Memo to Queen’s Park

Almost a month after Ontario’s provincial election, the political landscape in Toronto is shifting away from the Ford Brothers and “Ford Nation”.    The Brothers Ford’s hoped-for Conservative ally, a Premier who would support any of their mad schemes, remains in opposition.  The Tories didn’t even manage to girdle Toronto with a sea of blue ridings, and the Liberals remain in power in much of the GTA with the NDP taking several urban seats.  Between them, the Liberals and NDP count for a large block of “not Tory” votes, and Ford’s effect on the election was at best neutral.

The Liberals, content to re-announce past commitments, proposed little on transit during the election.  Queen’s Park remains silent on any transit initiatives.  This might be a sign of consistency if only we did not hear daily about “congestion” and the need for much better transit in the GTA.

Bob Chiarelli, formerly Mayor of Ottawa, replaces Kathleen Wynne as Minister of Transportation (also as Minister of Infrastructure).  The Ministry’s website describes Chiarelli as “a champion of public transit, including clean light-rail expansion”, and for once we have a transition between Ministers that might not wreck a pattern of support for transit within the government.

There is much to do.  Simple recitations of committed projects must give way to discussions of a future, much improved world for transit in the GTA and other major Ontario centres.

Herewith, a few suggestions about what the “major minority” (Premier McGuinty’s term for a not-quite majority) of our new government might do on this file.

You Won:  Act Like It

The past election began in fear and desperation with polls showing strong support for the Tories.  Even worse, the Ford juggernaut loomed over Toronto poised to seriously damage Liberal support in the City and in the inner ridings of the 905 beyond.

Antagonizing the seemingly popular and powerful mayor was not a highly rated election strategy.  Rather than challenge Mayor Ford on his unilateral cancellation of Transit City, and more generally on his moves to drive transportation planning as a personal brief without explicit Council support, Queen’s Park agreed to a new deal, a Memorandum of Understanding.

In one stroke, we lost much of Transit City, gained an ill-considered subway proposal for Sheppard, and saw the Eglinton “LRT” morphed into an LRT subway and replacement for the Scarborough RT.  Billions originally earmarked for other projects were funnelled to Eglinton to pay for the higher cost of a fully underground line.  Finch may get buses, and much of Sheppard will get nothing.  The remaining Transit City lines are wiped from the map.  Both the Sheppard subway and Finch bus plans would largely be on the City’s dime.

If Queen’s Park really believes that we must spend wisely, and if we must raise new taxes to pay for all of this, throwing billions at a political problem in the Mayor’s office is not good policy.  Indeed, a central tenet of Metrolinx’ project evaluations has been so-called “Business Case Analyses” purporting to show the value of the chosen proposals.  Whether the methodology holds water or not (and I have my doubts on that score), the principle is that money should be spent well, with demonstrable benefit, not just for political convenience.

In the wake of the Port Lands development debacle and the search for mythical gravy in the City’s budget, this Mayor’s voter support is exposed for what it really was.  People wanted “change” and some sense of responsible spending, not a city of slash and burn Tea Party clones.  Continued support for Mayor Ford’s position runs against the evolving mood of the city, and Queen’s Park needs to entertain alternatives.

Ideally, a view of how transit might evolve would come forward municipally and gain political support, something Queen’s Park could latch onto rather than having to do the dirty work themselves.  Unfortunately, we are unlikely to see this either from a left-centre coalition at Council, nor from the provincial agency, Metrolinx.

The legislature has a strong majority who should support transit, although the parties differ on the details.  As for the Tories, their attitude is simply to let local politicians decide, possibly with a few more crumbs from the dwindling pot of provincial funding.  How this is supposed to produce an integrated regional transit plan is a complete mystery.

Toronto’s support for transit is hemmed in on one side by a tax-fighting, budget cutting administration, and on the other by the decline of Provincial support for capital programs and the pressure this creates on the City’s capital debt.  None of the Liberals’ many election statements addressed these problems.  Beyond Toronto, transit does not enjoy strong support from municipalities, and developing a better market share will require improvements the cities cannot afford without new revenues.

An oft-repeated phrase talks of “mature discussion” on transit financing (indeed of all municipal financing).  What exactly do we hope to build, how will we afford not just the shiny new trains and buses, but the transit service that must be operated and maintained to support new trunk lines?

A party with a fresh almost-majority needs to drive this discussion sooner, not later, and do so in the context of the difficult economic situation Ontario and its cities are in.  This is no time to timidly hide from voters, to say “we’re doing all we can” when there is clearly a demand for more.

As for Rob Ford, we have already seen his so-called private sector subway on Sheppard evolve into a call for tripartite funding with Queen’s Park and Ottawa kicking in 1/3 shares, and some private investment filling in the cracks.  To this scheme, the answer should be a resounding “no”.  He agreed to a plan, fantasy or no.  Ford must live within this agreement or put the whole thing up for review including the issue of surface transit taking road space.  Any new plan must have support from Council.  Without this, we might as well just wait three years for a more-enlightened administration to take power from the Fords.

Queen’s Park must show that they are open to transit spending, and this must not be for one or two projects.  New revenues and the Metrolinx “Investment Strategy” must be the top priority.  Without them, discussions of enhancing transit will be confined to the back of beer-soaked napkins.

The Role of GO Transit

At the regional level, GO/Metrolinx must deal with the challenge of all-day bidirectional rail services.  Not only does this add to GO’s costs with comparatively empty trains, it creates a need for good off-peak transit feeding into GO stations.  The commuter model, in in the morning, out in the afternoon, simply won’t work any more.

Toronto presents special problems because the GO lines could form a regional rapid transit network once service is frequent enough to attract riders.  However, the fare structure discourages TTC/GO riding, and TTC services do not focus on GO stations as major transit nodes.

Back in 1967, the rationale for GO was that running commuter trains was cheaper than building more highways in the Lake Shore corridor.  Why doesn’t the same philosophy apply to GO’s role as part of a transit network?  Capacity issues are often cited as the reason for limiting GO’s role in the 416, and yet The Big Move’s demand model quite clearly assumes that GO will have a major role within the City of Toronto.

By 2016, Union Station’s reconstruction will be finished, and passenger capacity will no longer be an issue in the medium term.  Train capacity is another matter, and we know from the GO electrification study that much remains to be done for service frequencies to approach levels proposed in The Big Move.  This may be a problem for another government, but we must know what we are aiming at.

Open conflicts between Metrolinx and GO plans do us no good, and undermine discussions of what we can expect of transit in the 2020s and beyond.  Consistency is not a strong suit in planning by GO and Metrolinx, and we cannot intelligently talk about new alternatives in funding, construction and operation of transit if we can’t even have a coherent plan for the regional network.  Add to this GO announcements that flow from the Premier’s Office rather than as part of a regional plan, and one might wonder if there is a plan at all.

A related question for Queen’s Park is GO electrification.  Recent studies showed that not only is electrification of the major GO corridors a good idea, but that it is essential for these services to reach their target capacities and speed.  Unfortunately, GO still speaks of “if” it will electrify rather than “when” despite an endorsement of this in principle by the Metrolinx Board.

GO’s attitude seems to be that their network will never reach the service level where electrification is justified and, therefore, the question is moot.  This directly contradicts demand and service projections in The Big Move and, implicitly, projections for the traffic volumes that will be redirected from roads to transit by GO.  Either GO’s rate of growth will be much lower than projected by Metrolinx, or GO’s indifference to electrification is dangerous posturing that ignores a complex and critical part of the system’s development.

Finally, GO and Queen’s Park are lumbered with the Air Rail Link to Pearson Airport, a project inherited from a failed private sector consortium.  The entire project is a comedy of errors deserving an article in its own right, but its problems include:

  • The vehicles have standard railway coach height floors that are incompatible with existing (and future) GO Transit platforms.  This means that the ARL needs its own station infrastructure, and the equipment cannot interoperate on other GO routes or be redeployed in any future network restructuring.
  • The airport spur will be built to ARL vehicle specifications, and we are unlikely to ever see low-floor GO equipment operate to the airport.
  • Because electrification has not yet been approved, future conversion will be more complex than if the line had been built for electric trains from the outset.

The desire to have a “world class” link from the airport to downtown in time for the Pan Am Games in 2015 drives the ARL project’s timing.  If we were serious about this, we would ask why the airport connection will remain an infrequent, premium fare service divorced from the local transit system.  We would also ask why LRT options connecting to Pan Am sites (Eglinton West, Sheppard East, East Bayfront) won’t see the light of day in time for the games, if ever.  “Pan Am” is a convenient bit of hocus-pocus weaving protective spells around a project Queen’s Park wants to see at all costs, but strangely absent from alternatives that would be more useful in the post-games transit network.

Transit Operating Budgets

Toronto’s operating budget is financed from a combination of subsidies and fares:

  • About 66% comes from the farebox
  • About 4% comes from miscellaneous revenue such as advertising and contract services outside of the 416
  • About 24% comes from city property taxes
  • $90-million worth of provincial gas tax pays for the remaining 6%

The gas tax was originally intended as a capital subsidy, but Queen’s Park allows Toronto to book part of this revenue against the transit operating budget.

Provincial subsidy used to account for 1/6 of the total operating budget, roughly 2.8 times greater than the current level.  Restoring funding to this level is a major goal, an “ask” by Toronto of Queen’s Park, but this idea has already been rejected by Premier McGuinty.

One challenge in any new arrangement will be ensuring that new provincial money actually improves transit operations rather than simply providing room for the City to cut its TTC contribution.  The last thing a Minister or Premier wants is a bold announcement followed by no visible improvement or continued maintenance and service cuts.

The NDP would have cities freeze their fares in return for better transit funding, but this scheme would do nothing to preserve or improve transit service.  Fare freezes are the transit equivalent of tax freezes — superficially attractive, but ultimately destructive.  Rising transit demand will not fully fund the added service needed to carry the loads, and ongoing subsidy increases will inevitably be a target for future spending cutbacks.

If there is to be a quid-pro-quo, this should focus on quality of service to ensure that transit does not erode just at the time when more and more would-be riders try to use it as an alternative to driving.  This is important not just for Toronto, but for the small transit systems around the GTAH where local political support for good transit service is even more tenuous than in the 416.

Transit Capital Budgets

Say “transit” anywhere near a provincial Liberal and you will get a speech about $11.7-billion and thinly-veiled admonitions that asking for more would be unwise.  However, little of that money will benefit transit users in the short term.  The lion’s share goes to the Eglinton LRT subway project, and will actually be spent over the period to 2020 (much in the last five years).  This includes a few billion to keep Mayor Ford happy and put the whole route underground, although that scheme may prove impractical now that Metrolinx (and even TTC Chair Karen Stintz) acknowledges complexities at river valleys.

(Another chunk, a tad under $1-billion, goes to the Spadina subway extension, a project that will complete in late 2015 or early 2016, after the Pan Am Games have come and gone.  The Provincial funding for this was placed in a trust fund in 2006 for accounting purposes, and has been sitting there ever since doled out as needed by the project.)

If we bring Eglinton back to the surface for part of its length, what do we do with the “savings”?  Queen’s Park has agreed to give Toronto some leftovers, if any, from the Eglinton project as a contribution to the Sheppard line, but even this offer has its limits.  We need a well-informed debate about where the Eglinton funding might go.  Back to some form of the Finch or Sheppard LRT schemes?  To other Toronto transit projects such as the new vehicles and carhouse for the “legacy” streetcar system?  To the underfunded Waterfront transit proposals?

I despair that the government, or its agency Metrolinx, or the Mayor’s office can have such a discussion, let alone one in which the public might have a say as to options and priorities.

As I have described elsewhere, capital funding from both Queen’s Park and Ottawa declined as various time-limited programs wound down.  Toronto’s only sustained funding today is the gas tax totalling about $320-million between the two sources.  Most of this goes to capital, but comes nowhere near the ongoing needs of our network.  Far too much “committed” capital is linked to specific projects.

The TTC itself is partly to blame for this situation.  For many years, the capital budgets low-balled the true cost of proposals, and “gotcha” situations usually emerged when a project advanced beyond the point of no return.

Estimates for the Transit City and Waterfront projects are recent examples, but the whole question of subway network capacity and planning is another major issue as I have discussed elsewhere.  A routine trick is to move projects beyond a ten-year timeline so that their cost estimates don’t show up in funding requirements even when management knows that the work should be done sooner.  Their hope is that capital will magically appear and allow such projects to move back into view.

This approach, however, means that there is always a hidden backlog of projects, some of which cannot be deferred, but which remain out of view.  The result is an understatement of the real needs, and a continued reliance on funding individual budget items as special projects rather than as a routine, annual allocation.  Just when we think we have a formula to match our needs, we discover that the project queue extends out of sight around the corner.

Congestion vs Mobility

The “war on the car” is a false premise — it leads to a focus on congestion, not on mobility.  In cities, there will always be congestion because there are far more people, far more demand, than roads can handle.  Even Metrolinx’ plans acknowledge that, at best with full buildout of their proposed Big Move, congestion will get no better over the wide planning area of GTAH.  Will we see the full network?  Not very likely.

Downtown, the “old city” is congested because off peak road traffic is growing, and because road space is used for parking and loading, not for travel.  Roads are only so wide, generally four lanes, and unless we take Baron Haussmann’s 19th century Parisian approach, they are as wide as they ever will be.  Some blame congestion on streetcars, but oddly streets free of these vehicles are congested too.  Cycling volumes continue to grow, and if there are more bike lanes, they too will remove capacity from other road users.  Even the growth of pedestrian traffic affects road operations with crowded sidewalks and frequent blockages of turns where they are legal.

Outside downtown, the problems are different and the mix of travellers (auto, transit, etc) gives a balance unlike what we see in the dense, pedestrian oriented parts of the city.  Taking capacity away from cars, the dominant mode, in these areas will not be easy especially where there is no room for adding lanes.

Many trips in these areas are already poorly served by transit, and new lines will not address the diverse origin-destination patterns between parts of the suburbs.  The goal will be to get what market share transit can attract, and to support this with evolving land use that improves transit-friendly density on the street, not behind acres of parking.

The focus must be on how to move people around.  Frequent, reliable service is essential.  Don’t waste time trying to pack on a few more passengers in the name of “efficiency” if this pushes crowding beyond reasonable comfort and slows overall service.  Make headways predictable, minimize wait times and improve speed where possible with transit priority that really works and good connectivity between routes.  These may sound like local transit issues, but they all cost money that transit systems and their cities don’t have.

We talk about “reduced congestion” as a holy grail, but are unwilling to make transit more attractive as an alternative.

Do Governments Believe in Transit?

A long-standing problem with transit financing has been a focus on capital construction and the direct economic stimulus this provides, possibly with some benefits to land development.  The idea that transit is a good in its own right, that transit mobility across the GTA has personal value for voters and economic value for the region, is absent from most transit debates.  The result is a focus on projects to keep somebody — a politician, the construction industry, a developer — happy.  Looking at the network as a whole, at what it might achieve, comes second if it is considered at all.

No discussion of new transit funding — be it from tolls, taxes, development fees or bake sales — can occur without shifting our expectations of transit to that network view.  Politicians and planners need to lake the long view of where transit is going.  Are we just muddling through, spending as little as we can politically afford, or are we fundamentally changing transit’s role in urban areas?

Most politicians represent ridings where transit is a poor second as a transportation choice.  For them and for their voters, supporting new money is an uphill battle in personal commitment.  There is only so much political capital to go around for deserving causes, and transit isn’t top of the list for many at the municipal or provincial level.

The original premise of MoveOntario2020 (the Premier’s scheme timed for the 2007 election) was that we would prime the pump with a set of projects financed from general revenue to show what could be done.  In practice, many of these projects are sitting on the back burner or will not complete until long after new revenue tools were supposed to be in place.  Some were poorly chosen, some were deferred thanks to economic developments.  It’s hard to convince people they should spend more on transit when they see so little.

The next municipal election will be in 2014 with a provincial election to follow in 2015 presuming that the Liberal minority survives that long.  While it may be difficult to do so publicly, Queen’s Park needs to think of a post-Ford era in Toronto and what transit planning will look like in that context.  What accomplishments need to be in place, what promises will be made in coming years?  Will they answer yesterday’s question — the vain hope that traffic congestion can be eliminated — or will they look forward to make transit “the better way” in the GTAH regions where this is possible?

The Metrolinx Investment Strategy is now planned to appear in 2014, and The Big Move 2.0 may get underway next year.  Both of these drag along far too slowly, in part in deference to the 2011 election.  Many groups, including normally conservative business lobbies, are calling for better transit spending and new revenue sources to pay for it.  The shopping list of possible sources is well-known with only a few — gas taxes, road tolls, regional sales tax — offering the dollars needed to finance capital and operating improvements.

We can debate these over and over, but the list will not change.  What is needed is the will to proceed and to advocate for the benefits transit can credibly bring.

We need a strong transit network, not pet projects.  We need results, not promises.

13 thoughts on “Memo to Queen’s Park

  1. Steve: This comment was left on October 11, almost a month before I wrote the article to which it is now attached. It’s been sitting in the queue urging me to finish my post-election review.

    Hi, Steve – I await with great interest your thoughts on the voting results and outcome of the recent Provincial election and the extent to which the political landscape has changed and how it might affect the degree of influence Mayor Ford (and his behind-the-scenes brother) continue to exert on the future of Toronto’s transit.

    Some here on your pages seem to be breathing at least very slight sighs of relief (are they warranted?) that Hudak did not win, and that MAYBE the new streetcars might actually be allowed to come to Toronto’s street, and (dare one hope?) some rethinking of the cancelled Transit City.

    I myself have no idea what to expect now that the election is done and over with, especially because I’m not close to the situation and rely nearly entirely on your fine discussion group here for information. I hope that Ford’s destructive influence over how the TTC conducts its affairs has now been or will be somewhat reduced, and that there are enough thinking people willing to stand up to Ford and press for a more thoughtful and reasoned-out planning approach to the TTC than he has shown a willingness to.

    I as I am sure the many others who read and participate in this forum greatly appreciate the time, effort and thought you put into your analyses. I can well imagine you are assimilating, digesting and perhaps drawing some reasoned conclusions to what if any difference this election will make to the future of Toronto and its transit system, now that it is over. I look forward to reading your reaction, as well as the thoughts of the rest of you who take part in these discussions.

    Finally, Steve, I have enjoyed your reviews of the recent Toronto Film Festival, and have found many of them interesting guides for what films I might want to see. We in Chicago are now in the middle of our “2011 International Film Festival,” featuring some but not all of the movies you reviewed. Thank you for all you do here.


  2. Hi Steve:-

    I too had been anticipating this study of yours and I’m not disappointed. Your insights have laid out the realities of each of the do little governments. And when they did do, they stopped without that network and sustainability thinking required by all users of transit facilities. Photo ops all!

    Your quote, “The result is a focus on projects to keep somebody — a politician, the construction industry, a developer — happy. Looking at the network as a whole, at what it might achieve, comes second if it is considered at all.” is all too succinct and true in the Ford age. Look at his immature crayon drawings of ‘his’ vision of interpreting what Torontonians want. Even true in the Lastman age too, but I will take issue that the “considered at all” part had been universal as Transit City was a huge step forward in looking at a system, that network to develop for the benefit of many. The construction and manufacturing industries could have profited from the many years of similar projects giving them the opportunity to plan for a future. Even the blinkered, besieged motorist would benefit. Battles were being fought on the motorists behalf and the twin buffoons were and are incapable of realizing that!

    We all know we had our own visions of how Transit City’s plans could be improved, but, and this was a big positive but, we all agreed it was a tremendous place to start. Finally, a proposed network to improve the lot of the greatest number of residents had become more than a possibility. Unfortunately now still-born due to the pronouncements of incapable, uncaring, selfish, egotistical school yard bullies whose perception of reality clashes with their verbalized (dare I give them the benefit of elevating their pronouncements to) ‘thoughts’ of how best to slop gravy.

    Your comments of holding our collective breath until these ‘fiscally responsible’ politicos are replaced, hopefully by someone(s) with reasoned insights is a reality, is what most of us are thinking too. Sad isn’t it? Three more years of a very unfunny clown act running a platform of fiscal responsibility indeed! Billions of dollars on a short hole. Who will benefit? To our unfortunate detriment, not many!

    Please keep at it Steve. Someone with the position to do something about our miserable state and the ability to understand more than just the photo op mentality hopefully will sit up and take notice of your seasoned and rational observations again.



  3. I know we already know this, but there is the TTC Times Two program. It ain’t as nice as what the 905 systems offer, but if you need to take the TTC on the other end of your trip it does net to be a good deal. Example:

    YRT to Richmond Hill GO Station: $0.50
    GO to Union Station: $4.50 (Adult pass: $180/40)
    TTC to destination: $2.50
    Total: $7.50

    TTC to Weston GO Station: $2.50
    GO to Union Station: $3.60 (Adult pass: $144/40)
    TTC to destination: $0.00
    Total: $6.10

    Of course, if you end up walking from Union, it throws any value out the window… ($6.10 vs $5.00, for a shorter trip to boot)

    Steve: This is fine for situations where GO can act as a bridge between TTC routes, but as you note for a trip that simply uses GO as the “rapid transit” to downtown from, say, southern Etobicoke, there is no saving. Why should someone get a cheap ride on Mississauga Transit to Port Credit Station, but not on the TTC to Long Branch or Mimico?


  4. “Eglinton LRT subway funding] includes a few billion to keep Mayor Ford happy and put the whole route underground, although that scheme may prove impractical now that Metrolinx (and even TTC Chair Karen Stintz) acknowledges complexities at river valleys.”

    I thought I read somewhere that the MOU allowed above-ground river crossings presumably on bridges. Logically, the Car Culture should not be offended provided there are no grade crossings or taking of road space.

    Steve: Yes, the MOU allows the crossings to be at grade, but I think we need a discussion of more than just the river valleys.


  5. Great piece Steve,

    I know you will not agree with me but my plan regarding the problem of allocation of funds was based on your revelation on this site just a few months ago that Metrolinx offered Ford the chance to let the Eastern leg of Eglinton run above ground (as a proper surface LRT) and put that 1.8 billion in savings towards Sheppard. I would also allow them 500 of the 600 million allocated for cost Eglinton overruns. I would apply for $1 billion of the Federal $1.3 billion P3 Fund. That $3.3 Billion is not fantasy funds! That is real, legitimate money that can be accessed tomorrow if the right phone calls are made.

    What this leads to is a fully funded Eglinton with LRT in the east end and the eastern portion of Sheppard. Who would really argue against two fully functional, cross town rail lines?

    For transit to work has to be fast, cheap and reliable. Transit City in the form it was presented was not rapid and would not get one person out of their car. If it had right of way lanes, signal priority and a higher top speed than 23km/hr, then it would get the support of EVERYONE across Toronto. Unfortunately too many people see the mess that St. Clair became and that version just will not sell right now.

    Steve: The only problem I see with your scheme is that the Feds are not going to give 3/4 of a national program’s funding to Toronto. We can also argue about whether a Sheppard subway is the best use for this money, but that’s a separate thread.


  6. Beyond having a focus on keeping somebody happy, I think the governments have lacked a sturdy, long-term vision and plan for transit in the GTA. That’s probably why transit plans tend to be rejected or discarded. The subject just doesn’t get the time or effort that it deserves.

    The focus always seems to be about “now.” There’s a lot of road congestion now, there’s the ridiculously short Sheppard subway now, and we don’t have a monorail now. So what do the governments do? They vie to eliminate those problems as quick as possible. That is, they want to find the quickest solutions; ergo, Ford’s rash decisions immediately after the municipal election. They know that there will be an election in four years, so results have to be visible within that window. The results have to be particularly visible to the public because (especially in this day and age) people seem to want things done ASAP; preferably now, not in five to ten years, which may actually be more reasonable.

    Meanwhile, I believe that all these short-term solutions are detracting from much more beneficial long-term economic values that services such as, quality public transit can add to this city. Anyone who can think long-term knows that the “war on the car” is a false premise. Road space for cars will decrease as the city’s population increases. As such, public transit is increasingly becoming an important facet of mobility throughout Toronto. When will our “leaders” wake up to reality and start to seriously consider the future of our city?


  7. There are plenty of people who would like to get on the TTC when they get off the GO train or bus at Union, because their destination is an inconvenient distance to walk (Spadina and Queen, Yonge and Bloor, ….). Some of them come from beyond Toronto so even the feeble TTC Times Two won’t be of any help. Since their travel is contra-flow, there ought to be available capacity on the subway, streetcar, and buses. This could be the kind of incremental ridership that would gain the TTC more revenue without significantly increasing expenses.

    Of course, if the weather is bad or they’re tired, they may pay full fare for a relatively short trip on the TTC.

    JW writes:

    For transit to work has to be fast, cheap and reliable. Transit City in the form it was presented was not rapid and would not get one person out of their car. If it had right of way lanes, signal priority and a higher top speed than 23km/hr, then it would get the support of EVERYONE across Toronto. Unfortunately too many people see the mess that St. Clair became and that version just will not sell right now.

    Hmm, driving in rush hour in the GTA is hardly fast, cheap, nor reliable, yet people do it daily. Are you so sure about your criteria?

    Furthermore, you are making the same misapprehension that you appear to decry in the last sentence of that paragraph. I assume that St. Clair is scheduled for 23 km/h. But it is not a Transit City line, so this is moot. The real Transit City lines were scheduled, as I recall for 30+ km/h, which — as was pointed out at the time — is faster than the scheduled speed of the Bloor-Danforth subway.

    St. Clair is a local line, now with a ROW. Other than having a wide street to work with, if it was a true Transit City line, it would likely have to be buried much like Eglinton. Given the cost of burying a line, and the fact that St. Clair is hardly a regional corridor, and given that Eglinton is 2 km away, I don’t see why anyone would expect St. Clair to be built to regional transit specs.

    Steve: The AM peak scheduled speed of the St. Clair car is 15 km/h. Round trip distance is 14 km at a running time (excluding terminal layovers) of 56 minutes. The Yonge subway from Eglinton to Union takes about 15 minutes to cover about 7km, or 28 km/h when its running at a decent speed. Peak period times are much longer with a lower speed accordingly. The effect is from passenger congestion, a problem also faced by busy surface lines that have far more stops.


  8. In responding to a comment by JW, “For transit to work has to be fast, cheap and reliable,” Ed said, “Hmm, driving in rush hour in the GTA is hardly fast, cheap, nor reliable, yet people do it daily. Are you so sure about your criteria?”

    I suspect that JW was sure about the criteria. Nowhere did JW say that “fast, cheap, and reliable” were the gold standard of attractiveness for all modes of transportation, only that they are mandatory for public transit. In fact, I suspect there may have been the implication that driving is definitely NOT those things, but must be for public transit.

    Driving is “personal” and that has several meanings that translate into value for a commuter – value that override things like not being “fast, cheap, and reliable”. It is ready when you are, one is not squashed between strangers (or worse), one can make stops along the way, planned or ad hoc. OK, that last one is possible on many of the other transit systems in the GTA, but not on the TTC unless you use a pass.

    JW’s point, as I understood it, is that public transit must be “fast, cheap, and reliable” in order to attract people from the private automobile that has other advantages that may not be possible for public transit.


  9. @Calvin, Ed & JW:

    The missing factor is convenience of access to transportation (any mode).

    If you have to walk 10+ minutes to the subway, and make a similar walk after you get off the subway, the car may be faster after all.

    This drives at an oft overlooked piece of policy; what’s an acceptable distance for people in built-up areas of a municipality to live from transit, and, more importantly, how do you measure this distance (I am vehemently opposed to the current practice of crow-fly circles measured by radii, and frankly find that practice to be ridiculous when applied to any street layout that is not a near-perfect grid). If the transit system is within reasonable reach of almost everyone, then you get the highest potential O-D pair combinations that, by extension, has the highest potential for attracting riders (proper service management and route layouts notwithstanding). If too many have walks to the nearest bus stop that is longer than they consider acceptable, the system doesn’t reach its potential.

    On a different note: Transit City lines were projected to operate at around 23km/h, not 30, except on Eglinton, where the range was 25(east)-28(west)-32(!!! – central). The Bloor-Danforth line may have an average speed over the whole line of about 31km/h, but its central third has a speed of around 25-26km/hr. The downtown U south of Bloor is also in the 25km/hr ballpark. Figures regarding the existing network were taken out of context left right and centre during Transit City consultations, and it did a great disservice to the whole plan, as decisions made were based on inappropriately-applied figures used as frames of reference.


  10. The more I read about Transit City, the more I appreciate that it was reasonably well thought out. The selling of the plan left a lot to be desired. Most photos of LRT did not show vehicles in medians with traffic, charts of transit capacity lumped Street Car and LRT together, and integration with GO was not emphasized. Thus it was easy for Ford to equate LRT to slow Street Cars that would lead to lengthy travel times to downtown.

    Politics will always be driving the decisions in transit. A good transit plan, in the real world, must be able to be built in segments. As each segment is build, it usually forces subsequent construction to follow close to the plan. If the next leader is not keen on portions of the plan, then other areas can be built were there is closer agreement in philosophies.

    Going forward, Ford can either be left alone for 3 more years in hopes that the underground Eglinton becomes a fiasco. However, what happens if Ford wins again? Perhaps a better strategy would to provide some options for the city to consider. One example was the Eglinton East above ground exchange for Sheppard Subway that was apparently proposed a few months ago. Perhaps DRL could be substituted for Sheppard. More money would have to be put in but Conservatives have a few Don Valley seats near the top of the DRL and the Liberals and NDP have provincial seats. Some GO integration may be needed to help Ford save face. The money would not have to flow until the deficits are gone. The Portlands showed that Ford can change his mind if pressured by the public and if he can spin it to not look to bad – he did clain that his involvement help speed up the development. Same thing could happen with transit if someone prominent highlighted these options and showed that a better option exists.

    PS. I too am surprised about the Don river crossing problems – it seemed obvious that both branches could not be tunneled under.


  11. Has it occured to anyone that the auto sector in Ontario (from car manufacturing to highway construction and maintenance) is a sacred cow at all levels of government? It is difficult to believe that otherwise intelligent people would continue to make such poor decisions on personal mobility options unless there was some over-riding reason to ignore the obvious. Governments also leverage the tendency of most people not to “think”. In my circle of relatively intelligent friends and acquaintances most have no knowledge of or interest in local transit or passenger rail. This is cause for concern because it leaves advocacy strictly in the hands of volunteer lobby groups and a few independent activists.

    The absolute tragedy of the whole situation is that a great country like Canada is doomed to mediocrity. The outlook for manufacturing jobs in Ontario is grim and the promise of lower corporate taxes has done little, if anything, to reverse this trend. And yet we still look to the car for salvation.

    Consequently change will only happen when there is sufficient community to influence government policy and ensure that clowns and incompetents are not given the opportunity to make far reaching decisions based on ignorance and dogma.

    It will be a long struggle but a cause worth fighting for.


  12. Fast, cheap reliable….choose any two (as the old joke goes).

    The problem with “fast” is that people think about speed rather than time. I’ve had discussions with folks who think that any true “rapid transit” ought to run at 130 km/h. Which probably means that there won’t be a stop close to your origin or destination, so the speed is moot. This is why analyzing Transit City by the average speed of the line is one approach, but certainly not the only one. After all, you may have to take a longer slow bus ride in order to access a speedier-than-TC mode such as a subway.

    While a ten-minute walk to and from the transit stop should be added to the time of the trip, I wonder how many people count the time they take to scrape off the windshield of their car and get it started and out of the driveway, and then the time it takes to walk in from the further edges of the parking lot to wherever they’re going. Then the time to stop off on the way home to fill the tank with gas.

    Steve: A point Eric Miller made during his presentation was that transit riders are much more sensitive to time waiting for a vehicle to show up than they are to in-vehicle travel time. Having buses come more frequently to reduce waiting time will have a bigger effect than a higher speed that achieves the same saving in total trip time.

    Is it any wonder that people just love subways? They get the best of both worlds — a fast trip, and trains that usually show up within 5 minutes even when the demand doesn’t justify this level of service. If subways were subject to the same standards as surface routes, people might think differently about their “convenience”.


  13. Ed said, “This is why analyzing Transit City by the average speed of the line is one approach, but certainly not the only one.”

    Often, the criticism of that average speed is in the context of the speed limits on the streets in question (often 60 km/h), without consideration that the average speed of a car traveling the same route is often similar to the Transit City averages.

    In addition to wait times being an issue for transit riders, it is often overlooked that the journey on foot through a subway station can account for a significant amount of time. In my quest for LRT on Yonge north of Steeles, I am often countered with the wonders of a one-seat ride from Highway 7 to downtown. This ignores the fact that a great majority of those craving that one-seat ride from there have to currently take a bus from points north and east (and to a lesser extent, west). The time it takes to exit the bus and proceed down two or three levels of escalators (assuming they are all in operation all the time – a BIG assumption!) is totally forgotten.

    For the same money that can build that 4 km of subway north of Steeles, an LRT implementation can reach much further out and provide an underground across-the-platform to the subway at Steeeles. A significant number of those who forget the time and effort it takes to transfer from bus to subway would now have a one-seat ride to Steeles where the transfer to subway is significantly easier. Only the couple of hundred people within walking distance of a proposed subway station north of Steeles would be slightly inconvenienced by this.


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