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.
At its December 2013 meeting, the Board endorsed a motion by Chair Stintz asking that staff report in January
“… on the relative costs and benefits of moving to a time-based transfer policy and the best way to make a change should it be adopted.”
A discussion of new fare structures for the TTC, and for the GTHA overall, is long overdue. The TTC has been moving, well inching, toward smart cards for fare payment since the pre-Ford version of Council, but any debate on changing fares would inevitably bring debate about subsidies, an absolute no-no to the Ford/Stintz conservatives.
Time-based fares are used elsewhere in the GTHA along with, in some places, fare zones, while distance-based fares are the standard on GO Transit. The TTC stands alone with its complex rules about transfers, stopovers and continuous trips.
There is certainly a debate to be had about the merits of distance-based fares, or at least of a zone system, but it is important that we all understand the trade-offs between the schemes, and the implications for various classes of riders.
Time based fares could encourage riding on the fastest routes because one can travel farther for the same fare. Whether most trips actually take long enough for this to matter is another question.
Distance based fares penalize riders who have long commutes. From these riders we hear calls for much improved suburban transit (and rapid transit) coupled with true integration of service and quality across regional boundaries. Should they pay a higher fare because housing, income and job location patterns work against short commutes? If local transit fares changed to a distance base, how would the price of long TTC trips compare to comparable journeys on GO Transit?
This is not just an issue for Toronto, but for the GTHA including Metrolinx. “Regional integration” is a phrase we hear a lot, but true integration (regardless of the colour of the bus or train) can only come with an integrated fare system, one that does not penalize riders for crossing invisible boundaries between service territories. If a smart card simply converts paper transfers and zones based on municipal borders to an electronic format, that is not integration any more than a Visa card working at many stores does not “integrate” those businesses.
Integration will almost certainly result in some riders getting a cheaper ride than they have today – that is, after all, why riders are calling for fare integration in the first place. The GTHA will also face problems of overlapping service territories with TTC subways operating into the 905. This is similar to the era when Toronto had zone fares and the subway pushed into “zone 2” bringing distortions in the fare system with it.
If GO Transit evolves into a regional rapid transit network, will its distance-based fares and lack of full transfer rights to and from the TTC interfere with GO’s ability to offload demand on Toronto’s “local” network? How many billions will we spend building subways to do work that GO should at least assist with but for their desire to show a high farebox return?
That return, not just for GO but for all of the GTHA, is a subject of much debate. What is the “correct” level of cost recovery? 60%? 70%? 80%? That debate looks at the problem from the wrong end.
Starting with a target cost recovery level almost guarantees that options to make transit truly “the better way” will never get onto the table. Fare subsidies and improved service are as important to make transit attractive as billion dollar subway lines, but they are always treated as a cost, not as an investment.
The question should be “what kind of service do we want to provide, and what combination of fares and service will increase public transit use”. Once that is known, the level of subsidy follows.
Additional issues for fare card implementation include:
- Should individuals who receive certain types of social assistance be given fare cards that charge at a lower rate, or which are funded directly through government programs? How would such a scheme apply to families, not just to the person receiving the benefit?
- Should the total fare charged per week or per month be capped at the equivalent of a weekly or monthly pass so that riders who have a burst of transit usage benefit from “pass” discounts without having to actually buy a pass (or load its equivalent onto their card) in advance?
- How will costs and subsidies due to regional integration be separated from costs due to local preferences for a higher service quality? Do we design subsidies to a minimal level of service in the least transit-friendly parts of the 905, or for some higher goal?
No fare structure will be perfect, but we need to discuss and understand all of the options rather than precluding any debate with the excuse “we can’t afford it”. How do we know what we might afford if we do not know the costs and benefits?
Service Standards define the amount of service that the TTC will provide relative to the demand on a route measured as the average load at a peak point during the peak hour. A decade ago, as part of the Ridership Growth Strategy, the TTC relaxed the standards to provide more room on vehicles:
- Average load targets for bus routes during the peak periods were reduced by 10%. (A comparable change was not made for streetcars because there were no spare vehicles with which to improve service.)
- Average load targets for buses and streetcars during the off-peak were set at a seated load.
There are two benefits to this change. The first is that less crowded buses and streetcars are more attractive to riders, and the extra space provides headroom for growth (not to mention room to absorb the typical minor variations in headway and surge loads at major stops). The second is that less crowded vehicles spend less time stopping while passengers push past each other to board and exit.
Another standard introduced by RGS was that almost all routes would operate 7 days/week from 6am to 1am.
These changes followed examination of the effects of the policy changes that revealed the marginal cost was fairly small. The whole purpose of RGS was to bypass the typical policy stagnation where “we can’t afford it” precluded any discussion with the implication that any change would bankrupt the system.
There is a lesson in the RGS for today’s TTC Board and Council – don’t let debate be defined by “what we can’t do”, but instead by “what we could do” if only we had the will to proceed.
With the arrival of the Ford/Stintz band at Council and the TTC, hated remnants of the Miller era, including the Ridership Growth Strategy, were dismantled with the claim that they were examples of “gravy” ladled onto undeserving transit riders. This was done in two waves.
In 2011, new standards were introduced for marginal routes to claw back the full service rule so that:
- A route (or route segment, or period of service) with fewer than 10 riders per vehicle hour would not be retained.
- A route with 10 to 15 riders per vehicle hour that was less than 600m (an 8 minute walk) from another service would not be retained.
- A route with 15 riders or more per vehicle hour would remain.
This change triggered a long list of service cuts at an estimated annual saving of $6-million (pro-rated from the 8 months of savings projected for May-December 2011). According to the report recommending these changes, this did not reduce the total hours of service provided because the resources would be reallocated to overcrowded routes. However, this statement was not entirely true.
The originally budgeted service level for November 2011 was 164,456 vehicle hours/week (Service Budget dated Sept. 30, 2010). This was revised as part of the February cutbacks so that the service level for November 2011 was 160,896 vehicle hours/week, or 2.2% less than had originally been planned.
The next round of cuts came in 2012 when the loading standards were rolled back to pre-RGS levels. This was projected to save $9.2-million. Services increases continued at a modest pace with 161,990 hours budgeted for November 2012.
In 2013, the TTC made up for some of the cutbacks with budgeted hours of 167,119 in November 2013. This was possible in part because it was an addition late in the year, and because there was an increase in the “as spent” subsidy for 2013 that escaped notice by Ford’s bean counters (see discussion of the Operating Budget below). The budgeted service for November 2014 is 169,357 hours.
Period Budgeted Scheduled Pre-Ford November 2010 159,347 November 2011 160,896 160,809 164,456 November 2012 161,990 163,772 November 2013 167,119 166,361 November 2014 169,357
Good financial results and strong demand in 2012 allowed service to grow late in the year to a higher level than the original budget. However, by 2013, the level of service had risen by only 4.4% compared to 2010 while system ridership grew by at least 2.5% annually. The budgeted level for 2014 is only 1.8% above the scheduled service for 2013.
It is self-evident to regular users of the TTC that the system is more crowded today than it was four years ago. A return to RGS loading standards would cost somewhere around $11m allowing for inflation since the 2012 cutbacks. However, such a change would not be immediately possible during peak periods because the TTC has no spare buses or streetcars with which to improve service.
As for the marginal off-peak services that were cut in 2011, some of these cuts have produced transit wastelands where 2km square blocks of the city have no service during certain periods. Clearly, this violates the 600m walking distance standard provided that there would be enough riders, but we don’t know how many we would see because there is no service for them to use. Ever since the 2011 cuts, the TTC has not returned to its practice of re-evaluating routes for additional off peak operation, if only to justify the continued absence of service.
Finally, a proposal that was not approved even by the Miller regime was the Transit City Bus Plan. (The roadblock was more a political one – who had ultimate budget authority over the TTC operating costs – rather than a philosophical opposition to the plan.) This would have included two major components:
- Definition of a core network where service would be provided at least every 10 minutes (except the overnight period) 7 days/week.
- Creation of express services on long routes.
Also under discussion at the time was the possibility of a maximum headway for all services of 20 minutes, but the cost of implementing this would have been substantial and it was not pursued.
The TCBP is not perfect, but the concept is sound and it should be revisited with two important changes:
- The expected LRT services that would have begun on some major routes are not being built, at least for now.
- The streetcar system was not included because “it’s not a bus”, to quote former Chair Adam Giambrone. It may come as a surprise, but some streetcar headways are wider than 10 minutes.
- Ridership Growth Strategy (2003)
- Transit City Bus Plan (2009)
- Crowding Standards (2014)
- Route Eliminations and Access Standards (February 2011)
- Return to Pre-RGS Crowding Standards (January 2012)
Managing transit service depends on several factors and the fact that this is a real time operation, not a theoretical exercise. Conditions will always vary from day to day, hour to hour, route to route, even block to block along a street. There is no one size fits all way to achieve “perfect” service. Indeed, we know that even on the subway where in theory there should be nothing to prevent evenly spaced service, this is far from the case thanks to various types of delay.
The issue, then, is to have goals for what the service should look like, strategies for achieving it, and a management context that rewards provision of good service and removes barriers to this happening.
The TTC produces a daily report summarizing the previous day’s operation by the rapid transit lines as well as by the two surface modes: buses and streetcars. The goal is that service operate within three minutes of the scheduled headway (the time between vehicles).
For the rapid transit lines, the goal is that the headway be no more than three minutes greater than the scheduled value 96-98% of the time, depending on the route. This is measured at several locations and times of day and so a few major delays can easily be dwarfed by the overall regularity of service. Indeed, if there is a 20 minute gap followed by several trains 2 minutes apart, there is only 1 train that fails to meet the goal even though the parade may be 10 trains long.
For the surface modes, the goal is to be ±3 minutes of the scheduled headway 65% of the time for buses and 70% of the time for streetcars. The details of how this is calculated (points on the route, number of observations per day, averaging effects, etc.) are not published, and the daily figures blend together operation on every route. (Detailed route-by-route numbers are published quarterly, and they are not very impressive.)
Roughly speaking, the TTC’s goal is to provide service within 3 minutes of the advertised frequency about 2/3 of the time. Needless to say, this guarantees that a rider will encounter a gap in their travels quite regularly to the point that when everything actually works as advertised, it is an unusual experience. Riders must assume they will be delayed and factor this into their trip plans. That is hardly the way to win new customers over to transit.
Neither the subway nor the surface metrics report the proportion of service operated as compared to the schedule. Wider headways can be caused by bunching, but they can also be caused by the service falling short of the scheduled trips/hour. The subway, for example, could get a 100% rating even if trains ran every 320 seconds during the peak (the scheduled 140 seconds plus the allowable 180 seconds of variation). In other words, the TTC could provide less than half of the planned service and still get a perfect score for “punctuality”. Similar problems exist on the surface system, compounded by the endemic issue of short-turning.
A further problem exists on routes and in periods with wide scheduled headways. Once a route (or a branch of a route) is scheduled to operate at a frequency of 15 minutes or more, headway is less important to riders than on time performance. A bus or streetcar is expected to be at a stop at a certain time, and within a small margin, it should be there so that riders do not face a long, uncertain wait, especially when making connections.
None of the metrics reported by the TTC measures on time performance for this type of route. Buses could be scheduled 30 minutes apart and be completely off of their expected times, but they would be “punctual” if they maintained their relative spacing. This is not good transit service. Overnight services have bad headway reliability numbers indicating that little or no attempt is made to operate these routes on anything resembling a reliable basis. As to whether they are on time, we have no way of knowing because this is not measured.
The TTC is working on new ways to measure service quality, but these have not yet been published. Regular riders know that subway service is not as good as the stratospheric rankings the TTC publishes, and using a flawed methodology undermines the TTC’s credibility when trumpeting its “achievements”.
On the bright side, the TTC expects to have a new “Customer Journey Time Metric” out sometime in the first quarter of 2014. This model includes various performance indicators including “headway regularity, average waiting time and passenger delay”. These are expected to contribute to a better understanding of problems with service and provision of “more reliable and consistent service delivery” according to the TTC’s Fourth Quarter review.
Scheduling can present many problems:
- “Average” conditions, represented by a fixed running time allowed between ends of a route, do not exist much of the time. Either the route has too little time, or too much, depending on many factors including weather, construction projects, accidents and passenger volume. If too little, chronic short turning ensues as I have shown in route analyses published here. If too much, vehicles dawdle and take extended breaks at terminals, breaks that come to be expected even when operating conditions don’t allow for them.
- Actual conditions vary with days of the week. Everyone knows that traffic patterns on highways are not the same each day, and the same is true of transit routes. However, routes use the same schedules Monday to Friday because to do otherwise would immensely complicate schedule creation and crew management.
- Route management strategies will vary across the system, and a supervisor must have a good sense of how a route behaves and which tactic is ideal for common circumstances. A supervisor used to looking after the Finch West bus will not understand the King car without some experience.
- One major issue, despite the TTC’s claim that it manages to headways, is that operators must be where they are scheduled to be at the start and end of their shifts, and for planned breaks. In part this is imposed by Labour Standards legislation, and in part by contract language that penalizes the TTC for a long-standing problem of operators getting off of their shifts late.
- Although the stated goal is to manage to headways, anyone watching the service will see bunching quite commonly, and little is done to break up packs of vehicles. Short turns and branching routes may not merge ideally, but analysis of operating data shows that little is done to monitor and even out vehicle spacing where this occurs.
- Service cuts to meet budget targets can actually worsen service not just because fewer vehicles are on the street, but because these vehicles are more crowded, more prone to the effects of minor delays, and more likely to run late simply because of delays at stops.
Finally, there is the question of transit priority.
Traffic rules give far too much precedence to non-transit traffic which has been building in parts of the city, especially in off-peak periods. Toronto is about to bring in new fines, towing rules and parking restrictions on major streets downtown that will, in part, reflect the fact that the “peak period” lasts much longer now than decades ago. This is only a beginning.
Offsetting this, there is a proposal to change “transit priority” traffic signals so that they operate only at certain times of the day, or when a vehicle is “late”. This shows a complete lack of understanding of what they are for. Transit vehicles can move along a route faster with priority, and on some routes, this extra speed has been factored into the schedules, if only as an avoidance of extra running time to deal with congestion. In any event, the concept of a vehicle being “late” assumes that this is the target for managing service when, in fact, the target is supposed to be vehicle spacing.
The problem is further complicated by diversions and short turns where the “on time” position of a vehicle is meaningless. If anything, diversions should get special priority because they add to a vehicle’s travel time. Many commonly used turns should have “white bar” transit call on signals, but these are comparatively rare.
TTC management must have a thorough discussion of how service can be improved. Some of this will trigger policy issues at the TTC Board and at Council, some will require new goals for management and metrics to truly reflect service quality, and some will affect labour costs and contract language. This is a difficult area because many issues are interrelated, and they cannot be fixed by a simple policy or management declaration.
Budgets and Subsidies
As I have written about the TTC budgets at length elsewhere, I won’t get into too much detail here but some items really deserve more debate than they get at the TTC Board or at Council.
On the Operating Budget, we know that the TTC took a subsidy cut in the first year of the Ford administration, went through two years of “flat lined” subsidies, and now is asking for an increase in 2014. Things are a bit more complex because of accounting adjustments. In particular, the “flat line” in 2013 was on a budget to budget basis, not in actual dollars spent.
2012 was a good year for the TTC with extra riding, stronger revenue and lower costs than predicted, and there was a “surplus” relative to the budgeted subsidy. (That “surplus” was money the City did not have to pay to the TTC.) In 2013, the TTC’s budgeted subsidy was unchanged, but there was over $40-million in headroom due to underspending in 2012. On an as spent basis, the subsidy went up in 2013 making the TTC look ever so efficient in the face of a budget freeze. This was nothing more than creative accounting, and any claim that the TTC absorbed the freeze is deeply misleading.
For 2014, the TTC is asking for $24-million in additional subsidy, but the budget passed by the TTC Board includes only $18m with a $6m unspecified reduction as requested by the City Manager. This was a spineless position for the Board to take in the face of a possible future cut to budgeted operations. After the meeting which approved this budget, Chair Stintz claimed in the media scrum that she would fight for restoration of the $6m, and CEO Andy Byford has also stated that he would work to get the $6m. Unfortunately, neither has been doing this particularly loudly, and we have no sense of what that $6m will cost in deferred maintenance or reduced service if the TTC doesn’t get what was in the original budget.
With the substantial special expenses the City has incurred for ice storm damage, any extra spending will be a hard sell at Council. At the very least, the TTC Board should have explained what the cut that they accepted will cost TTC riders, but instead they meekly voted for a lower subsidy than management wanted.
This is not just a question of accepting less service than we might otherwise see, or hoping that once again a major cost such as diesel fuel will come in lower than projected. A good deal of the day-to-day maintenance of the TTC system comes out of the Operating Budget, and cutbacks there ripple through the system in vehicle and infrastructure reliability, and a long-term decline in the system’s condition. We have been here before in the early 1990s.
Looking forward to 2015 and beyond, we have no sense of the operating subsidy requirements the TTC might have or the cost of options related to fares and service discussed above, let alone routine maintenance, utility and fuel costs.
On the Capital Budget, there are three major problems.
- First, the amount of funding available from various governments is nowhere near what is needed to handle the ten-year capital program. This is not simply a question of buying fewer buses or delaying the acquisition of new subway trains, it is also a matter of maintenance cutbacks beginning in 2014.
- Second, almost every project is classified as “State of Good Repair” and there is no distinction between the ongoing projects such as replacing worn-out infrastructure, and projects to address generational changes such as the introduction of a new, low-floor streetcar fleet, or the move to automatic train control on the subway.
- Third, budget lines are organized by department, not by function, and so several separate budgets that collectively make up one delivered project – new streetcars; subway capacity upgrades; new buses, garages and maintenance practices – are split into separate parts that only a seasoned budget reader will know are actually related.
The most detailed review of the budget actually is done by the City’s Budget Analyst who, for 2014, has recommended widespread cuts to bring planned spending into line with the City’s capital debt target. These changes were endorsed by the TTC Board with neither debate nor any explanation of the long-term effects.
We are not talking small change. The TTC’s “Base Budget” for capital is about $9-billion over the next ten years. This does not include the Spadina Extension, the Scarborough Subway, the Relief Line, or the Yonge extension to Richmond Hill. Nor does it include any of the Metrolinx projects to which Queen’s Park regularly points to show their support for transit in Toronto. We can reasonably expect various governments to shell out for signature projects, but what about the rest? As approved, there is only $6.3b in known funding to pay for the $9b in projected capital expenses.
TTC Capital Budget Sources of Funding 2014-23
TTC Capital Budget Unfinded Projects 2014-23
In the “out years” of the budget from 2019 onward, the City share of required funding is roughly one quarter, Queen’s Park and Ottawa make up another quarter, and half of the budget is unfunded. This is simply not an acceptable situation, and it must be addressed by at least the City and Queen’s Park who have historically paid for ongoing capital maintenance. Hoping for money from Ottawa is nothing more than ducking the issue because the Federal Government is well known to fund on a project basis for major items such as new lines which are not even in the Base Budget.
New funding from the provincial “revenue tools” may help, but Toronto’s likely share is nowhere near what is needed to cover the historical 50% level of capital support from Queen’s Park. Meanwhile, the City must prepare to fund more of the TTC’s ongoing capital because a 25% City share is not likely to win support from the province.
While pitched battles were fought at Council over the technology and location of new rapid transit lines, an important growing part of the city was almost totally ignored: the waterfront. An area the size of the existing core area will develop over coming decades, but already would-be developers complain that they cannot market buildings without the promised transit access. A few buses on 6 Bay or 75 Sherbourne do not come close to the level of service once planned for the eastern waterfront with a streetcar/LRT connection to Union Station.
This project ran into engineering difficulties (and associated cost escalation) thanks to the difficulty of connecting the existing Bay Street tunnel to the surface of Queens Quay east of Yonge. This problem has still not been resolved, at least as far as any publicly discussed options. The route’s growing cost holds up an important project even though the money involved is a fraction of the cost of proposed subway extensions elsewhere in Toronto.
Under the Ford administration, the future of the Waterfront, especially of the Port Lands, has been uncertain. Would transit be a streetcar (or low end LRT)? Not likely with Ford in office, and we have seen proposals for a monorail and other schemes to serve the Waterfront lands. Anything to get those pesky transit vehicles out of motorists’ way.
“Transit First” was to be the watchword for development on the eastern waterfront, and yet the TTC drags its feet on commitment to anything more than the most basic service. Will riders have to make do with the now-and-then bus service for decades to come, or will we invest in better access to a huge parcel of land ripe for development?
Meanwhile, to the west of downtown, the TTC still nurses the idea of a Waterfront West LRT line, a scheme that has been around for over two decades. This route has major problems at several points along its proposed route from Union Station, west via Bremner and Fort York, through the CNE and thence along the south edge of Parkdale to a link, somewhere, with The Queensway. Would such a line actually be used by people along the route, and is it physically possible to build the line without severe incursions on various streets along the way? How would the line relate to a redeveloped Exhibition Place and Ontario Place, especially if the Relief subway line finds its way into the grounds?
The WWLRT may be an idea whose time has come and gone, at least as it has been presented by the TTC. The role, route and priority of this line should be re-examined so that it can either be formally part of medium-term plans, or dropped in favour of other links to target neighbourhoods.
Rapid Transit Plans
The rapid transit network has been the subject of much debate, and I don’t need to rehash this here. However, there are vital points that are often missed.
- Transit is a network, not a line. When construction priorities are driven by electoral math rather than overall planning, there is a good chance we will end up with bits and pieces of a system that don’t make a very good network.
- Lines that are really useful serve multiple purposes, not just a single peak period, peak direction demand.
- Neither LRT nor subways are the Devil’s work to be shunned in any “good network”. Each has its place. Planning that rejects either technology out of hand will not produce the best possible results.
- Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has a role too, but is important to remember that a bus on an HOV expressway lane or on its own private road is not providing a local service especially if stations are hard to reach. A right-of-way may be available (an expressway or a hydro corridor), but that is not necessarily the best place for a transit route.
- Commuter rail has an important role in handling travel not just from the 905 to the 416, but within the 416 itself. Queen’s Park must be more aggressive about building up GO Transit as an all-day rapid transit system, and GO fares should not create an artificial demand for local rapid transit to pick up long-haul trips from both the 416 and the 905.
- Passengers must be able to get to and from rapid transit stations. This is a particular issue for GO Transit where station locations are dictated by lines that were built primarily for fright traffic in the 19th century, not for 21st century commuters. Parking is an expensive way to subsidize riders, and it only works for the classic peak commuting patterns. All day service must also support counter-peak and non-auto based travel with good connecting local transit service at attractive fares.
- As GO Transit evolves to frequent, electrified operation, the distinction between GO and subway lines will blur. Full service and fare integration between all transit systems will be essential. Such integration does not require consolidation of all agencies, only an agreement about how to share revenue and subsidize the network.
- GO network capacity, especially at the major interchange at Union, threatens to limit the growth of transit for regional travel. If Queen’s Park is serious about reducing congestion on an ongoing basis, GO must be able to grow considerably over coming decades. Running out of room before The Big Move is completed is not an option, and we must think beyond TBM to even greater capacity in the commuter rail network. Electrification is an essential part of this evolution.
- The TTC must not plan its own rapid transit network in isolation from regional services and future growth. Regional demand should not be used to goose ridership estimates for local subway lines (as was done for the Scarborough Subway), and the combined effect of new GO and TTC rapid transit services must be examined for all new projects.
Last but not least is a cluster of issues related to accessibility. I do not speak for the community for whom “accessibility” broadly defined is provided, but the debates I do hear suggest that accessible transit is something that Toronto would prefer to keep to the minimal possible level, especially where funding is concerned. Meanwhile, Queen’s Park has legislated compliance by public bodies like the TTC with accessibility criteria, but has provided no funding in support of the needed changes. This is particularly challenging for the one subway system in Ontario, Toronto’s, where retrofits are quite complex and expensive.
Reliability is essential. Elevators and escalators do little good if they are out of service. A broken down bus or streetcar just means there is one less vehicle on the road. A broken down escalator or elevator makes the difference between access and a barrier to travel. These devices serve not just the disabled, but many riders for whom vertical travel in stations is difficult. It is not enough to turn them on in the morning – they must remain operational all day, something TTC availability statistics do not measure.
An elevator in a subway station is useless if someone cannot physically reach the station. A low-floor bus or streetcar is useless if someone cannot handle the walk to and wait at a transit stop, not to mention transfers between routes on their journey.
Accessibility is about much more than letting people in wheelchairs use subway trains. There is a wide range of requirements for accessible transit from people with a wide variety of limitations on their movement. The Wheel Trans service provides door-to-door carriage for those who require it and who qualify for the service, but it is no secret that there is an unmet demand. Other riders can use taxis, or even the “conventional” transit system provided that barriers scattered through it are removed.
TTC and City policy for several years has been to constrain the growth of van-based Wheel Trans service with a shift of more riders either to taxis or to the conventional system. What has not been discussed or studied (at least publicly) is the scale and character of the market for accessible services, and how this will evolve with demographic shifts in Toronto’s population.
What is the need for parallel transit services? What types of trips should the City be serving? What would this service look like if its scope were determined by demand, by the need to travel, not by the artificial constraint of budgets? I have never seen a policy paper about latent demand for Wheel Trans service and its evolution through coming generations, only repeated references to how Wheel Trans can be scaled back as the conventional system becomes fully accessible. What are the implications for future Operating Budgets if Wheel Trans stays at its current level or grows?
Funding for the one-time changes needed to make the system accessible must be found, and this should not compete against other priorities for essential work. Constraints in the City’s capital financing have already delayed the Easier Access program. Both Toronto and Queen’s Park have a role to play here, and pleading poor is a lame excuse when billions are rolling in the streets for new rapid transit construction.
A Few Closing Words
This has been a very long article covering a lot of ground. I have many open questions, and don’t pretend to have all of the answers.
That’s the role the TTC Board should be taking – asking questions, commissioning research, getting answers to difficult policy and financial problems so that Council, Queen’s Park and voters can better understand what transit needs, what it can do and how much this is all going to cost.
That is all part of my favourite activity – advocacy. We may not be able to do everything we want in a week or a year, but at least we should understand what we could do and what we need to do so that transit in Toronto can be much better than it is today.
Will the TTC Board take on this challenge, or are they content to sit out their term using poverty and the lack of wisdom in the Mayor’s Office to preclude any discussion. Can we prepare for a future with a Mayor and Council who really believe that transit is “the better way” to move people in Toronto?
I would like to have the TTC/Metrolinx lay out a 100 year plan for how transit lines might be built… if all the lands inside the Greenbelt and developable under the GGH were developed and gasoline were $5.00 per litre in real terms…
You would think that with supercomputers, this could be modeled under several scenarios.
So was it possible to have the TCBP to include streetcars? Could extra streetcars have been ordered back then so that the streetcar routes can be included in the TCBP?
Steve: Inclusion of the streetcar routes in the core, 10-minute network would only have affected off-peak service when buying more cars is not an issue. Even the TTC has screwed up on this responding at times to complaints about off-peak service with the “we have no cars” rote response.
No one on city council seems to think about the implications of the Liberal’s massive, 30 billion tax hike proposal. All the transit plans in Toronto need to be thrown out and sent back to the drawing board if this happens. Members of city council and the provincial parties are either pro-tax, anti-subway or anti-tax, pro-subway for some reason. This makes no sense because it makes sense to either raise taxes and build the more expensive but superior subway option or not raise taxes and build the inferior LRT option due to inadequate funding. Also none of the municipal politicians could care less about GO expansion. Given the available funding in 2007, it would have made far more sense to improve the GO system than to build “Transit City”.
The last time I checked, GO is confined to run where there are railway tracks. This limits where they can move people into (and out of) Toronto. While GO can ‘dump’ people off at stations other then Union – Kipling, Dundas West/Bloor, and Kennedy as long a most of their passengers are heading downtown then most of these stations will not help.
GO has two possible ‘new’ stations I can think of offhand – Summerhill (if the CPR ever lets GO use the line), and perhaps a station at Bathurst North Yard. Summerhill would not require a new subway line, but Bathurst North would require the DRL or some other form of fast moving transit to get people into downtown. And any time I have been downtown during rush hour, I can tell you that there is a lot of movement in and out of Union Station and not all of GO’s passengers use the subway.
Steve: Begging your pardon, but a great deal of the commuting traffic that might use the Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Scarborough extensions (a) is going downtown and (b) lies on corridors parallel to existing GO services. Obviously GO cannot carry riders where there are no tracks, but they could be doing a lot more to carry riders where tracks do exist and, thereby, reducing demand on or for subway expansion at much higher cost. GO crows about its high farebox recovery of operating costs, but forgets that the services it does not run because they would “lose too much” could stand in for much more expensive subway construction and capacity expansion.
As for Summerhill (or Dupont), these are the worst possible place to offload passengers from GO to the TTC because the routes are already full.
In addition to doing the “inside the box” analysis you suggest on important transit issues, the TTC Board should be looking at “outside the box” ideas too. What if a struggling route could see increased ridership (and hence increased fares) by increasing the walkability of the neighbourhood, bringing more people closer (as the rider walks) to the route? What if a crowded feeder route could be augmented with bike lanes, creating more capacity to move people (and not just riders)? Etc etc.
Thanks for this exemplary post that both marks the context of our transick/trans*it as well as putting down gauntlets for those keen on election. It covers a lot of ground.
But to really contextualize transit provisions and the lack thereof, I think we really need to outline just how much automobility is costing us all, and it doesn’t come in such a neat set of budget packages being spread throughout all types of budgets from health to the policing budget and into the transport/roads budget, let alone the climate change crisis. Some older figures from Vancouver suggested a $2700 per car per year of unpaid cost; Pamela Blais’ Perverse Cities book delves into it all pretty nicely, including aspects of “free” parking and other low-density costs.
Trouble is, even though facts may be on the side of adjusting tax structures towards more user pay for cost-drivers (including a Vehicle Registration Tax), the bulk of the politicians are elected by areas which have lower densities, therefore they don’t want to push for user paying – instead they tend to $haft the core regions. Heck, the TTC doesn’t have a core politician sitting on it, and if they did get uppity, odds are the provincial government would be the voice of “reason” and continued subsidies – and is that why we’ve been building subways to sprawl the last few decades? (I did see a figure of $17 per ride subsidy on the Sheppard stubway – what’s Spadina?)
Steve: I do not have a current figure for Spadina, but the extension was expected to run at an operating deficit of several dollars/ride. I have not seen a recent estimate for this number.
Meanwhile, the laws of physics are occurring; and while the ECO will note that our transport emissions remain as a “soar” point, we get a useful (given the scale of our regional transit backlogs) LRT plan derailed for a budget-blighting but vote-buying and very costly subway, again maybe in the wrong place. Sigh.
And yes, the sigh also includes not being able to put in a bikeway along Danforth and Bloor to easily and quickly provide some subway relief because even in such brrutal cold, if it were simpler/safer to bike instead of TTC/drive, some would do so.
(In case folks aren’t depressed, try this on climate change realities lead by Dr. James Hansen)
I don’t see a populist alternative on offer. Have the Greens suddenly risen in the polls?
Perhaps you mean “pseudo-populist”.
(As a fan of the Omaha Platform, I get persnickety about such things.)
Actually, I thought this (atypically for Toronto) was fairly well documented, thanks mostly to the requirements of the AODA for yearly reports.
I’ve been comparing the accessibility status of different public transportation systems across the English-speaking world for several years now as a hobby. New York City is by FAR the worst – the MTA routinely breaks the law, to the point of deliberately excluding easy-access features from station rebuilds, and this applies to the subway, Metro-North, and LIRR. PATH and NJT are somewhat better but not great, complying to the minimum legally required level.
The other systems from before the passage of disability nondiscrimination legislation are in varying states of compliance, but are all making an effort which seems like their heart is in it. I’d say Toronto is around average, doing somewhat better than Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, or San Francisco, and somewhat worse than Chicago, Boston, or San Diego. It’s hard to compare London (UK) because it has unique problems due to its exceptionally old infrastructure, but they’re well above average.
The systems from after the passage of disability nondiscrimination legislation are almost always better than the “legacy” systems, though Denver is exceptionally bad due to some boneheaded design decisions.
Steve: My complaint is with the distance between how well Toronto thinks it is doing, actual achievements to date and most importantly, what Toronto seems to think will constitute a “good” system in the future. The fact that NYC is hopelessly behind (as I saw on my recent visit there) doesn’t excuse what Toronto may or may not do.
And what are these people going to do when they get off the train at Union? A large number will get on the subway! I already see that happening. Yes, I disagree with the Richmond Hill extension (well, past Steeles anyway), the Vaughan one I agree with only as far as York University – a place that might attract some business on its own. And the Scarborough extension is part of one man’s “subway, subway, subway” policy where an LRT would be better – so I guess the LRT is not needed if there were more GO trains providing service between Kennedy and Union? That extension/LRT line, at least to me, is not because of a lack of GO service.
Steve: So they get on the subway for a counterpeak trip into downtown. That’s the whole idea. As for Scarborough, there are two separate demands. Some of this can be handled by GO (regional downtown-bound trips) and some by the LRT. The demand projections for the subway are artificially inflated by including riders who would be on GO if only there were frequent all-day service.
When was the last time you tried to get on the subway at Union during the rush hour Steve? I am going downtown tonight, so I will gladly let you know of my experience trying to catch a northbound Yonge subway during the rush hour tonight. But when I have done it in the past, it was packed. But Summerhill is an option to get people away from Union – and they need the second subway platform at Union because of demand, the whole system is crowded during the rush hour. At least the Summerhill GO option would divert people away from Union.
Steve: Er … um … the people using GO would be travelling to Union in the PM peak, not from Union. Riders trying to use Summerhill as their GO boarding point would only add to the traffic northbound on Yonge.
And, for the record, I occasionally attempt to get on at King or Queen just to see what the afternoon rush is like, but I don’t do it as a regular practice for obvious reasons. Further north, such as College, is hopeless. Meanwhile, trains roll south toward Union with lots of free space on them.
As someone who actually uses Danforth for biking, in addition to someone rolling his eyes at this point being raised again and is somewhat hoping that Bixi might survive past the 2018 municipal election, I reiterate that the only thing that bike lanes along Bloor-Danforth may do is make congestion worse on the BD subway line; not relieve it.
Steve: Hamish trots this idea out at every opportunity, and sometimes I leave the proposal intact without comment. I think readers don’t have to be told that bike lanes and subway crowding are two completely separate issues, and claiming one will be the solution for the other undermines the argument.
Caps are a no-brainer. In fact, I would replace passes with caps entirely, so that at the end of the month you’ve paid for a monthly pass if and only if you’ve ridden enough to make it worthwhile. Why is it necessary to guess at the beginning of the month how much riding you’re going to do?
As an ardent year-round cyclist, naturally, I support bike lanes to get more people out on their bikes, as well as increase safety. However, the notion that they would make any significant difference in subway congestion is preposterous. Having said that I would be fascinated to see ongoing statistics on cycling traffic per road/street. Now and then, you see “hose counters” strung across the road or even just the bike lane where one exists. Would it be that difficult to design a camera that could count bikes automatically?
I think it’s time that, like London, England had done in 2005, Toronto should start charging tolls for non-transit vehicles (anything that’s not a GO or TTC vehicle) coming into Downtown. This would greatly reduce congestion and promote transit. As a (positive) side effect it will also provide the province with more money, should they decide to fund a major project (like a DRL Link or an extension of the Stouffville GO Train to Uxbridge)
We can only hope that by the time there is GO service on the CP line crosstown, there will be frequent, two-way all-day GO service on the Richmond Hill and Barrie lines, taking pressure off the subway.
At the same time I cannot see why someone bound for anywhere south of, say, College, would use a GO Service on the CP line to connect at Dupont or Summerhill rather than taking the GO Train to Union and the subway north. They only make sense to me if people are headed to Midtown (suggesting better local service may be an alternative to the subway) or further north (begging the question of whether those people could be better served by transferring to a northbound GO Train).
This raises another thought about something we may never see in Toronto but I expect it will be the next stage in transit fantasies … actually being able to make easy transfers between GO Trains at points other than Union.
Steve: A related issue for the CPR line to the northeast is taking its service to Union via the Don Branch rather than straight across through North Toronto Station (at Summerhill). This would provide a northeastern equivalent of the GO service to Georgetown. The big problem is how to fit the service into the CPR corridor.
By the way there is a separate question I’d like to ask in relation to the Transit City Bus Plan … TTC currently runs 3 versions of ‘express’ bus services … the ‘E’ branches (like my favourite 35E which turned a 10-stop trip along Jane into a 2 stop one), the 19X Rockets, and the 14X premium express buses.
Would it be easier, administratively, if there was only one type of ‘express bus’ service offered by the TTC … an expanded ‘Rocket’ network based on the Transit City Bus Plan?
Moreover, is there sense in having premium express service could be offered by GO Transit on the TTC’s behalf using more comfortable ‘premium’ buses?
Of course this may not be the best idea and would only happen when GO has buses available, but it could allow the TTC to reallocate buses to the ‘Rocket’ network and let the ‘premium’ service be a real ‘premium’ offering.
Steve: The only difference between the “E” branches and the “19X” routes is that the latter are not associated with one of the local routes. As for the premium fare routes, I am not sure GO buses are a good idea because of the longer loading times. There could also be an accessibility issue depending on which GO coaches were used.
Personally, I think that the premium express routes are a waste of resources because they carry a tiny number of passengers on what is basically a point to point trip (once they leave their collection area) with no reverse traffic. Yes, they collect an extra fare, but they still tie up peak vehicles and operators who could be better used elsewhere. At one point, the TTC considered making the services parallel to the Yonge subway regular fare operations as “subway relief” even though all of the express trips combined represent less than one train’s worth of riders. This idea never made it off the ground.
There’s an easy answer to that … the Federal Government wants a Pickering Airport and at some point there will a Conservative Transport Minister who will want to repeat history and build a P3 ‘privately financed ‘UPEx2’ (but they’ll prefer ‘Blue 22’) connecting Union to Pickering Airport. Of course this project will not go through and will fall into the hands of the Provincial government etc etc.
I’m only 34 but I’ve seen transit history repeat itself in the 30 years I’ve been following transit … so I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the above scenario happens. And if UPEX happens to fail there will be arguments that it’s failure should not reflect on UPEx2/Blue 22 which will be different …. etc. Etc.
Yes, I’ve been nudging on the Bloor/Danforth biking for a few years, though not as far back as when the 1992 study assigned Bloor/Danforth as the best place for an east-west bike lane in the lower core.
Of course better biking won’t supplant a full streetcar or subway or bus – but if we don’t do simple, cheap efficiency projects that take 2 to 5% of a load away, isn’t that dumb? As for distances possible, ask Commissioner deBaeremaeker.
I would note that the hick City of London seems to get this point of bikes meaning some transit relief at bottom of p. 5 as one eg. and further in c. 16 and elsewhere.
I’d say the bigger problem is getting CP rail to stop trimming the width of the corridor which is making it increasingly difficult to even consider adding GO service to Summerhill. Summerhill station may already be unusable due to this to the east of the station.
I scarcely dare to enter this discussion, but I’m curious: how could bike lanes along Bloor-Danforth actually make subway congestion worse (not just “not better”)?
If we are going to do your favourite thing-advocacy, I would say that the most important thing that should be brought up regarding transit in the upcoming election are transfer policy, the transit city bus plan and integration with GO. These three issues will determine the fate of Toronto transit and congestion far more than LRT/Subway battles, Presto follies and Bixi/bicycle networks.
There should be agreement between the TTC board and management to convert to timed transfers as the convenience of timed transfers for both riders and staff outweigh the potential revenue loss. Given that the majority of transit riders are Metropass users and do no need transfers, revenue lost by those using their transfer for 1-2 extra rides is inconsequential. Almost every Canadian transit system uses timed transfers, why is Toronto the exception?
The transit city bus plan (with the lost LRT routes added to the frequent network) best demonstrates the TTC commitment to the bus riders, who make up more than 60% of daily riders. As Jarrett Walker states emphatically on his blog: “Frequency is Freedom”. A strong bus network is the backbone for many cities with excellent transit (such as London, Hong Kong) and there is no subway/LRT without frequent buses. The Sheppard subway is what happens when connecting services are weak along a subway.
Seamless transition with GO would change travel and bus demands with Toronto, as riders would adjust their commute so that they are able to connect with closer GO trains, instead of far away subway stations. For example, service on 53E/F Steeles East express would likely be reduced as riders on Steeles East gravitate to Milliken GO station to go downtown, rather than riding all the way to Finch station (which helps reduce overcrowding along the Yonge line). People on the 86E/116E express buses could transfer at Eglinton GO station rather than at Kennedy station. As an extra point, Metrolinx’s plans for mobility hubs in Toronto will fail if TTC riders do not find it more attractive to transfer at GO stations rather than at TTC stations.
How we move in Toronto is directed by how we connect with transit services. If connections are poor, then transit will be poor. If service is designed poorly, people will choose alternatives. It would be better to campaign for seamless transit than to campaign for LRTs. And if it is any consolation for you, young people are also having discussions about transit quality issues, such as fanart for the Dufferin Bus.
Steve: There are many comments in that thread from operators as well as from riders giving a strong sense of the many problems with operations in the real world on Dufferin and other routes. The fanart is delicious!
By increasing ridership. As it stands now, there is virtually no local bus service along Bloor-Danforth. If you were to add bike lanes and pair it with a bike sharing program like Bixi, bonus points if you also make Bixi rentals a Metropass perk, you would be partly filling in that missing last kilometre of service. It would never be better than a local bus and demand would be dramatically different between summer and winter, but it would be an attractive option if made available.
I took the 145 [Humber Bay Express] today, and the bus was pretty full. Perhaps the total number of riders is low, but the loading per bus certainly seems high enough to warrant the service.
Steve: That’s certainly an improvement over fairly recent stats on that route’s performance. That said, the two strengths of a local service are turnover and bidirectional demand. Whether the buses on the 14x routes could be making a better contribution elsewhere has never been explored.
Sorry if this is off-topic, but since the premium express buses were mentioned:
What do you think of having a more frequent & continuous bus line on Mt Pleasant & Jarvis?
Currently there are two unfrequent Mt Pleasant buses 74, 103, and the premium express bus 141. Mt Pleasant North runs from a bus loop north of Lawrence to Eglinton Station, the other Mt Pleasant bus runs from Mt Pleasant & Eglinton to St Clair station. The premium bus runs from around Eglinton, down Mt Pleasant, which becomes Jarvis, and ends up on Richmond/Adelaide.
What if those three bus lines were combined into one bus line running down Mt Pleasant from the bus loop used by Mt Pleasant North down on Jarvis to the St Lawrence Market? It could run express through Rosedale just as the 141 premium bus does.
Steve: The idea of merging services on Mt. Pleasant has come up many times. The question to be answered is “where are the people on Mt. Pleasant going?” The TTC has always maintained that there is stronger demand to get over to the Yonge subway as quickly as possible, and uses this to justify keeping the 103 Mt. Pleasant North and 74 Mt. Pleasant as separate routes. Running all the way down Jarvis would not make a connection with the subway until, say, Queen with a walking transfer from Richmond, and would definitely not serve people heading to the midtown area because there is no connection at Bloor.
A much more general problem on Mt. Pleasant has been the long spiral of service cuts, lost ridership and more cuts, and there is little incentive for people to use the local service.
This option has a way of catching my imagination. Not only does this suggested line solve many of the commuter deficiency issues in north Scarborough, but more importantly it connects the city to what will become Pickering Airport and support growth along the 407 corridor. By supporting the Federal government’s airport project and the provincial government’s highway expansion there is a very good chance that together the three projects will stimulate significant growth on the east end of the GTA. On a balance of probabilities the three projects together will likely transform the region and provide the province with a very lucrative investment.
The problem with taking the CP line down the Don Valley is the condition of the Bridge. I believe that it is embargoed as not being suitable for any traffic. I also think that CP has removed the switch to the North Toronto Sub buy that is a minor problem. Getting CP to allow many GO trains on their tracks through Agincourt will be difficult as it is their main line across Canada and railways are federally regulated so there is nothing that Metrolinx or the Province can do to force them to run GO trains.
Steve: The bridge, like everything else, is a question of money. If GO can spend what they did to widen and grade separate the Weston corridor, one bridge south of Leaside station is small change. Yes, CPR is a problem, but if we keep just saying that and never looking at what might be done (and how we might solve problems along the way), we will still be wondering 30 years from now why GO bought the Don Sub in the first place.
Is this more of a lack of understanding that what has been implemented to date?
Over the past couple of months, I have had to travel down Dufferin numerous occasions and have noticed that the transit signals that control movement of northbound buses on Dufferin onto the busway westbound seem to have no relevance to transit priority whatsoever.
In most every observation, I have witnessed a northbound bus having to come to a stop and wait for the signal to change to permit it to head west across Dufferin and onto the busway. Likewise, in just as many observations, I have seen the traffic on Dufferin stopped by a red light in the complete absence of any bus needing it to cross Dufferin.
It would seem to me that proper transit priority would have the Dufferin traffic stopped as a bus approached the intersection so that it could proceed without making a stop would not only be beneficial to transit users, but also to other drivers on the road. As it exists now, every user of the road has their commute time extended.
Steve: That sounds like a total absence of transit priority signalling, not a careful plot to slow down everyone’s commute.
Exactly my point.
We go through the expense of building a “jug handle”/”Jersey Left” with signalling, and then simply operate it on strictly a timing basis (or, at the very least, a basis that alters that timing only once a bus is waiting). We even go so far as to label the transit signals as such.
The result, by chance, is that everyone’s commute is slowed down. On top of that, thousands of car drivers get to see first hand how they are affected by a “war on cars”.
One thing troubles me with “wasted” signals – they are not cheap to purchase and install and by having them switched-off at unpredictable times the City may do more harm than good. One example of such a hazard is left-turn from S/B Vic Park to E/B St Clair E. Vic Park goes downhill at that intersection and if a driver tries to go left and anticipates advanced Left-Green, he/she may be quite surprised as there may not be advanced left-green. Same thing happens with newly-installed left-green-arrows at St Clair E and Pharmacy. They are in operation only in the mornings, but hours-of-operation are not posted. On the other hand advanced left-green at St Clair E to N/B Warden works quite well. I do not require a perfection from the City;however (a) some should think about such things like “reaction time” and “braking distance” (b) perception of sloppiness, waste and bad PR comes quickly to mind. In short if the City spends money on a instrument be it “transit signal” or “advanced green-left-arrow” or ROW (be it bus or rail), let’s use it and mark it properly.
I do recognize that there exist today certain technical obstacles to bringing the CP line down the Don Valley, but I have to agree with Steve that these issues are minor costs when viewed in relation to the overall value added by the project.
This matter is the most relevant to proposed alignment. However there appears to be a potential for negotiations on several grounds:
1) The Lac-Mégantic disaster illustrated the inherent risks associated with moving volatile compounds through cities. The line we are discussing currently hauls a note worthy amount of highly volatile compounds through densely packed communities. As Toronto and the surrounding communities continue to grow around this rail line the question of safety can not be ignored.
2) There are inherent risks with building a major international airport, both financially and politically. The best way to reduce these risks is to get buy in and cooperation from all relevant levels of government. As such, by establishing a negotiating linkage between cooperation with the airport project and the proposed rail project there just might be a chance to get both projects done.
For years, streetcars had permanent right-of-way over cars when they were running in or out of the Gardiner/railway underpass from Lake Shore Boulevard. The streetcars are in a (painted) exclusive ROW at the eastern end or Lake Shore. Westbound cars on Lake Shore faced a stop sign at the streetcar tracks into the underpass.
With all the new condos, including a driveway on the south side that faces the streetcar underpass, traffic signals were installed a few years ago. The default signal was green for eastbound cars, red for westbound cars, and green for streetcars in both directions. Worked fine.
Since the November closures for construction, the default streetcar signal is red. While it seems to change to green fairly well for westbound streetcars coming through from Humber loop, eastbound is another story. Last week I was on a streetcar that came to a stop at the red transit signal. We waited and waited. The walk signal for E-W pedestrians on the south side of Lake Shore counted down to zero … and then went back to a walk signal. Streetcar signal remained red. After a few minutes of this, someone pressed the button to cross Lake Shore. The E-W pedestrian signals went through the long countdown, and the car traffic lights went red. Pedestrians and cars in the condo driveway got their green. When it finally went red, the transit signal went green with the eastbound car traffic signal … for about five seconds. We got through, and the streetcar behind us got through. The third streetcar that was stuck in this lineup did not get through. It seems that someone forgot to turn on detection of eastbound streetcars, simply giving them a bit of a green after a green for N-S traffic and pedestrians.
It would be logical that the green for eastbound streetcars could be triggered about when they arrive at the platform, just by turning the signal red for westbound traffic. Logical, but apparently not thought of. “Transit priority” means transit gets a default red signal, and who knows when in the phases it will turn green. Perhaps the operator should hop out and push the walk signal for pedestrians crossing Lake Shore. There is, of course, a button on the streetcar island that does this — how convenient!
Just listened to a bit of CBC radio on the streetcar “service” issues; and while damn+ it’s cold out, some cyclists are still biking. To repeat: “service” is sooo stretched, that if a bit of the peak loading can be eased off, that has more efficiency gain than the mere % of offload, though no, we’d have to be Copenhagen or somewhere European to be really at the point of having biking shift enough demand for some transit. Bloor/Danforth is I think at the too-stretched point as is east-west in the King/Queen corridor, and as much of the latter corridor is “serving” the core, which is fairly bikeable in theory, planning that goes beyond a mere mode should also look at synergies from better biking, which if done right, can be far cheaper than a new subway or a streetcar etc. etc.
For winter biking eg.s, here’s a link.
Often, a winter cyclist can overheat btw, though extremities are less robust.
Who actually has authority over traffic signals? Does the city has to apply for permission from the province to install and/or activate them? Does the city has to submit to the provincial bureaucrats for changes to the sequence or timing? It seems to take months to get changes made.
In most of the rest of world, there are different or specially defined signals for transit. In Ontario, there is only one special (vertical bar) for transit, but seems to be rarely used. In addition, special written signs seems to have to be displayed to tell others of the special use for those signals, when elsewhere in the world they don’t display signs because the signals are different on their own.
Steve: Control of the signals, and especially of changes in timing, priority, etc., are entirely under the City. For any new type of signal beyond the white bar call-on for turns, the provincial Highway Traffic Act (or regulations under it) would have to be amended.
I would be willing to bet that train originated on the Soo and crossed onto CP near Windsor and went through Toronto on the North Toronto Sub. If it went on CN then it crossed on the York Sub. Both go through major built up areas.
At one time every traffic light installation had to be approved by the province but I don’t know if that is still the case. Also the province used to have the right to control the timing on signals within a certain distance of 400 series highways and the QEW. This used to create problems where there were signals near the exit ramps from the 401 as the signals for the ramps and the next intersection would be on different timing cycles. Like I said it has been a long time since I studied this.
Steve: Changes to traffic lights are routinely made by the City. One intriguing change was eastbound at Dundas and Broadview where the white bar transit call on was replaced by an advanced green arrow for all traffic some time ago. Recently, it changed back to the white bar. In general, there is far too much green time for the actual volume of traffic on Dundas, and far too little for Broadview, but the traffic folks probably want Dundas to be an “express route” whether it’s actually busy or not.
As a daily user of the much-used, unloved 53, the possibility of regular GO train service serving Milliken and points north is a nice idea, but is hamstrung by the Stouffville line being single-track and the crossing on Steeles being at-grade. There is nowhere for a second line to go, at least at Milliken. Pacific Mall is plonking a new hotel pretty smack-bang next to the GO tracks. More trains means more signals, meaning more congestion, meaning 53 buses with people trying to get to Milliken GO station can’t get people there quickly because of the congestion caused by the more trains being run. I am trying to think of how to square this circle as the idea is a perfectly sound one, but all the solutions involve eight-figure numbers ( if not more) to get right.
On the issue of parking enforcement and steeper fines: yes. This should be the beginning of more rigorous and determined enforcement. For example, I have long thought that the city should contract a number of tow trucks for snow days. That way, they are ready to pounce when someone decides that parking their car in a streetcar lane to grab coffee or dry cleaning is so much more important than the thousands of riders they hold up. But that would require fortitude of a level that politicians and bureaucrats are not usually familiar with.
Edmund, As Steve said, the issue is always a problem with money. Should the Stouffville line actually run at frequencies that cause backup on Steeles, Metrolinx would likely build an underpass, like Sheppard at Agincourt GO station.
Back to topic, for far too long mayoral hopefuls have talked about their transit infrastructure achievements (if any) to lay claim that new infrastructure equals better transit. Why don’t politicians talk about better policy and operations in their platforms? Is building a frequent bus network less valuable than building a subway extension? If you were a voter in Etobicoke, would you vote for a candidate that built a subway extension in Scarborough or one that brought all day express service to the Kipling, Islington, Steeles West, Finch West, Wilson, Lawrence West, and Eglinton West buses?
TL;DR: Building infrastructure does nothing to solve bad policies that are hostile to customers and staff. Change those policies before you decide to buy that expensive toy as a workaround.
P.S. Bicycles on Bloor will never be able to absorb any capacity on the subway. If we take Hamish’s figure of 5% efficiency in absorbing subway riders, and the TTC’s estimate capacity of the DRL at 11700, you would need an extra 585 bicycle parking spaces throughout downtown. How much space are we willing to give up downtown for all those bikes? Increasing the number of bikes runs into the same problem of cars: parking. This is just a back of the napkin calculation but you can see it is a problem.
Tess Kalinowski in The Star has an interesting article about the four ‘civilian’ members of the TTC Board.
Steve: Yes. I am fascinated by the concept (from one of the Councillors on the Board) that it is the new members’ responsibility to educate themselves about the organization. At least there have been a few “retreats” (one was today, January 21) where the Board gets to learn about major issues and kick ideas around.
By this criterion, I am far and away the best qualified civilian to sit on the Board because I actually know something about how the TTC works as well as its relationship with other agencies and governments. Of course it is impractical to expect “civilian” members to bring a deep understanding of the organization to the Board as they can’t all be transit geeks/advocates, nor should they be. However, one would hope that they are familiar with the city and its transit system, possibly even regular users. That certainly does not appear to be a requirement for the Council members.
The Board needs to demand more information and thorough briefings, not to mention launching staff on preparation of reports regarding what might be done to improve transit if only Council and other levels of government could be convinced to support the TTC. I am not convinced that they are even asking for, much less getting info at that level of detail.
Moaz: Which raises the question of what can be done to get the Board to pay attention to what you (as you have already explained why you do not wish to be on the Board) as well as other transit advocates, have to say.
Moaz: Politicians have advisors for different subjects … one would hope that Board members (with ‘corporate experience’) in a public service role would be wise enough to realize that they need access to more perspectives beyond the information provided by staff.
TTC Boards 2.1 (post Stintz) and 2.2 (post election) as well as Metrolinx Board 3.0 … need to be better at doing this.
Well, full credit to you for trying to raise the target. 🙂 Here across the border in New York State, where we’re still fighting to get the basics, I guess it looks a little different.