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?

“Move Ontario 2020” and “The Big Move”

In June 2006, Premier McGuinty announced the “Move Ontario 2020” program, a shopping list of over 50 projects to transform public transportation in the GTA.  The list included Transit City, but there was no funding for any of the projects.  Indeed, Ontario hoped that Ottawa would come in for a 1/3 share as a vital economic development contribution to the heart of the Canadian economy.  The total pricetag would be $50-billion.

Ottawa surprised nobody by demurring, and the federal commitments to transit remain on a project-by-project basis.  The transit share of the federal gas tax is totally consumed in routine capital costs for systems such as the TTC and nothing is left over for system expansion.

Metrolinx boiled the Move Ontario shopping list down to its own scheme, “The Big Move”, which included a list of “Top 15” projects as candidates for initial funding. 

In April 2009, Queen’s Park announced specific funding for the “Big 5” projects totalling $9.5-billion, of which $330-million is the federal contribution for Sheppard East.  The VIVA project got $1.35-billion leaving $8.15-billion for Transit City.

However, scope and cost creep pushed the total estimated cost for the four Transit City projects to $10.498-billion, almost 30% above the agreed funding.  Metrolinx, TTC and the City of Toronto wrestled the projects back down to fit the budget by splitting six sub-projects off to a “Phase 2”.

  • Finch East from Yonge to Don Mills Station ($655-million) (This section was not part of the original Transit City network, but was added by Queen’s Park in the April 2009 announcement.)
  • Finch West from Yonge to Finch West Station (Keele Street) ($460m)
  • Sheppard East from Conlins (the carhouse location) to Meadowvale ($100m)
  • SRT from Sheppard to Malvern ($386m)
  • Eglinton from Renforth to Airport ($300m)
  • Eglinton from Jane to Renforth ($467m)

Until the Budget announcement, the projects remained on more-or-less their original schedules.

March 2010:  The $4-billion Cut

With the Provincial budget came a $4-billion cut in Metrolinx funding.  Technically this is a deferral to push the associated borrowing beyond the five-year line in budget projections.  A similar scheme has been used by the City of Toronto and the TTC to keep costs everyone knows we must bear off of the short-term capital projections.  The problem with this scheme is that the backlog of funding needs grows, and without new revenue it is unclear how we will pay for everything.  In a worst-case situation, a future government may take an axe to this backlog for fiscal or political reasons.

To fit the “Phase 1” projects into the new borrowing schedule at Queen’s Park, Metrolinx proposes to stretch out spending primarily by pushing two projects to 2015 and beyond.  These are the SRT and Finch West lines.  The Eglinton project already extended beyond the five-year window with openings in phases from 2016 to 2020.

In the original plan, $7.7-billion would have been spent in the five-year period where Queen’s Park wants to reduce debt growth.  This left $1.8-billion for the out years in that plan.  With the revisions, this number has grown to $5.8-billion.

One important point here is that Queen’s Park will index the $8.15-billion Transit City commitment relative to 2008 dollars.  This will ensure that the delay in startup will not eat into funding through inflation, provided that project cost estimates do not grow at a faster rate.  This provision adds about $2-billion to the funding commitment.

Metrolinx’ May 2010 Proposal

Metrolinx proposes to build the five projects over a longer span.

  • The York/VIVA BRT will now be completed in 2020, a four-year delay.
  • The Sheppard East line will open to Conlins Road in 2014, one year later than planned. 
  • The Eglinton line will be completed from Jane to Kennedy by 2020, two years later than planned.  Work will begin in June 2010 with the ordering of tunnel boring machines.  Tunnel construction starts in 2012 although an access shaft for the tunnel launch will have to be built first.  Station construction starts in 2013, and the eastern surface segment begins in 2017.
  • The Scarborough RT will continue to operate until after the Pan Am Games, and the rebuilt/extended line will open in 2020.  It is unclear why the construction period is so long given that the TTC’s estimate put the shutdown at only 3 years.
  • The Finch line from Keele to Humber College will start construction in 2015 and open in 2019.
  • Vehicles for all four lines will be ordered in June 2010.

Metrolinx and Queen’s Park have turned down a City of Toronto proposal to provide short-term financing that would allow the Finch and SRT projects to begin sooner.  Their reasoning is that debt is debt, no matter who borrows the money, and if Ontario is obligated to repay the City, then it’s Provincial debt simply in another guise.

Metrolinx has suggested that the City of Toronto may choose to fund part of these projects directly by purchase of land for projects in later years, or by construction of extensions such as the proposed Sheppard link south to the Aquatic Centre at UTSC.  It is unclear how a City contribution would affect the Provincial desire to have full ownership of the Transit City lines on its books.

These add-ons really belong in a potential “goodie basket” for the 2011 Provincial Budget and the runup to the election.  If the Pan Am Games are important, why shouldn’t Queen’s Park find the $150-million needed to extend the Sheppard route south to UTSC?  This would have lasting benefit not just for the games, but for the Sheppard line and the campus.

On the subject of subways, the Metrolinx response is simple:  both the Eglinton and SRT lines are, effectively, full rapid transit with a long stretch of tunnel on Eglinton and complete grade separation on the SRT.  The outer parts of Eglinton will be at grade, as will Sheppard and Finch where demand does not justify the high cost of subway construction.

Prichard ended his presentation with a warning against delay.  Mayoral candidates are jockeying for position, trying to replace the David Miller transit vision with their own schemes.  Some would tear up Transit City and start over.  Readers of this blog will know that I consider such an attitude, charitably, as uninformed and, at worst, crass pandering to those who think we can have a huge transit network, little effect on municipal budgets and no disruption for construction.

What Future Does Transit Have in the GTA?

With all the debate on the Provincial budget and its effect on Transit City, a much more important issue was pushed to the background.  Many other projects do not have committed funding, and they are expected to benefit from the “Investment Strategy” whenever it appears. 

Today, the Star editorialized on the potential fallout a delay in proceeding with even the “Big 5” projects could have.  Although the revised plan takes longer and provides somewhat less than the original Transit City designs, the Star argues that demanding funding for everything may play into the hands of those who would kill Transit City either for alternative schemes in Toronto, or elsewhere in the GTA.

Yesterday, Carol Wilding, president of the Toronto Board of Trade, wrote that the lack of transit investment and expansion now puts the GTA far behind other cities and that further delay will only compound the problem.  If the business community really gets behind transit spending, this will be a welcome change from endless calls for lower taxes.  Making the GTA competitive on a global scale involves more than having the cheapest possible government.

Some Toronto Mayoral candidates, not to mention factions at Metrolinx and Queen’s Park, hope that the private sector will magically provide funding either through direct investment, or through the tax benefits of development stimulated through transit construction.  As we have seen with Highway 407, private ownership of infrastructure doesn’t get rid of the cost even though it may push the debt off of public sector accounts.  As for tax benefits, yes, new buildings can bring tax revenue, but this is often decades in the future and that revenue is normally assumed to pay for an array of public services, not just the debt on a transit line.

Creative accounting has no place in this discussion, and politicians must be honest with voters about how we will pay for massive increases in transit infrastructure and service.  We need honesty, too, in talk of the “do nothing” alternative, in the cost of simply letting population and traffic grow within the existing system.

Metrolinx had planned to publish an “Investment Strategy” by June 2013 setting out how its long-term plan would be financed.  The Phase 2 list above was to be funded through this strategy, not by Provincial borrowing.

Many “investment” options are available, but they all involve extracting large sums on an ongoing basis from taxpayers who are notoriously unwilling to pay.  Indeed, the 2013 date was intended to put any discussion of new revenue tools well beyond the 2011 Provincial election.  With the economic downturn and the deferral of project funding to an “Investment Strategy” we know nothing about, the delay to 2013 is no longer reasonable or responsible.

When Premier McGuinty announced Move Ontario, he signalled that Queen’s Park would take on the challenge of building transit.  When Mayor Miller proposed Transit City, he signalled that Toronto would plan for a network of routes to serve people across the city, not just the favoured few near short subway expansions.

Cold feet.  Reconsideration.  Indecision.  That’s Toronto’s history of support for transit.  We wait decades, and still transit has no dedicated funding for construction and operation.  Every delay pushes the entrenchment of transit as a vital, permanently funded public service off to the future and the whims of whatever party might control Queen’s Park or City Hall.

Where is the leadership to build a real Transit City?

66 thoughts on “Transit City: Half a Loaf? (Update 4)

  1. Between the extended Toronto subway car order, the replacement streetcar order and orders for bilevel rail cars for GO and transit agencies across North America, did Bombardier’s Thunder Bay facility have the capacity to build the cars for the Transit City lines based on the original schedule?

    Steve: Actually, I think the stretched out TC schedule gives Thunder Bay a bit of breathing room. The add-on subway car order will just keep the existing line moving longer, and bilevels are likely in the same position. The combined order for the new streetcars and Transit City cars will be about 400 cars over the period stretching out to roughly 2020.


  2. Like you, Steve, I’m not happy. But it’s still a start. An LRT line from Jane to Kennedy with a tunnel section between Black Creek and Leslie would still be a significant improvement to the transportation picture of Toronto, and make the possibility of an extension to Pearson a question of ‘when’, rather than ‘if’, in my opinion.

    Also, note the timing. You’ve already noticed that Metrolinx is opening the door for a goodies budget come 2011. And I think this is how McGuinty plans things out. Notice how he’s handled the HST: he’s given us the pain first, and then tried to ameliorate that pain through rebate cheques — the last of which come just months before the 2011 election.

    I think his thinking is that he’ll take the hit for his unpopular decisions now in 2010, and doing so allows him to potentially free up funds for goodies he can add back to the picture come 2011. Depending on your point of view, it’s bitterly cynical or fiendishly pragmatic. However, if we do get an actual order of tunnel boring equipment next month, I will breathe a bit of a sigh of relief that this plan _will_ be built; albeit much slower than we both would like.


  3. It boggles the mind that the Province/Metrolinx/TTC could go to all this trouble to plan Transit City (warts and all), announce it last year as a done deal, and then within a span of year say ‘actually it’s going to be delayed 5 years, and compared to what was on the table before it’s going to suck’. Why is everyone involved in this not being FIRED???

    Steve: For this, you must turn to the Provincial Ministry of Finance. It is they who are worried about the growth of the Provincial debt and want spending to be pushed out beyond the current five-year window. The folks at TTC and Metrolinx were taken completely by surprise on this.


  4. These slides are hilarious:

    – Airport connection for Eglinton deferred by GTAA to 2022? What is the airport authority up to?
    – Finch “middle” easily extended to Yonge street? Since when is underground tunneling easy?
    – sequence Scarborough projects (with TTC assurance Scarborough RT is safe and sustainable to 2016)? hahahha.

    Steve: “Finch middle” is on the surface. Only the connection at Yonge is underground, and the design the TTC came up with needs some serious rethinking anyhow.


  5. I’ve said it before but I think it bears repeating that a year ago, I would have bought a delay due to financial concerns from Queens Park without much trouble but right now, with new HST money about to start coming in, the deficit several billion dollars lower than anticipated, and the economy starting to turn around, I’m having a hard time accepting Transit City getting bumped.

    Regarding the Finch LRT and the Sheppard subway, when will there be a decent connection between the two arms of the Yonge-University-Spadina line in the north end? The Sheppard subway didn’t provide this link even though it would be incredibly sensible to construct it as it would also be a contingency measure against Wilson yard from being isolated from most of system in the event of a problem south of Wilson on the Spadina side.

    From a passenger convenience point of view, the Finch LRT would have made this link as well, except the section between Finch West and Yonge St. got canned. The result is anybody northwest of easy access to the Bloor or Spadina subway is still looking at taking a slow putt-putt bus across the middle section of the north end of the city to go from somewhere near Lawrence station, for example, up to a destination like York University despite lots of money still supposedly allocated for LRT construction. I really think the two halves of the YUS need a better-than-Orion7 connection in the north end.


  6. Do you think Miller and the Save Transit City group should continue their campaign or should they just accept Metrolinx’s revised plan?

    Steve: “Save Transit City” served the purpose of making this a major issue, and it shouldn’t die off. If anything, Queen’s Park needs to know that its first priority, should any money magically appear (there is an election next year, after all), it should be spent on restoring the missing pieces of Transit City. Both the City and Metrolinx could do everyone a big favour by deciding on the priorities for sections such as the UTSC link from Sheppard, “Finch Middle”, as well as ways to accelerate the SRT project including the Malvern extension.

    All that said, the City and TTC should get on with building what Metrolinx is funding now rather than holding everything hostage to a demand for the original spending plans.


  7. “with new HST money about to start coming in, the deficit several billion dollars lower than anticipated, and the economy starting to turn around, I’m having a hard time accepting Transit City getting bumped.”

    A small nitpick, but I believe the HST is supposed to be revenue neutral, at least in the first year. Yeah, I know: why do I trust what politicians say? But the HST isn’t a new tax: it replaces the provincial sales tax which was not previous applied on certain products and services and — and this is important — was applied MULTIPLE TIMES on other products.

    The PST, unlike the GST and the HST, is more equivalent to a manufacturer’s sales tax, and so it gets applied whenever certain goods change hands, including parts; so something like a car has the PST hidden on it, and has been applied multiple times before it gets to the lot. The province will lose this extra revenue under the HST, and so the actual change in revenues may be a wash — especially considering the rebate cheques the province will be sending out between July 2010 and June 2011.

    It’s for this reason that the federal Conservatives had to sweeten the pot, passing about $4 billion of revenue transfers to Ontario in order to get the Ontario Liberals to sign on.

    However, I think your main point is basically sound. McGuinty’s approach is one of “lower expectations and over-deliver”. If the financial picture is actually better than we’ve been led to believe, either through higher-than-expected revenues, a better performing economy, whathaveyou, then we won’t know until the 2011 budget — which quite conveniently is timed just months before the 2011 election. And by cutting back on delivering promised transit funds this year, they can restore them next year, and end up looking like the good guys… at least, to those of us who don’t pay attention.


  8. Is it just me or is the transcript link not working?

    Steve: The file is no longer available on the Metrolinx site, but as I still have a copy locally, I have posted it on my own site now.


  9. Better than nothing.

    Still, if the provincial and federal government gets more than what they put into saving the auto manufactures, based on what GM and Chrysler are saying about getting a IPO for the shares the governments own, I hope they will be able to reverse the government budgetary positions, maybe not this year, but in the short coming years.


  10. James, for transit in Toronto’s sake, I hope you’re right.

    Mind you, I still won’t vote Liberal in the next election even if they restore funding to all the original TC lines.

    Steve: This begs the question of what would-be transit saviour you would vote for.


  11. I am not a commodity tax expert, but I am pretty sure that James Bow is misguided about the PST. There is and was an exemption for “goods purchased for resale” in the existing tax. Parts purchased for inclusion in a car would not attract PST.

    Steve: You are correct. Tax is collected at the end point where a finished product is sold, not at each step along the way.

    However, I agree that the HST is nominally “revenue neutral” due to the rebates and tax cuts that were part of the programme. My criticism of McGuinty remains that he lacked the courage to step into the tax headroom foolishly created by our Reform Government when they cut the GST. A 15% HST would mean significant new revenues for Ontario – and the extra 2% would be relatively painless to the individuals who would pay it. (I often think, as I buy a Diet Pepsi or something similar, “Gee Thanks Mr Harper for wrecking the economy so I can save 4 cents on this purchase.” Across 30 million people, those 4 cents add up).


  12. Well, at least they’re going to be on track to give people east of Mount Pleasant, and west of Leslie, new and improved rapid transit. Too bad that nobody is going to walk to the station to use it! I really can’t figure out why they can’t figure it out.


  13. Last week I caught an interview with Miller on CBC Radio, and he said he offered to finance this project for the province, but they refused. On page 21 of the slideshow it addresses this saying that the province is trying to minimize debt and not borrow money for this project.

    Fair enough.

    On page 22, it suggests that the city contribute directly to the project if they want construction to start immediately. What is Miller’s position on this proposal: Would the city be willing to build parts of TC on its own while the province works on the rest? Maybe set up a trust fund where people can donate directly to help fund projects?

    Also like page 23, which does a good job answering those who want subways (noting that Eglinton IS a subway!)

    Steve: The Metrolinx idea, that the City might pay for something the Province originally was going to fund, is a bit insulting. In theory, this would allow Queen’s Park to fund something else, but there’s no guarantee that would be something the City actually needs (or that it is even within the 416). This is the weakest part of the entire presentation.


  14. Fair enough on the correction. 🙂

    “This begs the question of what would-be transit saviour you would vote for.”

    Well, what is the NDP policy? As I recall, back in 2007, Howard Hampton, despite having the charisma of a broomstick, did have a coherent urban policy that would have significantly improved the lot of cities throughout the province. People laughed at his numbers, but then we discovered that Ontario actually had a higher than expected surplus, and Hampton’s proposals were eminently affordable.

    But as with all things political, you should take nothing at face value. If what we want is a Liberal government with a strong NDP holding their feet to the fire, maybe we need to look at things from a riding to riding basis. Vote NDP where they have a chance, and vote Liberal to keep the Conservatives out — at least, until the Conservatives bring forward a credible urban strategy of their own.

    All of this, of course, is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.


  15. From the original MoveOntario 2020 announcement:

    “Costs will only begin once construction has been completed, similar to a homeowner’s mortgage. This means the cost will be spread over 50 years.”

    What ever happened to this plan?

    Steve: In the old days, before stringent public sector accounting, one could hold debt off the books until an asset entered service, and then, in effect, rent the asset to yourself to pay down the debt. This is no longer possible, and the fiction that money borrowed to build something isn’t really a debt is no longer acceptable.


  16. Ben said: (noting that Eglinton IS a subway!)

    Well, it’s underground, but don’t get your hopes up; it isn’t HRT compatible. For 2031, this doesn’t matter, everything will be fine in 2031 – there’s enough capacity, barring an apocalyptic oil shortage. However, as we roll through the 2050s, we’ll be looking at a very difficult problem, because the design put forward for Eglinton doesn’t stand up to scrutiny from a sustainable planning perspective over the very long term. We’ve heard the line many a time about infrastructure lasting 50-100 years.

    5% grades in a tunnel with a ~6m diameter (more than enough for HRT to fit in) is not sensible, especially when 150m long station boxes are required even though the LRT platforms are only 96m (HRT platforms are 152.4m (or 500′)). There’s a long shopping list of design problems that includes turnout radii for crossovers and pockets, and the length of pockets (not to mention the pairing arrangement of these elements, which I argue makes no sense), which have significant domino effects for the vertical alignment in general. The list goes on, but it’s vastly cheaper to fix it now than trying to deal with it after 30 years of service with steadily rising ridership. That’s a legacy nobody should want attached to their name.


  17. Has anyone else noticed the TTC has just exercised an option to buy more of the new LRT cars yet not one has entered service not even for testing. They are behind schedule in delivery. There might be a need to get an extension on the option deadline. It would make sense to hold off ordering more cars until you can see if they work.

    Steve: The option they exercised is for subway cars, not LRT cars.


  18. Though James Bow was incorrect in describing how PST is applied to goods, he is not totally incorrect in saying that under the HST, the provincial government will lose some sources of revenue. What upsets everyone is that this loss will be significantly less than what is gained by all the new things that will have the 8% added to their tax calculation.

    The mechanism was slightly different, but resulted in both taxes only being paid at the end. Let’s say an item is purchased for $1 to be resold for $2. The initial purchaser pays $1.05 up front, because the GST is paid that way, but they get the purchase PST exempt. Who they buy it from 5 cents to the feds, and nothing to the province. They then sell and the end purchaser pays $2.26. This seller remits 5 cents to the feds (10 cents GST collected less 5 cents already paid, called an Input Tax Credit, or ITC) and 16 cents to the province.

    Under HST, the entire 26 cents is remitted in stages along the way (13 cents by each in this example). The only difference is that the province does not have to wait for all of its share until the item leaves the store shelf.

    The only revenue that the province will lose will be for PST collected on items USED within a business. Currently, things consumed by a business receive the ITC for GST paid, but they still must pay the PST. Under the HST, the ITC will be on the entire 13%. (Of course, we all know how this savings will be passed on to the public! NOT!)

    As I said, this loss in revenue will be small compared to the new revenue from all the sources that currently have no PST on them. My predicition: the province knows quite well that the HST could still be slightly revenue-positive with a drop in the rate from 8% to 7%. Thus, implement it this year, just at the start of summer, with no change in rate and the pill will be swallowed and forgotton by the spring when they will come out with a reduction in the rate plus a few other goodies in next year’s budget to look like heroes.

    Who needs a Men-In-Black Neuralizer when you can do this with budgets? 😉


  19. Michael Greason said “and the extra 2% would be relatively painless to the individuals who would pay it.”

    I wouldn’t be too quick to say that. After all, HST does apply to your hydro bill and winter is coming.


  20. One of the reasons for friction concerning the 407 is the contract was for a self sustaining independent entity. The equivalent for the Eglington LRT would require a completely independent fare structure from the rest of the system. This would not be very acceptable. This one of the major issues with the Airport shuttle, and is also an ongoing issue between GO and regional transit systems including TTC.

    An LRT line could be privately financed, then rented back through a long term agreement. Actual operation and collection of fares would then be the responsibility of the renter, not the owner. Houses do this all the time. It is called a mortgage.

    Proposal: TC Mortgage bonds to raise $4B in the form of 25 year bonds yielding 5% per year. Servicing the debt would cost about $500m per year for 25 years, after which time the asset is completely debt free.

    Steve: The same tightened accounting rules that forced acknowledgement of all provincial debt also affect long term leases. The only way a private company would enter into the kind of arrangement you propose would be to have an ironclad lease from which the province (or whatever transit agency was involved) could not escape. From an accounting point of view, that’s a future liability just like debt, and it must show up on the books.

    The whole PPP house of cards falls when accounting tricks used to hide public debt in private agencies are no longer allowed.


  21. Does this mean that the province and Metrolynx are committing themselves to building Transit City according to the existing plans and that “subways are the only answer” folks aka mayoral candidates can now get off their soapboxes?

    Also, I’m a bit confused in all of this. What is meant by Finch middle? How does it relate to Finch West and when would the latter be built?

    Steve: If you look at the map within the presentation, you will see how the various pieces relate to each other. “Finch Middle” is the portion between Keele (Finch West Station) and Yonge. Finch West from Keele to Humber College will be built from 2015-19.

    The real question about the mayoralty lies in George Smitherman’s as yet unannounced transit platform (expected May 28). If he endorses the Metrolinx scheme, then it will have a champion in one of the major players in the mayoral race. If he does not, then it’s dead in the water. Given Smitherman’s connections to Queen’s Park and his past statements on Transit City, my money is on his endorsing the scheme.

    Metrolinx knows it cannot possibly build every line in the network as a subway simply due to cost.


  22. Forgive me guys as I haven’t been paying as close attention to this issue like usual – but what happened to the Malvern line and the Jane line of Transit City? Are they completely off the radar now?

    If so, I guess my original Transit City button set is going to be a collector’s item.

    Steve: The Province has not announced funding for Jane, Malvern, Don Mills or Waterfront West. They’re not off the map, but also not high priority. We won’t really know what’s going on until Metrolinx reviews the overall priority of projects within The Big Move and, possibly, adjusts components of the proposed network.


  23. Funny how LRT was advertised as being 1/10th the cost of a subway, and now it’s 1/3rd?

    This plan is too little, too late. They’d be better off spending that money buying all of us beanies with wind-up mini-propellers on them. By 2020, that’s what we’ll have to use to get around.

    Steve: I for one always felt that the 1/10 figure was an overstatement applicable only to a handful of situations. For example, the St. Clair project from Yonge to Keele is roughly 6km and even with its cost overrun and added non-transit work will come in somewhere around $20m/km. The original number was $10m/km. However, this was a street where there already were streetcars, a power distribution system, carhouse, underground subway connection and loop properties.

    Imagine if St. Clair West Station Loop had not been there, and this project had required major infrastructure at this location. The St. Clair route will use 22 scheduled cars once it runs through to Keele. Allowing for spares takes this to about 25 CLRVs whose replacement cost would be at least $60m, an amount equal to the original project cost estimate. I don’t think I need to go on here.

    For the Transit City lines, there is a requirement for new carhouses that will, if we build more of the network, be used for system expansion at little or no cost. All of the infrastructure is new, and every line includes some underground construction. Don Mills Station on the Sheppard line, Finch West and Finch Stations on the Finch line, Don Mills and Kennedy Stations on the Eglinton line (plus that little tunnel across the city). All of these push the cost/km up substantially.

    The Eglinton line has been cut back from 33km to 20km at a saving of $767m, or $59m/km. That’s about 1/6 of the current Spadina extension project cost of $300m/km. The ratio will always be “better” for LRT for extensions to an existing line and network into areas where infrastructure does not need to be as substantial and the expensive components (carhouse, subway interchanges) have already been paid for.

    But 1/10th? Only in very unusual circumstances. LRT proponents do their schemes great harm by overselling the technology.


  24. If you look at the the map in this Star article, it illustrates the SELRT as a postponed extension east of Markham Road. Is this a typo or has the SELRT plans been revised once more?

    Steve: The map published by the Star is wrong. It shows the Sheppard line east of the junction with the SRT as being part of the future network when, in fact, all but the last bit of the route from Conlins to Meadowvale will be completed in Phase 1.


  25. One the arguments (rightly) put against building subways one station at a time is that then you end having spending extra money to build every new station as terminus, only for it to become a through station a few years later.

    The Metrolinx presentation says the shortened LRT lines can be extended “seemlessly”, but surely exactly the same argument applies?

    Steve: Metrolinx is proposing to build substantial chunks of various lines. On Finch, the interchange at Keele to the Spadina Subway is a logical place for an LRT turnback facility, and a bus loop is already planned for Finch West Station. On Sheppard, the carhouse is at Conlins Road and will obviously have the ability to turn LRT trains. I suspect that we may see the UTSC extension built as part of “Phase 1” and that will be a logical terminus for some bus routes anyhow. Eglinton will end in the west at Jane. That’s a challenge because no terminal was anticipated there in the original plans. However, the level of service from there west does not require a huge terminal.


  26. Steve wrote, “LRT proponents do their schemes great harm by overselling the technology.”

    I had a drawn out email discussion with someone who contacted me through my site about LRT construction costs. He was concerned that I was not showing LRT in its best light, citing a couple of examples where some LRT project cost around $5 million per kilometre. I explained that those were exceptional cases with some very specific situations that kept the costs down.

    My philosophy in making an argument is that one should be super critical about each and every point in favour of their position, and should always give the benefit of the doubt to points in favour of the other side. This way, one’s position holds up better and is less susceptible to being ripped apart.

    A reasonable rule of thumb is that LRT construction (at grade, ballasted ties) costs about 1/5 of the cost of HRT construction (also at grade, ballasted ties). For underground or elevated construction, the ratio is not as good. Most of Transit City will have concrete encased tracks, and this also reduces the ratio.

    As for the terminal facilities when it comes to extending a subway or LRT another stop or two, a full subway system generally needs a lengthy crossover or pocket track, while LRT crossovers tend to be shorter and are usually planned for every 2 km or so. Also, adding one extra stop can be easier to do with single track operation on an LRT line than on a subway line. Feeder bus routes are a bigger challenge with a subway line as something must be provided to serve these, while stops can be more easily implemented with an LRT stop – sometimes even having buses use the same platform as the LRT.


  27. Steve said: “Metrolinx has suggested that the City of Toronto may choose to fund part of these projects directly by purchase of land for projects in later years, or by construction of extensions such as the proposed Sheppard link south to the Aquatic Centre at UTSC. It is unclear how a City contribution would affect the Provincial desire to have full ownership of the Transit City lines on its books.”

    Any chance, the TTC will actually go down this path?

    Steve: No.


  28. The fact that the Scarborough RT conversion project has the same finish date as Eglinton makes em wonder if they are planning through running between the two lines from day 1. Doing so would avoid the need for any turnbacks at Kennedy, which has limited space.

    Steve: The design of Kennedy Station allows for the lines to operate independently or as a through routed system.


  29. Well, it’s underground, but don’t get your hopes up; it isn’t HRT compatible. For 2031, this doesn’t matter, everything will be fine in 2031 – there’s enough capacity, barring an apocalyptic oil shortage. However, as we roll through the 2050s, we’ll be looking at a very difficult problem, because the design put forward for Eglinton doesn’t stand up to scrutiny from a sustainable planning perspective over the very long term. We’ve heard the line many a time about infrastructure lasting 50-100 years.

    Wait, what’s the problem exactly? Are you saying the underground LRT portion will not have sufficient capacity? What exactly are you basing this on?

    If the Eglinton route was built with 4-car TR trains, each train would have a crushload capacity of ~750 passengers. If the LRT trains were were just 3-car streetcar trains, they would have a crushload capacity of 3×250 = 750. With a 4-minute headway that is a max capacity of 11,250 people per hour! To put this into perspective, the estimated ridership by 2031 is only 5,400.

    Steve: Thanks for this comment. I had planned to go back and add roughly this argument myself.

    I am tired of people worrying about plans for a 40k/hr capacity with six-car trains of “subway cars” rather than simply extending the LRT underground if that’s what’s needed. Indeed, the highest demand may not extend beyond the central section of the line where frequent service can be offered while leaving the outer parts on the surface.

    The obvious question nobody mentions about “conversion” is the difference between high platform and low platform cars. None of the stairways, escalators or elevators would be at the correct elevation to serve stations modified to run with high platform equipment.


  30. The first two bullet points on slide five are unfortunately phrased:

    “In January 2010 TTC advises projects, if fully built, would cost $10.5 billion, not $8.15 billion in 2008 dollars – a $2.4 billion gap”

    “Provincial contribution fixed at $8.15 billion:

    Given that we are nearly halfway through 2010, I am 100% certain that Metrolinx should have stopped quoting 2008 dollars by the end of 2008.

    Hopefully it’s just sloppy slide making. Otherwise, they would be best to set aside an additional $600 to $800 million as a contingency.

    Steve: Another point about that comment is that it implies that the TTC can’t do proper estimates particularly in light of the warm words about York’s BRT plans staying on budget. Some of the cost increases were due to scope creep especially the addition of underground sections to lines originally planned (if misguidedly) for surface construction.


  31. Re: Karl

    When I said that Eglinton was getting a subway, I was referring to the proper definition of a “sub-terrain” transportation route. I am aware that it is going to use light rail rather than metro/heavy rail rolling stock.

    Also Steve, if Toronto is able and willing to pay for Finch West, we can use that as a bargaining chip to move up other projects – such as the DLR.

    Steve: But the City is not willing to pay for a route that was promissed to us by the Province. The DRL is a separate matter entirely.


  32. I don’t understand this — if a 6-car subway train carries 1,000 and an 3-car LRV train carries 750, why is the capacity of LRT not advertised as 3/4 of a subway?

    These LRT trains will run on ATO — at 40 trains per hour (one every 90 seconds is possible with ATO) x 750 = 30,000 per hour … so how is this not enough? Where am I calculating wrong?

    Even if an LRT train can only carry 500 … 500 x 40 = 20,000, or one train every 2 mins = 15,000. That is clearly enough. Whether they are streetcars or subways, as long as they’re underground I see no difference.

    Steve: People are playing mix-and-match with numbers here. 1000 is the design capacity of a subway train for planning purposes. This is the load one expects to be able to sustain over a period of time allowing both for peaking effects and for spatial distribution of passengers. Individual trains within the peak period may achieve loads in the 1200 to 1300 range, but this cannot be sustained as the crowding level interferes with station dwell times and the effective line capacity goes down even with jammed trains. The 250 figure cited for the LRVs is crush capacity, and the design number will be in the 200 range.

    On the PCCs and CLRVs a similar situation exists, compounded by the fact that with front door loading the capacity at the rear of the car is not well used. When the situation allows all-door loading and you can pack them in (remember the CNE when it was really busy?), then you can achieve the theoretical crush loads.

    If you watch Spadina streetcars come into the station at many times of the day and evening, you will see loads over the design capacity. These produce delays as cars make their way up the line, even with ground crews at one or two stops, and long dwell times in the station that can produce a backlog of cars waiting to serve the platform.

    Both subway and LRT advocates are guilty of using the crush numbers in claims for their preferred technology when one would never plan service to actually operate at such levels on a regular basis, certainly not if one wanted to be taken seriously by riders.


  33. Steve said: The obvious question nobody mentions about “conversion” is the difference between high platform and low platform cars. None of the stairways, escalators or elevators would be at the correct elevation to serve stations modified to run with high platform equipment.

    It was quite a while back, but I am sure that I have posted on this very issue before, and while it requires thinking ahead (especially for mechanical vertical transportation), it is not a deal-breaker. The LRT still requires 150m long boxes, but only 96m platforms. If you start the LRT platform at one of the far ends of the station box (which isn’t the current proposal, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be), that leaves around 54m of station box length that can serve as the first installment of a high-platform, which is long enough for a 2-car subway train (an interim measure until part of the low-floor platform can be renovated/raised to run 4-car trains).

    Steve: The problem is that one way or another you must change the landing level for the escalators and elevators.

    40K/hr is a non-issue, and I’m surprised you would throw out such a number since we’re both very skeptical the TTC can even actually achieve that high a capacity on Yonge in real-world operations. It’s not about 40K/hr, what’s an issue is anything over 13K/hr, the maximum LRT can practically carry, as we both know. We should expect Eglinton to eventually exceed that, just not as soon as 2031 (at which point we should still be fine with and running LRT). 15 years beyond that is another matter entirely. Growth doesn’t suddenly stop at 2031, even if ridership projections currently do.

    Steve: The speed is independent of the equipment. It has much more to do with station spacing and dwell times. The acceleration profiles on both types of equipment are limited by what passengers can tolerate, not by any inherent constraint in the technologies.

    As for LRT capacity, I will agree that if you are running on the surface, especially with stations in the middle of the road, there are limits imposed by grade crossings and pedestrian volumes at busy stops. Neither of these applies to an LRT subway.


  34. Ray Kennedy says:
    May 17, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Has anyone else noticed the TTC has just exercised an option to buy more of the new LRT cars yet not one has entered service not even for testing. They are behind schedule in delivery. There might be a need to get an extension on the option deadline. It would make sense to hold off ordering more cars until you can see if they work.

    Steve: The option they exercised is for subway cars, not LRT cars.

    I knew that! My point still stands. The new cars have been delayed by lack of doors account manufacturer problems. Still not one train finished to try out. It would make more sense the ensure the contract stipulated the option deadline would automatically be extended in the event of delivery delays so as to give some months of operation to see first hand how they perform.


  35. There is a very simple solution to the platform height issue and I’ve already mentioned it before. First you rough in the station for high platform and subway-level roadbed. Then you install raised concrete slabs (like the rubber-isolated vibration-reducing pads seen in newer sections of the subway) to mount the rails to for the LRT and you ramp the track up to the station and then back down. As a bonus the ramp slopes will assist with braking and acceleration (and the grading can be steeper for the LRVs which would minimise the length). When the time comes to lower the track you simply remove the raised slabs and re-attach the same rails to the original roadbed below. The change-over would be incredibly quick and likely could preserve the rails and track circuitry already in place. Yes you would need more tunnel roof height in the ramp and platform area, but given some of the ‘cavernous’ and lengthy structures of some newer subway stations this likely is just a planning issue. All of this can be accomplished with nearly zero extra expense because it just temporarily changes the height of the track mounting slabs that would be used either way.

    Everyone is thinking about this backwards. It isn’t rocket science. Sure it isn’t going to happen, but that isn’t what I’m debating here. The cynical might call it a ‘rollercoaster’ but would probably enjoy the excitement of the ride.


  36. At the risk of contradicting myself, Karl may have a point if he believes that Eglinton will become the new Bloor-Danforth and if the LRT numbers being tossed around are exaggerated.

    Over the last 4 decades, ridership on BD has quadrupled. If you don’t believe me, go look at the O-D survey from 1969. Could the same thing happen on Eglinton? Ridership on BD would be even higher than it is today if it still ran downtown. When riders heading downtown have the choice of an E-W surface route + YUS and a N-S route + BD + YUS, they’ll take YUS to lose one transfer.

    When the Spadina subway opened, the TTC did an O-D survey in 1978 and they found that a lot of BD riders from the west shifted to Spadina and E-W surface routes further north to avoid the transfer at St. George.

    So, if Eglinton has that same kind of pull, capacity could become a problem in 30-40 years.


  37. Out of all the different mayoral candidates Sarah Thomson has addressed this funding issue. She is not one of the front runners but has brought up the idea of tolling the highways in the city. This new revenue would be used mostly to fund transit expansion and new subways. Subway seem to be the big ticket item that attracts voters. I emailed Sarah Thomson about whether she supports Transit City network and she said she does but also some subway expansion.

    I don’t know how well she could run a city as a whole because any city is very complex, but, she has introduced the idea of generating this needed revenue by way of tolls. Unfortunately for 905ers, that would mean that they would be funding a sizable percentage of transit expansion in the 416 region. Tolls are not popular, as any tax is, but more and more cities are doing this around the world to help fund public transit. London, England is one city that has done it, it hasn’t killed business there, but their are still some kinks to work out there I have read.

    On another note, the province shouldn’t be too afraid of debt. The state of California has an out of control debt, something I hope Ontario avoids, but they have also funded much public transit projects in LA- the birthplace of the ‘Freeway’. LA had ZERO kms of rapid transit before 1984 and they were world famous for the traffic jams there. Today that city has 126.5km total length of rapid transit with two subway lines and three LRT lines. Even though California is hurting because of the debt, they are presently building the Expo line which is 14km LRT to Culver City. LA, which used to be known for the smog because of the amount of auto traffic there, will have 140km of rapid transit later this year when the Expo line is complete.

    I really think if Toronto wants to remain economically competitve and more enviromentally friendly we are going to have to take the plunge and convince the province to fund massive public transit projects here in TO and in Ottawa, Hamilton, Mississauga, London…the list goes on. We need funding for transit from all levels of our government if Ontario is to look like a place business’ want to invest in to continue to want to set up shop here.


  38. At the risk of contradicting myself, Karl may have a point if he believes that Eglinton will become the new Bloor-Danforth and if the LRT numbers being tossed around are exaggerated.

    So, if Eglinton has that same kind of pull, capacity could become a problem in 30-40 years.

    I still fail to see how capacity can be a problem on Eglinton. Right now the corridor moves about 2-3000 people per hour. The estimated number in 2031 is only 5,400! Even if the 2031 ridership somehow triples, it is still within the upper bound of what an LRT system can handle. At that point (15,000 people per hour) you’re running up against other serious capacity issues, such as the subway interchanges at Eglinton and Eglinton West, and the capacity limits on the YUS line.

    The other problem you have failed to address in any way is how an HRT system will somehow provide for greater capacity than LRT. The two technologies carry the same number of passengers for the same length of train. The only major difference between them is that HRT trains cannot run in mixed traffic, while LRT trains can run both underground and in mixed traffic. Otherwise the two technologies are exactly the same. What is wrong with having the flexibility to run trains in two different modes?


  39. On the issue of long-term future ridership on Eglinton, M. Briganti wrote, “Over the last 4 decades, ridership on BD has quadrupled.”

    This leads me to ask, would that have been the case if another parallel line, or two, had been built over that period?

    If we look at the whole of Toronto needing a network of higher-order transit lines, the case could be made for a subway line south of Bloor, one at Eglinton, and another at Finch, plus appropriately spaced lines running north-south.

    However, it could easily be argued that LRT can meet the same ridership demands well into the future with more lines spaced half the distance. Given an average 5:1 cost ratio, double the LRT lines would cost less than those same subway lines. Plus, there is the added benefit of emergency capacity: when (not IF, but WHEN) a line is shut down for a few hours, there is more of a network of LRT lines to take up the load and get people to where they need to go in less time than there would be with a subway network.


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