Eight Years On

Today, January 31, 2014, this blog is eight years old.  Many thanks to you, the readers, for making it what it is – a forum for discussion about and advocacy of public transit and how it can improve our city.

As a way of looking back to the early days and as a commentary on the successes and failures we have faced, I chose to republish my Jane Jacobs Prize acceptance speech from April 2005.  Jane was still alive for that ceremony, and I remember her delicious skewering of then Mayor Miller for the shortcomings of his Planning Department whose world view owed more to a suburban than a “downtown”, neighbourhood-oriented outlook.

A possible bid for a World’s Fair was in the air complete with all the talk of the wonders of new investment it would bring to Toronto.  Sound familiar?

April 5, 2005

Thanks to Mayor Miller, John Sewell, Ideas That Matter and especially to Jane Jacobs.

Jane and I lunched near the Park Plaza Hotel in 1973 when she was fresh from the Stop Spadina campaign.  Her long battles in New York City with Robert Moses and his expressway plans appear in Ken Burns’ documentary New York.  Seeing that reminded me of what a lifetime of activism really means.  My 33 years since Streetcars for Toronto saved our streetcars are small change beside Jane’s work, and I am honoured to receive a prize in her name.

John Sewell has told you how I came to be here, of the successes and failures in transit activism over those decades.  Now I’ll say a few words about the role of Toronto’s activists in 2005 and beyond.  Should we cozy up to “the establishment” which is now in friendlier hands?  Is transit planning finally headed in the right direction?  Are we on the verge of a transit nirvana?  Answer:  No – maybe – not a chance.

The details are a bit longer.

Activists always have an uneasy time with politicians and professional staff – there’s the lure of being “on the inside” and feeling that you’re really getting something done.  But it’s an illusion, and you can lose valuable time and influence by becoming too much a part of the process you hope to change.  Activists need to hold politicians’ feet to the fire, to always ask for more than we can get, and to never, ever be satisfied.

Our job is to get issues discussed, to present views and options that would not otherwise be heard, to inform the community, the media and the politicians, to show that “business as usual” is not the only solution to our city’s problems.  To do this, we need independence from official channels where compromise takes precedence over excellence, where confidential access to the inner circle muzzles open debate.  We must not be afraid of being unpopular – opposing a bad proposal does not mean we are against transit.

In a few years, I will retire from the Toronto District School Board, but I will not retire from transit activism.  Mayor Miller will see a lot more of me around City Hall.  After all, friendly faces can change, and we could find ourselves with Tories everywhere in another Dark Age.  We must do what we can, while we can.

Where is transit planning going?

We have a Ridership Growth Strategy that aims to build service and lure riders back to the TTC surface routes.  Those routes are the backbone of the system, but they were cut back by 25 to 40 percent during the 1990s.  We’re going to rebuild!  We are getting new buses!  Alas, at the current rate, we will make it back to that 1990 level of service well into in Mayor Miller’s third term of office.  That is no commitment to transit.

We have an Official Plan that recognizes our need to intensify population along streets to provide a vibrant “city” lifestyle and a transit demand that will support fast, frequent service.  The OP has no subway lines in it.  Bravo!  About time!  Alas, it has no transit lines in it at all, and only hints at what could be done with LRT (modern streetcar lines) on the major routes.

Originally, the RGS had no subway lines in it either – any system expansion was way down the priority list long after service improvements and changes to the fare structure.  Alas, the subway fraternity prevailed, and two lines with price tags of about $1.5-billion each crept into the TTC plans.

Subways are dangerous things.  Their cost makes debates on where to build the next one almost endless, and they crowd out much cheaper schemes that would improve the system as a whole.  They make “the ask” from City politicians to senior governments enormous, and those governments do their duty to transit with one big cheque.  You want more for buses, for better service?  Get lost, kid, we already paid for your subway.  That’s exactly what Ontario has said to Toronto for the past decade.  We may open a subway to York University or to Scarborough Town Centre, but your local bus and streetcar routes will be just as unreliable as they are today.

Now we have Building a Transit City.  There’s some hope here.  It’s the missing chapter from the OP and later this year we may see a proposal for a low-cost network of busways and LRT lines.  This is great stuff, but it needs lots of money in a very short time, a decade at most, if we are going to seriously address the deficit in transit service throughout Toronto.

I have not even mentioned those lands beyond the edge of the map, where dragons lie, and yet they are vital to any discussion of Toronto’s future.  Long, long overdue improvements to GO Transit’s rail network are underway, and we are beginning to see schemes for improved bus services in the 905.  Sadly, York Region’s VIVA system is spending far more on marketing, relative to the TTC’s size, than Toronto will spend on “Ridership Growth”.  Don’t tell people how wonderful the service is, just get out there and run it!  Ads are cheap.  Performance is not.

What would a transit nirvana look like?

Toronto would have frequent, uncrowded service on all routes at least 18 hours a day.

If the subway is the backbone, then a network of LRT lines, some on rights-of-way, but most in the middle of streets, would form the skeleton of our system.  They would bring faster service without the cost of subways throughout the city.

GO Transit rail services would be substantially improved with all-day service on all corridors.

Regional travel fares would be integrated with the TTC so that riders see one network, no matter how many operational agencies provide the service.

We would stop proposing road-building projects that are disguised as transit improvements.

This brings me back to Jane Jacobs.  The Spadina Expressway was a highway sanitized by a subway line.  We need to be wary of such proposals.  People do not live on expressways, and commercial spaces nearby are surrounded by parking lots, not by pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods.

We need to tell the road engineers “No!” when they slip intersection widenings into LRT proposals.

We need to build our new neighbourhoods with good transit service from day one, not as an afterthought once we discover that a suburban, car-oriented development has taken over our waterfront.

Building a Transit City takes more than vague and inadequate funding announcements.  We do not need a World’s Fair to justify transit improvements.  We need a Council that will advocate for better transit, for a better city, and if this means tax increases, so be it.

There is a lot of work for transit activists in the years ahead, and I for one hope to earn the Jane Jacobs prize by continuing to fight for what Toronto needs – an excellent transit system.

Thank you.

Allocating Transit Costs and Revenues

This post arises from a discussion at Toronto Council’s budget debates in which the question of the profitability of various parts of the system came up.  This triggered a Twitter thread in which I eventually said “2 big 4 tweets”, and offered to write about this issue here.

Please note that this discussion will be theoretical, not a specific examination of TTC or any other system’s costs because (a) I don’t have the raw data, and (b) the level of analysis needed to ferret out the level of info needed is something requiring inside knowledge of each agency’s accounting practices.

In effect, this article is a caveat:  anyone who tells you they can produce a profit and loss statement on a line-by-line basis in a system where fares and costs cannot be accurately subdivided between system components is, to be gentle, full of hot air.  Politicians and bureaucrats love metrics, numbers that purport to allow comparison between portions of a system, between cities, etc, in the elusive search for a “more efficient” operation.  They have wet dreams about metrics that can reduce a complex universe to a single dimensional value with a “traffic light” to indicate current status.

This misses the point that “value” can be a subjective measurement depending on your goals.  For example, an 80% farebox cost recovery number is boy-scout-badge-worthy if your goal is to provide the most service at the lowest net cost, but it could mask the rejection of any new services that would not contribute to the target level of recovery.  Services that might be desirable for other benefits such as time of day or geographic coverage could be rejected because they will spoil the overall system numbers.  Moreover, a metric might have a different target depending on the type of service it measures — we expect far more from a subway line because of its high capital cost than we do from a local bus route.

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Complaining About Crappy Service

From time to time, people leave comments here about bad experiences with TTC service.  One recent observation dealt with irregular headways and unexpected short turns on night services.

When this sort of thing happens to you, be sure to note the time, date, location and especially the vehicle number(s).  Whether the TTC will actually do anything about your problems is hard to say, but it’s essential that when you do complain, you have specifics.

The TTC talks a good line about customer service, and they need to be held to account when they screw up.

To readers who are operators:  I am not looking to bash anyone, and our friends at CIS Control probably have a lot to do with problems.  However, where things happen, especially repeatedly, that show a disregard for the quality of transit service and the riders, those responsible need to know that wonderful service is not the product actually on offer.

TTC Board Meeting: January 28, 2014

The TTC Board will meet on January 28, 2014.  Here is a review of the major items on the agenda.

Time-Based Transfers

This report was important enough that it has an article of its own.

CEO’s Report

The CEO’s Report includes more-or-less final numbers for the system for 2013.

The TTC was hoping to see 528-million rides in 2013, but only achieved 525m mainly thanks to severe weather events.

Although fare revenue is lower than expected (by about $11m, partly offset by income of other revenue), expenses show an even greater saving.  This results in a $7.3m “surplus” for the year.  This is subsidy that was planned for but not required.  The details are on pages 25-26 of the report.

As in the 2012-2013 comparison, this “surplus” means that the actual increase in subsidy for 2014 will be larger than it appears at the budget level.  (2013 was a “freeze” only on a budget-to-budget basis because of underspending in 2012.)

The Capital Budget is underspent by about $500m mainly due to slippage on major contracts and deferral of some work from 2013 to 2014.  This is mostly not a saving, only a difference in the timing of expenses versus original projections.

The date for resumption of streetcar service south of King is once again reported as June 22, 2014, not the earlier March 30 date that had been projected.  I will check on this with both TTC and Waterfront Toronto.  Very cold weather has slowed construction, but it is unclear why and end of March date is impossible for service to Queen’s Quay.

Despite suggestions by Chair Stintz at a previous Board meeting that there was a “commitment” for substantial completion of the Presto project in time for the Pan Am Games in 2015, it is clear that this will not occur.  Presto will roll out in stages beginning with the new streetcars later in 2014.

The TTC had planned to publish new measures of service quality late in 2013, but these are not yet ready and will be rolled out sometime in 2014.  This process is intended not only to better reflect the conditions seen by riders, but to identify routes and locations where existing operations, including the schedules, do not fit with typical conditions.

Improving Safety and Travel Times by Elimination and Relocation of Transit Stops

The TTC proposes to rationalize the placement of stops with the goal of making streetcar stops safer, and reducing the need for vehicles to stop frequently at closely-spaced stops.

This proposal affects various classes of stops:

  • Sunday stops.  These are a holdover from the days of “Toronto The Good” where even operating streetcars on Sundays was considered a dubious undertaking.  These stops provided close access to churches, but they are primarily found in the older part of the system.  (There are a few special cases for use early on Sundays when the subway is closed.)  Sunday stops were eliminated when the St. Clair and Roncesvalles streetcar lines were rebuilt, and they will now be dropped throughout the system.
  • Some stops are not located at traffic signals or crosswalks, and these can take motorists unawares because they are not prepared to stop for other purposes.  The TTC would like to rationalize such stops to better locations.
  • Some stops are very close together for no evident reason, and the TTC proposes to consolidate stops.

The report includes an illustration of a “before and after” on Queen from Church to John.


This scheme eliminates stops both ways at Victoria on the grounds that these are in a short distance of Church and Yonge Streets.  The TTC seems unconcerned or unaware that these stops also serve St. Michael’s Hospital.

At York Street, the stops are eliminated both ways because they are close to University Avenue.  One major problem at York, as at other locations where stops are at traffic signals, is that this location does not have transit priority, and a streetcar stopping for passengers will almost certainly be held by the traffic signal, usually for more time than the actual stop service itself.

At Simcoe westbound, the stop will be shifted to the traffic signal at St. Patrick.  The stops both ways at McCaul will be dropped.  Why the TTC could not include an eastbound stop at St. Patrick is a mystery.

This entire exercise has a feel of blindly following a supposed philosophy without looking closely at the details.  With luck, pushback from Councillors in affected areas will bring some sense to the process.

If the TTC were really serious about speeding transit trips, they would far more aggressively pursue transit priority at the many locations where it has never been installed or activated, where it has been shut off, or where it operates only at limited times of the day.

Time-Based Fares for the TTC? Maybe in 2015

The agenda for the TTC Board’s meeting on January 28, 2014, includes a report on time-based fares.  The report cites many advantages for a shift to this form of fare including:

  • ease of understanding by riders and clarity for enforcement by operators and fare inspectors;
  • simplicity of implementation on PRESTO;
  • simplicity for routes using all-door loading where transfers would not be inspected on entry;
  • compatibility with fare policy on most other transit systems.

The downside, such as it may be, would be a loss of revenue relative to the current fare structure of up to $20-million annually (a bit under 2%).  There are additional concerns related to a transitional period before PRESTO takes over the overwhelming majority of all fare transactions, such as the increased value of transfers issued freely in the subway which would become limited time passes.

Management recommends that time-based transfers be considered as part of the 2015 budget.  This would leave a final decision on such a change to the next Council and TTC Board.  Other proposed changes include discontinuing time-based transfers on St. Clair if a system-wide policy is rejected, and formulation of a policy for locations where time-based transfers would be allowed in future as an offset to major local construction activity (e.g. on Eglinton).

This is quite a refreshing report about TTC fare policy because it proceeds from the basis that this is something that can be done, that many other cities already have implemented, and which has benefits and costs that should be weighed as part of any decision.  We do not hear about all the money the TTC would be wasting on people who would obtain more transit for lower fare.  The contrast with the typical portrayal of Metropass users is quite astounding.

The report notes that only about 10% of existing trips on the TTC involve the use of a paper transfer because more than half the riders use passes, and many trips involve connections where there is no fare barrier and therefore no need for a transfer as proof of payment.  Trips that now involve multiple fares (e.g. a short there-and-back trip, or a multi-legged trip with stopovers) would be cheaper for those riders who do not now use passes, and who do not already organize their journeys to optimise transfer use.  (As someone who has used a Metropass since they were introduced in May 1980, I still miss the challenge of getting the most out of one fare.)

An obvious point the report completely misses is that a time-based fare would give the single fare more value in that it would buy a few hours of unlimited riding rather than a single connected trip.  This is particularly important for people who tend to pay their fares one at a time.

Another effect would be that Metropass users, now portrayed as taking an almost embarrassingly high number of “rides”, would be seen as using far fewer “fares” because some trips now counted as separate would now be part of one connected journey.  The concept of “lost revenue” to passholders would become even more difficult to justify in an environment where the right to use transit was sold by time, not by trip segment.

Indeed, the TTC will have to recalibrate how it counts “riders” and “fares”.

Transfer abuse is estimated to be the single largest source of “lost revenue” today.  I put that in quotation marks because transfers, and the inventive ways riders use them, have been around for over a century, and the “loss” was never money the TTC might have collected in the first place.  It is part of the cost of doing business, and indeed is a “cost” brought on by the obvious incentive riders have to maximize the return for their fares.

The TTC claims it loses almost $15m to transfer abuse each year, but that is not real money they could recoup without a large investment in enforcement.  The lost fares represent under 1.5% of the annual total (7.6-million fares out of 540-million).

The cost for a two-hour, unlimited use fare is estimated at $20-million annually.  This would have to be made up by additional subsidy (less than 5% over the current operating subsidy level), by an extraordinary fare increase (about 2% based on $1-billion in annual fare revenue) or by some combination of these.

Modified schemes with more restrictive policies would cost less, but they have drawbacks:

  • a shorter time period such as 90 minutes would catch more riders and trigger second fares;
  • restrictions on where a transfer could be reused would be confusing and would not completely eliminate arguments between staff and riders about transfer validity.

One aspect the report does not mention is the problem of delays and short-turns.  What happens if someone’s trip is pushed beyond the time limitation because of erratic TTC service?  In the case of manual fare inspection, there is at least a chance for a conversation to explain the circumstances, but where the fare check is automated, this is much more difficult.  Should riders be penalized with extra fares because of poor TTC service?

Time-based fares will be essential for regional fare integration.  A rider should be able to “buy” the ability to ride transit and change between routes regardless of which company operates the bus.  There could be a premium for including GO trains in a journey, but it should not be a full additional GO fare.  (This would make system-wide the existing co-fare practice between various 905 transit systems and GO.)  All of this is comparatively simple (from the technology, if not the political perspective) with a smart card fare system, and all but impossible with the TTC’s current transfer rules and fare collection.

Discussions of time-based transfers go back almost a decade.  The report includes excerpts from studies in 2005 and 2009.  The 2003 Ridership Growth Strategy looked at fare-by-distance and at time-of-day-based fare discounts, but not at transfers as short-term passes.

This is not a new idea, but one that until now has always been sandbagged by the combined effects of “we can’t afford it” arguments and an attitude that any fare reduction is “lost money” for the TTC, not an improvement in the system’s quality and attractiveness for riders.

A thorough discussion of this is long overdue and, but for the Ford interregnum, we might have seen this a few years back as part of the TTC’s concept for smart fare cards even without PRESTO.

The shift to time-based transfers, in effect to short-term passes, would complete the TTC’s move away from a one trip, one fare model.  This would increase transit’s attractiveness for casual or irregular users whose travel is penalized, compared to pass holders, by that outdated model.

Mayoral and Council candidates would do well to consider the benefits of this system, and look to implementation in 2015 at the latest.

TTC Capital Budget 2014-2023 Part III: The Threat to “State of Good Repair” (Update 2)

Updated January 22, 2014 at 5:30 pm:

In the original TTC Capital Budget report, Appendix A, which summarizes the 10-year spending by department and major project group, was based on an earlier version of the budget than was actually presented.  It showed a 10-year total that was roughly $500-million lower than the total actually presented to and voted on by the TTC Board.

A revised version of this appendix has now been issued.

2014_2013_Capital Budget_Appendix_A

The body of this article has been updated to include this version with the other previously published material.

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Will The TTC Board Ever Discuss Policy, or, Good News Is Not Enough (Updated)

Updated January 21, 2014 at 2:20 pm:  The description of the loading standards introduced with the Ridership Growth Strategy has been corrected.

The election season is upon us in Toronto, and transit made an early appearance on the campaign with mayoral candidate David Soknacki’s proposal that Toronto revert to the LRT plan for Scarborough.  I am not going to rehash that debate here, but there is a much larger issue at stake.

The Ford/Stintz era at Council and at the TTC has been notable for its absence of substantive debate on options and alternatives for our transit future.  Yes, we have had the subways*3 mantra, the palace coup to establish Karen Stintz and LRT, for a time, as a more progressive outlook on the TTC Board, and finally the Scarborough debate.

But that’s not all there is to talk about on the transit file.  Do we have a regular flow of policy papers at Board meetings to discuss what transit could be, should be?  No.  Ford’s stooges may have been deposed, but the conservative fiscal agenda remains.  Make do with less.  Make sacrifices for the greater good, whatever that may be.  Show how “efficiency” can protect taxpayer dollars even while riders freeze in the cold wondering when their bus will appear.

Every Board meeting starts with a little recitation by the Chair of good news, of stories about how TTC staffers helped people and the good will this brings to the organization.  There is ever so much pride in improved cleanliness and attractiveness of the system – a worthwhile achievement, but one that should become second nature to maintain.  It should also be a “canary in the coal mine”, a simple, obvious example of what happens when we make do with “good enough”, with year-by-year trimming to just get by.

If the bathrooms are filthy, imagine the condition of the trains, buses and streetcars you are riding.  I’m not talking about loose newspapers blowing around, but of basic maintenance.  From our experience in the 1990s, we know how a long slide can take a once-proud, almost cocky system to disaster, and how hard it is to rebuild.

In a previous article, I wrote about the threat to basic system maintenance posed by underfunding of the Capital Budget, an issue that has not received enough public debate.  Part of the problem is that the crucial maintenance work that must occur year over year is treated the same way as new projects.  Maintenance competes with the glamour projects for funding, and may be treated as something to be deferred, something we don’t need yet.  Couple that with starvation of funds for basics like a new and expanded fleet and garage space, and there’s a recipe for a TTC that will decline even while more and more is expected of public transit.

The budget isn’t the only issue that deserves more detailed examination, and many other  policies should be up for debate.  Within a month, the TTC will have a new Chair as Karen Stintz departs for the mayoralty campaign.  Within a year, Toronto should have a new Mayor, one whose view of transit is not framed by the window of his SUV.  At Queen’s Park we may have a Liberal government with a fresh, if shaky, mandate to raise new revenues for transit construction and operation, or we may have a populist alternative with a four-year supply of magic beans.

In the remaining months, the TTC Board has a duty to lay the ground for the governments to come, especially at City Hall.  The 2015 budget debates should be well informed about the options for transit, if only for planning where Toronto will need to spend and what services the TTC will offer in years to come.  Will the TTC rise to this challenge, or sit on its hands with a caretaker Board until the end of the current term?

Here is a selection of the major policy issues we should be hearing about, if only the TTC would engage in actual debate to inform itself, Council, the media and the voters.

  • Fare structure:  What is the appropriate way to charge fares for transit service?  By time, distance, week, month?  How does smart card technology change the way fares are collected and monitored?  What are the implications for regional travel and integration?
  • Service standards:  What loading standards should be used to drive service improvements?  Should the TTC build in elbow room to encourage riding and to reduce delays due to crowding?  Should there be a core network of routes with guaranteed frequent service?
  • Service management:  What goals should the TTC aim for in managing service?  Do the measures that are reported today accurately reflect the quality of service?  Are bad schedules to blame for erratic service, or does this stem from management indifference or from labour practices that work against reliable service?  What are the tradeoffs in the relative priority of transit and other traffic?  What are the budgetary effects of moves to improve service?
  • Budgets and Subsidies:  Both the Operating and Capital Budgets have been cut below the level recommended by TTC management.  These cuts will affect service and maintenance in the short and long term, but there has been no debate about the effect, especially if these are not quickly reversed in a post-Ford environment.  The Capital Budget faces a huge gap between available funding and requirements.  Over ten years, the shortfall is 30% in available financing versus requirements, and this is back-end loaded so that the shortfall rises to 50% in later years.  The proposed level of City subsidy is barely half what would be needed if Queen’s Park returned to its historical 50% capital funding formula.  Hoped-for money from Ottawa is more likely to finance major projects such as new subway lines, not the “base” budget for capital  maintenance.  The budget, especially capital, is not well understood by the TTC Board or Council in part because of the confusing way in which it is presented.  Toronto cannot begin to discuss subsidy policies if those responsible for decisions cannot understand their own budgets.
  • The Waterfront:  While battles rage over subway and LRT proposals for the suburbs, a major new development on the waterfront is starved for transit thanks to cost escalation, tepid interest by the TTC, and the perception that waterfront transit can be left for another time.  The pace of development may be threatened if good transit does not materialize on Queens Quay, and later to the Port Lands, but meanwhile this project sits on the back burner little understood by most members of the TTC Board and Council.
  • Rapid transit plans:  The artificial distinction between GO and the subway (or even higher-end LRT operations such as the proposed Scarborough line) will disappear as GO becomes a frequent all-day operation.  There will be one network regardless of the colours of the trains.  GO service to the outer parts of the 416 is particularly important as an alternative to subway construction serving long-haul trips to downtown.  Subways, LRT and BRT each has its place in the network, but electoral planning must not leave us with fragments of a network rather than an integrated whole.
  • Accessibility:  The need for accessibility extends all the way from the severely disabled who require door-to-door service, through a large and growing population who have some degree of independence, to those whose only problem may be bad knees or a weak heart.  Neither the TTC nor the City has taken the issues of accessibility particularly seriously in recent years.  There may be good words, but the budget and service policies clearly limit the growth of the parallel Wheel Trans system.  Meanwhile, retrofitting the system for full access is delayed thanks to funding limitations at both the City and Queen’s Park.  What we do not know is the true extent of the need for accessibility on the TTC and what this means for service and infrastructure.

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Travelling to NYC

This thread has been created to hold comments accumulating elsewhere on travel by air, rail or bus from Toronto to New York.  The discussion started with my observation:

By analogy, I offer my own recent flights to NYC which took about one hour flying time each way. They also included nearly two hours of “get to the terminal early for international security checks”, flight delays at both ends (the return trip was almost two hours late leaving), and delays on the tarmac to obtain a gate. We actually sat in EWR on the ground for almost as long as we had been in the air. The speed of the trip was better than driving, especially in the winter, but an elapsed time of 8 hours from arriving at YTZ to being out of the terminal at EWR is only slightly faster.

Translate that to the transit experience and you will see why I have a problem with folks who only look at the “whoosh” factor as a train speeds by people who used to board a bus a five minute walk from their homes.

Don’t Just Fund Transit, Build Transit

Back in December, the advisory panel reviewing the Metrolinx Investment Strategy released its report recommending a number of revenue generation tools and showing how these could support an accelerated construction plan for many transit improvements.  As background to this proposal, I asked for details on how the panel had worked out the spending pattern and the project timing.  Recently, this information was forwarded to me.

What is most interesting about this paper is the chart showing project timing and spending on page 4.  The projects include:

  • Upgrades to GO Transit for all day service on the Milton, Barrie, Richmond Hill, Stouffville and Georgetown-Kitchener corridors;
  • Electrification of the UPX to Pearson Airport;
  • LRT lines on Hurontario-Main and in Hamilton;
  • BRT for Dundas Street and Durham-Scarborough;
  • An unspecified rapid transit line for Brampton Queen Street;
  • The Relief Subway line plus partial extension of the Yonge line.

The work is spread over 2015-25 with peak spending in the years 2017-21.  The annual expenditures are not constrained by the size of the income stream because bridge financing would be used.  This would carry the program through to the later years when revenue would be used to pay down debt rather than to fund current construction.

What is so striking about this plan is that the goal is to build transit as quickly as reasonably possible, not to hamstring construction work with hand wringing about the amount of each year’s spending allocation from Queen’s Park.  Much of the hope vested in The Big Move was lost thanks to the extended delivery times for projects which, in turn, were dictated by the abject fear of financing the work with new revenues.  A bold plan was neutered by the McGuinty Liberals’ terror of criticism by the “no new taxes” brigade.

It’s all well to point to a list of “funded projects”, but if the delivery dates for construction and completion drift off into the future, the funding announcements are just so much toilet paper.

Overall construction time for each project is sourced from the Metrolinx Investment Strategy. However, the capacity to deliver these projects as outlined has not been factored into schedule development – the Panel’s proof of concept deliberately advances Next Wave projects to begin construction faster than currently anticipated and after the design period is complete. [Page 1]

That phrase “capacity to deliver” brings me to one of Metrolinx’ favourite excuses for an extended rollout schedule – a claim that the construction industry cannot possibly do so much work in so short a time.  That fails on several counts notably that the original Big Move, unconstrained by a spending slowdown ordered by Queen’s Park, planned a $2-billion annual outlay (plus inflation) over 25 years, a period we would be well into by now but for Queen’s Park’s reticence.

A great deal of the work outlined here would be underway and completed before the end of the “first wave” of Big Move projects.  This shows the effect of more aggressive planning where providing service is the primary goal rather than dragging out spending.  If a similar approach had been taken sooner, we could be riding new transit services in the next few years, not hearing over and over about a handful of projects such as the Spadina extension that have been in the pipeline for quite a long time.

Metrolinx staff are supposed to be reviewing the timing of at least the Sheppard LRT project with a view to beginning this earlier.  In the current political situation, with the  Scarborough subway/LRT debate heating up again, it is hard to know whether Metrolinx will even have the backbone to discuss a speedup of the Sheppard line publicly.

This shows everything that is wrong with that supposedly independent agency – policy debates, “what if” discussions never take place in public, presuming that they take place at all.  This might embarrass politicians and show voters what options would actually cost, and how soon they new services could be available, if only we had the collective will to proceed for the benefit of the GTHA as a whole, not for individual by-elections that skew political focus.

Whether any of this comes to pass will depend on how much of the Transit Panel’s recommendations are incorporated into the government’s budget for 2014-15, and whether the opposition parties force an election.  The key point is that voters need to believe that any new taxes will actually benefit them, and will do so soon, not a decade or more in the future.

We have had enough of spineless government on the transit file.  Dalton McGuinty was a huge disappointment substituting delay for action, and Kathleen Wynne has only one chance to prove that she really believes in attacking the deficit in transit construction head on.

No excuses.  Build now.