In the first part of this series, I reviewed the general layout of the Richmond Hill subway extension. Now I will turn to the question of demand on the new and existing portions of the Yonge line.
Information on current and projected demands is very hard to nail down. Transit agencies have a bad habit of fiddling the demand models to produce the results they want depending on available funding, political imperatives and the phases of the moon. Small changes in the assumptions in any model can produce huge swings in the outcome.
Probably the single most flagrant problem with Metrolinx is that the demand model is proprietary to a consultant, IBI, and is not available for general “what if” use. At the very time we are making decisions about network structures and spending priorities, we are told (by Metrolinx) that budget constraints limit the number of model runs. Detailed parameters such as the capacity and speed of modelled lines are hard to come by.
In this vacuum, any plausible scheme for transit gains political traction even though it may rest on dubious planning foundations. I say this not to knock the Richmond Hill proposal itself, but to urge caution in looking at the numbers particularly where the interaction between several alternative lines is concerned.
Projections for riding on both the Richmond Hill extension and the rest of the rapid transit network appear in various documents. One of them even changed between the point where it was presented at a public TTC meeting and its publication on the TTC’s website.
TTC Staff Report
This report contains (at page 11) forecasts of subway riding for year 2031 of
- SB to Steeles: AM peak period, 25,000; peak hour, 14,000
- SB to Wellesley: AM peak period, 65-70,000; peak hour 36-39,000
Current ridership south of Bloor is 27-28,000 during the peak hour, and this represents a potential increase of up to 50% in demand at that location.
Sadly, what is missing is an estimate of the conditions in 2017 when the Richmond Hill line is projected to open.
York Region Estimates
York Region peak hour estimates for 2031 (page 12 in the TTC report) project:
- SB at Richmond Hill: 10,600
- SB to Steeles: 14,200
- SB to Finch: 17,900
This is a very troubling figure because a substantial portion of the subway’s capacity is consumed before the trains reach Finch Station. The TTC’s operational strategy will be to make Finch an AM short turn point so that half of the trains will begin their trips southbound from there empty.
Also of interest is the relatively small contribution of Steeles Station to the accumulating demand. Why does it need a 26-bay bus terminal? This requires detailed explanation given the cost and impact of the large terminal.
A table of “all day” station usage projections by York Region (page 12) in the report does not make sense because the “all day” figures appear to be the sum of peak hour boardings and alightings. These need to be factored up to a 24-hour period. The AM peak hour boarding figures for year 2031 are:
- Richmond Hill: 25,200 (of which the vast majority arrive by transfer from another service)
- Langstaff: 2,700 (of which 2/3 are park & ride customers)
- Royal Orchard: 1,400 (mainly walk-ins)
- Clark: 1,600 (mainly walk-ins)
- Steeles: 4,400 (of which over 75% are transfer riders from other routes)
- Cummer/Drewry: 1,700 (75% transfers)
- Finch: 8,700 (4,800 walk-ins!, 2,700 park & ride)
Again, a major shortcoming is the absence of opening day, 2017 projections.
Metrolinx’ backgrounder on demand projections must be read with care because the network it modelled is not identical to the one in the final, approved Regional Plan. An updated projection based on the final network has not yet been published.
In the backgrounder, the Richmond Hill GO service is assumed to be a very frequent “express rail” line, but this was cut back to a “regional rail” service in final version. The projected peak point demand on the line was 18,100 during the peak hour with considerable bi-directional demand. This is more than twice the capacity of the planned 15-minute service recently proposed by GO Transit for year 2020.
The Metrolinx backgrounder is silent on important details such as the location of the peak demand (is it at Richmond Hill or further south) or of the origin-destination pattern this demand represents.
The same backgrounder projects a peak point demand of 25,100 at Wellesley Station, well below the TTC’s projection. However, this network includes the combined effect of the frequent Richmond Hill GO service and the Downtown Relief line projected at 17,500.
TTC Staff Presentation
This exists in multiple versions: the one presented by staff, the one handed out at the meeting, and the one posted on the TTC’s site. The overall thread is the same, but with some changes in the details.
In a no-DRT scenario, the demand projections by Metrolinx are higher than those in cited by the TTC for 2031 (42K/hour peak at Wellesley versus 36-39K in the TTC model). If the DRT is added, as mentioned above, the demand at Wellesley drops to 25K/hour, lower than today’s peak.
Riding can be diverted away from Yonge or otherwise accommodated in various ways:
- Reducing the headway from 141 seconds (today) to 105 seconds.
- Added capacity of the TR cars with their through-train gangways and the option of adding a 7th car to the trains.
- Diverting riding to the Spadina subway.
In the staff presentation, the estimate of ridership diversion is 2,300 for the peak hour to the Spadina/VCC subway extension. That’s 8-10% of current riding at Wellesley (27-28K/hour), but at no point does the discussion touch on what demand on Yonge would grow to, if capacity were available, by the time the VCC line opens in 2015.
The TR cars will add about 10% to train capacity, and a further 10% can be provided with a seventh car. A further 35% improvement is available by reducing the headway.
In the verbal presentation, it was stated that the TR fleet would bump capacity by 3.2K/hour. This implies that the current service capacity is 32K/hour (about 1,250 per train). However, the TTC’s loading standard for subway trains is 1,000 passengers, and 1,250 is a crush load that cannot be sustained over a long period. Therefore, the verbal presentation overstated the existing capacity (and the potential gain) by 25%. The actual capacity of the Yonge line for service design purposes is 25.5K/hour, about 10% below the actual demand today that takes us into crush territory as all regulars on the line know.
The projected additional peak demand on the extended Yonge line is 8,400/hour for 2031, and for the purposes of analysis, the TTC assumes half of this will materialize on opening day. This gives us:
- 4,200 new riders
- 2,300 diverted to Spadina
- 3,200 (claimed) additional capacity on the TR cars (a more appropriate number would be 2,500)
for [drum roll] a net reduction of 1,300. Therefore we can operate the same level of service as today in 2017 and could even accommodate growth with the seventh car.
Oddly enough, this analysis changed by the time the (longer) version was posted on the website, and the TTC now claims that the gains and losses will simply net out to zero.
This is a bogus analysis because it ignores growth in existing riding (even one percent a year without compounding would add nearly 3,000 per hour) and in the backfill effect possible if service were improved.
York Region’s 2005 Analysis
In 2005, York Region published a full EA (done the “old” way with lots of useful detail) that included a Yonge Street “rapid transit” configuration. In some configurations of this scheme, the subway would be extended to Langstaff with BRT and/or LRT for the remainder of the network.
The evaluation concludes that an extension of the YUS to Langstaff is highly desirable, although reservations are expressed about funding and the priority of such a route in the overall scheme of the TTC’s plans. Remember that this was written before the TTC had embraced the Transit City scheme, and only subway expansion was seriously under consideration in Toronto.
The projected demands at the Steeles cordon in 2021 are 10,700 per peak hour on the subway and a further 8,300 on a GO service assumed to operate at a 15-minute headway. By 2031, this is forecast to rise to 12,200 on the subway and 9,100 on GO.
These numbers are lower than the York Region figures cited above by the TTC, but without knowing the underlying assumptions in the two models, it is impossible to say why there is such a difference.
Despite many different demand analyses, the common message about the Yonge line is quite clear — there will be many more riders coming south from the 905 into the 416 and we need to make room for them.
Within the 905 itself, the demand southbound to Steeles in 2031 is substantial. The most important information we don’t have is the origin-destination pattern of all of those new riders. Are they assigned to the Yonge line in the models because it is the only reasonable alternative (ie: the model is force-fed) or do they really, naturally want to flow down the Yonge corridor?
How much of the development that will generate this demand already exists or is likely to be built by 2031?
In the final post in this series, I will turn to the ways in which future demand may be addressed by various network configurations.