Time For Metrolinx To Earn Its Keep

A few days ago, Queen’s Park dropped a bombshell on local and regional transit plans by announcing the deferral of $4-billion of previously announced support for transit construction.  Details were left for Metrolinx to work out.

Pity poor Metrolinx, and its Board who are about to embark on their annual retreat.  This will be no wine and canapés in the woods outing, but some very hard slogging for “Metrolinx II”.  This is a Board that did not work through the creation of The Big Move, and many members are short on local planning and political experience.  All the same, it’s their job to sort out what is to be done.

I’m not a Metrolinx Board member.  I wasn’t even on their Advisory Panel.  But if I were, here’s the advice I would give.

Metrolinx is stuck in a policy vacuum.  Queen’s Park claims it has not lost interest in transit, merely that it wants to hold off a while to get the financial house in better order and concentrate on portfolios more demanding of short-term spending.  We have to take them at their word, but this doesn’t really tell us what support for transit will look like whenever it will materialize.

Any program that assumes one specific level of support is doomed to irrelevance on two counts:

  • If spending priorities change for any reason, the program will be out-of-step with available funding and we will be back to the familiar position of waiting for yet another proposal while the clock ticks away.
  • A single program without alternatives includes many assumptions and tradeoffs that may be hidden in private discussions, and which preclude vital public debate on what role transit should have and how it will be financed.

Queen’s Park has announced that it will produce a 10-year fiscal plan in 2011.  That plan necessarily will include (or omit) whatever funding for transit, including Metrolinx projects, that will take us to the next decade.  Metrolinx’ job is not to produce one scenario, but a range of options that can inform the creation of that plan.

For obvious political reasons (the coming provincial election), debate on these options may happen in private, and that would be quite sad.  The future of the GTA’s transit network is far too complex and far-reaching to appear as a fait accompli by way of a pre-election announcement next year.  Moreover, if the Liberals were to lose power, a single program embedded in an election platform would almost certainly be discarded as a product of the ancien régime.  You need only look to the treatment accorded David Miller’s Transit City to see what the future might do to a Liberal transit plan.

Here, Board members, are your assignments.

What Will Transit Do?

I have written about this question at length elsewhere and won’t repeat those posts here.  Metrolinx needs to craft a range of “transit futures” from at worst a small growth of the existing systems to an aggressive plan for improvement of transit across the region.  This sort of thing happened in the development of The Big Move, but you will need better granularity in your options for several reasons.

  • Will transit continue to primarily support commute trips into the core (the “radial” option of early versions of the Metrolinx network), or will it provide a grid of services addressing travel demand and congestion for a wider range of trips both by time of day and location?
  • Will transit’s use of road space be constrained to whatever leftovers can be spared on existing streets, or will there be an active program to convert road space to surface rapid transit regardless of the technology?
  • What role will local transit operations play in the regional scheme, and what funding demands do these drive out in the larger plan?
  • What alternative scenarios will exist depending on population and economic growth in the GTA, and on changing price and availability of fuel for automobiles?  We may not agree on whether peak oil is upon us, but we need to understand the implications if there are major, permanent shifts in the cost of fuel.
  • For each scenario, what are the implications of what you have left out, the cost in broad terms of “the road not taken”?

If you begin your discussions by wrangling about whether Queen’s Park should commit $1-billion or $5-billion a year to transit, and how they might raise it, you are already on the wrong path because you won’t yet know what you want the money for.  First you must know the range of options, the future scenarios for transit growth (including none at all), then you figure out the price.

The original Metrolinx work came up with a network costing close to $90-billion, and this simply did not fly at Queen’s Park.  Even today, I have doubts that there is any real love for a $50b program that would add $2b annually to capital spending plus future operating costs.  All the same, the public deserves to know what the costs and effects of each option will be so that they can decide whether to support transit spending.  Politicians deserve this information too so that they can lead the GTA into a transit future knowing that the costs and outcomes are defensible and worthy of their own political capital.

I won’t go into every possible issue here, but a few must be on the table.

The Validity of The Big Move

A central premise of The Big Move is that it will divert millions of trips that might otherwise travel by auto to transit, and this will generate widespread benefits in reduced congestion, lower pollution and other personal and societal costs related to supporting a rapidly growing fleet of autos in the GTA.  However, many of the demand projections in The Big Move are suspect because they assume a level of service in some corridors that simply will not exist and, in many cases, cannot even be built.

Already we know that GO Transit’s plans for the Georgetown corridor are much less aggressive than the service levels contemplated in The Big Move, and moreover capacity constraints in the rail corridors and at Union Station are major problems in attaining the proposed capacity.  The clear split between what GO thinks it can run and what Metrolinx claims it will build must be resolved so that we have a credible plan.

This will require a complete rethink of the regional plan both for the achievability of its goals and the alternatives that must be contemplated.  Sitting on The Big Move as an untouchable transit bible is not an option, and such action would abdicate the very purpose of fiscal review and planning.

The Role of GO Transit

The merger of Metrolinx and GO appears smooth on the surface, but many questions remain.  We already know that GO’s projections of future demand and the service they plan to operate are much lower than the figures cited in The Big Move.  Moreover, GO’s service and planning territory extend well beyond the GTA limits of The Big Move.  Indeed, some proposals such as rail service to Kitchener-Waterloo and Niagara, part of early versions of the regional plan, were taken out because they lay outside of Metrolinx’ planning scope.

Now that GO and Metrolinx are one agency, both sets of plans need to be consolidated.  We need to know how much additional capital and operating funding is required for GO expansion beyond the original Big Move territory.

GO’s bus network is growing both to meet travel demands across municipal boundaries and to cope with the disappearance of private carriers.  However, GO may not be the appropriate agency to deliver these services.  As we have already seen in York Region, where GO duplicates the local service, it may be more appropriate to cede operation to that level.  On a general note, the same issues of cross-region operation so often cited as a shortcoming of the TTC need to be addressed among the 905 transit services.

If these boundaries disappear, and if service at the local level improves, what is the remaining role for GO buses?

Fare Integration and Collection

Nobody wants to talk about this, but the creation of a regional transit system demands that fare issues be addressed.

What is an “integrated” fare?  How much will people be expected to pay for transit travel?  Should there be different fare structures for express services, and how is “express” defined?  How much will fare integration cost both to riders who may pay greater fares (for example, long-distance TTC riders if that system switches to fare by distance), or in greater subsidy (either to mitigate fare increases, or to offset the effect of eliminating existing fare boundaries)?

What is the real status and future cost of Presto?  What are its capabilities and, more importantly, its limitations?  Do these dictate specific fare structures and payment models?  The GTA hears a lot about the wonders of Presto, but we also know that full implementation is an expensive, as-yet unfunded project that must be integrated in future spending plans.

The Role of Local Transit

GO is already well aware of the need for local transit to supplement its parking lots for commuter travel.  Future parking growth cannot possibly accommodate the volume of riders projected by either GO or Metrolinx, and parking is not an option for riders arriving at a GO station from elsewhere in the network.  Local transit is the vital collection and distribution mechanism for regional travel.

What service levels should Metrolinx advocate to support its future network?  How will this be funded?  What will the fare structure look like?

The Technology Debates:  Is There A Role for LRT?

A great deal of time was wasted in the lead-up to support of the Transit City Light Rapid Transit (LRT) network because many people simply do not believe this is a viable technology.  This debate is clouded by a complete lack of LRT experience on the ground in Toronto despite worldwide implementation of many forms of LRT that are popular, integral parts of their local transit systems.

LRT debates in Toronto are futher compromised by the less-than-stellar implementations brought to us by the TTC.  These are the very low end of LRT, basically streetcar lines running in their own lanes, and even these have been compromised by deferral to other road traffic in their design, and by the recent construction foul-ups of the St. Clair project.

All the same, LRT is not just a “Toronto” proposal, but exists with plans for Hamilton and Mississauga, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa, not to mention York Region if VIVA ever moves beyond its BRT implementation.  Metrolinx as an agency and especially its Board need to understand what this technology can achieve as well as its limitations, neighbourhood effects, and tradeoffs against other modes including both Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and full-blown subways.

We cannot afford to have debates about Metrolinx proposals mired in uncertainty over technology.  If Metrolinx can build a “good” LRT line, then please do it and show the GTA what is possible.  If Metrolinx does not want to build LRT, then say so, and explain what alternatives will address future travel demand.

How Will We Pay For This Network?

If you have come this far, you will probably have at least a dozen scenarios with combinations of future designs, system ramp-up rates, service qualities and fare structures.  There will be a lot of rolled up papers littering the floor, or the electronic equivalent in many trash folders.  Now, at least, you know the range of costs and possible revenues you are looking at, and you have to pay for it all.

There is no easy way to say this:  Any large new program requires new sources of revenue.  Nibbling around the edges with small reallocations or efficiencies in current operation will not produce the capital needed for system expansion and operation.

Putting this in a simple context, the entire TTC operating budget is $1.4b for 2010, and its ongoing capital needs are about $400m excluding any expansion.  The Big Move requires at least $2b annually just for construction over the next 25 years, let alone future operating and maintenance costs.  Even if one could shave 20% from TTC operating costs ($280m), this wouldn’t come close to paying for the new transit network.

I’m not saying “ignore efficiency”, but recognize that this is not a pot of gold that will provide frequent transit region-wide with no additional spending.  The overall level of transit spending will rise very substantially and this means new revenues must be found.

For too long, the debate on revenue was dominated by the “no new taxes” brigade.  Bluntly, this must stop.  We know already that people in Toronto are willing to pay more if they can be guaranteed better, faster transit service, not just piles of studies of routes they will never be able to ride.  People will choose transit over their cars if the service is reliable, reasonably fast and comfortable.

Also for too long, the emphasis has been on publicising the TTC’s screw-ups of which the St. Clair project (a joint cock-up of various City agencies and the TTC) is only one.  Bashing the TTC may be politically useful for those who would shift the power in transit planning, spending and operations elsewhere, but it has the side effect of undermining transit of any flavour.  GO thinks it has a better reputation, but much of that comes from having the comparatively easy projects and services.  As we have seen in the Weston Corridor, GO’s sensitivity to neighbourhoods is little better than the TTC’s.

Raising support for new revenue streams requires that all agencies including Metrolinx wrestle with and win the battle to improve public perception of transit as a real alternative, as services and facilities that can be built and operated well.

Several revenue tools are available, and I’m not sure that Metrolinx’ role goes beyond identifying what these are, how much they can raise, and the implications of the costs of future network scenarios.  A decision to implement any of these rests with Queen’s Park, but it would be founded on a strong, credible set of options for transit spending.

  • Road tolls:  A perennial favourite in some quarters, this would penalize road users who might not benefit from transit improvements especially if their travel does not correspond to trips that transit will serve well.  They will neither be able to use new transit lines nor see much benefit from reduced congestion.
  • Fuel tax:  This is simpler to implement than a toll because the collection machinery is already in place.  All that is needed is the will to charge the tax.  However, this again affects all road users including those whose benefit from transit spending is dubious.
  • Congestion tax:  Any scheme to limit access to the core ignores the basic fact that most of the traffic is not downtown.  There is no reason the comparatively small amount of traffic in central Toronto should underwrite the construction of a regional transit system.
  • Local property tax:  To the degree that increasing scope of local transit operations is driven by the growth of a regional network, local property taxes will be affected.
  • Regional sales tax:  If we regard transit as a general social good, then it should be paid for from a broad-based revenue source like the sales tax.  In the short term, while the public digests the HST implementation, talk of bumping the sales tax may be unwelcome.  However, for purpose of debate, we must know what could be raised by such a tax.
  • Income taxes and general revenue:  Short of creating a separate transit surtax in the manner of the Ontario health tax, the problem with income taxes is that they flow to general revenue rather than being earmarked for any program.  If Ontario does entertain a tax increase, I suspect this will be aimed at higher profile spending areas such as health care or deficit/debt reduction.

“Alternative Financing”

When MoveOntario was announced, the financing scheme involved deferred recognition of the cost of assets until they were in operation, followed by a 50-year amortization period.  This is akin to the scheme used for power generation plants, and we all know the financial mess Ontario Hydro got into by pushing costs off into the future.

Queen’s Park is now clearly treating capital spending for transit as an ongoing, debt-financed process, and wants to constrain future spending to stay within deficit/debt targets in coming years.  “Free” transit construction is an accounting bubble that has burst.

Alternative schemes have been proposed for the creation of transit infrastructure.  One way or another, all of them require that somebody borrow money, and somebody else pay it back.  One might argue that a non-governmental provider would do so more effectively (whatever that might mean), but they won’t do it for free.  In the best possible scenario, there will be cost savings in the short term (primarily construction financing and project management), but these will be offset in the long term when the operating agreement or lease for the finished facility kicks in.

A $2b/year program might, just might, shrink by 10%, but that’s still $1.8b of new money to come from somewhere.  If you want a lot more transit, be prepared to pay for it.  Toronto isn’t Singapore, or Hong Kong or Tokyo where riding demand and real estate development can support the construction of intensive transit services.  We have built our low density city, and now we have to pay to travel in it.

I won’t go into the many scenarios for alternative schemes of service provision as these really cannot be discussed until we know what quality of service and scope of operations we want.  Metrolinx has more than enough on its plate already.

33 thoughts on “Time For Metrolinx To Earn Its Keep

  1. I still think that whatever they decide, the Eglinton LRT should be implemented despite the hypocritical budget statement of McDalton. Metrolinx is meant to connect the GTA region, and Mississauga is continuing with its BRT, so to miss linking the BRT with the LRT, connecting the breadth of Mississauga and Toronto, would be a greatly missed opportunity to demonstrate their mandate. It is the one clear imperative of Transit City, the one route that will service the most people and connect to virtually all North-South routes in the city, it is the backbone of the future transit network and clearly offers the most opportunity to encourage medium density housing throughout Toronto and Mississauga.


  2. The states south of the border appear to have a solution to the large cost projects. They package a proposal and present it to the voters, where it is then either accepted or rejected. An example would be to raise the required money through a bond issue that would be paid off over 10 years by a state tax surcharge.
    This method can be largly immune to conditions of the economy and changes of government, since it is the voters that made the final decision rather than the government.

    The flip side of this, of course, is the ongoing maintenance cost issues that do not fit the model very well.


  3. Nobody pays for their house up front, the smart thing to do is get a mortgage. When we build infrastructure that will benefit future generations, it is only right that they can expect to pay for it. The alternative is they will only inherit traffic.

    Steve: They will also inherit the debt. It is cheaper to pay that down as soon as possible as any householder knows. You don’t write a 50-year mortgage just because you plan to live the rest of your life in one place, but because you are too poor to pay faster and are willing to pay interest almost forever.


  4. You’ve written in the past of the importance of planning the network as a whole, and I think that principle still makes sense. But perhaps we’ve seen there’s also a downside for launching too many plans simultaneously, without getting the general public on board with some early successes.

    Given budget constraints, Metrolinx shouldn’t just focus its short term spending on “quick wins” (that phrase gives me visions of a bunch of thinly spread, small, and very incremental projects) but also on “showcase projects”. Showcase projects would be those that would help those who don’t follow transit so closely better understand the vision and have confidence in various agencies’ ability to do things right. The tricky case of the SRT aside, there is an advantage to having a Sheppard East LRT up and running before trying to finalize and build all of Transit City. I think it would be easier to generate the political will for tens of billions of transit spending after proving the lessons of St. Clair have been learned.


  5. Wake up.

    Do you really think that MetroLinx should lead this or any initiative? It is time for the citizens of Toronto to tell MetroLinx what to do.

    MetroLinx is the tail – the electorate is the dog!

    Remember who is really in charge,

    Steve: Metrolinx may be the tail, but is has influential friends holding the dog’s leash.


  6. I think that Metrolinx should revert to being a board made up of the local area politicians and not the appointed buddies of Dalton. The one advantage of a Torie government is that they don’t give you false hopes of a possible transit Valhalla, they consign you to purgatTORY from the beginning.


  7. Good analysis Steve.

    A few thoughts regarding the transit funding:

    1) Road tolls, parking surcharges, gas taxes and sales taxes should all be considered, even though neither scheme will be entirely fair. No matter what combination of taxes and fees is implemented, there will be a certain percentage of people who have to pay more while not receiving any benefit from the expanded transit network. If we look for an absolutely fair arrangement, nothing will get done.

    2) Allocating revenues from specific sources to very specific transit projects should be considered when there is a reasonable match between the two. For example, road tolls on expressways into the core (Gardiner, DVP, Allen, Black Creek) and parking surcharges within a certain part of Toronto (for example, the area bounded by Keele, Eglinton, Vic Park, and the lake) could be earmarked for DRL subway.

    3) I would be reluctant to fund transit expansion with property tax increases, since property taxes might be very regressive. When people lose jobs / incomes, they usually can cut on all other spendings and taxes, but getting rid of high property taxes by selling the property incurs a lot of additional expenses.

    Steve: I mentioned property taxes only in the context that a big, new regional network will create demands on local networks for feeder/distributor services. As things stand, these are paid for from local taxes. Therefore, increased overall transit use has an effect on the property tax.


  8. Regarding the situation with the present round of funding, the provincial government has to be forthcoming: is this a “delay”, or veiled cancellation?

    If there is a risk that part of the funding actually gets canceled, then Metrolinx should be careful not to create a bunch of unfinished LRT stubways. They should focus on building lines that make sense even if not extended for long time.

    Some have pointed out that Eglinton route is by far the most important in the TC package. If Metrolinx wants to keep Eglinton on schedule, then they have to defer everything else except the portion of SLRT between Kennedy and Scarborough Centre (Toronto can’t afford to lose the existing service). Complexities involved in this option include the change in car house plans (Conlins will not be available for SLRT), the fate of federal $300 million allocated for SELRT, and possibly contracts already signed for Sheppard works.

    Option two is trying to keep both Eglinton and Sheppard on schedule. Extended SLRT with the connection to Sheppard will be needed as well, and overall there is no way they can defer $4 billion. Deferral of Finch and VivaNext would be worth $2 – $2.5 billion at most.

    Option three is deferring all of Eglinton, and going ahead with the four other projects.

    Steve: The claimed intent is only to push $4-billion out five years. In round numbers, Finch is $1-billion, and Eglinton is $4b+. However, Eglinton was not to be completed until 2018 at least, so some of that $4b is already in the out years. The most expensive piece is the tunnel, and that was planned to start this fall with the access shaft at Black Creek followed by tunnelling next year. The contracts for the shaft and tunnel boring machines have not yet been let. Eglinton can be stretched out without completely killing it. Whether we can whittle $4b off of the total between 2011 and 2015 remains to be seen.


  9. As for the leash holders, they are powerful and yes, to be feared but they have an Achilles heel – specifically the artificially low Bank of Canada interest rate and the the other shoe, the CMHC.

    If interest rates are brought to where they belong, about 5.5-7%, and the CMHC is forced to limit amortizations to 25 years while demanding 10% down, the developer / land cartels go bust and the electorate is in charge again.

    Then you will have your transportation and the new stops won’t be on vacant land waiting for development. Notice how the projects that are still going ahead are under developers control while the deferred ones like Eglinton have little profit for developers.

    Know and understand the enemy.


  10. Re: Dan T

    Although the changes in interest rates and CMHC rules would affect real estate prices, I doubt that they can dramatically alter the house ownership pattern; and the effect on density and on the viability of transit is even less certain.

    CMHC only ensures mortgages with <20% down, this is just a portion of the market. Higher interest rates resulting in higher mortgage payments would reduce demand for ownership, but the effect can be partly offset if prices go doing due to lower demand.

    Furthermore, owning does not always mean sprawl and renting does not always mean density. You can buy a condo unit in a highrise near a subway station and be a prime candidate for transit usage; you can rent a basement in a cul-de-sac and rely on your car.


  11. If the province really wants to show that it’s still committed to improving public transit, then it strikes me that the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT should be the priority, here. It’s a major piece of infrastructure, covering a significant portion of Toronto, and having influence as far west as Mississauga. And with its lengthy tunnel, it’s a potential showcase for what an LRT line can do.

    It’s also extremely expensive, which means we risk shoving everything else out. But, as Steve notes, a fair chunk of the project is going to be built after 2015 in any event, so maybe we can whittle things down enough.

    We can’t seem to cancel the Sheppard LRT because of the federal contribution and the fact that the project has started, and the Scarborough RT can’t be delayed beyond 2015, so that’s really a crush of projects, here. But maybe, just maybe, it might be possible to approve the beginnings of a network, here: the Sheppard East LRT connecting to the rebuilt Scarborough RT, and the Eglinton LRT starting from Kennedy and working its way to the Yonge subway. And as an added benefit, perhaps the Eglinton LRT cars could make use of the Sheppard maintenance facilities temporarily.

    Could this arrangement be built under the new restrictions? If so, that would give momentum for the rest of the Eglinton line to follow.


  12. Does the federal government have any obligation to fund transit? Where do they stand on all this?

    Steve: The Feds have never had any formal role or obligation in transit which is a municipal (and hence provincial) responsibility. Ottawa’s position is that anything they do contribute has been on a one-time basis. The gas tax funding they give is a product of the Martin-era government, recently renewed by Harper (although I suspect it would have rough sailing in a majority situation).


  13. I’m not against paying off the mortgage in lump sums in the near future (when the economy is good), but for now there’s no shame in getting a mortgage. Yes our children will inherit monetary debt, but personally I think an infrastructure debt is worse.

    An Infrastructure debt costs billions of dollars in productivity every year as well as something that can’t be bought: time.

    Steve: The problem is that the business community, the bond market and the political opposition look only at the deficit and the debt in financial terms, not the infrastructure that the debt might represent.


  14. re: Michael Forest’s comment – The scenario that I proposed above would be very effective. The opponents to such a scenario are found in the development industry.

    While your examples are true, they are specious. In general my proposition is true – exemptions do exist but they are not the general rule.


  15. Dan T.

    Many provincial politicians are fond of assisting the development industry and not simply because the big guys donate.

    The politicians often cite the spin off effects to the provincial economy and the fact that most of the supplies are sourced locally and all the jobs, in construction, consultants, government etc., are kept in the province.

    And while I agree future extension to Vaughan and the Sheppard stubline have been nonsensical decisions economically, part of the reason they were made was because it was felt they would attract new transit riders, not simply providing existing ones with speedier, more comfortable service.

    I have never liked that argument and unfortunately it’s usually put forth as a main argument against the DRL, but it’s there, even among local city politicians.
    Metrolinx is continuing the policy of not simply looking at estimated ongoing cost recovery expectations when examining new lines, but rather adding in the environmental and social benefits. There are likely positives to this approach but again, it’s something that will keep Toronto specific lines like the DRL on the sidelines.

    Steve: Actually, the DRL, like much of the work on GO Transit, will increase total capacity into the core area, and will free up room on the existing network for new riders from York Region. The developments downtown could not have happened without the growth in GO Transit, and core area developers have a big interest in seeing more transit capacity to support more office space. As for the construction industry, they do not care where a line is — a hole in the ground is the same to them whether it is in Vaughan or Riverdale.


  16. Wow, a full posting on Metrolinx, I thought you didn’t know anything outside of Toronto boundaries.

    The revenue tools are a good idea, however, you need to realize that once you say “new”, “increase”, “fee”, or “tax” in one sentence, people will be outraged.

    Steve: This is a Toronto-focussed site, but the known universe does not stop at Steeles, or the watercourses bounding lands to the east and west. Let people be outraged. People want the sun, moon, stars and several planets from various governments, but they don’t want to pay for it. When their roads are not paved, when their schools are falling apart, when their hospitals have no beds and their relatives languish in corridors, then they complain. But pay?

    Governments are complicit in this because they tell people they can have everything free, that “efficiencies” will be found to pay for multi-billion dollar projects. Narrow self-interest lead to a union town, Oshawa, helping to vote in a decidedly anti-union Harris government. He gave them a tax cut, but a lot of baggage came along with that promise. Now the Liberals with help from Ottawa are bailing out the auto industry which could well be portrayed as a model of “inefficiency” were it a government body. That bailout helps workers and the cities they live in, but it burdens our future. It’s a trade-off. We can pay for it now, or we can pay more later as we service the debt whose cost will crowd other items out of the budget.


  17. If the province really wants to show that it’s still committed to improving public transit, then it strikes me that the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT should be the priority, here. It’s a major piece of infrastructure, covering a significant portion of Toronto, and having influence as far west as Mississauga. And with its lengthy tunnel, it’s a potential showcase for what an LRT line can do.

    I have to disagree with this, and to understand why, I would suggest you read the LURA reports that summarize the public feedback at the PICs (they can be found on the City’s website for the Eglinton LRT under “Public Consultation Reports”), and then compare it to the Environmental Project Report. There is a lot of work on Eglinton that hasn’t been done yet, and needs to be dealt with before the project moves forward, otherwise it will showcase something that is best left “unshowcased.”

    Steve: I agree here with Karl. Eglinton needs a lot of work, and the TTC’s heavy-handed treatment of objections to their design has undermined support. Better we see Sheppard and the SRT conversion proceed as they are related projects.


  18. Steve says

    “All the same, LRT is not just a “Toronto” proposal, but exists with plans for Hamilton and Mississauga, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa, not to mention York Region if VIVA ever moves beyond its BRT implementation.”

    Don’t forget Durham Region — they just released a massive LRT and BRT plan that is dependent on Transit City.


  19. Here’s an idea. How to get the Eglinton LRT and save hundreds of millions of dollars. Divert along the abandoned Old Belt Line (railway) between Caledonia and Eglinton West subway station. Will that ever get the NIMBY’s going!


  20. Regarding Sheppard/Eglinton, I disagree with Steve and Karl. The Sheppard LRT is one of the weaker elements of Transit City, and certainly a much less needed line that Eglinton. With Sheppard, what will be showcased is a very disjointed route with three different modes operating along its length. The forced transfer at Don Mills will annoy people, regardless of how it’s designed. The subsequent transfer that I assume will exist at Meadowvale will be even worse. I have, on several occasions, taken the 85A eastbound to Meadowvale, and the buses are never empty as they continue eastbound towards Port Union. The Sheppard LRT is unlikely to make the journey for these poor riders any faster than it is today, thanks to yet another forced transfer at Meadowvale.

    Eglinton, on the other hand, would present a straight, one-mode route across the entire city from Scarborough to Etobicoke. It would serve the most riders out of all the planned TC lines. Everyone knows this. So by insisting that Sheppard be the first TC line to be built, it becomes very clear that the reason is political: build the Sheppard LRT to permanently prevent the future extension of the Sheppard subway. So this whole exercise serves to support proponents of LRT at the expense of what would be best for riders and the City of Toronto. This is no way to gain support for a city-wide LRT network.

    I recognize that several details still need to be worked out regarding Eglinton. Fine. Let’s get those details sorted out and plan on building Eglinton first. If the TTC does it right, and operates it well, you may be able to convince the many skeptics out there that LRT is indeed a good option for Sheppard. Building Sheppard first does nothing to advance public support for LRT, and given the upcoming municipal elections, it is not the best course of action to take.

    Steve: You may be unaware, because they have not shown their hand yet, that some staff at Metrolinx would prefer to see Eglinton end somewhere west of Keele, and never get to the airport. Instead, the Mississauga busway would be extended east using the Richview Expressway lands. Also, there is some doubt that the line would come east to Kennedy in the near future and it may only reach Don Mills. There is also a big debate over subway vs LRT technology and stop spacing. The irony is that the time saved with fewer stops will more than be compensated for with transfers and slower rides on the outer sections of the line.

    On important option for Sheppard East is to branch south to UTSC. I know this doesn’t do much for people coming from further east on Sheppard, but it would begin the concept of UTSC as a transit node in eastern Scarborough. The City seems to be holding out for the full Scarborough-Malvern line as a “Pan Am Games” project, but I think that’s the wrong strategy.


  21. So, are you saying Metrolinx wants Eglinton to be a Keele-Woodbine-ish subway? Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. Contrary to what you’ve said here, I heard that *Metrolinx* pushed for the SRT conversion to LRT, whereas the TTC wanted it to remain as ICTS, even with a fully built-out TC network. How do you explain that?

    Steve: You have it completely backwards. Bombardier was lobbying Metrolinx back in 2008 for a turnkey deal to “extend” the SRT the airport, and Metrolinx has always pushed the idea of a “regional” line with infrequent stations to permit cross-city trips. To that end, ICTS was their target technology.

    Within the TTC staff, yes, there are some LRT-haters as evidenced by the way Richard Soberman’s review of the SRT was rewritten from being pro-LRT to pro-ICTS. This, however, was not the view at the political level including the Mayor’s office which had ongoing battles with Metrolinx over the technology issue.


  22. Fuel tax: This is simpler to implement than a toll because the collection machinery is already in place. All that is needed is the will to charge the tax. However, this again affects all road users including those whose benefit from transit spending is dubious.

    Their benefit, although it might be hard to make them see/realise it, would be reduced congestion. The other positive of a fuel tax is that it more heavily penalizes those who buy fuel-inefficient vehicles like SUVs and sports cars (and also encourages upgrading to more fuel efficent vehicles), so a fuel tax can be sold as “green.”

    Someone mentioned in another post, I think, “how do other cities fund transit?” and one of the cities mentioned was Vancouver. Part of how we [Vancouver] do it is by a fuel tax. We also do it by having an overall much more progressive rhetoric around transit where transit is seen as a good thing by getting lots of single-occupancy vehicles off the road, as opposed to the TTC treating Metropass holders or token-users as people who are somehow scamming the system. In Vancouver, people who use pre-paid transit fares are considered foundational to the system, whereas here they inexplicably appear to be considered a burden.

    Also, you mentioned that Toronto has built its low-density city and now its residents have to pay to travel through it: this is mentioned in passing as “integrated regional planning” but not really elaborated on, but I think it’s important to encourage a strong and vocal focus on changing that by promoting/working towards densification. This is something the Lower Mainland definitely hasn’t remotely mastered, as the continuing sprawl in suburbs like Richmond and Surrey shows, but at least talking about it is an integral part of the planning process there. My impression is that it hasn’t got the same level of endorsement here.

    Steve: It is particular hard to make motorists accept that transit spending helps them when even Metrolinx’ onw projections show that with very optimistic projections of transit ridership, the amount of traffic in the GTA will not go down. It will only rise at a lower rate than would otherwise occur. The effect will be gradual, and motorists will continue to demand that we show them the benefit of billions in spending and construction upheavals.


  23. Higher fuel (gas) prices will hurt transit more than private vehicles. PV’s will go to smaller more fuel efficient engines. Most people in north america are driving around with way more displacement than they need. Transit is already optimized as much as possible for fuel efficiency. Diesel powered transportation is going to get hit hard.


  24. Steve: It is particular hard to make motorists accept that transit spending helps them when even Metrolinx’ own projections show that with very optimistic projections of transit ridership, the amount of traffic in the GTA will not go down. It will only rise at a lower rate than would otherwise occur. The effect will be gradual, and motorists will continue to demand that we show them the benefit of billions in spending and construction upheavals.

    Maybe some investment in developing “here’s what happens if we don’t invest in transit” scenarios would be good here? Probably couldn’t hurt. Goes along with your focus on Metrolinx coming up with multiple alternatives based on various levels of funding. That’s how TransLink has been doing it for the last little while, although of course they use that very obviously promote certain outcomes that they are most in favour of.


  25. Higher fuel (gas) prices will hurt transit more than private vehicles. PV’s will go to smaller more fuel efficient engines. Most people in north america are driving around with way more displacement than they need. Transit is already optimized as much as possible for fuel efficiency. Diesel powered transportation is going to get hit hard.

    I was going to say, “Well then we should exempt transit companies from the tax…” and then I realized that if you have the fuel tax go directly to transit, there’s no need. But if it isn’t all earmarked for transit, then definitely transit authorities/orgs need to be exempted.


  26. joey

    The more important point is that higher fuel prices do not induce large changes in mode shift to transit but rather cause people to buy more fuel efficient vehicles. They do generate a lot of money which is their purpose despite the sales job about mode shifts.


  27. GO doesn’t really duplicate service in York Region per se, but does run some routes that have some redundant mileage with YRT routes (and the infamous route 62 that is the same as the 98/99 and Viva Blue). The real ‘duplicate’ mileage is in Brampton, where GO runs a crazy amount of local type service that is redundant to that of Brampton Transit, and in my opinion, is not a good use of resources. While I’ve heard that this may end in the coming years it should end as soon as possible, as Brampton Transit has more than matured and proven it can transport ALL residents of Brampton.


  28. I did some back of the napkin calculations last night on relative area required for the following (just for the vehicles):

    Assuming a mid-size car…
    1 person 1 car @ 2.4 million people – 21.7 sq/km (or 3.5% of toronto)
    270 people 1 streetcar – 0.68 sq/km (or 0.1% of toronto)
    — put those on a map for fun —
    – there are actually 1.2 million registered cars in toronto
    – there are another 1.2 million that enter the city each day
    – so that 3.5% number is accurate
    – luckily TTC carries 1.4 million people a day and GO 150,000
    – otherwise the 3.5% would actually be 5.5% of the land mass of toronto
    – put that on a map…35 sq/km
    – that’s not roads, that’s just the cars themselves
    – luckily we can stack cars

    Steve: Don’t forget that most of those TTC and GO people are really two one-way trips. To convert GO riders to equivalent autos, you have to at least halve the GO rider count. On TTC the fraction would be higher because more of its customers take three or more trips per day.


  29. George, don’t forget that cars require parking spots at both ends of the trip!

    I’ve seen people work out the space required for the ownership and operation of vehicles and they allocate two parking spots (home and destination) plus a road segment for each car trip:

    Car area = [width of lane * length of (car plus front and rear buffer, variable dependent on speed of operation)]

    The amount of space given over to cars ends up much higher than 3.5% in those scenarios…


  30. Seeing as how I’ve heard so much (from all quarters) on how the States and Europe have better transit (and, as some insist on pointing out, more kilometres of subway), I’d like to know how they fund it. Obviously, they don’t plant a penny or a eurocent in the ground and wait for Dollars and Euros to sprout.

    Do they have higher taxes, and if so, what kinds do they have (gas tax, VAT, property tax, income tax, tolls/user fees, etc.), and what portion of those taxes goes into municipal, regional, and national transit?

    What fares are charged, how are the calculated, and what level of service do you receive (local bus, express coach, commuter rail, LRT, subway, etc.)?

    Are transit projects funded for political gain, or for the greater good? Are they seen as another place to waste money, or something worth investing in?

    Are operating costs, and costs for upkeep of the existing system, funded by higher governments, and to what extent?

    Also, what impact, in terms of increased/decreased use and financial gain/loss, do single ride tickets have (board one vehicle, cancel one ticket; board another vehicle, cancel another ticket)?

    Finally, how did any of the measures to fund better transit in the US and Europe come about? Were they just put in place with little fanfare, or were they hard-fought battles to reduce congestion in places plagued by it?


  31. I believe that there is an initiative in the works for a parking levee (Karen Stintz). I think this is the best option. Make everyone driving into the city pay an extra dollar a day to park and put that in a big fund to pay for transit. The reason why people still drive, even inner city trips is that parking is cheap. Raise parking prices and give the money to transit.

    People can get around road tolls, but they have to put their cars somewhere.

    Steve: I think you mean a “levy”. A “parking levee” might be a midnight gathering around a fire in a deserted lot.


  32. Grzegorz: I can tell you that in Madrid, residential property taxes are lower than Toronto, but then again, no one lives in single family detached homes. Everyone lives in either mid-rise condo/apartments, or townhouses. The latter, however, are disappearing quickly, all of them replaced by mid-rise condos. Interestingly, there aren’t many highrise buildings. The city is decidedly mid-rise, and that is one of the main reasons why transit is so successful there. On any given street, whether it is a major arterial or small side street, the population density is high, which is the perfect recipe for a successful metro system.

    I’m not sure how exactly the goverment paid for the incredible expansion of the metro (not to mention burying a highway that encircles the entire city). There are regional road tolls on various highways that serve the city, and those funds were likely used in part. But I think it comes down to three principle factors: the government recognizes and fully supports the need for public transit, there is unanimous public approval for public transit, and the population density provides a solid ridership base that justifies subway expansion.


  33. With Transit City budgets on hold, what do you think about the city take a first step by creating separated bus lanes on the streets earmarked for LRT? This seems like a pretty quick and cheap way of moving the ball down the field in terms of how these roads are used.

    Steve: This would involve more than just painting lines on the roads involved. There are issues of parking, provision for traffic turning at intersections, transit signal “priority”, stop spacing, and the question of what to do on narrow sections of streets.


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