TTC Launches Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Page

The TTC now has a page within the Projects section of their website devoted to the Downtown Rapid Transit Study.

The study’s purpose is:

1. Assess the need for additional rapid transit capacity to serve the downtown core given the capacity improvements already planned by TTC and GO and recognizing forecast land use and ridership scenarios;

2. Assess alternative strategies to accommodate the forecast demand including the costs and benefits associated with various scenarios composed of the following elements:

(a) The construction of new rapid transit lines such as the previously-proposed Downtown Rapid Transit (DRT) line;

(b) Expanded GO Rail capacity (including additional GO stations in the City of Toronto);

(c) Improvements in streetcar services to enhance shorter-distance transit accessibility in the downtown; and

(d) Fare, service and other policy initiatives to increase downtown transit ridership that may be appropriate.

3. If necessary, undertake the appropriate functional design and environmental assessment studies required to obtain approval for the construction of the recommended facilities.

Information about public consultation will appear when available.

This study is important by comparison with many past efforts by both TTC and Metrolinx in its review of transit as an integration of long, medium and short distance trips, each of which has its own requirement for service.  Too many studies look at only one aspect of this larger problem.

Metrolinx Takes Over Airport Link Project

On July 30, Metrolinx announced that it will take over the Air Rail Link project — a premium fare service between Union Station and Pearson Airport — from SNC-Lavalin.

Metrolinx will build, own and operate the service through its GO Transit division.

While the province and the Union Pearson Air-Link Group (UPAG), a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin, were able to make significant progress negotiating, financial market conditions prevented acceptable terms. The government will continue to work with UPAG to build on the design and development work that has been completed to date.

This long-overdue change in the ARL scheme should bring the project into public view where all aspects of its design, financing and operation will be subject to the same scrutiny and openness as other Metrolinx projects.  Issues such as service levels, equipment provisioning and, most importantly, electrification will no longer hide behind the veil of “commercial confidentiality”.

Fares will be part of the overall Metrolinx/GO network scheme, and the amount of any “premium” surcharge over comparable GO fares will be a matter of public record.  The current one-way GO fare to the airport from downtown is $5.55, far below the $22 figure touted as a possible charge for the SNC-Lavalin operation.  As a matter of public policy, Metrolinx should decide whether the ARL should operate on a full cost recovery basis, or like other transit services, be subsidized for the larger benefits of moving travellers without autos.

This change will affect the design of infrastructure and operational planning.  If the ARL is priced and operates more like a GO service, it will attract riders such as commuting airport workers, and integration with through Kitchener-Waterloo line will be much simpler.  However, the size of facilities now proposed for the ARL may be inadequate to a role as a major airport link.  There may even be an option to rethink the technology choice for this corridor and the details of its connection at Union Station.

Today all we have is a press release, but Metrolinx must truly integrate the ARL planning into The Big Move.  The ARL will not be a separate, privately-owned service whose business might cloud planning and implementation of “competing” routes.  There should be one plan for the airport with regional bus and LRT services including the Eglinton, Finch West and Hurontario/Brampton lines.

The airport is a vital regional hub in The Big Move, and transit service to it must be more than a few lines sketched on a map.  Metrolinx should launch planning — including public participation — for its airport services immediately.

Metrolinx Musical Chairs

On July 28, Queen’s Park announced that Bruce McCuaig, the Deputy Minister of Transportation, would become the next President and CEO of Metrolinx effective September 4, 2010.  Rob Prichard will move from this position to become Chair of the Metrolinx Board, and the present Chair, Rob MacIsaac, will leave Metrolinx to devote his time to the presidency of Mohawk College.

McCuaig is a career bureaucrat at Queen’s Park with 26 years’ experience in various posts in the Ministries of Municipal Affairs & Housing, and then Transportation.  From his government bio page:

[Before becoming Deputy-Minister] Mr. McCuaig was Assistant Deputy Minister of Provincial Highways Management Division in MTO. He has also held the position of Assistant Deputy Minister of the ministry’s Policy, Planning and Standards Division, as well as a variety of other positions at MTO and at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Mr. McCuaig has a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Media reports in the Star and Globe suggest that McCuaig will use and build on his relationships with transit agencies and managers, notably Gary Webster at the TTC.

Rob Prichard’s move to the Chair’s role and Rob MacIsaac’s departure complete a changing of the guard that began with “Metrolinx II”, the new politician-free Metrolinx Board created in early 2009.  Prichard is better at glad-handing and advocating for transit than MacIsaac who tended to be distrustful of public input although that is a fundamental part of this high-profile agency’s work.

Both Prichard and McCuaig have big challenges.  The first will be to determine “who’s on top” in setting policy and overall direction.  Major policy announcements and funding come from Cabinet and the Ministry, and this puts a former Deputy Minister in a leading role.  However, the Metrolinx Board, especially with the supposed benefit of private-sector input, should, like any Board, give overall direction and ensure that management is doing its job.  That has a potential for conflict, if not outright abdication of the Board’s role.

Board members need to ask difficult questions, to challenge Metrolinx staff, to conduct a real debate about how the GTA’s transportation network will grow and be financed.  Metrolinx makes recommendations to the Minister, but the Board should not be a rubber stamp for whatever the staff proposes.

The early days of Metrolinx were comparatively easy ones.  Everybody loves to draw lines on maps, and The Big Move, the end product of that period, speaks of a bright transit future for the region.  Reality is not quite so simple.  Changes in funding schemes and land use, not to mention the vital role of local transit systems, require hard work, not simply the publication of a glossy plan.

The Big Move 2.0, an update process launched recently, will be driven mainly by staff, but a new plan must acknowledge and address shortcomings in the 1.0 version.  These include:

  • dubious projections that overstate demands and available capacities in some major corridors, notably commuter rail;
  • a focus on the end-state of a network after 25 years’ construction rather than intermediate stages;
  • a project evaluation methodology that considers each line in isolation rather than as part of a network; and
  • a failure to acknowledge the scope and cost of changes required in local transit operations to support the ridership hopes for regional services.

If the Board is to earn its keep, it must ensure that TBM 2.0 isn’t simply a warmed-over-lightly repackaging of TBM 1.0.

Metrolinx is no longer just a planning agency, and the move into construction and operations changes its role from one of a talking shop to front line delivery of facilities and services.  Although the recently merged GO Transit division has this background, The Big Move dwarfs current operations and will fundamentally change GO Transit itself.  Old models won’t work any more.

Getting all of this financed and built requires long term commitment, a notoriously absent character in the political scene.  Metrolinx must assume the role of advocate for transit and transportation expansion, but must do so with a credible base of plans and demonstrable benefits.  Billions in new funding will come only if the public, and by extension the politicians, trust what Metrolinx tells them.

Bruce McCuaig and Rob Prichard have much work to do.  I wish them well, but won’t hesitate to demand openness, quality and credibility from Metrolinx.

Smart Card Wars (Part III) (Update 1)

Update 1:  July 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm: Comments and clarifications by Ernie Wallace at Presto have been added to this article.

On July 26, I visited the folks at Presto and talked with Ernie Wallace, Executive Project Director, about the system and its plans.  Subsequently, I did some digging of my own, primarily on the Ontario government website.  The information below is organized to keep topics and the logical flow intact rather than to represent the sequence of the conversation.

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Thoughts From Down Under

Jarrett Walker has a few good articles on his website,, that should be required reading for our friends at Metrolinx, among other places.

In What Does Transit Do About Traffic Congestion, he argues that the last claim that should be made for transit is that it will reduce congestion.  Instead, the benefits of a transit-oriented city show up in economic activity, mobility and other benefits.

There is, however, a caveat lurking here.  Dense cities with good transit (or even cities with a good potential for better transit) don’t appear out of thin air.  Once we build sprawl, then the benefits and effects of transit seen in the older, denser cities will not appear overnight even if we run the most intensive BRT, LRT or subway network through auto-oriented suburbs.  Transit can make things better, but it will not reverse the damage and inevitable congestion of decades of bad planning.

By the way, be sure to read the comments.  If you think the threads on this site get out of hand, just try Walker’s blog.  You will see some very intelligent point-counterpoint discussion in some threads.

In If On-Time Performance is 96%, Why Am I Always Late?, Walker discusses the conundrum that transit agencies talk a great line for being on time, but the actual experience of users is much, much, much worse.  Both GO Transit and TTC have a love for patting themselves on the back (although rarely each other’s), and talking about their improvements in on-time performance.

So much of this is relative to the metrics used (how late can a train or streetcar be and still be “on time”) and the lack of weighting of the results to reflect the number of passengers affected by on time (or not) service.  Even in the off-peak, gaps of two scheduled headways or more are common on downtown routes and this drives riders away.  At least with NextBus, it is now possible to know with certainty that there is no car just around the bend out of sight, and if there is, it’s going in the opposite direction.

GO Transit now has schedules that reflect the real world in which they operate, but persists in reporting all-day on-time figures rather than breaking these out to show service quality when most people ride the system.

Finally, in Strasbourg:  You Can’t Take It Home With You, we get a loving overview of both the city and its tram system, part of the renaissance of LRT in France.  The real issues come at the end where we learn about the major changes in street space usage and restrictions on cars that accompanied the installation of tram lines in this very old city.  The moral, applicable to anyone comparing transit systems, is to look beyond just the technology and the scenery, and understand how and why the city streets work (or don’t) as they do.

Any moves to improve “congestion” in Toronto must start with a fundamental debate about what the streets are for, and which existing uses must be reduced (and how) in order to make room for what’s left over.  Ironically, we focus these debates on the heart of downtown, a comparatively small area, when the real problems of transit’s competitiveness and congestion lie out in the suburbs.

Smart Card Wars (Part II) (Corrected)

Correction added July 24 at 10:45pm:

Mark Dowling, in a comment later in this thread, has pointed out that a TTC report last November cited a provincial requirement for participation in Presto as a condition for funding through various programs.  (See 4th paragraph on page 7)

This report must be read in the context of the amended recommendations approved by the Commission as reported in the Minutes:

Chair Giambrone moved that recommendation no. 1 contained in the report, be amended as follows:

“It is recommended that the commission:

1. Conditionally approve the adoption of the Presto Fare Collection System subject to satisfactory resolution of the issues outlined in attachment a, subject to:

* TTC and City staff discussions with representatives of the Federal Government, Provincial Government, Metrolinx and the City of Toronto to develop operating and financial agreements necessary to resolve the issues outlined in attachment a;

* TTC staff reporting back to the commission for approval of the operating and financial agreements that have been developed;

* TTC staff developing detailed business requirements for adopting the Presto System at the TTC to the satisfaction of the commission;

* TTC staff undertaking the engineering and design work necessary for future subway infrastructure modifications to provide power and communications to support smartcards”.

The motion by Chair Giambrone carried.

Chair Giambrone moved that the final bullet in attachment ‘a’, be amended as follows:

* “TTC and the City must not be bound to fare payment exclusivity that would preclude implementation of advances in fare payment approaches and technologies, such as and including open payments, mobile phone media, etc”.

The motion by Chair Giambrone carried.

Commissioner Milczyn moved that attachment ‘a’ be amended to include the following:

* “TTC and the City expect the presto system to be designed to support open architecture;

* TTC and the city remain cognizant of our own fare policies and the system must be designed with flexibility to allow for different fare policies”.

The motion by Commissioner Milczyn carried.

Chair Giambrone moved that the commission approve the report, as amended.

The motion by chair Giambrone carried.

Therefore, when I originally reported that the link between Presto and programs other than Transit City had never been brought to the Commission, I erred.  The main article below has been updated accordingly.

In turn, this begs the question of why this issue was not raised when the Commission approved a study of a separate system from Presto, and the degree to which the conditions for acceptance of Presto, as set out in the November 2009 motion, have or have not been met.

I have also corrected the expiry date of the current Presto contract to 2016.  The original date cited, 2011, appeared in another report that I was using as reference material.

The original post from July 23, with amendments, follows below.

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Smart Card Wars

With the election upon us, some candidates have decided that transit Smart Cards are an issue they can use to say “I’m the best candidate” by hitching their star to Ontario’s Presto card program.

The Star reports that the TTC will proceed with a tender for an Open Payment system later this year with the intent of a 2011 rollout.  Mayoral hopeful Rocco Rossi has his own scheme called “Presto Plus”.  Can the TTC actually commit to a new system with the current regime still in office?  Rossi’s campaign confirms that he would cancel the TTC’s scheme if he were to become mayor.

Metrolinx would love to see the TTC sign on to Presto, but many questions remain about just what Presto can do for a truly integrated transit system.

Smart Cards are yet another example of the way that transit technology wars in the GTA get in the way of solving fundamental transit problems.  The technology choice becomes more important than the service it provides.  Here are a few questions anyone with “the answer” should consider.

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Paying the Piper (2)

On July 12, the Toronto City Summit Alliance (TCSA) held a round table at Wychwood Barns to discuss their recently published paper on transit funding.  Please refer to my first article on this topic for details.

The round table added nothing to what we already know on this subject, but did provide insight into public policy debate here in the GTA.  Although this was officially a TCSA event, it was clearly at the service of Metrolinx who had a strong presence.  Rob Prichard, Metrolinx CEO, gave opening remarks.  As I have already noted, John Brodhead, Metrolinx VP of Strategy & Communications, co-chaired the working group behind the TCSA paper.  Other Metrolinx staff were scattered through the crowd, some as facilitators at tables.

Invited participants included activists of varied backgrounds, a few politicians, professionals from government and industry, representatives from various business groups, a few from the media, and others from the collection of “usual suspects” one sees at this type of gathering.  The idea, the hope, was that the collected wisdom of this group might inform future debate and recommendations about how to proceed.

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Front Street Redesign Open House (Updated)

The display panels from the Front Street Redesign Project Open House are now available online at the project website.  Here is an overview together with my comments.

The introduction at page 4 shows the overall process and also reveals a major flaw.  We have reached the point of selecting a “preferred alternative” on which all future detailed design and discussion will be based, but I am not convinced that only a single option should be carried forward.  I am quite certain that feedback from many regular users of this area — pedestrians, businesses, transportation service operators, cyclists, even a few motorists — will suggest that more than one option has its advantages.  At this point, we don’t have enough information to pick one, and doing so risks compromising the project’s credibility when it comes before the new, 2011 Council for further approvals.

The objectives listed on page 6 include:

  • Accommodate increased development and passenger growth associated with Union Station, and …
  • Prioritize the role of pedestrian activity.

However, as we will see later, much analysis reflects the need to accommodate auto traffic even though pedestrian volumes will more than double in coming decades.  The premise should be turned on its head — what design is needed to handle the pedestrians, and what, if anything, is left over for other uses.  Some quite attractive pedestrian areas from other cities are shown on page 7, but these are notably devoid of traffic on anywhere near the level now on Front Street.

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