The Transit Investment Panel: Hard Truths

After Metrolinx produced its report on revenue sources that might fund their regional plan, The Big Move, the whole thing was turned over to a newly created panel by Queen’s Park to review the options.

This panel now has its own website, and has issued the first of three discussion papers on the “Hard Truths” about transit in the GTHA.

One of the most damning statements about the depths to which Toronto has fallen appears in the Introduction:

Toronto used to be considered a transit system leader and all levels of government made bold investments to earn that reputation. We are reaping the benefits of those investments to this day, as a city, region, province, and country.

The Toronto region now ranks as the worst performer in Canada in moving people to and from work and is near the bottom of global rankings.

That’s what happens to a city that rests on a decades-old reputation for its transit network.  Toronto was spared some of the worst effects of hollowed-out downtowns thanks to postwar immigration and a robust local economy, but this masked deeper problems with the lack of investment in mobility around the city and region.  The central city, the one in all the tourist posters, prospered while gradually the suburbs strangled in traffic.

Debates about transit plans and funding are mired in misconceptions about what can and should be done, and the Hard Truths paper is intended to reset the discussion.  Whether the panel will be successful in their aim given the highly polarized political context remains to be seen.

These are hard truths, but until we accept them, we will not be able to have a mature discussion. Decisions will not be based on reason and evidence, but will be one-off decisions aimed at short term political gain.

The six truths are:

  • Subways are not the only good form of transit.
  • Transit does not automatically drive development.
  • The cost of building transit is not the main expense.
  • Transit riders are not the only beneficiaries of new infrastructure.
  • Transit expansion in the region is not at a standstill.
  • We can’t pay for the region-wide transit we need by cutting waste in government alone.

Subways are only one mode of many

… the truth is that an effective and sustainable public transit network depends on matching the technology to the circumstances.

Recent debates have presumed that the only valid transit project is a subway, but the panel argues that other modes including LRT and BRT have their place.  Indeed each project should use the mode appropriate to its demand.  The surface bus and streetcar network is an integral and vital part of the TTC, and the streetcars alone carry more riders than the entire GO network.

That said, the panel seems to downplay both local transit and commuter rail in their shopping list of modes and funding requirements.  Whether they will turn to the issue of GO vs subway as a means of carrying riders into the core in a future report?  Will they address the need to fund local transit throughout the GTA which is essential providing riders for the GO system?

A chart describing the characteristics of each mode shows the Calgary LRT system, and notes that “LRTs are very popular in European and US cities, as well as in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.”  Well, in Ottawa to the point that there are plans to build one.  Who knows what that project’s fate will be until we actually see cars running with real passengers?  This is Ontario, after all, where more projects are cancelled than built.

Will the public and politicians accept that a transit network does not have to be 100% subway?  Will plans develop based on pandering for electoral advantage, or based on what the region and province actually need and can afford?

Transit and development

The classic aerial photo of Toronto shows office and apartment towers clustered around subway stations, and the TTC is proud to take credit for how it built the city.  Great publicity, but hardly true.  Many subway stations are surrounded by low-density development with little sign of change.  Some of these are established residential areas, others are commercial/industrial lands that, so far, have not proved attractive to developers.

The evidence shows that you cannot just build transit anywhere and hope commercial development will follow. While access to rapid transit is a catalyst for development, it is only one factor.

Transit should be built to serve existing and likely development areas, according to the panel, and one cannot simply wish development into existence by drawing lines on a map.

This position stands the received wisdom about transit planning on its head.  Back in the 70s, there was much fine talk about “transit oriented development” and building a network to shape the growing city.  What actually happened was that the city and region grew more or less as it wanted to, and in a very car-oriented form.  Two major nodes, Yorkdale and Scarborough Town Centre, exist because that’s where developers had property, but little was actually constructed around the new rapid transit lines beyond two shopping malls and acres of parking.

Another important issue is the question of “neighbourhoods” and what constitutes “urban” growth.  Just because you have a new condo or office tower doesn’t mean that there is a neighbourhood.  Can you walk to a convenience store?  Is there a bar, coffee shop, cafe nearby as an informal neighbourhood hub?  Some of the real hubs in suburbia are the old strip malls with small shops and local, not chain, owner/operators.  These tend to be forgotten in many plans, but they are as important as the shiny new buildings.

Transit costs more than just infrastructure

For as long as I can remember, transit capital projects existed as much as means of stimulating the construction industry and, possibly, increasing land values, as they did to actually improve the transit network.  We hear at least as much about the economic activity created by construction as about what might happen once a line actually opens.  (The Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis methodology even rewards high-cost projects by factoring in the trickle-down effect of all that spending even though it could be more productively be redirected.)

Transit lines, once built, must bear both the debt service cost for the capital investment and the operating and maintenance cost of keeping the lines running.  This is more than half of the total life-cycle cost especially for the less capital-intensive modes.  However, funding debates look mainly at capital construction without considering the future expense of owning and operating the network.

One debate that Metrolinx has hinted at, but has not produced anything concrete for, is the balance between “pay as you play” and debt financing.  If we only build what we can afford on a year-to-year basis, we will wait decades for some transit projects to appear, and some will always be crowded out by a new priority.  If we build quickly and on a large scale, we will require debt that must be financed through future revenues that might be used for different purposes.  This is a perennial political debate about what constitutes “responsible” spending and the degree to which we mortgage our future.  The more positive outlook calls this “investment”.

One way or the other, all of this transit has to be paid for, and a funding scheme that ignores future costs is at best half a solution.  Moreover, the transit network as a whole is not just the new lines, but all of the existing infrastructure and service that must be operated, maintained and expanded.  Without this, the new lines would sit as jewels surrounded by rusting tracks and buses, and passengers would complain that service was no better than before all that “investment”.

What’s in it for me?

This point speaks to the potential taxpayer who complains that all this new transit won’t help them because they can’t use the services it will provide.  The same could be said of many investments: highways, sewers, power lines that are scaled for industrial and commercial use; schools that educate a future workforce; social services that care for the less fortunate.

Oddly enough, the simple fact that Queen’s Park is looking at transit-specific revenue tools brings out this discussion more than the large sums raised for many purposes through general revenues.  Metrolinx already receives $2b/year for its capital programs, but this is buried in the overall budget.  Voters clamour for more transit without asking where the money will come from.

The main advantage of any transportation infrastructure – anything from a footpath up to an expressway – is that it enables movement and economic activity.  This can be as simple as a walk to the corner store, or as massive as a highway full of commuters and transports.  Without that ability to move around, the entire region suffers including the taxpayer who thinks he gets nothing from all that spending.

I will get down off of my soap box now.

This argument strays into the political arena and may be a harder sell in some parts of the GTHA.  Much depends on the perception that there is something for everyone even if they have to wait a while for their turn to come.  The absence of a project priority list and spending plan from Metrolinx, coupled with Queen’s Park’s preference to defer rather than to actually build, leaves people wondering if their new taxes will simply vanish into a black hole.  That’s the credibility problem Metrolinx and the Transit Panel face.

Nothing is happening!

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: $16b worth of investment is underway in the GTHA.  Well, yes, sort of.

The laundry list of “first wave” Metrolinx projects is sprinkled around the region, and a large chunk of that $16b has yet to be actually spent.  A new government could simply say “enough” and cap their costs at under 50% of this total, a tactic that is likely if the Tories get control based on past experience.  Queen’s Park really needs to accelerate its spending so that we will have something to show for those claims including:

  • Building the Sheppard and Finch LRT lines.
  • Finding a way to open the Eglinton line in stages so that we see benefits within our lifetimes for the cost and upheaval.
  • Advancing improvements in GO Transit especially in the Georgetown corridor where so much work has been done to add capacity.  There is more to this corridor than the Union-Pearson Express, although one would be hard-pressed to tell from the focus of Metrolinx publicity.
  • Supporting improvements in local transit systems and fare integration with GO.

The Transit Panel’s report also lists improvements outside of the “first wave” including new and expanded GO operations funded out of its regular subsidy stream.  The artificial separation between “Big Move” projects and general transit improvements needs to end – it’s all the same pot of money.

The panel warns:

These improvements are a good start after decades of deferred expansion, maintenance and renewal. But the transit infrastructure spending shortfall is enormous and it is placing major demands on present and future municipal budgets.

That stress on municipal budgets is already seen in Toronto and elsewhere with limited expansion of existing systems, hardly the way to show a priority for travel by transit in coming decades.

Gravy won’t pay for transit

There is a mythology among those who would see taxes cut further and the scope of government reduced that everything we want can be paid for simply by “eliminating waste”.  This premise has been debunked by, among other things, the Drummond Report into provincial finances, but the argument is a simplistic one with an appeal to those who distrust government to do anything useful.  On a subtler note, a campaign against waste diverts attention from the real issues of decaying infrastructure and the need for renewal and expansion in transit and other areas.

When the debate sits at the level of “they’re all incompetent crooks”, nothing is done.  This perception isn’t helped when, in fact, very little seems to be happening anyhow on a timeframe people can appreciate.

We are unlikely to get beyond this rhetoric from the Fords and Hudaks of the world, and the real need is for transit champions in senior parts of the government and society.  Sound familiar?  This needs leadership right from the top, not just from well-meaning activists in the trenches building support one community at a time.

Where do we go from here?

“Hard Truths” is the first of three discussion papers the Transit Investment Panel will produce as background to a series of public meetings (dates and locations not yet announced).  Future papers will address “The Transit We Need” and “How We Pay For Transit Expansion”.

This process will lead to recommendations that should feed into the 2014-15 budget at Queen’s Park and, possibly, a provincial election.  These are not trivial issues, and consultation has to really listen, not simply seek support for an already-decided outcome as so much of Metrolinx’ work has done.

27 thoughts on “The Transit Investment Panel: Hard Truths

  1. They seem to have strayed quite far and quite quickly away from their mandate, which was to offer advice on the investment strategy. Certainly not bringing down the temperature on the already overheated politics on this issue.. Their first paper is overly partisan and full of dogma. Egads.


  2. Gravy in one thing. I don’t think many serious people can see massive saving coming here..

    Salaries, program priorities are another thing.
    We are spending over 40% of our budget in Ontario on Healthcare. Also big is education spending…

    Could there be saving there that could be spent on transit? Absolutely.
    And those would be in the billions or tens of billion of dollars.
    Whether it is salaries, pensions, or reduction in services or specialties, they must all be considered for any serious discussion on what we can do as a province or city.

    Transit gets the very short end of the stick and has gotten it for a very long time.

    How much has our investment actually paid off in the various healthcare/education measures? Perhaps old age care gets moved more to palliative care which would save billions as most spending is done in the last years of life.

    I suppose if you operate on the assumption that nothing can ever change in the public sector or service delivery then yes… new revenue tools are the only option.

    These are not just problems in Ontario, but globally.


  3. What a shame people who are supposedly so well regarded in the planning circles of Toronto cannot put together a proper report.
    The report is full of misrepresented statistics, and also goes against many of the things Paul Bedford has written into his own plans for the city.

    So sad a meaningful debate cannot be had, without the planners now also having to pick an agenda and write false facts to try and get their point across.

    I was expecting much better, particularly from Paul Bedford.


  4. Can we change it to “Subways AND LRTS are not the only good form of transit”

    It costs a lot of money to build LRT lines, particularly the ones running down the middle of arterial roads which also are not useable by other vehicles that are allowed to use an HOV lane.

    What is the lifetime cost per passenger mile for each mode – taking into account that many lines are at far less than capacity in off-peak hours, and many lines will never be at capacity during peak hours – like the Sheppard and Allen subways?

    A thought occurred to me – there is the photo showing how many cars a streetcar can replace – or a bus… we have double decker GO trains, but we do not have double decker buses in this city.

    I have come to believe that in away, Rob ford is, uh… right… at least in terms of streetcars – the TTC wanted to get rid of them in 1968, and I am glad that they didn’t.

    Streetcars are nice because they are smooth and roomier than buses. But they are inflexible – they cannot change lanes if a car is making a left hand turn or the right lane is empty, and the block both lanes if there is no platform for passengers.

    So calling streetcars “higher order transit” is more a reflection that they require a massive capital investment to build the tracks, and the vehicles tend to be longer than buses, meaning you can have fewer drivers.

    A bus has 39 seats, the CLRV 46 seats, the ALRV 61 seats, and the new ones 85 – though if you include people standing the differences are bigger (251 vs 100 for the ALRV) A bus has 65 if we include people standing.

    My suspicion is that the cheapest way to move people per passenger mile on a right of way where both public and private vehicles operate is to have a paved HOV lane with double decker buses in peak hours, with the benefit that cabs, school buses and other vehicles can also use the HOV lane to a degree which is appropriate for that situation.


  5. As I recall Steve, one of the problems has always been that developers put the malls where they want, but they do not want or encourage local transit. Yorkdale from 1964 has never had good transit. Always the ring road, as far away as possible from the actual mall. I think Sherway was of the same mentality when it opened, maybe still is? Fairview?, I heard they wanted (maybe still have) signal priority for cars, not buses. I read they were concerned the buses turning would annoy and delay their car-orientated customers. Also Fairview hated the idea of losing parking spots to a subway. Again the silliest most farthest away subway entrance, you could not build it any farther away from the mall. The subway entrance nearest Sears now has a guy and crash gate open but for the longest time it was pass or token only. STC got the transit by default with the opening of the SRT.

    Are all these developers (even now) still of the opinion that nice little transit vehicles are cute but they do not want them hanging around their malls “screwing” up and delaying the car traffic?


  6. Sounds accurate but it’s really just reiterating what is known. Do we really need more studies, more panels, more planning, more dreams? The good old Liberal way.

    I’m not advocating the Conservatives with their regressive “Divide & Conquer” chaotic approach. All levels of government are so far from serving the citizens who elect them.

    At least the Cons are currently handcuffing the Liberals to put up or shut up instead of the usual act of throwing bait out to hungry transit fans creating a dream & dragging through another 30 years with little to show.

    The upcoming elections should have more emphasis on transit than ever before. Still not holding my breath for anything to be built.


  7. $200 – 300 a barrel is the only way transit planning will be put on the map when all those car dependent suburbs will start screaming out for transit. Until that happens, you can have forums, discussions etc, nothing will ever get done. The car is king and always will be.


  8. It can be worse. See this link about the possibility of a Progressive Conservative government in Ontario that could spell the end of Metrolinx. Shows to me at least the current anti-transit views of the PC’s and their supports under Hudak.


  9. In regards to the Finch LRT, Mammoliti makes a good point that a lot of 18 wheelers use Finch West due to the industrial portions in the area. I have worked there, and there is a significant amount of truck traffic in the area. According to Mammoliti, the LRT will make traffic worse on Finch West. Steve, I would just like your opinion on this matter and if Mammoliti has a valid point.

    Steve: The issue with large trucks relates to the question of turns across the right-of-way. Looking at Spadina or St. Clair as an example, left turns at some locations are handled as U-turns, but there are no driveways to speak of on these routes, nor are there many large trucks making deliveries. I think the EAs for the Transit City lines did a poor job of addressing this issue because obviously a large truck cannot as easily make a U-turn as a small one. A lot of this is site-specific, and a block-by-block review might have contributed to better understanding by all concerned.

    Unfortunately, the city and TTC folks working on this were extremely stubborn on a few points, and this perfectly sets up the sort of criticism Mammoliti is making. That said, a Finch subway is not the solution.


  10. Subways are not the only good form of transit.

    GO Transit is an even better form of transit. It uses train tracks that already exist, it costs much less than subways and certainly far less than the LRT we are now building on Eglinton. Also if done properly like in the rest of the world, with electric 12-car trains running every 2 minutes in rush hour, and a 4-track express-local configuration on portions of Lakeshore and Georgetown, it can carry many more people than a subway can carry (think of certain lines in the Tokyo train system, which carry over a million people a day each). Also it tends to be fairly uncontroversial. Sadly both Miller and Ford totally ignored this option, and the Liberal government hasn’t pushed hard enough with it.


  11. “This premise has been debunked by, among other things, the Drummond Report into provincial finances, but the argument is a simplistic one with an appeal to those who distrust government to do anything useful.”

    The Drummond Report recommended among other things cancelling all day kindergarten for a savings of $1.5 Billion. Savings which I suspect would be helpful on the transit file. I also think you strike a very dismissive tone whenever the issue of Provincial (mis)spending comes up some might call it the rhetoric of the left and think we need to elevate past it to move forward. Is the green energy program “gravy” maybe, maybe not is it costing Ontario a fortune at a time when Europe cannot abandon its program fast enough.


  12. Another hard truth usually ignored is that cars are subsidized, yes they don’t pay all the costs that are incurred, from health, (direct and indirect), arguably infrastructure still e.g. congestion, also pollution (climate, acid deposition and Teflon in windshield wiper fluid etc.). Of course it’s contentious, of course car owners and operators pay real money, but despite the CAA’s recently sponsored study, there’s a lot of other studies saying the costs are not borne by motorists, including in Perverse Cities by P Blais.


  13. The Province in good faith has put together an advisory panel in transit investment strategy. I note that the panel is a group of eminent people well-qualified to submit their opinions. Chaired by Anne Golden, Chair of Ryerson University, an excellent choice in my opinion, these people represent various stakeholders, including labour, builders, developers, automobile lobby, & the energy sector.

    Of particular note is that outspoken urban planner Prof. Paul Bedford is vice-chair of the panel. Last year he lost his position on the Metrolinx board.

    The ink was barely dry when naysayers started jumping on the panel. The Toronto Sun had a particularly negative opinion piece. Right here on this blog, people who do not disclose their real names are decrying the “false facts”, “misrepresented statistics”, and the anti-LRT crowd are howling. Are these people like the infamous “Dave from Georgetown” actually working for Mayor Rob Ford’s office?

    “Investment” is a term meaning the outlay of money (capital) for property for income. That means, this panel will investigate and recommend what kind of capital will go towards what public transit, ie. where to raise the money and how to spend it best. I only mention this because some people are already confused as to what the panel’s mandate is.

    As an advisory council, the provincial government is in no obligation to implement any of the recommendations. However, because it is a well-representative non-political body, it may come to conclusions that have an majority opinion as well as a minority opinion that the Province, the Feds, Metrolinx, TTC, and Toronto City and GTHA councils will ignore at the peril of voter outrage.

    At least this is better than Planning by Politician. Let’s give it a chance.


  14. Peter said:

    At least this is better than Planning by Politician. Let’s give it a chance.

    Don’t kid your self. I support neither party in this transit planning nightmare. But this panel you want people to accept is nothing more than lipstick on the Liberal pig.


  15. The paper makes the statement, which is cited here, that “Toronto used to be considered a transit leader …”

    The paper provides nothing to substantiate that statement, or even what it means.

    Can you?

    Steve: Without recounting 60 years of history since the opening of the subway system in 1954, what I would say in brief is this:

    Toronto was a relatively small but fast-growing city (much of what is now the suburbs in the 416 was farmland or otherwise vacant in the 50s), and for a time, growth of its transit system followed the outward population growth. The TTC had a strong base thanks to being a public agency that had not been asset stripped as some private transit systems in the USA were, but more importantly the TTC was in a city that didn’t decay at the core as the population moved outward. Instead, immigration “restocked” the central part of the city and transit demand stayed strong. For a time, all the TTC had to do to get more riders was to put more buses on the street.

    An important part of the system as it grew was the free transfer between routes, the construction of subway terminals for easy movement between surface and subway lines, and the use of a grid network as the bus lines grew into the suburbs. That grid was challenged in places by the road layout (notably northern Scarborough), and there are still parts of the system where travel can be difficult if it is not oriented to the dominant subway-oriented commuting pattern, but it was vastly better than some cities where network are strongly radial. A further strength of the TTC is the level of off-peak service and strong ridership, although this is better in areas near the subway.

    A good contrast can be seen with GO Transit which is primarily a peak-period radial system highly dependent on the park-and-ride downtown-focused commuting model. It works at what it does, but imagine this scaled up to the entire city and huge amounts of travel the TTC supports just wouldn’t be possible.

    The TTC started to come “off the rails” in the early 1980s with the first oil crisis and the first downturn in ridership in the modern era. Growth had been automatic through suburban development, but faced with a decline in ridership, the TTC embraced a philosophy of “tuning service to match demand”. That sounds good in theory, but it began an era when a lot of the “slack” was tuned out of the network. That slack had been important to making the service resilient to minor disruptions and to providing headroom for growth. In the same era, growth of the rapid transit system slowed because it was becoming too expensive. After the SRT opened in 1985, it would be a decade before the 2km Spadina extension from Wilson to Downsview opened in 1996, and another 6 years until Sheppard in 2002. Meanwhile, Toronto and the GTA around it have exploded in size and population without a comparable growth in transit services.

    The 1990s also brought a severe depression to Toronto when the TTC lost 20% of its ridership. Funding cuts during this decade have never been restored, and this was compounded by the transition from a pro-transit Miller administration at City Hall to the Ford era where transit along with everything else was flatlined, sacrificed to the gods of tax-cutting.

    Despite all this, the TTC continues to grow, mainly during off-peak travel when over 60% of all trips occur, but not at the rate it could if it were better funded and if its fleet could handle more service. Peak streetcar service has been essentially frozen since the mid-1990s when a then-surplus of cars allowed a new line, 510 Spadina, to open. Since then, the growth of downtown population has driven up demand, but the TTC is unable (and at times unwilling because of budget pressures) to improve service.

    Toronto has gone from being a city with a strong transit system that was well-run and the envy of cities around the world to one where transit does a reasonable job of serving the market it retains, but one which has lost the momentum to grow and improve. Just keeping the wheels on has been the primary focus of TTC management for a few decades, and even that isn’t done very well.


  16. I remember reading/hearing somewhere that St. Clair Ave. originally had a ROW for the streetcar until the Great Depression when it was removed as an initiative to create jobs. If this is true then your comment about funnelling money into the construction industry, and not proper construction projects, sounds correct Steve. And this seems to be part of the problem – when the Government wants to be seen to be hiring, it starts building things without necessarily thinking long term.

    I like what they do in Europe: build the transit system, and then develop the land around the transit. This means that the car does not have to be first.

    Subways need not be the only option – but where there is demand or where there likely will be demand. And this not always mean ‘new’ demand – I mean demand as in the subway will be used by new users, and by existing users (and even more often by current users than they already use transit.) For example, some people may only use transit Monday to Friday to get to and from work. But if a new subway line (or new LRT line for that matter) will make the same person use the line outside of commuting, then it is a ‘new’ ride, and a good thing.

    Steve: Removal of the right-of-way on St. Clair began before the Depression, in 1928, but the work was finished (the section from Yonge to Bathurst) in 1935. (The section west of Caledonia was never on a right-of-way because this was originally separate trackage running east to Prescott Loop from Old Weston Road until the grade crossing with the railway was eliminated in 1931.)


  17. A friend of mine takes issue with the claim of Toronto having been a transit leader. I have no reason to doubt this myself but I couldn’t give him any evidence. Is there anything to base such a claim on?

    Steve: Please read my response to an earlier comment in the same vein.


  18. Minister Murray just told Ottawa it cannot charge road tolls on highway 174. The tolls would have helped pay for maintenance and could have contributed to the cost of the $3 billion LRT plan Ottawa wants to build before 2031.

    An investment strategy, provincially paid for LRT, and special taxes are fine to fund Toronto’s transit, but the rest of the province can go suck eggs? Premier Wynne better win a lot of seats in the GTA, because her torontocentrism isn’t helping her cause everywhere else.


  19. ottowan said:

    Minister Murray just told Ottawa it cannot charge road tolls on highway 174. The tolls would have helped pay for maintenance and could have contributed to the cost of the $3 billion LRT plan Ottawa wants to build before 2031.

    Road tolls are political suicide in Ontario and Minister Murray knows it. Even in the GTHA road tolls under the Metrolinx funding strategy are only being seriously considered as an option for solo drivers to upgrade to the faster HOV lanes.

    Road pricing makes perfect sense when viewed from an economics perspective. Road space is a scarce resource and underpriced so the resulting excess demand for automotive travel leads to severe congestion and gridlock. Essentially, the time lost by being stuck in traffic becomes the pricing mechanism.

    Contrast this with the Highway 407 Express Toll Route where the toll rates vary by time period and are designed to ensure that traffic will always be free-flowing.

    Unfortunately, people hate having to pay road tolls because road usage has always been free of incremental costs in the past. People feel entitled to drive theirs cars as much as they want, wherever and whenever they want, without having to pay for their use of the road. Some drivers will say they already pay for the roads through taxes but should that entitle them to unlimited use? Believe it or not, most drivers in Ontario would answer yes.


  20. Alternative hard truths based on “suburban” thinking:

    1. If I live in a city like Mississauga, Brampton or Markham it is more “cost-effective” and “convenient” to drive my 2.5 member family downtown than it is to take the combination of driving+GOTrain/905agency+GO Train/905 agency+TTC … especially if I can avoid peak hours.

    2. Any driver willing to spend time as a pedestrian need not spend more than $15 to park in Toronto in a safe, well lit parking garage just off King St. This “costs less” than the transit options mentioned above.

    Now, knowing as I know and caring as I care about the real cost of driving, it’s still hard to make transit feel competitive… in the minds of drivers who don’t care … it isn’t and is never going to be.

    Frankly these are the important hard truths because the drivers are the group that the politicians listen to first, last and always.

    Perhaps the transit panel should have been a transport panel instead so their mandate would have them look at a broader political and social and economic picture.

    Cheers, Moaz


  21. Steve said:

    Well, [support for LRT] in Ottawa to the point that there are plans to build [LRT]. Who knows what that project’s fate will be until we actually see cars running with real passengers? This is Ontario, after all, where more projects are cancelled than built.

    You are confusing Stage 2 with Ottawa’s other existing and planned LRTs.

    Ottawa opened its first LRT line in 2001. Demand exceeded expectations. New trainsets and upgrades to be completed in 2013 2014 will allow for a reduction of headways from 15 minutes to 8. This diesel line is called the O-Train.

    A 2nd LRT line is under construction, scheduled for completion in 2018. It is an electric pre-metro line. Provincial and federal funds are already in escrow, cost overruns are the responsibility of the general contractor, and there is zero chance of it being cancelled by locals this time. No one will campaign against it.

    As for the recently announced Stage 2, it will extend the first line south, extend the 2nd line east and west, and start a spur off the west extension. I have no idea if it will get built. It’s a decent and shrewd plan, but it may lack enough support from the western population and it’s anyone’s guess if senior governments will show up for the party. All of Ottawa is a battleground both provincially and federally, so support is more likely than in outer 416.

    What the media didn’t pick up on with Stage 2 is that it contains a radical idea for Ontario: peak period traffic management, rather than peak hour. That will nearly bring road building to a standstill in the planning period.

    Steve: I don’t really count the O-train as “LRT” even though functionally it is a similar league. Part of this is packaging. In Ottawa, they get to call this a “train”, whereas in Toronto, LRT is a “streetcar”. Yes, there is already an LRT line under construction and if you want to call it “pre metro” to get around an “LRT” stigma, be my guest, but only 20% of it will be underground.


  22. Brian wrote:

    “My suspicion is that the cheapest way to move people per passenger mile on a right of way where both public and private vehicles operate is to have a paved HOV lane with double decker buses in peak hours, with the benefit that cabs, school buses and other vehicles can also use the HOV lane to a degree which is appropriate for that situation.”

    Nonsense. Here’s why:

    “A bus has 39 seats, the CLRV 46 seats, the ALRV 61 seats, and the new ones 85 – though if you include people standing the differences are bigger (251 vs 100 for the ALRV) A bus has 65 if we include people standing.”

    And a GO Transit train has even more capacity.

    In short, the cheapest way to move people per-passenger-mile is dependent entirely on how many people you’re trying to move. For high numbers of people, you want rail. For high numbers of people, you also want exclusive lanes for your buses or streetcars or trains. So for a right-of-way which needs to move *lots of people* the cheapest way to do it is an exclusive pair of railway tracks, with the private vehicles shunted off to one side.

    Now, for a right-of-way which *doesn’t* have to move lots of people — somewhere off deep in the suburbs — then yeah, HOV lanes work great.

    Appropriate technology choice is largely about volume.

    Subways, or fully-grade-separated trains like most of the GO Transit routes, are great if you have extremely high volumes. For slightly lower volumes, LRT (trains, exclusive lanes, but with grade crossings with gates or lights) is much more appropriate. For even lower volumes, you might start looking into streetcars, and for even lower volumes, buses. And for lower volumes than that, call-and-rides and taxi services … and for low enough volumes, in very rural areas, cars may actually the cheapest option.

    Steve: You left out horse-and-carriage, not to mention Swan Boats.


  23. Steve: I don’t really count the O-train as “LRT” even though functionally it is a similar league. Part of this is packaging. In Ottawa, they get to call this a “train”, whereas in Toronto, LRT is a “streetcar”. Yes, there is already an LRT line under construction and if you want to call it “pre metro” to get around an “LRT” stigma, be my guest, but only 20% of it will be underground.

    The O-Train is classed as light rail, which is why heavy rail is time-separated on that line. Aboard it feels identical to electric LRT. ‘O-Train’ is a marketing term driven by bilingualism imperatives, but even locally the line is referred to as light rail. It’s not clear yet whether the line will retain the name or whether the 2 lines will get a common new moniker once Confederation opens.

    I use the term pre-metro for the Confederation line and Crosstown from Mount Dennis to Laird because they meet the criteria, not because of any ‘stigma’ with LRT (I’ve never encountered stigma outside Toronto). They have metro-like station spacing, but the key component of pre-metro is construction of tunnels in the central area. Crosstown is a good candidate for the term, despite the at-grade section, because of its history and long tunnel. Confederation will be tunneled downtown and at St. Laurent initially. Stage 2 will actually include significant suburban tunneling, which is a little upscale even for the pre-metro term.

    I think distinguishing entirely grade-separated LRT is useful. It might have saved the Scarborough LRT.

    Steve: As usual, we’re into the ongoing problem of what to call “Light Rail” and the fact that it has many incarnations.


  24. The confederation line is called LRT in Ottawa. There is no stigma. I think the o-train is just called that. Isn’t LRT supposedly to be electric?

    The stigma in Ottawa may be for any order of transit lower than LRT (with a preference for underground LRT even where it is unnecessary). LRT is proposed for the stage 2 extension to Orleans, in place of a longer BRT line. Nobody wants a transfer, but we can’t just keep building LRT to the end of every suburb.

    A lot of the transit issues in Ottawa are similar to those in Toronto. A crazy mayor cancelling everything. A replacement plan far more expensive than the previous cancelled plan. Demands for higher cost underground construction.

    But things have turned out much better in Ottawa than Toronto.

    Steve: To be clear, my reference to “LRT Stigma” is obviously Toronto-centric and was made at a dig at what appeared to be an avoidance of the term in favour of “pre Metro” in this thread. I really don’t care what we call these things as long as the name does not misrepresent what they actually are. Just build them.


  25. I have just finished a month travelling around Europe and here are a few observations:

    1 None of the LRT systems I have ridden operate much more than 8 vehicles/trains per hour, a few have 10 in the rush hour. It is much easier to have transit priority when there are 2 or 3 cycles without transit.

    2 The TTC operates a much denser service than any that I have ridden on in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Frieburg, Strasbourg, Lucerne, Dijon or Lyon.

    3 The TTC could learn lots from these systems and they could learn from the TTC.

    4 Sorry to tell you this Hamish but children’s scooters, not bicycles, are the way of the future. I am seeing them more and more often and they will fold up to be carried under your arm. The best use was in Rotterdam where a foreman on a track job used it to get round all the torn up road way by riding in the girder rail.

    5 It is illegal to photograph trams, buses or metros in Lyon. I had a nice chat, entirely in French, with a local undercover transit cop.

    Keep up the fight.


  26. Oh they forgot to add “It’s kinda hard to get anything done if you change your mind about the route, mode, funding, and every other design detail every 90 days.” We have learnt that Wynne, Ford, and Harper don’t care about proper transit being built (Scarborough transit situation….)

    And about the Sheppard and Finch LRT’s, right now its just wishful thinking out of mid air. Construction not even started yet…

    Urban planning culture in Ontario needs to change but I’m not holding my breath…..


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