Mobile Theme Updated

In response to a query from a reader, I have changed the default mobile theme for non-Apple devices from the “green” version to the “blue” version to improve legibility.  Please let me know what you think of this.

Rejigging Transit City

The entire purpose of this post is to hold comments dealing with possible alternate transit plans that were originally left in the thread “Why I’m Voting For George”.  That thread is becoming polluted with issues that are far from the mayoral campaign, and I will move all related comments to this new stub.

Buses vs Streetcars: The View from the TTC

A recent Globe and Mail report explains how the TTC poured cold water on Rob Ford’s proposal to phase out streetcars and eliminate the Transit City LRT lines.  The details behind this article were posted on the City of Toronto’s website yesterday in the section dedicated to answering questions from candidates.  (Other TTC-related questions appear first, and readers should scroll down to the heading “Present Transit City Plans & Commitments”.)

Why I’m Voting For George

On September 25, 2009, David Miller announced that he would not seek a third term in office leaving many, including me, in a state of shock and mourning for the incomplete work of his Mayoralty.

TTC Chair Adam Giambrone picked up the torch, but his campaign flickered out a few months later thanks to a personal scandal.  At issue was not his love life, but how he handled the revelations.  His apparent treatment of his public partner as an election prop raised serious questions about integrity and trust.  The final blow was his incomplete withdrawal speech where page two, the vital end of the statement, had to be read by his aide Kevin Beaulieu.

Enter Joe Pantalone, Deputy Mayor and 30-year Council veteran, as the man who would carry on the Miller legacy.  More about Joe later.

Miller’s departure opened the race to many hopefuls who wouldn’t run against “his blondness”, but were happy to contest an election against others.  Fairly quickly, the frontrunners emerged.

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Lost in Downsview (Updated)

In case you have nothing else to worry about in this election season, the TTC unleashed one of the less helpful bits of debate a few weeks ago with a proposal to change the names of some of the stations on the Spadina Extension.

The staff proposed that:

  • Finch West, York University, Steeles West, Highway 407 and Vaughan Centre retain their original names
  • Sheppard West be renamed as Downsview Park
  • The existing Downsview Station be renamed Sheppard West

Metrolinx wrote asking that Highway 407 be named something else, but with no suggestions, as this could be too generic a name as other major transit nodes will eventually exist along this highway.

Vaughan Council wrote and appeared by deputation asking that their station be named Vaughan Metropolitan Centre in keeping with the name of their new development district.

Commissioner Perruzza weighed in with a proposal that Finch West be renamed University City Heights.

Update:  This name was actually applied with some objections by residents to the Jane-Finch location, two kilometers to the west, by Councillor Perruzza.  See the Toronto Star from January 2009 for more info.

After a great deal of rather pointless discussion, given the much weightier items on the agenda, the whole matter was referred to the new, post-election Commission.  The approved motion reads:

1. REFER CONSIDERATION OF THE NAME FOR THE VAUGHAN CENTRE TO THE NEXT SCHEDULED COMMISSION MEETING; AND

2. REFER CONSIDERATION OF THE NAMES FOR THE FINCH WEST, STEELES WEST AND DOWNSVIEW STATIONS BACK TO STAFF TO CONSULT WITH THE PUBLIC ON NAMES FOR THOSE STATIONS AND REPORT BACK ONCE COMPLETED.

The motion makes no reference to what we now think of as Sheppard West Station, but I’m sure that will be in the hopper too as it is an essential part of the discussion about which station gets to keep the “Downsview” name.

I am looking forward to the scrolling station name for Vaughan on those undersized destination signs fitted on the TR cars.

As for “University City”, this appears to be a last-ditch move by a soon-to-be-ex Commissioner to impose his idea of what Finch and Keele should be called on the City.  It remains to be seen whether this has general support in the neighbourhood.

A Few Myths About Subway Capacity (Updated)

Updated October 18 at 10:15 am: A few comments about system reliability during bad weather have been added as a postscript to this article.

In a recent post, I wrote about the TTC’s Capital Budget and the projects that are creeping into view as the true cost of adding capacity to the subway becomes evident.

Once upon a time, the TTC was really worried about the capacity of Bloor-Yonge Station, and came up with a scheme to add a third central platform on the upper (Yonge) level, and possibly a second, eastbound platform on the lower (Bloor) level.  Interest in this project faded with the dwindling riding of the mid-1990s, but it never completely vanished.  Plans such as a Richmond Hill extension raised concerns about YUS capacity even before recent ridership growth took back the “surplus” capacity available for many years to hide the problem.

Independently of the third platform proposal, the TTC came up with a plan to add to the number of trains on the line.  If only they could convert to automatic train control (ATC), they could decrease the headway of trains and add to the line’s capacity.  In practice, what happened was that the TTC had to replace the existing, worn out signal system anyhow, but really wanted other governments to buy into the project.  At that point, ATC’s justification became not only the rejuvenation of the subway (a maintenance project), but a way to add capacity at lower cost than building a new line.

Of course, the trains the TTC was running, the H-series cars and the newer T1 fleet, are not equipped for ATC.  A retrofit of the T1 fleet is possible but expensive, and this drives a “need” for a completely new fleet simply to make use of ATC on the Yonge line.  In earlier fleet plans, the TTC treated the entire system as one pool and simply counted trains regardless of which type they might be.  Now, however, they need a “YUS” fleet that can run ATC and a “BD” fleet that will run with conventional manual controls.  (It is unclear what will happen if a BD train finds its way onto YUS trackage, say, for a diversion.)

With the recent, overdue arrival of the first TR train in Toronto, there were bold statements by the Mayor no less (although he was just parroting the TTC) about how these new cars would allow a 40% increase in subway capacity.  Well, yes, maybe, but there’s a catch.  Several catches, in fact.

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Toronto Rockets Are Here, But Not Rolling Yet

On October 14, Torontonians finally got a look at their new “Toronto Rocket” subway cars, although to do so they had to wade through a bevy of politicians and media.  Many stirring speeches were heard from all levels of government, and from the manufacturer, Bombardier.  Any mention of keeping jobs in Canada brought rousing applause.

The new cars have been some time coming going back to an order in 2006 that should have been on the rails last year.  Delays with suppliers are blamed, notably the doors.  One wonders why the contract wasn’t simply given to another supplier, or if other factors were involved leaving the doors as a handy scapegoat.

There are two striking features of these cars, one physical, and one technical:

  • From the passengers’ viewpoint, a six car trainset is one continuous space.  This will allow people to roam through the train to better distribute loads, and also frees up space used for mid-train cabs and car ends to become part of the passenger compartment.
  • From the technical point of view, not only are these trains equipped for Automatic Train Control, they are supposed to be much, much more reliable than their predecessors.  We shall see, given that the T1 cars were, themself, supposed to be a huge improvement over the H-series equipment they replaced.

For the next five months or so, the TTC will be testing its first sets of cars, and revenue service is expected in spring 2011.  Over the next four years, leading up to the Spadina Subway Extension opening in 2015 (itself not a sure thing), the H4, H5 and H6 equipment will be phased out of service, and much of the T1 fleet will shift to the Bloor-Danforth line.  (I will write about fleet planning in a separate article.)

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TTC 2011 Budget Preview — Part II: Capital

In my previous article, I reviewed the TTC’s preliminary information regarding its Operating budget for 2011.  Here I turn to the Capital Budget — the one that pays for major repairs, replacement vehicles and system expansion.

Following this budget from year to year can be challenging.  For the better part of a decade it has been clear that there would be a funding crisis as project deferrals accumulated, and now the dam has finally burst and big-ticket schemes are underway.  The early years of such projects tend to have low cash-flows because they are mainly design work and progress payments on smaller preparatory steps (such as the utility relocations and grade separation on the Sheppard East LRT).  Now, as spending builds on Transit City, the Spadina Subway Extension, replacement subway trains and streetcars, the demand for capital will grow.

During the 2010 Budget Cycle, many projects were deferred beyond 2019 so that they would not appear on the City’s or TTC’s books.  This made the depth of the budgetary hole appear more shallow than it really was.  If that were not bad enough, the TTC has created a new group of projects aimed at Yonge Subway capacity problems and, in the process, is partly pre-judging the outcome of a Downtown Relief Line study.  The combined result is that the funding shortfall shown as $1.344-billion in the 2010 budget papers for the years 2010-2019 has grown substantially, and there is now a funding shortfall of $2.8b for 2011-2020.

The staff budget report does not include a detailed breakdown of the projected funding sources.  Much more information was presented in the September 2009 report in the previous budget cycle.  (Note that the 2009 report does not exactly reflect the budget as it was eventually approved by Council.)

For the 2011-2020 budget planning, the TTC is taking the approach that it should show what spending is required, not just which projects fit within the available envelope.  This puts both Council and various funding agencies on notice about the true scope of future needs.  Council may not like the level of spending, but at least a debate is possible on the relative merit of transit programs.

In theory, this is a welcome change as it avoids the “surprise” factor when unplanned spending requests appear out of thin air.  However, there will be some debate about how critical some “required” projects might be, and what additional projects are still hidden out of sight.

The TTC estimates that restoring previously omitted items as well as new additions will raise the capital requirement by $3-billion over the next ten years.  That is a gross number, but the degree to which it will attract subsidies depends on the generosity and enlightenment of other governments. Continue reading

Still Waiting for Transit Priority

Back on June 22, 2005, the matter of transit priority signalling was discussed at the TTC meeting.  Arising from that discussion, then Vice-Chair Olivia Chow moved the following motion:

1. That staff be requested to take the necessary action to implement transit priority signalling on Spadina by September 2005 at all locations where it is not already active, with a report back in the Fall of 2006 on the impact.

2. That recommendations 2 to 6 embodied in Mr. Munro’s submission be forwarded to TTC staff and City Transportation staff, with a joint report back to the fall meetings of the TTC and Planning and Transportation Committee.

This item has sat on the list of outstanding Commission requests ever since, but on the recent agenda, it was closed with the notation:

Memorandum dated September 2, 2010 forwarded to Commissioners.

It took a motion of the Commission and a bit of harassment on my part to get this memorandum.  It was not exactly worth the wait.

Transit Priority — Signal priority on St. Clair is complete.  Signal priority on Spadina will be completed by the City in December, 2010.  Signal priority on Harbourfront will be upgraded when the Queen’s Quay Revitalization Project is undertaken by Waterfront Toronto (date unknown).  Recommended comments and action:  Mark complete, and remove from list.

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Union Station 2nd Platform Update

I have received queries from some people here, and know there is a discussion on another transit site, about the status of the TTC’s 2nd platform contract.  Recently I asked Adam Giambrone what was going on, and the following info is based on his reply.

The bid that would otherwise have been successful came in at a price well above the project budget.  As this work will be funded by Waterfront Toronto, and they are not prepared to up their contribution, the bid was rejected.

The TTC has reviewed the project staging and will re-tender the work using a different construction scheme that will require the full or partial closing of Front Street.  The new tender will go out within a week.