Sheppard Panel To Recommend LRT, Not Subway

Various media outlets have reported that the Expert Panel struck by Toronto City Council to review options for the Sheppard East line will recommend the original Transit City LRT plan, not a subway extension.

To the amazement of many, Mayor Rob Ford appears to be trying for a compromise, but given his history, that word probably has a different meaning for the Mayor and his circle than for the rest of us.  The essential problem is to decide whether the subway will end somewhere west of Scarborough Town Centre (Don Mills?  Victoria Park?) or if the “compromise” plan would presume getting to STC some day.  If that’s the “compromise”, them building an LRT to meet the subway would come under fire as a waste of money, and we would be back, essentially, to Ford’s all-subway plan for Sheppard.

Meanwhile, TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Councillor Josh Matlow held a packed meeting in North Toronto to explain and advocate for the LRT option endorsed by Council.  Although there is good support for LRT, an uphill battle remains to counter the Ford camp’s pro-subway spin.

City Council will meet in March 15, 2012 to consider the panel’s report which, if the agenda process runs true to form, should be available in advance of the meeting.

Service Changes Effective March 25, 2012 (Corrected)

The TTC will implement several service changes on March 25, 2012.  These are mostly in response to growing demand on the bus network, although this also includes slightly better service on the Bloor-Danforth subway at weekday midday and early evening.

Actual average loads for current service and the projected values following the changes are no longer included in the memoranda issued by TTC Service Planning.  This means that we cannot see how close to the line ridership is, or to what degree it already exceeds service standards.

Correction:  The average load information has been moved to a completely separate section of the service change memorandum, and I did not catch this.

Updated:  The table of service changes linked here has been updated with the loading information.

Although many services will improve, the amount of service to be operated falls within the currently-approved budget.  Looking further out, the budget includes the usual summer reduction in service levels, but there is provision for increases in the fall.  By November, the TTC will be back at a service level slightly better than in January, just before the most recent round of cutbacks.  That is on an overall basis with cuts in some services and loading standards going to pay for improvements elsewhere.

2012.03.25 Service Changes

The Secret Sheppard Subway Report

On February 15, 2012, the Star’s Royson James wrote about a TTC report prepared in March 2011 for Mayor Rob Ford on the Sheppard Subway.  The article included a photo of the report’s summary.

Royson James graciously provided me with a copy of the document, and it is available here for those who want to see the whole thing.  I suspect that it is only part of an even larger report because this material only covers one big question: why are the assumptions from the Network 2011 study done back in 1986 no longer valid?  There is no discussion of construction costs, project financing, or any comparison of alternative schemes.

2011.03 Transit Technology Summary and Background

2011.03 Transit Technology Table

Note:  These files were prepared by scanning the copy I received, which itself was a previous generation copy including a lot of marginalia.  The text was imported into and formatted as a new Word document with approximately the same layout (and typography) as the original.  This allowed it to be “printed” in PDF format (the files linked above) rather than a much larger set of images of the scanned sheets.

The report contains a few rather intriguing comments that won’t sound new to regular readers of this site, but which raise questions about the planning assumptions underneath decades of work by the TTC, City Planning and other agencies.

Planners and politicians make grand statements about how policies, official plans and zoning will focus development in locations and patterns of their choice.  In practice, this does not actually happen because the best intentions are inevitably diluted by political reality.  Developers build where there is a real market, not where a plan tells them they should build.  Jobs move around in complete ignorance of city, regional and provincial goals.  Do you own some land that doesn’t fit the plan?  Just sit on it until a friendly government comes to power and get a brand new, as-of-right zoning upgrade.

The idea that transit will shape development is demonstrably false because so many parts of the city with subway stations have not, in fact, developed at all.  This may be due to neighbourhood pressure, or to a policy of preserving the “old” parts of the city because that character has a value greater than massive redevelopment.  A neighbourhood may simply not be ready for development, or may have the wrong character.

This is particularly striking for residential development where local amenities and the “feel” of a neighbourhood are more important than with an industrial/commercial/office development.  People may work in office towers surrounded by pedestrian-hostile roads and parking, but they want to go home to something friendlier.

Because the market for commercial real estate and the jobs it brings has shifted to the 905, much of the development in nodes originally intended for employment has been residential.  This completely changes the transit demand pattern.  Instead of many commuters travelling “in” to a few nodes, we have residential areas that spawn outward trips all over the GTAH.  Subway plans presumed the concentrated trip making that nodes full of employees would create, and these have not materialized.

We are now seeing this pattern even in downtown Toronto with the growth of the condo market.  Many residents live and work downtown, but a considerable number are “reverse commutes” out to the 905, trips for which both the local and regional systems are very badly equipped.

The idea of “downtown North York” or “downtown Scarborough” has simply not materialized in the form expected three decades ago.  Actual employment levels at these two centres are about 1/3 (North York) or 1/5 (Scarborough) of the 1986 projections.  This should be a lesson for today’s planners and politicians who think they can forecast and direct future growth patterns with the aid of a few maps and regulations.

The employment growth projected back in 1986 for “Metropolitan Toronto” (now the City of Toronto) was a rise from 1.23-million to 1.9m.  In fact, employment grew only to 1.30m by 2011 with the lion’s share of the jobs going instead to the 905.  With the absence of strong nodes for new jobs, there was little chance of improving the modal split to whatever commercial development did occur.  Combining lower than predicted growth and a failure to achieve the projected transit modal split leaves us with demand projections that are completely meaningless.

Far too often, there is a political imperative to make the future look better than it might be, or at least to do a proper sensitivity analysis, a “what if” scenario for conditions that don’t match what we would like to see.  Any subway financing scheme that depends on future ridership must answer basic questions:  will those riders actually arrive, and will land development occur in a manner that will generate trips the subway will serve?

We have already seen development in the Sheppard corridor, but it is unclear whether this attracts buyers because it is near the 401 and DVP (and thus to a wide set of GTA destinations), or because it is near the subway.  That development is generating many car trips because, for most destinations, auto travel is the only real option.  The market share for transit at the North York and Scarborough centres is barely half what was projected in 1986, and the compound effect of much lower employment means that transit demand to these centres is a trivial fraction of what Network 2011 was intended to serve.

One item caught my eye in the section of “Public’s travel patterns and behaviour”.  Not only were the employment and mode share values used to model demand considerably above what actually happened, assumptions were  made about the way the Sheppard subway would get its passengers.  Regional and local bus services would be gerrymandered to force riders onto the Sheppard line (at least in the model), but riders actually preferred to go to Finch Station where there was a chance of getting a comfortable spot on a train.

Another assumption in the demand model was that the cost of driving would rise substantially both through higher gas prices and the cost of parking.  Neither of these materialized, although based on typical motoring behaviour, without a very  good network of transit alternatives, the pricing of auto trips does not discourage much travel.

This begs a vital question for all regional planning — can we trust the models?  What assumptions went into the model for our new transit  network, and have these been tested against actual patterns of development and of the regional economy?

The projected demands on new transit lines made back in 1986 were substantially higher than today’s expectations:

  • The Sheppard subway was expected to have 15,400 peak riders by 2011, but the actual number on the existing line is 4,500.  The projected peak demand for the full line in 2011 is now 6-10,000.
  • The Eglinton subway was expected to have 17,600 peak riders by 2011, but the LRT projection is now reduced to 5,200 (based on having the central section underground).
  • The Downtown Relief line was projected to have 11,700 peak riders by 2011, and the demand projection today is 12,000.  This is no surprise given that the DRL would serve a demand that actually existed 25 years ago, rather than a notional demand in a regional plan.

In previous articles, I have discussed the matter of the TTC’s Capital Budget and the mounting cost of simply keeping the subway system running.  Nothing lasts forever, and many systems are wearing out.  We are now on the third major generation of vehicles, there are problems everywhere with station finishes and equipment, water penetration and damage is an ongoing headache, and the signal system must be completely replaced.  Contrary to statements by some subway advocates, subways do not last for 100 years without major investments in rehabilitation.

Back in 1986, the TTC had not yet reached the point where the subway had started to wear out.  The oldest line (Yonge from Eglinton to Union) was only 32 years old, and much of its first generation equipment was still functional.  The TTC now knows that the subway system has an ongoing cost of $230m operating (routine maintenance) and $275m capital (major systems replacement) every year.  Looked at another way, simply maintaining the subway system consumes about 1/6 of the annual operating budget, and a substantial slice of the non-expansion related capital budget.

There is a large backlog of needed capital repairs with a shortfall of $2.3-billion in the 10-year capital budget thanks to provincial cutbacks in capital funding.  Building more subway lines will only add to this set of maintenance costs a few decades in the future.

Finally, we have a bit of creative history writing.  Why, the TTC asks, was LRT not embraced as an option back in 1986?  They claim that at the time it was a poorly understood mode with only limited use, particularly in North America.  What we now think of as “modern” LRT had not yet evolved.  This statement ignores the LRT renaissance in Europe and suggests that despite new LRT systems in North America (notably Edmonton’s and Calgary’s), it was too soon for the TTC to embrace the mode.

I will not dwell on the fact that the Scarborough ICTS system was brand new, and the idea that an “intermediate capacity” system between buses and subways already might exist was simply not in accord with provincial policy.

In fact, the TTC’s love for LRT is a very recent phenomenon.  When the Ridership Growth Strategy was first proposed in 2003 for “short term” service improvements, TTC subway planners were terrified that their pet projects had fallen off of the map.  The RGS was hastily amended to include a commitment to the Spadina and Sheppard extensions, and this move has been cited ever since as “proof” that the TTC supports the Sheppard line.  It would be another four years before the Transit City scheme was launched.

LRT was well-established around the world before the Transit City plan was announced, but it took a major rethink of Toronto’s transit network at the political level, combined with the economic constraints against subway building, for LRT to get the consideration it deserved.  Transit City was not perfect, but it got Toronto thinking about what might be built.

This report is a year old, and its existence shows that the pro-subway forces in Toronto, notably in the Mayor’s office, did not want an informed, public discussion of subway plans to occur.  Observations about the changing growth patterns in Toronto raise important questions about the future role of transit, indeed of the ability of transit to serve the region as we have actually built it.  Far too much effort is concentrated on the subway-vs-LRT battle in a few corridors when the real challenge lies “out there” in the growing and very car-oriented 905.

“So are they all, all honourable men”

Rob Ford’s Gang of Five turned its knives today on Gary Webster, the much-respected Chief General Manager of the TTC.  At a special meeting called for the purpose of discussing “personnel matters”, the Commission thrashed out Webster’s future and, it is rumoured, that of other senior staff at the TTC.

After three hours in private session, the Commissioners emerged to confirm what had been decided, that Webster’s contract would be terminated in accordance with its “without cause” section.  Although we don’t know the details, this almost certainly means that Webster will earn not only his pay for the remainder of the contract, but a penalty payment for early termination.

The recently recruited Chief Operating Officer, Andy Byford, takes over as interim CGM, an utterly thankless task in the poisonous environment of City Hall.  Whether he will be chosen to replace Webster, or would even want to, remains to be seen.

The TTC will launch into a search for a new CGM, but no sane, let alone respectable senior manager from another transit agency will want a position whose primary role is to kiss the mayor’s ass.

Before the vote, some of the Commissioners spoke to the issue.  Maria Augimeri spoke passionately about the role of the Commission asking “who do you serve”.  Does the Commission exist as puppets of the mayor, or as a responsible body serving the citizens of Toronto?  John Parker spoke extremely briefly merely noting the words “without just cause”.  Both Augimeri and Parker would join Chair Karen Stintz and Vice-Chair Peter Milczyn in voting against the termination.

Ford’s minions — Frank Di Giorgio, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Norm Kelly, Vince Crisanti and Cesar Palacio — could have kept their mouths shut, but no politician can resist a chance for a sanctimonious speech.

Di Giorgio talked about the relationship between previous mayors and CGMs noting that both David Gunn and Rick Ducharme had left under strained relationships with past administrations.  What he neglected to mention was that Webster was threatened not by a professional disagreement, but by Mayor Ford’s mistaken belief that staff owe him a personal allegiance supporting whatever position he might take.  Di Giorgio actually said that excellence in a CGM means the ability to perform tasks set by the leader of the city, by the Mayor.

That’s not how professional staffs work in Canada, and indeed this concept violates both Council’s code of ethics (which provides that staff work for all members of Council without favour) and the Professional Engineer’s code that regards tailoring advice to suit the opinion of the hearer, rather than facts and the professional opinion of the engineer, as a form of misconduct.

Norm Kelly praised Webster, but tempered this by saying that his good deeds lay in the past, while the TTC needs someone to “lead us into the future”.  That will be a very dark future if this decision stands without a change in TTC governance.

In the best tradition of stories with black-hatted villains, there were boos, hissing and calls of “shame” from the public.  This is the most disgusting example of political manipulation, of abuse of power, that I have seen in 40 years of TTC and Council-watching.  Toronto is soiled by this action.

Council now faces the task of bringing Mayor Ford and his lackeys to heel, of driving home the basic fact that power rests with Council, not the Mayor no matter how delusional he or his toadies may be in thinking him Rob the First, The Great and Powerful.

The next opportunity will come at the Council Meeting of March 5-6 when a proposed change in the makeup of the Transit Commission, recently passed by the Ford-dominated Executive Committee, comes to Council for discussion.  The outcome may not be to Ford’s liking.  His actions, the moves of a spoiled child, a bully who cannot stand losing a fight, will only harden opposition to his reign.  Council can and should act to strip the TTC of Ford allies, especially the five responsible for Webster’s dismissal.  There will be no transit progress in Toronto while a tinpot potentate interferes with the execution of Council’s will, strangles the transit system for funding and service, while promising subways he and the City cannot possibly afford to build.

[The title of this article is from Marc Antony’s speech from Julius Ceasar, Act III, Scene 2, in which he mocks Caesar’s assassins and their dubious self-justification.]

TTC Board May Try To Fire Chief General Manager

The Toronto Star reports that a special meeting of the TTC Board has been called for February 21 to consider the firing of Chief General Manager Gary Webster.

In a clear retaliation against the block of Council who endorsed an LRT plan for Toronto, the block of Commissioners dominated by Mayor Ford have called for this special meeting using a procedure similar to the one used by Karen Stintz and her allies to call a special Council meeting on the LRT plans.

If correct, this will be a clear retaliation against TTC’s Chief General Manager Gary Webster who has spoken against proposals for expansion of the subway network, and by extension against Stintz who has defended Webster from previous attacks by the Ford administration.

From the viewpoint of political strategy, now is the time for Council to hold yet another special meeting to seize control of the Transit Commission.  This could be done either by prematurely ending the terms of sitting members, or by increasing the size of the Commission and diluting Ford’s influence with enough extra members to ensure a majority that represented the broader view of Council rather than of the Mayor.

Will Council make such a move, or will they sit on their hands?  This is the first challenge, but certainly not the last, in taming Mayor Ford’s control of the City’s agencies.

Metrolinx Meeting for February 2012 (Updated)

Updated February 17, 2012 at noon:  The original article from February 13 has been updated to include additional information and comment at the Board Meeting.

The Metrolinx Board will meet on Thursday, February 16.  Among items on the agenda is a “Toronto Update”, but there is no published report.  Given recent events, I suspect this report won’t get beyond the draft stage much before the meeting.

Updated:  The Toronto report and discussion on it are covered in a separate article.

Other items include:

GO Transit Update

This report begins with a review of 2011 operations and updates on ridership to the end of November.

  • On the rail system, weekday riding is up by almost 6%.
  • On the bus system, weekday riding is up by over 6%, and weekend riding is up by 18%.
  • Total weekday ridership is now 243,600, up 13,600 from November 2010.

Looking ahead, GO expects rail ridership to grow by 22% over the next five years while bus riding will go up by 30%.

Although the presentation does not say this explicitly, one constraint on rail growth is the limit on peak capacity GO can provide.  This shows up in GO’s continuing inability to meet its target for passenger comfort with 80% or more of rush hour passengers getting seats on trains.  The number today is 64%, and there is little hope of this improving with demand growing faster than GO can provide capacity.

Updated:  Director Lee Parsons asked where there were capacity constraints in the network.  GO President Gary McNeil replied that demand was high on all corridors, but that Barrie has the strongest growth.  Milton is running at 110-120% of capacity.  GO will put additional trains wherever there is an opening in network schedules because there is strong demand everywhere.

Director Richard Koroscil asked what problems are at the top of GO’s “worry list”.  McNeil replied that the greatest need is for Federal and Provincial support for infrastructure.  Demand for GO service is there whether governments provide funding or not.  Planning where to spend is complicated by the need to keep activity going in many areas at the same time lest riders feel that their part of the network is being ignored.

Director Rahul Bhardwaj worried that people might feel that transit growth has stalled, and asked how GO could get more positive stories out.  McNeil replied that the magnitude of the Toronto debate has overshadowed GO even though they have good news in the 905.  Chair Rob Prichard noted that Metrolinx has to make the same progress in Toronto as they do elsewhere in the GTHA.

I could not help thinking back to the departing remarks of just-retired Director Paul Bedford who, among other parting comments, noted the relative size of the TTC and GO’s operations.  What is big news in the 905 and for GO itself would be small change on the scale of the TTC because GO is, comparatively, such a small operation.  Simply publishing sunny press releases (something GO is very good at) will not make up for the lower presence and mode share that transit generally has in the 905 compared to the 416.

Changes to Ticket Cancelling on the GO System

The title of this report is somewhat misleading as this is actually a report on the phase-out of paper 10-ride and 2-ride tickets and completion of the system’s conversion to Presto.

After May 31, 2012, the 10-ride and 2-ride tickets will no longer be sold.  Those remaining in circulation will be valid up to July 31, 2012 after which they will be refunded or converted to Presto.

Monthly, daily and group passes are not affected by this change.

Presto Update

Presto continues to gain users with a 22% growth in the number of cards issued over the November-December 2011 period.  About $14.4-million in fares were paid using the fare cards during the same period.  What has not been reported is how this lines up against overall fare revenue on GO and on participating regional transit systems.

A major new market for Presto will arrive in June 2012 with the rollout in Ottawa with the “Presto Next Generation” (or “PNG”) card.  PNG will become available in the GTHA in late fall 2012.

Concurrent with the rollout of PNG, the Presto website will be revised with added functionality and an improved layout, according to the report.

Meanwhile on the TTC, Metrolinx expects the Commission to grant authority for a contract with Presto at its March meeting.  Notable among the features to be included will be “Open Payments” allowing cards other than Presto and mobile devices to be used.  However, the exact details are not explained and it is unclear whether this will simply provide the ability to pay a fare with a credit card, or whether that card can be used as an alternative to Presto and receive discounts such as multi-trip incentives or equivalent-to-pass functionality.

A long section originally this article related to questions about Presto arising from the January Board Meeting.  This has been moved to a separate article.

Updated:  Director Rahul Bhardwaj asked how many “free rides” are taken thanks to the discounting system of Presto.  Staff pointed out that there are “free” rides on passes by design, but they are not counted or reported as there is no mechanism to capture pass use comparable to the Presto readers.

Director Lee Parsons noted that a commuter line in New York City saw a jump in counterpeak and weekend demand when it moved to all day service, and a fare tariff that allows for extra trips at little or no cost helps drive this demand. 

A view of transit riding as “free” and somehow undesirable is troubling because it implies that encouraging use through lower “frequent flyer” fares may not be a good idea.  This is the basic philosophical problem of fare structures:  do we purport to charge people for what they use, or do we encourage higher utilization through fares that reward frequent travel.  Is transit a service we wish to make as attractive as possible through the perception that it has a low marginal cost just as autos are thought to be “cheap” until one pulls into a gas station or receives an insurance bill.

After the meeting, I sent questions to Metrolinx asking how the two generations of Presto cards and supporting systems will interoperate.  For example, what will happen if an Ottawa user with a “PNG” card comes to Toronto and attempts to ride GO Transit?  I await answers to my questions.

A Few Questions About Presto

This article has been broken off from the February 2012 Metrolinx Meeting report given its size and the fact that much information here does not actually come from that meeting.  Comments related to Presto have been shifted to this thread.

In the original article, I reported a series of questions posed to Metrolinx about its Presto card and fare structure.  I have now received responses, and these have been interpolated into the text.

Continue reading

Metrolinx and the Toronto Council LRT Decision

At its February 16, 2012 meeting, the Metrolinx Board received a presentation and report on the status of projects in Toronto arising out of the Council action taken on February 8.  The report does not add much to information already reported, but it consolidates various documents in one convenient location.

The map of the 5-in-10 plan (the version of Transit City agreed to by Toronto Council in 2009 and disavowed by Mayor Ford) appears in both documents.  This map includes:

  • The Eglinton line from Jane to Kennedy with an underground section from Keele station to Laird station.  In the press scrum following the meeting, I asked about the possibility of redesign of the section through Mount Dennis (Weston Road) and near Don Mills and the DVP.  Metrolinx confirmed that details of these areas are still being worked out.  (See below)
  • The SRT rebuilt as LRT from Kennedy Station to Sheppard.
  • The Sheppard LRT from Don Mills Station to Morningside including a new carhouse at Conlins Road.
  • The Finch West LRT from Finch West Station to Humber College.

A note I received from Rick Ciccarelli (long active in transit affairs in Weston) gave further information from a public meeting on February 15 in Weston:

In speaking with Jack Collins [Metrolinx Vice-President, Rapid Transit Implementation] last night at Councillor di Giorgio’s Kodak Town Hall, he said underground [is] still in play and indicated the loading and unloading of trains at the start and end of service will be a problem for at-grade, and he also expects an interconnecting GO/TTC station to work better. He is not sure if it will go underground past this station. They are also looking at a bridge across Black Creek Drive to service the yards, plus bus connections for both TTC and regional service. The Kodak building could become a bus terminal. He said there are multiple issues to sort through before the design can be finalized including whether they are designing for 3 car LRT or full subway vehicles, and the relationship with the GO rail corridor track expansion project and the new station.

Collins confirmed at the Metrolinx meeting that the purchase of the Kodak site was concluded at about the beginning of February.  The remark about possibly designing the carhouse for full subway vehicles dates, I suspect, from a period when the actual technology to be used for the line had not been settled by Council.  Changing to full subway requires far more extensive design modifications than simply at the carhouse.

During the Board’s discussion, the question arose of interference in Council’s decision by the Ford brothers and their “Save Our Subways” scheme.  CEO and President Bruce McCuaig replied that Queen’s Park has indicated that they will listen to Council.  Chair Rob Prichard said that Metrolinx’ job was to be respectful of the Council process, and that it was not for Metrolinx to take sides with individual Councillors, but to wait for Council’s decision-making process to complete.

Director Lee Parsons asked what risk there might be that the Council debate will not be resolved by the end of March.  McCuaig replied that Metrolinx needs “certainty and clarity” from Council.  Prichard said that the “end game” is an agreement with the City, a binding agreement, and that McCuaig and his staff would move forward to a full master agreement as quickly as possible.  In the press scrum, Prichard hopes that Council will take a position endorsing a new master agreement, and referred to comments by individual members as “noise on the side”.

Director Douglas Turnbull worried that the longer the LRT versus subway debate continues — a false one he believed because LRT is the only reasonable option — that a window of opportunity for transit expansion may be lost.

Director Peter Smith noted that both Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario are strong supporters of arrangements where the entire provision of a line would be outsourced.  Bruce McCuaig replied that the province is committed to AFP (alternative financing and procurement) models, but various types of “package” may be appropriate.  Smith wondered whether the TTC was in any position to dictate an alternative arrangement for a facility that was not their own, and thought that the public did not understand the situation well (blaming the media for this state of affairs).

On the status of penalties for cancelled projects, Rob Prichard stated that Metrolinx would provide the City’s “expert panel” reviewing options for Sheppard with information about these and the effect of various possible options on which sunk costs could be reinstated as part of active projects.  Jack Collins said that Metrolinx has now broken down the costs per project and that the amount of sunk (unrecoverable) costs will go down as original route designs come back into the plan.  There will be some loss from the work done on tunnel design for the eastern section of Eglinton, although to whose cost this might be is an interesting point considering that Council never requested the change.

The vehicle delivery schedule must be revisited now that Finch and possibly Sheppard are  back in the mix.  Delivery dates can now move back to something close to the original contract based on the 5-in-10 plan.

Director Joe Halstead asked what differences there were between the Council motion of February 8 and the Transit City 5-in-10 plan.  Collins replied that the big issue is the status of Sheppard East although this also would have an effect on the SRT/LRT project.  If there is no Sheppard LRT and carhouse, then extension of the SRT beyond McCowan Station is unlikely.  Rob Prichard noted that the sequencing of projects may be changed depending on what is planned for Sheppard to accommodate constraints on the cash flow acceptable to Queen’s Park.

During the press scrum, the Star’s Tess Kalinowski asked at what point is Council’s position considered to have “coalesced”.  Bruce McCuaig replied that there are two points:

  • What position will Council take after the report of the Expert Panel on Sheppard?
  • How much power will they delegate to staff to negotiate the Master Agreement with Metrolinx, and will the agreement have to come back to Council for ratification?

McCuaig noted that a lot of work on the language of an agreement already existed from previous work on the 5-in-10 plan.

I asked about press reports that the Presto implementation in Toronto might be held hostage now that the Ford MoU which purported to commit Toronto to Presto was of no force.  Bruce McCuaig replied that work on Presto is still moving forward, and that implementation of the fare card is linked to other funding agreements including the streetcar purchase and the provincial gas tax share.  Metrolinx expects that an agreement for Presto implementation will go to the TTC Commission at its March 2012 meeting.

[I will report on other issues from the Metrolinx meeting as an update to my “preview” article.]

Russell Carhouse Track Construction Plans (Updated)

Updated February 16, 2012 at 6:05pm:  The Public Works & Infrastructure Committee deferred consideration of the report on Eastern Avenue’s reconfiguration until March 21, 2012, “to enable the Acting General Manager, Transportation Services, to explore further alternatives that will maintain the capacity of parking on the roadway”.

Original post from February 13 below:

TTC’s Russell Carhouse at Queen and Connaught will see major track reconstruction this year.

A project to rebuild track Queen Street and Connaught Avenue was deferred from 2011 at the Mayor’s request, but the work is now out for tender.  This will include the replacement of all of the special work on the north side of the carhouse including the yard accesses and the intersection at Connaught.  On Connaught itself, the track layout will be changed by the removal of the existing crossover between the northbound and southbound tracks.

At Eastern Avenue, the roadway will be rebuilt to isolate the streetcar ladder tracks from the rest of the pavement and raise their level.  This change will reduce the effect of the combined curve and grade between Eastern Avenue and the yard tracks which is especially pronounced at the carhouse itself.  A report on the recommended layout for the street is on the Public Works agenda for February 15, 2012.

This work is part of the overall preparation of the streetcar system for the arrival of the new LFLRVs.

The LRT Vote: A Long Day at Council (I)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 brought the debate on the future of LRT in Toronto to the floor of Council for a Special Meeting.  After a year waiting for Mayor Ford to get his act together on the transit file, to bring his Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Queen’s Park to Council for debate, to bring a credible plan for financing the Sheppard Subway extensions into public view, Council had enough.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz, the last person the progressive wing of Council would have expected, filed a petition with the City Clerk on February 6 for the meeting with the support of 23 of her colleagues.  Two days later, Council would be in open revolt against the Mayor.  The public gallery filled quickly, with overflow viewing by video in the rotunda of City Hall, and the Press Gallery had more reporters and camera crews than I have seen at Council in years.  They stayed all day — this was not a story to cover in an hour or so.

Stepping back from the political drama, this was an astounding day for me as a lifelong advocate for Light Rail Transit.  Here was Toronto Council spending an entire day debating transit planning, technology and funding with a level of detailed knowledge of the issues advocates could only have dreamed of years ago.  At stake was not just $8.4-billion of provincial money, but the future direction of transit development.

The results are reported elsewhere.  This article presents the flavour of the questions and speeches that filled the day together with a strong sense that LRT, forty years after the Streetcars for Toronto Committee’s victory, will finally have a fair chance in Toronto.  I have included details of the questions asked by most Councillors in the interest of showing the range of the debate and the growing understanding, or lack of it, by various members of the details of the issues.

Mayor Ford is not known as a gracious loser, and long before the votes were actually counted, it was clear which way the issue would turn.  The lowest point of the day came just after lunch when the Mayor’s team attempted to sabotage the meeting by breaking quorum.  Council cannot meet without a majority of members present (23), and the Mayor’s folks actually seemed to think that by staying away, they could halt the meeting.

This shows the desperation of the anti-LRT side, and puts Ford’s later comment that Council’s vote was “irrelevant” in a different light.  So relevant was that vote that he attempted to ensure it never took place.  He failed.

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