Metrolinx Fast Tracks Environmental Assessments

I received the following note from Tony Turritin that fits in with earlier threads about streamlining the Environmental Assessment process:

Just a note to mention that Metrolinx published Statutory Notices in the Toronto Star on January 7 and 9, 2008 regarding their Regional Transportation Plan study.

By my reading of the notice, transit advocates better get on the stick, because if it ain’t in the plan in just the right way, there is no or little hope for any alternative. The Notice states that the RTP will constitute Phases I and II of any future EA that flows from any element of the RTP as it is implemented.

The Notice states:

“Once completed, the RTP will provide the background for any required future Environmental Assessment (EA) studies. It is intended that the recommended RTP will have fulfilled the requirements of Phases 1 and 2 (i.e. problems/
opportunities and evaluation of alternatives to the undertaking/ selection of the preferred transportation system) of all applicable Class EAs and individual EAs that may be required for projects identified in the RTP. The selection of the preferred transportation system will identify the need for the facilities, the recommended network corridors, and possibly the preferred technology for each corridor.”

This is right out of the traditional way that MTO used to do, and still does, highway EAs. First they would do a “needs” study, those straight-line projects that always show increasing traffic, particularly truck traffic. Then when an EA came along, and people objected saying, where was the comparison with the rail alternative (say trucks on trains), the reply always was, the needs study has already been done, and the road is needed. And Oh, by the way, in a needs study there is no obligation to look at other alternatives.

In perspective, it is clear that an EA is a very very poor tool to attempt to rectify any bad road, transit, rail infrastructure adventure that the transport bureaucracy decision-makers come up with.

Metrolinx’ Regional Transportation Plan is more than a plan — it legally constrains future environmental assessments too.

We are on the verge of a situation where a master transportation plan that will affect the GTA for decades to come may act as the de facto planning process for dozens of lines. The MoveOntario2020 plan was itself a grab-bag of every plan that was sitting on a shelf when it was announced, but at least there was a clear statement that the announcement was a first cut, and fine tuning would follow.

We may find that the “fine tuning” comes by way of the Regional Transportation Plan from Metrolinx that could occur without the sort of fine-grained local input people, at least in the 416, are accustomed to.

All the more reason to stay in touch with what is brewing at Metrolinx.

Major Service Improvements Start February 17, 2008 (Update 2)

On Sunday, February 17, the TTC will introduce new schedules with improved services on many, many routes throughout the city. I have boiled a long TTC document describing them in detail down to a mere 8 pages for easy reference.

Please note that I have not proof read every single line, and for definitive information, you should go to the TTC’s site.

Update: For the detailed TTC service summary, go to the February service summary.

Update 2: My consolidated table of service changes has been corrected to include the list of routes that still await added service. This was placed temporarily in a reply to a comment, but has now been moved where it belongs.

These changes are long overdue, but many of them bring routes only just within loading standards. We must hope that this trend will continue into 2009 as the bus fleet builds up with new deliveries, as riding continues to grow, and as the city’s revenues are strong enough to support more transit improvements.

A few notes about reading my chart:

  • The column “vehicles added” gives the number of new vehicles on the route at the time shown. You will notice that the effect of “n” new buses varies with time of day because the relative changes are different.
  • The old and new headways are shown. In some cases these are for blended services, and if you are interested in one branch, please refer to the TTC’s details.
  • The load factors shown are for recent riding counts “old” and projected loads after the change. The values are for the peak hour within the period, and loads on individual vehicles will vary.
  • The loading standards are shown for peak and offpeak services. Due to the variations between capacities on different types of vehicles, the standards are not identical for all routes. The off-peak standard is based on a seated load.

The last page of my summary shows those service improvements which have still not been implemented due to budget constraints. In effect, we’ve got what we’re getting for now, and for the rest, come back later. This shows that the TTC is still constrained in its ability to handle growing riding by the money it is given from Council to subsidize operations.

I fervently hope that this list will drop to and stay at “Nil” over 2008, and that we won’t be back worrying about service shortfalls in two years’ time.

Some points are particularly worth noting.

Bloor 300 and Yonge 320 Night Buses

Service improvements on these routes will reduce overcrowding especially on the popular 320 where the recorded average load is 82 passengers per bus! The headway on Yonge south of York Mills will be more than halved from 7’30” to 3’30” on the weekday schedule (which operates Tuesday through Saturday mornings). Sunday morning service is also improved, although not as dramatically.

At this rate, we may need to put streetcars back on Yonge to handle the demand on the night service!

Finch East 39

Service on this busy route will improve during most operating periods. The AM Peak headway will drop from 90 seconds to 79, with half of this service running express, and half local. Finch Station has severe bus congestion problems, and it will be interesting to see how the TTC fares with even more service on the 39.

Midday, early evening and Saturday services will now include express operation on half of the trips. The arrangement of express stops will change considerably. Fourteen little-used stops between Brimley and Warden will be dropped from express service, and they will be replaced by twelve busy stops from Warden to Bayview

Longer term, obviously, something will have to be done to increase capacity without flooding the street with buses. Artics might be nice in the short term, but an easterly extension of the Finch LRT is really what this street needs. (I’m getting carried away with myself, and will stop these fantasies immediately!)

Other Miscellaneous Changes

54 Lawrence East is now officially an accessible route.

139 Finch East is renamed Finch — Don Mills to clarify where it goes.

53 Steeles East will include mixed express and local operation on weekday evenings.