Tearing Apart The Big Move

The Neptis Foundation has published a long report which provides a serious critique of projects in the Metrolinx Big Move plan and proposes significant alterations to the proposed network.  Everything is based on cost-effectiveness although the critique depends on implementation of the overall scheme rather than the usual piecemeal approach to network expansion.  Of particular note is the need to regard GO as a high frequency, high capacity regional system closely integrated with local transit.

There is too much in this report for me to comment on as I write this (midnight, December 11), but I will try to pull together more extensive remarks in the next day or so.  Meanwhile, coverage of this report will appear in the Wednesday Star, and this is likely to stir up several hornet’s nests.

A quick review indicates the following significant issues:

  • The Downtown Relief Line disappears and its “relief” function is provided by a combination of GO Transit upgrades and increased subway capacity.
  • The only service to Pearson Airport remains the Union Pearson Express which is considered to be profitable (operating cost recovery only) despite a conclusion to the contrary by the Provincial Auditor.  The wider question of this service’s ability to absorb greater demand and a wider variety of traffic is not examined beyond a proposal for a “frequent user” fare that would attract trips by airport workers, not just business class travellers.
  • Electrification of GO Transit is essential.
  • Fare and service integration with GO is an essential part of the proposal.
  • Several stations on the Eglinton Crosstown line would be dropped, and the proposed at grade section would become an elevated structure.  This takes us back to a version of the Eglinton line originally pushed by Metrolinx as a regional facility, and begs the question of transit service to the now wider “in between” locations that would lose their stations.
  • The Richmond Hill subway would also lose some of its stations pending contributions by developers along the line.
  • The Scarborough Subway, LRT and Sheppard LRT would be converted to one consolidated, automated line to attract more riders.

At first blush, I cannot help thinking that this report is hopelessly naive on a few counts.

First, it depends on a co-ordinated scale of network expansion we are unlikely to see, especially for the GO component which is used to justify dropping other parts of the Big Move network.

Second, there is a focus on cost-benefit that at first glance appears to preclude the function of new transit lines as part of a network.  A related issue is the question of marginal new ridership where a large expenditure to improve the quality of service for existing riders is given no credit for that benefit as they generate no net revenue.

Third, there appears to be no discussion nor appreciation of the role of local services for areas beyond the immediate reach of rapid transit stations.  This is very much a return to the kind of thinking that infected early days at Metrolinx.

I will leave further comments until I have a chance to read all of the details.

58 thoughts on “Tearing Apart The Big Move

  1. Joshua Tossavainen said

    “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but in hindsight I feel that Rob Ford’s plan to bury Eglinton all the way and connect it to a rebuilt RT line makes more sense than what’s actually happening. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the original Transit City Plan was by far the best option. BUT if I had to choose between Rob Ford’s Eglinton Plan or extending Bloor, I would have picked the former.”

    Ford’s plan would be more expensive than the current plan. The Danforth subway extension will cost about $3 billion. In the Ford’s plan, that would be replaced by an extra $2 billion needed to bury Eglinton, plus $1.4 billion to build and extend LRT in the SRT corridor, for the total of $3.4 billion.

    In addition, Ford’s plan would shift a lot of downtown-bound riders from BD subway to Eglinton, potentially overwhelming both Egliton and the Yonge subway south of Eglinton.

    IMO, the current plan is better.


  2. diminutive said:

    “Take the Avenue Road Station, what local demand does it serve? Almost all of the demand which passes through the intersection would be on either the 61 or 5 buses, and it would be quicker for them to just transfer at Yonge and Eg than at Avenue Station then again at Y/Eg.”

    That part of Eglinton has quite a bit of retail and restaurants, and is surrounded by medium density residential areas. Existing transit usage there is substantial. For the 61 and 5 buses, indeed it makes sense to continue to Yonge (and perhaps they will, as no bus terminal is planned at the Avenue LRT station). But the locals will rather use the LRT.


  3. Is there anybody left who still thinks diesel for the airport link was a good call? Sad that this week the Liberal government voted down electrification yet again. How long can the charade continue?


  4. Steve wrote:

    Passing lanes are required if buses are going to play hopscotch at stops to reach route-specific loading bays, or if there is a mix of express and local services.

    Shouldn’t that be “play leap-frog”? 😉

    Seriously, even if passing lanes are not part of the design, as is the case with VIVA’s Rapidways, the width of lanes for buses must be wider than for LRVs of the same width. LRVs are guided by rails, so the only side-to-side variance is what the suspension allows. Buses are guided by a human with a steering wheel and allowance must be provided. Standard traffic lanes are 50% wider than the typical vehicle for that reason, though for a busway (i.e.: professional drivers), the allowance might be a little less than an extra 50%.


  5. It seems that talk of the elevated Eglinton line will not go away. This is probably because it is a very good solution and Metrolinx did not explain why it was not considered. The only comments were that people may not like it. The only experience (in Toronto) with elevated lines is the SRT – which has the most development surrounding the elevated portion. More recently, people in the west end supported, and actually pushed, for a short elevation stretch.

    It appears that not building Eglinton on the south side at Leslie is a colossal blunder and not considering elevating Eglinton is not far behind. With all the (fair) criticism that Metrolinx has gotten, it appears prudent that their every move must be closely watched. Maybe with a change of government the public could have more respect for, and confidence in, Metrolinx – but now they are being viewed as equally inept to the provincial government.

    Steve: Saying that folks in the west end pushed for an elevated is a misrepresentation. The section is short, it crosses a valley, and takes the line along the north edge of Eglinton rather than down the centre lanes where the design was more difficult and intrusive. This was not an endorsement of elevated operation per se.

    If the line is built elevated in the east end, you can be sure there will be no station at Leslie because the line will either have to be very high (to clear the railway), or underground at that point. Other stations will probably disappear on that eastern leg too, but Schabas was fixated on the tunnelled portion and didn’t mention them.


  6. From page 79:

    “TTC seems to believe that fare integration inevitably means a loss of revenue. We think this view is mistaken. While simply providing free transfer onto TTC from GO might result in a loss of revenue to TTC, international experience shows that a carefully designed integrated fare structure can increase overall system ridership and total revenues at the same time.”

    They say the TTC is mistaken, then say free transfers to the TTC will result in a loss of revenue to the TTC but could result in overall (regional?) system ridership increase and more revenues.

    So, does the TTC get more or less revenue? If more riders pay York then get a free transfer to the TTC how does this help the TTC? Will the province or the GTHA region pay part of the TTC’s operating costs? If ridership goes up then the TTC has to buy more equipment and run more service. Is the cost of this less than the extra revenue? I doubt it.

    Some of their arguments seem to be only half though out. Do you only count increases in revenue but ignore increases in cost? Does an increase in operating costs not count a “real cost” if it results in more riders?

    This report is a combination of some really good ideas combined with some really dumb ones. I hope that no one payed good money for this.


  7. Walter says:

    “It seems that talk of the elevated Eglinton line will not go away. This is probably because it is a very good solution and Metrolinx did not explain why it was not considered. The only comments were that people may not like it. The only experience (in Toronto) with elevated lines is the SRT – which has the most development surrounding the elevated portion. More recently, people in the west end supported, and actually pushed, for a short elevation stretch.”

    The only section that I can remember people wanting elevated was over the Black Creek valley where there is not a lot of residential buildings and this is actually happening. It is more like a bridge than an elevated. Is there any other place where people actually wanted it elevated?


  8. Steve said:

    The issue is how many riders use the local stops either side of Avenue Road to board the 32 Eglinton West which seems to have escaped your notice.”

    They didn’t escape my notice, I’m one of them. The fact is that demand originating within a 600-800m radius of Avenue road and Eglinton (walk-on riders) is small, far too small to justify huge station costs without feeder buses.

    Unless there was some-kind of massive, Hong Kong scale, TOD scheme in the works (which there isn’t) then experience shows that it’s pointless to build costly stations around walk-in ridership.

    If the 61/5 continued to terminate at Eglinton Station, what kind of ridership would you estimate at the Avenue Station? I would place it in the bottom quintile of existing stations.

    Steve: I would agree with you up to a point, two points actually. There is a general problem with the whole premise that stations go only where there is, or will be, substantial development in that this would actually trigger opposition to station construction in neighbourhoods that don’t want the new density this would bring. Eglinton is supposed to be upzoned under the “Avenues” plan, but it remains to be seen what will actually happen at each site. What we do know is that already there was a potential development that was on hold until the presence of Oakwood Station was confirmed.

    The second problem is the TTC’s dog in the manger attitude about surface buses. For a long time, they said that they would not run any replacement service, and have now relented to the point we might see a bus every 15 minutes. This was directly responsible for some of the demand for more stations.


  9. What I find funny about the proposed Main station-Danforth GO tunnel is that it’s only a money burning project. The same connection could be done for far less if the TTC put back the bus/streetcar stops on the railway overpass and construct an elevator on each side of the north end of the bridge for access to the GO station. Basically, a less strenuous version of the original Danforth GO station pedestrian access.

    Of course, if your goal was to provide a relief line using GO transit that people would actually use while charging a double fare, you would run the “GO relief” non-stop between Kennedy GO and Union since such an arrangement would have a much easier transfer while providing actual value for the additional fare.

    Steve: The stops on the bridge were rather dodgy to use with passing traffic, and they required people to schlep up and down unheated stairs that were not the best in the winter. Then there’s the small matter of the irregular headway on the Carlton car to and from Main Station. For the volume of riders to make a dent in subway traffic, there would have to be very frequent streetcar service just to run that shuttle.

    I do agree, however, that Danforth is far short of the point where GO should be intercepting Scarborough passengers bound for downtown. If we’re really serious about reducing subway demand, get the passengers before they’re on the subway rather than adding an annoying, non-trivial transfer in the middle of their trip.


  10. Steve said:

    Then there’s the small matter of the irregular headway on the Carlton car to and from Main Station. For the volume of riders to make a dent in subway traffic, there would have to be very frequent streetcar service just to run that shuttle.

    Well, I was taking into consideration the 64 and 135 routes in addition to the 506 when it came to the role of shuttle service between Main Station and Danforth GO. With some schedule juggling, all three (assuming that the 506 reliability can be improved) could provide a service frequency that is better than walking. Mind you, better than walking is still far from being desirable for a connection between the two stations and the whole idea is still ridiculous as a way of eliminating the need for the DRL.


  11. It appears that Councillors in the East end are taking Councillor Matlow’s TTC/GO fare integration motion to heart and are calling for a similar integration at Danforth.

    Now, the Main/Danforth won’t work well without the necessary infrastructure (easy connection, and service (frequent streetcar and GO Trains) but it’s a nice way to look like you care.

    I’m curious to know how long it will be before calls for similar integration at Scarborough and Kennedy GO Stations too. Other than the one daytime freight train running through the line, I don’t think there is much to stop GO from running daytime trains on decent frequencies from Milliken to Union…and Kennedy is a far more logical place for fare integration.

    Daytime service on the Stouffville line could also mean higher frequencies on the line between Union and Scarborough GO stations.


    Steve: I have a sense that this will wind up bundled into Metrolinx’ own study of fare and service integration, but dealt with as an early “quick win” item.


  12. Funny how many of the people who love the current transit expansion program and LRT lines keep going on about local travel.

    Spending $8 billion dollars on local travel seems kinda like a waste of money to me, when the current bus system provides the local service pretty well. And with some priority measures could provide even better service.

    At the end of the day, if we want to get people onto transit, and build a better more transit friendly region, then yes we are going to need fast, grade separated, far stop spaced regional rapid transit.

    You go on about the local rider Steve. But they are already served and riding transit. Our highways are clogged, and people are driving because our transit system cannot provide time competitive regional travel. Rather you like it or not, that is where Toronto needs expansion, and I cannot see how you can defend spending billions on transit projects which will attract few if any new riders over the buses they are replacing. Is that not a waste of money?

    Steve: I challenge your premise that the new lines will attract few if any new riders over the buses they are replacing. That’s not what the demand projections show. The fundamental problem is that parts of Eglinton, for example, are going to be upzoned and have more population to serve, and the buses won’t be able to handle the demand. There is also the question of redistributing existing and future demand within a network.

    As for long haul trips, they belong on another type of service, GO certainly for trips into the core. The problem for suburb to suburb trips is that they are not concentrated in one convenient set of origin-destination pairs.


  13. Steve: As for long haul trips, they belong on another type of service, GO certainly for trips into the core. The problem for suburb to suburb trips is that they are not concentrated in one convenient set of origin-destination pairs.

    The GO terminal at Square One is the second busiest bus terminal in the network after Union. The market for trips to Guelph and York U has exploded to the point that GO fills up every bus trip they add.

    That tells me that GO and the municipal/regional transit agencies could handle many (obviously not all but enough to make a noticeable change) those suburb – suburb trips using buses if the infrastructure (as intensive as Busways, as little as bus lanes and bus priority measures) was put in place by the Ontario government.

    I’m surprised and disappointed that after years of successful operation of bus – bypass shoulders on 403 and HOV Lanes on the 403 and QEW there are no data showing how these measures have improved commute times … and yet the government talked up HOT Lanes in the 2013 budget.

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: Probably because HOT lanes don’t cost them much money in capital or operating subsidies. A real commitment to GO improvements is long overdue, and the lack of it tells us a lot about just how committed Queen’s Park has been for years. Metrolinx meetings and publicity are all about “good news”, not about how much more they could be doing if only they would build infrastructure for something more than the airport express link.


  14. A belated comment if I may:

    Had the RT refurbishment option recommended in Michael Schabas’s report been considered at the time of Transit City’s planning, it may well have found favor, given its much lower cost and much shorter service outage. The Council’s subway theatrics of the last year might then have evolved quite differently.

    There is something inherently attractive in renovating instead of demolition, in that energy and material requirements, and greenhouse gas emissions are all much reduced while labor requirements are, if anything, increased.

    Now the decision to not consider that refurbishment comes back to haunt us in the form of Mr Schabas’s WYE proposal, which integrates that refurbished RT into a bigger system that also saves money, and removes the need to change trains at Don Mills (another budding sore point) on the Sheppard subway line. An attractive proposal is it not? If it were to be adopted then switching from one Bombardier vehicle to another should not attract much in the way of penalties, and as for wasting tens of millions on sunk engineering work, well, that precedent is set with the sunk RT/LRT conversion work.

    Steve: The conversion of the SRT to LRT was not part of the original Transit City plan. The idea was to concentrate on new lines, not stir up a big technology debate about a route that would exist in one form or another on the same corridor. In fact, the EA continued on the presumption of an ICTS-based RT for the extension to Malvern, and many of the illustrations show ICTS trains, not LRT.

    Once Transit City became an established policy, it did not make sense to keep an orphan ICTS line, especially for the extension. ICTS is more expensive than LRT, and it only made financial sense on the original part of the line( which already existed), not for the extension. Factor in the ability to share the carhouse on Sheppard and avoid the need for a new shops on the RT (McCowan Yard is too small to handle the additional service and the extension planned for the route). The numbers and future operational flexibility of the link from the Sheppard to the Eglinton line made it a simple conclusion to go with LRT.

    Schabas’ wye scheme has some major problems in assumptions it makes about repurposing the subway and the origin-destination patterns of Scarborough riders. His view of “rapid transit” in general is that lines have few stations and provide express trips over long distances. Large parts of Scarborough that would have received LRT service are simply not part of his world view. A similar issue arose between Toronto and Metrolinx over the designs for Transit City routes, especially Eglinton, at a time when Bombardier was pushing for an “extension” of the SRT to the Airport. Schabas’ background at Bombardier makes him hardly an unbiased observer in this debate, but I prefer to discuss his proposals on their merits.

    When I dig out from under other transit issues now at the fore, I will return to a critique of his paper. It has some merits, notably in critiques of Metrolinx lack of action on major improvements to GO and inconsistent approaches to benefits analysis. On the local transit front, however, he is just plain wrong on some issues.


  15. The ‘simple conclusion to go with LRT’ you spoke of came with the very significant caveat, which appears to have been ignored, of 3+ years of outage, which was likely the trigger for the political hemorrhage this summer. The mitigation of the disruption to which the client is subjected is as important as the goals. We have ignored it with St Clair, now the RT, and, as we speak, the waterfront. Torontonians have learned that transit expansion is an enormous liability (yes I know it is hydro and roads and water and gas as well, but it is transit that is visible).

    On the question of LRT/ALRT station spacing, it seems to me that once spacing exceeds walking distance, then a parallel bus is required. Once that is established, then why not increase spacing so as to reduce costs and to increase average speed. If the Crosstown ever makes it to the airport, then I question, what would be the furthest stop from the airport that would offer an acceptable journey time, beyond which I might drive or find some other way to get there. A faster train would extend that acceptable journey time cut off east and thus serve a larger clientele. Put another way, streetcars, in mixed traffic or reserved lane like St Clair, provide a ‘local’ service’ with stops within walking distance. LRT/ALRT’s then should provide a faster, longer distance, overhead service with less stops and a feeder bus. Both the Crosstown and Sheppard WYE are east-west routes, for which there are no alternatives since there are no lateral GO routes to exploit.

    Steve: The outage period for the SRT conversion, according to Metrolinx, should have been under three years, and they were hoping for 2.5. This is not trivial, but the important contrast is that folks at the TTC who were pushing the subway alternative kept upping the number to 4 years even though this was not supported even by their own reports. (The “four years” were calendar years with a start late in year 1 and a finish early in year 4.) There would have been an outage for an upgrade to Mark II ICTS technology as well, not quite as long as the LRT, but still substantial. That was the point of comparison for LRT, not for a subway plan which, at the time, wasn’t even on the table because it was too ridiculously expensive for everyone’s taste.

    The situation on St. Clair was not of the TTC’s making, for the most part, but a result of poor project planning, meddling by local Councillors in the work plan, and an ill-fated decision to give work to “small business”, contractors who could not accommodate the shifting demands of the project.

    On the Waterfront, the project is running about 6 months late, in some aspects, thanks to Hydro and in turn to the Ontario Energy Board. Hydro held the project hostage to a rate increase application. A fundamental problem was that with the current and ongoing development and population growth, the infrastructure under Queens Quay was woefully inadequate and had to be replaced. The street would have been torn apart no matter what simply to handle the new role it plays. This doesn’t excuse the delay, but puts the overall project in context.


  16. Hi Steve,

    Today in the Star’s opinions section, Schabas reiterates some of his assertions that strike me as bollocks.

    “My point is that upgrading GO into a regional express, with faster, more frequent trains, can relieve the subway, for far less money, and faster, than TTC’s “Downtown Relief Line.” Marshall (and others) assert that there is a good case for the DRL.”

    I’m personally a big supporter of the DRL.

    “For the Scarborough and Eglinton lines, I advocate automated light rail transit, now the “mode of choice” in more than 20 cities.”

    The continued support of ICTS baffles the hell out of me.

    Steve: I will get back to a review of Schabas’ position soon. Needless to say, I think he is full of hot air, but would like to give my argument a bit more heft. Stay tuned.


  17. My concern with the Big move, along with the seeming arbitrary changes in mode, is the lack of a firm and continued commitment that will be required as the initial projects are completed. Once the initial build is complete, it will likely be just enough to meet the growth in demand that will have already taken place during construction. Toronto and area needs an integrated strategy that provides for ongoing growth in transit capability. Not exactly sure but I would think this will likely mean a couple of billion a year in major capital projects for at least a decade after the big move construction is complete.

    In the meantime to make real progress and keep the system viable by making better use of existing resources, it will require a serious look at where the car does not belong, and its impact on others (congestion). This will mean allowing for a large increase in parking availability away from the core and possibly changing use of streets in the core (no stopping, parking or left turns etc). Along with much tighter discipline on service levels and headway.


  18. My concern with tearing down major changes by implementing near zero cost improvements is that it may or may not work now but won’t all the workable tweaks be required anyway?

    GO may provide relief and additional capacity may work for now for relief but at some point

    (1) you reach both the heavy rail station and rail limits, and
    (2) growth is in areas that are not now close to GO rail.


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