Saving Transit City

Just over two weeks ago, the wheels came off Transit City and many more plans for new transit routes in the GTA.  Queen’s Park, feeling poorly after bailing out the auto industry and promissing tidy sums for non-transit portfolios, decided to defer $4-billion of spending on The Big Move, the GTA’s transit master plan.  The effect was felt most by Transit City whose projects were those already prepared, out the door and ready to build.  Whether the work on VIVA that is also part of the first batch of funded projects will be affected, we don’t yet know.

Metrolinx has been handed the thankless task of figuring out what to do, and they’re being very quiet about it.  Word on the street is that nothing is to be annouced until the May 19, 2010 Metrolinx board meeting.

For months, it was no secret that Metrolinx was working with the TTC to rein in costs on Transit City so that the projects would stay within the funding envelope, and some trimming was expected (if only by way of creating a “phase II” for some projects).  As long as the total stayed within the announced funding, all would be well, or so everyone thought.

Now, Queen’s park wants to push spending (and associated debt) out into future years, and wants to “defer” about half of their previously committed funding.  Reaction at the municipl level was predictable with the Miller administration openly attacking Queen’s Park for renegging on a promise.  Would-be mayors are thrilled with the opportunity to have someone else delay Transit City so that candidates don’t seem obstructionist.  Meanwhile, such bastions of anti-Miller sentiment as the Toronto Star and the Board of Trade have both criticised the transit cutbacks.

The unhappiness does not stop at the 416 border.  Politicians who were expecting funding for transit improvements including BRT and LRT now wonder openly whether their projects will ever see the light of day.

Very quickly after the budget announcement, Queen’s Park started its damage control, and there is an ongoing attempt to say this is just fiscal prudence, but they still care about transit.  A good example of the boilerplate explanations can be found in a letter from MPP Mike Colle (a former chair of the TTC) to Jamie Kirkpartick at the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

Thank you for your e-mail expressing concern with the recent Budget announcement on Light Rail Transit (LRT) funding. 

Like every responsible government, we need to find the right balance between investing and cost savings to grapple with an unprecedented global economic downturn.

Investing in public transit and infrastructure is important to Toronto and to Ontario. These investments help reduce gridlock, improve air quality and create jobs.

As a former TTC Commissioner and Chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission from 1991 to 1994, the subject of accessible public transit is close to my heart, and I will continue to work towards the availability of a better, more reliable, Light Rail Transit System.

As indicated in the recent budget, this is a slowdown, not a cancellation of these projects. We are phasing in our investment – not cancelling it. This remains the biggest transit investment in Canadian history. We will work with Metrolinx and our municipal partners to chart the best course forward.

This sounds good and right and responsible until you look more closely.  When The Big Move was announced, it was to include a substantial private sector component.  Two of the funded projects, Finch and the SRT, were to use “alternate procurement” and might even have been completely built by an outside company.  It is clear, however, that this scheme sounded better in a business club speech than it worked out in practice.  Queen’s Park is treating the full cost of the transit projects as part of its debt planning rather than tapping those mythical pools of private capital that yearn to build our transit network.

Possibly they have looked at relative costs of public and private undertakings.  Possibly they have looked overseas not just at the success stories, but at the failures and the pseudo-private systems that could not have been built or operated without ongoing infusion of public funds.  We have already seen one of Canada’s star transportation companies, Bombardier, walk away from their responsibilities in London, England, as part of a consortium that found abandoning their contract cheaper than honouring it.

The Metrolinx investment strategy was not due for completion until 2013, tidily after the 2011 election.  Nobody wants to talk about new funding sources.  Now, thanks to the budget cuts and debates in the mayoralty race, funding is out front and hard for Queen’s Park to avoid.  To quote Kathleen Wynne, the newly-installed Minister of Transportation,

[The Metrolinx strategy is] “perhaps a more urgent conversation than it was three weeks ago”.  Toronto Star, Province not considering road tolls — yet

Queen’s Park really mishandled this file.  Metrolinx had managed to bumble through several years of saying “let us build a few lines and show what we can do” as a prelude to any new taxes.  Any reference to increased fuel or sales taxes were quickly swatted down, and Toronto’s “One Cent” campaign languishes with yesterday’s newspapers.

Now, in an era of big deficits and concern about mounting debt, the financial magic of boom times, the curtain hiding the machinery of public finance, are gone and people want to know now, today, how we plan to pay for our promises.

This is a tricky regional balancing act because many well-used, congested corridors will not see relief from transit construction for a very long time, if ever.  The delayed promise of transit gives voters in auto-heavy suburbia every right to ask whether there will ever be something to relieve their travel problems.

Queen’s Park may try to paint the current delay as a “Toronto” issue and hope that the 905 just sleeps through the debates or assumes they are the natterings of Toronto activists with little more to do than wonder which latté emporium to visit.  This would be dangerous on two counts.  First, it would cement the impression within Toronto that Queen’s Park is trying to play the 416 against the 905, and when push comes to shove, the 416 gets the short straw.  Second, this attitude pushes aside debate on how seriously Queen’s Park will address transit spending on the GTA whether components are in Toronto or elsewhere.

The pressures leading to The Big Move still exist — congestion, population growth, rising fuel costs, sprawl, pollution — and these pressures don’t really care about the state of the provincial debt.  The Big Move started out as a $50-billion, 25-year plan with spending at $2b annually on capital, and eventually a further $1.5b on operations and maintenance.  (See The Big Move at section 6.1, “Costs of the RTP”)  There was hope Ottawa would come to the table, although all we have actually seen so far is a 1/3 contribution to the Sheppard East LRT project.  If Ottawa walks away from any further transit infrastructure funding, this leaves Queen’s Park with the whole $50b.  Local transit costs don’t even factor into these numbers, but Toronto alone consumes over $800m annually in capital and operating subsidies from various sources.

These are not small numbers.  Does deferral mean just pushing the $4b back a few years, but leaving the rest of the program on its original schedule, or is the entire Big Move drifting off unto an uncertain future?

Various Facebook groups sprang up in response to the situation.

Balkanization of transit planning may result from the funding crunch as advocates of each line jockey for position.  This is precisely what happened with Toronto’s subway planning when available funding would build at best one line at a time.  The Friends of Eglinton petition asks that the Legislature of Ontario:

… make the Eglinton LRT line a priority when developing the plan to phase in the public transit projects.

Meanwhile, pressure to support the Pan Am Games brings pleadings for routes in Scarborough serving the UofT Scarborough Campus.  We cannot build everything as “first priority”.

All of this makes The Big Move with its dreams of vastly increased transit service, regional transfer hubs doubling as local development centres, and public policy encouraging, no, demanding transit-friendly city planning look rather far off.  Queen’s Park owes the GTA an explanation of what is going on, not just for the next few years, but for the decades when transit was, at last, to be the government’s focus for transportation.

28 thoughts on “Saving Transit City

  1. Thanks for this analysis, Steve. I’m dumbstruck by the province’s decision, as you seem to be. For all their flaws, Metrolinx and its provincial masters seemed to understand that a) the infrastructure deficit is huge and b) it’s important to get some momentum going, with multiple projects underway ASAP. That we’re now back in the familiar position of trying to choose between lines that were planned to be built simultaneously but are suddenly short of cash is richly ironic — shades of 1995 all over again (Eglinton v. Sheppard, of all places!)

    Your point on the 905 is interesting. This may be wishful thinking, but I suspect this ”deferral” may actually do a fair bit of damage to the Liberals in the suburbs. If Toronto’s projects are now ”deferred,” then those in Peel, York etc. are suddenly very far down the list indeed. While I’m a 416er, my sense was that better transit in the 905 enjoys broad support — and there’s now no clear route to delivering it.

    If I may lean on your expertise for a moment: what do you think potential ”deferred” packages might look like? Ie, which combinations of scaling-back and delaying could deliver the savings?

    I think it’s safe to assume that Finch will be dropped completely, but am curious as to whether there’s a way to thread the needle that would allow a substantial start on Eglinton and at least partial completion of the SRT project.

    Steve: The problem I have in answering your question is that the terms of reference for the “deferral” are not clear. For example, if all we are doing is simply shifting the whole Big Move bundle by about five years, or even better, allowing a bulge at years 5-10 to “catch up” for the delay, this produces a very different analysis than if we are looking at a real cut. In the latter case, what else would be on the chopping block?

    Because Sheppard and the VIVA project are already under way, I think they are safe. Sheppard may even grow an extension to UTSC as a way of providing access for the Pan Am Games. With the money that is left, the only reasonable survivor is the SRT. This is going to turn into a serious state of good repair problem if they don’t address it. Those three projects will eat up a good chunk of the money left from McGuinty’s original announcement.

    As for Eglinton, the real problem is that if deferred, what other projects will it compete with for funding, and how much will actually be available?

    Another wild card in all of this is the expansion plans for GO. Now that it’s part of Metrolinx, which pot will the money come from for their ambitious expansion schemes, let alone electrification and Union Station corridor capacity expansion?


  2. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and TC is the same history being repeated yet again. Big announcement of lots of big projects, then a cut down to only 2 or 3 projects, what actually gets built is one project that ends up a lot smaller then it was supposed to be.

    Here is what Toronto needs to do, forget the provincial mega-project, develop a series of micro-projects that the city itself can get built, this could be as simple as adding 2km to an existing line. These projects should have one in planning, one in EA, one in design, one in tendering and one under construction at all times. The idea being that the design, planning, EA and design could be done by teams internal to the TTC.

    They have known since it was built that the SRT would need some work now, to keep it going, and that the chances that the same cars would be available was probably slim to none. So why wasn’t the TTC putting in place reserve funds to fund this back when it was completed.

    The street car replacement fiasco is a similar issue, the TTC has known since 1977 that they would need to rebuild or replace the current cars in the 2007-2010 time frame, so why didn’t they start salting away reserves then, to pay for the new streetcars needed now.

    Steve: The TTC has never, in its modern era, made reserves for capital replacement because usually funding for vehicles comes from other governments. Municipalities get a lot of flak from taxpayers when they salt money away in reserves because this is money that “could be in taxpayers’ and businessmens’ doing useful work”. Indeed, most of the reserves Toronto once had are now depleted.


  3. I’m sure Queen’s Park has already factored this into their calculations, but what is the impact of the pending HST in terms of additional revenue for the province? The biggest contributor I can see from the HST is from its imposition on gasoline. Couldn’t the province and the feds agree to allocate the additional revenue from gas towards transit? It’d at least make that pill a little easier to swallow for the public.


  4. The GTA has 1/6th the population of greater Tokyo, which has something like 30 times the train and subway density the GTA has. Doing the math, until we have five times the trains and subways that we have, it’s BS.

    Steve: Tokyo’s population is 6 times Toronto’s, but its area is only about 3.5 times, and this yields a higher density that is easier (and for the lovers of private sector inclusion) more profitable to serve with transit. Moreover, Tokyo is part of a metropolitan area whose population is greater than all of Canada. We will never have a network like Tokyo’s in Toronto, but we can do a lot better.


  5. One possible solution to the funding of Transit City is to allow the escalation of more medium density and mixed use buildings along the Transit City routes, now and not later. Development charges on new condos, townhouses, offices, etc. would have to become a larger source for revenue, if they can allow redevelopments to begin right away.

    After all, the 905 used to get a great deal of revenue from their development charges, until they used up their land for low-density and sprawl. Toronto could do the same, but from opening up redevelopment along the TC lines now.

    Steve: You cannot assume that developments will just pop up overnight and generate development charges for the new lines. The market can only absorb so much at a time, and the Official Plan assumed a gradual rise in density on many corridors.

    Generously assuming that each new condo would generate about $7,500 in charges, you would need 133 units per million dollars you wanted to obtain. Note that this money would not be available to pay for other improvements triggered by redevelopment. Let’s assume you wanted to finance a surface LRT line this way, just to get a sense of what development would be needed. The Finch West line is 17km long and has an estimated cost of $1.2b, or $70.6m/km. You would need almost 9,400 new housing units per kilometer to pay for the line with development charges. Costs for underground construction are higher, of course, and so lines with substantial tunnelling would need even more development.

    Many TC lines have sections that are already developed, or which pass through areas where development is impossible (for example, a good chunk of the SRT). Sections like that have to be “paid for” with charges against other parts of the route where some (re)development is possible.

    Before people jump all over this, of course I realize that you wouldn’t fund any project from one source, but it’s useful to make a reasonableness check on these sorts of proposals. Some people think that various private sector pockets are lined with gold just waiting to be picked for transit projects. I don’t think so. Just remember how big a stink the City’s land transfer tax generated.


  6. There are plans for 3 LRT lines in Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton. I don’t think that these areas will be very happy with the delays and there are not a lot of Tory MPP’s from them, yet. Dalton had better watch out or Ontario will be stuck with Hudak, son of Harris.


  7. They’ve already given us an explanation — NO MONEY … so I can’t see why you keep saying “Queen’s Park owes us an explanation” or “Metrolinx has some explaining to do”.

    Steve: But if we are to make any sense for future planning, indeed if Metrolinx “new” plan is to be believed, then it must be based either on a “no money forever”, “some money tomorrow” or “lots of money tomorrow” scenario. We don’t know which one, and therefore don’t know how small “The Big Move” will be by the time any of it actually gets built.

    When Miller gets up and says that TC is a rapid transit plan, and that somehow people in Scarborough won’t have to take 2-3 buses to get somewhere once it’s built, and that TC is going to reduce gridlock etc. etc. etc. … I mean, come on, even a chimp at the zoo can see that he’s misrepreseting TC and spewing BS. All the editorials and comments at the Star prove this. The province isn’t stupid, and neither is the average Torontonian.

    First — Mr. Miller, the R in LRT stands for RAIL, not RAPID. TC will do absolutely nothing to reduce gridlock where it’s felt most, and that is on the 400 series highways that run through Toronto. Replacing the Finch and Sheppard buses with LRTs isn’t going to magically reduce the number of transfers for the average suburban rider. If they were taking 3 buses, they may end up taking one streetcar and two buses with TC, so who’s he trying to fool?

    Next — the downtowners obviously don’t give a crap about TC because it doesn’t affect them, and motorists obviously don’t care. They just don’t care either way. If you ask people along Finch about streetcars, they’re not going to lose any sleep whether they happen or not. These are not people who stay up at night dreaming about LRTs zooming across Finch.

    Steve: I happen to agree with you that Miller is overselling the “rapid” part, although it does apply to some extent if we assume a better level of service and capacity than that now provided. Experiences on St. Clair are not encouraging.

    The real goal of Transit City should be a general improvement in the quality and capacity of service in the suburbs. This addresses dual goals of mobility and of support for redevelopment that is not car-oriented.

    Having said all of that, The Big Move won’t do much for motorists either because traffic is still projected to grow at a rate higher than the most optimistic Big Move rollout plans, and much of the capacity of the Big Move routes does not lie along highway corridors. A map showing the locations that most benefit from better travel times and diverted trips would be quite educational, and probably rather alarming politically.


  8. Has the province factored in the repayment of bailout loans? If I’m not mistaken, General Motors intends to repay its loans to American and Canadian governments by June of this year (somehow…). Even if this takes a bit longer, that puts $3.5 billion back into McGuinty’s pocket. Has he decided how to spend it, or is this a vanishing act whereby $4 billion should re-appear somewhere else in a month’s time, leaving transit twisting in the wind?

    Steve: I suspect that Ontario is booking this as a loan, and therefore an asset that will be recovered. Investment in infrastructure requires borrowing that is not repaid directly from the investment itself, but from other revenues. The infrastructure itself generates various benefits including jobs during construction, and the social/development spinoffs of better transit service.


  9. According to Wikipedia: The York University Busway increased “average speed by 41% from 23.3km/h to 32.8km/h, making route 196 the third fastest TTC route at rush hour, after the Scarborough RT and route 192 Airport Rocket (an express bus running on Highway 427). Route 196 is now faster than any of the subway lines.”

    So, if York is getting such “rapid transit” now, perhaps Metrolinx could defer the subway extension to the half-empty fields in Vaughan? I suspect this argument, however, has a political weakness somewhere.

    Steve: It’s amazing how fast you can run a transit vehicle if you don’t bother to stop for passengers and you have your own roadway. The interesting comparison is the 190 Rocket from Don Mills Stn. to STC whose scheduled speed varies from 18 to 26 km/h. The stops are farther apart than a regular line, but it runs in mixed traffic all the way.


  10. Whether Transit City is a sound investment or not for the private sector is debatable. The private sector generally speaking does not have enough capital or access to political power to successfully build large projects. Even in Tokyo, JR East did not really build anything. They inherited all the tracks, stations, rolling stock when Japan National Railway was privatized.

    All the great projects in the world are built by governments: Great Wall of China, Egyptian Pyramids, Roman Aquaducts, Boulder Dam and Shinkansen. Can private companies use eminent domain laws to evict people out like when the Japanese government did building Narita Airport? No.

    This fact has not been pointed out by anyone yet. One must build transit before an area becomes denser. Can one imagine the folly of letting Eglinton Ave line up with condos before Transit City is built? Once an area becomes denser, it becomes prohibitively expensive to build any form of transit. Want to see an example of this? Type in Fukutoshin Line in Wikipedia. Tokyo Metro (a government entity). They have to tunnel around 25m to 30m deep just to go around existing lines, building foundations and the like. It also becomes expensive to appropiate land as well.

    On a side note, since the Ontario budget, Bombardier shares have went from about $6.20 a share to about $5.50. I wonder how much the Ontario government is losing from capital gain taxes.

    Steve: Did you know the original plans for Transit City were delivered on stone tablets? That’s why it is so hard to get the TTC to change their mind about the smallest details.


  11. “With the money that is left, the only reasonable survivor is the SRT. This is going to turn into a serious state of good repair problem if they don’t address it.”

    It seems to have started. Last week, I was on an SRT train that had some kind of mechanical problem as it was entering Kennedy Station. The driver would try to get it going and the train would stop abruptly. After about five minutes and a phone call to someone, he finally got it into the station. It then went out of service and into the old loop. Earlier in the week, I saw another disabled train in the old loop. Overall, breakdowns and general problems are occuring more frequently on the line, and anytime a train goes out of service, the impact is huge (hordes of people left waiting on the platform at Kennedy, with the next wave of people coming up from the subway).


  12. Though it has been said by you, and many other contributors, I think it is worth repeating that a real drawback of Transit City is that it is to be run by the TTC.

    That is not to say I think this is a bad thing but, unfortunately, the TTC has a reputation, largely deserved but partly not, that it is poor at estimating the cost of its projects, cannot manage large, or small, projects, wastes money and cannot keep to schedules — or headways — but can magically ‘find’ money to do things that someone important (a Councillor for example) wants. This leads people to assume that “the really important things” will get done if we insist on proper project management and supervision. The problem is that everyone thinks that THEIR priorities are shared by everyone and people conveniently forget there are often other costs conected to a project — the new streetcars need a new carhouse; if we extend the Yonge line to Richmond Hill we need to do something with the Bloor/Yonge station. Who knew?

    Planning and operating a transit system is certainly not simple and it will be very interesting to see how Metrolinx deals with the problem the government has now thrown into their lap. Instead of being a group that gets praise for building new sevices they will become a group who is attacked for cancelling (postponing?) projects people had been led to expect. I bet the non-politicians the government put in charge of it a few months ago were not expecting this turn of events.


  13. Steve, in one of your replies to a comment you stated:

    “Having said all of that, The Big Move won’t do much for motorists either because traffic is still projected to grow at a rate higher than the most optimistic Big Move rollout plans, and much of the capacity of the Big Move routes does not lie along highway corridors. A map showing the locations that most benefit from better travel times and diverted trips would be quite educational, and probably rather alarming politically.”

    This is very much the flaw not just with TC but most recent transit plans, in that they seem to be almost as if designed in a vacuum and not based on any hard analysis of exiting and future traffic patterns. I’m not sure if MTO still does them but I do recall seeing one survey of trips with origin-destination and modal splits from 1988. What really stood out for me was that roughly 80% of those that lived close to GO stations used GO with perecent that used auto increasing with distance from GO line. The recent article on congestion in the GTA didn’t examine travel patterns but simply bemoaned the long times for commute (most by car). As someone who bikes to work I support initiative to improve cycling in the GTA but even here the same flaws appear with the route networks, with the same “built it and they will come” mentality.

    I fully support the concept of TC, as I’ve seen examples of where it works well and I think some of the planned routes will work quite well. I’ve actaully pondered how much it would cost to refit the existing Sheppard subway to LRT so that the entire line would be LRT.



  14. In your response to Matt’s posting, Steve said: “Because Sheppard and the VIVA project are already under way, I think they are safe.”

    I am confused because some say the Sheppard East LRT (SELRT) is definitely safe while others say they think it is safe. Is there any indication from Queen’s Park, TTC, Metrolinx, or the City of Toronto that the SELRT is indeed safe from the chopping block?

    Steve: Queen’s Park has said so. Part of the problem is that this project has Ottawa money in it, and it wouldn’t look good to defer it. Also, it is a “Pan Am” project that can serve the games if it is extended to UTSC.


  15. Most of Toronto’s reserve funds were depleted because a former mayor decided to use the reserves so he could go a few (election) years without tax increases. That’s not the real issue though, the city is still left dependent on the province for any transit expansion project. Provincial governments like to announce big collections of mega projects, and later when all the hoopla is done, they quietly cut the number of projects to one or two, and usually all that gets built is a tiny portion of one of those projects. Look at the last set of announcements, lots of big projects, and ALL that finally got built was a subway to Fairview Mall, and it’s not even properly connected to the mall!

    I think what the city needs to do, is propose their own projects, small enough that the city can pay for it, if the Province or the Feds want to kick in Money, then that simply means that it’s doable that much quicker, and you can always add onto a project. It also means that the city is able to determine what s the route and technology to use. I know this would be a difficult thing for the mindset at city hall to comprehend, but at least you would get stuff built.

    One thing I think needs to be part of that determination is existing service requirements, so a route starts as a bus, then gets promoted to Streetcar, then LRT, then Subway. Yes that probably means that the Sheppard Subway would have been built as a Streetcar line, but Jane and Don Mills would have been built first.

    As for the Spadina extension, has anyone found out how much Vaughan or York Region is going to pay for running trains North of Steeles?

    Steve: That’s an easy question to answer. Nothing. TTC gets all the cost and all the revenues. The only cost to the 905 governments is the operation and maintenance of the surface facilities. TTC’s own estimate is that the new line will cost $14-million more to operate per year than they will take in with new fares.


  16. I haven’t posted about this topic in a while, but the more and more I look at it, Transit City is probably not the best option for Toronto. My initial reaction was that the Transit City proposal was going to build Light Rapid Transit, the kind of light rapid transit which exists in Calgary, Edmonton and many other North American cities.

    However, upon closer inspection, I discovered that this proposal is not much more than a streetcar system running with the streetcars running in their own lanes. I am not saying this is a bad idea by any means; however, it is not the best way of going about it.

    Certainly I am not in favour of major expansion of the subway at this point of time; a full subway system cannot not be supported on these routes at this time. The same holds true for a Calgary style light rapid transit system. But in the future, the routes could be upgraded to a subway system.

    I am actually more in favour of a Bus Rapid Transit System in the suburbs of Toronto, with a potential upgrade to either a Light Rail Line or a Subway Line (if demand warrants) in the future.

    The reason I suggest this is that I think the City of Toronto has botched the LRT project with the mess they created on the St. Clair Right of Way. The way the city dismissed the concerns of many business in the neighbourhood which created the impression that City Hall was hostile to the interests of business. To make matters worse, the construction of the right of away really did not look after business interest that well. As such many Torontains are suspicious of the LRT project. This is one of the reasons the province was safely able to cancel the project without facing much political pressure.

    Furthermore, the cost of building a bus rapid transit system is much lower than the cost associated with building a light rail system. But the benefits are comparable.

    I believe if Toronto continues to pursue the Transit City project, Toronto will emerge with very little. But if the city pursued a bus rapid transit system, the city could have a decent bus system running in the city which will help increase the number of riders who use the system.

    Just my two cents on the topic.


  17. Steve, we have the Spadina, St. Clair and Harbourfront lines all with centre reservations but they are essentially streetcar lines, albeit with built in protection against increased automoble congestion.

    The TTC differentiates between these lines and the Transit City lines but aside from pantographs what will really be the difference? Evidently the stops are to be fewer and this should speed things up but will they really be faster than lines like St. Clair? I know they could be faster. Some existing LRTs in other cities run quite fast but it all depends on the design.


  18. The cost of BRT can actually be higher then the cost of LRT. Those who propose BRT, usually don’t look at the full costs of BRT. To honestly compare the two, you need to look at the cost over the 50 odd year life of the line. Once you include all the costs, the difference is minimal.

    Vehicle costs, standard diesel buses, last 18 years (when your lucky), so in 50 years you will be on your 3rd set. Streetcars last 30 years and can easily be rebuilt, the fact there are still PCC cars in service, even though they haven’t been manufactured since the early 1950’s, shows that 50 years on, the cars built today can still be in service.

    Labour costs, a standard bus holds about 65 people, crush loaded, a modern streetcar will crush load about double that. Cutting the number of vehicles in half, means your cutting labour costs in half as well.

    Maintenance costs, bus engines are complex beasts that require a lot of maintenance, plus there are more of them, maintenance costs are therefore much higher.

    There are also the non-financial costs, fumes and noise, being the most common. You may need things like high walls to block the noise from surrounding areas, that you don’t need for electric vehicles.

    The cost of laying track, will be more, but maintenance will be much less, although Toronto uses concrete, other jurisdictions have been known to use other materials to cover tracks, such as crushed stone and even grass. These may also lead to less disturbance from vibration and noise outside the line.

    You could go with electric trolley buses, but the cost of installing the additional wires could mean a higher cost then the installation of track.


  19. David, here’s the real difference between St. Clair/Spadina and Transit City. Take a look at the section between the Yonge Subway connection and Keele St., comparing St. Clair and Finch West LRT. (the only directly comparable stretch of TC)

    St. Clair passes 25 lights, and has 25 stops.
    Finch passes 13 lights and has 12 stops. (assumed underground at Finch W. Stn.)

    So, even before we include for running larger vehicles with more doors than St. Clair currently has, its pretty clear that Finch should run considerably faster. Suburban arterials are very different environments to operate in.


  20. John Williamson says:
    April 13, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    “St. Clair passes 25 lights, and has 25 stops. Finch passes 13 lights and has 12 stops. (assumed underground at Finch W. Stn.)”

    Yes, but the light cycle times in the suburbs are much longer than in the legacy part of the city because of the longer blocks. If the lights are not timed correctly you may only get half as many lights but you might stop for twice as long. It is also not unknown for the city to add traffic lights to keep every pressure groups happy. I do not have a lot of faith in the powers that be to keep things simple.


  21. David O’Rourke writes: “The TTC differentiates between these lines (Spadina, Harbourfront and St. Clair) and the Transit City lines but aside from pantographs what will really be the difference?”

    You touched on one of the differences, in the form of stop spacing. When these lines are on the surface, the stops will be 400-500 metres apart. When they’re underground, the stops will be around 800 metres apart. By comparison, the average stop spacing for the Spadina streetcar is 280 metres. One number I’ve heard is that the Eglinton tunnel will reduce transit travel time between Black Creek Drive and Leslie Street to 19 minutes from the current 48.

    But it’s also important to note the type of landscape most of the Transit City LRT lines will be travelling through. You could NOT run a Spadina streetcar line with stop spacing at 400 metres. Not only would this badly serve the community (see below), it really wouldn’t help to increase the speed of the line, since the number of lit crossings en route are so dense, the streetcars would likely find themselves caught behind red lights, stops or no. And fixing that problem would, again, harm the local community.

    Now look at Eglinton Avenue west of Scarlett Road. The lit intersections are much farther apart — basically, where the stops are. Also, Eglinton Avenue is significantly wider (the legacy of it being the route of the aborted Richview Expressway). It’s easy to picture Eglinton LRT vehicles operating off the side of the street, where driveways are few and far between and where crossings are kept to a medium. Here, these vehicles can start to pick up speed.

    And this is why the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT makes a little more sense as an LRT rather than a subway. A subway would be, for the most part, underground for most of the route. You may be able to conceive of the line operating in a trench along the north side of the street from Scarlett to Renforth, diving under the cross-streets via underpasses, like the stretch of the Yonge subway around Rosedale station, but that’s unlikely. And in any event, the LRT can operate on the surface here with a limited speed penalty. It can operate off the side of the road between Breithaupt and just west of Don Mills. You can build a line that can operate quickly as an LRT, while operating on the surface for about half of the route. That would save considerable money compared to a subway.

    And although you don’t have the ridiculously wide Richview corridor out west, I think you have similar crossing conditions on Sheppard East and on Finch West, which will allow the LRTs there to pick up speed.

    (note from above on the Spadina LRT proposal: when it was deferred by Metro Council in 1988, it called for a significantly wider stop spacing, but this ran into a lot of local opposition from area residents who felt the line as proposed was serving them less and acting as a high-speed route to get people from the as-yet-undeveloped railway lands to the subway as fast as possible. Indeed, opposition to the Spadina LRT only really started to dry up when city planners started to refer to it as the Spadina streetcar line)


  22. Steve,

    This is a bit of an on-topic / off-topic question as it relates to the Transit City plan and the TTC’s current bus service on Finch Avenue East, particularly the 39+ as it originates from Yonge Street.

    I don’t live in the area, but my assumption is that TTC riders are not heavy users of the Old Cummer GO Station during the morning and evening rush hours. I understand that the 51 Leslie bus has a stop that is located all the way across the station’s parking lot, and nowhere near its platform. Given that the 51 has fairly low ridership, I am guessing that very few people are transferring from the 39 just to get to the GO Station.

    If my assumptions are correct, do you think that the TTC and Metrolinx / GO Transit could work together at this location? Finch subway station is one of the busiest in the system, but I don’t know how much of its traffic is going all the way to Union.

    Steve: I don’t think you will see much shift in riding until two things happen. First, there needs to be an attractive fare integration between GO and TTC. Today, GO actively discourages inside-416 trips with their fare structure. Second, the service on the Richmond Hill line needs to be increased to the point where the extra time needed to transfer and wait for a train does not overwhelm the time saving of an express trip to Union.


  23. @ Robert Wrightman:

    The light cycles may be longer in the suburbs. But they cycle in favour of the major route, i.e. Eglinton, Sheppard or Finch.


  24. Jason asks about connections with the Old Cummer GO station. Finch express buses don’t stop at the Old Cummer stop (one west of Leslie). I haven’t seen much in the way of local buses stopping there either. No one wants to pay an additional $4.35 to get to/from Union Station a bit more quickly.

    Alex says that light cycles favour the major routes. Oddly, Finch E. is a mess between Bayview and Willowdale. Part of that is construction, but bad signal timings make the construction delays twice as bad. Bayview is getting a “transit green extension”: the don’t walk counts down to zero and holds. Of course, there is never a Bayview bus in sight when it does this–I suspect it’s being triggered by the ubiquitous Finch E. buses. (Finch also usually gets a green extension if the bus is close enough to the intersection.) At Willowdale Ave., the green for Willowdale is about twice as long as the green for Finch. (I have sent in this info to the City.)

    I don’t know why the TTC isn’t more proactive about ensuring signals work properly. The Finch E. mess means that a dozen or more Finch E. 39 buses are sitting in traffic between Bayview and Yonge. This is a waste of buses and a waste of time for passengers.

    It might be sensible to reroute Finch E. expresses around the construction zone, as the first stop east of Yonge is Bayview, but this is against TTC policy. So buses and their riders just sit there.


  25. Cancelling or delaying LRT projects is totally wrong. This is the best solution for public transportation in Toronto ever made. Advantages are numerous – cleaning the air (one light rail streetcar will substitute 130 cars), reducing traffic congestion, providing millions of customers with quick, reliable and comfortable transportation, allowing people with limited mobility (seniors, disable etc.) to move around the city etc etc. It will help develop new areas of the City, create new businesses, provide employment and education for thousands and thousands of people.

    LRT transportation will benefit not only GTA, but the entire region, including Vaughan, Mississauga, Richmond Hill and other cities. Decision to delay funding was shortsighted and not in the best interest of people. Whatever reasons were behind delaying funding for Transit City, it should be revised and projects should be fully reinstated.

    Michael A.


  26. Michael, you’re 100% right but there’s just one problem: it ain’t gonna happen. In fact, I can almost guarantee that all of the supposedly “delayed” projects will end up being scrapped.


  27. Steve,

    Is anything certain ?

    If the Liberals do not win the next election and a less-transit-friendly party does, couldn’t the new government just shut down all projects the same way Harris stopped the Eglinton subway construction ?

    Even with the Province’s letter today “guaranteeing” the Transit City lines not yet started, isn’t it just too easy for a new government to say this is not their priority?

    Steve: This is precisely why Transit City, and transit supporters generally, are so upset about any delay. The Liberals may win this time out, but who knows what will happen in the 2015 election? Unless transit funding is entrenched and a substantial start made on projects, yes any new government can swepp in and destroy what hasn’t really been started just as Harris did.


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