What Should Be In The Metrolinx Investment Strategy?

With much talk about “new revenue tools” and debates over the least objectionable way to extract $2-billion or more from taxpayers in southern Ontario, the actual purpose of the Metrolinx “Investment Strategy” has faded into the background.  Somehow the act of collecting all that money has become more important than figuring out what, exactly, we are going to do with it.

But, you say, don’t we have the Quick Wins?  The Big Seven?  The Second Wave?  Shovels are in the ground and all we need is the will to spend!

Things are not quite that simple.

What we do not have is a clear sense of what we will achieve and when we will achieve it.  In 2008 Metrolinx produced The Big Move, our regional transportation plan with two very broad objectives — a 15 and a 25 year plan.  Demand projections, including a vision of what traffic and transit might look like, only considered the fully-built 25-year plan, something we already know will not be finished (if ever) within the projected time span.

Some projects received a “Benefits Case Analysis”, but these studies considered each line in isolation rather than looking at what subsets of the whole plan would contribute to the network.  Indeed, the biggest “benefit” of many lines would be the money spent to build them, not their contribution to transit overall.  This would follow the tradition of transit projects in the GTHA as economic and job stimulus packages first, with transportation improvements as an afterthought.

An “Investment Strategy” is not simply a matter of figuring out where new revenues might be found, but of recommending the best way to use them, to “invest” in the future of the region.

What Is Metrolinx For?

To put this discussion in context, it’s useful to look back at the legislation that defines Metrolinx’ purpose, the Metrolinx Act.

Duties of Corporation re leadership in transportation integration

6.  (1)  In carrying out its objects … the Corporation shall,

(a) develop and adopt a transportation plan for the regional transportation area and plan, co-ordinate and set priorities for its implementation;

(b) fund, or arrange and manage the funding for, integrated transportation across the regional transportation area;

(c) promote and facilitate co-ordinated decision-making and investment in the regional transportation area among the governments of the municipalities in the regional transportation area and the federal and provincial governments in order to ensure the efficient and cost-effective resolution of matters of shared concern respecting transportation, including,

(i) the provision and the optimal use and location of transportation infrastructure, including highway and transit infrastructure,

(ii) the integration of transportation infrastructure, including highway and transit infrastructure, and

(iii) the integration of routes, fares and schedules of the regional transit system and of local transit systems in the regional transportation area; and

(d) promote the safety, efficiency and protection of transportation corridors.


Investment strategy

32.1  On or before June 1, 2013, the Corporation shall provide the Minister and the heads of the councils of the municipalities in the regional transportation area with a copy of the Corporation’s investment strategy, including proposals for revenue generation tools that may be used by the province or the municipalities to support the implementation of the transportation plan for the regional transportation area.

In section 6, funding is only one part of a longer list of duties assigned to Metrolinx, and in section 32.1, revenue tools are to be included in the Investment Strategy.  This is an important distinction because the IS should not just be about revenue, but about how it will be spent and the benefits in will bring.

If all we wanted was a list of revenue tools, that could have been provided five years ago when the first shopping list appeared on a Metrolinx board agenda.  A “final” version of the IS was to be approved in October 2008, but this was not to be.  Those intervening months brought an international banking crisis and ended the bold, forward-looking stance of Ontario on transit projects just as The Big Move was published.  We have not fully recovered from that delay.

In the original draft Investment Strategy, Metrolinx and Queen’s Park expected a 1/3 funding share to come from Ottawa.  This was a foolhardy assumption then, and it remains so today.  Yes, there is some infrastructure money in the federal budget, but the GTHA’s share would not pay for 1/3 of The Big Move, let alone other backlogged infrastructure needs.  Ottawa prefers to announce transit support on a project basis, city by city, rather than simply handing over a guaranteed revenue stream for decades to come.

If Ontario, if the GTHA cannot afford The Big Move without federal dollars, then we need a “Plan B”.  With the scale of new revenues now pegged at $2b-plus annually, it is clear that building the plan takes precedence even if we have to pay for the whole thing out of our provincial and municipal pockets.  Any help from Ottawa will be “found money”.

Where Is The Big Move?

According to the Metrolinx website, they “anticipate” that a progress report “will be complete by early 2013”.  It is now almost April.

The Quick Wins

Back in the 2008 budget, there was a grab-bag of “Quick Win” projects totalling $744m:

  • Bolton GO park-and-ride
  • Durham BRT
  • Halton BRT
  • Hamilton A and B Lines
  • Mississauga Dundas and Hurontario Corridors
  • Pearson Airport/Renforth Gateway
  • Toronto Yonge-University-Spadina Subway Capacity Improvements
  • York-VIVA BRT, Yonge and Highway 7 Corridors
  • Plus: BikeLinx ($5M)

A major chunk of that total was the subway “capacity improvements” consisting of signalling upgrades on the original Yonge line that are still underway.  That capacity won’t actually be available until much more is spent on the entire YUS and the fleet is expanded to operate more frequent service.  Hardly a “quick win”, but it sounded good at the time.  I will leave it to readers to contemplate what has been delivered for the remaining items.

The Big 7 and The First Wave

Back in 2008, analysis was underway for seven major projects:

  • Eglinton Crosstown Rapid Transit
  • Finch West Rapid Transit
  • Scarborough Rapid Transit (upgrade and extension)
  • Sheppard East Rapid Transit
  • “SuperGO” Lakeshore East and West electrification
  • York-VIVA Highway 7 and Yonge Street (full build)
  • Yonge Subway Extension north to Richmond Hill

We all know just how far this list has progressed.  Finch and Sheppard, originally expected to open over the next few years, were pushed back to the end of the decade thanks to provincial spending cuts.  The Scarborough RT project is merged with the Eglinton line, but has been deferred, and may yet morph into a full “Scarborough Subway” depending on the ebb and flow of political tides.  The Yonge extension to Richmond Hill is on the back burner now that Metrolinx and the TTC have decided the riders won’t fit on the existing subway network.  And electrification?  Maybe in 2017, maybe, but only from Union to the Airport.

Over the last five years, the list of active projects has changed and we now have “The First Wave”.  According to the bigmove.ca website, the following projects are underway:

  • Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension
  • Union Pearson Express
  • York Region vivaNext Rapidways
  • Eglinton Crosstown LRT
  • Mississauga Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Project
  • Scarborough Rapid Transit (RT) Extension
  • Finch West Light Rail Transit (LRT)
  • Georgetown South Project
  • Sheppard East Light Rail Transit (LRT)
  • Union Station – Train Shed Revitalization

Many of these projects were not in the earlier lists and they were proceeding independently of The Big Move and its funding.  Ontario has still not confirmed that these will all be built using general revenues as originally promised and without recourse to the income from the new revenue tools.

The Next Wave

Recently, Metrolinx announced a second wave of transit projects all of which would be funded from the new revenue stream.

  • Brampton Queen Street Rapid Transit
  • Downtown Relief Line
  • Dundas Street Bus Rapid Transit
  • Durham-Scarborough Bus Rapid Transit
  • GO Rail Expansion
  • Electrification of GO Kitchener line and Union Pearson Express
  • GO Lakeshore Express Rail Service – Phase 1 (including Electrification)
  • Hamilton Rapid Transit
  • Hurontario-Main Light Rail Transit
  • Yonge North Subway Extension

The Next Wave also includes funding directed to municipalities for local transit (15%), regional highways (5%) and other local projects (5%).

According to the bigmove website:

The first wave of projects all have a completion date of 2031 or earlier and the completion date for the next wave of projects is currently under review.

Considering that The Big Move was a 25-year plan released in 2008, and

2008 + 25 = 2033

this is not exactly spectacular progress.  The original plan raised alarms that even with the full buildout over 25 years, the GTHA would at best keep pace with rising transportation demand.  When we can’t even finish what we planned, nor have any sense of how much of the problem each phase addresses, drumming up support for new funding may be a challenge.

The original 25-year plan was recently amended, but this primarily reflects timing adjustments and a recognition of the growth in GO Transit’s service territory.  What there is no sense of is what a “Third Wave” (or more) will contain or when we can hope to see it.

The original Big Move plan required $50b in funding both for capital, and later for maintenance.  This did not include inflation nor did it take into account the additional operating cost and fare subsidies inherent in large-scale growth of the network.  That’s where the $2b/year figure originated, but it is hopelessly out of date.  How much will it actually buy?  We don’t know, and that’s a big question for the Investment Strategy to answer.

Two Men and a Spoon

When the original set of projects was cut back in scope and stretched out to 2020 by Queen’s Park, the claim was made that the construction industry could not absorb all of the work and we had to accept a longer delivery period.  In a city filled with construction sites, that was hard to believe, and it’s even harder when we are talking of new revenues of at least $2b/year to fund system expansion.

Is there really a constraint in the industry, or was that a convenient excuse to delay some of Toronto’s proposed LRT lines and push airport service (other than the fair-haired child, the Union-Pearson Express) off into the indefinite future?  The airport is one of two major hubs identified by The Big Move, but you would never know this given the sluggish progress toward actually serving both the terminal and the employment area around it.

There is no point in raising billions in new revenue if we cannot actually spend it, and the Investment Strategy must include a staging plan for construction of future projects that either accepts a constrained building environment, or puts that myth to rest once and for all.  In particular, if new tools begin generating revenue at the latest by 2015, why should we have to wait until the first wave of projects completes in 2020 before building one more centimetre of transit in the GTHA?

What Should Be In The Investment Strategy?

The debate about transit funding cannot take place in a vacuum.  Voters who will be asked to support major new taxes and fees (whatever else they might be called) need to know what they are paying for, when they can ride on it, and what benefits it will bring to their travel.  This is the classic formula for selling transit plans and funding elsewhere, notably in Los Angeles which, against all past experience, is now used as a shining example of how to expand a transit system.

Too much of the discussion turns on how we will fill out the map with completed projects, and not enough looks at when we actually need the services.  Hand-wringing about, for example, the cost of a Downtown Relief Line (by whatever name) avoids the question of when we need to have it built and open providing new capacity.  That’s the kind of argument people now stuck in the jam at Bloor-Yonge can understand, not a vague promise to build a line somewhere, someday.  The same applies to long-haul regional services on GO Transit and to improved local transit as feeder routes to the GO backbone.

  • What are the timelines for planned rapid transit expansion in the GTHA?
  • What rate of spending will be required to support this expansion?
  • Should the plans be front-end loaded using medium-term debt to be repaid from future revenues?
  • What are the inflationary effects on project costs?
  • If federal money is available, how would this be used — to reduce provincial and municipal shares, or to accelerate overall progress?
  • How, if at all, will “private sector” funding or financing contribute to the building of transit lines?
  • What rationale should be used for division of funding responsibilities with the municipal sector?  Why are some projects “regional” and others “local”?
  • Is there a constraint in the construction industry that prevents progress beyond a certain level of activity?  Is this specific to certain types of project or to construction in general?
  • What is the fate of projects beyond the “Next Wave”?
  • And finally, what tools should be used to raise the money needed to pay for all of this?

If Metrolinx only talks about revenue tools, but leaves out all the details on what they plan to achieve, then this whole exercise has been a waste of five years.  Queen’s Park and everyone in the GTHA who pays the slightest attention to transit have long known what is needed, but lacked the will to champion transit expansion and take the funding question out into the political arena.

Now, with the Board of Trade, Civic Action and others beating the drum for better transit and more transit spending, Metrolinx must abandon its timidity and produce a thorough, realistic plan for transit expansion in the GTHA.

32 thoughts on “What Should Be In The Metrolinx Investment Strategy?

  1. Been reading your blog for only the last few months since we met at the METROLINX downtown event..

    People like you give me hope.. that the politicians rip apart and throw away.

    *sigh* – I’m young and don’t think I will see the benefits of the big move in my useful lifetime.

    I wonder why we can’t be like LA and do the 30/10 plan!

    Steve: I will be 65 this fall, and have been waiting for transit to be taken seriously, not just as one or two pet projects, for decades.


  2. Great article Steve,

    The TTC state 3.2 Billion for a DRL Pape Station to St. Andrew Station. Metrolinx state the cost as 7.4 Billion for a DRL line for the same map – Pape to St. Andrew Station. What does Metrolinx purport will cost 7.4 Billion Dollars, from where to where? Thank you for the clarification.

    Steve: According to the Big Move’s project description of the DRL, the line would be 13km long. Taking the longest possible route (i.e. not cutting the corner), it is 2 km from the Danforth south to Queen, and then 4km west to University. The TTC is quoting a price for the first leg of the DRL which would be from (nominally) Pape Station to somewhere around University Avenue, or about 6km. Their price is reasonable for that distance.

    Metrolinx is obviously looking at a longer route including an extension further west, possibly as far as the CNE, and north up to Eglinton. That would eat up the 7km difference.


  3. I remember after the 4 LRTs deal were signed by TTC staff, Metrolinx, and Minister of Transportation, Bruce McCuaig admitted there are no “guarantees” for these LRTs.

    These LRTs will be built 2020-2022. That’s plenty of time to see different politicians get elected and possible “changes” could happen.

    Steve: No, they have to start manufacture earlier than 2020 because the first line will be open by then. If Libs lose next election, then everything falls apart.


  4. Investing $2-3 billion/year just to merely prevent worsening traffic congestion (apparently we’re at 82 minutes/day. The Big Move will bring us to 78 minutes. If we do nothing, it’ll be 110/day they say) is a hard sell.

    I have looked at a lot of data lately from statscan and I find it amusing how common <5 km commutes are for smaller CMAs like say Owen Sound, Sarnia, Orillia, Woodstock, etc. compared to our society. Small cities like Owen Sound may have a lot of 30+ km commutes. But Owen Sound CMA has a median commute distance of 3.5 km to Toronto CMA's 9.4 km and they have far more <5 km commutes than we do. What is it about GTHA culture that makes the <5 km commute much less of a reality here? Maybe we should think about this before we spend $2-3 billion/year on public transit. There is a disease in our society that makes us more sprawly than the small communities. Owen Sound is way less sprawly and you don't see them spending big bucks on public transit. lol.

    I brought up in another of your posts that employers in the GTHA tend to expect you to relocate to different locations. And how contract work and switching jobs and companies often lead to circumstances where you are stuck with a house/condo/family in one area (even rentals require a 1 year commitment) but then have to go work somewhere else far away. But don't people feel these kinda pressures outside the GTHA too? Why is the <5 km commute less of a reality here than in the small cities and towns outside of the GTHA? What makes us special?

    Steve: Simple, we have a much bigger pool of jobs and residential areas than Owen Sound. That said, if the median commute in Toronto is only 9.4km, we already have a lot of people who are making short trips to work. To put this in context, before I retired I commuted from Broadview & Danforth to Scarborough Civic Centre, a distance of about 16km according to Google. Therefore I was already going beyond the “mean” distance.

    This begs an intriguing question of whether the congestion we do have is being caused by a minority of long-haul commutes and whether the transportation plans we have should spend a lot of time on those as opposed to making greater capacity for the shorter trips.


  5. It would be nice if a comprehensive benefits case was the most important factor in transit expansion. I’m a bit worried that after voting for new taxes Metrolinx will surprisingly announce the prioritization of a west waterfront LRT (or if the Transport Minister has his way an ‘innovative technology’ like Skytrain or a ‘people mover) to bring customers past Ex Place (MGM) and a gerrymandering of DRL & GO passengers to Exhibition Place (currently an infrequent GO stop). With the Federal one third funding and private partnership cash we might find end up on the hook for Flaherty’s dubious Peterborough line.

    Worse if the Ontario Tories resume power expect them to either cancel the taxes or blow it on the kinds of gravy train(s) that over the past few decades has given us the Union-Pearson premium service, the Vaughan ‘Metropolitan Centre’ extension, the 4-car train Sheppard subway, the Wilson to Downsview extension and the obsolete linear induction SRT.

    Nonetheless I support the taxes because there are some worthy routes on the to-do list and many measures add a much needed user fee to road use & parking.


  6. I note in the Star article that Master Agreements are more difficult to sidestep/circumvent/ignore/rip up. More difficult does not mean impossible, especially if there is connivance between both the city and the province to do so (a situation I sadly see as possible before the decade is out).


  7. Paris $39 Billion Metro Lures Bouygues to Rare Project:

    Deep inside a dark and damp tunnel under the Saint-Lazare train station in Central Paris, David Petreco points to the wall of a cul-de-sac.

    “We’re going to break that wall and drill a tunnel of 8 kilometers to connect the east of Paris to its west,” Petreco, the head of project at the French national railways SNCF, said in an interview. The link is part of a 30-billion-euro ($39 billion) government plan to build 200 kilometers (124 miles) of new metro lines and 72 stations in and around Paris by 2030.

    Steve: And I presume that your point is that when money is no object, a city can have a massive subway system. I can just imagine the political fury if Ottawa tried to spend this much money in the GTHA, most of it in the 416 and inner 905.


  8. Steve, in terms of priorities where does the Peterborough GO extension lie? I ask because I was under the impression it was a very low, even nebulous priority and had no funding attached. However, I was doing work in Peterborough yesterday at a site beside the Otonobee and was more than a little surprised. On the way into town I noticed a lot of CP crews all over the tracks, surveyors etc. When I got to the site I looked down the river and they have constructed two cofferdams into the river, restricting its flow to the centre swing portion and are the process of doubling the century bridge/causeway. The new abutments have been poured save one on the western side. It also looked like they were surveying for a grade separation on George Street. I cannot believe that CP is paying for this work, as industry in Peterborough and associated rail traffic have been slowly disappearing. Most of the spurs are in an advanced state of disrepair. I know the local MP is the PM’s parliamentary secretary and is big on rail, and much as you said of the Mayor of Vaughn he has made GO service a life calling.

    Steve: This line is very low in the Metrolinx priority list, part of the 25-year plan. Ridership projections have always been low, and there are significant problems with track capacity and rights-of-way through Toronto. I will try to find out what’s going on here.


  9. @Steve

    Yes your suspicions that long-haul commuters are contributing to the congestion problem is likely correct. While median commute distances are reasonable, average automotive and to an extent public transit trips are lengthier. Which suggests that the minority of long-haul commuters are inflating the average and overall vehicle kilometres travelled.

    I dug up some circa 2006 AM peak period figures taken from Metrolinx’s data: In the City of Toronto (not CMA), the *average* automobile trip length is 19 km @ 42 kph (that would average out to 27-ish mins. Which doesn’t seem so bad until you realize that average free-flow speed along the corridors of the vehicle kilometres travelled is 79 kph. That’s roughly 14.5 mins for 19 km. Still though figures like that make you wonder where Metrolinx is coming up with 82 minutes/day when the data suggests that it’s more in the mid-50s for drivers. But it is in the 80 range for transit users). Average transit trip 11.4 km (40 mins). 17.1 kph (includes walking and waiting).

    With the $50 billion 25 year plan, average automobile trip length drops 2.2 to 16.8 km for Toronto @ 42.9 kph. Average transit trips bump up 2.1 to 13.5 km @ 23.2 kph (35 mins). It seems like the Big Move doesn’t do anything in terms of shortening commute lengths. For motorists, they save 2.2 km. But public transit users will travel 2.1 km further. Maybe just maybe as a society we need to look at why the hell we live so far from where we work.

    It seems like The Big Move is an expensive way to manage the symptoms of the core problem in the GTA (weak economy). We live in a buyer’s market where employers hold the upper hand over labour. In a seller’s market where employees have more options, I think employees would choose to work closer to home all else being equal. Some say that increased mobility is necessary for Toronto to be globally competitive. But I bet you don’t see any other world city out there that has the employment sprawl (in terms of living far from your place of work) issues to the extent that the GTA does.


  10. Bruce McQuaig spoke at the Ward 33 Public Meeting hosted by Councillor Carroll. Glad to hear him talk in glowing terms about the Sheppard and the Finch LRT.

    … Until he said something along the lines of:

    “Unlike the TTC, we want to make sure things are on budget and on time”

    when explaining the use of P3. How unprofessional of him to say that.

    Steve: Metrolinx has a very bad habit of slagging the TTC and, by implication, puffing themselves up even though they have yet to actually deliver on a large-scale project that was entirely under their control from start to finish. When they do, they may have reason to gloat, but not before.

    That said, some of the cock-ups with the Leslie Barns project do give one reason to wonder what was going on at the TTC.


  11. To me the funny thing about the Metrolinx investment strategy is the amount of ‘stickhanding around’ the big problems in favour of projects that look good and methods to get the public to ‘buy in’ to these projects. The attention given to a separate Union-Pearson link using separate technology is but one example.

    Another would be the change in the Hamilton LRT to the Hamilton RT which left some people there wondering “what the ‘L” was going on.

    I realize that Metrolinx once had a political board, and may have thought at one time that politics was supposedly important, but the ‘independent’ and supposedly ‘apolitical’ board still appears to be acting in a pretty political way.

    We have to move past the days when transit-relate decision making was influenced by backroom deals, individual politician and whichever mayor shouts the loudest.

    Beyond that, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Minister of Transport, Metrolinx, the energy minister and whoever is in charge of hydro wires have not sat down and hammered out a resolution for the stalled inter-regional terminal at Kipling Station, which really should have been built 30 years ago when Kipling station was opened.

    And this is just one example of a project that should have been done years ago, ‘but for’ a leadership more interested in the ‘big transformational’ projects than the smaller ones that increase efficiency and streamline transport.

    While some people dream of all-day GO train service, GO buses are doing a fantastic job along our roads and highways … but no one at Metrolinx seems to be working to shake the perception that GO buses are slower and less reliable than trains.

    Metrolinx has to accomplish some midi-projects to go along with the ‘quick win’ mini-projects and the long-term mega-projects. They need to encourage and support better use of the infrastructure that we have (and make those small improvements where necessary) while we wait for those ‘transformational’ projects to be (hopefully) funded, (hopefully) started and (hopefully) completed.

    Cheers, Moaz


  12. @Moaz
    GO Buses are great for off-peak period service. But not peak service. We need two-way peak period train service.

    Here are my recommendations for GO Transit:

    Two-way peak period train service
    Electrify trains
    Bus service for off-peak period service
    Shorten wait times across the board, especially for off-peak service.
    Improve local transit connections/service to GO stations (requires cooperation of local transit authorities)
    Parking demand management for GO park and ride lots (metered parking during periods where demand exceeds supply. Free parking when supply exceeds demand)
    GO Co-fare discount implemented for TTC riders

    There are multiple reasons why I don’t take GO Transit anymore. Lack of off-peak direction train service. Going to downtown Toronto from Mississauga in the PM peak period by GO Bus is a pain (heavy traffic). I might as well just drive to Islington station and take the subway from there. The wait times for GO buses and trains are too long in the off-peak period. Who wants to wait 30 minutes for the bus? Once again, I might as well just drive to Islington and hop on the subway. It comes every 2-3 minutes in the PM peak period.

    Where I live (Mavis/Eglinton) there isn’t any convenient way to get to a GO Train station by Mississauga Transit. You have to drive to the lot. There is the GO Bus station at City Centre (<3 km away from me) but anything in mixed traffic sucks in peak periods. And the GO Transit parking situation there is iffy. I drive to the Islington TTC lot too but the parking lot is integrated right there with the subway station. If you need to take the TTC, there's no co-fare discount. And in busy periods, you might not get a parking spot at a GO station at all. Whereas the TTC park and rides manage parking demand by charging for parking on weekdays (except holidays).

    The TTC park and rides are not the greatest if you want to go downtown from the west-end (unless it's on Bloor-Danforth) because the subway system does not offer a very direct route. But GO Transit sucks for anything other than destinations reasonably near Union. Especially with the lack of TTC co-fare discount. For a TTC PM peak period commute I pay $2 for parking (free on weekends and holidays) and a token each way ($2.65 * 2 = $5.30). $7.30 overall. For GO + TTC you get free parking (save $2) but then pay the GO ($5+ each way) + TTC fares in full. So you end up paying $8+ more round-trip.


  13. @Chris

    You’ve helped make my point for me. GO bus service does suck during peak hours when it is stuck in mixed traffic. So does municipal bus services (like the 61 Mavis Road that runs from the City Centre past Eglinton) and guess what, the same thing applies for the car.

    Now, take the GO bus from Cooksville during off peak hours or on the weekend and you’re looking at a trip that is comparable to what the GO train offers. The problem is that even on a weekend the bus feels unreliable because of the mixed traffic operations.

    In 15 years in Mississauga I’ve never taken the GO bus from Union to Cooksville or vice versa simply because of that perception. I’ll just take the subway because it feels more reliable, or take the GO train to Port Credit.

    I agree that GO needs to offer 2-way peak hour service during peak hours … ideally by interlining GO trains more often … but it will require the extension of the municipal bus subsidy and offering more trains too.

    But let’s face it, there are GO bus trips that would fill up immediately if the buses were operating in their own lanes (and therefore faster and more reliably).

    I’m going to be very interested to see how the Mississauga BRT/transitway phase 1 (hopefully opening in the fall of 2013) will do for the speed of GO and Mississauga bus services to Islington Station.

    One problem is that no one is trying to change the perception. Metrolinx barely talks about the BRT though the project benefits GO and MiWay and is the first of the ‘transformational’ projects to be completed.

    The other problem is that there are 3 (perhaps 5) missing pieces of the puzzle that aren’t going to be completed at the same time as the BRT. The 427 bus lane, Dundas BRT (from 427-Kipling), Kipling integrated Terminal, (and perhaps the Renforth Gateway and a Quasi-BRT/B-Line service along Eglinton west) are necessary parts of the network that aren’t going to be available when needed.

    Cheers, Moaz


  14. Steve: And I presume that your point is that when money is no object, a city can have a massive subway system. I can just imagine the political fury if Ottawa tried to spend this much money in the GTHA, most of it in the 416 and inner 905.

    No, actually I just thought that one or two of your readers would be cosmopolitan enough to be interested in the activities of a world-class city. The money at issue is comparable to what is envisaged for “The Big TinkerToy”.

    Steve: I really do tire of arguments that go roughly “world class cities have spectacular subway systems, and we should too”. This forgets that many of the older systems were build in a different era (New York, London, Paris, Berlin, etc) when the economics of subway construction coupled with good urban density favoured that sort of scheme. Newer ones were the product of state sponsorship and are national or regional showpieces. Even the Hong Kong system, with its “private sector” involvement, depends on exploitation of the value of state lands leased by the transit authority.

    If you honestly think that the kind of money needed to build such a system in Toronto is available, go right on dreaming. It’s hard enough to raise the funding for what you call “The Big Tinker Toy”, let alone a truly comprehensive system. We need to focus on what can be achieved.


  15. This forgets that many of the older systems were build in a different era

    Well sure. However, you seem to forget that many of the newer systems were built in this era. The expansion in Paris to which I referred earlier is being built so much in this era you just can’t believe it!

    There’s also the billion pound Northern Line extension in London.

    It’s not hard to find examples of systems being build right now provided, of course, that one ventures outside of downtown Toronto.

    If you honestly think that the kind of money needed to build such a system in Toronto is available, go right on dreaming.

    A careful reading of my last reply will reveal that the Paris extension is comparable, in terms of both cost and time-frame, to Toronto’s Big TinkerToy project.

    We are also flushing about $8.3-billion down the drain in the current monument to myopia.

    a truly comprehensive system.

    The emphasis on “comprehensive” neatly encapsulates the parochial myopia endemic in Toronto transit planning. Toronto says “We can’t afford to make good quality everything for everybody at once … so we’ll just cut the quality. Crap for everybody! Equally!” and sheds an egalitarian tear. A world class city says “We can’t afford to make good quality everything for everybody at once … so we’ll go as far as we can. After all, there’s a pretty good chance that we’re still going to be a big city in 150 years!”

    And, of course, there’s the question of accountability. The Leslie Street Spur Line fiasco – echoing St. Clair – has turned into the usual finger-pointing exercise. Hands up, everybody who thinks that even just one highly paid city manager – whether with Toronto Water, the TTC or whatever department dropped the ball this time – is going to get fired over this.

    They can’t even prepare a life-cycle estimate of the relative costs of LRT vs. subway, laying everything bare for criticism so citizens can decide for themselves which set of estimates is more believable. But nobody cares. It’s more fun to shout slogans.


  16. I should point out that the Northern Line extension is being largely publicly funded. Toronto City Council forgot to send a delegation to London to explain why this was impossible.

    At any rate, it’s dwarfed by the Crossrail project:

    Crossrail calls for a raft of new stations in central London and some 41.5km of 6.2m i.d. TBM bored tunnels under the heart of the city. The first machine is to be launched late next year to help drive the running tunnels for the £15.9 billion (US$23.5 billion) scheme, which is due to open rail services in 2017.


  17. Oh James, don’t bring up the life cycle cost canard again.

    Somebody has to! Who knows … maybe an actual study with actual numbers will be produced some day, just to shut me up! It’s so basic that without it everybody is just shouting at each other.


  18. @James I. Hymas

    (see appendix C of this report). Don’t you think it’s rather unfair to show the operating costs only for buses and streetcars, and not for subways? Dare I suggest that there may even be a bias against surface transit?

    Steve: As the purpose of this report is to compare the supposed costs and performance of surface routes, it is understandable that the subway is omitted. In any event, the methodology for comparing route “performance” completely ignores the nature of the route and the simple fact that on long routes, passengers will consume more “service” (by riding further on average) than on short ones.

    At least the 2008 version you have linked is recent enough that it does not include an attempt to allocate revenue by route, something that cannot be done in any meaningful way in a free-transfer, flat fare system. When the TTC did this, the most “profitable” routes were always those with many very short trips. Oddly enough, the level of service was based on actual peak ridership, not on phony financial data, and eventually they stopped including this calculation in their annual summaries.


  19. Chris wrote:

    “Average transit trip 11.4 km (40 mins).”

    Kevin’s comment:

    And 30 minutes or less on a bicycle. For a cost of almost zero. We could have a complete set of Dutch-style cycle infrastructure for all of Toronto for less than the savings in maintenance costs by shifting mode share from cars and TTC to bikes. In other words, it would pay for itself.

    The Dutch people were able to build and maintain their excellent infrastructure for a not-so-whopping 30 euros per person annually.

    The most wasteful municipal “gravy train” is that ridden by car drivers. They do not pay their way in so many ways. I’ll start with the $2.2 billion in annual health-car costs in Toronto alone due to people being poisoned by car drivers with the lethal poisons in car pollution.


  20. @Mikey: It is not readily apparent to me just what the purpose of the “Cost Per Day” column is. The figures are neither used nor explained in the text. If somebody were to give me that report and tell me that it justified streetcars over buses for some particular planned route, I’d have to tell him that I wanted more data before venturing an opinion.

    Steve: The origin of this table was an attempt dating back 30 years to determine the “profitability” of each route. This is impossible in a flat fare system because there is no way to allocate revenue (various schemes have been tried) that does not produce distortions. It is self-evident that long routes will tend to serve longer trip segments and these will cost more per passenger. That does not invalidate their role in the network, and the need for service should be determined based on demand. Artificial cost reduction could be triggered simply by splitting a route in two so that passengers would now be counted twice against the same cost base.

    Short feeder routes to the subway are always “profitable” because the cost of carrying the average passenger a few kilometers is low. If revenue is allocated “per boarding”, ignoring how far someone travels on a bus or streetcar, this will over or understate the proportion of the trip actually spent on a route. In some schemes, long trips with multiple transfers allocated more revenue to the complete trip than the rider actually paid. I won’t even start to discuss the question of whether fares should be allocated based on time or distance, but it’s obvious how a decision either way would skew the results. In a world where detailed trip tracking could be possible with fare cards, the philosophical problem of how to divvy up revenue by route remains, and the fare structure will produce distortions in the supposed profitability of various parts of the network.

    The cost side of things is, roughly speaking, supposed to come from three factors: vehicle hours, vehicle kilometers and peak vehicles. Different parts of the cost base are allocated to each of these although even that has its limitations. For example, vehicles incur some costs as a function of usage, but some of this is related to mileage and some to hours of operation, while still others are a fixed daily cost (e.g. cleaning). Stir well and you get the “daily cost” of a route. This does not include system overheads notably management that would probably raise everything pro rata.

    Comparisons cannot be made between average costs for each mode because the buses and streetcars run on very different types of routes, and the cost per passenger for buses is strongly affected by the higher average speed of the streets on which buses operate.

    I would also want to see some analysis of the problem to be solved and how each alternative would address the problem. For example there have been various studies on the cost of congestion in Toronto:

    A study released by the Toronto Board of Trade reports that Toronto’s traffic congestion has grown into a serious and costly problem. It states that Toronto commuters spend about 80 minutes per round trip on the road. … The study also makes reference to a report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimating that 71% of all Toronto commuters use personal cars and that the congestion cost is about $3.3 billion in lost productivity.

    So what’s the purpose of Metrolinx’ planning? One reasonable metric would be to reduce that $3.3-billion estimate. Another reasonable metric would be to reduce the total number of minutes of commuting time in excess of 60, round trip. There are many reasonable metrics. Let’s choose one (which may be complex; it could involve both of those suggestions as well as others, with some kind of weighting) and examine our options in light of the question: What will this proposal do to solve the problem?

    It’s an important choice. For instance, is a car driven by a Scarborough resident for two hours between 2pm and 4pm running errands as important a consideration as a car that spends an hour each way on Lakeshore Boulevard during the rush hours during a commute from Mississauga? The answer to that question will have an enormous bearing on the type of solution selected.

    In formal terms, this is an Objective Function. We should certainly finish with a thorough examination of costs – all costs, including future commitments that are implied by our selection of initial capital investment, and future recoveries if the assets purchased retain value at the end of the planning horizon. But we should start by defining just exactly what problem we are trying to solve.

    Steve: One problem with a lot of analysis, including the paper you linked here, is an undue focus on core-oriented commuting. It is comparatively easy to construct scenarios to improve conditions for suburban to downtown trips, but a large amount of congestion and travel delays are for trips between other parts of the region where alternatives are not as easy to provide. This is a difficulty for Metrolinx too because The Big Move cannot address regional congestion without providing capacity for many types of regional trip.


  21. Yes suburb-to-core is old news my friend. Suburb-to-suburb and core-to-suburb (lack of two-way GO Transit and/or poor local transit in the destination suburb) commuting is more of a concern. Property owners in the GTHA need to just stop being so cheap and pay higher property taxes already to fund public transit. Property values increase when new public transit infrastructure is propped up. So it’s logical to tax property to fund public transit. Property taxes are also more progressive in nature than sales tax and even income taxes since property is more concentrated than consumption and salaried income. Residents outside of the 416 won’t be contributing directly to Toronto’s property tax. But they contribute to the local economy everytime they spend money in the 416.

    If you are going to heavily tax gasoline because of the effect pollution has on health care as an externality, why stop there? Why not introduce a fat tax? A sugar tax? A sodium tax? Why not tax us for breathing? Go nuts. Why not give the government more and more power over our lives? Where do you draw the line?


  22. There is a huge need for investment in core-to-suburb and suburb-to-suburb rapid transit and what Metrolinx is planning for GO expansion (which includes a bus expansion that, like the Transit City Bus Plan, is getting little or no promotion) is about 20 years late.

    The key is getting protected bus lanes in place without a lot of politics and rancour … and the best way to do that is quickly and quietly … not slowly and loudly.

    That’s why I worry about the VIVANext Rapidways … they’re taking too long to build and the design is too elaborate when what they really need is median bus lanes, parking lot barriers for the right-of-way, jersey barriers at stops, and simple shelters…and bus priority signals.

    Get the service and the network in place first and then make it beautiful.

    Cheers, Moaz


  23. “Property taxes are also more progressive in nature than sales tax and even income taxes since property is more concentrated than consumption and salaried income. Residents outside of the 416 won’t be contributing directly to Toronto’s property tax. But they contribute to the local economy everytime they spend money in the 416.”

    Well property tax can also be used for ‘transportation infrastructure’ in any community. A road is there to support cars, but also buses – and in areas with LRTs, BRTs, subways, streetcars, the tax goes there for transportation costs.

    But sales taxes help too – the more income you have, the more money you are likely to spend, especially on bigger ticket items.

    Toll roads, especially the highways would help. It would provide income for use to:

    a) To cover the cost of maintaining the highway. The money that would have been spent on that maintenance can now be spent on transit.

    b) The tolls could go directly to transit.

    B is my preference. But that is just my opinion.

    Steve: It should also be noted that property taxes are based on the imputed value of a property, not on what you paid for it. Many houses within the older parts of the 416 are assessed at values much higher than the occupants could afford to pay if they were in the market today. They only realize the value if they sell, not if they remain in their long-term housing. This is a big issue for seniors and for families living in older, now-gentrified neighbourhoods. In this sense, property taxes are not “progressive” because they do not necessarily reflect the ability to pay.


  24. Somebody has to! Who knows … maybe an actual study with actual numbers will be produced some day, just to shut me up! It’s so basic that without it everybody is just shouting at each other.

    Do you really need a study to tell you it costs more to maintain underground rails (and all associated infrastructure) than surface rails?

    If you really think surface tracks need to be replaced frequently enough to make up the cost delta, you should have a look at the sections of tangent track that were completed on Queen East and King West about 10 years ago. That track has been exposed to everything including truck traffic for a decade (which future LRT lines won’t have to deal with) and it’s still in good shape.

    Steve: And more to the point, the underground rails have a tunnel and associated signalling, ventillation, drainage, etc., all of which are added maintenance costs just in order to have the track underground. We could also talk about stations, but why belabour the issue.

    Spadina, now open for business since 1997, has very heavy service, but the parts that have been (or will be) replaced are mainly stops which get extra wear and intersections that were built to old, less robust standards. The same thing is done in the subway where track within stations and on curves is changed out more often than regular “tangent” track between stations. The very north end of the line was a special case where the construction technique wasn’t up to snuff. At the south end, aside from necessary structural work on the bridge, the track from King south dated from about 1989 and was installed for the original Harbourfront car. This track was not built to current vibration-control standards, but the replacement track is.


  25. @Steve Munro:

    Apologies if you’ve already answered this, but can you tell me anything about the BikeLinx project?

    Steve: BikeLinx was part of the “Quick Wins” package when Metrolinx was formed, and this program should have wound down some time ago. Here is a description of it from the Metrolinx website:

    BikeLinx is a $5 million Metrolinx initiative that will make it easier for people in the GTHA to combine bicycling with transit. Through the BikeLinx program, Metrolinx has provided funding to GTHA municipalities to equip every bus in their transit fleets with an external bike rack and to install permanent, secure and sheltered bicycle parking facilities at major transit stops.


  26. Anecdotes and assertions are no substitute for data.

    I continue to be amazed that my desire for a full life-cycle costing of the various options should be so controversial.

    Steve: It’s not controversial in my books. The problem often is that Metrolinx has already decided on an implementation and may even have a “benefits case analysis” to support their position. However, the methodology of these is quite suspect for several reasons which would take an article of its own. Oddly enough, they have not published any recently.

    Also, any life cycle analysis needs to look at network effects, not just individual projects. (This is a big shortcoming of the BCAs.) One project may have a high capital cost, but be essential to enable other works to proceed — e.g. Union Station capacity improvements. If these are looked at in isolation, we get fudging such as implied “lost opportunity cost” of not doing the work which is very difficult to estimate.

    A big problem also if we are talking about “life cycle” is to determine just what business cycle is to be examined. If provision of a good transit service allows me and thousands more like me to lead a car free life, or for a multi-car family to make do with fewer cars on the road, that is a saving spread through the transit-using community. The downside may be that I don’t stimulate the auto industry.

    If we want to compare, say, subway construction, LRT and BRT, that’s fair game, but it must be on an equal footing. One oddity I find with subway proponents (not that I am lumping you into that group) is that they invoke “build for the future” as a mantra of last resort. A line may look like a dog today, but just wait 50 years, and you will be sorry you didn’t build a subway now. Somehow, that argument escapes the analysis of life cycle costing and the effect of carrying a more-expensive mode for decades while it finds its market.


  27. It seems to me we have a transit system that is being grown completely by politics and not modelling/traffic studies. Some ideas that I can’t imagine proper modelling would scream out as the “rational” course of action:

    Leslie GO/TTC connection – certainly a much improved connection here would bring a whole new series of commutes such as Markham to North York Centre.

    Steve: I agree that a proper connection is long overdue, but only if GO (a) substantially improves service and moves to all day operation and (b) offers an integrated fare with the TTC will this generate any substantial demand.

    Priority to completing Eglinton LRT West – Mississauga’s new BRT will end in an empty field at Renforth. What a waste – this could provide much needed E-W system capacity, particularly since the ROW has been reserved for almost 50 years along Eglinton. South of the airport is a huge job centre – with no reasonable transit connections to residents of Toronto. ditto for those that work at the airport.

    Steve: You won’t get any argument from me, but the Eg West LRT has always been a hard sell to the planners because they see it as having light demand. This problem goes back decades, and even when the Eglinton Subway was on the map, it probably would have stopped somewhere around Weston with an “interim” connection to BRT beyond. Today we face the problem that Metrolinx does not seem to want any competition at the airport for their precious UPX service.

    Completing the Sheppard – Downsview connection – I won’t get dragged into the Sheppard LRT argument, but surely this connection is vital for completing connections to York University/Vaughan from anywhere in the northwest of Toronto. Heck, the tail track going west from Yonge is a good start.

    Steve: If you have the money, be my guest, but again this is a line where the projected demand does not justify the investment. You want a network built on proper modelling, but seem to assume that it will generate the results you want. A big issue at York is that a lot of students do not originate in areas that a Sheppard link would serve. As for traffic flowing the other way, the number of jobs served by the Sheppard subway is small — that’s one big reason the line has never amounted to much — and while we’re at it, higher projections two decades ago were based on a level of development that never materialized except in the fevered imaginations of suburban politicians.

    Extension of Bloor into Sherway – another oldie but a goodie. With all of the construction along Queensway and north on 427 doesn’t this represent a fantastic opportunity to bring more riders from this area? And it lays the ground work for a node to support a Queensway LRT. Much traffic from this area is reaching the Bloor subway regardless – but with an increase in ridership in this area much would go down University and not load Yonge/Bloor. Can you imagine the development boost you could get with the combination of LRT along Queensway and the subway node? The young that can’t afford or want waterfront are already filling condos in this area – why not make them transit users?

    Steve: The last estimate I saw for a Sherway extension was priced at about $400m/km thanks to difficulties in getting over the 427 and under the CPR. It is unclear just what a Queensway LRT will accomplish given the length of any trip into downtown. Already people in this area are taking GO as a fast route to the core, and again this is a case where a restructuring of GO’s fares and improvement in service would provide the link southern Etobicoke needs without the expense of a new line.

    All of these are [at a] very reasonable price – with I suspect big payoff.

    Steve: The “reasonable price” part is where we part company on some of your proposals.


  28. The “Sherway extension” is one of those fantasy-map ideas that seemingly won’t die. Though it certainly deserves to.

    Sherway Gardens is mostly serviced by 123 Shorncliffe, which manages a 9-minute frequency at the height of rush hour. The other two TTC routes going to Sherway, 15 Evans and 80 Queensway, don’t amount to much. Mississauga transit sends in small buses on some route or another; I haven’t seen any obvious patronage for these.

    The area is transit and pedestrian hostile. (And bicycling-hostile.)

    Sherway is cut off from anywhere by the wide Etobicoke Creek valley on the west, the QEW to the south (a diagonal crossing via Evans Ave. is the only connection, unless you go down to the creek valley and follow some dirt trails), to the east by the 427 and hectare-sized 427/QEW/Gardiner/Brown’s Line/Evans interchange, and to the north by a rail line. Neither East Mall nor West Mall has transit service north of Sherway.

    So, we’re going to build a subway to a location that’s reasonably serviced by a few buses an hour?

    The amount of development at Sherway, and along The Queensway, is absolutely dwarfed by the development around Lake Shore and Park Lawn. I presume a subway extension to Humber Bay and Mimico is imminent. Oh, oops, we’re not even building the WWLRT.


  29. What should be in the Metrolinx Investment Strategy? How about a salary freeze/cut for Metrolinx executives, councillors of GTHA, provincial politicians, and Ontario Provincial Police and use those funds for investments in public transit?

    But of course the politicians and executives would cry foul….

    Steve: All of that put together will not pay for transit expansion on a multi-billion dollar annual scale. Public sector salaries are always a handy target, and worthy of discussion in their own right, but let’s not pretend that this is a gold mine that can avoid new revenue sources to pay for everything. That’s a populist argument that simply diverts discussion from our real needs.


  30. In a (somewhat restrained) fantasy world….

    Proper headway management on the TTC streetcars. At least the ones with reserved right-of-way!
    Zone-based, universal fare system. (Perhaps with upcharges for express service.) This can be done on paper, if there is too little computer-savviness to implement smartcards.
    Purchase or independent trackage of the remaining GO lines (because fighting with CN and CP is not worth it), then electrification, then through-running and all-day service, then infill stations.
    After proving this level of operational and design competence, build the Downtown Relief Line.

    I don’t see any hope unless you get a government which takes rail service in Toronto seriously, as seriously as the Canadian government once took transcontinental rail service.


  31. Steve:

    You won’t get any argument from me, but the Eg West LRT has always been a hard sell to the planners because they see it as having light demand. This problem goes back decades, and even when the Eglinton Subway was on the map, it probably would have stopped somewhere around Weston with an “interim” connection to BRT beyond. Today we face the problem that Metrolinx does not seem to want any competition at the airport for their precious UPX service.

    Just a question here (apologies if its been asked/answered elsewhere) but given the recent developments and the possibility that jets will now be used at Billy Bishop, wouldn’t Porter airlines be eating into a lot of the potential market for the airport service? Do you think that’s even crossed the minds of Metrolinx?

    Steve: How much traffic is bled off to the Island airport from Pearson will depend a lot on the type of flights that are eventually allowed, their number and destination. There is a physical limit to how many passengers the Island airport can handle. As for UPX, it doesn’t make economic sense now, but Metrolinx seems to be in denial. The sooner it is converted to a regular “transit” line, the better.


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