The SRT As It Might Have Been

John F. Bromley sent me a photo of a new LRT line running through a commercial development.

Look familiar?  Can you say Scarborough Town Centre?

The photo is from June 1972.  The cars were the first in Europe to be air conditioned.

This shows the kind of thing done with LRT in Europe even before the TTC reversed its anti-streetcar policy, about the time Queen’s Park decided that we needed an “intermediate capacity” system midway between buses and subways, and before the TTC collaborated with Queen’s Park in destroying an LRT plan that could have been built 40 years ago.

How Clean Is My Station?

On May 27, TTC Vice-Chair Joe Mihevc staged a most unusual press conference at Christie Station.  The purpose?  To announce a new website,, where riders can report issues about the subway stations they use.

On July 17, 2010, volunteers who sign up for a specific station will audit their sites and post responses via an online form (available only in hard copy as I write this).  Topics to be reviewed include lighting, cleanliness, maintenance, way-finding, the station exterior and surroundings, safety and quality of ride (not strictly speaking a “station” related issue).

The need for customer-based reporting is an admission of failure in “official channels” to get things done.  Customers report lots of things to the TTC today, and some are even addressed, but many languish for months with no apparent action.  The TTC maintains web pages with information about escalator and elevator maintenance, as well as construction projects, but these cover the large, planned works, not day-to-day housekeeping.

Some issues, such as the long-standing closure of the “new” entrance to Broadview Station, are not listed on the TTC site at all.  (As a passing update, some work appears to be taking place, but very slowly, and the notices now claim the entrance will reopen by June 30, 2010.)  Riders should be able to get up-to-date information about the status of such projects online without counting on transit activists or Councillors to chase TTC staff.

The TTC hires an outside agency to audit its stations to give an unbiased view of what is happening.  Although there are goals for improvement, the index for the system as a whole inches up very slowly.  TTC claims that it is hamstrung by the availability of staff and things would be so much better if only there was a greater subsidy.  Whether the staff they have is properly managed and monitored is not discussed, at least not publicly.

The press conference was unusual in that it had no TTC official presence, and it was conducted, at least initially, outside of the station.  It was very hot, and Mihevc’s assistant Anthony Schein held a reflector to act as a parasol.

Later, we all moved inside, and things took quite an amazing turn.  Strangely enough, the TTC had two workers on hand cleaning the station.  I had seen one sweeping the platform when I arrived, but upstairs there was another.  As Joe spoke, the cleaner was washing the glass of the Collector’s booth.  I have been riding the subway since it opened, and I have never seen this activity.  Maybe I just don’t frequent the right stations.

Note also that the signs in the booth window are all lined up.  If you look closely, you will see that only one of them is hand-written.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the station, we have:

The entrance sign bearing a tag, and …

The long-missing vicinity map.  After the debacle of new and wildly inaccurate maps last September, maps that vanished in the blink of an eye once the problem was reported, the TTC assured us that new maps would be in place by November.  It is now May.

On the subject of removing and installing signs, the TTC has outdone itself in recent days.  An ongoing problem is that old signs are never taken down, they just fall down, eventually, after being vandalized, shredded, or just slowly crumbling off of the wall.  Last weekend, there was a subway diversion at St. George, and posters announced the temporary routing.  Starting this weekend, there are nightly shutdowns of parts of the Yonge-University line.  Signs for the new diversion were installed days after the St. George diversion ended, but the old signs remain in place.

At Broadview, main level, they are side by side.  At the mezzanine level, the St. George notice occupies pride of place at the foot of the main stairway in front of the newsstand, while the YUS notices are tucked away in corners.

Why is it not possible to take down out-of-date notices, especially when the space could be better used for current information?  How long will these two signs languish at my station?  Will we give a prize for the station with the most out-dated signs or maps?

For many years, I have urged the TTC to adopt a simple tactic I saw decades ago in Boston where all notices have a “stale date” and text at the bottom saying “Remove after xxx”.  Station cleaning staff take down old signs as part of normal housekeeping.  Somehow, this simple process is beyond the abilities of the best transit system in the known universe.

Riding over to Christie Station, I was on a train that was not just dirty, the exterior was black.  The fleet number on one car was covered with a tag, and many people had “finger painted” in the dirt on the windows.  Indeed, I started to notice how few cars did not have such “inscriptions”, and was astounded a day later to see a train that was almost gleaming, the only freshly-washed train I have seen in months.  The problem seems to exist mainly on the Bloor-Danforth line.

This train is fairly typical of BD-line equipment.  Dirt streaks run down from the roof, and although it’s not immediately obvious, the windows are coated with dust.  Our stations may be spotless, but from inside the trains, it’s like looking through a fog.

This car has beautiful clean, shiny doors.  That’s the colour the whole thing is supposed to be.  Maybe not mirror-bright, but a decent silver, not a shoddy imitation of pewter.

This shows a common problem with doors on cars that are somewhat cleaner than average.  There is an area at the top of the doors that simply doesn’t get scrubbed clean.

[Technical note:  These photos were taken in Old Mill Station using daylight that came in through the north window on a cloudless late afternoon.  You can see the exterior lighting condition in each of these photos, one way or another.]

Joe Mihevc wants riders to have a sense of ownership in their system.  At times, riding the TTC is like living in a run-down apartment building where I want the place to look nice, to be proud to bring friends, but the landlord has excuses for not doing anything.  There is even  plaque in the lobby congratulating him for the condition of his building.

When the TTC starts to care about its system again, when it stops using the “we need more money” excuse as a blanket response to every criticism, riders might really feel they are part of the TTC.

Metrolinx Board Wrapup for May 2010

The Metrolinx Board met on Wednesday, May 19 for an unusually long public session.  Rather than post separate articles, herewith a compendium report.  The major topics are:

  • The Board Speaks!
  • The Managing Director Reports
  • We Have A Vision, We Just Don’t Know What It Is Yet
  • Achieving 5 in 10, or Transit City Rescheduled
  • GO Rail Service Expansion Benefits Cases
  • A Question of Advocacy

The Board Speaks!

Probably the most astounding thing about this meeting, the first anniversary of the “new” Metrolinx, is that the Board members finally found their voices.  I was beginning to wonder if they were ever going to show some indication of earning their keep and actually asking hard questions of staff in public.  We’re not quite there yet, but at least the discussion gave an indication that the Board is thinking about its role.

As regular readers will know, I believe that organizations such as Metrolinx should be publicly accountable through an electoral process and through direct access to one’s representatives.  Boards that answer to nobody but the government which appointed them, and entertain no criticism from the public, can leave much to be desired.

To be fair to Metrolinx, even when it had a political board, much of the “public participation” was managed to achieve concensus with, more or less, what Metrolinx planned to do anyhow.  That other well-known transit board, the TTC, is elected, but has succumbed to the disease of being cheerleaders for the organization right-or-wrong.

Metrolinx has not had to actually do much (as opposed to GO Transit which was simply merged into its new “parent”), and we have yet to see how the Board and the Government will react if Metrolinx badly fouls up any of its projects.

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The Board of Trade Discovers Transit Funding

After years of howling that taxes in Toronto are too high, that no business would dream of locating here, that the Toronto economy is going down the tubes because politicians are not generous enough with their handouts, the business community has discovered transit funding as a major issue.

The Toronto Board of Trade published The Move Ahead:  Funding “The Big Move”, a document arguing that lack of infrastructure investment, specifically in transit, is a serious impediment to economic vitality in the Greater Toronto Area.  The Board’s report is based on a June 2008 Metrolinx report, but adds observations about the mechanics, implications and practicality of various revenue-generating measures, as well as examples of their use in other cities.

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Transit City: Half a Loaf? (Update 4)

Today, May 17, 2010, Metrolinx CEO Rob Prichard addressed the Toronto Board of Trade with an overview of plans for Transit City projects.  The presentation slides are available on the Metrolinx website.

The final transcript version of the accompanying speech is also available online.

Updated May 18 at 6:20pm : An updated version of the Metrolinx plan is now online.  This includes more information about the staging and cash flows for each of the five projects, and confirmation that Metrolinx will be ordering 182 LRVs for the four Transit City lines.

Queen’s Park announced the Ontario Budget in March 2010 including a $4-billion cut to the short-term funding for the “Big 5” Metrolinx projects — VIVA BRT, Sheppard East LRT, Eglinton LRT, Finch West LRT, and Scarborough RT to LRT conversion and extension.  This triggered a vigorous debate between Provincial and Municipal politicians about the real effect of the cut and the true extent of Provincial commitment to transit funding.

The primary concern at Queen’s Park is constraining the growth of the Provincial debt.  In the short term, the Metrolinx projects were seen as easy to shift into future years, beyond the point where debt would be a problem.  However, in political circles, deferral can mean outright cancellation especially if the government changes or another portfolio takes precedence for spending.

Only half of Transit City has any funding commitment to date, and now half of that commitment is in question.  Where does this leave the plan and, more generally, the growth of a robust transit network in the GTA?

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More Toronto Rockets for the TTC

At its meeting on May 6, the TTC approved two add-on orders of Toronto Rocket subway cars.

  • 21 6-car trainsets to replace the H-6 fleet
  • 10 6-car trainsets to provision the Spadina subway extension to Vaughan

The unit cost of the first 21 sets is approximately $15.1-million, while the remaining 10 will cost about $16.3-million each.

These orders will follow the current TR car production at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant allowing continuous production at a lower price than if a small Spadina-only order were to be placed closer to the opening date in 2015.

Once these trainsets are delivered, the Yonge-University-Spadina line will operate entirely with TR trains, and the T1 fleet will be shifted to the Bloor-Danforth line.  (The Sheppard line will continue to use T1 equipment that will likely be stored on the YUS, but serviced at Greenwood Carhouse.)

The TTC’s subway fleet plan, presented as part of the 2010-2014 Capital Budget, foresees an eventual fleet of 69 trains on the YUS calculated as follows:

  • Existing service is 48 trains (T1 equivalent)
  • Add 3 for extension of the short-turn operation to Glencairn
  • Add 5 for growth and closer headways with Automated Train Operation (ATO)
  • Add 9 for extension of the short-turn operation to Wilson (when the Vaughan extension opens)
  • Add 1 for growth in each of 2019 and 2020

This gives a total of 67 “T1” equivalent trains.  At this point, the calculation gets a bit murky, but the outcome is roughly the same.  The TTC deducts the extra capacity of the TR trainsets to reduce train requirements by 7, although this very capacity bump is often mentioned as one of the reasons for buying the TRs in the first place.  However, additional effective capacity will be available through the implementation of ATO.

The TTC talks about this in terms of station dwell time, but I believe this is a red herring.  Passenger loading times have nothing to do with ATO.  What will be possible, however, is for trains to operate at a higher speed on those parts of the line where stations are further apart, and this will not require complete re-engineering of the signal system as would have been the case for the existing block signals.  Faster trips mean that the same number of trains can operate on a shorter headway and, thereby, increase capacity.

After allowing for spares at 13%, the total fleet requirement is 69 trainsets and this is the combined size of the three TR orders now on the books.

hotdocs 2010 Part I

Yes, readers, it’s that time of the year again when this site veers away from transit (although not completely) and turns to film reviews.

The annual hotdocs festival ran from April 29 to May 9.  Despite competition from concerts, a rather hectic transit/political environment and a birthday party (not mine), I managed to stay in festival mode most of the time.   My reviews will appear over the coming week.

Reviewed here:

  • The Oath
  • Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service
  • And Everything Is Going Fine
  • Osadné
  • Flawed
  • Small Wonders
  • Matthew Remembered
  • The Player
  • Farewell

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LRV Design Turns to the Public

The TTC has launched a new website devoted to the design of the new Toronto streetcars.  The video on the opening page is a bit cheezy, but the basic idea of the site is to solicit feedback from people about these cars.

I am sitting on a review panel for this process, and in our first meeting the common thread was that we all wanted to talk about more detail than was on offer.  It will be interesting to see what the general feedback is, and how much of it is reflected in the final design.

Meanwhile, Long Branch riders take note:  the graphic for this consultation shows a car signed “501 Long Branch”.  You will get new cars eventually, although they may not show up very often.

Transit Village

Recent reports (here in the Star) show this week’s version of Transit City according to Queen’s Park.  Needless to say, this does not sit well with the folks at City Hall (Mayor Miller’s letter and comparison table).

Metrolinx claims that the City agreed with the proposed changes, but as David Miller makes quite clear in the letter linked above, this is not the case.  However, it appears that Metrolinx is getting mixed messages, one from the politicians and another from TTC staff.

This scheme is presented as the scaled down, what-we-will-do-now plan, and the construction timelines now reach out 10 years.  Although this is claimed to simply be building in ten years what was originally proposed for eight, this is actually a considerable cutback in the scope of the first phase of Transit City.  There is no indication of when, if ever, more of the plan will be built.

After the surgery, here’s what is left on the map:

  • Sheppard:  Cut back from Meadowvale to Conlins Road (the carhouse site), a relatively small change.
  • Scarborough RT:  Reconstruction is deferred until after the Pan Am Games (sumemr 2015).  Phase 1, as planned by the TTC, will proceed ending at Sheppard, but Phase 2 north to Malvern has no definite construction date.
  • Finch:  Cut back to run from Finch West Station at Keele to Humber College.
    • The section east of Yonge, an invention of Metrolinx in the 2009 funding announcement, deservedly fell off the plan. TTC never took this segment seriously.
    • West from Yonge was part of Metrolinx regional vision for cross-city travel, a vision that is much shorter than a few years ago.
  • Eglinton:  Once touted as a high speed regional link cross the city, this line will now end at Jane.  Although the option of an airport link is in “phase 2”, I suspect that the real agenda, long advocated by some at Metrolinx, may be to bring the Mississauga busway east via the Richview expressway corridor.  This would ensure that Eglinton could never provide the direct, cross-city regional link to the airport so trumpeted by Metrolinx, and would avoid threatening the premium fare air rail link with reasonably priced competition.

The real problem here is that funding “announcements” no longer have any meaning. There is no guarantee anything will be built, or whether the announced scope will actually match the as-built project.

The remants of Transit City, even if they are built, leave anomalies in the network.

  • Finch West is an isolated route with its own carhouse to support one line only slightly longer than than SRT.  Who knows when or if the Jane line (another user of the Finch carhouse) will ever connect Finch to the rest of the network?  I fear that Finch may never actually be started.
  • Sheppard does not include a potential extension south to UTSC.  This connection was openly discussed by folks at Metrolinx and the TTC as a way of serving the games site and giving the Sheppard line a substantial eastern destination.  However, it has disappeared from the plan even though it would be sensible and a worthwhile addition to TC.
  • On the SRT, riders must make do with current technology, although life (by way of second-hand Vancouver cars) might be breathed into it.  As you freeze on platforms for the next several winters, send cards of thanks to Queen’s Park.
  • Meanwhile, Malvern Town Centre gets no service at all.  This is quite a come-down from its original role as a major terminus.

The SRT Project

In related news, the TTC decided today to include the underground connection from the SRT to the Sheppard line (price premium $65m) as an alternative design in the project’s EA to placate the local community.  TTC did a poor job of presenting the surface LRT option and making it seem far worse (noise, vibration, sleepless nights) than is likely.  It fell to Vice-chair Joe Mihevc to champion TTC track technology, but the damage had been done.

I could not help comparing the warmth of reception and sensitivty to this neighbourhood’s concerns with the shabby treatment given to the Weston and Mt. Dennis deputations about the Eglinton line’s configuration at Black Creek and Weston Road.

One remaining uncertainty is the modification needed on the Sheppard LRT to provide for eventual construction of an underground connection to the SRT extension.

The TTC also discussed the mechanics of replacement bus service during the SRT reconstruction.  Staff claim this will require 70 buses/hour.  This shuttle and its service level trigger the need for a temporary terminal at Kennedy.  Nobody seems to have realized that if the SRT closes after Sheppard opens, some demand now funnelled to the SRT from north of 401 can be taken west to Don Mills via the Sheppard line.

Other Transit City Routes

No funding has been announced and no dates settled for the remaining Transit City routes:

  • Don Mills:  This route is tied up with discussions about a possible Downtown Relief Subway.  Where the money will come from to pay for any of this is unknown.
  • Jane, Scarborough-Malvern and Waterfront West are completely in limbo awaiting word on their position in the overall Metrolinx priority list.

There is no word on how Queen’s Park would fund the rest of The Big Move including these remaining Transit City lines, the second phases of the funded projects, or additional regional services.

The Lost Network

What we have lost with these cuts is the network view of transit.  Fragments of lines, only what we can squeeze out of the budget, will leave us with a disjointed network failing many of the original hopes and aims of Transit City.

Many other projects, part of the Metrolinx regional plan, are nowhere to be seen.

Unless sustained, substantial funding comes into play, we will be back to endless debates on one line at a time.

Dalton McGuinty could have been the transit Premier, but his focus has moved to other areas.  Transit City is only a shadow of the original scheme, and ongoing funding for TTC operations and maintenance are well below the level needed to run this large transit system.

Transit takes a long view, the determination to hold out through long economic and political cycles. How many more decades must we wait for real commitment to transit at Queen’s Park?