Blue 22: A Scheme That Just Won’t Die

Last week, both the Globe and the Sun reported that the Blue 22 airport service is back on the rails, so to speak.  On Sunday, the Sun editorialized on the subject with support, sort of, propvided that the line doesn’t turn into another boondoggle like the Sheppard Subway.

The fascinating part about this is the sudden love affair between Dalton McGuinty and David Miller for a transit proposal that was dubious when first proposed (by the Liberals in Ottawa, remember them?), and has been on life support for years.  Indeed, many of us, including some local politicians, hoped that the scheme would just die from lack of interest.

No such luck.  We’re in an era where Queen’s Park is hungry to see some real progress on transit, but nothing’s happening.   Or at least nothing with low-cost ribbon cutting between now and the next election.  In support of faster projects, Queen’s Park has all but eliminated the Environmental Assessment as a mechanism for proper review of transit proposals.  Blue 22 and its impact on neighbourhoods along the line have been the subject of a long-running EA with the Weston Community Coalition painted as ogres for expecting the route to be sensitive to their town and to provide local service.

Now, out of clear blue sky, Blue 22 re-appears.  “This is an important priority for us” says Premier McGuinty.  Mayor Miller says “we just need it to happen”, and goes on to compare Toronto with other cities that have airport rail links to downtown.

Somehow, we are stuck with this proposal.  For years, former Transport Minister David Collenette lobbied for this scheme, and finally, just before he left cabinet, announced that SNC Lavalin would build and operate it.  The idea has been around for a long time.  However, this is no spiffy, 21st century line, but rather a service to be operated with refurbished 50-year old RDCs.  These rail diesel cars once operated on some of Via’s routes including the lines to Niagara Falls, London via Stratford and Peterborough.

Imagine if Transit City had been announced along with a plan to buy up and refurbish 50-year old PCCs for the fleet.  Mayor Miller would have been laughed off the stage.

SNC Lavalin is obviously hedging its bets with a recycled fleet.  Who knows?  Even if Blue 22 doesn’t fly, they might be able to sell the cars to Via.

Meanwhile, the Transit City plans already include a hub at Terminal One with a possible LRT station in the basement.  This station could be shared by LRT services from many parts of the GTA.  Imagine links east on Eglinton, northeast to Finch, southwest into Mississauga and even down to Union along the Weston corridor.  But no.  Instead we will get a premium fare ($20 or more) service for a minority of the airport’s customers.

Aren’t we supposed to be building a regional transportation plan?  Shouldn’t we figure out how the airport fits into a transit network, not one ill-considered scheme that elbows better alternatives out of the way?

Yes, we need good rail transit to the airport, but Blue 22 isn’t the way to provide it.  Can Miller and McGuinty find the will, the energy to promote something better, or are we doomed to ride an ex-politician’s pet project?

Analysis of Route 512 St. Clair — Part 2: Headways and Link Times

In the previous article, I reviewed the operation of the St. Clair route on Easter Sunday, 2007, as a starting point for a review of the route’s overall behaviour.  In this post, I will turn to data for the entire month that shows overall patterns and the amount of variation we might expect to find.

If the headways (the time between successive cars) range over a wide band, then service is perceived as irregular by riders regardless of what the printed timetable may say, and regardless of the “average” loads riding counts might report over an hourly period.  When headways are a mix of long and short values, the cars on long headways will carry heavier loads and the “average” experience for a rider is that they wait a long time for an overcrowded car.  The half-empty one a few minutes behind is little benefit to anyone, but it brings down the “average” load in the statistics.

Link times (the length of a journey from one point to another) reveal how predictable (or not) the time needed for a car to travel along a route will be.  If link times are consistent, this indicates that external effects (including unusual loads that stretch stop service times) are rare.  Even if the times vary over the course of a day, but do so within a predictable, narrow band, a route should be fairly easy to manage.  If the times vary a lot with no obvious pattern or are scattered within a wide band, then running times and service are hard to manage.

In reviewing St. Clair, I found that the operating environment, as it existed in April 2007, was quite benign compared to routes like King and Queen, the subject of previous analyses here.  This has important implications for the right-of-way project now underway on this route.  Congestion and random delays do play some role, but not an overwhelming one, in service quality.  Reducing the impact of congestion when and where it occurs will be beneficial, but more is needed than just getting autos out of the streetcars’ way to ensure reliable service. Continue reading

Analysis of Route 512 St. Clair — Part I: Introduction

If we try very hard, we can remember a time when the St. Clair line was not under construction.  With last year’s project still unfinished, and this year’s barely underway, it will be a while before we see streetcars running all the way from Yonge to Keele.

For a brief period in 2007, the line was back in one piece, and as a “before” comparator of operating conditions, I asked the TTC for the vehicle monitoring data (CIS) for the month of April.  We won’t be to an “after” condition until early in 2009 when this year’s project is completed and only the stretch from Caledonia westward remains to be rebuilt.

Rather than wait, I decided to spin through the April 2007 data to see what they revealed.  What I found was disquieting especially considering all the hooplah around the construction of a dedicated right-of-way.

Although congestion does affect the line in some places and at some times, the overwhelming source of headway variation is the time spent sitting at the terminals and, to a lesser degree, at St. Clair West Station.  If you have read my analyses of routes like Queen and King, you know what real congestion looks like on the charts with large changes in running times through segments of routes.  None of this shows up in the St. Clair data. Continue reading

How Much Will It Cost To MoveOntario? (Updated)

Updated July 8:  Metrolinx has announced that the draft Regional Transportation Plan and Investment Strategy have been delayed until September.  You can read about this in The Star and in the official Metrolinx press release.

[The original post follows below.]

Those of you who have been following the proposals and plans from Metrolinx will know that there’s been a tiny bit of inflation in the projected cost of transit improvements for the GTAH.

About one year ago, Premier McGuinty announced MoveOntario2020, a plan to invest $17.5-billion (2/3 from Queen’s Park, the rest from Ottawa) in over 50 projects for the region.  For the moment, leave aside the fact that this was less of a plan than a grab bag of every proposal that was sitting on the table in every municipality.  At least it was a starting point to talk about investment in transit.

One big chunk of MoveOntario2020 is Transit City, and it accounted for about 1/3 of the total.

Many hurrahs!  Horns blared!  Gongs clanged!  Visions of a transit future danced through our heads.

Over the past year, the picture has changed quite a bit.  The most aggressive of Metrolinx plans, as described in their Preliminary Directions White Paper, requires an annual outlay of $3.8-billion for capital and another $3.8-billion for additional operating costs.  (Table E-1, page 63)  The least aggressive isn’t far behind.

That’s a huge jump from the investment that would take us out to 2020, and sticker shock may derail the whole thing.  It wouldn’t be the first time. Continue reading

End of the Road for Biofuels at TTC? (Update 2)

Update July 9:  The Star reports that Premier McGuinty is rethinking a commitment to 10% ethanol fuel requirements.

Update July 5:  The Guardian reports that an as-yet unpublished study by the World Bank concludes that the distortion of the world food market is a direct result of biofuels.

“Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate,” says the report. The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

[End of update]

The agenda for the Commission meeting on July 10 includes a report extending the upset dollar limit on the TTC’s current contract with Suncor Energy Products for Bio-Diesel fuel.  The TTC has locked in its current fuel price only until the end of December 2008, but the contract runs through 2009.

TTC staff is concerned that a price locked-in during the current market may be unreasonably high and that better pricing may be available on the spot market.  This sort of discussion is common in TTC fuel purchase arrangements, and staff juggles things around to ensure the best ongoing price for the system’s needs.

The current price paid by TTC is $0.8752 per litre while the market price today is $1.46 for 95% No. 1 Ultra Low Sulphur diesel plus 5% virgin vegetable oil (soybean).

The fascinating comment comes at the end of the report:

While the recommended amendment value is based on the purchase of bio-fuel, staff is currently reviewing the value of the continued use of bio-fuel in consideration of the $1.5M to $2.0M premium in the cost of bio-fuel versus the actual environmental benefits as well as the impact that the use of bio-fuel is having on food prices and availability. As a result, there is the possibility that the Commission may not purchase bio-fuel for 2009.

I may sound like an environmental curmudgeon, but I’ve always felt biofuels were designed more to comfort Agribusiness than have any real benefit for the environment.  Transit’s environmental impact comes from reducing the demand for auto travel and supporting an urban form with dense populations.

Recently, we have seen the controversy over the impact of biofuels on food prices.  Yes, there are different sources for the “bio” additive and some use products that would otherwise go to waste.  If only that were the criteron for “bio” fuel being truly green, then the issues would be much clearer.

Meanwhile, a TTC decision to move away from biofuels may not have much effect on the price of soybeans, but it’s a step in having transit concentrate on what it does best — get people out of their cars.

Waterfront West LRT and Fort York (Updated)

Updated July 5:  I have added new links to the list at the start of the post, and commentary on them down at the end.

A few posts back, I wrote about the two main options proposed by the TTC for the Waterfront West LRT (WWLRT) route between Bathurst Street and Exhibition Loop.  This post stirred up a good deal of email as the implications of the plans for Fort York became apparent.

Recent events and actions by the TTC regarding the WWLRT and its proposed alignment are rather strange.  This route has suddenly jumped from the bottom of the barrel among future Transit City routes, to a high priority project for which the TTC seeks funding.  Have they finally discovered that there is a large and growing population living just west of downtown which threatens to become a car-oriented “suburb” without substantially improved transit?  Better late than never, I suppose.

However, the process is leapfrogging ahead with a major new “preferred option” that has not been subject to public review.  Indeed, the report itself appeared at the last minute on the Supplementary Agenda for the June TTC meeting.  At least one Commissioner had not read it before the meeting, and there was only perfunctory debate.  There were no deputations or critical voices because nobody expected the report.

Meanwhile, various aspects of the entire WWLRT EA are supposed to be on hold at the request of local Councillors pending integration of the EA with other planning work underway for waterfront districts.

If this is an indication of how the TTC plans to use or abuse the new, streamlined EA process for transit projects, then we are in for some major battles on Transit City and on Metrolinx’ Regional Plan.  The more people distrust an agency’s intentions and expect that it will ignore their concerns, the more combative and obstructionist they will be.  This is not the setting we need for widespread expansion of transit services, and the TTC would do well to be more sensitive to community input. Continue reading

The St. Clair Right-of-Way Debate (Updated)

Updated July 5:  Christopher Hume wrote again in yesterday’s Star on the issue of giant fire trucks.

The St. Clair transit right-of-way issue surfaced again recently with the publication of a report by  Toronto District Fire Chief Robert Leek claiming that the design was unsafe for emergency vehicles.  Only a day later, the Fire Chief Bill Stewart walked the route with TTC Chief general Manager Gary Webster and concluded (also here) that with some minor adjustments, there was nothing wrong with the route.

Disagreements like this are nothing to scoff at, and they come in the context of rumours that various municipal agencies were forced to toe the line on approving the St. Clair design.  We will never know how much truth lies there, and the issue remains clouded in politics. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Maps

Two days ago, Toronto’s Planning & Growth Management Committee approved both the Environmental Assessment Report for the Sheppard East LRT and an Official Plan Amendment extending the scope of the transit corridor east on Sheppard to match the LRT line.

Scarborough Councillors popped the Champagne corks, or at least sparkling water, and I got an invitation to talk about the significance of the occasion on Metro Morning.

This should be a big event — approval of the first leg in a suburban LRT network.  Back in 1972, the Streetcars for Toronto Committee fought to save what we now call the “legacy” system as a base for suburban expansion, and I have waited a very, very long time for this day.

Over the decades, a combination of Provincial meddling in transit and local subway megalomania  stymied transit’s ability to keep up with, let alone form suburban growth.  All the planning mantras about leading development with transit from the sixties and seventies are little more than quaint memories.

Finally, early in 2007, the TTC and City announced the Transit City plan for a network of seven new LRT lines.  Work began immediately on detailed studies, and three EAs are already underway with the Sheppard Line’s being the first to come up for approval.  The Don Mills study recently had a round of public meetings, and the Eglinton study will roll out in the fall.  Add to these the non-TC projects in the eastern waterfront and the Kingston Road study, not to mention proposals outside of Toronto, and there’s a lot of LRT on the table. Continue reading

(Only) Bombardier Bids for New TTC Streetcars (Updated)

According to the TTC’s Materials & Procurement website late on the evening of July 1, there was only one bidder, Bombardier, for Toronto’s new generation of streetcars and, by extension, the cars that will be used for the Transit City network.

There are no details about the bid, and an announcement from the TTC is expected soon.  I will add to this post as information becomes available.

Updated July 2, 12:30pm:  The TTC amended its site to indicate that there was a second bidder, Tram Power of the UK.  This is a company that has never built a production run of vehicles for anyone, and I cannot see them being in any condition to support a bid of this size.  One other issue with their car (as described on their website) is that it is 70% low floor, not 100% as required by the TTC.

Matthew Campbell writes about this in today’s Globe and Mail.