The Metrolinx Board met on June 27 with a full agenda.
There is a great deal of duplication between various reports, and I have consolidated information to keep like items together. Some reports are omitted entirely from this article either because the important info is included elsewhere, or because they simply rehash status updates with no real news. Metrolinx has a love for “good news” to the point that each manager stuffs their presentations with information that is already well known, or which parallels other presentations.
Among the more important items in these reports are the following:
- Metrolinx is now conducting various studies all of which bear on the problem of north-south capacity into downtown Toronto. This involves the (Downtown) Relief Line, the north-south GO corridors and the Richmond Hill subway expansion. A related study involves fare and service integration across the GTHA. It is refreshing to see Metrolinx taking a network approach to planning, rather than looking at projects in isolation, and recognizing that some of their own, existing routes can be part of an overall approach to solving this capacity problem.
- The Metrolinx Five-Year Strategy includes dates for the beginning of service on various projects including the LRT replacement for the Scarborough RT. Previous versions of these dates cited “by 2020”, and Metrolinx has indicated a desire for as short a construction/shutdown period of under three years. However, the new strategy paper talks of an “in service date” of 2020. Metrolinx is aiming for a three year shutdown at most, but the SRT might continue operating beyond the originally planned September 2015 date, possibly for one additional year. This could lead to an earlier reopening than 2020. (Correspondence from Metrolinx on this issue is included later in the article.)
Go Transit Report
Gary McNeil, the President of GO Transit, reported that on time performance (defined as peak period trains running within 5 minutes of schedule) continues to run above the 92% target. It should be remembered that GO adjusted its schedules some time ago to reflect actual operating conditions, but with that done, has managed to stay at 94-95% over the past two years. Rider satisfaction with communications (such as delay and service change announcements) fell from 74% to 71% (probably within the survey margin of error), and still sits below the 77% target, itself not particularly impressive. This suggests that although the trains may run more or less on time, passengers are disgruntled about events often enough to affect their approval of communications.
Passenger satisfaction with cleanliness of stations sits at 80%, slightly below the 82% target (again this is likely within the margin of error). The state of Union Station probably spills over into how riders rate the system, and it will be interesting to see if this changes when GO shifts its operations to the west wing of Union Station and the new York Concourse.
Construction continues at Union with the new glass canopy working its way north across the train shed. Metrolinx will move part of its corporate office into the renovated west wing in fall 2013. (I understand that a full transfer from 20 Bay Street will not be possible until the Bank of Nova Scotia vacates the east wing and renovations there are completed.)
Construction on other parts of the network is at various states of completion. The new Strachan underpass on the Georgetown-Kitchener corridor will open in October removing most train operation from this busy level crossing.
(Freights, which are comparatively rare, will continue to operate at grade because the underpass is too steep for them.)
GO’s target for the ratio of passengers to seats is that 80% of peak period trips should seat every passenger. With demand growing at 5% per annum, this is not possible and today only 2/3 of peak trains have seats for all riders. (It is unclear just what proportion of riders are standees as this is not what GO measures.) TTC riders who must suffer through overcrowding and reductions in service standards could only dream of such a generous policy. GO expects system ridership for 2013/14 to be 69.5m.
The big change for GO on June 29 was the move to half-hourly service all day, every day, on the Lake Shore line. This does not require any more equipment because it is an off-peak adjustment. We will have to wait until later in 2013 to see how much additional riding this generates by improving the convenience of GO rail service. There are not yet any plans for all day service on other corridors, and even when this is introduced, the frequency will not necessarily be as good as on the Lake Shore.
GO continues to tout the construction of new parking garages notably at Erindale, Ajax, Pickering and Clarkson. This service model cannot hold up forever, and at some point, GO will face the challenge of growth without being able to serve auto-based trips for the home-to-train link.
On May 29 a major storm washed out part of the Richmond Hill line near Pottery Road in the Don Valley. In discussion of this event, there was mention that as part of eventual double-tracking to upgrade service in this corridor, the rail structure may be both improved and raised to make it less vulnerable to flooding.
As I complete this article on the evening of July 8, the Richmond Hill line across the Don Valley from me at Bloor Street is not just under water, but under a wide and fast-moving branch of the Don River that has flooded Bayview south of Bloor Street and the DVP at Dundas, among other places. Clearly the review of this and other lines will be more extensive in the wake of this near-record storm.
Union Pearson Express
There is little to report here beyond the fact that construction continues at many locations and all contracts for this project have now been awarded. The first two UPX cars will be delivered in spring 2014 with the remainder following by year-end.
There is no word yet on fares for the service, especially for trips that do not travel end-to-end.
Metrolinx is proud that the UPX was named “Project of the Year” at the Global AirRail Awards. I cannot help wondering just how important this might be when VIA, of all organizations, beat them out for “Concept of the Year” for its intermodal trip booking. If only VIA could actually run more trains, the award might be credible.
PRESTO finally gained official acceptance in Ottawa in April with approval by the OC Transpo Board for a full roll out. What remains to be seen will be both the robustness and reliability of the technology, and the proportion of market share especially among the crucial frequent user community. The July 2013 fare structure strongly encourages a shift from existing tickets and cash to the PRESTO card.
New software implemented in June eliminated or modified some system limitations that fell into “the computer can’t do that” category and belied poor or incomplete design of earlier versions.
The real trial will come in 2014 as the TTC rolls out PRESTO as part of the new Low Floor LRV implementation with the ominous target date of April 1.
“Open Payment” using credit and debit cards is still in the pilot stage and can only handle single fare payments. Discounted and multiple-fare options are only available through the PRESTO card itself.
Rapid Transit Implementation
Construction of the western tunnel from Black Creek to Eglinton West Station is finally underway. Meanwhile over at Brentcliffe, there is a subtle change in the alleged reason for bringing the line to the surface, as originally proposed, in the centre of Eglinton Avenue.
After the completion of three public meetings and extensive discussions with the City of Toronto on the eastern terminus of the Crosstown tunnel, we have decided to proceed with the original plan approved in the 2010 EA which includes a surface alignment in the median of Eglinton Avenue east of Brentcliffe Avenue and a surface stop at Leslie. We believe the extended tunnel option would have resulted in improvements to construction impacts, traffic staging and long term operations. However, in consultations with the local community, City of Toronto and local city councilors, it was clear that there was a strong preference for a stop at Leslie Street and for a station at Laird Avenue. [P1]
The desire to avoid a potentially difficult Council debate about an EA amendment for the underground alignment has disappeared.
Three bids were received for the maintenance shops and yard to be built at Sheppard and Conlins Road. These are being evaluated with the intent of signing an agreement by October 2013. This is a “DBFM” project which will see the bidder design, build, finance and maintain the facility. Metrolinx has not discussed where the boundary for “maintenance” lies and whether this applies only to the building and related services.
Bids have been received for the Eglinton-Crosstown and Scarborough LRT projects (the exact number is unclear), but as discussed in another post, the uncertainty regarding the status of the Scarborough project has complicated matters considerably. Metrolinx has announced that all work on that project will stop at the beginning of August in absence of clear support by Council for the LRT proposal.
Designs for the Eglinton line are not yet complete in some areas:
- The change back to a surface alignment on the eastern segment affects design work at Laird and Don Mills, and requires that details of the surface portion be nailed down.
- Eglinton station’s design is still a matter of debate between Metrolinx, the City of Toronto and the TTC (privately muttering about an inferior connection between the Eglinton line and the subway). This debate needs to come out into the open so that we know what options are available and are not stuck with a poor connection at a major transfer point.
- A storage track originally planned for Eglinton has been moved to Avenue Road station.
- The design for Kennedy station will be completed this month (July 2013).
Portions of the VivaNext busway network are nearing completion, some well ahead of schedule, while others are in the design or procurement stages. As the proportion of reserved running expands on Viva, it will be fascinating to watch the effect of reduced trip times on ridership and how York Region responds to any increased demand. Will improved running times translate into more frequent service, or will they be used as an opportunity to cut operating costs? This is a debate with which TTC riders are familiar.
Investment Strategy & Project Evaluation
This report did not receive any discussion time of its own, although some parts were referred to elsewhere. The most important part is the update on “Next Wave” project evaluation.
Brampton Queen Street Rapid Transit
A Benefits Case Analysis (BCA)
“… suggests that options including LRT and/or BRT should be advanced to the Planning, Design and Engineering stage of work.” [P2]
The BCA will be published by Metrolinx before the September 10, 2013 Board meeting.
The Cities of Mississauga and Brampton have led the work on this project. An Environmental Assessment should be completed in spring 2014 with 30% design following late in the year.
The City of Hamilton has completed the 30% design for this project which, recently, has re-acquired the “L” in its acronym after a period of uncertainty about the planned technology.
Hamilton’s report to Metrolinx is on the city’s rapid transit site.
Yonge North Subway Extension / (Downtown) Relief Line / Regional Relief Operations Study / Fare & Service Integration Study
An updated BCA for the Yonge North project (a 2009 version is on the Metrolinx website) will be published for the September 10 Board meeting. This includes a staging option to build first to Steeles, later to Richmond Hill Centre. Although not mentioned in the Metrolinx report, this may help to address storage problems the TTC has with most of its fleet concentrated at Wilson Yard as one proposed storage option is a three track section running from Finch to Cummer Station. Whenever it is built, Steeles Station will shift the majority of the bus operations on Yonge Street away from Finch.
Related studies include a BCA for the “Relief Line” (which has lost its “Downtown” appellation in recognition of a wider role). Further study will be done on a network basis with a Regional Relief Operations Study looking at the role of the GO rail corridors to siphon demand off of the subway network.
A Fare & Service Integration study, not due until early 2014, will also bear on this because the attractiveness of various services is affected both by the fare structure and the degree to which artificial boundaries between transit systems are eliminated. Both of these issues will involve new funding schemes to overcome the current double-fare arrangements between the 905 and 416 regions, and to address service level issues.
The shift from route-based studies to network studies is an important one for Metrolinx. Although they were charged with construction of a regional network with regional benefits, much planning has occurred on isolated segments and at times with competing views of the importance and goals for these segments. Riders do not travel on individual routes, but on the network which should be organized to provide the best service at reasonable cost and on a timely basis.
Terms of Reference for the Relief Line network study are to be released in July 2013.
For years, the TTC has concentrated on stuffing more riders onto the Yonge-University subway, while GO’s foot-dragging on improvements to its north-south services left no alternative. The Relief Line, long on many plans to increase capacity into the core, was an orphan unloved for its cost, complexity and diversion of resources from the TTC’s plans for the YUS.
With the recent issues of signal system reliability, it’s worth remembering that funding for the new system only came through as part of a scheme to upgrade capacity. Capital maintenance isn’t sexy, and the TTC has been starved for funding to rebuild major parts of its aging subway network. Shifting the focus of new capacity building to GO or the DRL could also divert funding for much-needed renewal. All agencies and governments involved must recognize the need to maintain and improve existing infrastructure as a necessary and separate cost from construction of new lines. The Metrolinx Infrastructure Strategy is still far too concentrated on the latter.
The Five-Year Strategy is an update of a previous version of this plan. Parts of it are corporate puffery and duplicate the Annual Report, but the important issues are down in the details.
Quite notable by its almost total absence is any word on the electrification of GO Transit operations even though the first stage is supposed to fall within the period 2013-18. The sole reference, itself almost an afterthought is:
[8c] Complete the UP Express electrification Environmental Assessment and advance planning, design, engineering, and construction as per programming of Next Wave investments. [P21]
This does not sound like an organization poised to operate electric trains in 2017 as touted by Transportation Minister Glen Murray.
Metrolinx is an organization resembling the TTC just at the point it lost its way as a respected provider of transit — when it became more interested in winning awards (to the point of seeking out such opportunities) than actually providing quality service. A list of awards appears in the strategy (page 7) including an erroneous reference to “Concept of the Year” for the UPX when that award went to VIA. The UPX actually won “Project of the Year” for whatever that award is worth.
In the course of conducting round table sessions in all parts of the GTHA, Metrolinx heard what people want from the agency and the issues that are critical to its future:
1. Residents are impatient for improved mobility
2. Thinking like a region
3. We are in times of fiscal constraint
4. Limits to capacity
5. Customer attitudes are growing and changing
6. Keeping pace with a dynamic business environment
7. Metrolinx is a rapidly evolving organization
Public expectation for all of the planning work now underway is strong, but a counterpart to this is the danger of lost credibility through non-delivery. This is a political issue, but public bodies like Metrolinx can aid or hinder the political dialogue with insufficient information and a clear discussion of the implication of alternative strategies.
The importance of a regional view will strongly affect not just planning for major corridors such as GO or the subway network, but the many local systems, their separate fiefdoms of service and fares, and the policy environment in which local spending priorities on transit may not align with the regional view Metrolinx seeks. The absence of strong central funding support for local services makes each system hostage to local political concerns. This shows up as a bullet within Metrolinx’ priority for stable funding:
The expanded transportation network envisioned in The Big Move will also require complementary investments for municipal infrastructure, and increased operating support to services once the infrastructure has been completed. [p13]
Limits on funding and capacity will not be easily overcome. There is great hostility to any new taxes or fees, and distrust that any government agency will spend them wisely. When this is coupled with the very long lead time for delivery of visible relief on a network scale, not to mention the political need for “quick wins”, selling the big picture can be very challenging.
Shifting attitudes regarding transit and auto travel will gradually work their way through society as a demographic change, but this can only be sustained if transit, seen as a single entity, responds with better service and greater scope to accommodate travel. There will always be severe problems (and attendant congestion) from the many-to-many suburban travel pattern, and this is almost beyond the reach of transit. Accepting that has implications for selling transit to the community at large some of whom will never be able to see transit as even a tolerable, let alone acceptable, choice for their travels.
Yes, Metrolinx is a rapidly evolving organization, but the sense of disconnection, of separate parts not working as a whole, will interfere with its credibility and program delivery. Partly this can be explained, if not justified, by the fact that Metrolinx has acquired divisions as it went along — first GO, a major operating agency, and later UPX and PRESTO.
There is a long list of “deliverables” beginning on page 17, although most of these do not have specific dates associated with them. Generally speaking, Metrolinx and GO have been constrained by not knowing well in advance what funding they will receive and hence are unable to commit to some projects very far in advance.
On GO, for example, there is an objective of 58 rail consists (i.e. enough locomotives and cars to field 58 trains including spares) and 500 buses by 2018, but this has little context in the sense of what it will mean for service. Rail plans include some service extensions or reroutings (Gormley and Hamilton James Street in 2015), signalization of the Barrie line to allow more trains to operate (2013), and sundry improvements to allow for more service on the northern and northwestern corridors. Some service improvements will depend on funding from the Investment Strategy which is now hostage to provincial political dynamics.
Another GO objective, buried in the list, is:
11c. Evaluate new GO Transit fare structures to encourage efficient use of existing and new service capacity midday and weekend travel and implement as recommended by 2016. [p23]
This is an intriguing view of GO trying to stimulate off-peak demand, and how this will mesh with the regional fare and service integration study will bear watching.
Within Toronto, availability dates of the LRT lines have shifted from “by xxxx” to “in service xxxx”, a subtle but important change that quashes hope for project speedups. Specific components of the LRT network are all now targeted for 2020 except for Sheppard East in 2021. Ironically, this line was to be the first of the Transit City lines and would have nearly been complete by now under the original schedule.
I have written before about the fluctuating target dates and shutdown periods for the Scarborough RT/LRT conversion. The Five Year Strategy talks of 2020 as the in-service date, but also of construction beginning immediately after the Pan Am Games in 2015. This does not line up with Metrolinx claims that the shutdown for conversion would be at most three years. This has been clarified today in an email from Metrolinx.
You state that; “there has been a subtle change in the wording of when projects will be completed.” The use of “by 2020” in Investment Strategy versus, “for an in-service date of 2020” in the Metrolinx Five-Year Strategy: 2013-2018.
In the “5 in 10 Plan” presentation to the Metrolinx Board in May 2010, we deferred the light rail delivery dates for all projects and Eglinton LRT and Scarborough LRT were shown as completing in November 2020.
Since May 2010 there have been additional changes to LRT schedules that were a result of an MOU and the Sheppard East subway debate and those changes have impacted Sheppard East and Finch LRT in-service dates, but we have held to the original November 2020 dates for Eglinton and Scarborough LRT. The wording “in-service date of 2020” is perhaps more precise, although it does not give a month in 2020 and I am not sure “by 2020” is any more or less definitive.
To be clearer, the project team is working towards a goal of being in-revenue service during the month of November 2020 for both the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and Scarborough LRT. That said, there is still a chance that Scarborough LRT can be opened earlier. As I have previously indicated to you, Metrolinx will limit the SRT shut-down period to no more than 3 years. Assuming a contract award for the combined Crosstown and Scarborough LRT Design, Build, Finance, Maintain contract in early 2015, the successful proponent will need to complete enough design during the balance of 2015 to allow construction to start in 2016. We anticipate that construction could start between McCowan Station and Sheppard and on the new loop for SLRT into the new Kennedy LRT station. We will be asking the proponents to identify a construction staging plan that minimizes the SRT “shut-down”. The plan is to open Scarborough LRT as soon as feasible, but until we have a contractor on-board with an approved contract schedule and staging plan, it is bit difficult to pin down the exact dates on when the SRT will be shut-down and the new line opened.
On the Scarborough/Sheppard Maintenance and Storage Facility Design, Build, Finance and Maintain contract we hope to award the contract in October 2013. Early construction works for drainage and site leveling was completed last year and design should start in 2014 with construction going about 2.5 years from late 2014 through early 2017. This date is tied to Light Rail Vehicle delivery and having LRV’s available for final building and systems acceptance testing.
[Email from Jack Collins, Metrolinx Executive VP of Rapid Transit Implementation, July 8, 2013]
Implicit in this description is that although construction of new facilities will begin after the Pan Am Games, the SRT will not actually shut down in September 2015, possibly not until as late as 2017. I wrote to Collins to clarify this, and he replied:
Plan is to start work in late 2015 but in areas that do not require a shut-down of SRT. Metrolinx will also review proponents plans to limit the shut-down to 3 years or less. That may delay the shut-down until late 2016, but still makes an earlier opening than November 2020 possible for Scarborough LRT.
We do not want to start a shut-down until all the other elements like TTC final design approvals, supply of traction power substations and signaling systems etc. are advanced enough to limit the shut-down duration.
[Email from Jack Collins]
Metrolinx will have a carhouse in which to accept new LRVs for acceptance testing in 2017, but may not have any lines to run them on until 2020. Such is the cost of the dithering that besets planning for the LRT network.
For more information about Metrolinx’ goals for the coming years, read the full report linked above.
Annual Report & Business Plan
A great deal of the Annual Report is a rehash of events of the past year. The Financial Report begins on p34 of the pdf. Fare revenue was down from the budget target by 2.4% although it was up 5.6% over 2011-12. Provincial subsidy was down from budget by 7.6%.
Ridership grew 5.1%, slightly less than fare revenue at 5.6%. Normally there would be a compounding effect of more riders and higher fares, but this did not happen in 2012-13. The effect of the shift to Presto on fare revenue was noted in that Metrolinx no longer receives money for trips it does not actually provide (monthly passes used for less than a month’s worth of trips), and lower than projected revenue growth was attributed to this.
The net loss for the year was smaller than projected, but the largest component of this is a non-cash item, depreciation, that was $22.6m below budget. In reading the report, it is important to distinguish between transactions on the capital side of the books (capital contributions, ongoing costs of construction and procurement projects, depreciation) and the day-to-day operation of the system.
Total operating costs were less than 1% above budget. The largest component of this is for diesel fuel with about $1.9m due to higher than projected cost, and $2.3m from increased fuel consumption.
One unfortunate point in the Financial Report is the touting of a high farebox recovery ratio as a measure of efficiency and effectiveness. Yes, from a financial point of view, the more people you can carry for the same (or less) money, the better you are doing. However, if one of your goals is passenger comfort, that “efficiency” comes at a cost of more standees and lower (or no) off peak service. As long as financial performance is praised with no reference to its effect on service quality or customer satisfaction, it will be clear where Metrolinx’ real priorities lie. As with the TTC’s Ridership Growth Strategy debates, we have yet to hear from Metrolinx what the options are — how much would it cost either in higher fares or subsidy to provide a better, policy-based level of service?
Risk Management is emerging as an important part of Metrolinx planning. This includes basic operational issues such as the vulnerability of infrastructure to major events such as floods, but also corporate issues such as the credibility of Metrolinx plans and the ability to deliver visible results. This affects projects such as PRESTO and many factors affecting customer satisfaction. Parallels with the TTC are obvious: if you can’t run the system you already have, why should we trust you with money to build an even bigger one. The need for credibility is essential in the debate over transit funding.
As I write this (July 8), the financial statements have not yet been published on the Metrolinx site although they were approved by the Board at its meeting.
The Business Plan duplicates a lot of material in the five year strategy and is organized around the same set of objectives. However, this is a one-year plan and so its content is more granular and short term. I leave it to interested readers to browse for details. (The 2013-14 objectives begin on page 32.)