Metrolinx Meeting Followup June 2010 (Updated)

Updated July 6, 2010:  Metrolinx has now published the Benefits Cases Analyses for the Hurontario, Dundas, Durham and GO projects.  I will comment on these in a separate post.

The original article from July 2 follows below:

This article is a followup to the agenda preview I posted on June 28, 2010.  It is a rather lengthy commentary, as much an editorial as a report on events, with the intent of reviewing Metrolinx’ role over coming months and the complexity of the work facing the organization. 

The Metrolinx Board met on June 30 to consider a lengthy agenda, although as usual much of this was considered in private session.

Much of the Board was silent throughout the public meeting, to the point where I begin to doubt the usefulness of this body.  They may have brilliant, extended discussion in private, but we will never know what, if anything, they contribute, nor where they stand on major issues.  This is a significant barrier to the Board’s credibility, and their infrequent public meetings reinforce the sense that the organization is run by the staff with little of the professional, private-sector input claimed for the reconstituted Board.

More was said by two visiting politicians, Mayors McCallion and Fennell of Mississauga and Brampton respectively, who attended for the presentation of reports on planned transit projects in their municipalities.  Even though Metrolinx Board procedures explicitly ban deputations, both Mayors were invited to speak to the meeting.  I doubt that a politician critical of Metrolinx would be afforded the same courtesy.

As she did repeatedly on the board of “Metrolinx I” (which was demolished because Queen’s Park thinks that politicians can’t be trusted with the job), Mayor McCallion raised the issue of how everything will be paid for.  This is a topic everyone knows we must address, but the conversation never quite gets started.

McCallion went on to talk about the effects of growth in municipalities beyond her own and noted that congestion had reached the point where logistics companies were looking to move from Mississauga out to regions such as Kitchener-Waterloo.  Whether the comparatively limited transit plans for the GTA will make a dent in growing congestion in the 905 remains to be seen.

Benefits Case Analyses

Staff presented an overview of the Benefits Case Analyses for four projects, but at this point we know little more about them than the overview report from the agenda because they have not yet been published on the Metrolinx website.  This is a good example of how Metrolinx drops the ball on basic procedure.  How can the public be expected to understand and comment on the agency’s work when it does not publish documents that are on the so-called public agenda?  The Board cannot receive public input on the documents because approval to release them, even as drafts, does not occur until the meeting where they are discussed.  At this writing (July 2), they are still not online.

This is not a trivial matter because the BCAs are part of a broad process that will lead to prioritization of future spending with effects as early as the Ontario budget preparations for 2011 which begin later this year.  Moreover, Queen’s Park will initiate a 10-year capital budget forecast, and project priorities will be much harder to change once quasi-commitments appears in a 10-year projection.  The most determined advocacy runs aground on completed, approved studies that may not be worth the paper they are printed on.

From comments at public meetings, we know that Metrolinx staff acknowledges that demand projections for components of The Big Move are wrong.  Many of the metrics used in BCAs (numbers of riders, benefits of diverting trips from auto to transit, capital and operating costs, effects on other network components) depend on reasonably accurate demand forecasts.  The numbers for GO transit now used in the Electrification Study are much lower than those in TBM’s network model.  How many other adjustments are needed?  Are the numbers even credible given that they presume full build-out of the 25-year network rather than some intermediate configuration forced on us by economic constraints?

When The Big Move was proposed, technology options were, charitably speaking, poorly understood.  The Electrification Study has already poked holes in some assumptions about commuter rail.  LRT became part of TBM’s network only thanks to dogged insistence by the City of Toronto advocating for Transit City.  Oddly enough, a Hurontario LRT is now a brilliant gleam in Metrolinx’ eye, a Hamilton LRT seems likely, and funding has been announced for LRT lines in both Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo.

Metrolinx Director Paul Bedford wanted to see employment projections for the Hurontario line, and emphasized that a network view of its function is required.  Director Leigh Parsons wondered why the BCA for the Dundas BRT line shows a higher development potential for full BRT than for a mixed implementation with LRT east from Hurontario to Kipling Station.  (LRT is modelled to show better development effects than BRT; therefore, BRT+LRT should rank higher than BRT alone.)

It turns out that the only option using LRT that was evaluated included “BRT Light” from Hurontario west to Burlington.  (“BRT Light” is little more than a regular bus operation with selective transit priority measures where they can be fitted in.)  Therefore, the development that full BRT might create on the west leg was not credited to the LRT option, and we have an apples-to-oranges comparison.

An obvious question about the Hurontario and Dundas studies is this:  were the lines considered in isolation, or were the network effects of having LRT on Hurontario and on Dundas (at least the segment east from Hurontario) included?  What are the projected demands on each link in the network?  How would a transfer hub at Dundas/Hurontario operate?  Did the Dundas BCA charge the LRT option with the cost of maintenance facilities, or did it assume this would be included as an increment on the capacity of a Hurontario LRT yard?  We don’t know because Metrolinx has not published the reports or the design details used in the cost buildups.

Metrolinx wants to emulate Toronto’s approach with Transit City — have many projects through preliminary design, review and prioritization so that work can begin on them the moment funding is available.  By implication, the exercise also identifies how much we have to spend in what timeframe to achieve the goals of moving the GTA to a more transit-oriented future.

The model is flawed because Metrolinx won’t actually fund the preliminary design and engineering for projects, but expects instead that municipalities will (as Toronto has for Transit City) fund this on their own.  The costs would be paid back as and when a project is approved, but this inevitably skews the process to projects that have political support in each municipality.  Metrolinx will fund the Benefits Case Analyses, but again we have seen that these can be highly subjective and may omit worthwhile options thanks to political interference or a poor understanding of a project’s role in the larger network.

The very reason Queen’s Park removed politicians from Metrolinx was to avoid political interference, and yet if there were a project the new Board felt deserved detailed study, it would still need municipal buy-in and funding just to get started.

This is a Catch-22 situation.  A “good” Metrolinx faced with a “bad” municipality could have difficulties with a project due to an auto-centric council, or one which gerrymandered proposals to serve local interests.  However, a “good” pro-transit city might find itself fighting with a “bad” Metrolinx driven by bias at the regional or provincial level, or by commercial considerations having little to do with good transit planning.  Try as we might, we will never remove politics from the process.  The best we can hope for is as open, well-informed and trusted a process as possible so that the plans it generates and the funding it requires are broadly accepted.

The Big Move 2.0 and Project Prioritization

A complete review of The Big Move will lead to “The Big Move 2.0”.  This process involves a great deal of work by Metrolinx staff and public participation to understand and critique the options going forward.  Where will the Metrolinx Directors stand in all of this?  Will they offer public opinions?  Will they participate in open debates?  Will we have any sense that they listen or contribute to the process?  Will they simply rubber-stamp whatever recommendations the staff produce?

Some of the machinery already in place for “consultation” will be recycled for TBM 2.0 including the original advisory groups.  I was blackballed from any participation in TBM 1.0 and expect that any contributions to 2.0 will arise in these pages.

Paul Bedford raised a few questions about the status of the Downtown Relief Line (DRL), the role and nature of transit “hubs”, the revision of demand projections and the overall clarity of the process.  He noted that the proposed hub at Jane and Eglinton is in the middle of a field, and suggested that part of revising TBM would include revisiting the location and nature of proposed hubs.  (The cynics among us might suggest that the hub at Jane/Eglinton is a leftover of an early Metrolinx scheme to bring the Mississauga busway to that location where it would meet an ICTS line to Scarborough Town Centre.  Traces of this can still be found in current reports.)

To the idea that some hubs might be removed from the map, Chair Rob MacIsaac cautioned that this was fraught with political danger and the possibility of “dot envy” among municipalities.

CEO Prichard noted that consultation and political feedback are essential to the process.

So much for a politician-free Metrolinx.

Director Richard Koroscil wondered when Metrolinx would address issues of freight capacity as part of its network planning.  This brings me to the uneasy marriage of roles between the Metrolinx transit planning function, GO Transit’s (mainly) rail operations, and the Ministry of Transportation’s highway planning and construction mandate.  Metrolinx has never discussed roads other than as corridors where demand might be relieved by transit projects, and it’s hard to believe that MTO will ever give up its primacy as highway builders.  GO Transit’s own 2020 plans are to merge into TBM 2.0, and yet Metrolinx staff argue that GO projects are somehow superior to other Metrolinx or local schemes by virtue of GO’s “regional” nature.

This is hogwash.  GO is one operator among many, and both the TTC and local systems have a regional function.  TTC has routes that rival GO rail corridors in length, and many of the local Toronto streetcar and bus lines’ daily demands meet or exceed that of GO’s busiest routes.  GO itself depends on local systems for many of its passengers, and future service scenarios are untenable based only on GO’s favoured park-and-ride model.

GO does have an important role pulling together commuters from many systems.  The maintenance and enhancement of its main infrastructure — track, signals, stations — is vital to preventing the slow decline often seen in transit systems where new construction and photo ops take priority over system basics.  However, this does not justify GO expansion plans elbowing aside “local” projects that may be more important in a network view of GTA transit. 

Recently, Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne was quoted as saying that GO would spend $1-billion to cross the Welland Canal if that were needed to bring service to Niagara Falls.  Considering that TBM 1.0 shows such a service only as a possible extension beyond the GTA, and that service east from Hamilton to St. Catharines is peak-only in the 25-year plan, this generous view of spending on GO infrastructure amounts to a major shift in priorities before Metrolinx has even had a chance to revise its map.

Chair MacIsaac asked how the next wave of BCAs would be prioritized since they are an essential input to TBM 2.0.  Staff replied that a report on this subject will come to the Board in November.

The BCA rankings (a metric purporting to show the cost-benefit ratio of each project) will not be the sole determinant of project priorities, although they may set the initial rankings.  There are obvious situations where a project may be expensive and unable to recoup its cost within the BCA methodology, but still be essential to other work in the system.  This is a fundamental flaw in the BCA process because project “A” may trigger the requirement for project “B”, but not be charged with the cost of its implementation.

I have a sense that the whole process is coming unravelled for many reasons:

  • There is a political mandate to have recommendations for the 2011 provincial budget and 10-year plan, and these are needed in at least draft form by November 2010.
  • Some of the “Top 15” projects for which BCAs have been concluded may not, in the cold light of day, actually belong in their exalted position.
  • Some other projects that, for political reasons, fell lower in the original priority list require study.  A good example of this is the cluster of projects dealing with capacity in the Yonge to Don Mills corridor — the Richmond Hill subway, enhanced GO service to Richmond Hill, the Downtown Relief Line, and additional capacity provision on the Yonge and Bloor subway lines.  Indeed, some of these are seen as “local” projects even though they will compete for funding with “regional” projects at Queen’s Park.
  • The electrification study will exist in draft form by November.  At best, this will allow for “placeholder” items in the 10-year plan, but a definitive rollout scheme is unlikely until sometime in 2011.
  • GO services beyond the Metrolinx planning jurisdiction (Niagara Falls and Kitchener-Waterloo) create requirements that must be funded and served by Metrolinx.
  • The Air Rail Link to Pearson Airport from Union Station is not a Metrolinx project, but its presence on GO’s Weston and Union corridors triggers requirements that Metrolinx must serve, and complicates discussions of electrification. 
  • The BCAs that have already been completed rely on suspect demand estimates, and use dubious methodologies to establish the “benefit” of the recommended options.  Indeed, the BCAs, not subject to the sort of public scrutiny available with a “Transit Project Assessment”, exclude options that should be on the table and, therefore, give an incomplete view of what might be built.
  • The prioritization process itself assumes that all of the extant studies are valid including the network described in TBM 1.0.  An early draft of TBM 2.0 may be available by late 2011, but this will not have been subject to review or comment.

All-in-all, we are seeing is the shortcomings of TBM 1.0, its love for drawing lines on maps with little regard for how the network would actually be funded, built or operated, running smack into the political demand for plans that can actually become government policy.

The Role of Infrastructure Ontario

To end off this article, a few thoughts about Infrastructure Ontario, an agency charged with delivering projects via any process other than the conventional one where an agency designs it, contracts it, waits for it to be built, and then occupies it.

Given recent bad press about large Public Private Partnerships (aka PPPs), especially the demise of large-scale undertakings in the UK, “IO” as it is known has been repositioning itself.

David Livingston, IO’s President, made the point that “we are not privatizers”, and that PPP is a “bad brand” these days.  Instead, they prefer to talk about “Alternative Financing and Procurement” (AFP).

IO is pleased to report that it has over 50 projects and $15-billion in various stages.  Sounds nice, but that’s only an average of $300-million per project, small change by transit standards.  IO strives to save money by standardizing its procurement process, strictly controlling construction and shifting risk for project delivery to the private sector.

Central to this scheme is the idea that change orders simply are not allowed.

Well, bully for them.  You might be able to pull this off building a fairly standard building, provided you’ve done a lot of legwork in advance, but the “no changes” dictum becomes less and less possible as projects get bigger and the ability to design down to the last nut and bolt becomes impossible.  Indeed, I remember a time when the idea of designing and building in parallel was thought to be a boon to construction by avoiding the long period of trying to get the drawings right rather than just starting to build.

Transit systems, by their nature, are complex, take a long time to build, and politically cannot be completed without some changes happening along the way.  Never mind the engineer whose soil samples missed the underground river, or the designer who planted a subway tunnel right under a hydro pylon.  There will be changes to alignments (moving a subway station to better connect with a GO station) and fiddles taking account of a local politician’s friend who wants (or doesn’t want) a transit facility right on his doorstep, or the fire department who suddenly discovers its trucks won’t fit a new street layout.

What Livingston doesn’t tell us is how many post-project fixups were necessary to correct for the things change orders were not allowed to handle during construction.  If anything, his presentation was too sure of itself.

To his credit, Metrolinx Director Joe Halstead asked Livingston to explain what differentiated his agency from a general construction company.  The response was that IO would tender to a consortium who would provide all of the services from design right through to final delivery, and even possibly facility operation after completion.  IO’s contribution is the creation of those consortia.  While Metrolinx may not have the inhouse expertise to do this, it’s the sort of thing large organizations like the TTC and the City do all of the time.

IO clearly assumes that the expertise to provide design service for their projects lies in the private sector, but this is not necessarily true for transit projects.  Indeed, the TTC has provided much of the engineering and project management for many Metrolinx-funded projects either directly, or through subcontractors which TTC manages.

Livingston stressed that the allocation of incentives and risks needs to be correctly balanced for AFP to work, but didn’t explain how this delicate balance is attained.

On the subject of financing, Livingston claims that the savings available through cheaper government borrowing are offset by higher “risk” maintained by the public sector.  Better value is available through transfer of risk to private companies, but this only works if “value for money” is achieved.  Essentially, the project costs more through AFP up to the point where one has built the project, financed it and borne ancilliary project costs.  At this point, the “value for money” mechanism magically reduces the risk cost to the private sector even though it will charge a premium for accepting the risk in the first place.  It is unclear why this process only works when a private sector consortium handles a project for IO as compared to having many of the same companies contract directly with a public agency.

The root, clearly, is the idea of nailing down the project scope and refusing to budge as construction proceeds.  That’s a methodology applicable to the private or public sector.  However, creating the contractual arrangement to pin down the private partners adds about a year to a project, and this is the reason why the Sheppard East and Eglinton projects are following the normal public sector procurement.

The nature of the projects that IO will manage for Metrolinx clearly shows the limitations of the process.  There are four Design-Build-Finance-Maintain projects:

  • Sheppard/SRT Maintenance & Storage Facility
  • Eglinton Crosstown MSF
  • Finch West MSF
  • Viva “Gold Bundle” (basically a collection of road expansion projects)

Two projects will proceed as Design-Build-Finance to be handed over to Metrolinx/TTC on completion:

  • Scarborough RT replacement & extension
  • Finch West LRT

Both of these are substantially surface infrastructure projects with little tunneling.  Indeed, the LRT tunnel at Finch West Station will probably be built as part of the Spadina Subway project given the likely timing of events.

Infrastructure Ontario is building a procurement mechanism with many laudable features including standardized forms and language, and a disciplined project definition.  I hate to think what this says about practices existing in the Ontario government that this is meant to fix.

Whether IO will bring real value to the table on Metrolinx transit projects remains to be seen.


Metrolinx has a huge amount of work on its plate, and much will occur behind the scenes over coming months.  How the organization will balance its work plans, let alone any consultation processes and updates to the Board, is unclear.

The timing of events is still driven by provincial budget and election cycles thanks to the absence of established, ongoing funding plans for transit.  Getting the “Investment Strategy” in place is probably as important as everything else Metrolinx is doing, but it’s a political no-go zone at least until after the 2011 election.

If Ontario is serious about investing in transit, in shifting travel from autos to buses and trains, in overtaking the growth in population and travel demand with real improvements in transit capacity, a massive investment in transit infrastructure and operation is essential.  This cannot be hostage to budget cycles planned only one year out, but equally must not be locked into an immutable long-term plan.  Conditions change, and what might have looked like the right priorities in 2010 may look very foolish once we reach 2015 or 2020.

The Metrolinx Board, a group who meets infrequently and has little visible role in public debates, must rise to the challenge of being transit advocates.  That will require an understanding of the details, the possibilities, the tradeoffs, and the ability to look at a system, a network of transit services rather than one pet line at a time.

18 thoughts on “Metrolinx Meeting Followup June 2010 (Updated)

  1. I don’t know where I got it from, it could of been you, it could of been Transit Toronto………….that they were going to talk about the Sheppard East LRT extension to UTSC via Morningside.

    Steve: All that happened was that the report (see the agenda for a link to it) was presented. Now it goes into the hopper with every other idea to compete for funding.


  2. In other words, it’s the same old gas from Metrolinx and the province. They haven’t got one project of their own to which they can point to demonstrate their necessity or competency. They are a do-nothing agency that has merely created a smokescreen for the political party currently in power.

    I once again think back to that “blue sky” roundtable planning session I organized and hosted at the Royal York Hotel for the Ontario SuperBuild Corporation in 2002. The overwhelming comment from participants — including at least three who are Metrolinx vice-presidents today — was that we already had GO and we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.

    Reinventing the wheel seems to have worked out rather well for those folks. But not for transit users throughout their much-vaunted Greater Golden Horseshoe.


  3. I concur with the criticisms of demand projections. Not one of them contains a realistic peak oil scenario where cars become luxury playthings for the rich. None of their plans are robust enough to deal with a future where essentially everyone gets around by bicycle and public transit.

    The moral of the story is this: Buy a good bicycle, because public transit will be overwhelmed by demand.


  4. I think Kevin is onto something, say BP’s like faux pas in the Gulf means no more environmentally sensitive drilling, and this leads to a spike in oil prices, say $200/bbl that means $2/L gas. There is no community in the GTHA that could handle a 10% increase in transit riders, let alone a 100%+ increase.


  5. Re: Kevin Love

    While it is true that the peak oil scenario, if it materializes, will invalidate most of Metrolinx’s demand projections, it should be noted that making good projections for such scenario is very difficult if possible at all.

    In order to really affect driving habits, gasoline must go up 3 to 5 times compared to the current price. If it goes up just 50% or even 100%, the total cost of owning and operating a car will go up by 20-40%, since large parts of that cost are insurance and maintenance and those costs are not dependent that much on gasoline. 20-40% is enough to get people complain and skip nonessential trips, but most will continue to drive to/from work if that is easier / faster than by public transit and better fits the family schedules.

    If gasoline does go up 3 to 5 times, it will dramatically affect costs of many good and services in addition to driving habits. It will alter the way the economy functions, what professions are in demand, and the employee policies. In effect, we do not know how many people will use a bicycle, how many will find a job within walking distance or move within walking distance from job / school, how many will telecommute, or simply quit the workforce if the family has another breadwinner.

    Steve: Metrolinx demand projections are, if anything, too high because they do not take into account the capacity limitations of the network they are modelling. The numbers of trains and people projected to arrive at Union Station is much, much higher than the tracks and station can handle, even after the expansion now in progress, resignalling of the corridor and electrification.


  6. Steve, you seem to have a bit conflict between disling politically-lead transportation improvements (because they can lead to projects being done/not done for political reasons rather than transport ones), and dislking expert-lead transportation improvements (because of a lack of accountability to the tax-paying public). What would be your ideal way of having Metrolinx run?

    Steve: The position I have always taken is that whatever projects we undertake, whatever spending/taxing plans we consider, the process should be publicly accountable. Politicians will make mistakes, just like voters do on occasion, but at least they operate in a framework where public access, criticism and debate are the essence of the process. “Experts” will always have a role, but when they hide behind confidential discussions, when the background to their proposals is unclear or poorly thought out, when the public is kept out of the process, this is not a healthy arrangement.

    Indeed, we can wind up with a situation where a supposedly expert Board dominated by representative of the private sector is supposed to bring experience and insight to their role of reviewing and directing what the staff and consulting “experts” do. However, if the Board meets infrequently, and has only a superficial understanding of what the “experts” produce, their ability to critique this material is limited. For its part, the public has only a limited view into the process and little opportunity to influence it beyond providing cheerleader support. The Board is not accountable to anyone other than the Minister of Transportation and Cabinet, and any opportunity to inflict policital control on the Board is circuitous and ineffectual unless an issue becomes so significant (e.g. electrification) that it animates Cabinet level intervention.

    Boards, whether they be composed of private sector luminaries or politicians, are at the mercy of their staff. However, a Board which meets publicly and welcomes ongoing public input will both set the tone for staff to follow and directly feel the consequences of trusting the “experts” too much. There is a vary bad, ingrained habit in Toronto (and elsewhere) of assuming that the experts are unbiased “professionals” who always give the best possible advice. This ignores the fact that any organization will be inhabited by people with biases, career expectations, and holes in their knowledge base born of experience in a comfortable, but possibly outmoded technological or economic framework. They might even have cosy working relationships with private companies whose interests can be advanced through selective presentation and evaluation of options.

    Most public servants do not fall in this latter category, but equally there is no reason for keeping debates hidden from public view. When proposals are seen to be good, or at the very least well-intentioned and open for discussion, public acceptance is more likely and constructive improvements will come from people who know the issues first-hand.

    Having said all of this, the Metrolinx Board needs to be much more open than it is now, and political input both from municipalities and the general public will be essential. There is a role for the “expertise” of directors who are not career politicians or bureaucrats, for a fresh view of what Metrolinx would do. Directors who are simply there to make up the numbers, giving a patina of oversight to what is essentially a branch of the Ministry of Transportation, are of little use to anyone. They need to be free to openly criticize government policy and propose alternative schemes for Metrolinx to achieve its ends. If we cannot have this debate in public, we might as well let Cabinet pass regulations, wait for the bulldozers, and hope that the results won’t be appallingly bad.

    You do raise a fundamental problem with the GO/Metrolinx marriage, in that GO already provides services outside of Metrolinx’s service area, and has a [plan] for expansion. With the works to improve the line out to Kitchener, VIA plans to run 6 trains per day each way (to GO’s 4). It would make far more sense for one of VIA or GO to run 10 trains each way. Given that GO seems to be trying to expand into markets already served by VIA (Kitchener, Niagara Falls), I think those markets outside the GTHA should be left to VIA.

    (I also think VIA and GO should integrate their ticketing so one ticket gets you from (say) London to Ajax… revenue sharing is a solved problem).

    Steve: The relationship between GO and VIA is a rather strange one in part because GO cannot keep expanding forever, but the GTA commutershed gets larger every year. VIA’s Kitchener service operates through to Stratford, London and Sarnia, and this is well beyond GO territory (for now). The worst possible situation for those who want to travel the corridor outside of the peak period/direction and beyond KW (service now available from VIA) would be for GO to so undercut VIA’s operation that the intercity service died off.

    Without question, service and fare integration between the two operators is essential, but I’m not holding my breath. Oddly enough, nobody at GO ever talks about VIA embracing Presto for fare collection. I suspect that Presto is utterly incapable of handling pre-book trips as one must make to ensure a seat on many VIA trains.


  7. Hi Steve:-

    I was recently at the intersection of Danforth and Pape and had a happy recollection of riding a westbound PCC train while passing welders patching the soon to be abandoned car tracks.

    This brought to mind the former “Downtown Relief Line” we once had, ‘The Harbord Car’! Junked in favour of forcing riders to take the new subway to Yonge or the integrated downtown line via B/D, wye, University. Initially one could not fault this decision as the need to justify the neighbourhood’s disruptions and expense of the new subway. I do recall though that if I’d been a resident in that part of the City, I would have been fuming as I now not only didn’t have a direct ride to my downtown destination, I would have to transfer somewhere (unless I took the wye option and had a circuitous ride to my journey’s end). Too, trying to get on a train at Pape in rush hour soon after the opening (let alone getting a seat which would have been had on the streetcar) was an exercise in Tokyo shoving and pushing. The platform was jammed and the trains were already full leaving many stranded. Did these now frustrated folks, who could afford, soon opt for the automobile alternative?

    It is unfortunate that the powers that were then couldn’t anticipate the huge need for downtown relief. Crystal balls are still unreliable but some of the streetcar system’s destruction in the name of progress has turned back to bite us in the bum.

    Dennis Rankin

    Steve: Oddly enough, in the same era that the BD line opened and the Harbord car disappeared, the TTC did have a plan for what we now call the DRL (I have written about it on this site), but it was ditched in favour of suburban subway expansion.


  8. Wogster wrote;

    “I think Kevin is onto something, say BP’s like faux pas in the Gulf means no more environmentally sensitive drilling, and this leads to a spike in oil prices, say $200/bbl that means $2/L gas.”

    Kevin’s comment:

    I believe it more likely that a short-term crisis will be caused by political instability in a major oil-producing country. An Islamic revolution in Saudi Arabia will bring an immediate end to Western car culture. Indeed, if any one of the following countries experiences political instability that cuts of their oil exports, global demand will immediately far exceed supply:

    Saudi Arabia
    Russia (which cut off natural gas to Ukraine in January)

    All of these countries have serious political instability which could easily lead to an interruption of oil exports. Our present transportation system is based upon a gamble that this will happen in none of these countries – something that is highly unlikely.

    Contingency planning for the highly probable future of oil export disruptions from one or more of these countries is essentially zero. I suggest this the lack of a contingency plan is an act of extreme folly.

    Steve: The underlying problem is that the amount of transit capacity that would be needed, and the locations where it would have to be added, represent a huge investment governments are not willing to make today. You cannot wish tunnels, trains, buses, streetcars and operators into existence overnight, and all that “surplus capacity” would be attacked by the usual suspects as a gross waste of public resources. Instead, we get proposals for subways that line developers’ pockets, and billion-dollar bridges to serve the outer end of a peak-only commuter rail service.


  9. Talking about the DRL-

    I found this website advocating the DRL.

    There is equivalent to 120 double spaced pages of information with extensive analysis about a DRL.

    This is not just another guy drawing lines on a map. We need this kind of forward thinking… his arguments are well balanced and practical.

    With the current Election we need to really push the DRL to get better traction with the politicians. Whether we like it or not at the end of the day they make the decisions but maybe we can get them to make the right decisions for a change.

    Steve: There’s a lot of good info on this site, although I don’t agree with every detail. It will be interesting to see what the TTC’s own study reporting next year will decide and compare it with the various “amateur” efforts on this and many other sites.


  10. Steve, I would be intersted to know what details of the DRL website you do not agree with and why.

    I’ve spent a few hours going over each element of his plan and without knowing what the TTC report will say or perhaps what elements you disagree with Its hard for me to find any criticism with his plan.

    I would agree there are a couple of stations that don’t seem to be able to support subway density- but he himself acknowledges this but also talks about the development opportunties and connections with those stations to make them viable.

    Overall- I think his plan seems to fix the Sheppard ‘Stubway’ and help to connect existing lines. Such a DRL route would no doubt provide high priority transit to many disadvantaged and high density neighbourhoods.

    His Choice of using the Rail lands to begin the western section of the DRL before continuing up the GO Weston line would seem to eliminate the need for a WWLRT or perhaps continue an LRT west of Gladston, if one was really needed.

    Using the Go-Weston line is simply to avoid the construction mess that would result trying to go through neighborhoods in that area of the city- although by no means does he say that the Go-Western line must be used if residents are willing to deal with construction issues.

    His Choice of Dixon provides high density neighborhoods that are sufficiently high enough to support a Subway with a priority transit. And of course, giving Pearson Airport the subway link it so desperately needs.

    This DRL could incease our metro system from 68km to 108km, in addition to over 125km of LRT to be built as part of the Transit City plan. Transit City plus this DRL would give Toronto a fantastic network to get around.

    I’m looking forward to the Toronto Summit Alliance report that will come out tomorrow.

    Steve: I am not going to do an exhaustive critique of the website because it contains much I agree with. I don’t want this to sound as if I am bashing the proposal because the basic idea, especially for a DRL East has been sound for decades. However, there are some errors and inconsistencies, of which the following are a sample. You asked, and so I answer.

    The TTC has not cancelled a study of the DRL and called for tenders on the consulting work earlier this year.

    The proposal to run the DRL west under Roncesvalles claims that this is an important commercial street. However, if the DRL is to have wider station spacing than the existing Bloor-Danforth line, it will not provide the same granularity of service as the King car. It is important not to mix the broader scale/relief purposes of the DRL with local functions. Either this is an express line, or it is a new local service. Comments at various points imply that it might have both roles.

    The DRL should not be seen only as getting transfer traffic from the BD subway, but as intercepting riders who would otherwise travel to that line further north either on the Don Mills leg or on the Weston leg.

    In ranking subway lines, a value of passengers/km is used. This can be misleading because it gives no indication of how far a rider travels on each line. Sheppard, for example, can only have comparatively short trips, and therefore a higher passengers/km than it might obtain if the route were longer. The proposed extensions of the YUS will not likely attract riders at the same density as the existing line, and many passengers will already be subway riders. Therefore the passengers/km will go down even though the utility of the YUS will rise. (Whether this utility is worth the cost is a separate question. I only argue with the choice of metric.)

    I believe that the proposed route through the financial district and railway corridor is not feasible due to the depth at which it would have to be built, the water table, and various other problems with tunnelling through downtown. It would actually be preferable to stay on a street like Wellington and swing south to the rail corridor further west. Even then, tunneling under the rail corridor, let alone building stations there, will be challenging. The author himself states that stations require cut-and-cover construction, and it’s not just a case of boring your way along the rail corridor.

    I do not believe that passengers will transfer from GO to the DRL at stations fairly close to Union (measured by running time) especially if the DRL goes to essentially the same place. By the time someone transferred, say, from a GO train to the subway at Sunnyside, they could already be in Union Station on the GO train. Outbound, the connection would be very unattractive because a seat, let alone space, on GO outbound at this location would be difficult to come by. There are benefits to a DRL, but we should not advance it as a relief for GO Transit.

    The DRL Weston alignment is proposed at grade. However, all of the available space (and then some) in the corridor has been consumed by GO itself and the ARL. There are coexistence issues for technologies other than main line rail equipment in this corridor even if the DRL were to take over the space to be used by the ARL. More space would also be needed for stations than has been provided in GO’s plans.

    My reading of the section of cost calculations gives the sense that the author skims over a lot and may come up with a lowballed price, an odd coincidence as he also cites a paper about the systematic underestimation of rail project costs. Simply saying that downtown stations can be fitted into existing buildings ignores the depth at which they would be built, and presumes that this would make them cheaper than average. As an FYI, the TTC has burned through all of the contingency for the Spadina extension and has been making selective cuts to the project to keep it within the original budget.

    I don’t see any allowance for the fleet or carhouse space needed for the new DRL. In this, the author makes a mistake also found in some TTC estimates. To be fair, depending on the scenario, additional cars for the YUS (and possibly some for BD) may be avoided with the DRL’s construction and we may wind up with a low net cost. All the same, this needs to be included.

    Given that the link to the airport is in the proposal’s fourth stage, the line would reach Pearson fairly late in the game. I agree with going along Dixon Road, and indeed feel that the Eglinton LRT plan has been gerrymandered to follow the south route only to link up with the Mississauga busway.

    Some of the comments about cost inflation of Transit City projects is valid, but some of the “overruns” were due to scope changes that should have been foreseen (and were by some of us) when TC was first proposed, as well as updates to bring costs to “as spent” rather than 2008 dollars. The figures shown for Malvern are an apples-to-oranges comparison as the “before” number is the Eglinton/Morningside LRT, while the “after” number is the SRT replacement and extension. That extension is entirely on private right-of-way and involves a considerable amount of new structure, not on-street running. Also the service level on the SRT is higher requiring more vehicles. Taking a gratuitous swipe at Transit City does not make a counterproposal any more valid.


  11. ding ding ….
    in this corner we have MTO …
    a lean, mean, paving and concrete pouring machine

    and over in this corner we have Metrolinx,
    with a 4 year record of spending more on reports that repeat the reports of the last 20? 30? years, than actually getting stuff done.

    ding, ding Act II of “Theatre of the Kafkaesque…” begins

    Steve you amaze me how you can shovel through mounds and still retain clarity of thought. Are you sure you won’t consider running for office?

    Conspiracy theorists among may just conclude that Metrolinx was/is structured so that it minimizes impact on highway building, urban sprawl et al while making it appear that Queens Park is taking action.

    Steve: One advantage of being “on the outside” is that I can look at agencies like Metrolinx with a broader, more integrated scope, than would be possible being on the inside of that or any other organization.


  12. Tom West wrote:
    “I also think VIA and GO should integrate their ticketing so one ticket gets you from (say) London to Ajax…”

    VIA and GO announced just such a through ticketing agreement in October 2001. As far as I know, it’s still in effect, though it’s very poorly publicized and it has some conditions that seem to me needlessly restrictive.

    The GO portion of the ticket has to be for the Lakeshore or Georgetown lines, so you can get a through ticket for London – Ajax, but not for London – Markham or Montreal – Milton. The transfer between VIA and GO has to be at Union Station, so you can’t get a through ticket for London – Port Credit with a transfer at Oakville, or Montreal – Ajax with a transfer at Oshawa. These through VIA/GO tickets are not available through VIA’s on-line booking site. All of this limits the scheme’s usefulness.

    In addition to the above program, there’s also a GO VIA Pak intended to allow holders of GO monthly passes to take VIA trains to the stations shared by GO and VIA. This is a little better publicized than the through ticketing arrangement.

    Steve wrote:
    “I suspect that Presto is utterly incapable of handling pre-book trips as one must make to ensure a seat on many VIA trains.”

    That’s probably true. VIA does have a commuter pass that is not for a specific train on a specific date, but can be used on any train between a given pair of stations. On certain trains, holders of these passes are a very significant part of the ridership. I know from firsthand experience that this is the case for Kingston – Toronto #651 and Toronto – Ottawa #48, for commuters from Oshawa, Port Hope and Cobourg, and some from Trenton, Belleville and Kingston. I suspect this is also the case for Niagara Falls – Toronto #90 and 95, London – Brantford – Toronto #82 and 83, and London – Guelph – Toronto #86 and 87. Adapting Presto to cover VIA commuter passes should be easier than for VIA’s other tickets which are for specific trains.


  13. Here’s a question that’s been bugging me for some time… What Is Metrolinx For?

    Its mission statement is “To champion, develop and implement an integrated transportation system for our region that enhances prosperity, sustainability and quality of life”

    However, does the “champion” bit mean that it is prepared to disagree with the Ontario goverment? Or is it just a clearing house for transport ptojects within the GTHA? Is it within Metrolinx’s remit to tell cities/regions what they should do about land use, the biggest single factor that influences transport demand? If not, who will? Should Metrolinx tell MTO what to do? Should MTO do anything within the GHTA?

    I can’t really see anything that Metrolinx does that shouldn’t or couldn’t be done by either MTO or the muncipalities.

    Steve: Shhh! You’re not supposed to have noticed that. The single biggest problem we have is land use planning, with finance coming up a close second. Municipalities thumb their noses at provincial land use plans, and developers have a strong enough presence at Cabinet to ensure sprawl is never really constrained except in far-off decades when nobody cares. Discussion of funding has wandered off into the realms of the Board of Trade and the Toronto City Summit Alliance. Meanwhile, Metrolinx mutters about having an “investment strategy” eventually, but almost certainly not before the provincial election.

    The very name shows the Alice-in-Wonderland outlook in which Metrolinx was formed — the idea that there are tens of billions just waiting to be invested by the private sector and produce vast amounts of transit infrastructure is at best naive, and at worst, delays discussions about public funding and operations that should have been integral to creating The Big Move. Now we’re about to launch on TBM 2.0 even though we don’t know how we will pay for it, and the underpinnings of TBM 1.0 are starting to look a bit shaky.

    Motorists hoping for relief from commuting congestion might well ask whether they will be pensioners before anything meaningful happens.


  14. A couple of thoughts on a couple of items:

    National Transit Strategy: With no reference to VIA rail???

    Metrolinx partnerships: Metrolinx .. will not enter into partnerships intended to produce a profit for the partner. That would appear to cut out any association with CN, CP or any type of PPP arrangement!!


  15. I think the answer to the question that you said motorists hoping for relief from congestion might well ask is ABSOLUTELY YES. The problem though is that even at that, they may well be overly optimistic.


  16. Gordon says: ” Metrolinx .. will not enter into partnerships intended to produce a profit for the partner”
    So that means never buying anythign from the private sector, surely?

    It also precludes it form selling off any land it owns for development… which is a shame, as at least some of those extensive car parks at GO stations would make good siets for office blocks or condos.


  17. Some points of clarification:

    National Transit Strategy – A federal initiative under the Liberals that is now effectively dead

    Metrolinx Partnerships – A funding program to encourage transit research. The terms and conditions of this are specific to the program, not the mandate of Metrolinx itself.


  18. Metrolinx is a head that is political trying to over see a body that is technical (and about 40 years behind the times). Good luck.


Comments are closed.