Metrolinx Green Papers: What to do about Transit (Part 2)

In the first post of this series, I discussed some of the philosophy behind the coming Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan.  Rather than getting into a lot of detail (that deserves a separate post), I want to talk about process.

[Oh no!  He’s going to go all policy wonk on us!  Let’s just go somewhere else for our evening’s entertainment!]

Sorry, folks, but how this process is going on is at least as important as the nitty gritty of all those reports and charts and maps.

Once upon a time, governments announced grand schemes, but nothing happened for quite a while.  Politicians fought over which line would be built first.  Then the engineers studied it, held public meetings, produced an Environmental Assessment, and waited for the money to flow.  Finally, a line was built (or not) and opened (or not), and the whole mess started over.

Then someone discovered that the Toronto way to build transit might be a tad short of world class, and that other cities just went out and did things.  It helped that the star attraction was in a European tourist haven, Madrid, rather than someplace with a lot of snow and a dour government.

Presto, chango!  Let’s get the EA process down from two years to one.  No sooner do we do that, than we want it down to 6 months!  We want results!  Now!  Today!  Before the next election!

That’s what is going on, and the folks who have been used to a rather leisurely one-study-at-a-time-forever-and-a-day style of working are a little frazzled.  In the process, the opportunity to look seriously at the details is hugely compressed, and there’s a real danger that important issues will slide through because even the most ardent transit advocates have other things to do with their time.

After setting out many laudible goals and principles, Metrolinx looks at what these might produce and from this come three scenarios:  Trends, Incremental and Bold

[If these are the Three Little Pigs of transit planning, it remains to be seen which plan is built of bricks, or to mangle the metaphors even further, if Three Bears are passing by, which plan is just right.  I will leave it to the reader to decide who is Goldilocks and who is the Big Bad Wolf.]

Trends is the business as usual plan in which stuff that’s in the pipeline and funded gets built, but little else while our grand-children decide whether there should be a subway north of Steeles Avenue.

Incremental aims higher with many improved services, a strong consumer focus and full implementation of MoveOntario2020.

Bold goes into the stratosphere with a fundamental change in transit’s presence throughout the region; fast, frequent services; and direct moves to divert car-based trips onto transit.

The components of each scenario can be found on page number 37 (physical page 56 in the pdf) of the Green Paper.  The document states quite clearly:

The following tables suggest the scope of improvements for each of the three networks and provide a more detailed (but still preliminary) summary of the three transit networks in the context of the three main dimensions characterizing our GTHA transit vision.

This sort of thing is dangerous, especially in a climate where politicians want action without having to think too hard about it.  I’m hearing rumblings that the Bold scenario is already favoured, whether we can actually afford it or even need all of its components, because it has the biggest, sexiest lines.  Alas, this could see us blow what capital we do have on a few subways and have nothing left for the rest of the system.  Sound familiar?

Among the assumptions of the Green Paper is not only the implementation of Smart Cards (whatever they will be called) for region-wide fare collection, but also the implementation of region-wide fare-by-distance.  This scheme hasn’t even been subjected to a proper comparative analysis of costs and benefits, let alone a review of how making fares higher for long trips will encourage commuters to get out of their cars.  There were lively discussions about fare structures at Transit Camp, and this issue should not be a fait accompli.

Soon we will have White Papers to supplement the Green ones, although these will appear well before most of the public consultation.  Indeed, to meet the overall timelines, they have to be sitting in draft somewhere already.

Next, in only two months, we will have the draft Regional Transportation Plan.  This is the point where life gets really interesting.  Maps do that to people.  The horse trading starts and long-range decisions are taken on the basis of short-term political advantage and pressure.  At most, the options should generate discussions about what we could have in each scenario, not a rush for chisels and stone tablets to enshrine three decades’ worth of plans.

Even Incremental isn’t all that shabby, but it’s name implies that we should ask for more.  This is classic “push” language in planning — give one option a name like Bold to imply that anyone who settles for less is a wimp.

The old boy’s club of the Metrolinx Board will have to look hard at any of their members who wants it all now.  That way lies a network of subway lines to Lake Simcoe and little else.

Over the next months as Metrolinx conducts both formal and informal public consultation sessions, it will be vital that everyone stay on top of where Metrolinx is actually headed.  Transit Camp was useful in showing the wide diversity of issues that matter to people, but if the planning and political processes continue along their usual course, all that consultation will be for nothing.  Somehow the complexity of issues and desires from Transit Camp has to find its way up the chain, and if this means taking a breath and not drawing that final, final map quite so soon, it will be time well spent.

I will return to the specifics of the Transit Green Paper in my next post.

4 thoughts on “Metrolinx Green Papers: What to do about Transit (Part 2)

  1. I suppose one of the problems with MoveOntario 2020 being pre-announced is that doing months of study just to endorse that plan ends up looking silly and a bit disappointing. But $60-$90 billion (over 30 years) seems like a lot to put in a single package. How can the next study — or government — possibly top it?

    There are a few corridors where the plans clash (e.g. Eglinton gets LRT in Incremental, and a subway in Bold) but mostly it’s additive. Perhaps they could be boldly incremental and structure the plans as “Phase I” and “Phase II”?


  2. I may be wrong, and I hope that I am, but I don’t think we’ve yet seen enough discussion from Metrolinx about the connection between the future of urban boundaries and the future of (public) transport in the so-called GTAH. The feeling that I get from Metrolinx is that, by its nature as a regional, provincially-supervised authority, the organisation is so afraid of offending the suburban municipalities that it is glossing over the need to set immediate and final urban boundaries before attempting to create a long-term transport plan.

    Until we have clearly-defined urban areas, all this talk about mobility hubs, nodes, and transit oriented communities just seems like good examples that, if buit, may still end up surrounded by ever-expanding suburbia. The truly ‘bold’ direction that Metrolinx can take in conjunction with the RTP will be to hinge its implementation on a provincial policy that limits the urban areas to their present boundaries and strives for across-the-board improvements in the sprawl that we’ve already created. Even the plan with the boldest transit network imaginable will only be playing catch-up if we can’t lay down some final urban boundaries.


  3. Hi Steve:-

    A subway to Lake Simcoe may not be a bad thing for when it’s proving to be totally underutilized, a small engineering project can allow water from the lake to course through the empty tunnels to the big City in times of drought. Won’t that be special, for now the SUV’s can be washed all summer long and not have to embarrass any of their owners with anything but a pristine polish as they carry their passenger to work and back!! No more worry of reservoirs getting low. Bonus or what?



  4. There is the adage “do it in haste, rue it in leisure”.

    I’m kinda glad that there is an acceleration of process sought in that it seems to be coming from a realization of troubling trends coinciding eg. peak oil, higher oil prices with a large auto-addicted and auto-dependent region, the “searious” problem of climate change, our horrible emissions records with maybe two decades of near non-investment in effective transit plus age.
    But in the haste to make it right, we’re not only being run somewhat ragged , we’re also in grave risk of making some mi$takes. Some of us pee-ons will have to be relaxed about the multi-millions in errors that are likely, but we can’t presume that Metrolinx is entirely benign to the core of the system.

    It is a provincial/regional interest – the transit friendly core is already somewhat subsumed and dominated by the suburban car-oriented interests, and we only need to look at Transit City to see that we could have some problems, as it does Nothing for the core (and we’ll have less service with the new improved streetcars too – but it’s transit).

    Those who think the WWLRT is helping the core are wrong. It’s frustrating to find out by reading its 1993 EA that it actually is quite dismissive of the worth of it, labelling it “not cost-effective” and basically needing more work as it won’t do well enough at bringing folks in from Etobicoke for $650M (or whatever).

    Meanwhile, the Front St. EA process never managed to examine transit options to the roadway, yet we’re about to get goosed and greased with an expedited EA process that will tend to further make us “shitizens” as it takes time to understand issues, and to attempt to constructively criticize them, and now we won’t have time, which is the ultimate resource.
    I’m not trusting environmental groups as much to be atop this issue now either because it’s all complex, and many of them are stretched, want to have action, and won’t have the temerity to criticize either “progressives” or any transit proposal because Transit is Good.

    I’ve not explored the Environmental Bill of Rights for these changes to the EA processes, but there may still be a route to slow this train down a bit.

    Thanks for your time and perspectives Steve – they’re helpful.


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