Where Should Metrolinx Be Going? (Part 3)

Events of the past 24 hours have overtaken me with the leak of a draft of the Draft Regional Transportation Plan to the Globe and Mail.  I had intended to hold off talking about that for a few days on the assumption it would leak out of this weekend’s retreat by the Metrolinx Board, but there it was, at least a few tastes, on the front page no less.

All the same, I want to pursue my original plan which was to trace the evolution of plans to what is likely going to show up in the Draft RTP.

In the previous post, I talked about the IBI studies done for the GTTA/Metrolinx startup in January 2007.  The Green and White Papers, and now the draft plan are direct descendents of those original studies, but with important differences along the way.

All of the reports I am discussing (except the draft plan which is not yet published) are available on the Metrolinx website.

The Strategic Transit Directions report, discussed in Part 2, contains four sample networks:

  • Base:  Essentially all the plans already in the pipeline for road and transit improvements in late 2006.
  • Radial:  A plan focussing on services into downtown Toronto.
  • Circumferential:  A plan focussing on services for trips that are not core-oriented including trips between the 905 regions.
  • Combined:  Both the Radial and Circumferential plans merged into one.

The Metrolinx Green Paper Number 7, Transit (March 2008) restyles these as:

  • Trends:  More or less the base case.
  • Incremental:  Base case plus MoveOntario 2020
  • Bold:  Incremental plus Regional Express (REX) and a restyling of several corridors as “Urban Rapid Transit”

These are very ambitious proposals, and they are compromised by description with language that invites the reader to “Dare to be Bold!”.  The problem is we must also dare to be very expensive as we learned when the White Paper came out.  The Bold network is estimated to cost $2-3 billion more per year to build than the other networks, and this does not include operating costs.

One other thing that was lost, at least in name, was the distinction between network elements that were core-oriented and those that served regional travel.

At this point, I must make a small aside.  “Regional travel” is a much abused word in this process because it includes several components:

  • Travel from the 905 to the 416 (the cross-boundary problem)
  • Travel between 905 regions (inter-regional)
  • Travel within 905 regions (intra-regional)

These distinctions are in the original IBI study, but they seem to have vanished by the time Metrolinx reached the Green paper.  The type of network and service required for each of these is quite different, but this doesn’t generate much discussion by Metrolinx.

As I discussed in Part 1, the Green Papers also include a lot of stuff about Active Transportation, Demand Management and Mobility Hubs.  Great stuff in its own right, but not the sort of thing that will have a huge impact on overall transit or roadway demands.

The importance of local service, so stressed by IBI, still exists in the Green Paper with this statement:

The final elements in the transit mode hierarchy are local and feeder transit services. These modes are responsible for bringing riders to higher-order transit lines, and generally serve short trips in low-density areas. The success of any new major transit investments will require significant increases in local transit services to bring riders to higher-capacity modes. 

As to specifics, this shows up as a proposal for service standards both in headways and in crowding, although the 15 minute service included as a “bold” alternative isn’t going to impress many car drivers.  Moreover, it is unclear who would pay for this enhanced service as the Green paper does not talk about it much.

As I have said before, all the information systems, all the fare integration, all the beautiful waiting rooms are worthless without good local transit service to bring people to the core routes of the new network.  You will wait in comfort sipping your latte, you will ride for a fraction of the current fare thanks to the elimination of Steeles Avenue from the transit lexicon, and you will even know that the next bus is coming, but it must come reliably and soon.

Among the more contentious elements in the Green Paper are “alternative arrangements” for service delivery including consolidation of the regional systems, private sector involvement in service delivery or even design-build-operate-maintain contracts in the currently fashionable PPP manner.  These are also elements of the “Bold” option.  These are not as forcefully stated in the White Paper, although we may see more evidence of them in the Investment Strategy.

The Metrolinx White Paper Number 2, Preliminary Directions and Concepts (May 2008) , returns us to the earlier nomenclature for the Test Networks:

  • Business as Usual (the base case)
  • Linear (roughly equivalent to the Incremental plan from the Green paper)
  • Radial (the Linear network plus strengthened services focussed on the core area especially via commuter rail)
  • Web (further additions of lines serving non-core traffic, essentially a derivative of the IBI Circumferential and Combined models)

In response to criticism at the Metrolinx Board, two additional variants were added:

  • A Radial system with expanded roads (in effect to reinforce commuting services by road as well as transit)
  • A Web system with reduced roads (in effect to determine how constraining the growth of roads would affect transit usage)

No surprises here:  if we build more roads, we postpone the day of reckoning for car capacity.  Road use goes up and transit use goes down.  If we build fewer roads, today’s problems become more acute and some traffic is forced onto transit because it is relatively competitive.  An important distinction here is that forcing someone out of their car is not the same as luring them into a transit vehicle, and they will go much more willingly if there is demonstrably improved transit service as an alternative to traffic congestion.

Also evident in review of even the most aggressive of test networks, none of them reduced auto travel sufficiently to meet the Provincial goals.  With the information in the original IBI study, this is easy to understand.  The modal split in the regions will remain in single digits for trips that are not going to or from the 416, while the absolute number of these trips will rise considerably.

Capital costs for the various test cases range from $60-80 billion for the transit components, with $0-25 billion for the road network.  Transit operating costs range from $3.1-3.9 billion annually.  These are huge increases from the figures in the IBI study and in MoveOntario 2020.  I can’t help noting that those who criticise the TTC for lowballing Transit City need to look to Metrolinx for an even more astounding change in project scope and cost.

Finally, on the importance of local service, the concept is even further diluted in the White paper:

Region-wide standards for customer service could be developed and adopted for all transit operators, and operators could be required to develop a strategy to meet these standards and to report publicly on their performance. Standards could address issues such as maximum service headways, loading and crowding, service reliability including delays and cancellations, cleanliness and comfort, and customer satisfaction.

Now it is “could” rather than “must”, and there is no indication that local service is a vital part of the network.  Indeed, a search of the White Paper never finds the word “local” applied to service, but rather to a host of other unrelated topics.  The plan may dare to be bold, but it is very shy about local service, once described as essential to the success of the network.

At last we come to the Draft Plan itself.  I am not going to enumerate all of the proposals because this document has gone through some reworking and the information leaked today is not necessarily reflective of the current plan.  Moreover, I suspect there will be some frank discussions, as diplomats are wont to say, at the Board retreat this weekend, and who knows what will show up in the final draft.

However, several themes are notable:

  • All of the proposals have responsibilities attached to them, and an astounding number of them have “local municipalities”.  Instead of providing a plan for a unified transit budget and funding scheme, the draft leaves much of the responsibility for funding and execution in local hands.
  • Responsibility for local service quality rests with the transit operators and, yes, those local municipalities.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for frequent service all over the GTAH.
  • Although Metrolinx loves new farecard technologies, there is no discussion of how they might be implemented or who will pay for the consolidated fare structure.  As I reported in my review of the TTC’s capital budget, the estimate for Toronto’s portion of this project is now up to $365-million.
  • There is no analysis to establish how Metrolinx proceeded from the various test networks to the proposed plan.  It’s simply one more in a series of maps.
  • The boldest of the elements in the White Paper networks, the Regional Express services, have been reduced simply to existing GO routes on the Lakeshore, Weston/Brampton and Richmond Hill lines (the last in the 25-year plan only).
  • Although one of Metrolinx’ tasks was to set priorities, this version of the draft shows only a 15 and a 25 year plan.  The target for annual capital spending is $2.2-billion, well below that of the most aggressive plans in the White Papers, but there is no actual projected total cost (capital or operating) for the proposed networks.  It is possible that this information will appear in the Investment Strategy report which is a companion to the draft plan.
  • Except for the White Paper test plan with fewer roads, none of the Metrolinx discussions challenges assumptions about the planned road improvements by the regions or by the Ministry of Transportation.  All of these are taken as pre-existing elements of any plan.
  • All of the information about meeting environmental targets that appeared in the White Paper has vanished in the draft RTP.  I will be generous and hope that it has moved to a separate background paper, but there is no reference to such a document in the draft.
  • At no point is there any discussion of what the GTAH might do if the hoped-for 1/3 Federal funding does not materialize.  What will the priority list look like?  Is there some threshold of ongoing spending below which progress on transit construction cannot hope to keep up with, much less lead growth in demand?  When we talk about “sustainable” plans, this includes plans whose funding stands a good chance of survival from year to year and government to government.

A great deal of space is consumed with non-transit material on active transportation, transportation demand management and other topics.  Each of these has a role to play, but as I wrote previously, none of them can address the fundamental problems of service quantity and quality. 

Getting someone to walk to a transit station doesn’t eliminate the need for transit, only for the parking space their car formerly occupied.  Getting someone to walk to work is only practical for short trips and that, in turn, means profound land use changes that will take decades to implement and have substantial impact. 

Cycling has a role for some trips where the length fits in with cyclists’ physical capabilities and the suitability of their workplace as a cycling destination.  However, the bottom line is that in the winter, when transit demand is at its peak, the capacity is needed to carry all those fair-weather Active Transportationists.

Much has been written over the mode choice for the Eglinton line.  In Part 2, I explained my thoughts on the origin of the much higher demand estimate used by Metrolinx versus the TTC.  This needs sorting out, but even with this discrepancy, there are major issues both technical and political:

  • Assuming that the actual peak demand will be somewhere in the 10,000 per hour range, this is still well within the capability of LRT particularly with the central section of the line underground.  Demand on the outer parts of the line will be lower, and not all service needs to go through to Kennedy or Pearson Airport.  Just telling us the peak number does not, of itself, justify a full “metro” service over the entire line.
  • The cost of an fully underground route has been cited at various levels, but somewhere in the $6-7 billion range is reasonable based on other projects.  This is a big dent out of the total spending for Metrolinx and for the region.
  • Metrolinx has tried to portray opposition to its plan as parochialism, as a Toronto versus the 905 spat.  In fact, if I were a 905 politician, I would be livid at the thought of spending 2-3 times more on a line almost entirely within Toronto that would soak up capital from projects that could be built in the 905.  Toronto and the 905 have common purpose here to see that whatever funds are available are spent wisely across the region.
  • It is no secret that there have been proposals for a private undertaking to build and operate RT services in Toronto.  This has already shown up in the TTC Capital Budget with respect to the Scarborough line, and Eglinton is a natural extension of it.  The draft plan includes Skytrain technology as one of the options for “Metro” lines as Eglinton is shown.  I don’t remember ever hearing any debate about an arrangement that would hand such a plum project to likely a sole-source proponent of a proprietary technology.


Metrolinx needs to refocus on the basics of its task which is overwhelmingly to plan a transportation network and propose options for how it will be financed.  Much of the space in the draft plan is taken up with peripheral issues, while the transportation problems so clearly set out in the IBI report of early 2007 have faded into the background.  Hard decisions about transportation options are buried under a mound of secondary discussions.

Although the Investment Strategy may sort out the financial plans, the vagueness of data in the draft plan compared with that in the various papers leading up to this point is very troubling.

Finally, Metrolinx needs to understand that many people have views on transit.  We’re not all right, and we’re not all wrong.  Pitting groups or individuals against each other is counterproductive because we spend time on those fights rather than on the much more vital task of building a transit system.  The breadth of discussion on this blog and others like it shows the range of opinions held by many people, and these voices need to be heard.

Some at Metrolinx regard me as an opponent to be neutralized, a voice to be silenced under a din of happy choristers singing the praise of the Metrolinx vision.  This is unworthy of such an important organization.

When the final draft report surfaces (officially or otherwise), I will comment on the details and hope that it will address many if not all of the issues raised here.

8 thoughts on “Where Should Metrolinx Be Going? (Part 3)

  1. An important quote from today’s Toronto Star:

    The early drafts include a map showing a “Metro” line along Eglinton, as well as a light rail line where the Sheppard subway currently exists. Sources have said Metrolinx has been pushing for a subway line along Eglinton.

    MacIssac denied this. “I do not anticipate we will be recommending a subway on Eglinton,” he said, admitting he doesn’t want to inflame tensions between the provincial planning agency and Toronto.

    Steve: There is a lot of backtracking on the Eglinton issue, and Metrolinx is now sounding much more concilliatory. The real issue is the assumed future demand and the ability of LRT to handle it.


  2. Thanks for the sneak preview of how this Metrolinx plan is shaping up. One thing you mentioned has me interested you stated that “you will ride for a fraction of the current fare thanks to the elimination of Steeles Avenue from the transit lexicon”. Since the extension of the YUS subway is heading north from Downsview for a much needed station at York U and then is going to continue north to Vaughn Corporate Center are you hinting that this will all be under one fare system. Or will we be like my old hometown of Vancouver, and have different Zones under one system. I think with the rapid transit extended into York region the two systems are going to have to have some type of fare system so that neither system is shortchanged in the revenue collection from fares. I know that another plan is to extend the Yonge line north to hgwy. 7 and this too would slowly erode the ‘Steeles’ boundary between the TTC and YRT.

    Steve: My understanding is that the subway extension will be entirely in “Zone 1” assuming that the current fare structure is still in place by the time the line opens.


  3. Steve,

    Correct me if I am wrong. Isn’t Metrolinx supposed to be a COORDINATING agency for the entire GTA. I seem to be missing any sense that their plans have been previously discussed with any of the GTA’s various Transit Agencies. Metrolinx seems to be at odds with (especially) the TTC and the Transit City plans in particular.

    As I have posted elsewhere in your blog, I have serious doubts about Metrolinx. I see it as a tool of the provincial government (remember who created it) as a way of proposing transit projects that favour the region over the city (such as express trains over local trains on Eglinton).

    The TTC is far from perfect, but their mandate is to provide transit for the City of Toronto. The TTC focus seems to be a bit fuzzy at times but their main interest is TORONTO not the region. I will state that my preference (as a TTC Operator) is to stay south of Steeles (and I try to sign my work accordingly) – I hate the issue of collecting YRT fares!

    Steve: Yes, Metrolinx cannot seem to decide whether it is to co-ordinate or to dictate plans and operations. I cannot imagine the Metrolinx Board dealing with a room full of irate passengers demanding to know why they have such lousy bus service.


  4. Steve wrote, “My understanding is that the subway extension will be entirely in “Zone 1″ assuming that the current fare structure is still in place by the time the line opens.”

    That is what I gathered from it, much like the way the Steeles East 53B and 53E operates when it loops on McCowan, Elson, and Markham north of Steeles.

    I wrote about how York Region commuter students at York U will be paying double when the subway opens, should the current fare system remain. See http://lrt.daxack.ca/blog/?p=63


  5. I just read James Bow’s thoughts on these current transit issues and he seems to have really hit the nail right smack dab on the head in everything he says. After reading what he has to say I can only conclude that should light rail be rubbed out along Eglinton a subway would be by far the lesser of two evils under Eglinton.

    Now I’m NOT trying to pump away for a subway BUT I am saying that should the TTC be forced into anything more expensive than LRT it had just better not be ALRT, that’s all. If the province and/or Metrolinx want something other than LRT it’s only right that they pay the entire difference in construction costs.

    Steve: If you read Rob MacIsaac’s comments together with the draft plan carefully, you can see that he is dissembling. He is right to say “no, we don’t propose a subway on Eglinton”, but the map shows a mysterious mode called “metro” and this is described in the report as an automated technology on a completely grade separated right of way. Some writers, including a less than perceptive Star editorial board, assume that his statements mean he supports an LRT option when in fact he is pushing a very long RT line.


  6. One thing I’ve seen written in print is a description of a subway or subway- like line along Eglinton. now call me ignorant or insipid or whatever you want but if there isn’t going to be a subway there just what is meant by a line being “subwaylike?” There sure isn’t much of any place for a heavy rail line to run on the surface unless somebody thinks they can put an elevated structure above Eglinton.

    Steve: The reference is to Skytrain (e.g. SRT) technology with the central portion underground and, possibly, some of the outer portions on elevated structures. Metrolinx gets away with claiming they’re not proposing a “subway” because they refer to RT-like modes as “Metro”. Sophistry is the $50 word for what they are doing.


  7. I have to agree with Gord on this one, TTC is for TORONTO, NOT for the 905, I have serious doubts about Metrolinx and it’s ultimate goals, I’ve yet to see the report, but I don’t like the sound of some of the stuff I’ve read in the papers and elseware on the ‘net.

    I don’t like the direction this “Eglinton metro” would it be a TTC operation, or run by GO Transit (which leaves a bile taste in my mouth just thinking about GO running it).

    I currently am trying to get some info on the GO disabled advisory committee, as I some serious issues with how GO does things and charges full fare for blind people when it truely is not accessible for us, (example: Aldershot Station).

    With these ideas Metrolinx has, could there be another looming turf war as there currently is between Mississauga Transit ( MT) and TTC???

    Just a few points I’m pondering.


  8. Emily: Although I agree with your doubts regarding Metrolinx (assume my “we’ve been there already” face), I should point out that suburban commuters have just as equal, if not more important role to play in the Public Transportation picture in the GTA. Put it quite simply: piss them off, and they’ll piss you off by clogging your roads so that your buses don’t get through. Piss them off even more and the dreaded new expressway to downtown just might get some momentum. They need to get somewhere too, and now is not the time to be flipping the bird to them.

    We need to get away from thinking about Toronto first and consider the entire 905 region as a whole. Although I am not holding my breath for any actions going on with regards to Metrolinx.


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