Where Should Metrolinx Be Going? (Part 1)

With the Draft Regional Transportation Plan due out in September and a brief consultation period thereafter, I’ve decided to stake out some basic positions in advance.  Will Metrolinx give us a plan, or merely a warmed-over rehash of MoveOntario 2020?  Will they propose realistic financing both for capital projects and the increased scope of transit operations, or will they assume money will somehow be made available in budgets they don’t control?  Will the plan recognize the importance of local services, or fixate on regional, commuter-oriented lines?  Will the plan meaningfully address issues of congestion and the environment?

These questions and more should provide yardsticks to measure the draft RTP and the associated financing strategy.

What Is the Metrolinx Mandate?

Metrolinx operates under a legislative requirement to produce a Regional Transportation Plan including:

  • all modes of transportation,
  • intelligent transportation systems and other innovative technologies,
  • compliance with provincial and local policies, strategies and Official Plans,
  • the integration of local transit systems with each other and with GO Transit,
  • reduced congestion, commute times, and emissions,
  • development that supports transit and optimization of transit infrastructure,
  • a rolling five-year capital plan and associated investment strategy.

[Greater Toronto Transportation Authority Act, 2006, Section 6 (2)]

Notably, sections of the legislation involving the takeover of GO Transit by Metrolinx (43 to 45) and the creation of a consolidated fare card (7) have not yet been proclaimed.

The question of compliance with local plans is quite intriguing.  Many of the strategies for handling transportation demand will require changes in the way the GTA is developed.  Densities and land use patterns in place for decades will not achieve transit supportive development, and yet the imposition of new rules will almost certainly require that local plans be brought into line with Metrolinx goals. 

I hesitate to say “provincial goals” because we never quite know how serious Queen’s Park is about changing the built form of the GTAH.  A further problem is that the provincial goals change with the political weather, and all we need is one term of a laissez-faire, pro-development government, and all the controls will vanish in an instant.  Once the rules give developers the right to build, taking away that right is contentious and expensive.  We’ve seen this strategy in Toronto itself (complain when the left wing is in power, grab all you can when the right wing takes command), and there’s no reason to believe Queen’s Park would be any different.

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TTC 2009-2013 Capital Program (Part 2)

In this section, we will see the complete mess that Toronto’s transit funding is in.  Years of putting off a proper funding arrangement coupled with a naïve hope that Ottawa will fund 1/3 of capital projects leaves us with a huge menu of projects and expectations, but no money to pay for them.

As before, the material is the TTC’s presentation, reformatted to simplify it in this medium, with my comments appearing in italics.

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TTC 2009-2013 Capital Program (Part 1)

The TTC presented its Capital Budget at last Wednesday’s Commission Meeting, and included a few surprises.  Before I go into the details, a few general observations:

  • Through judicious project deferals, the TTC has managed to keep its annual funding request down to a level within the City’s spending target, but this is getting harder and harder to sustain.  There is only so much work we can push off into future years and it’s all starting to pile up.
  • The budget assumes a considerable contribution from other levels of government who may not be predisposed to meeting the TTC’s request.
  • The scale of the TTC’s budget is quite large and its impact on the need for Provincial funding is substantial over and above whatever might be done under the MoveOntario2020 program.
  • Detailed costs for projects are shown over a five-year span, but many of these extend well beyond 2013.

In the material that follows, I have converted some of the presentation to plain text and left other parts as scanned images to keep the total size down.  My own comments are interspersed with the TTC presentation and they are in italics.

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This Law’s An Ass

Buried in the marathon TTC meeting last week (a new record: 7 hours, 43 minutes from the announced start time of the public session) was a proposal to update Bylaw No. 1.  This scintillating piece of legal literature adorns every TTC vehicle in a shortened form, and it’s rather out of date.

Never fear!  The TTC Legal folks bring us the new, revised version.  It’s a lot longer.  I think the TTC will need to install station domination advertising just to fit all the text in, or they will need a scrolling video in every car.  Thrilling reading.  Not including the definitions or the table of fines, it is 8 single-spaced pages long.

You would think that an organization that trumpets its ability to manage billion dollar projects, to write complex requests for proposals, to operate the largest single part of the municipal infrastructure, could manage something as basic as telling people what they can’t do on the TTC.  But no.  This bylaw reads in places as if it were drafted by someone who never actually used the system and who has little idea of the implications of its content.

Before the report came up for discussion, I flagged it as problematic and gave an annotated copy to the Chair for information.  To my surprise, rather than holding the report down, Chairman Giambrone suggested that it be approved with an amendment to come back to a future meeting.  Fortunately, to come into force, the bylaw needs to be submitted to the Chief Justice for approval, and if the TTC has an ounce of sense, they will hold off until they fix the problems.

Some of what follows may seem legally pedantic, but it’s this sort of poor drafting that gets TTC customers hassled by security staff who have nothing better to do with their time than to enforce badly written rules.

The full bylaw is available on the TTC website.

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Service Changes for September 2008

Fall 2008 brings service back to its standard levels on the TTC network after some summer cutbacks.  I have consolidated the service changes, most due to increased riding, in a two-page summary.

I have omitted a lot of information on school trips and other seasonal changes, but if you want the gory details, you can either visit the TTC’s website or read the summary on Transit Toronto.

A few notable points in this round:

  • Off-peak service on the Yonge and Bloor subway lines is increasing to meet rising demand.  Even with the added service, the lines will be only slightly below the service standards threshold at which more trains have to be added.  The off-peak standard is 500 passengers per train, or 83 per car (a small number of standees at the peak point).
  • For everyone who dreads off-peak visits to the Distillery District, the Cherry Street Union Station service will now run every 15 minutes on Saturdays, and every 30 minutes in the evening.  This is far from spectacular, but it’s an improvement for those who prefer not to walk to the King car.
  • Better service comes to the Harbourfront car recognizing that people on the waterfront actually exist, and they stay up late.  The Spadina car will now run to Union Station until the subway closes.
  • Service improvements on Eglinton West, Jane and Morningside address growing demand in these corridors (all of which happen to be part of Transit City).

Further improvements are expected later this fall including the next round of the Ridership Growth Strategy with full service on all routes during subway operating hours.  Coming in 2009, budget permitting, is a move to 20 minute maximum headways.

The Psychology of Free Parking

Over the past week, since the TTC proposed, then approved, the elimination of free parking for Metropass holders, I have been amazed by the volume of comments on this blog, other sites and in feedback in the mainstream media on this subject.

Parking is something dear to the hearts of motorists, and taking away free parking seems to be on a par with kidnapping a firstborn child.

Several people commenting on my site have claimed that getting rid of free parking at TTC or at GO lots will drive people (sorry about that) into commuting all the way downtown even if they have to pay for parking. There is a long comment by Andrew currently at the end of the thread comparing the costs and time required for various types of trip (all car, part transit, paid and unpaid parking). The viewpoint embedded in his calculations mirrors that of many who write about the need for free parking. Continue reading

TTC To Discuss New Streetcars with Three Builders (Update 1)

Updated August 29:

At the Commission meeting on August 27, various deputations spoke to the issue of the streetcar contract.  I am not going to attempt to reproduce their presentations and, in some cases, the extensive Q&A sessions that followed, but will give an overview.

The TTC has not yet posted the staff presentation on their website.  If it has not appeared by this evening, I will scan and post my copy along with comments in a second update.

Mario Péloquin spoke for Siemens Canada with a brief presentation.  Siemens, for internal reasons related to their corporate reorganization, had chosen not to bid but is now interested in the streetcar contract.  Péloquin was slightly apologetic for Siemens’ not having emphasized their long-standing presence in Canada and Ontario.  Obviously this is not as a rail car builder, but in the many other aspects of Siemens operations.

An Alstom representative, who did not expect to be called on, and who has only about half a year’s experience with the company, spoke briefly indicating his company’s interest in the contract.  It would be useful if Alstom can find someone with more depth and credibility the next time they show up.

Skoda was not present, and TTC CGM Gary Webster said that because they chose not to respond after the RFP cancellation, they are no longer at the table.   Whether Skoda accepts this situation remains to be seen.

Representatives of the Toronto Labour Council and of the Canadian Auto Workers (who represent the Bombardier Thunder Bay plant) spoke of the importance of Canadian content in any contract.  This is a difficult issue because so many subsystems for rapid transit cars are built offshore, and even the carbodies would likely be fabricated in existing foreign plants and shipped to Canada for final assembly.

The TTC and Ontario already have a 25% Canadian content rule, and the Commission passed a motion indicating that they would like prospective builders to work toward a higher goal of 50% if this contract progresses to include the 350 cars needed for Transit City.  A proposal to ask for sliding scale bids based on various levels of Canadian content was not adopted.

Bombardier’s representative, Mike Hardt, spoke about his company’s unhappiness with the process.  Bombardier feels that their bid was disqualified on a technical ground that was not justified, and they are concerned about now being placed in a different, unstructured bidding situation.  Bombardier claims that the mismatch between their cars and the TTC’s existing track system can be remedied by $10.4-million worth of work, but it is unclear of the time period this would cover nor the validity of the estimate. 

The work would involve grinding and filling track mainly at intersections to fit the Bombardier equipment’s wheel profile.  The TTC disputes this scheme and is concerned, legitimately I believe, that this would impose an ongoing requirement to maintain all track to a special standard to avoid safety problems with the new cars.  Ironically, Hardt also stated a few times during the Q&A that Bombardier could meet the TTC spec if they had to, but disputes the requirement.  The positions are contradictory:  either Bombardier could bid a car that met the spec, or they have strong objections to doing so and prefer that the TTC adapt their infrastructure.

Hardt said that if Bombardier’s cars wouldn’t work on the TTC system after delivery, they would be repaired at the vendor’s cost.  Commissioner Perruzza told Hardt to put that in writing.  However, we already know that Bombardier’s idea of “working” includes having the TTC make track changes, and there would doubtless be endless wrangling over whether a derailment was the TTC’s or Bombardier’s fault.  It’s easy to claim you will pay to fix something when you have an escape clause of blaming the client.

Most striking about Hardt’s deputation was the arrogance he displayed toward the TTC.  I was fascinated to watch the faces as one Commissioner after another could not believe the way they were being treated.  If I had presented a deputation half as contemptuous of staff, I would have been at best given my five minutes and at worst told to shut up and sit down.  Even Commissioners of a left-wing bent who support the Thunder Bay workers were driven to far more aggressive questioning than Hardt might otherwise have received.  He did Bombardier and its workers no favours and has likely alienated the very “friends at court” Bombardier might need if the debate comes down to a close decision between proponents.

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Commuter Parking for Metropass Users (Update 1)

Update 1, August 27, 10:00 pm:

After a lengthy debate regarding the fairness of charging for parking and various alternatives, the Commission voted 5-3 this evening to implement the staff recommendations.

Original post:

Today, the TTC will consider a proposal to eliminate free parking for Metropass users at its lots.  When I first heard of this, my reaction was supportive because, as a non-driver, I don’t benefit from whatever subsidy the parking lots represent.  Some media comments have placed this subsidy as high as $7 per user per day, an unconscionable amount of subsidy that would be intolerable if “parking” were a proposed new route.

However, looking closely at the figures reveals a different story.

The TTC loses $3.6-million annually on parking operations on a total budget of $6.3-million.  In other words, the cost recovery is about 43 percent.  Things don’t look too good yet.

However, there are 14,000 parking spaces and this means that the loss per space is about $250 per year, or about $1 per weekday.  This is nowhere near the figure cited above, and is much more in line with a reasonable incentive to use transit. 

By analogy to bus and streetcar routes, the subsidies vary from route to route, but the network is most important.  At $1/space/day, this subsidy is higher than the average for many bus routes, but not completely off the map.

Conversely, if the TTC were able to fill its lots even with a parking charge of $2 or more, they would make far more than is needed to offset the operating cost.  Bluntly, the TTC’s numbers don’t add up.

Lest you think that I am an advocate for commuter parking, that’s quite another matter.  Parking lots have many undesirable characteristics including the poisoning of land for community use — buildings generating lots of pedestrian activity and a sense of neighbourhood.  New parking lots have property and construction costs, and if structures are involved, those costs will be substantial.

Even existing lots can represent lost opportunities.  When the outer stations on the Bloor-Danforth line were built, land was cheap and a lot of it was already in the public sector.  Parking was an obvious land use.  Only now, 40 years after the lines opened, are we starting to see development at some locations that should have appeared years ago if the common myths about subway stations creating development could be believed.  In effect, the TTC strangled development right where it would be most desirable by dedicating so much land for parking.

As an aside, I should note that some lots such as Finch are on land that cannot be developed, and this at least puts the Hydro corridor to some use.  However, there is a limit to how far east and west from Finch Station parking can be built, and sites like this are an exception in the system overall.

On GO Transit, the lots at stations are full by 7 am, and massive parking expansion is really not in the cards.  GO has more stations in industrial areas where high density residential development is less likely, but the problem remains that there’s a limit to how much land the transit system can dedicate to parking.

The real problem is that feeder services to GO and TTC stations leave a lot to be desired especially as demand on both systems grows, bidirectional travel becomes common, and frequent all-day GO service is finally getting serious discussion in transit plans.

As for the existing TTC lots, my position is this:  if they can be redeveloped both to liberate the capital value of the land and to provide more transit riders while converting sterile transit terminals to community centres, so be it.  In those odd cases like the Hydro corridor where redevelopment is not practical, let people park, but recognize that there are limits to this and that parking is not a panacea for attracting riders to transit. 

As always, good service is the key.

Stratford Reviewed 2008 (5):

Astute readers will have noticed the lack of activity here recently due to my three-day trip up to Stratford.  I won’t put long reviews here for the most part (you can read far more about the productions on the festival’s own website), but will give a feeling for what I saw and what’s worth your attention.  Three more reviews will come in the next article in this series.

What really shone out at Stratford was the sense of company, the sense that this was a group of actors working (with one notable exception) together.  Seasoned veterans and stars shared the stage with young actors and they worked as one.  Even the solo performances concentrated on the character and the story, not on “look at me” trickery.

This post includes reviews of:

  • Hughie
  • Krapp’s Last Tape
  • Caesar & Cleopatra
  • Hamlet

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