The Bloor-Yonge Platform Experiment (Updated)

Updated November 27 at 10:00 am:

A section has been added at the end of this post with photographs of Bloor-Yonge station showing the crowd control measures.

During the AM peak, the TTC is experimenting with crowd control measures at Bloor Station, southbound with the intention of getting more trains down the line and increasing its peak capacity.

Media reports last week did not fully describe what is happening, and for the benefit of those who do not use the station in the morning rush, here is a short description.

  • The existing station before the change:
    • The southbound platform is double-width thanks to an enlargement of the station many years ago during construction of a new office tower.  There is the original platform plus a passageway of almost equal width separated from the main part of the platform by pillars, and at the north end, a wall with several openings.
    • To the west of the southbound platform is the concourse linking the Yonge and Bloor lines, and two sets of stairs and escalators down to the BD level (Yonge Station).  The set closer to the Yonge subway platform tends to be the more heavily used.
    • Passengers coming from the BD line would tend to congregate at the north end of the Bloor Station platform because (a) that’s where they came from the BD subway, and (b) many passengers want to go to the north end exits at College, Queen and King stations.
    • Yonge trains arriving southbound tended to be most crowded at the north end with passengers intending to transfer to the BD line.
  • Following the change:
    • In the west mezzanine, riders coming up the stairway closest to the Bloor Station platform meet a temporary set of barriers directing them into the passage along the wall side of the platform.  They do not actually get on the platform and cannot board trains until they are over two car-lengths down the platform.  If they really want a north end car, they must double back at that point.
    • Riders coming up the far stairway have the option of joining the flow into the southbound passageway, or swinging to the north either to leave via the station exit, or attempt an end-run onto the north end of the platform.
    • Riders leaving southbound trains are directed to walk north on the main part of the platform and then into the concourse.  This divides the traffic from Yonge-to-Bloor transferees who use the main part of the platform from the Bloor-to-Yonge transferees who use the passageway.
    • TTC staff are positioned at critical locations to ensure that people actually follow the correct path so that ideal flows are maintained.
    • TTC staff are at each of the train door positions to ensure passengers can first get out of the trains, and then to regulate boarding so that when the train is ready to leave (full or with another train nearby) passengers don’t rush the doors and try to jam on at the last moment.

For the first few days, it took time for passengers to get used to the new arrangements, and many are still seeing this setup for the first time.  From talks with TTC staff at the station, I learned that the confusion is falling off, and I saw few problems myself.

Continue reading

What Should We Do About Fares (3)

Last week, the TTC approved new fares to take effect January 3, 2010.  This scheme represents roughly an 11% increase for adult tokens with proportionate increases in other fares.

Oddly enough, the projected increase in revenue is well under 11% thanks to the estimated loss of riders due to such a big jump in fares.  The idea of a freeze last year may have seemed good at the time (going into a recession), but the consequences of having two years’ worth of increase at one time is the downside.

The Commission overrode staff’s recommended fare scheme and held the Metropass multiple at the same level as in 2009 so that it would rise to $121 rather than $126 (to $111 instead of $116 for subscribers).  In a major new policy, the Commission, reacting to a large and well co-ordinated campaign, removed the age limit for student passes and extended them to post-secondary students effective September 2010.  This will save them $22 off of a regular Metropass.

The Commission also agreed to pursue a target of 60% farebox recovery to bring Toronto’s system to a level closer to other Canadian systems.  What remains to be decided is how that 60% level would be achieved.

Fare policy should never be made in the heat of a budget debate, but nobody seems to want to discuss the issues at any other time.  This brings gains, if any, to the squeakiest wheels, not necessarily the most deserving.

I expect all sorts of ill-will to come my way for saying this, but we hear a lot about the effect of transit fares on “the poor”, whoever they may be today.  Are students “poor”?  In past fare debates, they have been painted by advocates for welfare recipients and the working poor as coddled members of a class who could look forward to substantial incomes.  Yes, some students come from backgrounds of limited means, but does this entitle them to fare discounts?

The poor, those for whom budgeting consists of day-to-day decisions about what they can spend, choose not to buy passes because this would represent a single large outlay and because they are unsure of actually needing a pass for the entire month.  The sad fact is that “the poor” tend to pay single fares, or at best token fares, because that’s what their cash flow permits.

Taking the farebox recovery to 60% is presumed by many to mean “freeze the fares”, but that’s both shortsighted and not necessarily the best policy.  The TTC budget for 2009 was roughly $1.3-billion, and a 10% reduction in fare recoveries represents $130-million of new “expense”.

  • The reduction might be achieved by running more service, changing the standards so that buses and streetcars ran more frequently with more empty space (even seats!).
  • It might be achieved by changing the fare structure.
    • The TTC has already priced the implementation of a time-limited fare (unlimited riding for one fare for two hours) at about $15-million annually.
    • Over a decade ago, the cost of senior/student fares relative to adults was bumped in a revenue grab to stave off a larger adult fare increase.  Should this be reversed?  All in one go, or over a few years?  How much would it cost?
  • As a fare freeze, that might last two years, after which we would be back into a debate about a fare increase at least at the level of inflation.

Better service benefits everyone not just by making the system attractive and improving its political base (without which better subsidies are unlikely), but also by reducing the time wasted by riders trying to get from “A” to “B”.  The time spent waiting for a bus or streetcar to show up can be a significant part of someone’s trip, and unreliability further extends the period a rider must allow for the “routine” delays that may occur. 

Time-limited fares would simplify the entire transfer mechanism (establishing a clear yes/no test for transfer validity), but would also act as a limited-time pass giving people who must make a number of linked, short trips the ability to travel without paying many fares.  (Yes, there are day passes, but they’re not always available when and where you need them, and four fares may be more than you want to pay.)

Adjusting the ratio of senior/student fares to adults would improve the lot, financially, of a group that were treated in the past as cash cows, a captive market that would bear any increase.  There will always be fare increases eventually, but there is also a strong argument for restoring the ratio between adult and the concession fares to historic levels.

Smart cards are mentioned often, but the system should allow someone to qualify for bulk discounts (equivalent to passes) based on their usage history without having to pay for an entire week or month of transit use up front.

If the intention of that 60% target is simply to freeze fares, that’s nothing more than a call for greater subsidies without the riders putting any money into the pot, and it will do nothing to change the quality of transit (or the fare structure).  Two years from now, we will be back in exactly the same place.

If the intention is to have a full debate about how we might adjust fares and service, then that’s worthwhile.  We can talk about investing in transit, in making the system more equitable, in improving service and reliability.  Those are changes where new subsidies provide lasting results for riders, not bandaids to defer real discussion until the next budget crisis.

On The Rocket, Episode 2

Adam Giambrone’s CP24 show On The Rocket airs Thursday evening, Nov 26, from 9 to 10 pm, repeating at 1:30 am.

As I will be one of the guests, I will not be reviewing the show.  Anyone who wants to do so is welcome to leave a comment here.

Eglinton LRT Project Open Houses (Updated)

Starting tonight, there will be a series of open houses for the Eglinton project.

Updated:  The display panels are now available online.

All Open Houses will be held from 6:30pm to 9:00pm.

  • November 23:  York Memorial Collegiate (cafeteria), 2690 Eglinton Avenue West
  • November 24:  Etobicoke Olympium (2nd floor Lounge), 590 Rathburn Road
  • November 25:  Northern Secondary School (cafeteria), 851 Mount Pleasant Road
  • November 26:  Richview Collegiate (cafeteria), 1738 Islington Avenue
  • December 2:  CNIB Conference Centre, 1929 Bayview Avenue
  • December 8:  Don Montgomery Community Centre, 2467 Eglinton Avenue East
  • December 10:  Beth Shalom Synagogue, 1445 Eglinton Avenue West


Please use this thread for comments on the latest proposals, preferably after you have seen them.

Designing Transit Cities — 37 Years Later

Recently, a day-and-a-half symposium took place under the sponsorship of the Canadian Urban Institute, the TTC, and several other agencies.  The title for this event was Designing Transit Cities.

The timing was very ironic and the irony unknown to the event organizers.  37 years ago this month, the City of Toronto and the TTC adopted a policy of streetcar retention at the urging of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee (SFTC) and other advocates, notably two members of City Council, the late William Kilbourn and (now Judge, retired) Paul Pickett, Q.C.

Our intent in SFTC was that Toronto would emulate other cities, mainly in Europe, and expand transit into the then-developing suburbs as a lower cost mode than subways so that Toronto would have a robust network that could compete with automotive travel.  Needless to say, this did not happen.

Among the many comments heard through the symposium, there was a common thread, picking up from the title “Transit Cities”.  Not “Transit for Cities” nor “Transit Oriented Cities”, but cities where transit is an integral and primary part of city design and planning.  (I take modest credit for inventing the term, as described in another article.)

There was a lot of talk about the need to properly design the public realm, to establish a sense of place to which people will travel, where they will linger, where they want to be.  A beautiful transit station surrounded by a parking lot is not a “Transit City”, it’s auto-oriented transit.  If autos remain an inherent part of travel, the transit system is doomed to serve only a subset of its market, and the cost of auto ownership will remain an integral part of many people’s lives.

Too much transit, especially in Toronto, is still designed with the auto as its primary concern.  Road space is dedicated to parking and turns, traffic signal timings may allegedly favour transit, but actually deter its operation.  A review of the Zurich system began with the anecdote that the city started by firing all of its traffic engineers and replacing them with operational planners whose goal was to move transit and people, with auto traffic much lower in the pecking order.

In San Francisco, BART approaches design and development at its stations (which are surrounded by large tracts of parking) as a “ridership replacement policy”, not “parking replacement”.  They are not interested in building a parking structure to replace a lot, but to develop their land in a way that will generate and increase ridership in its own right.

We heard a lot about “putting roads on a diet” and “taming the car”.  All of this is very noble, but it must be seen in the context of each city and route where this was done.  Toronto, idle in transit expansion for so long, does not have much in alternatives to offer to existing motorists.

For me, the saddest part of the whole symposium was how dated it all seemed.  Many of the photographs, the principles of the case studies, the benefits shown, not just claimed, for LRT were almost identical to the position advocated by SFTC almost four decades ago.

For our troubles, we were vilified by the professionals both at the TTC and at Queen’s Park where investment in high-tech boondoggles, the search for the “missing link” between buses and subways, drove the agenda.  The TTC was never an advocate for LRT, and there remain strongly anti-LRT sentiments in some areas within the staff.  Metrolinx, as this decade’s incarnation of Queen’s Park’s influence, has only recently come to see LRT as a worthwhile part of its network after a long attempt to foist alternative technologies onto the Transit City proposal.

Our 1973 proposal for LRT on Spadina waited until 1997 for service to begin.  We opposed the ICTS system on the SRT, itself originally planned as an LRT line, and only now see TTC and Metrolinx recognizing that LRT is a more appropriate technology for extension and integration of the SRT into a wider network.

While Toronto dallied with ICTS and a few vanity subway extensions (think of the Sheppard and Vaughan lines like personalized license plates, but much more expensive), the rest of the world turned to LRT.  One presentation from Paris’ RATP noted that from 1977 to 2013, the number of “tramways” in France will have grown from 3 systems with 3 lines to 25 systems with 60 lines.

The idea, to quote former Mayor Lastman, that “real cities don’t use streetcars” shows how the rest of the world has passed Toronto by.  Yes, they are impressed by what we are now attempting (even though a great deal is as yet unfunded), but they are also aware that Toronto stopped leading North American transit systems years ago.

Catching up with the world also means that social and political arrangements, the balance of power between motorists and transit, the culture that truly puts transit first, must evolve in Toronto at a rate unlike that seen elsewhere.  Despite recent funding announcements, we are still in a project-based model, not a transit model where money flows to an overall transit plan automatically, and each project does not have to justify itself as a political entity.  Transit has been underfunded for so long, the jump to a proper level means a big shift in government priorities or the imposition of new fees, tolls, taxes, levies, whatever name you wish to use.  We can’t have a bigger transit system without paying for it.

Transit must exist to serve the City and the Region, not simply as a make-work project rewarding deeper and longer holes with bigger budgets.  Transit must not be a dumping ground for the technology of a well-connected vendor, but should embrace world standards and experience.  No longer can we claim that Ontario has a better way of doing everything, assuming it ever did.  Transit must not be held hostage to so-called partnerships with the private sector, sweetheart deals with details shrouded in commercial secrecy.  If there is a profit to be made at public expense, then let the public enjoy the benefits.

Expanding transit’s role will be difficult and it will meet much opposition given Toronto’s record, but there is no alternative.  That new role requires a new way of thinking about the city.  We will not be car-free, but we must be a city where a car isn’t a necessity for every trip outside of downtown, where trips on the dense inner part of the system are taken as a preferred choice, not on sufferance.  People should not be able to walk to their destination as a reasonable, if resented, alternative to the TTC.

Designing for Transit Cities means a fundamental change in how we think about city building and transit’s role.  With the coming Mayoral election, some may be tempted to ask, yet again, for a pause, for a rethink.  We have paused for decades, a convenient way of giving lip service to transit while building nothing.  Any candidate with such a “plan” is worthy of little but contempt.

Some may not like “Mayor Miller’s” plan, but that doesn’t mean the plan is invalid.  There are parts of Transit City even I think should change, and parts of the Metrolinx Big Move as well.  Stopping to twiddle our thumbs, to draw an “anti-Miller map”, would be a huge waste.  Toronto needs to build and to operate a much more robust transit system.  That will take money and time, but the choice, the direction is unavoidable.

Keeping My Hand Out Of The Cookie Jar

After my appearance on Metro Morning today, an interesting question came up from a caller — am I paid for the work I do by the TTC?

The answer, quite emphatically, is no.  The last time the TTC paid me for anything was in 1969 when I left a clerical position there to return to school.

My professional life throughout the entire period of my transit activism has been in the Information Technology sector, most recently as Operations Manager for the Toronto District School Board’s IT department.  I have my opinions about how TDSB was managed, but I keep them to myself as befits the role of an employee, and my advocacy has been in other sectors, mainly transit.  I retired at the end of March.  And, yes, as a manager I appeared on the “sunshine list” for 2008.

Over the decades, I have co-authored a few small reports for non-TTC agencies and have received small honoraria for appearing at community events.  A $50 Chapter’s gift card is not going to change my lifestyle or buy my opinion.

I’ve been to countless meetings where the refreshments ranged from pizza and sandwiches, cookies, coffee, cold drinks (if you get there early), water or nothing at all.  People buy me a beer now and then.  Oh yes, Bombardier bought me breakfast once.  I think it cost them about $15.  Dinners at the Ritz are not my lot.

I am actually paid, but not much, for the articles I write in spacing magazine.  The hard copy version, not the blog.

Part of being a “transit advocate” is to talk to people, to advise them on the details of my thoughts on issues.  These have ranged over the years through the media, many parts of City Hall and Queen’s Park, community groups, even people within the TTC.  Some listen more than others, but an advocate can’t expect to hit 100%.  It’s the consistency and credibility of the message that matters.

I must say that the current environment both at the TTC and City Hall are a vast improvement over the days when talking to me was a firing offence at the TTC.  That was a few Chief General Managers ago, and it’s not hard to figure out which CGM might have been so insecure as to have such an attitude.  David Gunn was a huge breath of fresh air by contrast.

There are times that what I say supports TTC policies, and more times when I am highly critical.  Indeed, there have been occasions when I do a better job of explaining what the TTC is up to than their own staff do (or can, given constraints on what employees can say).

Would I like to be paid for all of this?  Well, at times I wonder why I do it, particularly all the work of maintaining this site, but it’s for a good cause.  My cause may not align with the views others have of Toronto’s planning and transit.  They are free to advocate on their own, although I have a few years’ head start.

The moment I get paid, my role would be suspect, and after a long period as a pro bono advocate, showing up as a paid spokesman might confer a credibility undeserved by the client.  I’m not selling my reputation.

The 2005 Jane Jacobs Prize was a special honour in recognition of years of work.  When I did a quick calculation, the $15k award came out to well under $1 an hour, although it was tax free.  The honour was to receive this from Jane while she was still alive, and that I share it with so many others of distinction in our city.  There is no formal requirement of the prize, although continuing my effort is likely assumed.  It’s hard to imagine anyone on that award list treating it as a chance to retire from public life.

If I ever take on paid work, I will be the first to declare it here so that any possible conflict of interest is visible to all.

Metrolinx “Big 5” Update (November 2009)

Today’s Metrolinx Board Meeting was notable both for the update, in public session, of the project status for five major lines as well as for supplementary information that came out in a press scrum after the public session.

Five projects now have funding and are at various stages in their approval/construction process.

Continue reading

Metrolinx Meets Mostly In Private (November 2009 Edition)

The November Metrolinx Board meeting takes place Monday the 16th starting at 1 pm.  As usual, the agenda has a small public session including remarks by Transportation Minister Bradley and reports from Rob Prichard, the CEO, Gary McNeil, the Managing Director, and a progress report on the “Big 5” projects.  These are the Eglinton, Finch, Sheppard and SRT projects in Toronto, as well as the Viva Next project in York Region.

The board then goes into private session where it will discuss the same things all over again, presumably with the interesting, important bits included.  There will also be updates on Presto (the smart card project), the Investment Strategy (how we will pay for everything), and various standing committees including the Customer Service Committee, so appropriate an issue for a private session.

Yonge Subway Yard Study (Revised)

At its meeting on November 17, the TTC will consider a report on the yard needs for the Yonge-University-Spadina subway. 

Updated November 15 at 6:10 pm:

A reference to the replacement dates for the BD signal system and the T1 fleet has been corrected.  This triggers a discussion of whether the TTC will concoct an excuse to retire the T1’s early on the grounds that it is not worth installing ATO on them.

Updated November 15 at 4:30 pm:

The Subway Rail Yard Needs Study (aka SRYNS) proposes that future operations of the Yonge-University-Spadina line through 2030 be provided through a combination of various facilities:

  • Expansion of Wilson Yard
  • Storage of 6-8 trains at Davisville Yard
  • Consolidation of all non-revenue equipment (work trains) at Davisville Yard
  • Provision of online storage for additional trains at Richmond Hill
  • Sheppard Subway equipment (four 4-car T1 sets plus a spare) would be serviced at Greenwood

However, looking beyond 2030, staff foresee a need for additional storage and are asking the Commission for perimission to protect for a new yard on the Yonge line with purchase of property, should it become available.  This is a rather oddly worded request to which I will return.

The SRYNS was funded by York Region in recognition of the storage and servicing issues that a Richmond Hill subway extension would create for the YUS line.  The study explicitly does not look at requirements for the Bloor-Danforth line, but the report recognizes that this too must be examined.  The restructuring of the fleet and storage requirements for YUS trigger a move of all T1 subway cars to Greenwood, but that yard is not large enough to hold all of them.  In the short term, the TTC owns more T1s than would be required to operate both the BD and Sheppard subways, but this fleet will reach 30 years in 2026 and replacement with newer cars will occur within the timeframe of any projected yard requirements. Continue reading