Let Them Ride Buses

In case anyone missed the latest word from City Hall, here is Mayor Ford talking about transit to Rexdale in today’s Globe:

“Eventually, I’m sure we can build the subways. It’s more expensive, but that’s what the people want. People in North York and Scarborough, they want that line connected to the Scarborough Town Centre. If I heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.”

Even if that means cancelling or postponing indefinitely rapid transit in his own former ward of Etobicoke North?

“They have transit,” he laughed. “It sounds like we’re – we have transit. People get to the slots, they get to Woodbine racetrack, people get to Humber College. There are buses that run up there.

“Eventually, I’d like to have subways running through the whole city. But what we can afford realistically, right now, is just Sheppard, right?

People will wait a long time for their pet transit lines, and all those fine words about the importance of transit to Toronto’s economy are just so much hot air.

Cake, anyone?

64 thoughts on “Let Them Ride Buses

  1. Also, call Ford himself.

    I don’t get the sense in his political life he’s ever pushed a project through significant opposition. We need to be significant opposition.


  2. When the Star had a poll asking whether TC should be cancelled, they found support for not cancelling it with almost a 2/3 majority.

    Steve: But we know that everyone who voted for Transit City is a pinko lefty whose opinions and votes count for nothing in Don Cherry’s (oops, did I say that?) Toronto.


  3. It’s too bad we don’t have any working examples of LRTs in or near the GTA to counter the anti-LRT agruments, though Calgary and Edmonton are good domestic examples one could use. However I sense most those arguing against LRTs would find all kinds of reasons why it wouldn’t work here. I suspect a large part of the objections to LRT lines (as outline in TC) is that where they run at grade, they appear to take away road space (thus Ford’s statement “war on the car”).

    But even when one is pro-transit, there are those who would push for subways. A friend of mine has held his experiences which the streetcar lines, especially where fire or traffic collisions have closed roads that streetcars use, as reason why subways would be far better. I have to concede that is an issue in the older parts of Toronto, but out in the inner suburbs such as where I live that would likely be less of an issue. He spoke glowingly of his experience with the Barcelona subway, which I believe have been mentioned in posting here on another thread. He also brought the case of St. Clair, which sadly is now what most expect will be the case with the new LRT lines.



  4. When is City Council “officially” voting on Transit City? And with regards to the upcoming budget, the budget could stop Transit City by denying funding for required utility and roadwork?

    Steve: Probably in February when the Capital Budget is before Council, although there will be skirmishes at Budget and Executive Committees along the way. However, the “opposition” has almost no votes there and the real work will come at Council.

    As for utilities, etc., although the TC lines are “fully funded” by Queen’s Park, some aspects of them are not because they are deemed to be “local improvements”. Even if Ontario paid for them, there is no guarantee they would actually happen. There are permits. There are contracts. There are many opportunities for foot-dragging.


  5. The 199 Rocket does not have excellent ridership between McCowan and Finch and Scarborough Town Centre. Often there are 2 people on the bus when it turns south to STC while there are 10 people at the bus stop waiting for the 39 to take them east to Neilson.

    As for the bus service in Scarborough itself, it is far from perfect or excellent. I would argue that it is atrocious. It is difficult to travel by public transit within Scarborough let alone if you work downtown or in the west end. It takes me 2 hours one way to get to work. 4 hours round trip. I can drive to work in 45 minutes by comparison while a combination of GO transit and the TTC takes 1 hour.

    Steve: I cannot help noticing the similarity between this argument and that put forward by people who blame streetcars for the ills of downtown service quality. Obviously it is possible to have a badly designed network and unreliable service without putting down any track.


  6. The closest LRT outside of Toronto is part of the NFTA serving Buffalo. It opened in 1985 using high-floor light rail vehicles, which means it needs high platforms in its outdoor sections.

    Steve: And it was one of those classic “renewal” projects that didn’t achieve its goals. The line cost a fortune because most of it was built underground in place of a full-scale subway which was what NFTA wanted. They even coined the term “LRRT” (“Light Rail Rapid Transit”) to give it a hybrid brand and preserve the subway connotation.


  7. Hi Steve and Phil:-

    We have a classic LRT near Toronto in Cleveland, Ohio. The Shaker Heights and its branch line out Van Aiken Boulevard operate east and south-east out of the downtown Terminal building where a connection is made to Amtrak and the Airport semi-HRT line. There had been a large number of streetcar lines looping around the square outside of the Terminal too.

    The two light rail lines are now on their third generation of cars (initially second hand Cleveland Centre door streetcars which were replaced by a fleet of new purpose built and second hand Minneapolis PCCs and recently replaced with their unique Breda built cars; all high floors, single ended and capable of running in trains). The permanent way has had track and overhead upgrades since being built with private funds in the early part of the 20th century. These routes are largely unchanged since originally constructed and the outer ends were laid down on a grassy median through the residential area established by a real estate developer. His idea was that the trolleys would be an attractive, convenient enticement to buy into his neighbourhoods; and it worked and is still working.

    The communities served are upscale and the well off ride the cars with their domestic staff to and from work as they do on the St.Charles line in New Orleans too. Do these folks living in their million dollar homes adjoining and along these lines fit the Thatcher definition of failures? Although the New Orleaners call ’em streetcars, their 90 year old Perly-Thomas cars are indeed LRTs as they have very little street running.

    And slightly further afield is Philadelphia’s Septa, Pittsburgh Pa.’s PAT Transit and Newark NJ’s trolley subway. But look to Boston for the best example of North American LRT. There is this Continent’s first subway, still in daily operation after 112+ years, and with single-ended streetcars, umm, excuse me I mean LRT cars, don’t I? (what is that definition again Steve?). Private reservation (former steam railway line), centre of the road, conventional street running, subway and elevated tracks all on the same Green Line LRT routes and add to those the heavy rail Red line’s PRW LRT extension out the Mattapan-Ashmont route operated with rebuilt PCC cars. And all of this in a City older than Toronto and able to shoehorn it all in along with its three Heavy Rail subway routes (with large portions of these three above ground), trolley coaches, diesel buses and numerous GO style commuter rail routes. Commonwealth Avenue, one of the streets served by the subway-surface system, is a prosperous middle class neighbourhood with many of their residents confirmed riders; obviously, losers all!

    And as to LRTs not being able to operate in the snow, well it’s a good thing that Cleveland, being well south of us, doesn’t get the same kind of storms as we do up here in the wild and wholly north, so their totally above ground tracks don’t have to put up with the weather we do! We all know too that Boston mustn’t get any snow storms since we’ve been hearing that LRTs can’t run in that kind of weather and certainly after 112 years, if weather did adversely affect the cars, those in the know there would have had all of their routes replaced by underground heavy rail routes by now; right?

    Dennis Rankin

    Steve: Everyone knows that Boston is full of pinko lefties of the worst variety, and anything done there has no place in a self-respecting, right thinking city.


  8. Regarding TC… all of the uncertainty around it’s continuation is getting ridiculous. Is work not continuing as we speak (correct me if I’m wrong but I believe it is)? Is Lovat not supposed to be delivering the Eglinton TBMs within the next couple of months for tunneling starting ‘spring 2011’? What are we going to do with them if we’re not going to use them for the next 5+ years (if they’re even the right size for the next project being proposed)?

    Further… I recall a comment about TC hiring being frozen…. not according to the TTC’s job page.

    Steve: The construction work now in progress is for the grade separation at Agincourt which is required by GO Transit no matter what happens to the Sheppard line. As for the tunnel boring machines, they would be used for something, sooner or later, but the actual Eglinton tunneling was not supposed to start until thefall. What is supposed to be underway in early 2011 is the construction of the launch site at Black Creek where tunneling will begin later in the year.

    Yes, that’s an impressive set of jobs. Presumably they will be used to design and build something, or simply may not be filled.


  9. Thanks for the details regarding the TBMs. I was thinking they’d be delivered before we even figured out what was happening to TC.

    Regarding the work going on now, I guess I was more thinking of the Transit City department in the TTC (ie the folks doing the design work). Aren’t they still doing TC work?

    Steve: I really don’t know, but suspect they are only doing work related to establishing comparative schemes for consideration by the Commission.


  10. I have been thinking about this link a bit and I think there is a way to keep the Transit City Sheppard East LRT alive AND appease Ford, and many others who want a link to the heavily used Transit Node of Scarborough Town Centre. If they can find the funds couldn’t they build a spur line of the SELRT from say around Brimley that would travel south (maybe underground to appease the subway advocates?) to Scarborough Town Centre. The ridership is there already, the 190 bus alone is used all day and is jam packed at peak times with its frequent service.

    Steve: That scheme, or something like it, was considered by the TTC as one possible option, but from a network point of view they settled on the SRT extension east and north. You don’t need two links from Sheppard to STC.

    As for “appeasement”, that word is not in the Ford vocabulary.


  11. Hi Steve:-

    As is Boston, New Orleans must also be a bastion of pinko, leftie, commies too as they haven’t chosen to build a subway. What a bunch of ill informed sissies, eh? They just don’t have the fortitude to put in a big hole under their streets and huge pumps to keep the tunnels free of sea water. Might be a great way to drain the City if there’s another break in the dikes. 80% of N’Orlenners want a subway there I hear. Where there’s a Ford will, there’s a way. Let’s send him down as a transit adviser! But then I just remembered, they’re French down there and everyone knows French kids can’t play hockey, eh Grapes? Poor Southerners, done like jambalaya!

    Dennis Rankin


  12. I hope you don’t mind me asking many questions about one topic.

    Is it clear if the deciding vote on TC is actually a vote on Transit City, or a vote on whether to defer utility work related to Transit City?

    Steve: Please give it a rest. We will know how the Mayor has engineered the question when it comes up at the TTC, at city committees, and at Council.


  13. Dennis – you mentioned some great examples of transit systems with LRT lines in the mix that are relatively close by (and more than a few I’m aware of) but what I was thinking was more on the line of working example within the GTA. All of your examples are in the States, thus already potentially irrelevant. I suspect there is a mindset with the current council and perhaps broadly amongst most residents against LRTs (they are inferior to subways, they compent for road space, every major city in the world has a vast network of subways, not streetcars, we get 6 months of winter, etc).

    Perhaps if Markham, Mississauga and Kitchener/Waterloo build LRT lines that prove to be successful and popular, a future Toronto mayor may get widespread support (if only out of envy) to build LRT lines here, but my sense if that Ford and his support on council will simply reject any evidence to support LRTs (“I know what I know, don’t confuse me with the facts…”)



  14. No, the only strike since YRT’s inception was that of the ATU 113 employees of Veolia who operated VIVA at the time. This left us with no VIVA service, but all other buses operated as normal. (Since that time, some of the contracts have changed, and I believe that Veolia no longer operates VIVA but have taken over the former Can-Ar/Tokmakjian operations that were once Vaughan Transit)

    There was a near-strike a year or two before the VIVA strike with the Can-Ar/Tokmakjian employees, but a settlement was reached at the 11th hour. If that strike had occurred, I would have been able to get to work fine using Miller-operated routes, but an alternative routing would have been shut down.

    Just imagine a transit strike in Toronto that shuts down the subway system, but leaves all the surface routes operating. It would be a pain, but not quite the same pain of the entire system being shut down. Similarly, imagine a strike that shuts down one garage, but leaves the rest of the system operating. That is the benefit of contracting out operations.


  15. On the issue of Metrolinx “going it alone” and the problems they would have with lack of co-operation from the city in certain matters, it is very likely that this would prevent anything from proceeding.

    Back in the 70s, the federal government wanted to proceed with the construction of the Pickering airport (this has not gone away by the way – see the GTAA website for the plans still in existence). One thing that had a major effect on stopping the project was the province refusing to build any roads to it. This wasn’t the only thing, but it does show that lack of co-operation from a lower level of government can create an insurmountable road block.


  16. Oddly, so many southern Ontarians won’t be seeing the NFTA LRT for themselves when visiting Buffalo for the World Junior Hockey Championship. They are opting to pay $30-50 to park their vehicles near HSBC Arena, instead of parking for free a few miles away at an LRT station and riding for $4 per person!


  17. My only response to “Just imagine a transit strike in Toronto that shuts down the subway system, but leaves all the surface routes operating. It would be a pain, but not quite the same pain of the entire system being shut down. Similarly, imagine a strike that shuts down one garage, but leaves the rest of the system operating. That is the benefit of contracting out operations.” is that this would be a MAJOR concession to our collective agreement. I don’t think that a) any member of the union executive who wants to be re-elected and b) any union member who values their job security would EVER vote in favour of this concession. Our non-contracting out clauses are very strong as worded in the contract.


  18. I feel that the Fords’ polling question on subways, whatever it was, needs to be released. If it was “do you prefer subways over streetcars” (in some alternate universe devoid of the constraints of limited public funds) then the answer that anyone in their right might would answer would be “yes” (CFRB did a webpoll with such a question recently and the results were unequivocably in favour of subways).

    If the question were more realistic, such as: “would you prefer to have 80% of Toronto served by 120 kms of LRT running with reliable service as per the Transit City proposal (and that is already to a great extent funded by the province) or 6 kms of subway to Scarborough Town Centre built to serve 3000 people per hour in that part of the city (with no certainty of funding)”, I think most people would go for the former option. The CityTV website recently also had a poll that was closer to this question (“Do you support Transit City”) and the majority did.

    It would be great as a previous commenter has suggested to have a dedicated source of funding for transit in Toronto, such as an allocation from the gas tax. This should be initiated through a ballot initiative, as in many US states, so that the latest dullard who comes along with his pet project can’t derail well thought out plans that are so close to providing reliable transit that this city desperately needs.


  19. Calvin, went to Buffalo for the tournament and got parking right across from HSBC arena for $15. Three of us in the car, would have been about $12 for the LRT. Essentially, we pay $3 for the convenience.

    I take transit as much as I can when out of town. But, the economics of public transit make no sense in Buffalo, where there are parking lots, freeways and empty streets galore.


  20. Nick wrote: “I feel that the Fords’ polling question on subways, whatever it was, needs to be released. If it was “do you prefer subways over streetcars” (in some alternate universe devoid of the constraints of limited public funds) then the answer that anyone in their right might would answer would be “yes” (CFRB did a webpoll with such a question recently and the results were unequivocably in favour of subways). ”

    That would certainly be good to know. Most would go with what they feel is the best option and many think subways are, but if the question were phrased in terms of cost, time to build and coverage, that might change the answer. Also, if people truly understood the difference between streetcars and LRTs, that might also change the answer – I suspect most think LRTs are just fancy streetcars. One interesting note in today’s news was that the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line may still be going ahead.



  21. J, I don’t know the specifics for each and every game in the tournament, but there were cases documented by the Toronto media of at least some examples of parking lots near HSBC Arena charging double and even triple what they would charge for a Sabres’ game. I know this probably is not for every game, and I know that the media can often take a narrow look at something and make it look like a larger problem.

    That said, my point involved using the parking facility at the University station. I suspect that there may have been lower cost parking options within the downtown core, where the LRT fare if free.


  22. Yes Calvin, you are correct. Just on the other side of the fence, another parking lot was charging $30 (funny enough, it was further away from the arena!).

    In any case, the way Buffalo is organized and built makes the NFTA LRT feel like an orphan, especially to out of towners – often neglected and forgotten.


  23. Hi Steve,

    I have just started a petition to ask Rob Ford to commute for a week by TTC before Council votes on any changes to Transit City. I wonder if you would be willing to talk about it on your site? The petition has already attracted 30 signatories over the past nine hours, and I am hoping it will get at least 1000 signatures over the next couple of weeks. I will then ask one of the Councillors to present the petition on the floor of Council. I would really appreciate it if you could help me publicize the petition.

    Thanks very much in advance!

    All the best,


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