TTC Meeting Review February 29, 2012

The February 29th meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission was one of the shortest in my long memory of these events.  The agenda was trivial with an utter absence of meaty issues for debate, and the real action would follow in press scrums.

Accessible Transit Services Plan: 2011 Status Report

This generally upbeat report was approved without debate.

Notable by its absence is any mention of the operating budget challenges faced thanks to cutbacks in funding by the City of Toronto.  Recently, the Commission diverted $5-million intended to support regular bus service quality into the Wheel Trans budget.  For the long term, Council must address the fact that cutbacks to the Wheel Trans subsidy have much more severe effects, proportionately, than cuts to the regular system.

The TTC may be improving its accessibility, slowly, but basic questions about whether the service is adequate to meet demand receive little public debate.  This is not just a question of Wheel Trans for those who cannot use the conventional system, but of recognition that mobility affects many who are ambulatory, but whose neighbourhoods and destinations may not be well served by surface routes.

What’s In A Name?  Stations on the Spadina Extension in Vaughan

The Commission adopted “Highway 407” and “Vaughan Metropolitan Centre” as the names for the two stations north of Steeles on the Spadina subway extension on a 5-2 vote.

For some time, staff and some Commissioners have pressed for the simpler “Vaughan Centre”, but the City of Vaughan Council prefers the longer (and somewhat more pretentious) name.  Sadly, the opposition to the long version came from Commissioners whose credibility leaves much to be desired, although their comments might in other circumstances be cogent.

Norm Kelly mentioned the “conceit” of former cities within Metropolitan Toronto which created “town centres” such as in Scarborough, Kelly’s home turf.  This is deeply ironic considering that it is the failure of Scarborough Town Centre to attract employment that is part of the argument against the Sheppard Subway extension which Kelly supports.  Frank Di Giorgio worried that everyone will make a case for special consideration on station names.  Di Giorgio, it should be remembered, is the advocate for total obedience to Mayoral fiats by city staff, and if Rob Ford had a position on station names, it would take precedence over everything.

Meanwhile Maria Augimeri had hopes her “Black Creek” would get equal consideration when it comes to formally naming “Steeles West” station.

After the meeting, a group of my colleages agreed that one of my local stations, Chester, should be renamed as “Riverdale Metropolitan Centre”, although I might add the word “Organic” in deference to the neighbourhood.

It is unclear how the TTC will handle placing the long version of “VMC Station” on its maps and other signage.

St. Clair at Keele/Weston

Commissioner Palacio asked for a report on improving traffic conditions at the St. Clair and Keele intersection where, because of the rail underpass just to the east, traffic is constrained to a single lane by the streetcar right-of-way.

Restructuring the Commission

In a scrum after the meeting, Chair Karen Stintz announced that she had reached a compromise for the proposed change in the makeup of the TTC.  A report coming to Council on March 5 (whose origin lies in the machinations of the Ford camp to enhance control of all agencies by the Mayor) recommends a nine-member Commission (as at present) with five citizen members and four Councillors.  The Chair and Vice-Chair would be a Councillor and Citizen member respectively.

The new proposal would see an 11-member Commission with six Councillors.

After the firing of Gary Webster by Ford’s Gang of Five, many Councillors have talked about restructuring the Commission to be more representative of Council as soon as possible, including at the March 5 meeting.  Stintz feels that she has the votes for the compromise arrangement, and that a major shuffle of the Commission would not occur until June when the citizen appointments are confirmed by Council.

The next move is up to Council itself on March 5.

Subways and only Subways

While the TTC was meeting, across on the other side of City Hall Mayor Ford was hosting a bevy of developers for a luncheon discussion of subway funding.  After the TTC meeting completed, there was a scrum outside of the Mayor’s office (with Chair Stintz nowhere in sight) in which the Mayor and his circle claimed that there was broad support in the development industry for subways.  When pressed about funding, Mayor Ford didn’t want to get into the details beyond pointing to the Chong report, but claimed that the development community was totally onside.  Onside maybe, but the developers all slipped out the side door and avoided the media lest they have to go on record supporting or, worse, opposing the Mayor.

Of course developers love subways because they offer an opportunity to squeeze higher densities out of the city than they would get otherwise.  We have been down this path before with the Sheppard Subway.  However, don’t ask the developers to pay for subways, certainly not through development levies that would make their brand new condos uncompetitive with buildings downtown, the really hot part of the condo market.

See Robyn Doolittle and Royson James in the Star (the photo suggests Ford is less than engaged in the event), and Elizabeth Church and Kelly Grant in the Globe.

The strangest part of the whole scheme is that funding the subway depends on new revenue sources many of which Ford is on record as hating, and one (the vehicle registration tax) which he killed early in his term as a swipe at Toronto’s alleged appetite for higher revenues rather than reduced expenses.  Even the normally supportive Toronto Sun cannot believe what their hero is up to.

All of this leads up to a March 15 21 special Council meeting where the “expert panel” convened to look at Sheppard options will report that LRT is the preferred option.  Will Mayor Ford have a credible financing scheme in place, or will this be more smoke and mirrors, more claims that the money is there without any commitment to actually raising the levies needed to build the project?

30 thoughts on “TTC Meeting Review February 29, 2012

  1. Steve wrote:

    The TTC may be improving its accessibility, slowly, but basic questions about whether the service is adequate to meet demand receive little public debate. This is not just a question of Wheel Trans for those who cannot use the conventional system, but of recognition that mobility affects many who are ambulatory, but whose neighbourhoods and destinations may not be well served by surface routes.


    Accessibility is also affected by decreased service frequency and higher loading standards. Full vehicles cannot accommodate a walker, wheelchair, scooter or stroller.

    Does the TTC have a protocol for accommodating a passenger with a mobility device who is unable to board a crowded vehicle?

    Steve: No.


  2. Quick Question Steve,

    I’ve seen the calculation for ongoing operating/capital subway cost for the TTC at $7 million per km I’ve found the info that the TTC has 75km of streetcar track, but can’t find the cost of maintaining the streetcar network.

    Do you know what is the cost/km of maintaining the streetcar network?

    I was wondering about an apples to apples comparison to the subway network to get an idea of the LRT vs Subway ongoing costs.


    Steve: No I don’t have this number. The Capital budget has an annual figure for track replacement, but this does not cover routine maintenance costs for support work (minor repairs, maintenance of electric switch machines, etc.) Also, the capital budget has been heavy for several years catching up with the backlog of badly built track from the 1990s. The capital budget is sitting at around $30m annually, but I believe that this will start to tail off a bit by the mid 20-teens. That $7m figure for the subway is roughly half-and-half capital and operating, and includes all subsystems, not just track. For the streetcar system, we would also have to add in the overhead and power distribution network.

    To date, the TTC has still not published detailed budget books for 2012 and they show no signs of doing so. This makes splitting out costs, even when one isn’t dealing with pooled costs in departmental budgets, difficult. Someday when I have the time, I could go back and look at the 2011 books, but that won’t happen soon due to the pressure of other commitments.


  3. Could it be that the congestions at St. Clair near Weston is due to the fact that the City cheaped out by not widening the underpass at that point when it had the opportunity to do so during construction, or is the issue confounded by who owns those rail tracks? I remember thinking at the public meetings for the RoW that this would not be a good idea. In retrospect, could Metrolinx have been induced to pay for the widening as part of their ARL effort?

    Steve: Widening the underpass would have been difficult on the north side, but not on the south. I think it was just a desire to save money on the design.


  4. Re: New Revenue Sources

    Most of the taxes (sorry I meant to say ‘revenue tools’) have nothing to do with the Sheppard corridor.

    Thus why would council necessarily allocate them to bury a rapid transit line in Scarborough?

    You could use them to help pay for any of: a Downtown Relief line, burying a Finch West LRT in the vicinity of Yonge Street, finishing the other LRTs, etc.


  5. That railway overpass over St. Clair near Keele/Old Weston is not owned by the city nor the TTC. I would have thought Metrolinx would have rebuilt the bridge, but I have not seen any bridge replaced in the area until recently. I have seen the Queen Street railway bridge moved, and only now have I seen work on bridges over Lawrence West and at Weston Road south of Oak Street. Why is the St. Clair bridge not being replaced?

    Steve: In the detailed plans for the Georgetown South Expansion project, no work is shown on the St. Clair overpass because it is already wide enough to hold all of the tracks needed in the corridor. By this time, the Milton service has split off (at West Toronto) and the primary services at St. Clair are for the Airport and the Georgetown/Kitchener services.


  6. I suspect VMC will be what it becomes in common parlance.

    One quick question – based on that document you linked to Steve, are they going to call them Downsview and Downsview Park stations? Why not Chesswood?

    Steve: This is still a burning debate with camps supporting various station names. At the rate the conversation is going, we will be lucky to have any station (with the possible exception of York U) with a name vaguely related to its surroundings.


  7. @Nick So, since this underpass bugs Mayor Ford so much why not take a few bucks from the $8.2 Billion and widen it for those cars he loves so much?


  8. I think Vaughan Centre would have been a better name for the TTC station, as it would be consistent with other stations (North York & Scarborough).

    The problem is with Vaughan … the North York & Scarborough centres were combinations of commercial & government space, but Vaughan’s “town centre” is separate from the commercial “Metropolitan” centre.

    I suppose the credibility of certain commissioners is another story.

    By the way, any thoughts on the Stintz compromise for the new makeup of the Commission? 9 Commissioners with mostly “citizens” or 11 Commissioners with mostly councilors? Which is better?

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: My position that the Commission should be a committee of Council given the importance of its role and the amount of city money it spends is well known. If they need expert help, hire it. Don’t expect Commissioners to be transit gurus second-guessing the staff at every turn. The Commission is supposed to provide policy direction, not manage the system.


  9. Hi Steve

    This article in “The Star” states that mayor Fords are against any new taxes to pay for the subway.

    Fair enough, but it gets better. Mayor Doug favours building new toll roads to pay for Sheppard!! I am sure that better policies could come from a student council. They have, what, two years left before the election and this is what they are saying now? By January 2014 they could sell out any comedy club that you would care to name. This city will soon be a laughing stock.


  10. Considering bids for the Ashbridges Bay Maintenance and Storage Facility closed back on December 22nd, I’d have thought the proposed award would have been on the February agenda.

    Are they holding back on controversial items on fear that the TTC might vote in an unexpected manner in some kind of Ford revenge on projects he doesn’t approve of?

    Steve: It was approved at the January meeting.


  11. I am sick and tired of my councillor, Palacio! Just so we’re clear I live on Old Weston road just south of St.Clair. I bought here to get into the market in 2008, I have endured streetcar ROW construction, the West Toronto diamond grade separation right in my backyard and the piss poor community out reach of both the TTC and GO Transit. The ROW has improved reliability of the 512 enormously. Now if cars would stop leaving Gunn’s loop in pairs that would be even better.

    As for the traffic at Keele/St.Clair I would point out a couple of points that are ignored in the discussion

    1) The intersections at Keele and Old Weston Road have always been very busy and backed up. People use Davenport and Weston Road as the major routes for points south.
    2) The lack of connecting routes across the rail corridor creates bottlenecks on roads all the way along the corridor, with or without transit ROW.
    3) In this particular instance the real culprit is that Junction Road is closed and has been since June 15 2011. It was supposed to reopen in November, but on the day it was supposed to open, Metrolinx simply put up a new sign saying April 15, 2012. That is the quality of their community outreach. Closing Junction screws all the traffic up. By way of example take a look at the Dupont underpass, as it is much worse than usual as well.

    Sorry for the long post, but Palacio really irks me.


  12. Wait, maybe Matlow is just being honourable and positive in his language… I have much to learn about politics! He’s saying he would support it if we can find a way to fund it, my understanding is that this is not possible.


  13. People discussing the railway bridge along St Clair between Old Weston and Keele should keep in mind that there are two railway owners/operators involved in this crossing: Metrolinx and CP.


  14. The railway bridge at St. Clair could be rebuilt about 1/3 narrower because the small freight yard that used to cross it has long since been torn out and much of its’ neighbouring land sold off for residential development. See the satellite map for yourselves. Would this not help quite a bit in replacement cost and approach allowance for the roadway?


  15. While were on the topic of St Clair & Keele/Old Weston, is there any word on when or if they will do work at the northwest corner of St Clair & Old Weston to allow for buses to make that right turn. I know people who live along Old Weston between Rogers and St Clair who are frustrated that the 41 is still not back to its regular southbound routing?

    Steve: This was a cock-up with the St. Clair design, and I doubt anything will happen soon because a nearside island would require road widening and acquisition of buildings. This was not the finest part of the design, and it should have been caught before construction. The local Councillor was probably too busy breathing fire to concentrate on details like this, and, to be fair, the TTC would not have listened anyhow.


  16. Steve: It was approved at the January meeting.

    I forgot that! I haven’t spotted the award announced on either the MERX or TTC websites. Hopefully there isn’t a glitch.

    I’m just paranoid that they will find a way to sabotage the streetcar replacement project, and somehow use their sabotage to justify replacing with buses. Though even in my paranoia, I’m starting to run out of way that they could pull it off.


  17. Maybe the City of Vaughan should rename itself to the “Municipality of Metropolitan Vaughan”, consisting of the Boroughs, no no, the Cities of Woodbridge, Kleinburg, Concord, and Maple.

    I remember when North York felt it was an independent city, and marketed itself as such. Mel Lastman started all of that conceit, because he said he couldn’t attract investment to a “borough”. When York’s offices on Eglinton actually had “City of York, Ontario Mxx xxx” on the address, we all knew that it had gone too far.

    The better name for that station is simply “Highway 7 West” or “Avenue 7 West”, in case the Yonge subway ever gets extended north.


  18. Maybe the City of Vaughan should rename itself to the “Municipality of Metropolitan Vaughan”, consisting of the Boroughs, no no, the Cities of Woodbridge, Kleinburg, Concord, and Maple.

    You left out half of Thornhill. And Langstaff. Is that a place? The sprawl over the last 20 years has been unbelievable – I actually went to a school in Maple for Grade 5 (my elementary school was undergoing major renovations that year), and at that time Wonderland was by itself and the drive on the bus every day was not yet blighted by strip malls and subdivisions. Or the monstrosity that is Vaughan Mills.

    Of course, the best plan would be to junk any extension north of Steeles altogether…


  19. Regarding St. Clair & Weston:

    Through-routing 127 Davenport & 168 Symington to Avon Loop would provide more-than enough service to re-route 41 along Weston Road (like 89) until it was at the loop, and then it could jog right/left and resume on Keele Street at Rogers Road.

    Why this arrangement cannot be implemented is beyond me. It would reduce congestion (to an extent) by ensuring that only 512 St. Clair cars are the only transit vehicles that pass through that needless pinch-point. Also: cheaper than blowing up the bridge to Georgetown/Pearson!

    Steve: This issue has come up before, and one problem cited for the 41 Keele is traffic congestion between Keele and Weston Road on Rogers Road. This would also affect services routed to Avon via Old Weston and Rogers.


  20. I think the naming of the new station at Jane & 407 as “Highway 407” is stupid and am a little surprised that it didn’t get any attention at the TTC meeting.

    Isn’t the only significant source of riders for this station from the GO Bus service? However, GO tells the TTC [Appendix 6 of the staff report; repeating what they said last November’s staff reports] that “Highway 407” is the worse possible choice from their point of view. Surely, “Jane 407” or “407 Jane” would work best for both systems.

    I am assuming that this is ignored as there are very few local residents to make a fuss.


    Steve: And that station does not work into Vaughan’s dreams of future grandeur. They only cared about their “metropolitan centre”. Maybe someone will suggest having Metrolinx take over Vaughan’s transit role — this seems to be the catch-all response to pesky local politicians.


  21. M. Briganti said:

    I remember when North York felt it was an independent city, and marketed itself as such. Mel Lastman started all of that conceit, because he said he couldn’t attract investment to a “borough”. When York’s offices on Eglinton actually had “City of York, Ontario Mxx xxx” on the address, we all knew that it had gone too far.

    The power of ego … Mel Lastman with his comments, “real cities have subways” etc. York’s mayor Frances Nunziata really had a chip on her shoulder. She won the election because of her involvement in exposing the Fairbank Park scandal involving York Council and a Metro Councillor, and somehow managed to convince the Provincial government to build the Eglinton West line as a subway, with the first phase to York’s proposed new “city” centre at Black Creek Drive & Eglinton.

    And then there was East York, proud to be “Canada’s only borough.”

    Cheers, Moaz


  22. I think “Vaughan Metro” is a much better name than “Vaughan Centre”, and infinitely more descriptive than “VMC”.

    “Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station” is just a mouthful. I mean, if you’ve got to go all out, why stop 10 syllables? Why not 25?

    Seriously… to be as descriptive as possible, we should probably name it “Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station, Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, Vaughan, Ontario Station”. (Bonus points for redundancy, obviously.)


  23. So after reading quite a few documents, I found two interesting things: the YRT will have bus terminals at VMC, Highway 407, and Steeles West. GO and Zum, alongside the YRT, will use Hwy 407 station, but I’m not seeing the need for 3 bus terminals for YRT, unless they somehow plan on expanding bus service in Vaughan threefold.

    Also, all (except for 106, probably) buses will be moved out of York U commons (the main bus loop) to the outlying stations. For some it’s a trivial matter, but what this really means is almost everyone going to York will face an unnecessary transfer. If you’re using one of the TTC, you will be taken to Steeles West, then have to take the subway into campus. Annoying, but it gets better. If you’re currently on a GO or Zum bus, you now have to pay an additional TTC fare to ride the subway 2 stops just to get to campus and back to Hwy 407, adding $6 daily to every trip. Same goes for those using YRT services. Unless the TTC moves to transfers between systems (like most systems already do in the GTA), and Metrolinx agrees to pay the TTC for co-fares, getting to campus will become worse for a lot of people.

    (In that whole argument, I’m ignoring the possibility that the university will make a shuttle service. I doubt they would be willing to fork up the money; after all, the busway was hard enough to get.)

    Steve, in the case that the subway isn’t running (delay, other closures), will the TTC be the one providing shuttle buses, or would it be split between the TTC and YRT?

    Steve: The whole arrangement for bus routes and the effect on fares has been a burning issue in the Spadina subway project for some time lurking behind all the excitement over just getting the thing built. Metrolinx and Queen’s Park have been unwilling to address the issue of regional fares and the TTC because so many more rides would be affected than the GO co-fares in the 905. The Spadina extension will force the same problem on regional travel as the extension of the BD and Yonge subways into former “zone 2” did within Toronto. Oddly enough, I suspect that pressure for change will come more from the 905 whose riders will be nicked with extra costs, and the question then will be whether the Toronto system will lose revenue, net, while carrying the costs of providing the subway service.

    As for shuttles, who knows. Much will depend on how large a fleet (and degree of surplus vehicles) is available in York Region, and what arrangements might be with private contractors to provide emergency services when the subway breaks.


  24. I asked Karen Stintz via Twitter how they were going to fit Vaughan Metropolitan Centre on a subway rollsign. Her advisor, JP Boutros, politely replied that the destination sign would simply read VAUGHAN.


  25. giltay says:
    March 8, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    “I asked Karen Stintz via Twitter how they were going to fit Vaughan Metropolitan Centre on a subway rollsign. Her advisor, JP Boutros, politely replied that the destination sign would simply read VAUGHAN.”

    Don’t the new cars have LED destinations signs which can scroll the entire works of Shakespeare if you wish. Granted though the lead car would be past you before you figured out where it was going.

    Steve: There will still be some T1s in service in YUS when the line opens late in 2015.

    To Vaughan, or not to Vaughan / That is the question.


  26. Another sign-related question would be whether there will any updates to the platform destination signs to report which trains are short-turning and which will reach Vaughan. What little remains of these signs seems to have almost completely fallen out of use, although I seem to remember at least until a few years ago that St. Clair W. trains had the coils mounted to trigger that destination. The only functioning signs appear to be the few on the University line that had LED-based displays installed in the old flip-mechanism housings. I have also occasionally seen a couple of them display “TEST”.

    Steve: This function should be integrated with the video screens, assuming enough of them are installed to be visible over the platform, and presuming that more that a tiny fraction of the screen is dedicated to the announcement. It’s truly annoying to have notices in such minuscule type that one must be right under the sign to read them.


  27. Steve said:

    “It’s truly annoying to have notices in such minuscule type that one must be right under the sign to read them.”

    I agree that the notices font size is much too small to read at any reasonable distance although I find the current version that can be read in one shot (black on yellow type version) less annoying than the earlier one that took three or four ‘re-draws’ to complete a message. What I do find really annoying is that certain ads now change the font of the clock such that the readability distance becomes worse randomly.

    I assume that the “NEXT TRAIN” line at the bottom of the screens will be updated to display “NEXT TRAIN – VAUGHAN 2 MIN” or similar. Will we get a new system to trigger the indication? Is this a potential feature available in the Next Train scheduler system? I hope we don’t get excuses about automation and TRs.

    Steve: Toronto as a city seems singularly unwilling to force advertisers to supply the public with information in a truly useful form. Perish the thought we would interfere with the ads or with the news crawl to tell people about an actual problem in type they can read. As for the clock, legibility has been an ongoing issue. It gets fixed when enough people complain, and then it gets changed again.


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