Be It Ever So Humble

Today, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) issued a press release saluting Metrolinx’ inclusion of the Air Rail Link in the Regional Transportation Plan.  This really isn’t a surprise to anyone.  Metrolinx had little choice given the political situation with a nonsensical premium fare, privately operated route left over from an ancien regime in Ottawa.

The GTAA is thrilled to tell us that

significant environmental benefits will be realized with the implementation of the air rail link. In the first year of operation, it is projected that this will eliminate about 6.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions and see approximately 1.35 million cars from the roads.

Do tell!  That’s 6.6 tonnes, not six thousand tonnes, SIX!  Only when we compare this with the savings that will accrue to other RTP lines do we see the miniscule effect of this route.  Each of the planned GO rail express services will reduce CO2 by over 100K tonnes, and many other RTP projects are well above 10K.

And all those cars!  1.35 million cars must really be trips, not vehicles.  This means we are looking at about 4,500 cars/trips per day (assuming the equivalent of 300 weekdays per year with weekends counting for half).  That’s about 250 per hour for an 18-hour day.  This has to be some new record for low patronage on a line that many would have us believe will change life as we know it in the GTA.  Ridership would be better if we assumed a higher than 1:1 ratio of passengers to auto trips, but the market for the Air Rail Link isn’t the car pooling crowd.

To put this in context, daily ridership on selected bus routes:  Warden South (4,200), Sherbourne (4,600), Prince Edward (4,200).  Yes, people don’t travel as far on them as Union to the Airport, but these will almost certainly be part of longer trips with transfers to other routes.

Can we please put this line out of its misery?  Metrolinx may be doing an EA for it in the spring of 2009, but what I really want to see is the Benefits Case Analysis.  If this were all to be done with private money, I would say let the project sponsor go broke paying for it, but that’s not the way we do “partnerships”.  How much public money will be wasted on a premium fare design when we could be building facilities and capacity to attract a broader demand at a regular fare?

This study will be a real test for Metrolinx.  Can they face up to the deep flaws in the Air Rail Link proposal, expose them to view, and propose an alternative that actually fits into their Regional Plan?

16 thoughts on “Be It Ever So Humble

  1. But honestly, compared to some of the other routes proposed by Metrolinx, or at least the method in which they are to be implemented … is this so bad?

    Granted it should be very low on the priority list, but, so should a lot of other Metrolinx transit projects.

    Steve: That’s the trouble — Blue 22 is on the shortlist for quick implementation, a position it would never have if it had to compete against other projects.

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  2. Steve:

    I know that I am a transit fan, and what some consider to be inconvenience, I think of as the joy of the experience. In NYC I take the M60 from LaGuardia to the N line and am in central Manhattan in half an hour to 45 minutes. I don’t think that any of the over the bridge or under the tunnel vehicle (expensive) alternatives can do better than that.

    Last Wednesday I arrived at Pearson from Timmins at 9:45 (21:45) and, after walking though the airport for a while, walked out of the door that accesses the TTC at about 10:00 (22:00). There was an Airport Rocket waiting. I was home at King and Shaw by 10:50 (22:50). I don’t know how fast a cab could have done the same journey – assuming there was one available – but I’ll bet it is about 35 minutes. I paid a 15 minute transit “penalty” to save the greenhouse gases and a $50 or $60 fare. (With my MetroPass it was zero incremental cost.)

    Perhaps none (or at least few) of the Blue 22 customers ever set foot on the TTC. However, I would suggest that there is already a very viable transit link to and from the airport. The frequency has increased dramatically in the last few years, but if those who want to subsidise Blue 22 (at 15 minute intervals) put a fraction of that money towards increasing the Airport Rocket even more, there could be a really super service.

    It is interesting, however, that one of the most socially useful transit services is also one of the lowest in cost recovery. Perhaps fiscally conservative politicians and citizens would suggest that this is a bad public investment. They would be wrong.

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  3. Why can’t these trains run as normal GO service? It baffles the mind, because I am sure that the demand on the Georgetown Line off-peak would be such that a stopover via Pearson wouldn’t be unreasonable. Or, it could be the terminus for crosstown trains- something like Seaton-Pearson and Cornell (whatever GO calls that part of Markham before Locust Hill)-Pearson, assuming full service on 60 minute headways, throw in the Georgetown Trains and you’ve got a train from Pearson every 15 minutes, alternating between Union and Midtown. In any case, were full service to come about on the Milton line, the travel time via rocket and GO train would be comparable to Blue22.

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  4. 6.6 tonnes. I guess they took into account the emissions that will be spewing from the Budd RDC relics?

    What a waste of our money.

    Steve: This has been corrected. See the following comment. Still, for the number of projected riders, the proposed service is a waste of money and major redesign is required.

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  5. The actual number is 6.6 mega tonnes. Apologies for the typo on our news release. Hope that clears up any confusion.

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  6. There is a chance that the “fix” is already in for this – that Metrolinx won’t actually consider options for the project that involve the TTC putting on some transit onto the rail corridor – a busway, an LRT, or as the Weston folks have once suggested a subway.

    Using this rail corridor for expedited transit with a dozen stops strung along the line is far far more sensible than any express link to the airport, and will do far more to reduce ghg emissions. And yes, it should use Front St. in the very urban core to cleanly enter into the Union Station area.

    It’s quite foolish to put such a limited-benefit and costly service in when air travel itself is a climate killer and can’t continue at the same levels as it has.

    Canada already has one of the very worst records on “dealing” with climate change, and we don’t need another transit travesty to cement our bad reputation.

    We need a good EA; let’s hope there’s some intervenor funding for the Weston folks as well.

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  7. Steve, it must be 6.6 thousand tonnes, not just six.

    1.35 million Union-YYZ trips would be 38 million km (or 23,625,000 miles). Using http://www.liveneutral.org/calculator , I picked a 2008 Toyota Camry and used its highway MPG of 31. With that number of miles, you get a CO2 output of 14,784,662 pounds, which is 6,706 tonnes.

    Other ridership numbers for context: according to Wikipedia, GO’s Richmond Hill line carries 2 million trips yearly and the Barrie line 2.3 million.

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  8. The only silver lining I see in this plan is that it will force GO/TTC to finally build the connection at Dundas West station, which is long, long overdue. Granted, a regular GO service to the airport through this corridor will accomplish that and more.

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  9. I don’t think additional rolling stock or TTC-gauge infrastructure is necessary for serving the airport when GO can service this itself in an effective manner. With other network enhancements (namely a junction between York and Belleville subs near the Zoo), VIA rail could also be streaming into the airport, via either Kipling or Summerhill depending on its point of origin.

    The stations that GO can serve, in addition to the current lot, would be a Mount Dennis station (Eglinton), a Carlton Village station (St.Clair), and, mentioned previously in another topic, a Liberty Village station. That’s pretty dense coverage south of the 401 by GO Transit standards. Electrification would have a valid argument worth considering in that scenario, as demanded by the Weston Community Coalition. South of Annette, this line would see a merging of Barrie, Bolton, Georgetown, Airport, and Milton lines. North of St. Clair, a route from the Lakeshore West corridor to the airport via Kipling could also be operating (either by GO, or as previously mentioned, a VIA service).

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  10. In response to your question about putting this airport line out of it’s misery, I seriously doubt it. If it can’t be then maybe, just maybe, the proposal can be morphed into something better. I think that the thing to do would be, if we can’t defeat it, work to evolve the thing by pushing for, at the absolute least, a connection to the B-D subway and perhaps the Eglinton LRT. Maybe someone can push for a lower fare. Now I’m not nearly as opposed to this as you are BUT I’m also not 100 per cent for it, either. My point is that if Toronto is stuck with it that just means pushing to make this thing as much more palatable as humanly possible. Yes, I do see a need for a downtown-airport rail link of some sort but just because I do that doesn’t mean I see Blue 22 as a be-all-and end-all by any stretch of the imagination. Not in the absolute least.

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  11. Jonathon Says:

    “Why can’t these trains run as normal GO service? It baffles the mind, because I am sure that the demand on the Georgetown Line off-peak would be such that a stopover via Pearson wouldn’t be unreasonable. Or, it could be the terminus for crosstown trains- something like Seaton-Pearson and Cornell (whatever GO calls that part of Markham before Locust Hill)-Pearson, assuming full service on 60 minute headways, throw in the Georgetown Trains and you’ve got a train from Pearson every 15 minutes, alternating between Union and Midtown. In any case, were full service to come about on the Milton line, the travel time via rocket and GO train would be comparable to Blue22.”

    All day Service to Mt. Pleasant can be run with two trains. Running time is 50 minutes with 10 minutes for turn around and recovery time. If you send the GO service into Pearson than you will have to build a loop line or reverse the trains at the airport. This will add about 20 minutes to MY travel time and those of others getting on or off at Malton, Bramalea, Brampton or Mt Pleasant and require a third set of equipment and crew. A GO service to the Airport but by diverting the existing service please.

    I am in favour of letting the existing group build an operate the line at hheir expense, not the governments, and going broke when no one will ride it. It does no serve the main demand which would be from workers and not travellers. I have taken public transit to a number of airports and 90% of the riders were employees, not travellers.

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  12. There is already a very good premium transit service to the airport operated by gray coach. I worked at the airport and used it for years. Door to door it is faster and better the Blew (as in a lot of money) 22

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  13. It must be the proposed fair structure ($20?!) that is inhibiting demand because one would think that with the huge growth in downtown residential population and air travel (cheap oil is back) that certainly more than 250 people an hour would use this thing if the fare was reasonable. I agree with the above posters that adding service to the Georgetown GO line and extending the airport monorail to connect with a new stop would be a far better solution, combined with an eventual extension the the Eglinton LRT to the airport as well.

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  14. Ed, the bus to the airport is run by Pacific Western now since Gray Coach is now ancient history. Speaking of PW, I’ve been somewhat curious as to what they think of any kind of rail service to the airport. I do know that out in Vegas that their taxi and limo companies are opposed to the monorail extension being proposed there but unless I’ve been missing something I hven’t seen or read anything about PW’s stance on this issue.

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  15. Why always the hate for an airport link? It’s an embarassment that Toronto didn’t put one in years ago. That is not to say we should go with Blue 22.

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but haven’t recent murmurings from Metrolinx indicated an openness to considering options other than a heavy-rail, express run for the suits? The fact that GO has been relieved of this project and it has been given to Metrolinx is a good sign in and of itself. The airport link should really be LRT integrated into Transit City running on the Weston corridor. And it should have been done YEARS ago.

    Steve: I fully agree, and it’s only the political machinations of the Blue 22 proponents and their friends that have kept this line alive. The airport will eventually be served by the Eglinton LRT, the Finch West LRT, probably a Mississauga Eglinton LRT, frequent service on GO in the Weston corridor, and maybe even the odd Via train. We could and should have started on this a long time ago.

    As for Transit City, yes a Weston corridor line should have been part of it, but we had enough to deal with in getting people to accept a fundamental change in technology and how we thought about transit expansion without simultaneously having to fight against the airport crowd. The GTAA is now quite receptive to the idea of an LRT terminal in the basement of Terminal 1.

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  16. “The GTAA is now quite receptive to the idea of an LRT terminal in the basement of Terminal 1.”

    Now we’re talkin’. Just hope I live long enough to see it happen (and use it).

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