Finally! A Dundas West GO Connection (Updated)

Updated March 24 at 9:00 pm: Metrolinx has published the materials from the Open House.  Of particular interest is the presentation which shows the proposed changes to the area around Bloor GO Station and Dundas West TTC Station.

In the first phase, the north sidewalk of Bloor Street would be redesigned to widen and otherwise beautify the access to the GO level from the sidewalk in the underpass.  Also, a connection from Dundas West Station would be added at the east end of the platform.  (Page 33 of the presentation shows details of the subway to GO link.)

In later phases, the streetcar loop at Dundas West would be redesigned so that all access was from Edna Avenue with traffic signals.  This could be a mixed blessing given the level of transit service at this location.

Original post below:

Metrolinx has announced an open house for the Dundas West-Bloor Mobility Hub Study.

Date: Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Time: 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Venue: Lithuanian House
1573 Bloor Street West

Further background can be found in The Star.

Dundas West Station was built before GO existed, much less had service on the Weston corridor, but a connection could be built from the east end of the platform to what is now Bloor Station on the rail line.  However, a major development, the Crossways, was not on top of the subway when it opened in 1966, and any connection must deal with this building.

Trackwork Delayed at Queen & Connaught?

Both the TTC and the City of Toronto websites include announcements of major watermain and trackwork near Russell Carhouse that is scheduled to begin in late May.

This project involves replacement of streetcar tracks including the special work at Queen and Connaught, the west entrance of the yard at Greenwood, and the track on Connaught south to Eastern Avenue.

However, it is unclear whether this will actually occur in 2011 as there have been requests from local merchants that they be spared a second year of construction in a row (the City had Queen Street torn up for watermain work in 2010).

Needless to say, any track construction affecting access to Russell Carhouse will have a considerable effect on operations there.  No details have been published yet on alternate schemes for providing service during the project, whenever it might occur.

When there is a definitive answer on this issue, I will update this article.

Roncesvalles Construction Resumes

Completion of the Roncesvalles reconstruction will proceed over the next four months from mid-March to early July.

The City’s Construction Notice explains the staging of the remaining work between Queen and Dundas Streets.

  • March 21 to 30:  Housekeeping work on sidewalks left over from 2010.
  • March 28 to May 16:  Sidewalk work on the east side of Roncesvalles south from Fern to Queen, and on both sides between Dundas and Howard Park.
  • April 4 to 25:  Enbridge Gas will relocate a main between Geoffrey and Howard Park on the west side of Roncesvalles.
  • May 9 to June 13:  Sidewalk work on the west side of Roncesvalles south from Howard Park to Geoffrey.
  • June 20 to July 4:  Road reconstruction on the west side of Roncesvalles from Geoffrey to Howard Park.

From March 27 onward, the 504 King service will revert to the schedule used in fall 2010 with a bus shuttle running from Dundas West Station to Sunnyside Loop.  Southbound service will run via Lansdowne, and northbound service will run via Roncesvalles.  In early May, construction will reach the point where buses can operate southbound diverting via Howard Park, Parkside Drive and High Park Blvd.  Streetcar service will resume in July.

A related project, the reconstruction of track on King from Roncesvalles to Close, is scheduled to begin in late May and continue until mid August.

A Sudden Surge of Fare Evasion?

To everyone’s great surprise, the TTC recently discovered that fare evasion is a rising problem on the transit system, according to reports in the Globe and the Star.  Is Toronto becoming a city of transit cheaters, or is something more subtle at work here?

Over many years, when the subject of fare evasion came up at Commission meetings, the standard line from management was that Toronto has a very low evasion rate compared to other cities.  Indeed, a 2007 report on the “Business Case” for Smartcards talks about Toronto’s low fare evasion rate and the role new fare technologies might play.  Counterfeit media are considered to be more of a problem than evasion, and the TTC worries that Smartcards for concession fares may be abused at automatic entrances.

The low evasion rate was routinely cited as a reason that the TTC did not aggressively pursue fare inspections because the cost was greater than the potential revenue gain.

Times have changed.  Finding “waste” is the flavour of the day.  Moreover, as the stories linked here make clear, this debate is in the larger context of the TTC’s Special Constable force.  In 2010, the City Budget Committee and Council directed the TTC to reduce this force, and the Toronto Police Service has taken over their function for Criminal Code and other aspects of policing.  This issue came up again in the 2011 Budget, and a City report gives the background information.

It is quite clear that TTC fare inspectors do not require the full powers formerly accorded to Special Constables, but TTC management is exploiting the current financial situation and calls for crackdowns on freeloaders as a wedge to reopen the question of having their own, dedicated force.

Strangely, we find that fare evasion, long considered a non-issue in Toronto, is suddenly a problem.  Have the numbers really changed, or is the jump from past results simply the effect of better enforcement?

Recently, I was riding the Queen car and was asked to show my pass.  This is the first time in over a decade that this has happened.  All door loading is regularly used on Queen, and the occasional freeloader will hop on for a short trip — after all, with almost no inspection, the odds of getting caught riding for five minutes is quite small.

According to the Star’s article, transfer fraud has jumped.  TTC transfer enforcement was simplified some years back by the inclusion of a prominent day number on all transfers, and different colours for each day.  However, a parallel evolution was for operators to avoid confrontation with passengers over fares.  Indeed, even with polite riders, when 30 people all board in a crowd, checking all of their fares is not easy.

For those who do pay fares, we know that over half of all adult trips are done using a Metropass, and there tend to be more passes used on frequent downtown routes because the population of heavy transit users is greatest there.  This begs the question of what the evasion rate is among those passengers who don’t have a pass, those for whom there is an incentive to cheat.

The Queen car’s 50,000 daily riders represent annual revenue of about $30-million, but over half of this will be from passes and various forms of discount media.  If the TTC is really losing $1.2m annually from transfer fraud, this is a large proportion of the riders using transfers.  Catching them should be like the proverbial fish in a barrel, but two fare inspectors working the entire line won’t bring in a big haul.

The move to any new fare system with any kind of self-service validation (e.g. Presto) requires that the system be enforced, and even the TTC acknowledges that it should start more aggressive fare inspection on the streetcar routes, at least, as a prelude to the introduction of the new fleet where all-door loading will be standard.

Oddly enough, the TTC still wants to keep its Special Constables (or whatever they are to be called) deployed on the subway system, with a few left to handle the Queen car on weekdays.  That’s not a scheme designed to catch fare cheats, but simply a continuation of the way the Special Constables have been used since their inception.  If the TTC really wants to improve their haul of fares, then Special Constables should actually spend more time on this activity.

Otherwise, it’s hard to believe that “fare evasion” is anything more than the latest excuse to perpetuate the TTC’s own security service.

TTC’s “State of Good Repair” Funding Crunch

In past articles, I have reported the growth in TTC capital spending and the concurrent problem in funding for the system.  Over coming months, the City of Toronto and its agencies, including the TTC, will struggle to create a viable financial plan for 2012 and beyond.  This will include a five-year projection on both the operating and capital sides, an exercise that will (or should) frighten those concerned with the survival of public services.  However, it should also bring some discipline to year-over-year budgets and project approvals by demanding better accuracy in projections and clear justification for “surprise” projects in the out years.

The TTC capital budget is a formidable document with details in two binders of over 1,600 pages.  The summary form is tens of pages long.  Parts of the public presentation are so dense that one page brought a laughable comment from Vince Rodo, the TTC’s General Manager — Executive:  “You’re not supposed to be able to read that”.  A joke, yes, but a sad comment on the level of detail the Commission and the public see when confronted with a multi-billion dollar budget.

I have already written at length about the 2011 Capital Budget, and in this article I will focus on changes to the budget as it passed through the City’s approval process as well as the outlook for 2012 and beyond. Continue reading

Understanding TTC Project Cost Creep

The recent TTC meeting saw Commissioner Minnan-Wong digging into questions about rising costs on two TTC projects, the design of Finch West Station and the resignalling of the south end of the Yonge subway.

Reports asking for increased spending authorization come through the Commission quite regularly, and Minnan-Wong has raised the question of “out of control spending” at Council on past occasions.  Just to declare my political leanings, I have never been a fan of the Councillor, even though there are certainly legitimate questions to be asked when project costs rise unexpectedly.

Unfortunately, Minnan-Wong tends to approach these issues as if someone is trying to pull the wool over his eyes and implies outright incompetence as the starting point for discussion.  This approach brings more confrontation than information.  Let’s have a look at the two projects in question and consider how information about them (and their many kin in the overall budget) might be better presented.

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Who Pays, and How Much? (Updated)

Updated March 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm:

To no great surprise, the TTC Board today endorsed the staff proposal to do away with Post-Secondary Student Passes for part time students.  This was done after a few hours of well presented, cogent deputations from a variety of speakers who, for their troubles, were greeted with a Blackberry wielding board who spent little of their time paying attention.  In one case, a presenter was finishes, but Chair Karen Stintz was so busy with her email that she didn’t notice for some time.

The common thread through the deps was that the concept of “part time student” is not consistently defined either between institutions or even programs within the same university or college.  About 20% of students today are “part timers” mainly for economic reasons (they cannot afford to pay the fees for a full time program in one go) or because the program they are in is defined as “part time” (regardless of its actual course load).  This cohort of students is growing, and they are also penalized by being ineligible for various loans and grants offered to “full time” students.

Yet another group not covered by the policy are those who are in “certificate” programs which may have just as heavy a course load, but don’t lead to a degree.

As one speaker put it, “students are students”, but the convoluted definitions and practices lead to artificial distinctions between them.

At the end of the deputations, Commissioner Palacio put forward a motion in the best tradition of appearing to be supportive while doing precisely nothing.  He wanted the Commission to reiterate that part time students have access to the “VIP Pass” discount program, and wanted the staff to write to university and college administrators urging that they extend their current VIP Pass program for staff to the part time students.

This proposal, which passed, of course, insulted the speakers who know perfectly well that a VIP Pass (which costs about $10 more than a student pass) was available, provided that their institution actually was part of the VIP program.  The problem is that this is not universal, and depends on an institution (or a group like a student union) setting itself up as a VIP Pass vendor.

Finally, Chair Stintz thanked everyone for “making their voices heard”.  “Heard” is not the word I would use, as “listen” was certainly not what much of the Commission was doing most of the time.  If she had really “heard”, she would have acknowledged that there is a problem with definitions, not to mention the larger issue of other groups who make claims for discounted fares, and sent the whole issue off for a detailed report.  This change won’t have much effect until fall 2011, and there was no need for a definitive decision today.

But no, that’s not what happened.  Mayor Ford’s minions were in and out of the meeting to ensure that the vote went the right way, and the students didn’t have a chance.

[The original article from February 28 follows the break below.]

Continue reading