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.
GO2020 and The Big Move
Back at the dawn of time, before The Big Move had been published, many transit agencies created plans that would feed into the new regional plan. GO2020 was GO Transit’s contribution (Transit City was the City of Toronto’s). At the time, GO and Metrolinx were separate agencies – one ran the trains while the other drew maps.
At the heart of GO2020 was a set of commitments to network and service expansion including:
Frequent service – On primary corridors, a train or bus departure at least every 15 minutes during peak periods and 30 minutes in the off-peak periods will serve a full range of travel needs.
Competitive travel times – Travel times on both train and bus will be competitive with automobile travel. Express and limited-stop service, and priority measures for buses, will ensure that GO is an attractive option.
The report went into considerable detail about what we would see by 2020:
Peak-period train service – By 2020, GO Transit’s rail corridors will be serving diverse travel needs, with significant amounts of traffic against the peak direction and between outlying activity centres, in addition to the high volume of passengers to downtown Toronto. Two-way, all-day service will be provided within the Core Service Area. Services will extend beyond to serve more distant Urban Growth Centres as appropriate.
• High-frequency, peak-direction trains in Core Service Area – GO will expand Built-Up Area peak-period service on the existing corridors to offer a train at least every 15 to 20 minutes in the peak direction on all existing rail lines, supporting the intensified development envisioned in the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. This level of service is designed to fully develop the 2020 work travel market in each corridor from the regions outside Toronto to the immediate Union Station area. The goal is to attract 80% to 85% of these travellers, with corresponding increases in travel to the broader area around downtown Toronto.
When demand justifies more than four trains in the peak hour, GO will introduce express trains and offer a peak direction train at least every 15 minutes for each station. With GO’s high-speed, interregional services, departures more frequent than every 15 minutes would not attract significantly more customers.
However, introducing additional fast express trains instead (with few or no local stops en route, and average operating speeds ranging from 75 to 85 km per hour) would result in a more attractive service and improved ridership.
The number of trains arriving at Union Station during the morning peak hour will more than double to meet the demand for regional rail service. Inbound ridership for the year 2020 will increase due to population growth in GO Transit’s regional markets, enhanced service on all corridors, and GO’s expanding market share, even if the number of jobs in downtown Toronto does not increase dramatically.
Significant changes in the relative cost of driving vs. taking GO, fare integration with the TTC, or public acceptance of transit use could result in even higher numbers. To meet demand, trains will have to arrive at Union from the Lakeshore East and West lines nearly every five minutes, from the Milton line about every eight minutes, and every 12 to 15 minutes from each of the other corridors.
This high concentration in the peak hour will need a substantial increase in Union Station’s capacity for trains and passengers. It will drive construction of track and other infrastructure improvements, including passenger stations and terminals, rail and bus corridors, vehicles, and support facilities, which are addressed in the MoveOntario 2020 capital investment plan and the Metrolinx RTP.
• Regular counter-peak trains in Core Service Area –
Customers travelling to workplaces and other destinations outside downtown Toronto, or between stops along the corridor, will have a regular schedule of counter-peak trains every 30 minutes or less.
• More train service options – To improve access to the Core Service Area, GO will introduce trains along rail lines it is not currently using. Peak-period GO Trains will operate between Bolton, Seaton, East Markham (Locust Hill) , and the Yonge/Summerhill area. These improvements are consistent with the Metrolinx initiative to optimize use of existing rail infrastructure.
All of this is summarized in a table at the end of the report.
[Click on the table for a larger version]
This entire list was included in GO’s 2020 plans, a timeline well within the original 15-year window of the original Big Move, but the actual plan delivered these services over a longer build-out than GO had proposed. In the case of Milton, The Big Move offered less service than the GO2020 plan would have provided.
The Big Move ran aground on some basic problems:
- Some rail corridors could not be easily exploited for GO service especially at the frequencies proposed in either the GO or Metrolinx plans.
- The combined capacity of a fully built-out system coming into Union Station exceeded that terminal’s capacity even after the massive reconstruction now in progress.
- Use of the CPR tracks through central Toronto would require a transfer point to the Yonge University subway at a location where it has no capacity to accept additional riders.
The provincial agencies were good at drawing lines on maps, but not quite so good at understanding the limits of the infrastructure. Moreover, the scale and speed of GO improvements was to be considerably slowed in The Big Move probably to stretch out funding requirements.
In the specific case of Milton, GO2020 offered 15-minute peak service to Meadowvale with 30-minute counterpeak service. Offpeak periods would see 30-minute headways all day with buses beyond Meadowvale to Milton. (Right-of-way constraints beyond Meadowvale make extension of frequent service to Milton difficult.)
In The Big Move, the 15-year plan offers “Regional Rail” service on the Milton corridor with full day, two-way service. By the 25-year plan, this is upgraded to “Express Rail” (very frequent service) as far as Meadowvale.
Recent updates to The Big Move push the “Regional Rail” service off to the 25-year plan, although the “Next Wave” plans do include all-day two-way service to Meadowvale.
More generally, those “15” and “25” year markers are slippery and in the revised Big Move, count from “today”, not from the original 2008 plan. 25 years now means 2038 compared with the original 15-year goal of 2023, and the GO2020 goal of 2020. Halton has good right to be annoyed.
Selling the Plan
The new revenue tool package will be a hard sell across the GTHA not just because it means new taxes when the mantra of past decades has been that we cannot afford any of them, and that cuts in spending take precedence over all other policies. That sales job is not helped by the less than forthright planning by Metrolinx and GO (now one agency).
Services that might have been delivered in the near future drift off beyond the lifespan of all current governments and the imaginations of most taxpayers. There is no sense of what we will really build and when we will see the benefits.
The Next Wave of Metrolinx projects will consume about $22-billion in capital. The proposed funding scheme includes $2-billion annually from new revenues, of which 25% will be diverted to municipalities. This leaves $1.5b per year and makes the Next Wave roughly a 15-year project (not including inflation or future operating costs). Roughly half of the total will be consumed by two subway projects, the Downtown Relief Line and the Richmond Hill extension. These are so large that they belong in a separate category, possibly with a different funding strategy.
Metrolinx must pull together a coherent overview of its many plans and promises, together with a realistic evaluation of the constraints that exist on network growth. If we really are going to see a benefit from new revenues, this must be measured against clear, achievable plans, not a grab-bag of schemes with vague implementation dates. Just as Toronto saw its ambitious Transit City plan scaled back and delayed, the hopes for GO2020 have been diluted.
Halton and other regions have every right to distrust that transportation plans essential to their future will actually materialize. Population and congestion growth will not pause just because Queen’s Park lacks the will to be honest about the scope of spending required.
The coming Investment Strategy must be more than a one-page report with a list of three or four potential taxes. It must really explain what the “investments” will buy us, when they will be delivered, and what benefits we will see across the GTHA. Anything less is an abdication of Metrolinx’ and the Government’s responsibility.