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.)

The draft report boils a large number of goals down to eight “big moves” to which all component projects are attached, one way or another.  These are:

  • A fast, frequent and expanded regional rapid transit network.
  • A complete walking and cycling network with bike-sharing programs.
  • An information system for travellers, where and when they need it.
  • A region-wide integrated transit fare system.
  • A system of connected mobility hubs.
  • High-prder transit connectivity to the Pearson Airport district from all directions.
  • A comprehensive strategy for goods movement.
  • An Investment Strategy to provide stable and predictable funding.

(Source:  Metrolinx THE BIG MOVE Page 19)

I cannot possibly deal with all of these in one post, but there are a few important items that deserve mention right away.

  • An “integrated transit fare system” does not require Smart Cards as a pre-requisite.  This distinction was made quite clearly in Rob MacIsaac’s presentation both at the press conference, and later today when I asked him to confirm it during the followup briefing.  The Presto system will eventually roll out across the GTA, but fare integration can occur before the full implementation of the card.  I will talk about this more when I come to financial issues in a later post.
  • Mobility hubs are seen not just as glamourous places to transfer between transit lines, but as development nodes and destinations in their own right.  Municipalities are expected to create plans for such hubs so that development around major transit stations will support the transit network.  Indeed, Metrolinx is quite aggressive in stating the degree to which local municipalities will have to bring their own plans into a supportive role for the regional plan.
  • Pearson Airport is now described as a “district”, not just as a place where people go for air travel.  This is a vital distinction lost on proponents of Blue 22 (the Toronto Airport Rail Link, or “TARL” as some would have it).  The goal of transit is not to serve only travellers, but the large number of people who work at and in the immediate vicinity of the airport.
  • Goods movement is a weak link in this plan, not that there is much that can be done without a major investment in roads.  To that end, two items are troubling.  One is a reference to the need for elimination of gaps and bottlenecks at regional boundaries.  If one were paranoid (or simply experienced) one might expect to see a lot of road widening rammed through Toronto’s suburbs on the grounds of regional rationalization.  The other, more serious proposal, came only in the verbal presentation where MacIsacc talked about a new rail freight line running in an expressway across the top of the region.  The problem is that no such expressway appears on the maps.
  • The Investment Strategy pushes hard decisions about funding off for several years with the hope that we can build and open some routes before asking for more funding from tolls, sales taxes, etc.  This strategy is clearly political to avoid controversy about “new taxes” and the inevitable fire and brimstone right-wing attack for one if not two provincial election cycles.  This may be good politics, but it’s a weak point in the future of the Regional Plan.

Although the report presents 15 and 25-year plans, there is actually another variant, a 7-year plan based on available MoveOntario 2020 funding.  The provincial money will, Metrolinx hopes, cover the cost of 15 top priority lines that will be substantially built by 2015.

  • VIVA Highway 7 and Yonge Street through York Region
  • Brampton’s Queen Street Acceleride
  • Spadina subway extension to Vaughan Corporate Centre
  • Yonge subway extension to Richmond Hill and capacity improvements
  • Eglinton rapid transit from Pearson Airport to Scarborough Centre
  • Upgrade and extension of the Scarborough Rapid Transit line
  • Finch/Sheppard rapid transit from Pearson Airport to Scarborough Centre and Meadowvale
  • Express Rail on the Lakeshore Line from Hamilton to Oshawa
  • Rapid transit in downtown Hamilton from McMaster University to Centennial Parkway
  • Hurontario rapid transit from Port Credit to downtown Brampton
  • 403 Transitway from Mississauga City Centre to the Renforth Gateway
  • Rail link between Union Station and Pearson Airport
  • Rapid transit service along Highway 2 in Durham
  • Improvements to existing GO Rail services and extension of GO Rail service to Bowmanville
  • Early phases of BRT service on Dundas Street in Halton and Peel

If and when the hoped-for share from Ottawa shows up, this could carry Metrolinx out to about 2018 with further work on MoveOntario.

As several people have pointed out here and on other blogs, notably absent is significant relief for the Yonge Street corridor via commuter rail improvements or additional subway capacity to the core area (the Downtown Relief Line).

Metrolinx fudges the technology issue by lumping a variety of modes into the generic moniker of “rapid transit” including:

  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
  • Light Rapid Transit (LRT)
  • Automated Guideway Transit (AGT, of which the Scarborough RT is an example)

This continues in the best tradition of provincial bafflegab where we take a term everyone understands to mean “subway” and restyle it as something else.  This allows Metrolinx to talk about the large proportion of the GTA population that will live within 2km of “rapid transit”.  This is misleading and should be fixed.  (The last time this sort of subterfuge happened, we got “Advanced Light Rapid Transit” as the name for the RT which is not “LRT” by the fundamental definition that it requires a dedicated right-of-way.)

Other possible transit modes include:

  • Express Rail (high speed, electrified commuter rail service with frequent headway and high capacity)
  • Regional Rail (GO Transit, but with more frequent service)
  • Subway

A big issue with these names (and their descriptions) is that their claimed abilities cover a very wide range, and no distinction is made, for example, between “BRT” that is little more than a reserved curb lane for buses, and “BRT” that is a dedicated highway with multilane stations.

Environmental and congestion issues came up for question today because it is unclear how much less, if at all, these problems will be in 25 years’ time.  The common problem to these and other network issues is the expected 50% growth in population of the GTA over this period.  The amount of additional travel this represents more than makes up for the shift of riders to transit.  The transit modal share is predicted to rise from 16.5% to 26.2%, but the number of AM peak trips will go up from 467,000 to 1.1-million.  This will require more than twice the transit capacity across the region even though less than 1/3 of the trips will be by transit.

[Note to people wondering where I got that figure:  From the Metrolinx report, we know the transit modal share and count of trips, and it is easy to work backwards to get the total trip count and the non-transit trips.  These rise by about 1/3 and I strongly doubt they have all taken up cycling or jogging.]

Congestion impacts and costs are tricky to predict because one must consider not only the nominal cost of one’s time sitting in traffic, but also the extra fuel cost and impact and the mobility implications of trips not taken because they are impractical.  Even with all of the added transit riding, peak car trips will rise by about 1/3 (offset partly, but not completely, by increased occupancy) and this inevitably means more congestion, not less.  This will likely be more severe in the 905 areas where much of the travel cannot easily be diverted to transit and the modal split, though improved, will remain low.

An important consideration with the Draft RTP is that it is not intended as a definitive plan, but only “conceptual”.  Recommended alignments and technologies are to be refined through “project-level Benefits Case Analysis”.  We have just managed to get the Environmental Assessment process, for better or worse, down to six months, and this added analysis bodes yet another source of delay if Metrolinx, the municipalities and the transit systems cannot agree on the terms of the analysis.

This bears directly on the technology controversy for Eglinton Avenue where an AGT scheme is not dead, merely lurking in the shadows.  Although the official demand projections for this line have not been published, I understand that once the corridor was properly configured in the model (reasonable speed and station spacing for a more local service), the projected demand fell well into LRT range roughly matching the TTC and City of Toronto’s own figures. 

Alas, Metrolinx seems to be fixated on a cross-Toronto AGT corridor.  Rob MacIsaac can honestly say “we are not going to build a subway on Eglinton”, but that’s not the question.  A line of that size, including a retrofitted and extended SRT, would make a plum contract for a proprietary technology vendor whether we actually need it or not.

Some Transit City proposals are also up for refinement.  On the Sheppard-Finch corridor, alternatives are to be studied including:

  • Westward extension of the Sheppard subway to Downsview.
  • Connection of the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects via Don Mills.  This obviously implies an eastern extension of the Finch LRT line for which detailed study would be needed, as well as completion of at least the northern part of the Don Mills line which is not in the 7-year plan.

The Metrolinx Board has a critical role as all of this rolls forward through “Draft” to “Final” stage.  MacIsaac, when asked about possible changes based on public feedback, allowed that the extensive consultation to date indicates that Metrolinx is basically on the right track, and they don’t expect to make major changes.

My view is rather different.  Metrolinx has already said that it’s a conceptual plan that will need refinement, and in all of those details lie many controversies.  Plans that look good on paper today will inevitably change to meet local and regional requirements, and it is vital that we not lock in to a new set of “stone tablets” with an immutable plan.  Particularly in the short term as we shift from a road-oriented region to transit and as we move from ad hoc project funding to sustained capital and operating revenue, the plan will need to evolve.  This is not to say we study everything to death, but equally we don’t want to fight battles in 2020 about lines that made sense only in the context of late 2008.

Things change.  The fact that we even have a draft Regional Plan is a big step, but it needs to go somewhere and receive support, not sit with the many other grand schemes on every planner’s shelf.  That’s the real challenge for Metrolinx.

(In future posts, I will turn to specific areas of the draft plan as well as the investment strategy.)

14 thoughts on “Metrolinx: The Big Move (2) Overview

  1. I figured out how they decided what goes on the 7-year list. If it is an east-west line it gets fast tracked, north-south lines sit on the back burner.

    Let’s further crowd the overcapacity subway and keep a good single-point-of-failure for the entire city. Thanks Metrolinx.


  2. Does anyone know whether “integrated fare” entails zone based fares (i.e. fare increases the more zones you travel in or through). Seems only fair. Moreover, you could have reduced fares than actual for downtown transit use. Right now, you pay the same fare whether you travel from Yonge/Finch and whether you just hope on for 2 stops.

    Moreover, with all the proposed increase in GO traffic and proposed use of High Speed Trains, how are we going to minimize disturbance on neighbourhoods where tracks presently run? Why should downtown homeowners have to live with the noise generated by out-of-town home owners? First principle should remain live close to where you work.


    Steve: There is no specific proposal for an integrated fare structure on the table. Smart Card proponents have always talked about fare by distance, but a zonal system would allow integration without having to wait for completion of the Smart Card project.


  3. Steve, I know you said that you will deal with the investment strategy in a later post but I wanted to comment while I was still hot under the collar about this. There is no investment strategy, and this, more than any detail in the actual plan, speaks volumes about the strength of the political commitment. Hell they may as well have promised a network of mag-lev trains to every suburb…

    Doesn’t it seems obvious to anyone who can add that $50 billion needs more than “we are waiting for the feds” which will be a lost cause under the CPC and little better even if the LPC get back in (there are many more deserving bocce ball courts I’m sure…). The feds have in reality rarely funded urban transit in this country under any party. No, this plan needs dedicated funding in the form of some kind of new tax or user fee, which should be implemented regionally (with a referendum if necessary).

    These types of dedicated taxes to fund capital have been common across the US for a century and yet are apparently too controversial to even discuss among Ontario’s political class (in reality this is more about Cabinet controlling every last tax dollar but I digress). The problem, much to the surprise and consternation of many (including apparently the Cdn Taxpayers Federation) is that you don’t get something for nothing, moreover, why should taxpayers in Kenora (let alone Halifax) pay for Toronto’s subways (esp when we have a far deeper tax base)?

    McGuinty has a chance to spend some political capital here on the region that gave him his 2 majorities and have something of a legacy.


  4. While I could nitpick the plan to death…….

    I suppose I should be grateful for anything that looks like its vaguely going in the right direction.

    That said, I have some serious concerns:

    1) Investment Strategy. Where is it? No money equals no faith that much will come of the plan, let alone, that in certain aspects, it might be more ambitious.

    2) Highways, and more highways. Enough already. If were are serious about curbing sprawl there can not be anymore greenfield highway extensions! These always lead to new sprawl, they will destroy more precious farmland, and many will cross the Greenbelt….which I could have sworn was not a highway corridor….(cough, 407, cough Bill Davis Greenbelt).

    3) The modal split target to transit seems too low. As noted by Steve, if this were adopted you would get 33% more road traffic. At the minimum we should be aiming for status-quo on road traffic. I don’t think that’s an extreme position in the least. Now if we do that, (I’m not doing the exact math here)… it works out to a modal split for transit in mid 40’s. I think some of that can be achieved within the proposed transit modes/routes….) but….

    4) Definitely more high capacity is required in more places. Mentioned in the report is the idea of a high-capacity transit line linking Oakville, Miss, Brampton, Vaughan, Markham and Pickering. Though it does not show up on any map. This is clearly a line following the CN York Subdivision. (Has anyone told CN yet?). I think this may make sense, but it needs to be on the map for proper discussion and analysis. The Sheppard issue needs to be straightened out one way or the other. I favour finishing the damned subway line (not as a first, or top 10 priority, but in the long plan); that said, convert it to LRT, do whatever, let’s just get clarity, and make it a useful corridor. Lastly in this regard, the SLRT must go. We need the B-D subway out to STC, this line is busting at the seems, as Steve well knows. A re-routed BD allows the existing line to be open during construction and we can serve SGH (hospital) on the way up, a huge trip generator.

    5) Finally, can we kill the SLRT or AGT tecnology in this City once and for all? Please. No hidden agendas to finance Bombardier. We can buy subway cars from them, maybe even LRT if they can design/build a good one, but no funny proprietary technologies, and no lease-back P3 schemes.

    Whew, I’m exhausted. (smile) Now back to reading Steve.


  5. Thanks for the post Steve. I got wrapped up in a lot of these possible plans that I forgot about some much needed plans for the Downtown area. You mentioned the Downtown Relief Line and this line can not be put on some back burner. The Yonge portion of the YUS line is close to capacity right now, without all these new feeder routes. The Metrolinx rough draft stated that they are prioitizing extending that subway to Richmond Hill/Hgwy 7 area AND increase the capacity of that line. The forgotten about DRL would help alleviate a lot of the present congestion and the future increased congestion as well. If something is not done about the core area downtown public transit will be very uncomfortable here in Toronto. That said I am so relieved that the powers that be are finally at least talking about some serious long-term sustained expansion and funding for our long neglected system.


  6. A lot of people are being overly critical of the Draft RTP. Then again, this is Toronto, where pessimists and debbie downers flourish.

    Personally, I think the plan is great. It could be a little more aggressive, with more emphasis on subway construction, but with the exception of the DRL and York University extension, most subway projects in the city could wait 10-15 years.

    Assuming that everything runs smoothly, and governments at all levels make written non-retractable commitments to funding, this plan will get Toronto and the GTHA on the right track as far as transit is concerned.

    And once everything is implemented, Torontonians and transit fanatics in the GTHA will have something else to complain about. By that time, we’ll have fallen behind again and the future premiers will come out with OntarioWeb 2050.

    Steve: There is a subtle balancing act between being “critical” and being “constructive”. Metrolinx was actually thinking of a “communications strategy” to paint their critics as “NIMBYs” and to marginalize them as if they (we) had nothing worthwhile to say. There is valid reason for debating the plan, the vagueness of the financing, and especially some of the choices that have been made without any supporting technical arguments.

    I want to see a good transit network, but I don’t like the idea that, for example, a subway to Richmond Hill somehow gets on the table for the short term thereby pushing a lot of cheaper projects to the sidelines. It’s the York U/VCC line all over again.


  7. Hopefully the federal parties campaigning right now for the Oct. 14 election let us voters know their position about this plan. I think, with this election, I am going to let public transit funding throughout Canada be the main reason for my choosing which party to vote for. Public transit isn’t just a one issue agenda for me, it greatly helps both the environment and the economy.


  8. I’m hoping that the decision to make Pearson Airport a district rather than a location means the end of Blue22 and the beginning of GO train service there that benefits commuters, travellers and the people in the neighbouring commmunities.


  9. I agree with Steve. I really don’t know why extentions of the Y-U-S line are being considered when it can’t even handle the capacity it is already receiving. The Downtown Relief line should be fast-tracked in my opinion and only when this is built, extentions of the Y-U-S should be considered.


  10. Matt & Sept. 24 at 11:24 am

    I tend to agree with what you say. Most of what is proposed is logical and there are not many variants, to be honest.

    People are trying to finesse this transit issue and that is a dream.

    If you read some of the histories of what has happened in other cities, you will see that it was not finessed. Some real boondoggles occured.

    That’s life.

    The TTC blames the City of Toronto for lack of funding. The City of Toronto blames the Provincial Gov., and the Prov. Government blames the Fed. Government.

    Until this cycle changes nothing happens.

    I guess, because of past history, I am a ‘debbie downer’.

    I would love to see new LRV streetcars and a few of these proposed LRT lines before I die.

    Back in March we were in Geneve for a day and rode their Bombardier LRV, at least on one route. Next summer we may do a trip to Belgium/Netherlands.


  11. “An information system for travellers, where and when they need it.”

    Having just tried to get out of Sheppard station with a friend who is in a wheelchair, I think this is a good place to remind ourselves of the need for well-placed elevators for the disabled, but, more importantly, for a consistent, useful, system-wide art design for TTC direction signage. This inexpensive (compared to new lines) project would greatly alleviate frustration of many users from the disabled to visitors to our city.

    As an example, in the case above, we wanted to get out to the Sheppard Centre. First, the signage seemed to indicate only one elevator (because the second sign and elevator were hidden until one had committed to the first elevator, based upon the first sign); second, after getting up one level, the signage to the street-level elevator was at the same time missing and misleading (in that the single sign to a disabled elevator failed to point out that we were just about to pass the elevator to our required exit; the latter having no indication of a disabled exit). Once up at the (wrong) street-level exit, the local map of the station had NO indication of the location of the disabled elevators. We were lucky to noticed a friendly TTC employee, who pointed directed us through the convoluted way out of the station. If the exit for the disabled is twisted, for goodness sake sign it well. The disabled have enough stresses in their everyday lives. The TTC should not be adding to them by unnecessarily making passage through the subway anything less than obvious and easy.

    In every proposed plan of TTC improvement, let’s push for a rational signage/station design (like that of London Transport), to be completed within, say, two years, maximum. It’s so simple, and so cheap compared to new lines.

    Oh, and a budget line item for cleaning stations regularly would also be cheap, and help draw fare-paying customers.

    The problem with the above items seems to be that they are such easy targets for ‘cost saving.’ 😦 I suspect that, nonetheless, their positive contribution to the customer experience is way out of proportion to their costs.


  12. It is not just the disabled who use these facilities. Everyone from bicyclists to parents with children in strollers needs them.


  13. In Houston, Texas the busways they were originally going to build were to be built rail ready meaning an easy upgrading to light rail in the future. Is this to be done on any of the proposed BRT lines in the GTAH?

    Steve: I have not heard anything definitive one way or another, but knowing the continuing opposition to LRT in some quarters (and a matching enthusiasm for BRT), it would not surprise me that this sort of design is overlooked. I will try to find out whether this has been taken into account.


  14. LRT hands down. The fiscal conservative in me begs for LRT. Buses have their place as I have stated before, but keeping the operating budget costs down with LRT with all that extra capacity needed, it’s a win win. I remember somewhere that Calgary Transit did a report with the fiscal diffrence, and BRT was five times higher in terms of expense to run. Capital costs will always be there as it is needed, but you can do a lot with operating budget with the technology of choice, if we can have a LRT running every 3 mins, instead of a bus every 6 minutes for the same cost, I am always up for that.


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