TTC 2013 Capital Budget Part I: Subway Fleet Plan

This is the first article in a series examining various aspects of the TTC’s Capital Budget for 2013 and the 10-year plan running through 2022.  The report linked here gives an overview, but I have now reviewed the roughly 1,300 pages of supporting information in the “Blue Books” which detail each capital project.

Those books are not available on line, but contain much valuable information.  When the Commission considered its Capital Budget, this material had not yet been assembled.

To avoid creating a post as long as the Blue Books, I will break this into separate articles for major topics.

The Subway Fleet Plan

Subway Fleet Plan 2012.10

This plan provides for additional trains on the Yonge-University-Spadina and Bloor-Danforth subways, but only on a limited basis.  The fleet of Toronto Rocket (TR) trains will be used exclusively on YUS and the T1 trains (now split between both major lines) will operate on BD and, in four-car sets, on Sheppard.

The TR fleet is just large enough to accommodate the extension to Vaughan with a short-turn operation to Wilson Station, but only at the current level of service.  The T1 fleet is larger than required for current schedules on the BD and Sheppard lines, and so the surplus is used up at the rate of about 2 trains every 3 years on BD with no additional service on Sheppard.

The projection presumes that the spare factor for TR trains can be held at 13%, and it is unclear today whether this can be achieved and maintained over the life of this fleet.

Those extra T1 trains have been counted as “free” on more than one occasion for subway expansions proposed for the near future, but obviously they can only be used once be it for extra BD service, or on extended Sheppard or Danforth subways, or on the first phase of a Downtown Relief Line (DRL). Continue reading

City Ombudsman Slams TTC For Inexcusable Community Consultation

The City of Toronto’s Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, has issued a scathing report about the so-called public consultation regarding proposed second exits at stations on the Danforth subway.

For detailed reporting of events at the time, please see my earlier posting.  The Ombudsman’s report details events after July 2010 when the whole discussion and consultation, such as it was, disappeared into private meetings with few benefits.  Indeed, after neighbourhoods thought that the projects had been put on hold, design work actually continued unknown to anyone including the local Councillor.

The litany of “I thought someone else was responsible” communication foul-ups goes on and on, even after one might have thought the TTC had learned their processes were broken.  “Arrogance” does not begin to describe the attitude of TTC staff and their attitude to community input as an annoyance to be avoided.

The TTC has fully accepted the Ombudsman’s criticism and will implement new procedures and communication models for projects to ensure that everyone knows what is going on.  This frankly is an example of a situation where, at the time, neither senior TTC management nor Commissioners knocked heads together to fix a process that was clearly broken.  Just how broken shows up in the degree to which staff arguments defending their preferred design shifted as necessary to subvert any public input.  This is all documented in the report.

I could not help thinking of GO Transit and their appalling dealings with various communities in the Georgetown rail corridor notably at the West Toronto grade separation.  GO is now trying to improve, but the Georgetown project is plagued with the same problem of lost trust brought on by mistreatment of the public participation process that we see with the TTC.  It is easy to become an agency thought to be incompetent and untrustworthy, and far harder to win back respect.

This is a sad tale and an indictment of an organization whose reputation for fair dealing with the public has been less then ideal.  Things are improving, but lifting the rocks so that we can see all of the creepy-crawlies underneath rarely happens and the Ombudsman has done Toronto a good service here.  Other agencies would do well to read her report and see just how badly things can be screwed up, even with, on occasion, good intentions.

The TTC’s response to the Ombudsman’s report is on their website.

McCaul Street Construction (Updated October 25, 2012)

The TTC is laying new track on McCaul Street north from Queen to College Dundas (not including the intersections, but including McCaul Loop).  Construction began earlier this summer with Toronto Water whose plant is underneath the tracks, but has now shifted to track construction.

The project is unusual in that the northbound and southbound tracks are being rebuilt separately probably as part of a scheme to maintain local access on this narrow, residential street.

Updated October 25, 2012:

The exit switch from McCaul Loop is now in place and the trackwork for operation through this loop will be finished once the concrete has cured.  All that remains is for new overhead to be installed, and service will return to this loop on Monday, November 19.

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TTC Madness: A Subway for Everyone

Today’s meeting of the transit commission was expected to be a modest affair with approval of the Downtown Relief Line study’s recommendations, and a few other housekeeping items.  What happened was a complete upending of the transit expansion policies we thought were put in place by the Karen Stintz coup d’état that bounced Rob Ford’s crew off of the TTC board back in the spring.  Stintz herself didn’t even have the nerve to stand up to the runaway proposals from her fellow members preferring to keep peace, for now at least.

To make sense of this debacle, I have to recount some of the earlier events.

The main act was a presentation by TTC staff of the DRL Study, and it contained few surprises relative to coverage we have already seen in the press and on this blog.  One comment caused attentive ears to prick up, namely that spending $1-billion expanding Bloor-Yonge station might be less cost-effective than providing additional capacity with a new line.  Would that the TTC would look at all components of its subway plans that way (a topic for another article), but it’s a refreshing point of view.

The study and presentation make explicit reference to potential shortfalls in GO Transit capacity as part of the problem.  Although these will no doubt annoy Metrolinx (is there a TTC meeting that doesn’t anger Metrolinx?), that agency’s basic problem is that long-term secrecy about what it might actually build forces assumptions to be made.  That said, nothing prevented the TTC from modelling improved service on the GO northern corridors just to see what this would do to demand flows on a “what if” basis.  After all, the whole DRL study is a “what if” exercise.

Councillor Parker asked about Main Station as an alternative DRL/Danforth subway connection.  Staff’s position is that there are advantages to a north-south connection further west that would potentially serve Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Parks, and line up with the Don Mills corridor.  (I will address DRL options in a separate article.)  There were humourous remarks about how staff were trying to buy Parker off with a subway to his ward.

Parker moved that the Danforth to Eglinton section of the DRL be included in the next phase of the study, but the motion fell short of actually committing to this segment as a top priority.

Councillor Milczyn asked about eliminating parking on King or Queen Streets.  Staff replied that this would be important for improved surface transit, and the idea would be part of a separate Downtown Traffic Operations Study now underway by the City, but that this would not avoid the need for a DRL.

Milczyn also asked about a Lakeshore West LRT and seemed to be mixing the proposal that was one option in the DRL study (an LRT or subway line in the rail corridor) with the Waterfront West LRT (that would run on Lakeshore Blvd.).

Councillor Colle asked about capacity on the Bloor-Danforth line east of Yonge, and staff replied that with the DRL, this would not be an issue.  However, that remark misses the fact that the Danforth subway regularly passes up riders today east of Pape, the point where capacity would be freed up.  More service will be needed on the BD line even with the DRL in place.

Colle went on to ask whether extending the BD line to Scarborough Town Centre would affect the DRL’s alignment by shifting the logical point for “relief” further east.  Staff replied that the demand model already has the extra ridership that the replaced and extended SRT will bring to Kennedy Station built into projected Danforth subway demand.

Councillor De Baeremaeker observed than an overall city plan needs to include subways, LRT and buses, that the DRL is a “good subway”, and that the problems of inadequate GO service and fare structure forcing riders onto the TTC need to be addressed.  We will hear more from De Baeremaeker later.

The staff recommendations with a few minor amendments were passed, and the meeting turned to other matters including a presentation on Transit Oriented Development.  This was something of a Trojan Horse brought in by Build Toronto.  An L.A. based consultant who has done a lot of work on redevelopments around station sites talked about the importance of putting good development (including attractive amenities) around transit stations.  This is the classic transit model which looks nice, but ignores the degree of neighbourhood upheaval that the level of development implies.  When you have a greenfield site, or your client is a totalitarian government, pesky problems with local activists and zoning are rarely encountered.

The moral was that if we are going to build many new stations, we should ensure that development occurs around them.  On the Spadina Extension, this is easier said than done at some sites, and development plans are already in place at others.  On the Eglinton line, many stations are in existing low density areas, and there would be a challenge on threecounts having them all upzoned for development at the scale shown in the presentation.  First, the locals would get a tad upset, and public meetings featuring a liberal assortment of pitchforks, torches and rotten tomatoes would be on order.  Second, developers have to believe that these sites are a market for development.  Third, the transit line’s role in the network must be strong enough relative to other nearby facilities (notably highways) that the new development would actually feed the transit stations.  See Sheppard Avenue for a counterexample.

The main discussion turned on the issue of taxation and the L.A. experience with Measure “R” passed in 2008, and Measure “J” expected to pass in the upcoming elections.  “R” levied a 30-year, 0.5% sales tax on Los Angeles County to generate dedicated funds for transit.  “J” extends this for a further 30 years.  This funding will be used to underwrite debt that will be undertaken during the early period (the next 10 years or so) to build out many new transit facilities.

Unlike Metrolinx, whose Investment Strategy seems to be discussed on a pay-as-you-play basis, L.A. appears ready to take on long term debt with matching long-term funding.  This is not unlike buying a house — you buy and live in the entire house at one go rather than adding a room at a time for 30 years.

By this time, the Commission clearly had a taste for spending money.  The DRL was not enough, and the suburban councillors needed to jump in with their projects.

The opportunity came unexpectedly by way of a public presentation by Alan Yule who often deputes at TTC meetings.  He proposed that the Scarborough RT/LRT conversion could be shortened as follows:

  • Since most of the traffic is between STC and Kennedy, all other stations would be closed, and SRT service would run express between the two points.
  • The intermediate stations would be boarded off (much like what is now happening at the Union Station 2nd platform project) while their reconstruction for LRT proceeded behind the walls.
  • Eventually, the work would have to turn to the right-of-way itself, and the line would close, but presumably for a shorter period.

I won’t go into details, but believe that the really time-consuming parts of the project would not be affected by this scheme, notably the underground work north of Ellesmere and the changes at Kennedy Station.  Alan does good, entertaining presentations.  The Commission thanked him for his work, and then the wheels came off the debate.

Councillor De Baeremaeker (he of the we need all modes in the network comment above) moved that staff report on the merits of a subway extension from Kennedy to Sheppard & McCowan.  De Baeremaeker’s position, following on from the One City Plan that briefly surfaced in June 2012, is that the difference in construction cost for a subway is only $500m greater than the cost of the LRT project, and this makes the subway option a great deal.  What he misses is that the comparator subway estimate is only for a line to STC, not to Sheppard.

That extra 3.6 km will cost roughly $1b and push the delta for the subway/LRT comparison much further apart.

Correction: The extra 1.7km will cost $700-million more than the LRT project according to a 2010 estimate. Moreover, the LRT runs further going east to Sheppard and Progress where extension to Malvern is possible.

(The question of comparative costs was discussed back in December 2010 in this article.)

De Baeremaeker should know this already, but it suits his role as the Superman of Scarborough transit to continue the charade that we can have a subway replacement for LRT at only a modest additional cost.  He also does not address the much higher operating cost of a subway line, especially given that it would be on a new, underground alignment, not at grade as the RT/LRT would be.

TTC CEO Andy Byford stayed clear of this debate, but recently in an interview on CBC he expressed guarded support for extending the Danforth subway.  This sends a mixed signal to the politicians and suggests that staff are not firm in their support of the LRT network.

Oddly enough, the staff position on the DRL continues to paint this as something for the medium to long term, at least 15 years away, with the option of adding capacity elsewhere in the interim.  This provides a window into which other subway construction projects might try to slip, an idea clearly on de Baeremaeker’s mind.

Not to be outdone, Councillor Milczyn asked that staff also report on looping this extended subway west from Sheppard & McCowan to Don Mills Station.  This is the Sheppard East subway, but reborn at least entirely on Sheppard itself rather than going through an industrial district to STC.  Such a line would obviously replace the Sheppard LRT.

Need I remind Commissioners of a phrase we heard a lot back during the subway/LRT debates:  Council’s will is supreme.  Council has voted, with not a little blood on the floor, for an LRT network which the province is supporting (to the degree that is possible in the current political climate).  Indeed, the Commission voted today to give CEO Andy Byford the authority to sign the operating agreement form the four-line LRT network.

Metrolinx’ hands are not completely clean in this on a few counts.  Most importantly, as recently as two days ago (Oct. 22), a representative presented an LRT project overview at a public meeting that includes a five-year shutdown for the SRT rebuilding.  However, Metrolinx own VP of Rapid Transit Implementation, Jack Collins, has said that during the contracting stage, Metrolinx hopes to get proposals from bidders that will be under 3 years, maybe only 2.5.  However, such a change has not been blessed by a Ministerial statement, and so we still hear “5” which scares the hell out of Scarborough transit users.  Toronto is ill-served by Metrolinx’ lack of accurate details in its public statements, of which this is only one example.

As if all this isn’t bad enough, the Commission has asked for these analyses to be available for its January 2013 meeting even though staff will be pre-occupied with major work on the 2013 budget for the next few months.  The date may slip, but what is clearly going on is that somebody wants information for use in a coming provincial election campaign.

What we see here is a Commission that claims to understand the limits of spending, that claims it should focus on subways where they are really needed, but which insists on revisiting LRT proposals over and over in the hope that they can be upgraded.  Saying “no” is very hard for a politician to do, especially when constituents have been convinced that LRT is a distant second class option.

The Star reports Councillor Parker’s reaction to the vote:

TTC commissioner John Parker, who was out of the room praising the decision on a downtown relief line, confronted his commission colleagues afterwards, telling them that voting in favour of subway studies was “a stupid, stupid, irresponsible thing.”

“Irresponsible” does not begin to describe my feeling about this vote, one which proved that the current Commission, given half a chance, will be just as irresponsible about the subway/LRT debate as the Ford-friendly crew they replaced.  It is not enough to say that we are getting more information for a better debate.  We have had this debate, and only people with a distaste for the hard truths about subway costs can pretend that this option is viable.

Spadina Extension Opening Pushed Back to Late 2016

A report before the TTC meeting this week advises that the opening date for the Spadina Subway Extension is now fall 2016.

The report includes a long history of the Spadina project as well as a comparison of the bureaucratic environments of Toronto and Madrid, a city that manages to build subways much faster than most other cities in the world.

For some time, the TTC has been evasive about the actual opening date citing mid-2015 (for the Pan Am Games), then late 2015, and now 2016.  The fact that parts of the project were behind schedule has been reported in the monthly CEO’s report for some time.  Now, formally, the TTC is resigning itself that the lost time cannot be made up.

This will, no doubt, raise questions about why a staged opening to, say, York University then later to Vaughan, was not planned from the outset.  It is doubtful this would be possible because some of the systems contracts such as signalling have been set up on the basis of doing the whole line at one go.  All of the station construction contracts are scheduled to complete in 2015 with York U being the last.

If a staged opening had been desired, the decision to proceed that way would have been made some years ago, and design and construction would have focussed on the south end of the line.  This would have delayed photo ops north of Steeles and chances for various politicians to show what they were doing for York Region.  It might even have left the northern part of the line vulnerable to changing government priorities.

“The other shoe” that has not dropped yet is the question of the project’s budget.  So far, the claim as been “on time, on budget”, but half of that boast just went up in smoke.  Will the project come in on budget given the many delays and design changes it has seen?

One point of note is that when the TTC put together the project plan for this extension, they had not yet committed to ATC (Automatic Train Cperation) on the Yonge-University line, and didn’t include money for ATC signalling in the Spadina project.  That’s an add-on that is not funded as part of the four-partner package for the extension itself.

Another future add-on would be platform doors, although I doubt we will ever see this applied to stations so far away from downtown, if anywhere.  Indeed, one station’s design underwent major changes because the platform door wall had been designed as part of the support structure of the station.  No doors, no wall, no support.

The project budget does include provision for more subway trains, but only at the currently planned level of service.  Every other peak period train heading north on Spadina will go to Vaughan with a scheduled short turn at the station now called Downsview, but to be renamed Sheppard West.  Any trains for improved service are an extra unbudgeted order, and of course they would require storage space somewhere.

TTC Rediscovers the Downtown Relief Line (Update 4)

Update 4 October 21, 2012 at 8:30 pm:

It’s intriguing to look back at coverage of the DRL the last time this was a major issue.  Mike Filey passed along a clipping from the Star from December 2, 1982 that makes interesting reading.  My comments are at the end in Postscript 2.

Update 3 October 20, 2012 at 3:20 pm:

A postscript has been added discussing the various demand simulations as a group rather than individually.  Charts of total demand southbound from Bloor Station as well as pedestrian activity at Bloor-Yonge are provided to consolidate information from several exhibits in the background paper.

Update 2 October 19, 2012 at 11:00 am:

This article has been reformatted to merge additional information from the background study as well as illustrations into the text.

At its meeting on October 24, 2012, the TTC will consider a report on the Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study.  The full background paper is also available on the TTC’s website.

A study by the City of Toronto and TTC, including consultations with Metrolinx, concludes that transit demand to the core by 2031 will grow at a rate that exceeds the capacity of all of the current and planned transit facilities.  Ridership will be 51% higher than today.  The residential population south of College from Bathurst to Parliament will grow by 83%, and employment by 28%.

Capacity is an issue today as Table A-1 in the background paper shows.  Several corridors into downtown are already operating over their design capacity.  This is particularly the case on GO where the target is to have few standees, and there is more room for additional passengers in the design capacity than on the TTC subway services.

Table A-2 shows the projections for 2031.  All of the shortfalls are on GO, but the TTC lines are close to saturation.  This presumes a considerable increase in the capacity of various lines.  For example, the YUS goes from a design capacity of 26,000 to 38,000 passengers per hour (pphpd), an increase of 46% which may not actually be achievable.  Similarly, the BD line goes to 33,000 pphpd, an increase of 27%.

Exhibit 1-10 shows the components of projected capacity increase including 36% from running trains closer together.  As discussed at some length on this site previously, the constraints on headways arise at terminal stations.  A 36% increase in trains/hour implies a headway of about 100 seconds as compared with 140 today.  This cannot be achieved with existing terminal track geometry, not to mention the leisurely crew practices at terminals.

On the GO lines, the projected capacity on Lakeshore West doubles, and smaller increases are seen on other routes.  It is worth noting that the projected capacity of the north-south corridors to Stouffville, Richmond Hill and Barrie are nowhere near the level of service implied by The Big Move, probably because these lines are not targets for early electrification.  This contributes to the capacity shortfall in the northern sector.  Recommendation 1 of the study includes encouragement that Metrolinx review the possibility of increased capacity in those three corridors.

The full list of lines included in the modelled network can be found in the background study at section 1.2.1.

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Tim Hudak Has A Plan (Updated)

Updated October 16, 2012 at 8:30 pm:

The Toronto Star reports that Tim Hudak has pledged to redirect all of the money earmarked for a Toronto LRT network to subway construction if he is elected Premier.  This is a truly bizarre stance for someone who claims to be trying to save Ontario money when we consider that almost none of the pledged $8-billion plus has actually been spent or committed, and this is all net new money, new borrowing Ontario will have to undertake.

Hudak was playing to his audience of Ford-friendly councillors who do not have control of Council on the transit file, but who seem to be attempting an end run around Council by having Queen’s Park support his position unilaterally.  Anyone who thinks they will get a full-blown Eglinton subway, and a Sheppard line (STC to Downsview) and a BD extension to the Scarborough Town Centre for these funds is dreaming.  Sadly, however, Toronto has a bad habit of wanting more than it can afford especially when someone else will foot the bill.

If I try to put myself in a conservative mindset (and that’s with a small “c”), I would be asking how much of that $8b actually needs to be spent at all, or spent on transit rather than some other portfolio.  That would be a common sense thing to do, the kind of approach we might expect from Mike Harris.  Alas, “common sense” also includes buying off local politicians by keeping their pet subway projects alive.

But no, Tim Hudak wants to spend $8b he doesn’t have on overbuilding a partial subway network apparently because he thinks this will play well to Ford’s base.  He might want to think about the uproar over paltry hundreds of millions wasted on shifting power plants out of Liberal ridings and consider whether the lure of the megaprojects has clouded his vision.

Of course, all this depends on “affordability” which is tied to the end of the provincial deficit, and so Hudak will likely never have to borrow that $8b whatever he might spend it on.  All he will achieve is even more delay in building any transit for Toronto.

Thanks to the Liberals’ tinkering with project schedules and love for P3 implementation, little work will actually be tendered by the time the government falls sometime in 2013.  Cancelling the Finch and Sheppard LRT lines will be child’s play, and the SRT upgrade will probably morph into an unbuilt subway while the SRT lies at death’s door.

Toronto Council needs to wake up and remind Mr. Hudak that the Mayor does not speak for the City.  Does Hudak even care, or is he just giving his pal a chance to say “screw you” to his opponents?

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