ridership. Off peak fares could stay the same, but doubling (at least) peak time fares will produce the best results, fastest and most cheaply.


  7. Now now, we don’t necessarily want to kick the Suburbanites in the groin over the RGS vs Spadina Subway issue. I merely pointed out that there is still a lot of misinterpretations on the part of these suburbanites on the benefits of a subway versus faster and better general service. We still need to find ways to wean them out of their cars if and when it is possible, not everyone can be expected to drop their cars just like that. This is where VIVA comes in. Sure, it has been excoriated as a sub-par bus line that could hardly be considered a rapid transit line, but like it or not, it ihas had a successful start and should only be considered as a first step to providing people north of Steeles with convenient service.

    For a lot of people, including myself, there is a reason why we drive, and that is because of inadequate public transportation links between where we live and where we work. York Region does not have the large downtown towers or the large swaths of high-density housing that Toronto has, so that fostering convenient transit links is that much harder. No surprise there that most roads in that region are six lanes wide.

    Further conversations about this with my fellow co-workers revealed that they are further out to lunch about this subway. One said that it would undoubtedly spur high-density development in the immediate area. A second said that the subway should run north to Major Mackenzie, connecting with Canada’s Wonderland and Vaughan Mills Mall. A third agreed with the second saying that Jane Street would thus become Vaughan’s version of Yonge Street with potential redevelopment. Of course, I was left chuckling at these “facts” but we all know what kind of hogwash these argunents really are.

    Despite this, we really cant flip the bird to the “North-Of-Steelers” and simply let them suffocate in their own gridlock. They’d simply use that attitude against us in their demands for that brand spanking new expressway to the downtown core. Nor can we give them their vaunted “Subway to Nowhere”. What’s needed is an improvement of the existing transit infrastructure up there, more BRTs and possibly LRTs in the future. Sort of like a RGS for York Region, but taxpayers are weary about what happened the last attempt this “stunt” was pulled.

    Note to Steve: the hourly intervals proposed by the earlier transit improvements in York Region was to make transit accessible at all times between 6-12 am. They simply did not have the resources to increase frequencies better than the 60-minute headway. Given the option to decrease headways and provide later service, I think they made the right decision, even if it was tanked shortly afterwards.


  8. Joe in response to your comment let me tell you what happend to me today on my first trip on the DVP in nearly a year. (And the last one for at least a year, I hope.) I had to use the car because I had to help a freind move from the 905 to downtown. I had put boxes in my van and followed his U haul down the 404 and the DVP.

    The bottleneck at the 401 was insane people swerving in and out of traffic, people in their SUVs cutting me off because of my lack of aggression, the time it took from start to finish was 86 minutes. Seven minutes longer then last year when we went downtown and didn’t take transit because he calls it the “Welfare Express.”

    Anyway the point of my story is that if we double fares those people will use the 404 and DVP and no one wants that, Drivers, enviromentalists, transit enthusists, everyone. We do need to expand capacity and ATO should be part of RGS 2.

    The 905 needs to get their heads out of foregin places and start to realize that the auto is not all that is cracked up to be. It maybe be flexible in some degrees in others it is not. I drive to the grocery store when needed and I carpool downtown from Scarborough via Kingston Rd. because when you have eight people in my van then I will drive downtown because it is justified.

    One person in a huge SUV is gross and a waste. I would like to see four people in a car or van, thats 25% of traffic and no congestion.

    For the people who complain about traffic do something about it, start a carpool organisation, that will help so much. You don’t need to take transit to help with the traffic problems it just takes grabbing a couple of coworkers wherever possible split the cost of gas among the passengers using your car and go. It is cheaper and can go a long way.

    Of course, it won’t happen — the love affair with the overpriced SUV is what is causing traffic congestion in the first place and that’s why we need more and more transit to try and keep the cars at home.


  9. “I had to wait for 8 trains on the Yonge line to get on one going home from College station Monday, and the subway was broken yesterday.”

    And the TransitCity plan is to shunt even more people onto the main lines.

    Steve: Actually, Transit City is intended primarily to provide better service between suburban locations. A side effect may be some growth in subway demand, but far more of this will come from schemes such as increased capacity with bus lanes on Yonge Street north and eventually extending that subway.

    There is a huge problem in the lack of growth in capacity on GO Transit (and of making this capacity available to inside-416 travellers to downtown at reasonable cost), but this was masked for several years by the general economic conditions and employment level in the core. Now that things have changed, including the price of fuel and cost of operating a private car, GO is whacked with a great deal of latent demand. Some of the growth in subway demand could be on GO, if only we looked at the two networks as serving the same market.


  10. I think we all tend to forget that transit services not operate in a vacuum. We can improve bus or subway service all we want. But it does not mean ridership will go up, if jobs are still located in suburban wasteland office parks in the 905. Any ridership growth improvments also have to follow with improved land use guidelines.

    Want to increase transit use? Just move the jobs back into downtown Toronto. 50-80% of suburban commuters destined to downtown Toronto take transit depending on the suburb. In fact the outer 905 suburbs have higher transit use to downtown with something like 80% of workers taking transit downtown. While the 416 suburbs dip to the 50-60% mark(That market share I am sure could go up for transit, if TTC was not so slow from many parts of the 416).

    So the key here is to put jobs back in the core and along the subway routes, like the old METRO did. There is a reason TTC was a world model for ridership in a largly suburban style North American city. And that is because until the 90’s, something like 80% of office development was built in downtown Toronto and long the subway lines.

    Jobs must be centrally located to make transit viable. As the GTA gets bigger, I think we are going to have to really sit the 905 down, and tell them the jobs just can not continue to flow out to the outskirts, and that Toronto must take a leading role again as the centre of the region for employment. People will not take transit from Oshawa to Burlington for work. But they will take transit from Oshawa to downtown Toronto to work.

    So here is my ridership growth strategy.

    Encourage massive employment growth into downtown Toronto again, like we did in the post WWII era.
    Encourage spill over employment growth into North York City Centre, and create a super large Uptown district.
    Encourage some spill over into regional nodes like Scarborough City Centre.
    Discourage growth in the outer 905 region, and enact a sprawl tax on all office parks in the 905 region, raising their tax rates to double what a company would pay to locate in downtown Toronto or along the subway routes.

    So that is what needs to be done. The only reason Toronto had high ridership before is because we were far more centralized and offered good transit to get you to work in those central areas.

    In fact almost everyone I have come into contact takes transit downtown. But they won’t step foot near a bus to do a suburb to suburb trip or intra suburb trip. And that is not going to change anytime soon.

    Our ridership is tied to the health of downtown Toronto more than people think.

    Steve: This is all very well, but it ignores two fundamental facts. First, the 905 is already there and we have to deal with it. Second, you are not going to shut off employment growth in the 905 and concentrate it within the 416. Aside from the many voters who would do really nasty things to any government that tried this, there are legions of property developers who consider it their divine right to build as much as possible on every inch of land throughout southern Ontario. Take both of those constituencies on and you will find your electoral prospects rather limited.

    With transit, we have to do as much as we can to get those riders who can feasibly make the switch. The die-hard car users and those whose commutes simply don’t fit on a transit pattern are way down the list of our potential converts.

    We have a problem today that transit is not as good as it should be just about everywhere, and horror stories about how the TTC can’t even run frequent services in the middle of downtown, let alone on a suburban arterial, don’t exactly imply that transit is an alternative to driving. Wait times and unpredictable service are probably the single greatest problems. Indeed, the time that would be saved by various priority and express schemes is probably less than what could be saved simply by running reliable service. I’m not saying “no” to improvements in the operating environment, but these only go so far, and if the TTC’s operating strategy produces unreliable, infrequent service, nobody who has a choice will ride it.


  11. I will second Steve’s comment about the 905 already being there. But at the same time, I understand Michael’s comment about the need to limit growth in the 905 area. The biggest problem that the 905 area has basically wasted space. That is, low density housing with parking lots for 2, 3, or even 4 cars. We also have large industrial and office areas with acres and acres of parking. In fact, the office I work in has a large parking lot the size of a baseball diamond. Sure, there are some multilevel parking garages in the 905 area but mostly it is large single level swaths of concrete and asphalt for a lot of cars.

    The way I see it, part of the blame lies on the 905 regions for wanting to “spread out” rather than concentrate their business and residential areas, as well as the OMB for allowing this to happen. (I was never an OMB fan ever since the Oak Ridges Moraine Fiasco). The answer is not to reverse growth back to the 416 region, but rather allow for a concentration of existing development to higher densities so that public transit would be viable.

    Taking Michael’s comments one by one:

    “Encourage massive employment growth into downtown Toronto again, like we did in the post WWII era.”

    Sure, no problems here. As long as you are not doing it at “someone else’s” expense (someone else being a rather general term).

    “Encourage spill over employment growth into North York City Centre, and create a super large Uptown district.
    Encourage some spill over into regional nodes like Scarborough City Centre.”

    With this comment, why don’t we encourage spill over employment growth in certain areas of the 905 including such “regional nodes”? There are countless numbers of these possible “nodes” in Peel Region (Airport Corporate Centre, Square One Corporate area, Hurontario and Burnhamthorpe, Downtown Brampton, Bramalea City Centre, etc) as well as York Region (Beaver Creek Corporate area, Richmond Hill Terminal, Vaughan Corporate Centre). They don’t need to be connected via a subway, but through convenient public transit links. If there was a convenient transit option that got me to my office in 30 minutes, I’d take it even if it took me 20 to drive.

    “Discourage growth in the outer 905 region, and enact a sprawl tax on all office parks in the 905 region, raising their tax rates to double what a company would pay to locate in downtown Toronto or along the subway routes. ”

    What Steve said. This is political suicide for anyone crazy to attempt this. In fact, I hear that the REVERSE applies, that is, it costs more money to locate next to a subway line, compared to less in the suburbs. This is because the demand for downtown office space is still high compared to the 905 area. And lest I mention “Air Space” fees for companies that build on top of subway stations.


  12. Building transit to serve suburb to suburb travel is folly. Land-use patterns make it basically unworkable. Those areas were regrettably designed for car travel and transit simply cannot be made to ape individual vehicle travel patterns effectively. The new-ish subway in famously spread-out L.A. runs mostly empty.


  13. I didn’t intend to provide an exact comparison. Any option has a set of pluses and minuses for service – as well as operating and capital costs. I suspect the TC cost of $6.5 billion is not all inclusive – and I do remember reading that it doesn’t include a provision for $70 million in operating costs.

    The point is that a large increase in express bus service (25% of overall TTC service) could be provided in perpetuity (capital and operaing) for the $6.5 billion – and have a lot left over – even with a few bus garages. Not all buses need be hybrid.

    Were these types of alternatives explored? Is there a TC study that looked at the bang for the buck for different alternatives?


  14. re Matthew Kemp ‘ comment:

    I don’t think doubling peak fares would not increase car usage, it would encourage people to take discretionary rides (shopping trips, visiting people) at off peak times and encourage more people (those who can) to change their work hours to non-9 to 5 times. In effect reducing peak demand. I would also guess it would increase revenue so other services could be improved. I paid $7 for a subway ride in Stockholm last year (cheaper if you buy a book of tickets or a monthly pass) and it was not cattle car packed! There is a lot of room for the TTC to dramatically increase fares. It would solve a lot of problems.

    Steve: The one problem it would not solve is that we want fewer people to drive, not more. Moreover, it would place the burden of the higher cost of peak period transit use on precisely the people who don’t have the flexibility to change their work patterns and penalize them for the fact that their employers are unenlightened trolls.

    Figure out a way to reward companies for having flexible starting and ending times, and recognize that the rush hour is long enough now that the window of times needs to be fairly wide.

    Extend the period of near-peak level transit service so that people who choose to work non-standard hours can actually get to and from work without making an appointment with the transit system.


  15. 2Michael B:

    I agree with Parts 2 and 3 of your proposal (encouraging employment growth in North York and other regional centers), but disagree with Part 1 (encouraging growth in the downtown core).

    The problem with packing employment into downtown is that the average commute distance will increase, which might cause an increase in energy consumption and greenhouse emission instead of decreasing it. Transit vehicles consume energy, too; surely they need less per rider per kilometer than private cars, but if they have to travel much longer, they might consume more overall.

    Rather than encouraging office growth in downtown, we should try to forecast the growth that will occur there naturally, and support it with adequate increase in the transit capacity. Currently, the downtown lines are amongst the most packed on the system. What needs to be encouraged is condo construction in the core, giving people a chance to live within walking distance or a short transit ride from their offices.

    Both in the outer 416 and in the more dense parts of 905, employment should be encouraged to concentrate in compact, transit-serviceable areas, linked to the major residential areas by transit lines.


  16. Perhaps the TTC could scrape together whatever money they were going to use for RGS II and use it to educate road designers and planners on how to create more pedestrian and transit friendly communities. Sorry, I must have lost my mind for a second there.

    Maybe we could have more counterflow services. There’s plenty of documentation to show that the number of people leaving the City in the morning is increasing. We also know that the average distance between home and work is increasing. Unfortunately, there’s precious little service devoted to moving people longish distances out of town in the morning. You can’t even take a GO train to Brampton until 10 am and even with flex time the boss is not likely to look kindly upon you sauntering in at 11.

    The TTC seems to have the framework for short-haul (<10 km) trips, but the GTA as a whole needs a layer of coarsely spaced, limited stop, higher speed services to complement the existing system. Transit City should help with this, as will the Brampton, Mississauga and York rapid transit plans, but maybe RGS II should contain elements to improve connections between these systems to reduce passenger waiting times. With the technology available today, it shouldn't be too hard to get buses to connect with each other at key intersections.

    Traffic advantages for buses would be another useful component for RGS II. After all, getting buses along their routes faster and more reliably has several benefits: reduced travel time, more service from a given fleet, and the psychological benefit to riders as they see themselves get ahead of traffic. I think that the psychological benefit would be key to attracting new riders, especially on the bus system which carries an unfortunate stigma of being down-market. It would, however, require serious support of the roads people in order to make it happen. Maybe roads people should be judged, not on the number of vehicles a road carries in an hour, but by the number of people moved along that road in an hour. That would certainly elevate the status of buses when making road design decisions.


  17. We already have more than enough condos existing or under construction in the core of Toronto. What we don’t have and are losing at a stunning pace is local employment and shops to service this residential density.

    I live near Dundas and Bloor. Not long ago most of the significant shops in the massive Crossways towers there closed up. Now we hear that the nearby Zellers and Loblaws will be closed and that entire property turned into condo towers. Also most of the strip of small storefronts on the North-West corner will be flattened and replaced with another enormous condo tower. Where the hell are all these people supposed to shop and work??? Dundas West Station and the Dundas/Bloor intersection are already getting crushed by rush-hour foot and road traffic.

    Same goes for the Galleria Mall at Dupont and Dufferin. It is destined to be replaced with a sea of condo towers. You know full well that everyone will take their cars to Dufferin Mall rather than wait for the unstable and crowded Dufferin bus. But where will the jobs go and when will these people have time to shop if they have to work much farther away?

    The densification of central Toronto is going to reach a crisis point and probable collapse because of the type of development that is occuring. Furthermore, nobody has any free time these days because they have to spend so much time travelling and working. Retail is getting to the point where stores have to stay open ridiculously late or even 24/7 just so people can actually shop. And all those poor folks working those odd hours only reinforce the situation. Walking-distance and short-distance transit trips to work and shopping in Toronto are quickly being eliminated by the rush to develop and sell only condos.

    Toronto needs more employment not just in The Downtown but spread throughout all of the residential areas. If you can work where you live then people might actually be able to afford those shiny new condos and also won’t necessarily need a car. Nor will they choke the Yonge Subway.


  18. 2Kristian:

    But the core downtown area (that around the Yonge and University subway lines south of Bloor) still remains a net importer of commuters, despite the condo construction. More employment there would mean more riders choking the subway lines during peak periods, whereas more condos means their dwellers can walk to the office, or commute against the main traffic flow: north in the morning and south in the evening.

    The Dundas / Bloor area is not “core” in the traffic pattern sense. Sure it is closer to the core than North York, but really is in the same league. There is a good reason to encourage employment growth there, both to employ local residents and to offload the actual core. Actually, the Dundas / Bloor area has quite a potential: a subway line, a GO line, a possibility of LRT line up Weston corridor, and High Park nearby. Perhaps, it could be a new mini-downtown in the making.

    Dupont / Dufferin is another matter: no rapid transit links at present, both streets are quite narrow for a surface LRT, whereas a subway is unlikely due to the proximity of Bloor and Spadina lines. Not sure what can / should be done around there.


  19. All this talk about where growth is going to happen. One thing that I think needs to be addressed more seriously, is the GO network, not just the subway, because we need to give the subway a break until a DRL is in the works.

    The province has already been investing in upgrades to the GO network, some are under construction right now including double-tracking of some single-track corridors. Once such projects are complete, it is only a question of funding and scheduling to get more trains, for example, to Brampton at earlier times in the morning – Weston used to have only one track, and rush hour frequencies inbound in the morning make outbound trains before 9:30 logistically extremely complicated.

    However, the GO network needs to be used as a keyplan map of strategic intensification. Some are easy to work with while others are not. Some like Unionville and Aldershot and Bramalea, all proud shrines to the god of asphalt, are practically blank slates for redevelopment. Yes, we need service improvements, but it’ll only happen with major redevelopment plans around stations and the redevelopments need to be co-ordinated so that at least a portion of a route gets done together and opens together, synchronized with a service increase.

    This allows intensification to happen in most of the region, including parts nobody expects to become anything yet somehow for weird (possibly political) reasons have a GO Station anyway. However, you cannot run service regularly when there’s nothing there at stations to be servicing.


  20. In reading the numerous comments, I see a common thread that is suggesting that Toronto’s council needs to smarten up with the way it does its budgeting. While I am not suggesting that budget woes are not the ONLY issue that leads to some of the problems transit is facing, it is a significant one.

    When the “budget crisis” threatened massive cuts to transit last year, there were some calls for Toronto’s city council to grow some cajones and raise property taxes. The long-term effects of trying to play nice to residential property owners has come to roost…

    Michael B said, “Encourage massive employment growth into downtown Toronto again, like we did in the post WWII era.” The employment shift to the 905 region can be significantly attributed to the difference in property tax hits on business between Toronto and the 905. Prior to changes made in the Harris years, councils in the 416 had a love affair with raising business taxes in order to keep residential taxes low. Not a bad idea, politically, since residential rate payers have a stronger voice at the ballot box. The Harris years tied council’s hands from raising business taxes to the extent they wanted to, but the urge to keep property tax rate payers happy translated into freezing or barely raising property taxes.

    As the exodus of businesses from 416 to 905 occurred, and the desire to keep property rates low continued, the only way to increase revenues is to increase the tax base with more residential properties: condos.

    Kristian said, “We already have more than enough condos existing or under construction in the core of Toronto.” That depends on your point of view. I basically agree with the sentiment, but if you are all for holding residential tax rates down, you might conclude there are not enough. Also, given that council would rather have a land transfer tax to grab a chunk of cash when a property changes hands instead of collecting an additional 1% of the assessed value of all properties each year, why bother limiting the number of condos?


  21. I am an urban planning student and I tend to study alot the effects on transit use with suburban transit centres, etc.

    So these are my comments about the remarks above.

    Downtown Toronto is the centre of the region. We are not increasing travel times by locating jobs there. We are actually decreasing travel time and improving access. Locating jobs in suburban town centres does not put jobs closer to people, as most people do not live in the suburb they work in. With people moving around more for jobs, suburban employment centres can cause people to have massive commute times. Transit can not serve the suburban job centres in as effective manner as they can downtown.

    At least with downtown Toronto, anyone in the region is within an hours ride of the core via transit for the most part. This can not be said for suburban town centres, where public transit can take two hours even with express services to get someone from one end of the region to a suburban hub.

    Downtown Toronto still has tons of room for employment growth. We only have 400,000 downtown workers. Cities our size in other regions have way more workers. Chicago has over 700,000 downtown workers, and Paris and London have over one million. We have tons of room for growth, and need to improve transit to support downtown.

    If people have to commute downtown it will also decrease sprawl, because someone will not go buy that house out in Barrie, if they have to commute to the city.

    Suburban office employment has done nothing but decrease transit market share, and promote sprawl.

    I will end this post with an interesting stat.

    Calgary has gone the centralized path for office employment. Their transit system is seeing huge ridership increases.

    Vancouver has gone the suburban transit centre decentralized path. Vancouver has the worst % of transit use of all of Canada’s biggest cities. Even Calgary beats Vancouver on the % of people who use public transit to get to work, as does Winnipeg.

    Toronto has gone the half half sort of approach. With lots of focus on downtown with some high density centres in the burbs along the subway. And I think this has worked well. We must put the focus back on the city, or transit will lose out.

    North American cities Toronto included are very decentralized by world standards, and that is why our transit services have problems.

    Chicago understands this and has a plan in place to grow downtown employment over the next 20 years by something like 200,000 or more workers. One big reasons of benefits listed for this plan? You guessed it. Increasing transit market share, and promoting smart growth instead of sprawl.


  22. Andrew Cowles, about the outflow from Toronto. Toronto is at the point where almost equal numbers of people commute out of the city each day for work, as commute in. And guess what? Most of the people commuting out are doing it by car. Enouraging people to commute out to the 905 is not the answer.
    I worked for GO before and had to deal with customers who saw their jobs move from central Toronto out to the boonies of the 905. And the majority of them had to start driving to work, because no matter what transit can not serve these far flung places. I had customers taking transit for 20 or 30 years all of sudden have to start driving, and they did not want to. I was often asked the question “why can’t this job just stay downtown”.

    As far as I am concerned we have allowed the 905 region to take enough jobs and cause enough traffic. Its time to focus back on Toronto. If we keep up what we are doing now, Toronto will be a bedroom community to the 905 before we even know it. Then we can join the ranks of Detroit and San Jose as the only North American cities that see more people commute out of the city each day then come in.

    And we all know transit ridership is not that great in Detroit or SJ 🙂


  23. 2Michael B

    Well, if you have statistics that shows that employment concentration is good for transit, then it is hard for me to argue with you.

    My personal experience seems to tell otherwise though. I live at Steeles and Dufferin (and selected the area partly for transit availability), and the commute to my downtown job usually takes 70 to 75 min (all by TTC). Had my company been located in North York, near Richmond Hill Centre, or in Markham near Hwy 7, I could still use public transit and get there in 30 to 50 min (although if it was at STC or in Mississauga, I would have to drive).

    Not sure if people will stop buying “that house out in Barrie” even if they are compelled to commute downtown. If they see a better value for their money there, and consider that a good investment, many people will suffer a long commute but settle in Barrie anyway.

    Also, we tend to assume that public transit is always more energy efficient and environmentally friendly than private cars, and hence that greater public transit usage is always good. But I think that such assumption is only valid for comparable commutes. If someone commutes by car but travels 1 km each way, he/she might be actually spending less energy than someone who commutes by bus and subway but travels 10 km. If employment is too concentrated, it encourages longer transit commutes.

    Another point to consider is uni-directional versus bi-directional commuter flow. Subways and GO trains bring a lot of people into downtown in the morning, they have substantially less riders to carry the other way, but still have to go there in order to commence another downtown trip. Had the employment been distributed more evenly, those trains could carry more commuters for the same energy consumption.

    Studying the Calgary’s and Vancouver’s experience is important, but it might not fully apply to GTA due to the much larger population of the latter. It might be that Calgary’s population can support one transit-oriented downtown only, while GTA has enough workers / transit riders for several major employment centres.

    Finally, in case the above considerations do not pass the statistics test, and employment growth in Toronto downtown is desirable anyway, then major investments in the downtown transit infrastructure are needed. The currently existing subway and GO lines are near capacity in peak hours. Let’s assume we want to go from 400,000 downtown workers to 500,000. That means we need about 50,000 / hr extra capacity. The WW West LRT line can probably give 5,000 to 10,000. The Yonge line enhancements for 30% more trains can give perhaps 12,000 more. GO service expansions – perhaps 10,000. We are still quite a bit short. The DRL subway, or the rail corridor LRT with very frequent service seems to be a must then – but those do not exist even in blueprints.


  24. I have to agree about the need for re-centralization of employment. There is a constant whine (mainly from The Toronto Star – but unerringly echoed by those who have lost the ability or will for the independent function of the axons located above the deltoids) that sprawl is bad and that those families that have chosen to live in what are mostly quite modest houses in the ‘burbs are evil. The real problem is where jobs are located. People from all over the GTA use GO to get downtown.

    I think our municipal politicians should wake up and smell the roses.


  25. What I meant by too many condos is that they are being built with no concern for the effects they have on a particular area. The boom of condo towers downtown is being built without any insurance that grocery stores and any other basic living needs are put into place, at least not within any reasonable distance of them. The sea on condos on the railway lands is a perfect example of creating a car-dependent culture from scratch.

    The other problem is that former employment lands are being re-zoned like wildfire to allow condo-only development. Condos should be going into land which is already zoned residential so that we don’t permanently lose the ability to construct businesses and services in the neighbourhoods where they are needed, ever more important when the population of a given area shoots way up with the sudden arrival of condos.

    The OMB and weak politicians have made it impossible to prevent these kinds of uncontrolled and poorly thought-out developments from proceeding. By the time we reach a crisis point on lack of local employment and services it will be far to late to fix the problem. There simply won’t be any appropriate land remaining.


  26. People move to Barrie because there they can actually afford a real house. Most people don’t want to live in condos, which is another reason that the condo boom is unjustified. Condos are being built only as a means to maximize profit for the developers due to the density, not because there is strong demand. We’ve been warned many times by the real estate industry that we are approaching a market saturation and value bust on condo units. The developers walk away rich while all the owners get screwed out of their investment.

    A lot of people bought condos only as investments and/or to rent out. Just because there are now tons of condo units downtown doesn’t mean that they’re all occupied and doesn’t mean that the residents are necessarily working in the downtown employment area. Many of the renters are actually college or university students. If the market crashes on condo value then the likelihood of these units housing high-level office tower workers goes dramatically down.

    Don’t kid yourselves – classy and expensive apartment buildings from 50 years ago turned into low-income slums all over the city as they aged. If the required employment and services are not part of the mix with all these new condos then they will become less and less attractive to own and occupy with every passing year.


  27. Talk about recentralization and moving all the offices downtown ignores the reality that small areas formerly considered the wilds of suburbia are rapidly increasing in population and employment density. All the way from Etobicoke to Burlington, offices line the sides of the QEW. Similiar development has happened along the 407, 427, 404 and the 401. Planning can intensify little cores making them more transit friendly, but until then they still need to be served by transit.

    And what about factories and light industrial sites. The logistics of these businesses makes it unlikely that you’d get them back into downtown or even a mini-core on tax breaks alone and so they’re stuck out on the fringes where it makes economic sense. The workers in these places need effective transit to bring them back to their homes. Their homes, which I suspect are likely away from the core out in the places they can afford to live. Yes, planning can help bring peoples homes and employment closer together, but it’s not going to solve everyone’s problems and it’s not going to do it overnight.

    In the meantime, here some other wishes for RGS II.

    Ignore municipal boundaries. These should be abstract notions to a transportation system. Not that I’m advocating the abolition of the TTC, but petty turf wars don’t move riders.

    Better integration with other modes of transit such as walking or biking and, god forbid, drving where it makes sense. Where there are parts of the City that can’t be served well by bus, so be it, but there should be convienient transfer points to get people out of their cars at the earliest point in their journey.

    Timed transfers: want to go to video store – no, not the one down the street, the other one. The one that always has the movie you wnat, but that’s just a bit too far to walk to. That’s a trip that doesn’t make sense without timed transfers. Millions of such trips made by car everyday because a token each way is too rich for the short haul, quick return trip.


  28. Kristian said, “What I meant by too many condos is that they are being built with no concern for the effects they have on a particular area,” and “The other problem is that former employment lands are being re-zoned like wildfire to allow condo-only development.”

    Exactly – it is as if the city is only looking at being able to expand the residential tax base to make up for the exodus that has occurred with businesses. To extend that point: why bother planning for businesses and services in the neighbourhoods where they are needed when the number of business owners wanting to set up shop where business taxes are higher is few and far between.

    The City of Toronto is going to have to take a good hard look at cutting business tax rates, increasing residential tax rates, and making sure that these new areas zoned for residential have a proper amount of businesses and services to provide for local residences.

    Steve: Business tax rates in the city are going down relative to residential rates already with a ten-year plan to phase out the inbalance. One big problem is at Queen’s Park because the education tax, set by them, not by City Hall, is double the level set for the 905. This is a relic of the Harris years that McGuinty has done nothing to redress. Perish the thought that the 905 actually pay its way when you can just pillage the 416 tax base. Get rid of that problem, and business taxes in the 416 wouldn’t be a disincentive.


  29. Steve wrote, “One big problem is at Queen’s Park because the education tax, set by them, not by City Hall, is double the level set for the 905.”

    I agree that both the municipal and education portions should be levelled, but that is a rather misleading statement. The education rate for commercial properties in Toronto was 1.975821% in 2007 (making the total tax rate 4.0932775%). The rate in Oshawa was 1.487553% (making the total take 3.583144%).

    I quote Oshawa, as this is the GTA municipality that has the highest residential property tax rate. This makes the education portion in Toronto less than 33% higher, not double. While there may be some spot in the GTA where the education part of commercial property tax rates might be higher than in Toronto, the trend was only one-third higher or less (e.g.: Richmond Hill and Newmarket are 1.492897%; Mississauga is 1.553938%).

    Let’s keep facts in perspective and not throw around expressions such as, “is double”. 😉

    Steve: “Double” depends on how you do the math and what basis you are using. I agree that the commercial tax rate in Durham is not double that of Toronto. However, if you have a look at a chart on the City of Toronto website, you will see that Durham only pays about 2/3 of its education costs from local taxes compared to Toronto. Peel pays less than half. A substantial increase in local taxes in the regions would be needed to adjust them to the same level as Toronto. The regions are subsidized by Queen’s Park, compared with Toronto, and part of this comes through lower business education taxes.

    As the following post discusses, these taxes will be reduced in Toronto over the period to 2014.


  30. Uh, Steve, aren’t you forgetting the 2007 Ontario Budget? It doesn’t bring Business Education Taxes to exact parity, but it does reduce Toronto’s BET share by $230 million by 2014.

    Tax equality would help Toronto, though downtown will always be more expensive because of land costs. The inner suburbs may have the most to gain by being able to compete for businesses that would otherwise locate north of Steeles. The challenge is to convince these companies it’s worth making their sites a little higher density and transit-friendly. The suburban office park is big across North America, so it’ll be an uphill battle.

    Steve: I note that the reduction for Toronto by 2014 is 19% on the Commercial property class, while there is no change in that class for Peel, Durham or York Region. Thank you for pointing out that this has already been implemented.


  31. Just a note on Toronto’s BET. It’s not exactly true that the Harris government imposed the current rates. If memory serves, the rates were those in place at the time education funding was placed under the provincial formula. Some municipalities negotiated reductions in the provincial BET to match reductions with the municipal portion of the tax. (I guess Toronto didn’t because I don’t remember this being reported – but maybe someone can clarify this.)

    Toronto will benefit from reductions in the BET – but so are some 905 regions. The 905 is also seeing benefit from the GTA pooling arrangment being phased out – which negates a chunk of the BET equaliziation.

    The new Toronto Land Transfer Tax – which applies to commercial at 1.5% up to $40 million – adds to the business tax levels. (If you assume a commercial property is sold every 10 years, this is equivalent to an adder to the mill rate of 0.15%. This is equivalent to about a 7% increase on the municipal mill rate.)

    Bottom line, the planned changes are going to cause a ‘sea change’ in the commercial real-estate balance between Toronto and the 905. More like one hand giving and the other hand taking.


  32. Steve says TTC’s current position is they need a new signal system allowing for wrong-rail operation over single track around work zones. Perhaps ‘signallers’ equipped with telephones (and plug-ins to the circuits to operate the points) could permit trains to operate wrong line? Remember ‘staff’ operation for single lines?

    Re the cost of keeping stations open for late night service it might be best to close two out of three stations, allowing buses to fill in between stations. Would also speed up the services. But probably better would be to plan closures of a line one evening (or even a whole day), say, every three months, to permit the work. Regular ‘blockades’ for major work have been found better in the UK than trying to do a bit at a time spread over years.

    And to correct an impression re London, ALL the early Underground routes were specifically located under streets unless there was open space available, so there are some peculiar kinks still in the layout. Later extensions could use rail corridors, as these were suitably located.

    BRT should be a non-starter. To get anywhere the same level of service as Light Rail, you need the same level of capital expenditure. And to convert from BRT to Light Rail means far more expenditure than doing it right in the first place. Sure bus priority is good, and should be normal, as should priority at traffic lights for streetcars, but this is hardly BRT.

    The most important point is that the Growth Strategy should be ongoing. RGS 1 may be in hand, plans for RGS 2 should be well in the planning stage, and preparation for RGS 3 should be starting.


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