Vancouver: More Service / Great Blog

Calls for added service on transit systems are nothing new.  We have seen lots of them in Toronto as we struggle to implement the Ridership Growth Strategy despite a shortage of operators, vehicles and, I suspect, budget headroom.

Meanwhile in Vancouver, riding is growing apace, and the additional challenge of the coming winter Olympics has yet to be digested.

A very fine blog from Vancouver is run by Stephen Rees.  In a recent post about service quality to outlying sports venues, he included the following:

If transit is to be an attractive, useful alternative to driving then Translink has to get much better at understanding how to make routes easy and convenient to use. The biggest block to transit use in this region is lack of service frequency and the planners at CMBC and Translink are both way out of line on what they feel is a “frequent” service. It does not mean ‘more buses than we had last year’. It means that people do not get passed up at stops – and do not have to wait for interminable periods of time due to chronic unreliability. It is not just how many buses you have, but how you use them and how much priority the bus gets in congested traffic. In my travels recently I have been been frequently struck by how easy it is to use buses elsewhere – and how frustrating it is to be stuck at a bus stop here not having the slightest idea of when – or if – the next bus will arrive.

Sound familiar?

North Toronto vs the T&YRR

A comment from David O’Rourke in the post about the radial line to Sutton drew a response from John F. Bromley who I thank for the information here. It has been edited slightly.

In 1911, North Toronto, not yet part of the City of Toronto, battled with the T&YRR over the railway’s attempt to build a separate private right-of-way for their Metropolitan line, 100 feet west of Yonge Street. The town wanted the line to be double-tracked on the street itself while all the railway wanted was passing sidings.

Continue reading

So You Want To Go To Sutton

In the midst of the discussion of the Richmond Hill extension of the subway, I thought it was time for a bit of historical perspective.

The TTC ran “radial” streetcar service from Glen Echo Loop to Richmond Hill until 1948.  Remnants of this operation were still visible when I was young, and Glen Echo was served from the south by trolley buses.

However, in a much earlier time, the line ran from just north of the CPR tracks at North Toronto Station to Sutton. Continue reading

Who Will Ride the Yonge Subway?

Updated January 9:  The 2009 Subway Fleet Plan has been scanned and linked from this post.

Toronto’s Executive Committee voted on Monday to approve submission of the EA for the Richmond Hill extension to Queen’s Park, but added a number of riders on their support for the line.  This parallels actions taken at the last TTC meeting to strengthen the pre-requisites for City participation in this project.  The conditions include:

  • Full funding for construction and operation of the extension beyond Steeles Avenue at no cost to Toronto.
  • Full funding for any cost of an additional subway yard.
  • Completion of the Automatic Train Control system on the YUS line, including the Vaughan extension.
  • Any measures to relieve capacity problems at Bloor-Yonge would be funded as part of this project.

City and TTC staff have been requested to report directly to the January 27 Council meeting on various potential ancilliary costs including:

  • Bloor-Yonge station expansion
  • Fleet expansion and subway yard costs
  • Second entrances to other downtown stations
  • Need for an eastern Downtown Relief Line
  • Need for extending the Sheppard line west to Downsview
  • Sequencing of these options relative to the Richmond Hill line’s construction

Notable by its absence from this list is any reference to GO Transit’s Richmond Hill service.  This must be included because the level of GO service has a big impact on the modelled ridership for any future TTC network.

Karl Junkin, who comments here regularly, presented a deputation on this item which is supposed to be linked from the City’s site.  However, that link is currently not working.

Karl Junkin Yonge Analysis

Karl covers a lot of the ground that was in my own report on TTC fleet planning and other posts about the Richmond Hill extension.   Staff have been directed to meet with Karl and provide comments on his concerns in a report to Council.

Much of this turns on hte question of how many people will actually be riding the subway in 2017 when the Richmond Hill extension is planned to open.  TTC staff have, to their considerable discredit, played fast and loose with teh relevant data depending on the argument of the moment.

When it suits their purpose to conjure up a need for vastly more trains on the line and increased capacity at Bloor-Yonge, then the estimates can be stratospheric.  When the goal is to pretend that the Richmond Hill extension can be accommodated with no increase in service, then — Presto! Chango! — more riders but no more service.  The word “bamboozle” comes to mind here, although somewhat less Parliamentary language might be more appropriate.

Let’s review the estimates we have seen recently. Continue reading

Front Street Extension: Going, Going …

This morning, the Planning and Growth Management Committee adopted a report recommending that the Front Street Extension be removed from Toronto’s Official Plan.

Soon, soon, the FSE will be officially dead.

Now if we can only get a sensible look at the Waterfront West LRT line rather than the piecemeal approach of past years.

For the record, I do not agree with schemes to bring transit into downtown via Front Street because this will run into severe problems in front of Union Station where current plans call for considerable increase in pedestrian space.

GO Transit’s Relief Line: The 1986 Study

This post continues a series looking at old proposals for ways to get commuters into downtown Toronto.  This isn’t a new problem, and as we have already seen, the TTC and Metro Planning were contemplating various alternatives four decades ago.

In response to the proposed Downtown Relief Line and other subway schemes, GO Transit commissioned a study of the possibilities for GO Rail service.  This study recommended frequent, all-day service between Halwest (the point where the York Subdivision, CN’s Toronto bypass, meets the line to Brampton) to Doncaster (the point where the CN Bala Subdivision, used by the Richmond Hill train, crosses the York Sub).

As is quite evident from any GO timetable, this didn’t get built.  One reason was that interest in the DRL waned as the political dynamic and planning focus turned away from downtown to the so-called “centres” that would grow within Toronto’s suburbs.  Travel into downtown continued to grow, and the GO Lake Shore service handled much of the transit-based increase.

A few points worth noting:

  • The option of using the connecting track from the CN to the CP between Oriole and Leaside was considered to be the superior route, although it had its problems including a potential conflict with the proposed Leslie Street extension.
  • For reasons that are not explained, the equipment cost for the most limited of services is higher than for all-day service.  In general, I would treat the cost estimates with some suspicion because (a) they are two decades old and (b) ancilliary costs such as connections to the TTC at Dundas West don’t appear to be included.
  • The inclusion of a cost comparison between subway and GO construction was clearly intended to plump for GO as the much cheaper alternative.  However, the study does not address the variation in origins and destinations that requires both local and express services in any corridor as discussed here previously.
  • There are no demand projections, only a feasibility study of what service could be operated.

Richmond Hill Georgetown Study June 1986

Figure II: Richmond Hill Line

Figure III: Georgetown Line

Is There Hope For Transit In 2009?

The new year brings a dark economic climate, worries about job losses, falling revenues for all governments and a pervasive sense that we have not yet seen the worst.  Whether this is media disaster-mongering, a realistic view of the future, or something in between remains to be seen.

What is quite clear is that an economic model that underpinned the past decades has run its course.  Can the same level of activity — jobs, travel, government investment — be sustained into 2009 and the next decade?

Transit is only a small part of this, and yet decisions made about transit funding have long-lasting effects.  Through my “career” as a transit activist, I have seen the boom-and-bust cycles of funding and watched as grand schemes for transit investment disintegrate when the economy falters and governments lose interest.  Too often, transit was something everyone wanted to champion, but nobody wanted to pay for.

A major problem throughout the North American transit industry, not just in Toronto, is that transit capital spending is viewed as an economic stimulus, a job creation (or preservation) mechanism, not as an essential part of what makes urban economies work.  The dominance of auto travel (and the lack of transit alternatives) puts transit down many voters’ priority lists.  People are comfortable in their cars which, for all their problems and costs, work.  The same cannot said for transit.  You cannot get to work on a press release.

The long lead times for transit projects bring a typical cycle:

  • Governments with money to spend start to think about investing in transit.
  • Plan, Plan, Plan.  Much work for consultants and facilitators (less so with the new streamlined approval process).
  • Finally a map, and a few lines that get into detailed design.
  • Ooops!  A recession.

We are a bit better at it this time around.  We have many plans in the hopper and we haven’t (yet) stopped everything in its tracks waiting for the next boom.  The root problem is that transit is not something we spend on regularly, but only when we can drum up a few billion for someone’s pet project.

Where does this leave us for 2009? Continue reading