Metrolinx Contemplates Ford’s Subway Plan

The Metrolinx Board, not the most talkative bunch at their infrequent public meetings, took the unusual step yesterday of discussing possible major changes in their regional transportation plan.  Rob Ford’s subway plan can hardly be ignored, and Metrolinx directors need to engage in this debate lest they become irrelevant through inaction.

Both Chair Rob Prichard and President/CEO Bruce McCuaig went out of their way to speak positively about Ford’s scheme, while other directors were less inclined to accept the proposal.  In this article, I will recap the discussion and then conclude with thoughts of my own.

On Tuesday, representatives of Mayor Ford met with Metrolinx with an updated version of Ford’s subway plan:

  • Extend the Sheppard subway west to Downsview and east to Scarborough Town Centre (STC)
  • Extend the Danforth subway northeast to STC
  • Build the Eglinton LRT in tunnel from Jane to Kennedy
  • Operate express bus service on Finch West
  • Build a new subway yard at a location to be determined

The total cost for this plan is pegged at $13.3-billion of which two thirds is the original Metrolinx funding that would have gone to the Transit City routes and the remainder is new money the City would raise via development levies and tax increment financing.

Bruce McCuaig outlined five principles that would govern the evaluation.  Any new plan should:

  • meet regional transit objectives
  • have no marginal cost for the Province
  • avoid penalty payments or loss of investments to date
  • minimize delay
  • minimize traffic impacts

McCuaig stated that Metrolinx has already counter-proposed that the existing Scarborough RT alignment be retained and that the refurbished SRT be operated as an extension of the Eglinton route rather than of the Danforth subway.  The benefits for such a line would be through service from STC south and across Eglinton, provision of an east-west connector across the city, and possibly some diversion of Bloor-Danforth demand north to the Eglinton corridor.  Using the existing SRT corridor would be more cost effective than a completely new subway alignment to STC.

McCuaig said that Metrolinx is trying to be as responsive to the Ford plan as possible.  There will be discussions with the Province, and he will get back to the Board as soon as possible with updates (no date was mentioned).

Vice-Chair Peter Smith asked what would happen to passengers when they reach the terminus at Jane.  McCuaig replied that, for the time, they would transfer to local buses, but Metrolinx is looking at how they would improve connectivity to Mississauga and the Airport.

Director Joe Halstead asked about effects on the Pan Am Games.  McCuaig replied that the Sheppard LRT was not intended to serve the Games, and that the only Provincial commitment was to the Air Rail Link to the Airport.  The Games plan involved running express buses from STC to the UofT Scarborough Campus (UTSC).  That answer dodges the fact that members of the Metrolinx Board have expressed a clear preference for the so-called “Morningside Hook”, an extension of the Sheppard LRT south via Morningside to UTSC.  Indeed, this sort of minor addition to Phase I of Transit City might have been announced in the 2011 budget if the whole plan had not been thrown into the dustbin.  To say that the new plan does not affect Pan Am plans is correct in the letter, but not the spirit of previously-held intentions.

Director Lee Parsons asked about the Finch LRT.  McCuaig replied that the plan defers rapid transit in this corridor and would, instead, use express buses to Humber College.  The capital intended for Finch would be repurposed to another corridor.

Parsons was concerned about the loss of accessibility in northwest Toronto.  McCuaig replied that Metrolinx understands the importance of good transit and would prefer to continue the LRT plan.  Putting a positive face on the situation, McCuaig was pleased that the Mayor had at least recognized the need for improved bus service.

Rob Prichard asked if, in effect, the money intended for Finch was being used to bury the eastern part of the Eglinton line.  McCuaig replied that yes, this is was in keeping with the Mayor’s objective for grade separation.

Parsons was uncomfortable with the fact that the northwest part of Toronto loses service, and felt that more should be done for this major part of the city.

Director Paul Bedford agreed noting that the Finch West bus is among the routes with highest ridership on the TTC at 52k/day, greater than the Sheppard subway at 47k.  Bedford argued that ignoring the Finch corridor is a serious problem, and more generally that surface transit routes carrying 60% of TTC ridership were an important part of the network.  [Note:  As of the 2008 Service Plan report, daily ridership on Finch West was 42k/day, not 52k.]

Bedford asked when the Mayor plans to take his plan before Council, but McCuaig has no information about the City’s plans and, indeed, still needs to understand the City’s process.

Director Douglas Turnbull asked about contract penalty costs.  McCuaig replied that he did not want to overstate these numbers.  $130m is the amount invested to date in all corridors.  Now that Eglinton is back on the table, the sunk cost for the tunnel borers and vehicles is no longer an issue.  McCuaig will report to a future meeting on details of these costs.

Vice-Chair Smith, himself a real estate developer, wondered about the viability of the private financing scheme.  Today, if he were to build a condo at Yonge & Eglinton, it would attract development charges of about $12k.  Presuming that this would be doubled to provide a premium for the Sheppard corridor, the cost would go to, say, $25k.  All of this cost is borne not by the developer, but by the eventual purchaser, and the added cost would affect the affordability and attractiveness of the unit.  (Smith did not get into the related question of the effect of a higher local tax along Sheppard on the carrying cost of a new unit, but that would also bear on a would-be purchaser’s decision.)

McCuaig replied that Metrolinx needs to understand the City’s financing details, and that it was very important for City staff and Council to review the viability of this plan.  The Mayor proposes Sheppard as a City project, while Metrolinx would look after Eglinton.  McCuaig mused whether Metrolinx would want to delve into the market’s response to this proposal implying this would be left to the City.

Lee Parsons worried about the time frame.  Additional density will require changes to the Official Plan, and considerable lead time is needed just to reach a point where a development agreement is possible.  There would be an implied commitment by the City to increased density.  McCuaig replied that the Mayor understands this and the issue will feed into the pending review of the Official Plan.

Parsons began to ask how this process related to the “no delay” principle cited earlier, but Chair Prichard cut him off.  Prichard was happy that the Mayor will let Metrolinx get on with the Eglinton/Scarborough proposal.  Metrolinx needs to focus on The Big Move and let their partners “do their thing”.

From my viewpoint, it is clear that Rob Prichard prefers to speak as kindly as possible of Ford’s plan and to leave the Mayor and the Sheppard project to their own devices without Metrolinx commenting on the details.  Fighting Ford about LRT is not worth Metrolinx’ effort, especially without a shiny new line running somewhere as a counter-example.  Personally, I would love to see the Hurontario line built, and built well without the bungling Toronto projects stand accused of whenever LRT is proposed.  Toronto needs some “LRT envy” of a line close enough that it cannot be ignored.

Depending on who is in power at City Hall and Queen’s Park in four years, the question of LRT in Toronto may be revisited, but neither Metrolinx nor Queen’s Park has the appetite for a technology war with the City.

The proposed financing for Sheppard is laughable.  The 2011 City Budget foresees $61-million in development charges for all of Toronto.  How enough revenue could be generated just on Sheppard Avenue to pay for a $4b subway while leaving the street financially attractive to developers is a great mystery.

For now, northeast Scarborough has been abandoned — no Malvern, no UTSC “hook” — and Finch will have to make do with buses.  I could not help contrasting the anti-LRT stance in Toronto, and the visceral objections to the taking of road space with a presentation later in the same meeting of a York VIVA status update.  This included a photo of a brand new BRT station, one that would look right at home on St. Clair Avenue or on Sheppard East with an LRT train.

Will the Eglinton line ever be continuous to the airport, or is it doomed to end at Jane and connect there with an extended Mississauga busway?  How would the good folks of Etobicoke along Eglinton react to a busway in the Richview Expressway lands?  This proposal, which goes back twenty years, would, if built, take over the very land the TTC does not want to use for LRT.  It will be amusing to see the flip-flops on what is “possible” to make an alternate plan work.

Whatever happened to Business Case Analysis, that hallmark of Metrolinx planning?  Has the Eglinton LRT subway been re-evaluated given the extra cost, or are we back to the days of shuffling whatever money might be available between projects without regard to alternatives analysis?  An all-underground Eglinton loses the benefits of LRT in a mixed surface/tunnel alignment.

Indeed, will we see a bait-and-switch on technology and have Eglinton wind up as ICTS, not LRT, just as its predecessor the SRT did a quarter-century ago?  After all, Bruce McCuaig already kindly provided the press with an aerial photo of a Skytrain station, and this suggests that Metrolinx may be on its way to ditching conventional LRT completely.  Bombardier, I am sure, would happily cancel the LRV contract for an untendered Eglinton project.

Everyone wants their lines built “now”, and I can’t help remembering what we were told when the original Transit City Phase I was stretched out over 10 years.  Metrolinx claimed that the original faster plan might not have been possible because the construction industry could not absorb this much work at the same time.  Strange how that constraint has disappeared now that additional or accelerated funding from Queen’s Park is not an issue.

During the era of “Metrolinx I”, the board filled with politicians, Mayor Miller had an ongoing fight to get recognition for Transit City and LRT, and he won out in the end.  Indeed, there are now Metrolinx-backed proposals for LRT in Mississauga and Hamilton, and LRT plans are afoot in Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo.  The proposals are not perfect, but they have, at least, political respectability.  When we got “Metrolinx II”, a board of business people and transit experts, politics was supposed to be banished from the room.  Now Mayor Ford, not even a member of the Metrolinx board, is driving major changes in the plan and fundamental principles of The Big Move may be ignored.  Distant, ghostly laughter from the original Board might be appropriate here.

Finally, I cannot help commenting on the irony of so much funny money sloshing around the meeting room.  I almost expected to find sheets of photocopied $100 bills stuck to my boots on the way out the door.  The TTC has a huge funding crisis on its capital budget thanks to a city that would rather freeze taxes than spend on investment, and a Provincial government that wants us to make do with a paltry $150-million or so in gas tax revenue.  Meanwhile, there are billions for new construction, and not a word about who will pay to actually run these lines once they begin operation.

2012 will almost certainly bring more TTC service cuts, and who knows what “system” will exist by the time the first of the new routes opens for business.  Metrolinx and Queen’s Park treat local operations in Toronto as “not their business” while professing that better transport is vital to the GTA’s economy.  Must the stench of overcrowded, unreliable, unsafe service brew under Queen’s Park before this changes, or will we continue to see only monuments, billions of construction spending, while the TTC rots around us?

61 thoughts on “Metrolinx Contemplates Ford’s Subway Plan

  1. A full Sheppard subway and Eglinton LRT (or ART) subway with an extended Spadina will probably overload YUS — where’s the network planning here? When Bloor-Danforth was built, at least Wilson saw the need for University first.

    Metrolinx always wanted full grade separation on Eglinton for speed, so of course they’re not going to oppose this. It will most likely end up being ICTS — there’s no point in using LRT if it will be totally grade separated and underground.


  2. “Personally, I would love to see the Hurontario line built, and built well without the bungling Toronto projects stand accused of whenever LRT is proposed. ”

    I agree. If Metrolinx does not want a fight with our esteemed mayor, give the money to Peel, and Hamilton to finish their projects. Let Toronto see what they could have had.

    I imagine with an all underground LRT, a few stations will be omitted to save costs. Can we expect a situation with parallel bus service to complement the underground LRT? The TTC is going have re-evaluate the decision not to run parallel bus service on Eglinton.


  3. Perhaps I am attributing too much to the collective wisdom of the Metrolinx board, but I am wondering if they are willing to go along with Ford’s ideas, for now, for the following reasons:

    1) They don’t think that the Sheppard Subway extension will ever get built with private funding.

    2) They realize that their plan for going on the surface through St. Dennis was stupid and this will allow them to change their plan while saving face.

    3) The part of the Eglinton line from Brentcliffe to Kennedy will be the last part built and hopefully Ford will be gone before they start construction on it.

    I can see the advantage in running Eglinton up the SRT line but the loading on Eglinton seems to be lower than on the SRT so there would need to be more trains on the SRT portion. If these lines were to be interlined then it makes sense to have Eglinton operate on a completely segregated right of way to eliminate possible delays and allow for future ATO.

    I would like to see the line use some elevated portions across the river valleys as these would reduce tunnel gradients and expense. I could live with elevated east of Don Mills and west of Jane but I do not want a return to ICTS.

    Steve: The extra cost of complete grade separation at the various river crossing will be interesting. Major changes will be needed in what are now planned both as tunnel launch sites and future portals at Black Creek and at Brentcliffe.


  4. Wow. What a mess.

    I can see why Metrolinx doesn’t let the public speak at their meetings. Considering the ugly state of anything involving public transportation in the Toronto area, that would be the easiest approach to dealing with the possibility of hearing something they won’t like – refuse to hear anything at all.

    I’ve never been to one of those public Metrolinx meetings. Is it like watching footage of Stalin entering a room where the audience stands and the applause continues ten minutes or more because nobody wants to be seen to be the first person to stop clapping?

    Steve: No, it’s all very friendly, but that’s because nobody is likely to say anything out of line. The room is too small to hold a large crowd anyhow.


  5. Wow the transit “plans” change so frequently and often that no one knows what to believe. We may end up getting an Eglinton ICTS line that ends at Jane with very little chance of it continuing to the Airport in the future. I don’t mind combining the Eglinton and Scarborough RT lines into 1 line but Metrolinx should not even think about using ICTS on this new mega line. They should consider that the ICTS technology does not operate well in cold, snowy weather and often has to shut down in bad weather. Transit isn’t reliable when a corridor is shut down and replaced with shuttle buses due to inclement weather.

    Steve: I am continually amazed by the way that ICTS advocates (and maybe even the PR folks at Metrolinx) continue to ignore the fact that the Vancouver system had serious problems in the snow. Moreover, there is a fundamental point about procurement — open and fair bidding versus just giving the contract to Bombardier who, by the way, did not get the contract for the Canada line cars.

    Metrolinx is adamant about maintaining the current RT alignment but that alignment is flawed. Most of the stations are located beneath underpasses and do not have bus bays. As a result, buses cannot drop off passengers at Midland and Ellesmere stations. The walk from Kennedy or Midland to stations such as Midland and Ellesmere are quite a trek. As a result, the stations are inaccessible resulting in all of the stations except Lawrence East and Scarborough Town Centre (STC) having very few passengers using them. The only reason Lawrence East and STC have a lot of commuter traffic is because buses stop at these stations (artificially crated commuter hubs) and the latter is at a mall.

    Steve: I hate to tell you this, but Midland Station is right on top of Midland and the “trek” between the RT and the bus consists of a stairway (the escalators have long been out of service and are boarded up). Ellesmere, I agree, is a really dumb station and one could even argue that it should be closed given its very light usage.

    It seems like they’re making the same mistakes all over again. This is a perfect opportunity to rectify some of those mistakes. Use LRT technology instead of ICTS technology. Change the SRT alignment. After it reaches Kennedy station it can continue east and then head north up Danforth Road. Danforth eventually joins McCowan south of Lawrence. It can continue heading north up to Ellesmere Rd. It can dip down into a portal and turn west underground towards STC. If they want to extend the line further north they could have the line turn back east towards McCowan once it leaves STC. It can then re-emerge via another portal on McCowan north of highway 401 and continue all the way up to Steeles.

    Steve: That’s a completely new line, not a rebuild. Given the width of some of the streets in question, I doubt your proposal will get very far, especially with Rob Ford in the Mayor’s office.

    At the end of the day I think all the talk surrounding extending the Sheppard subway to STC is pointless. What good is having a subway line at STC if the majority of Scarborough residents need to take a 30 to 45 minute bus ride just to get to there? With the current financial situation, we can expect additional service cuts to the bus network in 2012. By 2022 we may have a shiny new subway extension on Sheppard to STC but no one will be able to get there because their bus stopped running years ago. Personally, I don’t think the Sheppard line will be extended.

    The point of Transit City (or at least one of the points) was to connect North West and North East Toronto with the rest of the city using rapid transit. Ford came in to power and basically said to hell with people who live there. Metrolinx and the Province turned a blind eye to the situation and now the same people who Transit City were supposed to help will never get reliable service. I apologize if I sound overly pessimistic but Toronto hasn’t built much new transit infrastructure in a really long time. I see a continuation of that sad trend.


  6. Pardon my idiocy, but what’s the difference between LRT and ICTS? ICTS is what the Scarborough RT uses, correct? Why would we use that technology over an LRT? Particularly when the ICTS technology on the Scarborough RT is in need of serious revitalization?

    Regardless of what happens, I can at least say that I don’t think an extended Mississauga busway will do justice to the underground Eglinton LRT.

    Steve: ICTS (Intermediate Capacity Transit System) is the Scarborough technology. In Vancouver it has the more graceful name “Skytrain”. There is a huge difference between ICTS and LRT, notably that LRT does not require a completely grade-separated right-of-way and the cars are much bigger. The propulsion systems are different: ICTS uses linear induction motors, while LRT uses rotary motors that are more efficient. ICTS has very tight clearances to the guideway because of the reaction rail (which is part of the motor), and its dual power rail system is prone to catching snow. Both of these make the system less reliable in winter weather as we see regularly in Toronto, and as Vancouver found the few times they actually had “winter” as we know it. Note that the Canada Line in Vancouver does not run with ICTS vehicles, but with what are, in effect, miniature subway cars using conventional propulsion.


  7. I can not decide if Mayor Ford is a very clever man or a very stupid man. This plan of his is either one of the smartest things anyone has ever come up with or the stupidest because the numbers don’t add up.

    It is the stupidest because it will eventually bankrupt the city.

    It is the smartest if it is intended to “starve the beast” and eventually allow for the reductions to pay of city workers. It ridiculous how much police officers make. 1/3 of them make over $100,000 a year.

    The other EMS also make very high salaries with it increasing at 6% per year through arbitration. That is greater than inflation. The taxpayers are lucky just to keep up with inflation. Although there is a segment of the population at the high end of the income spectrum that has had their income increase greatly due to current prevailing market conditions.

    At this point, I just want to see something being built without wasting anymore time changing our minds about what to build.


  8. My mistake, Midland station is above Midland not beneath an underpass. It’s true my proposal is a new line rather than a rebuild. My view is that the SRT ICTS tracks are different from the rails an LRT would use and a lot of infrastructure work is needed on the existing stations. Considering the amount of work, the cost and the limited usefulness of some of the stations on the SRT line such as McCowan, Midland and Ellesmere, it just makes sense to me to build a new line along Danforth and McCowan. I am not opposed to the existing alignment either but there are some major drawbacks to keeping the same route.

    Steve: Actually, both the ICTS and LRT tracks would be standard gauge railway track. The differences are in the power and reaction rails which LRT does not need.


  9. Has anybody had a chance to run a model for projecting ridership on this arrangement with an all-U/G Eglinton interlined with the SRT? When Transit City was modeled, the SRT clocked up an astounding 10,000pphpd, although this figure assumes no new GO services in Scarborough on CP-owned lines. The model assumed that the overwhelming majority of SRT riders would transfer to the Bloor-Danforth line at Kennedy, as at least half of the trains, if not all of the trains, would terminate at Kennedy in that model, forcing a transfer regardless of what line riders would continue on.

    The all-U/G Eglinton model through-routed on SRT is nothing shy of a paradigm shift relative to what was modeled previously, and knowing what the new projection for such a scheme might be is critical before making any decision. Even using the lower SRT figure of 6,400 that Metrolinx generated by diverting some demand to CP lines with new GO services, if most of that demand no longer transfers at Kennedy, simply because they don’t have to if they’re ultimately bound for YUS anyway, then Eglinton is going to see a huge jump in demand, while Bloor-Danforth demand falls.

    The TTC’s presentation boards during Sheppard EA PICs that stated two models were generated for Sheppard, a subway model and a LRT model, generating demands of 5,000pphpd and 3,000pphpd, respectively. No small jump for a line that doesn’t have a 6,400-10,000pphpd feeder connecting to it. A due-diligence modeling check needs to done to see what the ridership would be for the changes to Eglinton envisioned, because if it ends up being around 10,000pphpd or higher by Mount Pleasant, then they’ve got to change the technology accordingly.


  10. Frankly, the unelected Metrolinx board cannot be expected to completely overwrite a publicly elected mayor, even if his transit plan is very flawed and his funding projections are dubious.

    At this point, it is good enough that Metrolinx preserved the Eglinton line and did not let Ford redirect its funding to Sheppard subway. If that happened, restarting the Eglinton line in future would be extremely difficult due to its huge cost. However if the bulk of Eglinton is built, there is a chance to get the funding for the Jane – Pearson section and for the whole Finch LRT as a part of a future transit plan.

    Of course, it is preferable that Eglinton is built with standard LRT rather than ICTS. LRT may not be cheaper if the line is fully grade-separate anyway, but it would be a lot easier to integrate it with several future N-S LRT lines where street-median ROW operation is perfectly appropriate (of course they won’t be considered while Ford is mayor, but we are talking long term and he won’t be mayor forever).

    Also, it is worth remembering that the “scope reduction” of Eglinton (west of Jane) and Finch (east of Keele) occurred before Ford got elected, and even before his transit plans were published. Even if the current revision did not happen, we would have to wait for a new funding to get those sections built.


  11. Given the cost estimates the Scarborough RT rebuild to LRT has been given, I wouldn’t be surprised if a subway extension to STC via Danforth Road actually would come out cheaper.

    Steve: Don’t forget that the SRT/LRT proposal includes taking the line all the way to Sheppard, not just to STC, and provides for future extension to the north. The moment you embrace subway (or ICTS) technology, extensions will always be high-cost, grade-separated affairs, and probably won’t be built any day soon. Everyone seems to have forgotten that we were trying to get good value for money with LRT.


  12. If they’re sustaining the SRT alignment, they may as well route Eglinton and Scarborough trains as one continuous line. People from northeast Scarborough would be able to get to Yonge St corridor faster via Eglinton anyways and not all are destined for the downtown, so this would be a good way to diversify travel flows and patterns. With less people boarding at Bloor-Yonge that bottleneck might be alleviated (people could opt to stay on the train til Allen-Eglinton West and transfer from there to avoid the crowds). This frees up the Bloor-Danforth subway to remain in its current east-west alignment at Kennedy. As such future stations at Brimley-Danforth, Bellamy/Eglinton GO, Markham, Golf Club Rd, Celeste/Guildwood GO, Galloway, Morningside and U of T Scarborough Campus could occur sometime in the distant future.

    Technical question, could Metrolinx’s implied favoritsm for ICTS be because the overhead wire put limitations on how fast a LRT train can travel? Like what are the top speeds it can go through the tunnel? I think ICTS can do between 60-80 kmph and it being high-floor improves the lines odds for future subway conversion if warranted.

    Steve: The electric railway industry was building cars that would run at over 80 miles/hour (pushing 130 km/h) 90-100 years ago, and these ran with trolley poles, never mind pantographs. The constraint on the speed of a car is a basic design question related to power consumption and stop spacing. Unless stops are far apart, it’s not worth running at high speed — indeed the new TR subway cars are not intended to move swiftly between stations because they would spend too little time at top speed and waste a lot of energy for little payback. Also, track maintenance has to be better the faster you choose to run trains.

    Metrolinx likes ICTS because it’s sole-supplied by Bombardier, and Metrolinx would not have to go through the pesky business of entertaining bids and (gasp!) possibly finding an alternative that was not manufactured in Ontario. Of course, these days, much of Bombardier’s work is offshore, and calling their products Canadian would be a bit of a stretch. During the period when Mayor Miller was fighting for Transit City, a proposal was floating around to simply have Bpmbardier build an airport to STC line as a “private sector partnership” using ICTS technology. I would not be at all surprised to see this pop up again.


  13. Bruce McCuaig outlined five principles that would govern the evaluation. Any new plan should:

    *meet regional transit objectives
    *have no marginal cost for the Province
    *avoid penalty payments or loss of investments to date
    *minimize delay
    *minimize traffic impacts

    The fastest way to get a subway is to repurpose the existing MetroLinx GO Train Lines. Add stations and ramp up the frequency, connect buses to it. Capacity constraints downtown will have to be sorted and will cost money but so will a subway built from scratch.


  14. What I always wondered about Ellesmere, is if it would be possible to just replace the exits with staircases up to the flyover on Ellesmere Rd. itself. This would provide a useful transfer with the 95 bus, at least slightly more useful than the current station. Are there structural constraints that prevent one from doing that? I can think of a few transitway stations in Ottawa (Cyrville, Smythe for example) that consist of little more than exits to an overpass.

    Steve: There are two problems here. First is the question of accessibility. Stairway-only exits for a primary connection to a bus route are simply not acceptable these days, and will in time be illegal. Also, the bridge as built has no provision for a pull-off lane where buses would stop for passengers without blocking traffic. I wouldn’t want to be waiting for the York Mills bus to show up while standing on top of a bridge at night in bad weather.


  15. The good news out of all of this is that Metrolinx appears to recognize that two subways to STC would be a waste of resources. Unfortunately, the smell of ICTS technology means that they are thinking about the wrong kind of resources that would be wasted and potentially condemn the part of the city that would have been served by the Scarborough Malvern LRT from ever having good transit.

    Amazing how in about a year, we went from a flawed but workable transit plan to… this.


  16. You’re forgetting one very important point in the LRT/ART debate … per km it’s much cheaper to tunnel ART than LRT (as the tunnel diameter is much smaller). Also, if it’s underground, ice on the reaction rail isn’t an issue. The existing SRT will still have problems when it snows, but it won’t shut down the entire Eglinton line.

    Steve: If Metrolinx does what they seem to be thinking, some of the Eglinton line will be elevated. Getting under the Don River in a few places, as well as Black Creek and, eventually, the Humber River, will be a lot easier on a bridge than in a tunnel. However, this creates exposure to ice and snow, so we’ll spend a bundle to make up for the technology’s shortcomings.

    If they build the tunnel using the borers they have ordered, then it will be LRT sized. I would expect to hear from the subway jocks if the tunnel were downsized complaining that the line could never be upgraded.

    As an aside, the height of the ICTS “high floor” is not the same as on the subway, and stations would have to be modified for such a changeover.


  17. Steve said … “I would expect to hear from the subway jocks if the tunnel were downsized complaining that the line could never be upgraded.”

    Theoretically, it might never even need to be upgraded. Bombardier claims that its Innovia ART can handle 30,000 passengers per hour (6-car trains on 60 second headways).

    Are these numbers to be believed? Seems like a huge stretch.

    Steve: Well, 30k/hour on 60 trains means 500 people per train. A pair of Mark IIs is 33.4m long, making a 6-car train roughly 100m. Ergo, the packing density of passengers would be about 5/m of car length, a reasonable number.

    Bombardier’s site claims their technology works in all weather conditions, but we know from Toronto and Vancouver this is simply not true, and it’s a big issue in Toronto. Again, there are people in Toronto who actually ask if LRT (end electric trains) can run in snow. This is what passes for professional competence in some circles.

    LRT vehicles for Toronto are about 30m long (a tad shorter than a pair of Mark IIs), and will probably have a service design capacity of 150-160 by analogy to the CLRV and ALRV fleets. The maximum load they can handle is higher, probably around 220. Note that 150 people on a 30m car is roughly the same density as the value I calculated for the Mark IIs, although the LRVs are slightly wider. In any event, this shows that comparable numbers are being used. As for crush loads, one must be careful with cited capacities because, for example, a Mark I car (like the SRT) is claimed to hold 80 people. Just try and see how comfy they are, especially with winter clothing. Tight packing also affects station dwell times as we all know.

    The question, of course, is whether this level of capacity will ever be required, and that’s what the whole LRT vs subway argument has turned on. If you believe that every single “rapid transit” route in Toronto will be running at over 15k/hour someday, well then you build subways. However, if there is an option to build more lines, the lower capacity (and speed if we’re talking about surface, on street rights-of-way) may be a tradeoff. Oddly enough, nobody kvetches about possible interference by cross-traffic for BRT systems, but they have lower potential capacity in most applications.

    On Eglinton, much depends on the dubious output of demand projections where we rarely get to know all the assumptions, or the sensitivity of the outcome to changes in the modelled network and land use. Also, although Eglinton will carry a lot of riders, it will do so in many segments of the line rather than accumulating them all to a single, peak point, and it should have decent bi-directional demand. Again, the demand models and the details of the networks are important here. For example, if westbound riders to Don Mills have the option of transferring to a DRL, then the peak demand arriving from the east at Yonge would be lower than if the DRL were missing.


  18. When Ford scrapped Transit City this was supposed to save road space. Now it turns out he doesn’t mind having two lanes on Finch designated to express bus service. I guess what he really means is something similar to transit lanes on Eglinton which, in practice, are shared with private cars. Otherwise , it just doesn’t make sense to remove a way more efficient LRT service replacing it with an express buses. At the end of the day, Finch will get virtually nothing (I don’t count an Eglinton-like imitation of express service).

    The irony of it is that 69% of voters in Etobicoke North ward, which includes a part of Finch West LRT project, voted for Ford. Now they are going to have the worst transit service in Toronto. And this is due to their beloved mayor.

    Steve: I think that a Finch “express bus” is just that. No special lanes, just more buses stopping less frequently. In some circles, this is called “BRT lite” to give the impression that it’s something new.


  19. Bedford asked when the Mayor plans to take his plan before Council, but McCuaig has no information about the City’s plans and, indeed, still needs to understand the City’s process.

    This is something that is very much on my mind. Even while they were folding, the Premier and Minister of Transportation were quite clear that they will respect the will of City Council. Cancellation will require an official request not from the mayor, but from all of council.

    I’m not sure why Metrolinx is even talking to the mayor at the moment, as he’s not brought this to a vote yet. The math plainly doesn’t work, the Fords have been clear that they don’t listen to even their allies, and I honestly don’t believe that 22 councillors are dumb enough to commit themselves to so much less transit at such a higher price.


  20. Another advantage of maintaining Eglinton as an LRT line is the potential for branch lines in the future; if Jane ever gets an LRT, it would have a lot of trouble fitting in anywhere south of Eglinton, and given the need for a DRL, in a perfect world the Don Mills LRT would also end at Eglinton, and given that currently, every other (approximately) bus on Eglinton is a 54 or 100 that turns at Leslie or Don Mills respectively, and every other 32 bus turns at Keele headed to Jane, it would make sense to branch the line to increase service to the busiest central portion.


  21. A few back-of-envelope calculations indicate just how foolhardy Ford’s Sheppard proposal is.

    Make some very favourable assumptions – 4 billion dollars costs around 250 million a year to amoritize, let’s say over 30 years. Let’s say we build 10,000 units a year on the Sheppard Corridor – same ballpark as CityPlace, and needless to say, extremely, order-of-magnitude favourable and this would dominate condo construction in Toronto for years to come.

    Further, let’s say that each and every one of those 300,000 condos exists for the full 30 year amoritization period. That works out to a roughly $8000/yr/unit subway surcharge – under extremely favourable conditions., more than quadrupling taxes on a typical condo. The numbers simply don’t add up. Under more realistic circumstances, the income will be somewhere around a tenth as much.

    To put it another way, Sheppard to date has attracted maybe $30 million in development charges and maybe another 20 million in assessment growth (around $2.5 million/yr in taxes). This is not enough to cover the operating subsidies of the line over the last 8 years, let alone begin to amoritize the capital cost of a line built when construction cost half what it does now.


  22. Thanks for the article Steve. It is always interesting to hear the arguments and responses at these meetings (and interesting to hear who is arguing what).

    It was good to hear some concern over the Finch West LRT route (a route desperately in need of improvements). Unfortunately it does not sound like there was the same concern for the Malvern neighbourhood, which stands to lose the high-order transit they are demanding pending a Sheppard subway.


  23. @Karl Junkin:
    The thing to bear in mind is that those same models for transit city also didn’t take into account the Sheppard subway at STC and the impact of it on the SRT. When you factor that in, it’s quite probable that the demand for rides from STC to Kennedy and beyond on a combined SRT-Eglinton line would be significantly less than what the transit city models predicted for the SRT.


  24. I don’t understand the passive silence of the TTC Commissioners in all this.

    If they figure the Ford boys’ schemes will succeed, they should be out front cheering and proposing enhancements.

    If they figure that the schemes will crash in flames, why not say so, in order to get clear of the scene?

    All the Councillors on the Commission are experienced. Why are they setting themselves up for the fall?

    Being ‘fired’ for not toeing the line can”t be worse than being seen to be totally passive, can it? The Commission is not doing its job; do the Commissioners really want to be seen as totally irrelevant?

    Would someone with more insight and knowledge of city hall care to comment?

    Steve: It’s a rein of terror from the Mayor’s office. Some of the Commissioners actually believe this dreamland accounting, and those who may disagree don’t want to incur the Mayor’s wrath. The really clever ones will let Ford crash and burn on his own. Sadly, yes, they are not doing their job by letting transit planning be taken over this way.


  25. Would it be possible to just start running LRVs if we hung some wire on the existing tracks, then only worrying about going to UTSC from STC.

    Steve: It’s not that simple. When the original RT was built, the UTDC prevailed on the TTC to downsize the infrastructure so that it couldn’t be converted back to “streetcars” easily. The new LRVs will not fit through the tunnel at Ellesmere. Also, for low floor cars, the platforms are at the wrong height. It’s not a straightforward replacement.


  26. What is the status of funding for the Hurontario/Main St. LRT line? I read somewhere that it is projected to cost $1.1B, which to me suggests that while Toronto muddles around, the Province should fund the Hurontario line first. This would certainly focus Toronto’s attention on getting its act together (including setting fares at a realistic level).

    Steve: No funding is announced yet for this. It would make a nice election goodie, but who knows what we will actually see.


  27. Robert Wightman said, “The part of the Eglinton line from Brentcliffe to Kennedy will be the last part built and hopefully Ford will be gone before they start construction on it.”

    I would like to believe that a phased build of Eglinton may result in this and that new management at City Hall will choose to cut costs by returning to the original plan for the outer ends of the Eglinton line. Of course, that will require that things do not change to ICTS at this time.


  28. @BrisUrbane

    In an ideal world increasing GO Transit’s frequencies to match/complement subway frequencies would work. Unfortunately at this point GO is only a tenant of the rail corridors it uses. As such it’s subject to CN and CP who prioritize freight traffic over passenger traffic. Negotiating an extra run is a lengthy process. GO and Metrolinx are in the process of buying or building their own parallel track where possible. Unfortunately spending all of that money to buy or build the tracks leaves little money to pay for actually providing the service on the lines they already own.

    Having GO Transit integrated with the TTC network would fill in a lot of higher-level service gaps such as the much vaunted DRL. But until they do get everything sorted amongst all the parties involved the TTC will have to go it alone.


  29. Gil says:

    “Having GO Transit integrated with the TTC network would fill in a lot of higher-level service gaps such as the much vaunted DRL. But until they do get everything sorted amongst all the parties involved the TTC will have to go it alone.”

    GO Transit is not going ever to be in any position to run the amount of service needed to have any effect in supplementing or being able to carry any significant number of people within Toronto until they totally abandon mainline railway practices and start running totally isolated services. Unfortunately they cannot do that on any lines except the Barrie line and the Weston line from Bramalea to Union. I do not believe that Metrolinx/GO has the ability to remove its blinders and look at anything that isn’t mainline rail for GO services. Perhaps they should dust off the old GO ALRT plans and re-read them.


  30. I live in Highland Creek. I would have gotten the Sheppard LRT to U of T but to tell you the truth I would rather have the Sheppard subway. I think overall my trip would be much faster living at the eastern end of the city to North York Centre and to downtown with an extension of the Bloor-Danforth. Dependability of the subway is unmatched.

    Mr. Ford may be unrealistic about his funding but I want a subway. The people of Scarborough want a subway. The people in Malvern want a subway. I have some family members living in Morningside Heights that spend 2 hours going downtown for school bus>SRT>BD>YUS.

    His plan is the best one overall. He just needs to raise the funds to pay for it. I wouldn’t mind a little more in taxes if I get value for money and subways are valuable to me.

    Steve: It will cost you more than “a little more” in taxes to get a subway on the scale you are seeking. That’s the problem. And then there will be people in other parts of the city who want their subway too. You are never going to see a subway all the way out to Malvern, but you might see GO service if Metrolinx ever gets off its butt on plans for this area.


  31. @Robert Wightman

    I was thinking the GO Urban project would appease those people who want crosstown express high-capacity service.


  32. Where is Chair Stintz in all this? Isn’t she supposed to represent TTC? How can the entire board be silent with billions at stake, not to mention the serious implications this plan will have on current service?

    Steve: Karen Stintz is like the clerk in a butcher shop. She only sells the goods, but the guy in the back with the big knife is responsible for what’s in the showcase.


  33. Steve wrote:
    “If you believe that every single ‘rapid transit’ route in Toronto will be running at over 15k/hour someday, well then you build subways.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    It is inevitable that peak oil will make driving cars a luxury for the rich. And if there is a revolution in Saudi Arabia (something that looks more likely every day) that will bring an overnight end to most car use.

    That does not make me a subway fan. Surface LRT is about one-seventh the cost per km of subways. Proper Dutch-style separated cycle infrastructure is so cheap that the cost is almost zero. The entire Netherlands cycle network throughout the entire country costs 30 euros per person per year. That’s all capital and maintenance costs. The only Toronto public transit system that’s a REAL public-private partnership is the coming BIXI bikeshare system. And that is only because the cost is so cheap that the city can get away with putting zero money into it.

    These financial realities mean that subways are just too expensive compared to the alternatives. The same amount of money that will buy one subway line will buy a whole network of seven LRT lines as well as proper cycle infrastructure on all major roads. Two parallel LRT lines will have more capacity than one subway line – and be at more convenient, spread-out locations.


  34. Jacob Louy says:
    February 21, 2011 at 1:09 am

    “@Robert Wightman

    “I was thinking the GO Urban project would appease those people who want crosstown express high-capacity service.”

    The two big questions are:

    1) Where would you put it. The only two available corridors are the CP North Toronto Sub and the Hydro corridor north of Finch and neither one is really available. CP is not going to let anyone use the North Toronto Sub easily as it is their main line through Toronto. CP is also a federally incorporated railway and is not subject to provincial rules, regulations or expropriation. The Hydro right of way runs through a lot of back yards, has a lot of cross streets and Hydro One does not look favourably on anyone using it.

    2) Where would you put any passengers who wanted to go downtown? The Yonge and University lines will have no room for them. What is needed is a DRL that will actually help the east end of Toronto. There is a lot more of the city east of Yonge than west but there is no north south line to the east. Scarborough and East York don’t have the political clout that North York and Forest Hill do.

    Steve: Another important point is that any east-west line has to actually serve something and connect with the existing system. I remember a day when people seriously proposed rapid transit in the 401 corridor forgetting that stations would be rather challenging to access and development around them impossible. Just because there is a corridor does not mean that it’s the best place to put a transit line.


  35. In response to Ragu:

    I live in Scarborough too and I do NOT want a subway. What good is a Sheppard subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre (STC) if I have to take a 30 to 45 minute bus ride to STC just to get to the subway? An LRT extension along Sheppard Ave. E to Meadowvale is a more effective use of the limited capital we have. A rebuild and extension of the SRT into an SLRT to meet the new Sheppard LRT would provide far greater connectivity to northeast Scarborough than a Sheppard subway that terminates about 6 km away from Malvern.

    In an ideal world we would have a Sheppard subway extension from Don Mills to Meadowvale and an RT extension up to Markham Rd. and Sheppard Ave. E. but we know that isn’t going to happen. Building a 6 stop subway extension that just barely manages to cross the Scarborough border and abandoning a 120 km light rail network is not the best plan on the table in my opinion.


  36. Is it reasonable to assume the Transit City money can just be diverted to something other than what it was supposed to pay for? Or is Ford promising to use his winning charm on Queen’s Park?

    Steve: Actually, the TC money is going to be concentrated on the Metrolinx projects, notably Eglinton, where it will extend the amount of tunneled (or otherwise grade separated) route. Finch and Sheppard East LRT lines disappear, and the City is entirely responsible for the Sheppard subway. Having said all of this, what the extra cost on Eglinton does to the benefit case analysis, I don’t know. When it was an LRT line, Metrolinx kept trying to reduce its cost, but now it appears that the sky is the limit.


  37. With the Finch BRT, they could be considering extending the York bus lanes. But, given that would cost money, I suspect what they will be doing is planning to run expresses between the two subways with stops at Bathurst and Dufferin and then towards the west.


  38. Kevin Love said “Surface LRT is about one-seventh the cost per km”.

    Really? So why is it now priced at 1/3rd? When TC same out in ’07, everyone was saying it was 1/10th.

    Steve: Unlike some rather headstrong LRT advocates, I have never claimed that it would be 1/10th the cost of subways. As we know, the fleet and carhouse costs were missing, or at least inadequate, in the original TC proposal. The actual proportion will vary depending on the amount of underground construction on an “LRT” line. 1/10th is the sort of number you would get for an at-grade extension that didn’t have to bear the cost of complex stations nor any significant change in fleet or carhouse needs.


  39. “Perhaps they should dust off the old GO ALRT plans and re-read them.”

    This is one of the few points in favor of the Sheppard subway. At the end of the day it was conceived as being a section of the northern ALRT line built early by the city, and never really went away with the rest of the project. IMO the line works when looked at through that lens – it is not a local service subway, but is a regional line that was intended to run from Pickering GO station across the top of the city connecting the three urban growth centres (and eventually to the airport, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying that makes sense today). The ONLY reason it isn’t a GO train is that there are no rail lines available for conventional service, and once we start building new grade separated lines it is more cost effective to build rapid transit than heavy rail. My opinion on light rail in this corridor is, and always has been that the core market for it is long distance travel and that the kind of light rail we propose in this city just isn’t suitable for that kind of market.

    That said, I would not be so confident that “GO Transit is not going ever to be in any position to run the amount of service needed to have any effect in supplementing or being able to carry any significant number of people within Toronto until they totally abandon mainline railway practices and start running totally isolated services.” Yes, there are major problems with GO’s operating practices today, but in the rest of the world (outside North America) 5-10 minute mainline frequencies are entirely practical, and the reality is that on most GO lines freight traffic is relatively limited. The problem is not technological but institutional, and quite frankly proposing to build new lines to solve a problem that can be dealt with through modern signalling and operating practices is to say the least a waste of funds. I would argue that the electrification study combined with the work Caltrain is doing in San Francisco can be used as evidence that there may be an opening for the discussion of these topics in the near future. Ultimately the real problem is not going to be anything in the nature of mainline railways but in what we can do with Union Station.

    As for Ford’s plan, it is truly awful. Aside from the Finch line being of considerable more immediate importance than anything on Sheppard his funding just isn’t going to work. He may be able to get something out of TIFs, maybe even a significant amount, but it won’t be 4 billion. As for development charges, he needs to take a look at the planning act. These charges are restricted to paying for the ten year level of service across the municipality, in no way shape or form can we call a new subway line the ten year average service for new development in Toronto.


  40. I was a little disappointed with the Transit City plan for Eglinton, because it didn’t have much grade separation outside of the central tunnel. Most of the grade-separated options, such as a bridge over Black Creek Dr. and a tunnel under Weston Rd, were shot down due to cost.

    Fast forward to today, and the proposal is to put the line entirely underground, but only between Jane and Kennedy.

    Where is the middle ground? If we grade separated some key intersections while leaving some portions at grade, we would have a longer line at the same cost and the same speed.

    For example, why would we build a tunnel under Eglinton between Don Mills and Victoria Park, when the median goes pretty much uninterrupted? An LRT there would be just as fast as it would be underground.

    On a different note,
    The main advantages of Ford’s subway “plan” is that it reduces transfers from STC to either NYCC or Downtown. Why don’t we just accommodate these same goals with LRT? Extending the SRT along Eglinton would give people a one-seat ride from STC to either the Yonge line or the future DRL. To address concerns about the number of transfers between North York and Scarborough Centre, we could build a connection down Midland from Sheppard to the SRT to allow LRVs to run from Don Mills Station to STC (and eventually Malvern).

    Steve: It will never be possible to have a one-seat ride for everyone. If we tried to do that, we would still be running an “integrated” service on the subway. There’s a point at which transfers are necessary. The issue is to make the station as pleasant as possible (not many levels between services with frequently broken escalators and elevators), and service frequent.

    Oh and by the way, the Canada line doesn’t use “miniature subway cars”, it uses regular ones. They’re 3m wide, 3.6m tall, and a married pair is 41m long (roughly 70ft per car). They’re a lot bigger than an A division New York Subway car, a little bigger than a B division New York Subway car, but not quite as big as a Toronto Subway car.

    Steve: Sorry about the “miniature” reference — Toronto cars are 22.8m long by 3.1m wide, with a married pair being 45.6m. Vancouver’s cars are roughly the same width and height, and a tad shorter than Toronto’s. However, they are running in two-car, not six-car sets, and the stations limit the train length. Ergo, miniature trains, not cars.


Comments are closed.