City Hall’s Transit Gridlock Must End (Updated)

April 29, 2013:  Now that the Scarborough Subway is back on the table, what are the implications of the LRT and subway options. 

See my comments on the Torontoist.

(Original post from April 24 below.)

Toronto Executive Committee’s vote to “receive” a report on potential transit revenue tools showed an appalling lack of leadership by Mayor Rob Ford, and a sense that he and a handful of minions can dictate the city’s agenda.

My comments are up on the Torontoist.

Analysis of 29 Dufferin for March 2012 — Part III: Detailed Daily Operations

Earlier this year, I published two analyses of the 29 Dufferin bus operation for March 2012.  Part I dealt with headway reliability, and Part II looked at running times.

In this article, I will review the details of operations on four sample days from the month to illustrate the fine-grained detail of service on some representative days.

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Sabre Rattling in Halton?

Earlier this week, Tess Kalinowski reported in The Star that Halton Region, a fast-growing region west of Toronto, would simply stop approving new developments without more provincial support for transit and other services.  Chair Gary Carr wants to see funding for transit – including two-way, all-day GO rail service – not to mention schools, roads and public health.

Halton’s population of half a million is planned to grow by 50% in the coming two decades as new residents pour into the Greater Toronto region, but the infrastructure to support them does not exist.  This problem is shared by other municipalities either because they face growth of their own, or because they lie between newer neighbourhoods and downtown and absorb increases in travel through older parts of the GTHA.

Metrolinx had originally slated all-day service for Halton on the Kitchener and Milton GO lines in the first 15 years of its 25-year Big Move transportation plan. But the plan’s updated version pushes the GO expansion to the list of projects in a 16- to 25-year window.

Besides more GO trains to Milton and Georgetown, Carr said the region wants Metrolinx to reinstate plans for another GO station on Trafalgar Rd. and it wants the Lakeshore West GO line electrified so it can deliver 15-minute express service.

Municipalities in the 905 now have (or are planned for) populations and the transportation demands they will create that exceed the capacity of road-oriented development.  Even if transit in the 905 (and commuting capacity for 905-to-416 travel) were much better, the land use patterns work against effective transit service.  This is not just a question of dispersed work and home locations, but of neighbourhood designs generally where stops to run errands as part of larger trips demand the use of a car.  These problems will not be wished away with better bus routes or all-day GO service.

Halton, like many regions, is reacting to proposed new region-wide “revenue tools” with the question “what’s in it for us”, but this is a natural result of the “Big Gap” between the original promise of Metrolinx (and of provincial plans for managing GTHA growth) and what is actually happening on the ground.

Various plans exist for the expansion of GO Transit service, and these have changed from time to time leaving some confusion about what, exactly, will be provided and when service expansions will occur.

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How Bad Is TTC Service: A First Quarter Report

Among the TTC’s many promises under its Customer Charter is the provision of quarterly stats on the reliability of each of its surface routes.  This information recently went online on the TTC’s website, although you have to dig to find it.

The path is from Customer Service on the top navbar, then to Customer Charter on the side bar, then to Quarterly reports, and finally scroll down.  Or you can just click here.

This table covers the first three months of 2013, and lists the reliability of every surface route.  “Reliability” is defined roughly as:

  • If the distance between a vehicle “B” and the one preceding it “A” is within three minutes of the scheduled headway, then the vehicle is within the acceptable window of reliability.
  • The measure is taken at various points along a route (we don’t know the locations or number for any route), and summed across an entire quarter’s operation.  This will smooth out everything but very large scale, long-lasting disruptions, and will tend to give an index that tracks the overall behaviour of the route.

The system-wide target for streetcar routes is 70% punctuality (within the headway window), and for buses it is only 65%.  Looking at individual routes, there are huge discrepancies.

No route gets over the 90% line, although several are in the mid to upper 80s.

  • 8 Broadview
  • 31 Greenwood
  • 44 Kipling South
  • 78 St. Andrew’s
  • 510 Spadina

Of these routes, four are relatively short bus routes where congestion is not an issue, and with only a modicum of effort, operators should be able to stay on time.  The Spadina car is a special case because it runs with a very short scheduled headway for much of the day, every day of the week.  It is physically difficult for cars go get more than (H + 3) minutes apart, and impossible for (H – 3) because this would be a negative number.  Service that meets the target is very easy to achieve even if the line appears chaotic at times simply because there are so many vehicles close together.

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How Much Does Toronto Want to be Taxed for Transit?

The City of Toronto adds its voice to the debate over transit revenue generation with a report at its Executive Committee meeting on April 23, 2013.  There are actually three sub-items on the agenda:

  • The main staff report giving background information and proposing the revenue tools that staff recommend Council endorse.
  • A summary of the consultation conducted by the Planning Department under Phase 1 of their “Feeling Congested” campaign.
  • A summary of the poll taken by Ipsos-Reid to survey city residents on their attitudes to new revenue tools.

Staff recommend that seven new revenue tools be implemented in two phases.  The first phase would include:

  • Fuel tax
  • Sales tax
  • Commercial parking levy
  • Development charges

The second group would not kick in until the so-called “first wave” of Metrolinx projects (to be funded mainly from general provincial revenue) are completed, likely about 2020.

  • Highway tools
  • High Occupancy lane tolls (HOT)
  • Vehicle registration charge (VRT)

The premise for the staged implementation is that new taxes affecting motorists exclusively are inappropriate (and politically impractical) if an alternative to driving does not exist.

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A Chat With Minister Murray (Part II) (Corrected)

Correction: April 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm:

Responses to some questions (Q4-Q7) in this article were originally attributed to Metrolinx.  In fact these responses came from the Minister’s office based on policy information collected there.  Text of the article has been changed accordingly (italics).

Back on March 14, I wrote about a conversation I had with the newly created Minister of Transportation, Glen Murray.  We ran short of time, and I left questions about transit financing and the role of local systems for an email followup.

It took a month, but the responses have come in, some verbatim from the Minister, some the Ministry office to which the more “technical” issues were forwarded.

I added a supplementary question about the Metrolinx Investment Strategy and the actual level of spending based on information in the Five Year Strategy.  The question and the Ministry’s response appear at the end of this article.

The exchange is unedited.  Judge for yourself how forthright these responses might be.

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The Saga of Leslie Barns

The Toronto Transit Commission, at its recent meeting, approved a contract for the connection track linking the existing streetcar system on Queen Street via Leslie Street to the Leslie Barns located between Lake Shore and Commissioners.  Much comment turned on the rising cost of the facility and the unexpected cost of work such as soil and utility relocation.  To put all of this in context, here is a short history of the evolution of this project.

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The Metrolinx “Big Conversation”: What are The People Saying?

Through early 2013, Metrolinx conducted roundtables across the GTHA to sound out interested citizens on the transportation plan, “The Big Move”, and on possible ways that this might be funded.  A summary report consolidating the input from each area makes interesting reading.

“Consistent, top-line themes” are identified right at the outset:

Participants across the region feel frustrated with the level of congestion they face on highways, roads and public transit. They feel the negative impact of gridlock on family life, work obligations and health. The inadequacy of existing public transit systems is a common concern for participants. GTHA participants agree that across the region – along its busiest routes – our roads, highways, subways, trains and buses are straining to meet demand.

The need for reliable and frequent service was heard consistently across the GTHA. Participants are looking for leadership among transit providers to collaborate and deliver improved levels of service that is better integrated across the region. Participants look forward to system improvements that will allow them to more easily coordinate their schedules, enjoy a wider range of transit options with less uncertainty and stress, and travel more efficiently and cost-effectively from A to B. [page 3]

A few points leap out here:

  • “Public transit” is a generic problem, not a “GO” or “TTC” or “HSR” issue, and there is no call for a few “magic bullet” solutions.
  • Frequency and reliability rank highly, and would-be riders want to see better co-ordination and service delivery.
  • Efficient and cost-effective travel are important.

A subtle but important linking factor here is that delivering on these issues requires a network approach, and high quality operations are at least as important as building new infrastructure. Continue reading