Metrolinx Looks to Europe

The January 25th agenda for Metrolinx contains a number of reports well worth reading. Metrolinx has the advantage, for now, that it is a planning agency and doesn’t have to worry about keeping the wheels turning on a large fleet. The focus is on reviewing conditions in the GTA and, to its credit, Metrolinx is not simply rehashing business-as-usual models.

I have not had a chance to read and digest all of these documents in detail, but will post more commentaries as I get the chance.

A long report reviews findings from a study tour in November 2007 to England, Scotland and Madrid. This covers many issues including the evolution of service delivery models in the UK, financing schemes and facility design. Madrid’s experiences get a lot of coverage because that city region has built so much rapid transit so quickly at such a low cost.

I expect that many future studies and directions in Metrolinx will flow from this review of European practices and, no doubt, from the long-overdue recognition that other cities and regions have much to teach the GTA.

Green Paper 3 on Active Transportation deals with pedestrian and cycling as an integral part of transportation planning.

Green Paper 2 on Mobility Hubs discusses the design and location of major interchange points in the transit network. It’s refreshing to see an attitude that such facilities need to be part of their communities.

They’re also about improving the relationship between transportation and land use. There’s no point building a Mobility Hub in the proverbial “middle of nowhere.” In order for them to work, mobility hubs need to be located close to lots of people, whether they are at work, at home, or at play. In other words, they need to be liveable, attractive places.

David Crawford, who comments here often, sent me a note about this paper:

One paragraph (page 42) struck me as something the TTC should think more about. Dirty stations, broken escalators and hand-made signs do not give an impression that they have a great deal of concern for “the customer”. (Neither do streetcars and buses running in packs!) The Metrolinx Report says

The station is, along with the transit vehicle itself, the best (or the worst) advertisement for any transit system. Stations have to be designed to provide a high quality of functional access; they should be a statement about the values of the transit operators and their respect for their ridership. All aspects should be designed with care and attention that reflects well on the quality of brand and generates consumer loyalty to it. The role of information technology to support that behaviour change, facilitating a compelling transit offer through regional transit integration, real-time information, variable pricing, branding and loyalty rewards, should not be underestimated. In a modern city, transit is a consumer product just like any other for those with choices. The majority of those consumers must be attracted to the new transit system.


This echoes comments in the study tour report about interchange facilities in various cities.

Other reports include:

  • A status update on Alternative Financing & Procurement (AFP) for transit infrastructure
  • An introductory review of an investment strategy for funding the large number of projects in regional and provincial plans
  • A review of current Metrolinx activities including design work for bus terminal sites (both the existing GO terminal south of Front Street and a possible site at Bay and Harbour Streets), and comments about changes in the Environmental Assessment process. Both of these are contained within the CEO’s monthly report.

If Metrolinx publishing keeps up at this rate and level of detail, this will mark a major change in the amount of information and discussion topics for public engagement in transportation issues. How widely this material is actually read will depend partly on blogs like my own and on “official” outreach activities by Metrolinx itself. My skepticism about the GTTA/Metrolinx as a meaningful agency is no secret, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the work its staff has produced.

The challenge now is for the Board to be more than a club of senior regional politicians who don’t have time to digest the material. If they ask for it to be dumbed down into bite-sized chunks, the public will be ill-served. With luck and dedication, Metrolinx will engage both politicians and the wider public in learning about, planning and building our transportation networks.

19 thoughts on “Metrolinx Looks to Europe

  1. I’m also very pleased to see the investment strategy report raising many options on “financial empowerment” from user fees to gas and congestion taxes to regional sales taxes to debt instruments. The task ahead of us is going to be expensive, and the system needs to be self-financing through its own financial instruments. Of course, getting political acceptance of this is going to be a challenge – but at least Metrolinx is prepared to have the discussion.

    I’m somewhat disappointed, though, that the AFP report mentions discussions on funding arrangements for a variety of projects including Transit City and the Scarborough RT conversion/extension. York and Peel regions are mentioned as being involved in these discussions, but not Durham – despite the fact that the very same report mentions the RT and several TC lines as being potentially extended to Durham. What’s going on with Durham’s lack of involvement.

    But then, this is the same region that recently cut service while blaming partially ridership increases caused by certain programs.

    Finally, it’s worth noting that the two available green papers are draft versions to be approved by the board. The papers will be “publicly” released (in other words, on the site home page) on February 6.


  2. I have already submitted an letter on the Green Paper concerning transit hubs. I think these hubs are a fantastic idea so long as people coming to the city, even for the first time, can locate and get to one of these transit hubs and then make it easy for them to navigate the system around the GTA. Right now it is easy for me as I know the TTC system very well and am getting to know the GO system as well but I can relate to a newcomer easily getting lost.

    Just a note on the letter about Durham’s Transit Plans. I know that the MoveOntario2020 Plan includes a new electric line to Hamilton and I thought they would have increased service to the east as well. Durham deserves better service to get people off the 401 and into public transit. Wish they would build an electric rail as far as Oshawa in the east and follow through with the one planned for Hamilton.


  3. I’m surprised they made a big deal about Madrid’s subway expansion at 40% the price of ours per km (when we obviously have no intention of building new subway lines here).

    Steve: They were making two points. First, construction generally was cheaper in Madrid than here for a number of factors some of which are local and some of which are due to the fact that they just keep building and have greatly simplified the process of project design, approval and management. Second, because the cost of underground facilities is relatively cheaper compared to LRT in their case, there has been a stronger incentive to go with full subways. However, more recently Madrid is planning and building LRT in areas where a full subway simply is not justified.

    One very important issue about Madrid is that they don’t take years to think about what they will do, then get political approval for one project, then spend six months tendering the EA, then a year to do the terms of reference, then another year to conduct the EA, then EA approval, funding and finally detailed design and construction.

    As they said in the report, the emphasis is on completing projects, not on announcing them.


  4. “The station is, along with the transit vehicle itself, the best (or the worst) advertisement for any transit system.”

    Funny how everything old is new again, Frank Pick knew this when he ran the London Underground and buses in the 1930s.


  5. Europe is so far advanced of what we could ever contemplate here in NA (I found this when I lived there 15 years ago), and they are apparently accelerating ever faster to widen the gap. It’s such a shame as there is really no reason why we can’t learn from them and implement many of the same solutions. I’ve worked in this area of government policy, and when I raised these examples, the response I got was that Europe was “too foreign”, and their ideas would not work here.

    The reality is that in so many ways, we are still stuck with 1960s type thinking, even in “progressive” Toronto. We halted the expressways downtown and then did…not much of anything. What is especially sad is that many of these ideas, from integrated transit hubs, to universal fare cards could hugely drive ridership without costing the endless billions we are so often told are an obstacle.

    Hopefully Metrolinx will be empowered to drive many of these ideas into implementation over all the objections of the dinosaur-like vested interests and generally poorly informed.


  6. Steve comments:
    “One very important issue about Madrid is that they don’t take years to think about what they will do, then get political approval for one project, then spend six months tendering the EA, then a year to do the terms of reference, then another year to conduct the EA, then EA approval, funding and finally detailed design and construction.”

    I have pondered this from time to time, and here’s the place to raise it: when did transit projects become enmeshed in “Environmental Assessments”?

    I presume that there was nothing in the way of an EA in the TTC’s early days of building streetcar lines. Yonge obviously went through some designs, but was the process anything as painful as today? What about Bloor-Danforth? Spadina?

    And when did “Environmental Assessment” go from being concerned about the natural environment to all aspects of all environments, and then a gravy train for EA consultants and a podium for every crank in the city?


  7. “The station is, along with the transit vehicle itself, the best (or the worst) advertisement for any transit system.” (Quoting Clide’s quote)

    On a tangental note, and probably worthy of another discussion, who’s responsible for basic cleanliness on TTC vehicles? All this talk about new transit hubs is greatly appreciated, but every time I get on a streetcar, it seems to be a mess. GO trains and buses don’t seem to be as bad, but the problem still exists there as well. I had a rather bizarre coincidence bring this home to me. I was working overnight a few nights ago, and took an exhausted ride home on the Queen car, doing the sudoku in the day before’s Star along the way. I screwed it up and put an ‘x’ through it, and forgot it on the back seat when I realized I was about to hit my stop (yes, I realize that this makes me part of the problem). 16 hours later I got on the Queen car again to go in for more late night punishment, and when I got to the back seat of the car there was my newspaper, exactly where I had left it, along with a day’s worth of other debris. I know, from the numerous recent media reports, that the drivers are demoralized from a frankly thankless job, but is there a policy on basic clean up? Is the prospect of someone at the very least going through and sweeping out basic trash a few times a day even on the radar?

    It would seem to me that a cleaner vehicle would just maybe make people a miniscule amount less cynical about their transit experience, and maybe just a bit less unfriendly. It would also rehabilitate some of the TTC’s image. I realize that there are plenty of larger issues related to transit to consider, but sometimes addressing the basics would help a lot.



  8. Ed – and likely others – wish to have less of EAs and more construction. But if we are limited in our dollars, we need to spend them effectively.

    I may seem like a crank being so opposed to the WWLRT and the FSE, but the planning stinks, it’s inadequate, it’s potentially a couple of hundred million or more worth of unwise to foolish spending, and increasingly I’m perturbed that despite clear indications in the 1993 EA document that the WWLRT is not good enough, the current crew is rewriting it to justify what they have in mind even though it won’t serve Etobicarians and it won’t serve Ontario Place for $700M plus the FSE still on the books for $255M.

    If we could save a few hundred million, couldn’t we get enough streetcars to keep the service levels the same on Queen and King?

    Yes, EAs may seem onerous, and they are some what blind, but we also have a problem of the blindp leading the blind…

    Steve: Although Hamish frequently comments on just about everything in terms of the Front Street Extension, his example here shows quite well why the EA process was designed to be difficult. There is a long history of the TTC pushing through designs that leave a lot to be desired, and their willingness to listen to criticism has been microscopic. This is particularly true when there is both a bureaucratic and a political imperative to build something — the Spadina extension, for example.

    When I challenged the fact that the Spadina extension EA was not considering an LRT alternative, the TTC’s response was that this had already been rejected in a previous study. In fact, the study in question was for the Yonge/Spadina loop line which, obviously, had to be built with subway technology. They used a previous and different study as a justification to dismiss my request for true alternative evaluation. Perish the thought we would look at an alternative when political careers, years of consulting fees and construction goodies were at stake.

    Having said this, the process is only as good as the strength of whatever appeal process may exist. If you have a government at Queen’s Park that wants to pave over Toronto with expressways, all the EAs in the world won’t stop them. In theory, the EAs could act as a venue for getting media attention to the discussion, but we all know just how much coverage the FSE and WWLRT projects have had lately. The media treat this as a neverending story where nothing really new ever happens and it’s not worth covering.

    In the famous case of the Spadina Expressway, the project was halted as a political decision, not as the result of any bureaucratic process. Metro thought they could ram an expressway into the old city, and they picked the dead wrong neighbourhood at a time when citizen activism was at its peak.

    After that decision, the TTC was no help to anyone because they were first co-opted into the Go-Urban scheme that became the SRT, and they persisted in offering only subway designs and treating LRT as a non-starter.

    The WWLRT suffers from the gerrymandering of Exhibition Loop up under the Gardiner rather than under the trade centre (too expensive) or down at Ontario Place (who didn’t want streetcars taking over their precious parking lot). Any redevelopment of the CNE lands will depend on good transit, and what we have is in the dead wrong place to serve the site.

    Moving the streetcar loop under the Gardiner was done, by the way, as a technical amendment to the original WWLRT study that had the line running along the south edge of the site. Some technical amendment.

    My point here is that the EA process is only as good as the people driving it at all levels. What is particularly ridiculous is that road improvements went through a fast-track process while even the most trivial transit projects needed an EA. The change for transit projects recognizes that most of them don’t need the old complex process, but it will be up to interested and affected groups to keep watch on what gets pushed through and ensure that the political process intercepts any attempts to avoid proper examination of impacts and alternatives.


  9. I just read the Jan. 24/08 Toronto Star and it had an article titled ‘TTC subways twice as costly as Madrid’s’ and their was a quote from Adam Giambrone that said “A partnership with the private sector could compromise quality and, in the long run, cost more”, he warned. “Retrofitting subways is very expensive.”

    Pesonally if Toronto could build half the kms. of subway that Madrid has in a comparable amount of time I would endorse this private/public mix in subway development, it is obviosly working, not perfectly but better then our own cumbersome method.

    I don’t think Metrolinx has to look as far as Europe on public transit solutions. Los Angeles started subway construction in the mid 1980’s and now they already have more kms. of subway then the long established Toronto system has. Steve do you know if L.A. uses this public/private mix that seems to work very well in Europe for public transit construction?

    Steve: The system in L.A. was built entirely with public funds. It can be argued that this network is, at least in part, an example of political pork, and that the construction industry was the primary beneficiary.

    As for private sector participation in Toronto, I suggest that everyone read the Metrolinx report. There are many different forms from the relatively hands-off investor level to an owner-operator. The dangers Adam Giambrone talks of relate to poorly designed contracts, shoddy workmanship, and conflicting goals of the “partnership”. Moreover, if something breaks in the private sector, they walk away from it (that was the London experience) to cut their losses. The public sector cannot do this.

    Unlike the private sector who can shield their liabilities through corporate structures, the public sector has to face irate and powerful “shareholders” at regular elections.


  10. Having recently been in Montreal I’m sad to have to report that if the TTC looks a little rough around the edges then the Montreal Metro (and bus service) looks even worse. There was significant vandalism in the vehicles, including badly scratched windows and spray paint and marker on the walls.

    The stations themselves lacked signage (a sin shared with the TTC) and also had some damage not due to normal wear and tear. But I certainly don’t give the TTC (or it’s patrons) a passing grade. I personally try to remove any newspaper I pick-up on the TTC and dispose of it. I know I’m taking away work from a union employee, but from what I’ve seen they’ve got plenty to do.

    As to Metrolynx and their research, I’m afraid that they may become a think tank and junket excursion service. I hope I’m wrong though!


  11. Why would they even consider or examine LRT in an EA for an “extension” of an existing subway line? “Extension” implies that the same technology be used. In this case, the EA should just focus on the route.

    Let’s turn the table around. Suppose the Spadina Subway had been built as LRT with PCC trains (and that was the documented plan if the integrated subway system Y had been retained), should they then consider heavy rail subway for an extention of the Spadina LRT? Of course not. Touché.

    Steve: Pas touché. You forget the context in which an LRT proposal for the Spadina extension was made.

    As we push the line north to Hudson’s Bay, at some point, it will become difficult to justify continued subway construction and transition to another mode will be required. The debate is about where that transition should occur.

    In the context of the EA for the Spadina extension (Transit City did not exist at that time), my position was that Downsview was a good place to start. Certainly, if we do keep building subways, then York U is the drop dead point given that it is a major regional destination. This would allow the north end of the line to be built as a “tail” off of an east-west LRT in York Region rather than as an extension of the “Toronto” system.

    Instead, what we are getting is an extremely expensive subway extension that will connect with a BRT line in York Region, and we will never know what the alternative might have looked like or what it could have accomplished.


  12. You’re talking “network”, planners are talking “extension”. So, if we talk “network” for all new transit projects … what kind of detailed “EA” or study was done on Transit City *as a whole* to determine where the routes should really go? None.

    Were subway or BRT alternatives considered? No. Was the impact to the existing subway system studied? Nope.

    For Transit City, it looks like someone took the bus lines with the highest ridership and said “hey, let’s plop LRT lines down here … gimmie that red pencil crayon”. That’s not how we should plan a new transit network. They would have to do a massive origin-destination study on the TTC to design the best LRT network.

    Steve: Actually, the lines were chosen based on existing ridership, how they fit into the Official Plan, how they served the critical neighbourhoods needing improved services, and how they would contribute to an overall improvement in the network. There have been lots of discussions here (which I am not going to repeat) about alternatives and, yes, some things could change or be part of a Phase II. There’s a point where something has to be on paper.

    In an ideal world we could design a mega network of subways, GO Transit, LRT, a few busways here and there, and maybe even a few swan boat lines. The intent of Transit City was to show that it was possible to think on a city-wide scale using a technology that wouldn’t bankrupt us and which could be built in our lifetimes.

    To say that none of this was studied is hogwash, and I know because I was involved in some of it. Why no subway or BRT? No subway should be obvious. BRT was omitted because inevitably we would wind up with a bad compromise where LRT got the short end of the stick. I am always amazed at how NOBODY ever challenges assumptions about subway proposals. If, in the process of detailed design and planning, it turns out that the demand for a route is really far below what LRT would ever be used for, then that’s the time to look at technology changes. I don’t think that’s what we will find.

    As for impacts on the subway network, of course we all know that there will be impacts. There was going to be an impact from the full Sheppard Subway to STC, but that didn’t stop the planners. Indeed, they concocted wild schemes to make massive changes at Bloor-Yonge to handle crowds that should have been on a Don Mills line (whatever the technology) or GO Transit (CN or CP lines through northern Scarborough).

    I really get tired of the assumption that Transit City is intended to be built and then we stop dead. It’s a change in attitude about expanding the network and handling various types of demand.

    I don’t remember EAs being done in advance of ANY of the transit projects hereabouts before they were proposed. Indeed, the York Region subway extension was an add-on to what had been a BRT study up to that point. By definition, you propose something first and then study the details.

    Of course, if you’re a consultant wanting to earn megabucks on a complex project telling us what we already know, or a politician looking to substitute the appearance of dedication to transit for actually doing something, then by all means, announce a big study. Travel patterns are already known on a broad basis from Transportation Tomorrow surveys (the most recent for 2006) and it’s not as if there is no data to start with.


  13. To Hamish Wilson and Steve: What’s the reason for “WW LRT will not serve Etobicoke well”? Looks like the right technology for the right place …

    Steve: There are two separate issues here. One is Hamish’s, one is mine.

    Hamish wants the line to come into the core via Front Street rather than the current plans via the south side of the railway corridor, through the CNE to Exhibition Loop, thence to Union via existing tracks on Fleet and Queen’s Quay or via new track on Bremner Blvd.

    I share Hamish’s concern about speed, but feel that the original scheme coming along Lake Shore (the south side of the CNE site) would do a much better job of providing transit to existing and potential areas of development such as Ontario Place and the CNE lands.

    Both of us, for different reasons, worry that the proposed route will fart around too much between Sunnyside and Bathurst and make the line much less attractive than it might be otherwise.


  14. I see now, thanks.

    However, can’t we have it both ways?
    Phase 1: All service goes via Exhibition Loop – Fleet – Queen’s Quay.
    Phase 2: Etobicoke express goes via Front Street or railway LRT corridor. Another route operates via Queen’s Quay – Fleet – Exhibition like the present 509, and then up to Liberty Village or perhaps Parkdale. Those areas are popular and there will be enough riders for both routes.

    I believe that I read such (or a very similar) proposal on this site a few months ago.


  15. The only problem I see with the WWLRT going along Lakeshore is that it would not solve the current Parkdale/Liberty Village King car problem. Without connecting transit to the Lakeshore, these areas would still have to rely on the existing infrastructure. The King car already beyond capacity and the Queen car having been devastated by TTC ineptitude. Although I do agree speed would be an issue if Fleet and Queens Quay were used. My suggestion is to have the WWLRT on the north side of the Exhibition grounds and swing over to Front Street (under the Gardiner, over the railway tracks). Although Front Street would need to be widened for a R-O-W. I haven’t surveyed the land, but it would be complicated by Fort York and various other facilities.

    Also interesting in the report was the operation of yellow buses by the transit operators. It’s not completely clear if this is a separate operation or integrated into the existing infrastructure.


  16. If I may comment on Durham Region and Metrolinx’s involvement ther..

    I’m somewhat disappointed, though, that the AFP report mentions discussions on funding arrangements for a variety of projects including Transit City and the Scarborough RT conversion/extension. York and Peel regions are mentioned as being involved in these discussions, but not Durham – despite the fact that the very same report mentions the RT and several TC lines as being potentially extended to Durham. What’s going on with Durham’s lack of involvement.

    But then, this is the same region that recently cut service while blaming partially ridership increases caused by certain programs.

    I grew up in the Durham Region — in Courtice. There seems to be an incredible apathy in regional council over transit — aside from the recent report in Ajax suggesting that roads should not be “car sewers”, they seem perfectly content to simple let Durham Region Transit run on autopilot. Seems more like a welfare project for those who “can’t afford a car” rather than an attempt at building a functional system, and this view seems to by held by everyone from riders to management.

    Now, with regards to the idea of BRT/LRT into Durham, frankly I think the folks at Durham Region Transit are right to not be showing much interest. Durham Transit can’t fill a rush-hour bus with more than three people in many cases (first-hand experience), taking about rapid transit is insanity.

    I don’t know if it falls within Metrolinx’ domain, but what would be great is an infusion of cash to Durham Transit to “reduce suckage”. Routes in Oshawa, Whitby are usually sensibly routed, but the mess inherited in Ajax Pickering is terrifying. Service frequency in Oshawa/Whitby can be expected to be 30 min. Mon-Sat until 10-12pm, 60 min Sun till 9 or 10pm. Ajax/Pickering, expect 30-60 min. Mon-Sat until 9 to 10pm, 60 min. Sun w/very limited service.

    The best thing that could happen out there is a massive route reorganization and across-the-board boost to service frequency to minimum 15 min Mon to Fri til 11pm at least, 30 min Mon-Fri 11pm-1am, Sat, and Sun. Talking about BRT when the core of the system is in shambles.. it’s just silly.


  17. Ian, I agree completely. Durham is supporting the BRT – indeed, the idea came from them and was pushed by them – precisely because it’s an opportunity to get someone else paying some of the bills. Council won’t move forward on their own. That’s why we had the Chair complain last year that the federal/provincial FLOW program didn’t fund the BRT – this before Durham had actually done any of the work to plan it.

    You’re right that Metrolinx will need to address funding issues to provide quality local service to feed the regional services. This not only applies to Durham (where further cuts are coming in March, making your service frequency minimums seem even more distant) but elsewhere in the GTA. Otherwise, we’re going to continue the “drive to the GO station” mentality, and Metrolinx seems to be pushing away from them given the contents of the first two green papers.


  18. To George S and others concerned with the plans for Durham…electrification of the GO Lakeshore line east through Durham to Oshawa IS very much a possibility, as it has been called out in the AFP Workplan Update as being one of the priority projects to be evalutated.


  19. Amsterdam blasts the World Wide budget for building a subway line!

    The new Amsterdam subway line (noord-zuidlijn) is by far the most expensive.

    The length is 9,7 km, cost are calculated in June 2008 at 2 million euro’s. (6.02 miles for the price of 3.119.800.000 US dollar calculated on the rate of 1 euro= 1,55 US Dollar.)

    Delay after delay is announced in the large & complicated project due to technical complications, soft soil (water) and historical architecture and its foudations which have to be protected.

    Estimates are now to deliver the project in 2015, inititially was planed for: 2011.

    links see: (city council sponsored website)


Comments are closed.