Metrolinx Benefits Cases: VIVA First Out

Metrolinx has started the publication of its Benefits Case Analyses with the York VIVA system.  The SRT replacement study is also completed, and I expect to see it online soon.

These papers will appear in a section of the Projects Page on the Metrolinx site.

There is nothing too surprising in the VIVA study.  The map, excerpted from the full report, shows the staging options for the construction of exclusive bus lanes, here called “Rapidways”.

The core of the system radiating out from Richmond Hill Centre north to 19th, east to Unionville and west to Vaughan Corporate Centre would be finished by 2013.  In Option 1, the remainder of the network would be completed by 2018, or if Option 2 is chosen, by 2026.

A quite fascinating part of the BCA comes in the ridership estimates.  In the “Base Case” (just leave VIVA as it is with provision for modest fleet expansion), the projected 2021 ridership is 28.0-million per year.  This rises to only 30.3-million for either of the options studied.  Similarly, 2031 ridership is projected at 31.3-million for the Base Case, or 34.0-million for either of the optional networks.

Various factors are at work here.

The core of the demand falls on the first stage network that is common to both options, and the impact of the extensions is so small that it doesn’t make a difference (Before anyone accuses me of VIVA-bashing, that is a direct paraphrase from the report.)  Although the implementation of the Rapidways will give existing users a better riding experience, the comparatively small jump in riding suggests that most of the potential market is already using the system.

Updated:  In a comment posted following this post, “Dave R in the Beach” notes that the big jump in ridership is from current ridership of 6.8-million to the Base Case value of 28.0-million, and this is largely due to the subway extension.  In my response, I observed that the marginal gain from either BRT network is small and may reflect the comparatively small contribution the reserved bus lanes make to overall trip times when the much longer subway segment of the journey is included. [End of update]

An unknown acknowledged in the BCA is the question of land use planning.  Will York Region redevelop along the Rapidways, and how much will this contribute to future demand?

In the end, the BCA does not specifically recommend one option over the other, but the message about getting most of the benefit for 60% of the capital cost is quite clear.  We will see how this fares when Metrolinx puts together its detailed plan for project staging.

22 thoughts on “Metrolinx Benefits Cases: VIVA First Out

  1. One thing is clear, the day that the unfair fare system is reformed, i will once again take VIVA. I have taken the pass on the system and have been driving since Sept and one thing is quite clear. It is way to cheaper to drive then pay the extra fare just for the purpose of going from Highway 7 to Steeles Ave. Especially during off peak times when highway efficiency (not to mention the quickness) comes into play.

    January is coming along with the new $4.00 parking fee. Sadly i think i have to switch back to VIVA since the advantage of carpooling will be offset by the new $4.00 fee.

    What is the point in all this? The fact is clear, when the fare system is reformed, it will suddenly bring in a lot more riders then normal. I would love to take the comfy fast VIVA on dedicated lanes then drive but the whole extra fare is a huge offset. I could probably say that 80% of people i know living in the 905 and working downtown either take the GO Train or drive to some part of Toronto and take the TTC.

    Those numbers will suddenly change and i am confident (willing to bet $) that ridership will increase. Especially on Highway 7 VIVA Lines because the fare will be proper. Right now, people just take the adjacent Steeles bus (such as myself if necessary) so that the extra fare can be avoided!

    Fare reform = Increased VIVA Ridership!


  2. One of the objectives mentioned in the executive summary is to improve connectivity to GO stations and TTC subway. Is Metrolinx going to look into the feeder services “provided” by YRT at the moment or is that something YRT and GO have to hash out on their own?

    Steve: One big problem with Metrolinx planning is that it has treated “local” services as something that will just happen, and at local expense. Language to that effect was much more obvious in early versions of the RTP, but this was softened, then removed by the time of the final draft.

    The Metrolinx board, almost all “local” politicians, is very concerned about the need to fund both the implementation of the new network and the operation of local networks.


  3. Actually, the report says that current ridership in 6.8 million – and would grow to 28.0 million in 2021 in the base case etc..

    This is wholly different that saying the “most of the potential market is already using the system”.

    Much of the growth may well be driven by the subway extensions – and since these are part of the base case – the projections don’t vary that much.

    Steve: Thanks for pointing out that correction. I will fix the underlying text. However, the basic observation still obtains. It is the extension of subway service that produces the lion’s share of the demand, not the marginal changes of mixed-traffic feeders to BRT. I suspect that the issue is that the overall travel time (origin to destination) is mainly determined by the subway portion of the journey, and the delta for putting buses on their own lane is comparatively small. In turn, this causes only a small change in the modelled demand.

    If I am correct, this would also imply that the traffic is overwhelmingly subway-oriented rather than local trips within the VIVA network’s territory.


  4. Not to seem overly “quibblesome”, VIVA is intended to be for non-local trips. Regular YRT is for local trips.

    The subway definitely changes the growth equation. The extensions – especially the Yonge extension – mean that a good chunk of current VIVA ridership is subsumed into subway ridership. So, the projected growth is heavily from EW feeders – yes. The bus legs of the journey become shorter – enabling many more people to have a viable duration commute via transit.

    In this scenario, York doesn’t need to invest as much in putting the buses in the median lanes – which are far less attractive for riders anyway. They could simply build some bypass lanes to get buses past the mess at Hwy 7 and the 404 (as an example) and get almost the whole benefit.

    Steve: In the regional context, I was talking about trips that don’t go downtown and don’t use the subway. York Region has a goal of substantially redirecting auto trips to transit, but if this is done mainly by dumping commuters on the subway, it will do little for the congestion caused by “local” car trips within the region.


  5. It is a sad state of affairs that York Region is so enamoured with a subway to Richmond Hill Centre.

    For the same money that will be spent for extending the subway north of Steeles, VIVA Blue could be replaced with an LRT line from there to Major Mac PLUS VIVA Purple could be replaced with another LRT line from Dufferin to Woodbine. Using a same-level across-the-platform connection with the subway at Steeles, this would provide a faster and more frequent commute to downtown than a bus-to-subway-down-flights-of-stairs transfer at Richmond Hill Centre where subways will only operate at half the frequency of the rest of the line.

    Added to that, the greater reach of this LRT implementation will add to the promotion of more local trips within the region over an express BRT service in this part of the region.


  6. Given this talk about a subway to Richmond Hill Centre, I wonder if the Sorbara Line is on the verge of being killed. If they are dead serious about having subways to York Region, then they need to think long and hard of which one they want. They can’t have both. Now while I don’t think new subways are a good idea, there is more justification for a line to Richmond Hill Centre than the nowhere of the middle (oops, I mean Vaughan).

    Steve: Alas, our friends on Ottawa, ever eager to show their support for 905 voters, have already committed to the Sorbara line. The Richmond Hill line will be paid for largely with Ontario money from the first round of Moveontario2020 funds. That’s the problem with subways — they eat so much out of a limited pot.


  7. [This comments is incendiary in spots, and I am publishing it “as is” with comments at the bottom.]

    Such a shame that money that is supposed to benefit Toronto is going to those wonks north of Steeles.

    I am getting sick and tired of people whining about paying extra fares to get to where they are going. As a former Markhamite, I have a sore spot for how York Region manages their transit system, and I have a particular level of scorn for Viva in particular. It is nothing more than a rapid transit advertising fraud whereas it is no better than any bus. Slowing down all other regular routes to make the impression that Viva is faster is not how you run a transit system (it once took 30 minutes to get to Finch Station from Warden and Highway 7 before Viva came in, using Viva it takes the same exact time).

    Steve, I believe that it is high time that the fraud known as Viva be exposed and everyone in the GTA be given the facts: it is a joke of a rapid transit system that only makes people stick to their cars. From what I hear, Viva has done nothing to increase transit ridership in the area as many people already know that it is indeed a joke of a transit system, therefore people still use their cars. Why is it that development has never intensified in the corridors that Viva services? And why am I not surprised that Viva gets more airtime than the TTC?

    I still believe in TTC taking over YRT as I have more confidence in their transit planning than YRT. You may state that their planning of service is off but YRT is far far worse (no service on most routes after 10 on weekdays, 7 on weekends). Sadly, I don’t think this will ever happen as I find people from York Region to be so full of themselves in their low-density communities that they fail to see the bigger transit picture. As such, I have no sympathy for those whining about having to pay an extra fare. That’s what you get for rejecting urban intensification with cookie cutter homes and 4 cars at each house.

    So to all those whining about the unfair fare system: suck it up. That’s what you get for living there. If you don’t like it, move to Toronto. You’ll be much happier when it comes to transit. Trust me. I moved down here 8 years ago from Markham and never looked back.

    Steve: As a city dweller, I recognize the benefits of life downtown, but am also quite aware that many people live on the periphery of the 416 or in the 905 because living where transit is really good is not an option. Yes, the density is terrible, and the 905 will live with that for decades to come. However, there’s still a transportation problem and would-be riders who want better service.

    For historical and political reasons, we do not have a fare union between Toronto and York Region even at a level comparable to the old zones 1 and 2 within “Metro” where people in the suburbs at least got a discount over paying two full fares to ride across the zone boundary.

    Years of wrangling turn on a few issues. First, any reduction in the combined fare has to be funded somewhere, and no government at any level has been willing to do this.

    Second, the problem has been clouded (a cynic might think deliberately) by a lot of talk of Presto and various fare schemes. At the end of the day, this still means that someone has to belly up to the bar with more subidies if the net effect is to give riders cheaper cross-boundary trips than they have today.

    Third, York Region talks a lot about congestion problems, many of which are east-west, but lobbies for high-capacity north-south infrastructure in a few corridors. With the VIVA BRT system, there is little sign that this will evolve to anything of higher capacity for at least a decade, and the capacity relief on roads from better transit will be minimal.

    A TTC takeover of YRT/VIVA wouldn’t do much good unless funding was provided to run better service. VIVA itself is one of those 3P wonders, but I have to ask, all things considered, whether it’s any more financially viable than other public sector systems in the 905.


  8. Dave R:
    Actually, the mess at 7 and 404 is the one thing not being sorted out by this plan. There’s no room to add lanes, so they are giving up entirely and having the buses exit exclusive lanes and run in mixed traffic through the bottleneck.

    This can be a very packed bottleneck even now.


  9. In response to Eric Chow, people down where I live still use their cars – so does that make the TTC a joke of a service?

    Also, he’s confusing ‘transit planning’ with how much service an agency can afford to run.

    The report linked to indicates that VIVA is growing ridership at about 15% per year. I guess these folks are making up their own minds!


  10. I can’t yet find the SRT document on that website. Do you know what the outcome is for it, and can provide a summary? Thanks Steve.

    Steve: My understanding is that the LRT option wins out. I will have more info and comments when the report is published.


  11. The TTC is the butt of many jokes from people in the 905 areas. There are a great deal of politicians who consider Viva to be “revolutionary” and at the same time decide that the TTC is very inferior in comparison. These statements paint a very bad picture for the TTC when they are asking for funding. Why do you think that YRT gets more funding per passenger than the TTC does?

    As for the 15%, I can only say that they are falling for the deception that Viva provides actual rapid transit when in reality it does not. So far, I have yet to hear anyone defend YRT’s choice in slowing down regular routes to create the impression that Viva is faster. No one has also justified Viva running in mixed traffic, or why it is not an LRT when it should be. That is poor service planning.

    Steve, I know at one point that maybe there should be a moat around Toronto, maybe your fire-breathing swans would be of some use here?


  12. Eric Chow’s comments have few arguable points, sad to say. About the only nit that I can pick is that VIVA has brought in some new riders (how much of an increase is arguable). I know of a number of those people, and they tend to see VIVA as a totally separate system (“I use the Viva!”) from YRT, and it is clear to me that these people would never be caught dead on a “regular YRT bus”.

    That said, much of his post is quite accurate, though YRT’s service has been improving, albeit on a very slow basis. Leslie, for example, actually got all-day 30-minute service last year (it was hourly between 9 am and 3 pm before that), but it is still 30-minute service in rush hours!

    At the risk of over generalizing, this region has more than its share of people who think nothing of throwing cash (or, more likely, credit) at whatever comes before them. That is, unless it is to fund something as ‘unnecessary’ as transit – oh, but a subway or two is perfectly acceptable. Dare I say that a 3-or-4-car garage with a vehicle or two for everyone with a licence is more typical in York Region, especially Richmond Hill, than the average in the GTAH. Now before I get accused of slamming York Region, let me make it clear that at about the time that Eric moved from Markham to Toronto, I moved from Toronto to Richmond Hill. Having only one vehicle and using public transit to commute to and from work certainly made me feel like the town freak. Living in a basement apartment for the first three years didn’t help alleviate that feeling. During that time, we made arrangements for, and started the construction of our home, which we built with our own hands for about 85% of the tasks. I can take pride in the fact that I have a way better built home that cost me less money and leaves me with nearly 50% equity in it after five years, but that home has only a two-car garage with one vehicle in it and an empty driveway.

    I still use YRT, and it has been getting better. Just slowly. I would argue Eric’s point about YRT “slowing down” the rest of their service. For the most part, I have not found that to be the case. If anything, it has sped up as they have been reducing the milk-run routes that run on side streets with speed bumps and record-breaking number of four-way stop signs and moving to more of a main-artery grid of routes. I have seen some changing traffic patterns slow down YRT service, but this shows YRT’s slow response to update schedules to match the changing traffic rather than deliberately slowing down the operation. This does count as poor planning, but as they say, never ascribe to malice what can easily be attributed to incompetence!

    The fetish up here for the subway extensions is maddening. Not simply because it won’t benefit me too greatly, but because so many car-lovers talk as if it will attract so many (OTHER) people to transit to make the roads clearer for their vehicle. Even my proposals for LRT for the same money do not directly benefit me (there is no LRT line from my front door to my place of work), but I see it as an overall way to improve transit for everyone that, if it doesn’t attract too many car-lovers, will put a good network in place for new people who move to York Region to begin using before they switch to their cars and become more YRCLs (York Region Car Lovers – why am I thinking this is some kind of attack of the body snatchers?).


  13. Eric: “There are a great deal of politicians who consider Viva to be “revolutionary” and at the same time decide that the TTC is very inferior in comparison.”

    It is only considered revolutionary because 1) it is indeed a sucess from what I hear (I have no idea who you have been talking to, Eric) and 2) YRT was not afraid to do what Toronto refuses to acknowledge as a possible transit solution.

    Let’s take your claim that the ridership increase to 15% is due to deception. Well, I’d say it is a pretty good one at that. It has accomplished one thing, those 15% would have been driving rather than taking transit. So instead of bellyaching and preaching to the choir, please choose your fights more wisely. Because 15% by any stretch isn’t very little. It is as Calvin said, it is an overall way to improve transit in the region. Besides, lesser drivers mean faster buses.

    Steve: The question about a 15% increase is, of course, the base it’s measured on. For a region like York, it doesn’t take many people switching to transit to make a big difference in ridership. This is not the situation the closer you get to central Toronto because it has a large established market share.

    As for Toronto being “afraid” to build its own VIVA, well, first off the level of service on what are now “frequent” VIVA routes is nowhere near what the TTC operates on its busy lines. Also, TTC ridership occurs at all hours, and all along its routes. Many complaints about our not having an extensive express bus network ignore the fact that a lot of trips start or end at a “local” stop.

    It’s odd that there has been a lot of handwringing here about stop spacing on Transit City (too frequent to be real “rapid transit”, too far apart to be attractive to pedestrians who must walk further to get to the stops). You can’t have it both ways whether its an LRT line or a BRT line.

    The other peculiarity of VIVA is that it’s a PPP. We will just ignore the fact that the buses were bought with public funds, and there is an operating subsidy to the company that runs them.


  14. It does seem that you have it in for VIVA. (I guess the real question is “Why?”).

    First was your earlier assertion (a while back) that York had bought expensive buses – which turned out to be wrong.

    VIVA service is operated under an operating contract – but so is most of YRT services – not to mention GO rail services.

    The stop spacing on VIVA routes is less of an issue – because the local services still run. With the proposed “Transit City” routes – their will be no local service (or no express service.)

    Here is a presentation of an APTA sponsored study which documents the typical speeds on the different VIVA routes (as well as the existing YRT routes that were overlaid – i.e NOT replaced.)


  15. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when a horrendously inferior service gets special billing in front of the TTC, there is something going wrong. Steve had it correctly, core service does not even come close to matching frequencies on some of the TTC’s trunk routes. There are people out there who insist that the TTC run their service like the YRT given that they consider the latter to be more successful whereas the former is nothing but a money pit. Politicians point VIVA out as a successful rapid transit success story whereas by my definition, it doesn’t even qualify as one (BUSES in MIXED TRAFFIC).

    The fact that YRT stands behind this system means that they don’t know anything about real transit planning. Which is why I’d rather see them choke in their congestion than allow them any benefit over the TTC. Which is why I think the TTC should show YRT a lesson or two on how to run a REAL transit system.


  16. I guess the APTA and IBI people forget to check the definition of BRT with Eric Chow before doing their study. Maybe Chow should be up in York Region every morning warning passengers not to get on the VIVA buses because they don’t meet his definition.

    I guess I must have missed the TV/radio/print ads or where the YRT was given billing above the TTC. It makes no sense to compare the two systems. YRT is responsible providing transit for a vast area – much (but not all) of which is still rural. The TTC operating area is 100% city.

    Some YRT/VIVA services are more frequent that some TTC services. I’m not sure how this is relevant to anything. Planning service means providing the right number of vehicles to meet the service standard – rather that simply flooding a route with service – and taking measures to monitor and address service reliability issues. How the YRT and TTC compare in this regard – I don’t know.

    The TTC does has well-documented reliability problems – schedule adherence is only about 60%. This isn’t great. I don’t know what the norm is – but I have found this:

    Click to access a-ra2007.pdf

    documenting the Montreal system has an 84% reliability. Maybe we should bring in the people from Montreal to run the TTC!


  17. I’m not in the right zone to respond to the discussion that’s been going on in here (even though I have a lot to say about it) but I will say this:

    I believe that the people in cars in this region would feel very insulted if they saw a bus zoom by them on a dedicated lane, while they are stuck in congestion and gridlock. Trust me, it would eat at their very existence.

    This simple observance would spark many considerations of leaving the car at home (or at least at a park and ride) and taking the Viva instead, location depending of course. Not everyone is going to be affected by this, and that’s because not everyone that uses Highway 7 lives near it. But I still believe it would spark quite a few new riders.


  18. Seriously, would you call a bus that gets caught in mixed traffic rapid transit? At best it is nothing more than a fancy express bus. Some people who I know who take Viva say that the stretch from Highway 7 all the way down to Finch is a nightmare during rush hours. Rapid transit is meant to be faster than cars stuck in traffic. Clearly we’re not seeing that here. I’ll also point out that the impact of the recent strike was quite minimal. This is nothing more than clear proof that in reality, Viva service is not making any inroads in attracting riders, especially if its bus services are still working just as well.

    To comment on Raffi’s post, the issue that I have with dedicated bus lanes is of safety and capacity, you simply cannot chain buses together. And if the driver has been having a bad day, watch out. A LRT (which YRT refuses to do) would have clearly made a bigger impact in York Region. I’m pretty sure that a LRT would have made a much bigger ridership increase than the 15% increase that the Viva express bus makes.

    May I remind you that Jim Flaherty, our beloved Finance minister, while still an MPP has once claimed that the Viva service (when it was conceived) groundbreaking and evolutionary and has slammed the TTC in the same sentence. And everyone knows that Flaherty was part of the provincial cabinet which caused nothing but problems for the TTC. With Flaherty ignoring the needs of our transit system, I would be weary of the Feds ramming a Viva-style system down our throats.

    God help us all if that would ever happen.


  19. Actually Eric, YRT is not opposed to LRT. The Viva plan that was unveiled years ago spoke of the evolution of Viva coming in three phases:

    1. Buses
    2. Bus ways
    3. LRT

    That still stands, just not on Yonge from Finch to Highway 7.

    The Highway 7 busway that they are planning now has the same outcome waiting for it: LRT conversion. I have specifically talked to YRT/Viva reps at meetings and they have confirmed this over and over again. The reason why they are doing it in steps instead of going all the way all at once is because they need to ease the 905 public into the idea of transit, and to get that ridership up there to justify spending the money on LRT.

    The Viva strike didn’t have a huge effect on traffic because the majority of the ridership took alternate transit routes instead. I know a lot of people (including myself) who took GO buses, and I know even more who ended up packing onto YRT buses. When the TTC goes on strike there is no alternate service.

    Every year the YRT posts an increase in ridership. Just because you have something against the service doesn’t mean you should ignore the positive points that are evident everywhere. We understand YRT / Viva is not that amazing, but it’s doing some great things for York Region that I would rather have instead of having a transit service that wasn’t even trying to look better for customers or increase service levels. At least they are doing something.


  20. Raffi: the initial plans for Viva WERE supposed to be LRT. But somehow, the conservative beancounters got hold of this project and as a result, it was gutted horribly. I’m all in favour of doing things right the first time with proper planning, just look at how the Scarborough RT turned out, it should have been a subway in the first place. By dropping plans for an LRT, YRT has now handicapped any future expansion plans, not to mention no right of way on Yonge between Highway 7 and Finch. Because even though Viva is supposed to “grow” into an LRT, we know that it is probably never going to happen. Ottawa’s antiqudated BRT system is definite proof of this, YRT is probably not going to care about its transit users after a while.

    As it is now well known, Ottawa is having problems with its BRT as the main problems with this system become apparent: reliability in mixed traffic, and capacity, two things that BRT will never overcome. YRT will likely continue down this route and Viva will never have the significant impact YRT wants it to have. Sure, it is doing something, it’s impact is pretty insignificant. As for the strike, well we didn’t see commuting chaos as usually is the case with the TTC. So yeah, that shows how insignificant it is. Thank you for validating my point.


  21. RE: Ottawa’s BRT. Eric, I think you need to get your sources straight before foaming at the mouth on this. As a former resident of Ottawa, I can tell you that the Transitway was never intended as LRT or any conversion from BRT to LRT. It was always planned as a BRT network, just take a look at the complex infrastructure built especially for their Transitway lines. Given that LRT is indeed on the horizon for YRT, I fail to see why you need to make a big deal out of this.

    As for Raffi’s argument, I have to agree, VIVA is indeed having an impact on ridership and it should not be discounted or criticized. Whether it is too little for you, or alot to me, it is STILL making an impact. As for LRT, I agree with the sentiment that York Region needs to be eased into the idea of having a decent public transit network. You can’t ram something like this down their throats.

    Raffi’s comment about the BRT ROWs caught my attention: have the SOY folks blocked the ROW between Highway 7 and Finch? Because this is the area where the ROW really needs to be. North of Highway 7, congestion isn’t that much of a concern so I don’t know why they need to build a ROW where it isn’t necessarily needed and not building an ROW where it is.

    Steve: This is the inevitable problem of surface transit. Where roads are wide enough to give up space to a right-of-way, the need is comparatively low. Where the roads are narrower (and how narrow depends on where you are), rights-of-way never have a chance because non-transit folks won’t give up the space.


  22. It doesn’t really matter how much ridership improvement Viva has ever done for York Region. The fact remains is this: it is a far inferior method of transit. And they call this joke Rapid Transit when it definitely does not. Let me sum it up to you this way: Ottawa is not a world class city. It could have been. But they buried their necks in the sand when they approved the transitway instead of going for an LRT line. Clearly LRT would have boosted Ottawa’s stature while not to mention improving public transit in the region. Buses running in mixed traffic in their downtown core? Buses that don’t have their right of way on Yonge south of Highway 7? Can you see why BRT cannot happen in our area? Can you see how BRT will destroy our transit system here in Toronto?

    Any BRT supporter needs to have their glasses checked because they are not seeing the whole picture.


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