Queen’s Park Commits to Transit City, Sort Of

Queen’s Park has announced that it will build the four previously funded Transit City lines (Sheppard East, Finch West, Eglinton and the SRT rebuild/extension) as well as the VIVA busway, but over a longer time than planned.

Tess Kalinowski writes about this in today’s Star.

The construction start dates will be adjusted:

  • Sheppard and VIVA are already underway and will continue.
  • Eglinton will not start until 2012 rather than the originally planned 2010
  • Finch West will not start until 2013 rather than 2010
  • The SRT will continue operating until after the Pan Am Games in 2015 at which point it will close for reconstruction.  Second-hand Mark I ICTS cars will be purchased from Vancouver to supplement the existing fleet in the interim.

Also rumoured is a Metrolinx announcement regarding purchase of cars for these lines from Bombardier.

All of the details will come out at the Metrolinx Board meeting on May 19, 2010.

The City of Toronto has proposed that it would finance the projects starting on the original schedule as this would be cheaper than other capital expenses it would have to undertake (a larger bus fleet and a new garage) to handle system growth pending opening of the Transit City lines.  One might argue that they should just “get by” if this would only be a short-term pressure, but if Queen’s Park’s new promise falls through (there might be a different party in power by the time in came to actually pay up), the TTC would be seriously behind in providing capacity.

Rob Prichard of Metrolinx argues that the financial goal is to minimize provincial debt, and starting the projects early would add to the debt regardless of who pays the interest costs in the short term.  This is really the nub of the debate.  Queen’s Park seeks to minimize its book debt, and must deal with accounting standards that no longer allow governments to hide debt through leases or third-party financing.  Oddly enough, this also affects some privatization schemes because, ultimately, the government is still on the hook to pay for the lines.

There are much larger questions in play here.

Metrolinx “Big Move” plan includes over 50 projects, and we have no idea of how Queen’s Park will pay for them, much less operate the network once it is built.  If the first five projects are stretched over the next decade, when will work begin on the others?  Will any new revenues (tolls, taxes, the Tooth Fairy) be used to fund additional projects, or will they backfill the original five?

Metrolinx’ mandate for a financial plan was explicitly set up to keep funding issues off the radar until after the 2011 provincial election, but that idea (a triumph of politics over good planning) fell apart when the 2010 budget cut funding for transit.

On top of this, there is no word on a provincial role in funding operating costs of local transit systems.  In a best-case scenario, this might show up in the 2011 budget as a pre-election goodie, but Toronto and the TTC will go into their own budget cycle (which is largely complete by the time Queen’s Park announces its own plans) facing a TTC operating subsidy of about half a billion dollars.  Mayoral candidates have a lot to be worried about, and they won’t solve the problem by counting the pencils.

22 thoughts on “Queen’s Park Commits to Transit City, Sort Of

  1. So the reason is “we’re running a deficit currently, so would have to pay interest on any construction costs”.
    However, if the government no longer has a deficit to pay in 2012, then it will have the choice between (1) forking out $1bn for Transit City or (2) paying off $1bn of the province’s debt. [Assumption: the province isn’t debt-free in 2012]
    Choosing (1) means we still have pay interest on the debt, so we’d still be paying interest on the construction cost of Transit City.

    So, it’s a rubbish reason.


  2. It’s good to finally see a revised schedule but the provincial and municipal elections do have me concerned that other politicians interested in scrapping Transit City could get in before meaningful work is under way and cancel it. The cancellation of the Eglinton subway after meaningful work was started set a bad precedent that should have people concerned.

    The issue of finances affecting the project schedule puzzles me though:

    Queen’s Park was going to fund all of this stuff on the original schedule while the economy was in the dumpster, the provincial deficit was off the charts. The cancellation/deferment was only announced by McGuinty now the economy’s slowly but surely turning around, the deficit came in several billion dollars less than projected, and HST money’s about to start coming in. Queen’s Park’s in better shape financially now than six months ago when the original Transit City schedule was still in effect. If anything, they should be able to afford to move at least some things back closer to the original timetable.

    I can’t wait to see what that Transit City light fixture’s going to look like!


  3. The Bad news about the delay is if a tyrant wins the provincial election next year those projects may not be funded. This delay is a way to get people to vote for the Liberals.

    The exciting news about the dying SRT is that fans will get to ride the old Vancouver trains. And those trains come with the circular fans which transit fans will get to see again once the old H4s have been retired.

    The good news is that construction will resume on Sheppard & VIVA.

    This wasn’t the first time that Toronto bought public transit vehicles from other cities. They borrowed the Edmonton Trolley buses when Toronto was going to get new ones before the Trolley Coach system went extinct. Then the TTC ressurected the old MOntreal GM Buses during the Harris cuts era.


  4. Doesn’t it seem like a waste of money to expand McCowan yard and buy more ICTS trains for just 5 years? Isn’t that just money down the drain? Looks like your sources were wrong.

    Steve: No they were right, but only about buying more cars. I always take leaked info with a grain of salt because, at times, people are deliberately trying to advance their own agendas.

    As for the yard, I suspect they will try to store cars on the line overnight rather than building anything heroic at McCowan.


  5. Steve’
    I read the article in the Thestar today. The announcement today still doesn’t secure Transit City will be built the way David Miller invasion it. Many mayoral candidates have already jumped on the Anti David Milller bandwagon and have announced there pledge to building more subways .

    This leads me to my main concerns what will happened to the funding and Transit city after the mayoral election. Will the money that the government has now promised to extend over a longer period of time be absorbed into larger political project like some pie in the sky subway plan?

    Will this reopen the door to the whole Eglinton technology debate, now that the SRT may not get LRT technology, just second hand Mark I from Vancouver?

    The nature of the governments announcements is very foggy and the fact that were in the midst of municipal elections just makes things that much more confusing.


  6. I’m sorry – I just don’t buy it anymore.

    Just after the budget cutting the Transit City funds I hypothesized the political calculation:

    – Torontonians will be fuming initially
    – Near provincial election time, the funding can be promised again, creating a wedge issue between the Liberals and Conservatives
    – Faced with a choice between a Liberal promise and a probable tepid maybe if not explicit ‘no’ from the Conservatives, Torontonians will have to decide based on the alternatives before them
    – In this game, Liberals win anyway.

    The delay of the uncertain lines, Eglinton and Finch West to 2012 and 2013 respectively, all but proves my hypothesis.

    The provincial election in 2011 is simply the next milestone, after which the government, being comfortably installed, will proceed to make decisions based on the circumstances at *that* time.

    What we really need to fix is governance in the Toronto region. Regional taxes need to be raised, and spending decisions need to be made, on the one hand on the regional tax base, and on the other hand democratically by residents of the region.

    The province is worried about its debt. Understood. But that debt came from automobile bailouts and assistance to northern Ontario, among other things.

    I’m not saying these are unworthy candidates for funding. However are these the *priorities* for funding of Toronto region residents? I think clearly we would elevate transit to a higher priority if we had the chance.

    I’m glad the Transit City controversy is being aired right now, but we must look at governance of the region to start to fix our long-term regional issues.


  7. Leaving the base service cars on the main line when the subway shuts down was what Montreal did quite successfully for a long time. No reason why it would not work here.

    There are many questions of what will be done with the additional train sets. Will they be spares for defective trains? Will they be used to make up longer trains (This would mean station extension)? Will they contribute additional trains to the schedule? Will the cabs be re-engineered for manned operation? How does the condition of the train sets compare with the existing sets? What will need to be done to sustain the service for the next 5 years?

    In terms of financing, is there a difference between doing it now and doing it in 5 years? They are still talking about debt over 50 years. And price of construction is not going down. In 5 years we may be talking about a boom time with construction and borrowing costs much higher than today (Look at 2000 vs 2005). Inflation will likely be a factor here also. Doing it now may actually end up cheaper in the long run.


  8. > Doesn’t it seem like a waste of money to expand McCowan yard and buy more ICTS trains for just 5 years? Isn’t that just money down the drain? Looks like your sources were wrong.

    Why would they need to expand McCowan Yard? I figured that Vancouver cars would simply replace older cars which would be scrapped. Or is there some plan to run more/6-car trains, which would require reconfiguring Kennedy station?


  9. Toronto shouldn’t accept any infrastructure that:

    – doesn’t come with operating funding
    – costs the city, but serves the 905 (looking at you, extended subway lines)

    Nor should it accept provincial ‘budget balancing’ on our over-expropriated and under-funded backs. The sad fact is the Liberals can give it to us hard, because we hate the Tories more, and fear another NDP gov’t.


  10. After being in Vancouver since Tuesday night, something occurred to me:

    “Second-hand Mark I ICTS cars will be purchased from Vancouver to supplement the existing fleet in the interim.”

    Has anybody asked ATU Local 113 for their opinion on this? Or rather, the reduction of operators as these second-hand cabless ICTS cars start operating on the SRT.

    I suppose married pairs will be broken up and remade with a cab and a cabless unit so that trains can be made up with a cab at each end.


  11. What a CROCK!! keeping this RT running beyond 2015 is insulting to our Scarborough friends. Two years ago, McGuinty budgeted over 1 million dollars for an EA towards the Bloor/Danforth extension to Scarborough Town center, then we were told they would upgrade it to MKII’s, then LRT conversion and Now, nothing. If I were the TTC I would demand action on this line pronto with either Subway or LRT conversion and nothing less. The province stuck its nose into this line from Day 1 so as far as I ‘m concerned, they owe Scarborough big time. If Metrolinx chooses to buy used MKI’s, then the TTC should abandon it and let Metrolinx run it.


  12. Bombardier ALRT system caapcity is expanded by adding trains – that sounds like what TTC is doing by “supplementing” the SRT with used Vancouver trains. Is the current SRT frequency is longer than 90 seconds? If so you can probably add more 4-car trains between the existing trains without need to lengthe the platforms.

    The Vancouver trains do not have drivers’ cabs. If the new trains are run fully automated, they won’t have drivers – but since they aren’t replacing other trains – no existing drivers will be displaced. I suppose the union could protest the loss of prospective jobs that would have been created if the trains were not fully automated.

    The married pairs of MKI cars (nor MKII cars) cannot be separated. Each car contains different computer subsystems.

    Steve: Presuming a major overhaul, I think the computer systems can be sorted out so that you could get a consist with Vancouver cars in the middle and Toronto cars (with their cabs) on the end. The issue of automatic operation has nothing to do with the union and everything to do with how unreliable that line is. I for one would not trust fully automatic operation of that antique equipment without someone on board to kick start the system or drive the train manually as is frequently required.


  13. So I have a quick question for Steve. Is it still reasonable to demand Transit City now or is the Save Transit City movement a waste of time?

    Steve: No it’s not a waste of time. The important thing is that it keeps up the political pressure and makes people more sensitive to how valid any election promises might be. It also forces the debate on how we will pay for all of the transit everyone says we need, rather than putting off the debate for another decade.


  14. “The City of Toronto has proposed that it would finance the projects starting on the original schedule as this would be cheaper than other capital expenses it would have to undertake (a larger bus fleet and a new garage) to handle system growth pending opening of the Transit City lines.”

    Steve, is this possible? The original schedule calls for breaking ground on the Eglinton LRT in 2010, and time is running out on this year. It’s just seven months to the end of December, and closer to five months for the municipal election.

    Steve: “Breaking ground” for Eglinton consists of starting the access shaft through which the tunnel boring machine would be lowered in at the west end. The TBMs will take a year to be delivered assuming they are ordered this year. Actual tunnel construction would start in fall 2011.


  15. And a note for those who still want an Eglinton subway: is it still the case that the LRT tunnel will be designed for easy retrofitting to a subway at a later date? If so, breaking ground now on the underground portion of the LRT is also a step forward on the construction of the Eglinton subway.


  16. James Bow said: “is it still the case that the LRT tunnel will be designed for easy retrofitting to a subway at a later date?”

    Part of the problem now is that with the TC tracks being standard gauge, the subway conversion process has to include modifying the tracks to TTC gauge or the future Eglinton subway will need dedicated equipment. Due to the experience with the SRT with its orphaned equipment and the probable time needed for regauging, I’m beginning to think that we need to have a second look at whether the tunnelled portion would be better off being built as a subway from the start.

    Steve: Nothing prevents us from having the Eglinton line with standard gauge subway cars, but more to the point, if the issue is that we need longer trains, or a more extensive grade separation (west of Black Creek, east of Brentcliffe), this can be done simply by building more tunnel and running the existing LRT equipment in longer consists underground. The Eglinton line will have a direct connection to its yard at Black Creek, and therefore there is no problem with any need for street running of long trains for carhouse access.

    “Subway” is a physical piece of infrastructure, not a specific vehicle.


  17. I recall when Scarborough RT was built that because of the decision to build the cars with cabs for drivers, and the fact the trains would always be under driver control, some of the automated systems were not installed to save money. ie: the central computer in the operations centre can’t run a train in fully-automatic mode because that portion of the computer system wasn’t installed and it wasn’t needed because all the trains would be operated by a driver.

    If the Vancouver trains are added to the Scarborough RT either they need to be retrofitted with the operator’s cab, or the the operations centre computers need to be upgraded to run the fully-automated trains under their control while the RT trains are being run by a driver.

    If the ultimate goal is to replace RT with LRT, might as well do it now.

    Has anyone noticed the irony that the Scarborough RT was originally supposed to be streetcar until Harris et.al. decided they needed a showcase for OMTC (later UMTC, briefly Lavalin, now Bombardier) to sell their product. If you know where to look you can still see evidence of the streetcar construction that was crudely changed to RT.

    Steve: Harris was not premier when that decision was made. It predates him by over a decade, and was the product of the Davis administration who considered propping up the UTDC so important, they treated a bill to guarantee its projects a matter of confidence in a minority legislature.


  18. @Misha
    The TTC buying used vehicles from elsewhere dates well back before the Edmonton TCs. Check James Bow’s site for the history of all those PCC streetcars from other cities which scrapped theirs.

    @Calvin, Ron etc
    MKI cars do not have cabs (neither do MKIIs) but they do have full consoles for manual operation (usually behind a locked panel, of course). During the blizzard of 2008-09 all trains were driven by Skytrain attendants until the snow was gone. If driver separation is required it probably wouldn’t take much work to retrofit a cab in there.


  19. And further to the MKI cars: They’ve been used in the moderate climate of Vancouver for nearly a quarter century. How long are they going to last in Toronto’s climate?


  20. Also, I would assume Vancouver has not given these older cars the same rigorous mechanical maintenance that the TTC provides its ailing fleet. Since Vancouver has newer stock why would they keep their older less used MKI in tip top order……..? Am I wrong when I suspect we will be seeing a lot of issues when these previously enjoyed cars come into our possession?


  21. One thing Translink does do well is maintaining its rolling stock (they kept all those New Flyer trolley buses running for at least a decade after they should have been retired, and then shipped them off to Argentina for a new life there). Those MKI cars are in fine shape, apart from showing their age.


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