Metrolinx: The Big Move (3) Investment Strategy

The Metrolinx Investment Strategy (Draft) is a really odd collection of documents, and as I look at the presentations, I can’t help feeling there is a mountain of background somewhere that Metrolinx would prefer to keep out of sight.

On the agenda of September’s Board Meeting, we find a glossy brochure that is clearly intended for the coming public review.  For a “draft”, it has the look of something rather final to me.  With a section titled “Your voice matters”, this is not intended for the Board’s consumption, but for the process that Metrolinx calls public consultation.

Worth noting are Rob MacIsaac’s own remarks at last Tuesday’s briefings.  On at least two occasions, he said that there won’t be much pressure for change in the plans based on the extensive consultations to date.  He is prejudging the outcome, and that’s no way to ask for public input.

The separate presentation to the Board is not available online, but I have reformatted it on my own site.  (Note to the purists:  most of this was scanned as text and then cleaned up to avoid problems with blurry copy-of-copy scanning.)

Draft Investment Strategy Presentation September 26, 2008

The heart of this “strategy” is to do next to nothing about proper transit funding for many years (at least one if not two election cycles), and to live off of the previously announced $11.6-billion MoveOntario money.  A subset of the projects in the 15-year draft Regional Transportation Plan was selected to soak up this money, and if the Tooth Fairy is feeling generous, we might even get another $6-billion from Ottawa to stave off actually making a decision about transit funding for almost a decade.

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Metrolinx: Too Many Fingers in the Pie (2)

The Metrolinx Board met on September 26, and I am pleased to report that Board members bit hard into a proposal to establish a complex process for project approval and procurement.  (See “Project Management and Delivery” in this report.)

Chair Roger Anderson (Durham Region), already in a feisty mood over omissions in the Draft Regional Transportation Plan, led off by noting that a major policy decision was buried in an “Information Report”, the CEO’s monthly status update.  He discovered this scheme when he read his meeting agenda at 1am, and clearly he was not amused.  Even more clearly, this whole idea had not been discussed at all by the Board even in private session.

Anderson moved to defer the item to a future meeting, and this triggered concerns by Rob MacIsaac, chairing the meeting.  Watching him in action, it’s obvious that he doesn’t like to lose votes, but as the debate went on, it was clear that Anderson was not alone, and MacIsaac wisely got out in front of his troops to lead them where they were already headed.

A common thread in remarks by Anderson, Mayor David Miller (Toronto) and Mayor Hazel McCallion (Mississauga), among others, was whether Metrolinx exists to work with the municipalities as a regional agency, or as a provincial overseer interfering with and dictating to local bodies.  Anderson noted that municipalities have the staff to design, manage and deliver projects, and that they should not have to fight Metrolinx to get things done.

Michael Fenn, Metrolinx CEO and author of the report, replied that Queen’s Park, through the Ministry of Transportation, has a role in project evaluation.  If so, I must ask whether Metrolinx is simply providing cover for MTO interference, and what role, exactly, is expected of a Board composed of leaders of the very municipalities that originate most of the transportation plans.

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Metrolinx: Too Many Fingers In The Pie

With all the attention on the Draft Regional Plan, another proposal lurks unnoticed in the agenda for Friday’s Metrolinx Board Meeting.

The agenda itself gives no indication, and the report of interest is called “CEO Report”, an innocuous title.  However, within that report we find a detailed description of the “Metrolinx Project Delivery Process” which the Board is asked to endorse.

First as a matter of process, substantive policy decisions should not be embedded in reports whose title implies a status update, unless the real desire is to hope that nobody will notice.  Second, the proposed process shows that Queen’s Park has no intention of letting Metrolinx operate as a truly independent regional authority, but instead will hold it very tightly under control by various Ministries.

Many have spoken as if Metrolinx would someday become the overarching authority for GTA transit planning, construction and operations.  Not true.  Even the proposed amalgamation of GO Transit with Metrolinx is sitting as unproclaimed sections of the GTTA Act, and my guess is that GO will fight every step of the way against being taken over by an agency that has never run a single transit vehicle.

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Metrolinx: The Big Move (2) Overview

Over the next few days, I will attempt to summarize and comment on the main areas of the Metrolinx Draft Draft Regional Transportation Plan.  Yes, that is “Draft Draft” because the version now online has not yet been approved by the Metrolinx Board.  Once they do that, and any changes are added, it will be the official “Draft” plan.  The final plan is to be approved in November for transmittal to Queen’s Park so that this can feed into the budget process for 2009.

For easy reference, I have posted copies of the maps on this site.  These are high resolution PDFs.

The full report is available in the agenda for the Metrolinx Board Meeting on September 26.  Look for appendix A in items 8 and 9.  (Warning: that these are big files.)

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The Tories and Toronto

Recently, I received two comments from a regular contributor here, Stephen Cheung, but did not publish them immediately.  As a pair, however, they are worth seeing if only as an indication of Tory analysis of the political and economic situation in Toronto.

In replies to this item, please don’t start attacking Stephen himself.  I personally have put up with a lot of bovine effluent here and on other blogs suggesting that I am personally responsible for most if not all of the transit planning screwups of modern history, and I find such comments (a) laughable and (b) inappropriate because attacking me avoids discussing the real issues.  I expect any who reply to this post to stick to the topic and treat both the writer and the organized labour movement with respect. Continue reading

Metrolinx: The Big Move (1)

This morning, Metrolinx unveiled its draft Regional Transportation Plan at a press conference.  Coverage is already online at The Star, and the report is available on the Metrolinx website.  (That link goes to the agenda page for the next Board meeting, and the RTP is linked from there as Appendix A to Report 8.  The companion Investment Strategy is in Report 9.)

Although referenced in the draft RTP, a number of background papers are not yet online.

  • Modelling Methodology and Results for the Draft Regional Transportation Plan, September 2008
  • Climate Change and Energy Conservation, September 2008
  • Mobility Hubs, September 2008
  • Transit Technologies, September 2008

I am still digesting this morning’s presentation, the draft plan and the investment strategy, and have a technical briefing later today.  Comments on all of this will start to appear this evening.

Is There an Optimal Supply and Demand for Transit?

On September 16, the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) released a study on the optimal supply and demand for transit in Canada.  Although I may have slept through the local press coverage, I don’t think that there was much if any as other issues crowded out the story.  One might ask why I’m bothering with it now, but I think this is worth talking about even though I don’t agree with the premise of the report.

Only the Executive Summary and Backgrounders are available on the CUTA website, and as a courtesy for copyright, I will not post the full version here.  You will have to get it from CUTA if you really want it.

The principal conclusions as highlighted on the CUTA site are:

  • The economically and socially optimal level of transit supply in 2006 would have required an estimated 1.7 billion vehicle-kilometres of transit service, or 74 percent more service than actually supplied.
  • In 2006, capital investment of $78.1 billion would have been required to bring the supply of transit into line with the optimal conditions of supply in that year.
  • Results of the analysis conclude that Canada is clearly underinvested in urban transit.
  • Bringing transit to the optimal level of supply would produce several positive economic and social benefits – more than two thirds of these benefits constitute the economic value of reduced roadway congestion.

There is no question that higher investment in transit is required across Canada.  However, there is a danger with any calculated “optimal” value that this will be taken as an upper bound.  Moreover, the methodology of the study does not address future needs, only the situation that existed in 2006.  It is based on average relationships between several economic variables taken on a national basis that almost certainly misstate the micro-level effects in urban areas. Continue reading

TTC 2009 Operating Budget

This week, the TTC presented a 2009 Operating Budget in a style departing from past practice.  Instead of weeping and wailing about how they would love to run better service, but can’t afford it, the TTC now has a budget posture of “this is what we plan to run, now let’s find the money to do it”.

This is the sort of advocacy long missing from a “transit” agency.

The starting point for the budget assumes:

  • Costs will rise due to inflationary and contract pressures, as well as operation of more service.
  • Revenues will rise due to increased riding (with no allowance for a fare increase).
  • The City of Toronto subsidy will remain unchanged (this is actually a decline taking inflation into account)
  • The outstanding difference is to be funded through whatever revenue streams become available including a carry-over of any surplus from 2008 (at last report, a deficit, not a surplus was forecast).

Riding at current levels was last seen almost two decades ago in 1990, just before a recession triggered job losses, funding and service cutbacks.  During the dark years, service improvements were hard to achieve because almost no changes could meet the high average cost recovery of the existing system.  Policy shifts in this decade have moved the TTC to actively seek new riders even if this means that average will fall from its high of 85% back to a range in line with historic practice of the 80s and before. Continue reading

TTC Hosts Presentation on Montréal’s Smart Card Experience (Updated)

On the evening of Thursday, September 18, there was a presentation by Montréal’s AMT on the implementation of their Smart Card system.

See the announcement flyer for more details.

Updated:  The presentations gave a lot of information about the Montréal OPUS project, and I will outline the high points here.

Joël Gauthier, President and CEO of the Agence métropolitaine de transport was the main speaker.  He began by talking about the transit renaissance in Montréal.  Ridership has grown consistently since 1995, and the introduction of new fare systems supports the growth and attractiveness of public transit in general.  Capital programs are also underway to expand transit services including a new commuter rail line and an LRT line.  System ridership in 2008 is up 8% over 2007.

The Montréal region contains 83 municipalities (plus an additional 8 within the AMT’s service territory) and 14 transit operators serving a population of 3.6 million.  There are 2,550 buses, 5 commuter rail lines (52 stations) and 4 subway lines (68 stations).

An important thread in M. Gauthier’s talk was a focus on consumers.  The transit system needs a good relationship with its customers through service quality and through offerings such as OPUS that simplify the travel experience.  Smart Cards are part of an overall solution, not a cure-all.  Indeed, the OPUS project includes the construction of twelve customer centres around the Montréal area that will provide general support for the public in addition to OPUS itself.

The old fare structure in Montréal was fragmented among the 14 separate agencies each with its own fares, media and discount structures.  Riders would have to purchase single fares (tickets, tokens, passes) for each system they used, much as we see today in the GTA. 

Fare rationalization was introduced in 1996, five years before the OPUS project even started, to simplify fares for riders.  The metropolitan area is divided into 8 zones although most riders lie within a few of them.  A pass covering multiple zones is 15-25% cheaper than the combined cost of passes in the old, local systems.

Riders within the downtown zone are split about 50-50 between single ticket and monthly pass users, while those who cross zones are split 90-10 in favour of passes because of the discount.  The fares apply to all services including commuter rail.

Although revenue under the new scheme is lower, this is subsidized by funds from the provincial gas and vehicle license taxes.  Note that this is an organizational and governance issue, not a technology issue.  The desire to lower cross-zone fares is a noble goal, but it has a cost.  Smart Cards allow for flexibility of implementation of new fare schemes and for more accurate tracking of usage on each system, but they don’t magically create new revenue.  The expected savings from reduced fare fraud are seen as an offset to the system’s capital and operating costs, not as funding for fare rationalization which was already in place for a decade. Continue reading

The TTC’s Low-Floor LRV Presentation of August 27, 2008 (Update 2)

The TTC has not published the presentation on their website, and in the interest of having the material in view, I am transcribing it here.  Few pages involve diagrams, and so for the most part I will simply transcribe the text.

Where I comment on the material, I will do so in italics to distinguish my words from the TTC’s.

The pages with diagrams are linked to scanned images.

Update 1 (August 30):  In the post below, I originally said that the chronology did not mention the change from a 70% low floor spec to 100%.  A quibble has been raised on this point.

The original spec had both 70% and 100%, and the change was to remove the 70% option.  The net effect was the same:  any 70% low floor car that might have been proposed was eliminated from consideration.  It remains to be seen whether, in fact, any builder can adapt their designs to Toronto’s track geometry.

Update 2 (September 16):  The full presentation is now available on the TTC’s website.  The links in the post below take you to scanned images on my site.  If you want better resolution, use the TTC copies.

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